A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO: THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT


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A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO

In January I posted an article called BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED. This stemmed from contact online with fisherman and fly tyer Mark Minshull, who kindly tied some flies for me to try on the Marls. In the post I showed pictures of my manky flybox and his immaculate flies. We agreed to see how things turned out while I was on Abaco in March, and  that I would report back…   

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Mark 1 Specimen Bonefish Flies

THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT ON MARK 1 BONEFISHING FLIES

We set out to test the efficacy of  prototype ‘Mark 1′ bonefishing flies in the waters of the Abaco Marls. Our testers came from the US (TC & AH), Northern Ireland (AB), and England (RH). All are proficient fly fishermen with experience of several prime bonefishing destinations between them, except for the Englishman RH who was included to add balance to the trials by adding the element of incompetence. His fly box remained an object of ridicule throughout the tests, until he resorted to using a more carefully chosen small fly box containing his most successful flies, some ‘Delphi Club Approved’ flies and the test flies. 

QUALITY All our testers agreed that the Mark 1 flies were beautifully designed and tied. As flies, their quality was rated ‘superb'; ‘bloody good'; and ‘very impressive’. As potential winners for the waters of Abaco, however, there was considerable doubt about the suitability of the pattern for colouring, shape and size.

THE TEST AREA We used the huge area of prime bonefishing territory of the mangrove swamps and sand banks on the west side of Abaco known as the Marls. Our testers were familiar with the waters and all had fished them numerous times. The sea depth, depending on tide, is a few feet at most. The consistency of the bottom is of lightweight, pale coloured mud.

Bonefishing, Abaco Marls Abaco  1

It is usually easier to look out for the shadows of the fish on the light bottom than for the fish themselves, which are often difficult to see in the water. Half-close your eyes and look at this image – the fish almost disappears, but the shadow is clearly visible. It is hard to believe the wonderful colouring of the fish until it is out of the water.Bonefish, Abaco Marls Abaco 2

THE TESTS The initial reservations of the testers unfortunately proved justified in the field. The testers all found that the fish tended not to follow the flies at all, and mostly behaved as if they had not seen them, even with the most accurate casts. The few ‘follows’ observed produced refusals of the fly at the end. Disappointingly, no fly was taken by a single fish throughout the trials.

OBSERVATIONS Our testers had some useful comments. Above all, the Mark 1 flies were undoubtedly of excellent quality and design. They simply were not suited to the waters – or the bonefish – of Abaco. TC thought they might work in Belize. It was thought that larger versions might attract permit. Overall, the Mark 1s were so radically different from the tried and tested fly patterns used successfully on Abaco that the 3 competent fishermen soon forsook the experiment and caught fish using more familiar flies. The 4th tester, lacking any finesse, might have fluked a take against the odds , but even he drew a blank.

THE PROFESSIONALS The Guides in each case had been fishing the Marls since they could walk and hold a rod. They each examined the flies, shook their heads and kept their thoughts to themselves. We interpret this as indicating a tendency for the local guides to doubt the effectiveness of the Mark 1 flies.

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RH’s ‘Selected Specimen’ Fly Box

RESULTS ANALYSIS  The flies above show (front row) the 3 versions of the Mark 1 fly; (middle row) the highly effective Delphi Daddy and Delphi Diva patterns, with one random silver concoction of unknown origin; (back row) ; 2 browny / pale patterns plus a shocking pink one that the guides wisely forbade and, below, 3 roughly matching flies that brought great success even for RH this year (including 12 boated and 5 lost in one day), sourced from renowned tackle specialist E. Bay.

CONCLUSION The flies that catch the bones on Abaco tend to be pale and to have ‘streamer’ tails and / or a fair amount of sparkle. A touch of pink seems to be good. Too much pink, not so. Rubbery legs can be very effective (except in the fisherman after lunch). But lovely lifelike dark shrimp imitations are of no interest to the fish of the Marls.

