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

BABY BONEFISH, CASUARINA, ABACO HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT…


Casuarina Bay (to south)

BABY BONEFISH, CASUARINA, ABACO: HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT…

Bonefish are difficult to see in the water at the best of times. Shining silver out of water, but pale grey shadows underwater. Fishing under cloud cover and / or (especially ‘and’) when there’s a ripple on the water can be atritional. Sight-casting becomes impossible, and the best recourse is to locate the cloudy patches of water that show where the fish are feeding on the bottom. Chucking the fly into – or beyond – one of these and stripping back may be the only way to get a fish in such adverse conditions. What’s needed is clear sky, sunlight, good polaroids, patience, and keen eyes to scan the water for dark shadows moving across the sand… Or, in my case, simply waiting for the guide to hiss “Hey! Rolling Harbour. Three fish, 40 feet, 10 o’clock moving right, see them? Go now!”. By then, there’s a 50 / 50 chance I may have located them and got my act together enough to (try to) cast at them…

This picture of an adult fish, just caught on the Marls and released at once, shows how a bonefish can easily blend in with its underwater surroundings… but it can’t hide the dark shadow it casts.Adult Bonefish, The Marls, Abaco Bahamas

Two days later we went to Casuarina with friends who wanted a day’s wading on the extensive flats there. This photo shows a juvenile fish close to the beach there, on a glorious sunny day with a light breeze (the header picture [double-click] was taken the same day – low water over pale sand as far as the eye can see). I’d never have noticed this little fish, had I not seen the dark shadow it cast on the sand, magnified by the distorting effect of the ripples.

Without the distortion from surface ripples, the bonefish shape can be clearly seen. It’s hard to imagine that by the time this little fish has reached a weight of 2 lbs, he will be capable of stripping your line down to the backing in seconds… or could he?

No, not, in fact. This fish, with its deeply forked ‘bonefish’ tail, is in fact a YELLOWFIN MOJARRA also known as shad. As Zach Zuckerman of the CAPE ELEUTHERA INSTITUTE writes in kindly emphasising that the fish above is not a bonefish, “the yellowfin mojarra… is related to the mottled mojarra mentioned in Chris Haak’s text (see below). Yellowfin mojarra and bones share the same habitats, and mojarra also feed off of benthic invertebrates”. Which brings me to some interesting recent findings by the CAPE ELEUTHERA INSTITUTE in conjunction with thBONEFISH & TARPON TRUST. We saw a single small fish. It looked like a bonefish (though I guess the yellow fin markings suggested otherwise). It was in fact a similar-looking species. Where are all the young bones? The babies? How do they protect themselves from the many predators of juvenile fish?

EVER WONDER WHY YOU DON’T SEE SCHOOLS OF TINY BONEFISH ON THE FLATS?

Article ref: blog.ceibahamas.org

“Since May 2011, Christopher Haak, a PhD student (and avid fisherman) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, along with other scientists, has been trying to solve the mystery of where juvenile bonefish live, from settlement through the time they join adult populations on the flats.  Exhaustive efforts to locate juveniles along the densely-developed coastlines of Florida were met with little success, leading researchers to the comparatively pristine shorelines of The Bahamas to continue their search.

For the past one-and-a-half years, they have scoured the coastlines of South Eleuthera, conducting 1000+ seine hauls, encompassing a broad range of coastal habitats. This project is funded by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and based out of CEI.   These efforts (with the help of South-Eleutherans; thanks Denny and Kelsey Rankin!) have succeeded in locating over 800 juvenile bonefish as small as one inch in length, and have revealed some intriguing trends.  For example, contrary to what might be expected, juvenile bonefish do not appear to frequent the mangrove creek systems or expansive tidal flats commonly used by adults, preferring instead to remain along shallow, sheltered shorelines near deeper basins or channels.”

Can you find the juvenile bonefish among the mojarra in the picture below?

“Perhaps the most remarkable finding to date is that nearly every bonefish collected was in the company of much greater numbers of like-sized mojarras (a common schooling baitfish known to Bahamians as shad).  These juvenile bonefish exhibited markings and coloration not apparent in adult bonefish, but very similar to the mojarras with which they were caught.  By blending in with considerably greater numbers of the model species, the mimics may be reducing their predation risk, and increasing their chances of survival.  In the case of bonefish, this hypothesis would also explain why juveniles are so rarely observed; they are well hidden within schools of mojarras!  From a conservation perspective, this suggests that bonefish populations may be dependent upon healthy mojarra populations, important information for resource managers.

