I remember the first morning of the trip vividly. The wind was lacking overnight and awaiting my brother and I outside of our bug nets, was a swarm. Visible on the mesh netting, were seemingly hundreds of no see ums intermixed with dozens of mosquitos. Overnight, they were drawn in by our carbon dioxide emissions and awaited us like a pair of Pavlov's dogs anticipating a bone. I checked out my knee caps that had drifted onto the mesh netting as I slept. They were covered in red bumps. That was just an appetizer before the main course. My brother and I contemplated strategy, before exiting our hammocks and having to untie several knots in shorts, t-shirts, and bare feet as the bugs came in for the kill. I learned the hard way that morning and by the time my last morning arrived, I had trimmed my set up and take down time to under a minute.
I could have left the island on any of the previous days. I decided to stay for the entire week because I never had a day that left me satisfied. I never had really good fishing and I had yet to catch a monster bone. I just wanted one of those things to happen before leaving and not coming back for some time.
On the morning of the last day, I settled on the same strategy from the previous session. A super low morning tide had me off the coast, wading a thigh deep flat. It was there, that I found what I was looking for: steady shots at bonefish for two solid hours.
I started the morning by breaking off a bonefish. A jack took my fly in a small pod of bonefish so I let my line go limp, hoping for the jack to drop the fly. Unbeknownst to me, the jack did drop it and a bonefish picked it up. I tried pulling the jack out of the pod but it was a bonefish. Clamping down on a line as a bonefish runs is dumb, but I didn't know, and my tippet broke. That left me thumbing through what was left of my fly box, or the E,F, and G choices.
With the pod still circling in the area, I re-tied and was super focused on the task at hand. In the distance, a dark shape was heading my direction as I casted to the bones. It was a big shark. Sharks are always on the flats swimming around you and coming right up to your legs before peeling away. But those are 2-3 feet, not close to 7. I noticed him at about 30 feet away and turned to face him. The sharks zero in on your electromagnetic field, similar to the insects tracing your carbon dioxide emission, so the big guy was heading right towards me. I remained super calm, stuck my rod in the water and placed the tip along his side and gave him a little push. He didn't budge. As my rod started to bend awkwardly, the lemon shark slowly turned, realized I wasn't food, and bolted leaving a swirl of sand and mud at my feet. Forty feet away, my pod of bonefish erupted as they finally sensed the shark.
I was a little peeved that the shark scared away all my bonefish so I returned to staring at the void in the my fly box. A cloud covered up the sun for a few minutes, so I reluctantly tied on a darker version of my "go to". The entire week, the darker version of this fly was refused, but since I was over a darker bottom, I decided to give it one last chance.
After about twenty minutes, and no bonefish, I was beginning to feel like it was going to be a repeat of my previous day, where the action was fast and furious before ceasing to exist. Suddenly, I heard a noise that I had grown familiar with. A large slapping sound had me turning completely around and staring off into the distance. A minute later, I saw what I was looking for. A large silver tail protruding straight up out of the water as a bonefish went to town feeding. The slapping sound reoccurred as its tail flapped back and forth desperately trying to suck his breakfast out of its lair. I saw this all week long but it was usually at too far of a distance for me to give chase. That would give you an idea of how loud the slapping sound is and how visible a silver tail is sticking a foot out of the water on a calm flat.
I moved perpendicular to my quarry and got into position. It was a small school of large bones strolling across the bottom. I made a long cast and instantaneously hooked up on a really nice fish.
Just before things got really interesting, my Go Pro battery ran out. The conditions were perfect and I had an incoming tide. I was able to spot singles and pairs of bones coming at long distances and try fooling them in less than a foot of water. I landed another nice one after a long stalk with multiple shots. He had a large scar on his side and was missing half his tail. I lost another fish when my running line whipped up and caught the handle of my reel. I also lost several one on one battles, no doubt because of lack of fly choices. I finally began performing hair cuts on several larger shrimp patterns I brought along. One particular trimmed down fly, scored a large solitary bone close to shore. I was able to get a self-portrait on that guy before leaving the flats for good and finally content.
Leaving the flat, I stumbled upon a good friend of ours named Alex. Out of touch with civilization, there was no way for me to know that he was taking the morning ferry to go fishing for the day. I found him walking a few miles back on the road to the bars for a drink. I gave him a ride and we discussed our polar opposite morning sessions. A few weeks after I left, he went back and absolutely killed it. Hopefully some of our talking points on the ferry ride home paid dividends.
Before the ferry arrived to take me back to the daily grind, I went to a cool little spot I found that is home to a lot of sharks. In the deep channel patrolling his daytime lair, was the BEAST. All 70-80lbs of him. The local legend, if you are unfamiliar with our stories, is said to be uncatchable. My brother and his friends have hooked him over 10 times on spin and fly gear. My brother fought him for an extended time period before it shattered his Loop Evotec Salt 10wt. in half. I did battle with him as well before he pulled a factory rated 60 lb. wire leader through its factory knot. Up to this point in time we only saw him patrolling the dock at night where he ambushes anything that can fit in his mouth, including hooked tarpon up to thirty pounds. In no way, shape or form, does this picture do him justice. He is this BIG.
I went back to the car and rigged up the spinning rod for one last shot at the Beast (named accordingly after Sandlot). I tried everything I had left with only one measly follow. 10 inch plugs, 12 inch hogies, a few mushy mouth flies, and musky patterns. Too damn smart and too damn big. It was fitting that the last fish I saw and fished to was the Beast. I bid him farewell and headed to the dock.
As the island quickly disappeared, I was able to reflect on three summer's of memories. Almost all of my flats experiences occurred here, sleeping in the sand and getting tortured by bones and bugs. This was where I caught my first bonefish and landed my first permit on my birthday. Knowing it so well, I know I'll be back in the future. Until then, the memories, experiences, and fish will keep me going.