‘WHICH?’ RATINGS FOR THE MARK 1 FLY 

  • Design and construction *****
  • Ease of use *****
  • Effectiveness for Abaco waters *

All photos RH. Thanks to Mark for creating the challenge and for being a great sport

A Box of Bonefish Flies (Abaco)

The largely ridiculous fly box of RH (most good ones removed)

 

BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED


Abaco Bonefish a

BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED

Here is my fly box. It is a qualified success, as is my fishing. The fly box is rather better organised than I am, though. Some of the flies in it are routinely ignored by others to whom I helpfully offer the box.  I’ve found the best plan is to stick with the silvery shrimpy patterns, especially the ones with pink heads. Then nobody gets upset. And from time to time I get lucky (see header image).

BF flies3a

Recently, a proper fisherman started to follow my blog, and I his. I immediately recognised one of the fishing lakes on his site, one where I have fished in the past. One thing led to another and I seem to have agreed to trial some of Mark’s expertly tied flies on the Abaco flats in March…

Mark’s Bonefish Patternsimage24

I am very keen on the principles of ‘Catch and Release’. So keen that I have developed my own specialist methods (designed for fishing with barbless hooks) using what might be termed ‘Early C&R’. These may include some or all of the following on any given day: 

  1.  ‘THE PHANTOM CATCH’ As the fish follows the fly, and the instant before it commits to a lunge for it, abruptly whisk the fly away from under its nose with a sharp reflex ‘trout-strike’. This will ensure that both the fish and your fly remain untroubled by actual contact. This is the most advanced form of Early C&R.
  2. ‘THE BIG MISSED TAKE’ As the fish takes your fly firmly in its mouth, become preoccupied by the fact that your left foot is planted firmly on a horrid tangle of line around your feet. You will feel the solid take, but instantly realise that your retrieve is hopelessly compromised. With some relief, you feel the line go slack as the fish shakes itself free…
  3. ‘THE REEL THING’ Hook the fish. Feel the weight on the end of the line. It’s heavy. Nice one! Turn in muted triumph to your boat partner to shout excitedly “Got One”. As you do so, allow the line somehow to snag round the rod handle and the reel simultaneously. Before you have even begun to figure how to sort this out, the fish will have released itself and be heading for the horizon.
  4. ‘THE STICKY SITUATION’ Hook the fish. Reel in confidently, keeping the line taut and the fish under your masterful control. Allow it to run if it wishes. Proceed with the same efficiency until you notice a single mangrove stem sticking out of the water 30 feet away. Using your skill, ensure that the fish suddenly has the chance to move to the other side of the stick, winding the leader or line (either will do) round it. Prepare for the ‘twang’ when the inevitable break occurs.  Your fish is away.
  5. ‘THE MANGROVE SWAMP’ Hook a fish. Play it competently until the moment your boat partner or guide gives you some word of encouragement or (worse) praise. Immediately, permit the fish to make a fast break for the nearest clump of mangroves even if it is over 100 feet away. The consequent entanglement round the myriad stems will be sure to lose you the fish and your fly. NOTE: all third party encouragement will diminish after this form of EC&R. Praise will not be repeated.

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Mark has just made a challenge public on his website in a post called  All aboard for Abaco! “This little packet of flies is destined for the Bahamas… What stories will they conjure up in time? Rolling Harbour, Abaco… All will be revealed in time! Thanks in advance to RH – I will keep everyone posted in due course! Looking forward to some beautiful pictures of Bonefish…” The flies in question are shown below. It is expected that they will prove to be effective. The expectation is Mark’s. My own feeling is more one of hope. I hope he knows what he is doing. I hope I know what I am doing.*

Rolling Harbour, Abaco... All will be revealed in time!

*The plan is to ask my boat-partner and guide – anyone with access to a rod, really – to “have a go with one of these little guys”. They are far less likely to be as skilled as I am at Early C&R, and are therefore far more likely to boat a fish. Job done…

Photos: RH, 1st two; the rest by Mark

ABACO BONEFISHING Pt 1: A NON-ANGLER’S SKIFF-VIEW – WHAT, HOW, WHERE & WHY?


             BE NATURAL (YET SHARP) ON THE FLATS – PART 1  

WHAT, HOW, WHERE AND WHY?