This research is also producing valuable information about the diverse juvenile fish communities that inhabit Eleuthera’s shores.  Myriad seine hauls of the island’s beaches, bays, sounds, and creeks have catalogued juvenile fishes from a wide array of species, including other flats inhabitants like permit, reef fish such as parrotfish, jacks, and wrasses, and some very unusual demersal critters such as shortnose batfish.  The high densities and diversity of juvenile fishes revealed by this study serves to highlight the importance of these nearshore habitats to healthy adult fish populations of all kinds, underscoring the need to preserve and care for our coastlines.”

ADDENDUM With thanks to Aaron Adams of the BONEFISH & TARPON TROUT for use permission, here is a great size indicator for baby bonefish, taken by him some years back in connection with a juvenile bonefish project.juvbonefish

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HOOKED! A FANATICAL FISHERMAN’S WIFE TAKES TO THE BONEFISH FLATS


HOOKED! A FANATICAL FISHERMAN’S WIFE TAKES TO THE BONEFISH FLATS

I’m married to a Fanatical Fisherman. I have never shared his enthusiasm, though I have always loved the places where his fishing takes us. However the chance to spend two weeks at the Delphi Club Bahamas on Abaco every year has changed my perspective. This year I thought to myself (in non-fishing terminology, of course) ‘How about giving it a try?’

We waited for a day that was not windy and that would suit the FF’s own fishing convenience. One of the other guests was a kind and patient, not to say a highly eminent fisherperson and she gave me my first ever lesson on the lawn. With much encouragement I went forth. It was a lovely day with the sun beating down, so it was ‘sun block on and all parts covered’. 

Skiffs on their way to the bonefishing grounds

We set out in the skiff and after an exhilarating ride we glided to a stop in shallow water. I sat enchanted for a moment, taking in the incredible beauty of the place. Guide Tony provided suitable footwear for me (his son’s); and the relative merits of a ‘Crazy Charlie or a ‘Delphi Special’ were debated. Soon I was wading on the flats, rod in hand. This was my first-ever experience of my husband’s lifetime obsession…

Poling to a good place for wading

Within minutes Tony pointed to a shoal of bonefish… I cast (in a manner of speaking)! I struck! I hooked! I played! And… I lost!  

FISH ON!

But that was enough. From then on I was on a mission. I saw the ‘nervous water’ – great shoals of bonefish causing a subtle ripple 0n the surface of the water. When they turned and moved towards me I could hardly contain my excitement. I knew I had to tread carefully underfoot and to keep still as I cast. Silver flashes glinted in the sunlight as the fish started ‘tailing’.

Watch out for ‘Nervous Waters’

Meanwhile the sharks lazily circled us waiting for a chance to grab a prize before we could reel it in. I did hook another bone but it too managed to evade capture. And then suddenly the day was over. How did that happen? In the end I landed no fish but as the skiff sped back across the blue water I knew this was, for me, the start of something wholly absorbing. FF had better look to his laurels.

Lorna Jarman

(All illustrative photos by RH – Lorna was otherwise engaged!)

GREEN TURTLE CAY, ABACO 6 WEEKS AFTER HURRICANE IRENE


Michelle, a resident of Green Turtle Cay who contacted me just after Irene had hit, has emailed this update of the situation there. I’m still getting searches from people asking for news on GTC, so I’m posting this now – there may be some images to add in due course. I have a feeling that many people outside Abaco / Bahamas have no idea that the comms are still down over many areas 6 weeks later, and that the great repair and clean up continues

“Thankfully everyone is fine except for the continuous cleaning up and trying to restore the phone service.  I hear BATELNET has been sold by the gov. So there is now one hapless phone line repairman scampering around trying to get all the lines drained of water and serviceable… Irene came in on both sides and on high tide (as usual… remember Floyd?). It would have been good to have been able to receive news in the US while Irene was approaching the chain, but typical that unless it directly concerns [the US], you have to have other news sources. The patience of Bahamians is simply amazing!”

Although I have stood down from temporary hurricane-watch commentary, I will continue to post with news from individual areas for as long as I am getting online queries. All credit to WordPress for the detailed daily stats breakdowns…

 ©rh