MARK’S BONEFISH FLIES (MARK 2): THE ABACO CHALLENGE, ROUND 2


Here's one I caught earlier...

Here’s one I caught earlier… (Photo: Mrs RH)

 MARK’S BONEFISH FLIES (MARK 2): THE ABACO CHALLENGE, ROUND 2

Last March I took 6 bonefish flies specially tied by MARK MINSHULL out to Abaco to test on the Marls. They were lovely flies, tied with great skill by a man who can pull beautiful fly-caught fish out of the Thames. I tried them. Far better fishermen than me tried them. The result was a failure that can only be qualified by the word ‘complete’. Mark took the news very well, and promised to redesign some flies that might be more enticing this year. Here is his design report for the Mark 2 version that I received this morning. The links to the first experiment can be found at the end of this post. 

RH fish on 2013

RH gets lucky with a Delphi Daddy…

JLM BONEFISH SPECIAL MARK 2

Those of you who may have read my previous posts about JLM Specials and Bonefish already know about RH (of Rolling Harbour fame) and his wonderfully generous spirit. He kindly field tested my original pattern with fantastically conclusive results in 2014! The beauty of designing fly patterns is that one can tweak every variable based on feedback received… The basic pattern still holds however the revised editions are a far cry from their predecessors:

The original JLM Specials

The original JLM Specials

This afternoon I completed a set of adapted flies based on RH’s generous report from last time. White and pink, with small flashes of red or orange are my main ingredients and for the streamers, I used varying proportions of elk hair and/or Arctic fox fibres.

"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement" - Helen Keller (photo - metiefly)

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement” – Helen Keller (photo – metiefly)

Thanks in advance to RH and his March 2015 test team!

Thanks in advance to RH and his March 2015 test team!

I’ll keep you posted of the Outcome in due course. As always – thank you for reading and I look forward to your return.

Here is my own photo of the new Mark 2 flies on a white background to show their subtle differences. I can see at once that I shall have to number them all and remember who is using which, so that the killer variation(s) can be identified… As you will notice, the craftsmanship is terrific. My bet would be on the skinnier ones being the most effective in clear water, but I fancy casting one of the hairier ones across a feeding cloud and dragging it back through the murky water… (which is the only way I’ve ever caught 6+ lb fish – yes, yes, I hear you, that’s pure luck and not skill at all).

Bonefish Flies Mark2

Now I just have to sort out my fly box for next month’s escapades. Some things need to go to make some room – those appalling brown stripy ones for a start, which the guides have chortled at. Or, worse, stared at sadly… Oh, did I mention I also have the little tin with foam in… and that small green ‘Orvisman at Orvis’ fly box from Orvis™… 

The Snowbee Stripping Glove has been thrown to the ground at my feet. The challenge is accepted!

ABACO’S FOUR PROTECTED AREAS: THE PROPOSALS


ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT (Caroline Stahala)

ABACO’S FOUR PROTECTED AREAS: THE PROPOSALS

The latest version of the 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BAHAMAS PROPOSAL FOR THE EXPANSION OF THE PROTECTED AREA SYSTEM OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS has been published. It is a joint proposal by the Bahamas Government, The Nature Conservancy and the Bahamas National Trust. The breadth of the scheme is very ambitious, affecting all the principal Bahama Islands. To understand the objectives and scope of the project, you can see the whole 34-page project by clicking BAHAMAS PROPOSED PROTECTED AREAS 2014 It is in pdf format, so you should be able to save it if you wish to.

Many people will be familiar with the proposals as they affect Abaco. However since the latest version appears to be a final draft, I thought it might be helpful to show the 4 proposed areas of protection and conservation in their present form. These are, in summary:

  1. THE ABACO MARLS NATIONAL RESERVE A vast area of nearly 200,000 acres (300 square miles) of mangrove flats, sandbanks, creeks and wetland habitat
  2. EAST ABACO CREEKS NATIONAL PARK 13,000 acres (20 square miles) of wetland habitat that provides a vital wildlife nursery, and includes blue holes, creeks and a significant area for recreational activities (though Pete’s Pub at Little Harbour may be just outside the zone…)
  3. CROSS HARBOUR PROTECTED AREA 14,000 acres (21 square miles) in South West Abaco, a crucial breeding area for a number of species,including bonefish
  4. SOUTH ABACO BLUE HOLES CONSERVATION AREA  A huge 34,000 acre (53 square miles) swathe of South Abaco to the west of the E D Highway, incorporating 4 inland blue holes and important cave systems, and 13 offshore blue holes. This is an area of mainly pine forest on land and low waters at sea, with an anticipated value for eco-tourism

Here are the BNT maps showing the extent of each area. Far more information will be found via the link to the report given above. 

THE ABACO PROPOSALS

Abaco Preserves 1 copy

Abaco Preserves 2 copyjpg Abaco Preserves 3 copyjpg Abaco Preserves 4 copyjpg

Credits: Parrot, (ex-)parrot protector Caroline Stahala; Maps, BNT; acres to sq m conversion, Gizmo!

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


_MG_4668_1280x853_

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.