[I published the original of this post a year ago. I discovered that it had been put badly out of kilter by recent blog format change, so I have amended and to an extent updated it, with larger photos (NB the video was my first feeble foray).  So yes, it's a retread, which I rarely do; but I wasn't tooled up with Facebook & Twitter then, and thankfully a couple more people now read this thing, so it possibly deserves a fresh outing. No? Well I'm doing it, regardless]

It’s 7.15 and breakfast time at Delphi. At 8.00 the trucks, skiffs, guides and fishers will set off to the fishing grounds for the day, leaving you with an empty beach, shells, warm sea, the pool, the hammock and your book. For the moment, the talk is of the excellent ‘Full Abaco’ breakfast, the weather, ‘Delphi daddies’ & ‘crazy charlies’ and someone’s mislaid reel. Sandy enters to announce that there’s a place free on your partner’s skiff… and offers it to you. So what should you, a non-angler, expect of a day out on the flats?

THE SKIFFS These are top-of-the range boats, capable of considerable speed getting out to the fishing grounds. The ride can be bumpy, splashy and even chilly in the early morning, so bring a fleece and a waterproof top. Camera? Essential. Here is a Delphi skiff on a sand bar in Cherokee Sound, parked for lunch and some quality conch and sand-dollar hunting. So for a start, the day isn’t ALL about fishing…

THE FISHING GROUNDS You will leave from one of three launch points and speed across the water to the bonefishing areas. The main one is “Nettie’s”, with access via a narrow man-made channel to the Marls…

… more than two hundred square miles of mangrove swamp, islets, channels and fish. The journey to Nettie’s may seem quite a long way as you bump along through the pine forest on a network of logging tracks. Watch out for small birds flickering all around as you pass.

 

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Launching a skiff at Nettie’s

Plans are hatchedGood to go…

Stowing gear in the front (forrard?) locker. There’s also one behind the seats for the lunch cool boxes. And the fuel…

The other two launch areas are Crossing Rocks (a short drive south of DCB) or Casuarina Point for Cherokee Sound (a slightly longer drive north of DCB)

The jetty at Crossing Rocks – skiffs being prepared

The launch point at Casuarina. A channel leads out to Cherokee Sound

Two boats in the channel – the authentic James Bond chase experience

WHAT’S THE POINT? Bonefishing! You’ve heard all the Club talk, you’ve seen your partner fussing over all those bits and pieces in your room: now see it in action. Once you get out to a fishing area, the guide cuts the engine… and suddenly you are being poled very slowly and almost noiselessly across the shallow flats

The guide stands on the platform at the back of the skiff, using the advantage of height to scan the shallow water; the fisher stands at the front looking tensely for grey shadows underwater, waiting for the magic words…

 “…hey, bonefish, 10 o’clock, 4 of them moving right, 30 feet… see them?” 

And it’s ‘game on’. This isn’t the place for a discourse about casting technique and style – I have neither (Sandy, of me: “Muppet”) – but I promise that you will get completely caught up in the excitement when a fish takes the fly and takes off towards the horizon, stripping the line and backing from the reel… (I realise the image above may suggest… well he’s just fishing, OK?)

THE QUARRY – grey ghosts below water, bars of silver above. Caught on the ‘fly’ which are in fact shrimp or crab imitations, with barbless hooks to make the chance of losing a fish that much greater… This ensures that a boated fish can be returned to the water as easily and quickly as possible. It’s all ‘catch and release’, though some (me) find that mostly the fish very sensibly self-release long before they ever reach the boat…

Abaco bonefish off Crossing Rocks (just caught and released)Guide Ishi with Abaco bonefish caught on the MarlsGuide Robin Albury removes the barbless hook before returning the fishgood specimen‘Ishi’s Fishy’, as he would say

All images, and indeed fish, ©RH

There is even the possibility that at some stage you may unexpectedly be handed a rod (even if you have never held one before, or wanted to) with ‘fish on’… Here, Robin has hooked a 2.5 lb fish and handed the rod to Mrs RH (then engrossed in eating a cheese roll) who successfully played and brought in her first ever fish…

PART 2 will deal with what else goes on during the day: the scenery, birdlife, sharks, turtles, blue holes and so forth. For now, here is a short clip of the skiff ride out to the Marls, to give you an idea. NB this was a very calm day – things can get a little bumpier and wetter at times. The seats are padded, but not very… 

 [Ultra-cautious music credit to Joe Satriani who sued Coldplay for alleged tune 'borrowing' saying "I felt like a dagger went right through my heart. It hurt so much". Case dismissed + unspecified settlement...  Way to go, Joe! Want to check? Cut 'n' paste this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjB024bZoB4&feature=fvwrel Then by way of counterbalance try John Lennon's Imagine vs Coldplay's 'Fix you' at (cut 'n' paste)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DksjpsAe3vk&feature=endscreen&NR=1]                

CLICK LOGO for the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust

 

BONEFISH CATCH & RELEASE: A DEMO ON THE ABACO MARLS


BONEFISH CATCH & RELEASE: 5 COUNSELS OF PERFECTION*

1. FISH BARBLESS (OR FLATTEN THAT BARB)

2. WET YOUR HANDS BEFORE TOUCHING THE FISH

3. KEEP THE FISH IN THE WATER AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE

4. MINIMAL TOUCHING OF THE FISH – ITS PROTECTIVE COATING IS EASILY REMOVED

5. DO IT ALL AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE

This post follows on from my recent one BONEFISH RESEARCH: THE IMPACT OF HOOK RETENTION Here’s an example of swift C&R by my boat partner Martin of a small bonefish caught on the Abaco Marls. I say ‘small’ because it was his fish, not mine, so I can! Release is achieved, barely touching the fish, by twisting and loosening the barbless hook while the fish is in the water, and quickly flicking it off the hook without touching the fish’s sides. This preserves its protective coating, which if removed makes it vulnerable to predation and disease. He has in fact omitted Counsel 2 (above), because he has needed no significant contact with the fish. Apologies for the inevitable accompaniments to using Youtube – ads, 20 other vids on offer etc [Later: Mrs RH has spotted that my reef fish Blue Tang movie is amongst them. So have a look. It's a bit iffy, frankly, but the music is nice, and helps drown out my snorkel-wheezing]

* I have avoided the dread words ‘GOLDEN RULES’ in recognition of the fact that the lofty ideals don’t always work out in practice. The fish itself can dictate the proceedings…

(And apologies for yet another ‘premature release’ (a bit like much of my fishing) of a nearly blank document. I’ve got the ‘Save’ and ‘Publish’ buttons yips)

BONEFISH RESEARCH: THE IMPACT OF HOOK RETENTION


THE IMPACT OF HOOK RETENTION ON RELEASED BONEFISH

Anyone committed to catch and release for bonefish will have wondered about the hooks that from time to time are left in a fish. The issue has now been the subject of a detailed scientific report from ELSEVIER highlighted in the ever-useful THE ABACO SCIENTIST (thanks to Craig Layman). The report’s main conclusions can be summarised as follows:

  • Hooks, especially shallow ones, are expelled fairly quickly
  • For deep-hooked fish, barbless hooks are significantly easier for the fish to deal with
  • The presence of a hook does not appear to interfere with feeding
  • Hook size is not a material factor
  • All the test sample fish survived
Overall, therefore, this is a vindication for the policy of barbless hook use for C&R. The report concludes that it’s best simply to leave a difficult-to-remove hook in the fish. Here, guide Ishi prepares to remove a barbless hook from one of my fish caught on the Abaco Marls.
I have included a clip of the report’s front page and Abstract; and the link to a PDF of the full report for those interested in checking out the detailed scientific aspects of this research. To go direct to the general Fisheries Research section click ELSEVIER. The astounding photo is courtesy of Abaco’s conservation organisation FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT

REPORT PDF

NEW in June 2012 see later post + video CATCH & RELEASE DEMO ON THE ABACO MARLS for a quick release method with a barbless hook involving minimal contact with the fish. It isn’t suitable for deep-hooked fish or large ones, but it shows how quick the operation can be

ABACO BONEFISHING Pt 1: A NON-ANGLER’S SKIFF-VIEW – WHAT, HOW, WHERE & WHY?


             BE NATURAL (YET SHARP) ON THE FLATS – PART 1  

WHAT, HOW, WHERE AND WHY?

It’s 7.15 and breakfast time at Delphi. At 8.00 the trucks, skiffs, guides and fishers will set off to the fishing grounds for the day, leaving you with an empty beach, shells, warm sea, the pool, the hammock and your book. For the moment, the talk is of the excellent ‘Full Abaco’ breakfast, the weather, ‘Delphi daddies’ & ‘crazy charlies’ and someone’s mislaid reel. Sandy enters to announce that there’s a place free on your partner’s skiff… and offers it to you. So what should you, a non-angler, expect of a day out on the flats?