IMG_1169

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)

 

RAYS OF SUNSHINE ON THE ABACO MARLS


Stingrays Abaco Marls 1

RAYS OF SUNSHINE ON THE ABACO MARLS

The Marls of Abaco are prime bonefishing grounds, a vast area of labyrinthine mangrove swamps, sandy islets, channels and shallow flats on the west side of the main island. The fish are wily and powerful, the fly hooks are barbless, and each one caught, retained, boated and swiftly released is a prize. There’s plenty of other wildlife to be seen. Heron and egrets, ospreys, belted kingfishers, wading birds and many other bird species make the Marls their home. In the water, there are snappers, jacks, barracuda, and sharks of various kinds and sizes. These latter range from small black tip, lemon and hammerhead sharks to more substantial contenders, with the occasional massive bull shark to add a frisson for those on a suddenly fragile-seeming skiff… 

There are also rays. I have posted before about the SOUTHERN STINGRAY and the YELLOW STINGRAY Out on the Marls I have mainly seen Southerns as they move serenely and unhurriedly through the warm shallow water. A couple of weeks ago, we were out with the rods when we had a completely new Ray experience. I’m not overly given to anthropomorphism and getting too emotional about encounters, but we all found this one quite moving – even our very experienced guide.

Gliding to our right side, a pair of stingrays slowed as they neared the skiffStingrays Abaco Marls 2

The adult paused very close to us, allowing the little ray to catch upStingrays Abaco Marls 3

Lifting a wing slightly the adult let the juvenile creep under, while keeping a beady eye on usStingrays Abaco Marls 4

The large ray was missing the tip of its tail, presumably from some adverse encounterStingrays Abaco Marls 5

The creatures examined us carefully for 2 or 3 minutes, before separatingStingrays Abaco Marls 6

Then they slowly drifted away across the sand…Stingrays Abaco Marls 7

According to our guide, this gently protective behaviour is not uncommon. They may well have been completely unrelated, the large ray tolerating the smaller one accompanying it through the waters and offering a kindly wing in the presence of danger or suspicious objects like us.

Photo Credits: Mrs RH (I was too entranced at the sharp end, with a bird’s eye view, to get a camera out)

AN OSPREY ON THE ABACO MARLS


Osprey - Abaco Marls 3

AN OSPREY ON THE ABACO MARLS

Anglers are not the only creatures out fishing on the Marls. Herons and egrets of several sorts live in the massive area of mangrove swamp, shallow sea and sandy spits that make up the prime bonefishing grounds of Abaco. Yesterday, we were lucky enough to be joined by an osprey. Hooking my ‘Delphi Daddy’ safely into a rod ring, I grabbed a camera and took some shots. These aren’t that great because (a) I normally only take a small cheap camera out fishing (b) the bird was some away off and (c ) my image qualities are variable… These aren’t really worth clicking to enlarge, but I’m pleased to have got some ‘action shots’ of this wonderful bird.

Osprey - Abaco Marls 2Osprey - Abaco Marls 1Osprey - Abaco Marls 4

‘IN THE PINK’: ROSEATE SPOONBILLS IN THE BAHAMAS


Roseate Spoonbill (Myakka River State) Park - Wiki

‘IN THE PINK’: ROSEATE SPOONBILLS IN THE BAHAMAS

ROSEATE SPOONBILLS (Platalea ajaja) are rare visitors to the Northern Bahamas. For Abaco they are classified with the undignified term ‘vagrant’, meaning essentially (a) that you will be very lucky indeed to encounter one, so therefore (b) it is highly unlikely to be worth making a special trip based on the likelihood of seeing one. Try Florida instead.

Roseate Spoonbill WB 60

We saw one once when bonefishing far out on the Marls. It was unmistakeable, but well beyond the effective range of the puny ‘don’t-really-mind-if-it-takes-a-dive’ camera I had with me. The spoonbills in this post were photographed elsewhere in the Bahamas or in two cases, Florida. The wonderful one below of a spoonbill ‘flipping’ a fish was taken there by Ohio bird expert and photographer Tom Sheley.

SPOONBILL ‘FISH-FLIPPING’Roseate Spoonbill flipping fish LR.Wildcat Run FL.Tom Sheley

SPOONBILLS LOOK VERY DRAMATIC IN FLIGHTRoseate Spoonbill WB

Unlike herons, spoonbills keep their necks outstretched in flight. They are most likely to be found in marshes, salt-water lagoons and on mudflats. They are gregarious and mix in happily with herons and egrets, though there is some competition for food. Spoonbills nest in shrubs or trees, often mangroves.Roseate Spoonbill WB 59_IMG_6302 copy 3

Spoonbills tend to get pinker as they get older. As with American Flamingos, the pink colouring derives from their diet, which contains carotenoid pigments.  The colouring ranges from pale pink to loud pinks and reds, depending on age and location. 

Roseate Spoonbill WB 61Roseate Spoonbill BH (from WB)

Spoonbills feed in shallow fresh or coastal waters by swinging their bill from side to side while steadily walking through the water, often in groups. The spoon-shaped bill allows it to sift easily through mud for the edible contents – crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, newts and  small fish ignored by larger waders. This  excellent 1 minute Audubon video shows exactly how they feed, with some white ibises for company.

NEW ADDITION (props to Roselyn Pierce) 1743441_10202241639500028_1766433566_n

And a short non-roseate spoonbill feeding video from the Netherlands June 2014, showing the technique

Photo Credits: Header, Wiki; 1,3,4,5 Woody Bracey; 2 Tom Sheley, 6 Bruce Hallett (RH: nil)

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.

image4

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