THE SKIFFS These are top-of-the range boats, capable of considerable speed getting out to the fishing grounds. The ride can be bumpy, splashy and even chilly in the early morning, so bring a fleece and a waterproof top. Camera? Essential. Here is a Delphi skiff on a sand bar in Cherokee Sound, parked for lunch and some quality conch and sand-dollar hunting. So for a start, the day isn’t ALL about fishing…

THE FISHING GROUNDS You will leave from one of three launch points and speed across the water to the bonefishing areas. The main one is “Nettie’s”, with access via a narrow man-made channel to the Marls…

… more than two hundred square miles of mangrove swamp, islets, channels and fish. The journey to Nettie’s may seem quite a long way as you bump along through the pine forest on a network of logging tracks. Watch out for small birds flickering all around as you pass.

 

———————————

Launching a skiff at Nettie’s

Plans are hatchedGood to go…

Stowing gear in the front (forrard?) locker. There’s also one behind the seats for the lunch cool boxes. And the fuel…

The other two launch areas are Crossing Rocks (a short drive south of DCB) or Casuarina Point for Cherokee Sound (a slightly longer drive north of DCB)

The jetty at Crossing Rocks – skiffs being prepared

The launch point at Casuarina. A channel leads out to Cherokee Sound

Two boats in the channel – the authentic James Bond chase experience

WHAT’S THE POINT? Bonefishing! You’ve heard all the Club talk, you’ve seen your partner fussing over all those bits and pieces in your room: now see it in action. Once you get out to a fishing area, the guide cuts the engine… and suddenly you are being poled very slowly and almost noiselessly across the shallow flats

The guide stands on the platform at the back of the skiff, using the advantage of height to scan the shallow water; the fisher stands at the front looking tensely for grey shadows underwater, waiting for the magic words…

 “…hey, bonefish, 10 o’clock, 4 of them moving right, 30 feet… see them?” 

And it’s ‘game on’. This isn’t the place for a discourse about casting technique and style – I have neither (Sandy, of me: “Muppet”) – but I promise that you will get completely caught up in the excitement when a fish takes the fly and takes off towards the horizon, stripping the line and backing from the reel… (I realise the image above may suggest… well he’s just fishing, OK?)

THE QUARRY – grey ghosts below water, bars of silver above. Caught on the ‘fly’ which are in fact shrimp or crab imitations, with barbless hooks to make the chance of losing a fish that much greater… This ensures that a boated fish can be returned to the water as easily and quickly as possible. It’s all ‘catch and release’, though some (me) find that mostly the fish very sensibly self-release long before they ever reach the boat…

Abaco bonefish off Crossing Rocks (just caught and released)Guide Ishi with Abaco bonefish caught on the MarlsGuide Robin Albury removes the barbless hook before returning the fishgood specimen‘Ishi’s Fishy’, as he would say

All images, and indeed fish, ©RH

There is even the possibility that at some stage you may unexpectedly be handed a rod (even if you have never held one before, or wanted to) with ‘fish on’… Here, Robin has hooked a 2.5 lb fish and handed the rod to Mrs RH (then engrossed in eating a cheese roll) who successfully played and brought in her first ever fish…

PART 2 will deal with what else goes on during the day: the scenery, birdlife, sharks, turtles, blue holes and so forth. For now, here is a short clip of the skiff ride out to the Marls, to give you an idea. NB this was a very calm day – things can get a little bumpier and wetter at times. The seats are padded, but not very… 

 [Ultra-cautious music credit to Joe Satriani who sued Coldplay for alleged tune 'borrowing' saying "I felt like a dagger went right through my heart. It hurt so much". Case dismissed + unspecified settlement...  Way to go, Joe! Want to check? Cut 'n' paste this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjB024bZoB4&feature=fvwrel Then by way of counterbalance try John Lennon's Imagine vs Coldplay's 'Fix you' at (cut 'n' paste)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DksjpsAe3vk&feature=endscreen&NR=1]                

CLICK LOGO for the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust