Saturday, July 30, 2011

Success Before The Storm

With a full moon a few days away, the tides were fluctuating at very high extremes and they occurred at points in the day that were not ideally suited to bonefishing. Nonetheless, we headed out on a falling tide (our favorite) to hit up a local flat we knew held fish. Reliably. What was once a flat was now an exposed region of dead coral and turtle grass leaving only a hundred yard stretch to fish. We had the sun and wind at our backs which helps considerably sighting and fishing to bonefish over deep turtle grass. Thankfully, we found tailing fish in the distance. A school of 2-4 lb. fish moving cautiously towards skinny water and we were there to meet them. The fish were schooling in a circular pattern and the first two times they came our way, an olive spawning shrimp was followed but refused. I switched patterns to a tan kwabbit and found success with a bonefish taking mere feet from my rod tip. It was my first of the trip and my first ever from the difficult flats of my brother's home island. It was a mountain I had been climbing for nearly two weeks and it was the tipping point I needed to find success later on in the trip.

My brother an I exited the flat to give the bones some rest before heading back for another go around. We hit up several sunken vessels along the shoreline of a harbor for some barracuda action. Several small fish came to hand using a jigging minnow pattern without wire leader. As the fly fell apart it was only a matter of time before a larger fish bit through the mono. After peeling line off my reel, I couldn't keep up, and the thin line found the knifelike teeth ending our barracuda session.

Heading back to the flat the water had receded even further and we waded the deeper areas. The school of bones were on the edge and we had to wait a little while before they decided to come on. On top of the wait, they were extremely cautious. My brother casted well ahead of them and had his pattern waiting in the turtle grass for their arrival. A perfect strategy to simulate escaping prey ahead of an advancing school of fish. Connected, he gently cradled his prize in the water. The bone visually displayed its surroundings on its mirror like scales. Colors of green, blue, silver, and white disappeared upon release back to an abode of turtle grass. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lull in the Action

After five days of sailing and constant fishing, with some of us experiencing very little sleep, we experienced a lull in the action over the next few days. We still fished everyday, but we were now operating on island time. Island time occurs in slow motion. When you set an alarm for 8 in the morning, you don't wake up until 10, and usually don't hit the water until 11. Once your out fishing you take breaks on the beach, fall asleep in a chair, or head to the bar for some extendend day drinking. In short, we were dead tired, and enjoying the surroundings. While this occurred, we focused on several things, one of them being catching a daytime tarpon. We succeeded wildly at catching some baby poon, but our endless search brought us far and wide, fishing from cliffs and by pontoon. Essentially, without a boat, we were screwed.

That left us with some other targets. Nighttime tarpon were always on the menu. Sharks from the beach were also in session. We are talking sharks swimming a few yards from unsuspecting tourists. The largest hooked was a six foot lemon shark 20 ft. offshore that nailed a 12 inch mushy mouth pattern. Snapper were in session on cloudy days, when sighting a bonefish in deep water was not an option. Occasionally, a large snapper met an unexpecting death in the jaws of a large cuda or shark.

Our final task, was catching a permit. We could try for three days in a row trying to catch a permit in all the right spots, but we would never see them. Only when we were least expecting it to happen, did the sickle like tail break the surface of the water. Say, carrying groceries into the house only to have them disappear two minutes later after we were rigged and ready.

A lot of Rainbows But No Double Complete Rainbows

Orange & Red Sunsets

Purple Sunsets

Night Time Tarpon

Daytime Baby Tarpon

Finding the Fish

& Local Remnants

Fishing From Pontoons

Catching Small Snappers

Catching Half of Big Snappers

Exploring Salt Ponds

Catching Sharks From The Beach

Lizard Noosing Food For The Tree Boa

Chasing Front Yard Perm

& Watching Tail

Lots of Naps

A lot.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chasing Birds

As we pulled into the main bay which supports the capitol and marina on our home island, a flock of birds hitting the water caught our attention and diverted the Sea Dancer and her crew on one last fish mission before pulling into port.

Laughing gulls and roseate terns where feeding on the scraps of fish left behind from a few different species of jack and tuna that were busting on the surface. You can tell the size and sometimes the species of fish by the commotion they make on the surface. There were small jacks present and little tunny and skipjacks.

It became clear that the lumbering sailboat could not keep pace with the birds. The rigging made casting foolhardy. Stephan looked at me and then at the dinghy. The 7 of us quickly sprang into action, readying the small craft, finding the most handy box of flies (a random assortment of all kinds of weird stuff) and rigging the 13wt Loop Greenline with an Opti BIG and Rio Leviathan.

A fired up the untrustworthy dinghy and Stephan literally hopped onto the bow as we made for the birds as quickly as possible. I could barely sit on the side due to the rolling swell. I have no idea how Stephan was able to stand on the bow without tumbling over the side.

I positioned us upwind of the birds and ducked as low as possible. I didn't want to lose my head to the super heavy line and the clouser that would be whipping around.

After a few casts and one tug, our excitement led to the line becoming devoured by the prop. The engine died and we did our best to untangle the bird's nest with the engine up. The line was fine, so we resolved to practice better line and engine management as we raced to catch up to the moving school.

After a few more chances at the fish, we changed flies multiple times. The predators were keyed in on the super tiny bait and ignored almost everything else. Stephan tied on a 4" gummy minnow, which was promptly bitten in half on the first cast by something toothy... That was our only gummy on board.

A small, white clouser was the next choice and after a few heart-pounding moments of tuna busting right off the bow, I saw a strip set and a bend in the 13wt.

In a second, a 5" jack came skating across the surface towards us. We were gutted! The smallest fish for miles around was the one to eat.

By this time, the Sea Dancer had left us in the middle of the bay, she had to get back by a deadline. We decided to make one last shot at the fish but on the first cast, the leviathan line was eaten by the prop again!

This time it was serious. The engine was stuck in the down position so Stephan had to dangle over the side, holding his breath, to reach the prop and untangle the line. Fifteen minutes later and we had the boat started again. We caught up to the guys as they were unloading our gear. We were hoping to have some fresh tuna for the barbeque that night, but it was not to be.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sailing On

Due to poor conditions and few fish, we decided to hoist anchor and sail towards greener pastures on another nearby island. Talk of reefs, archipelagos and permit echoed throughout the hull as we hashed out the plan. It was decided to sail through the afternoon, arrive in time for dinner and then fish the next two days on rented dinghies that we'd use to get from flat to flat.

Kicking back during the journey.

Anchorage for the evening.

We pulled up at a rock with a restaurant on it. They had, awesomely, placed some underwater lights along the dock. We watched perhaps a hundred tarpon meandering through the light as we ate our ridiculously overpriced cheeseburgers.

That night, Mark and I again climbed into our hammocks strung from the headsail to the main. The wind was insane and neither of us slept a wink. It was miserable.

The next day found all 7 of us fishing a single, huge reef flat. There was a drop-off, a coral section, a turtle grass sections and mangrove shoreline. We spread out and took up positions at lower tide. Mark, Adam and I were hoping to ambush a permit.

After an hour of impersonating herons, we saw a massive storm system, appear through a gap in the islands, 5 kilometers east of our position. With it came a wall of rain.

As the system raced towards us, the mountains disappeared behind the wall of falling water. Lighting struck. We were in a pretty bad predicament. The wind was howling, which made shouting to each other useless. I kneeled in the knee-deep water and laid my 9ft lighting rod on the turtle grass bottom. I tried to motion to Mark and Adam, 200 meters distant, to do the same. I hoped they understood my frantic waving, but they didn't get down.

That doesn't look so promising...

The rain enshrouds all.

The storm overtook us in a fury. Mark and Adam disappeared into the mist. I picked up my rod and began to trudge towards Mark's last known position.

Adam disappears into the rain.

Amazingly, Adam had the same idea. All three of us had walked towards a spot equidistant from each other. We appeared to each other simultaneously and then sat in the water, feeling safety in numbers.

We sat there, amazed at the fury of the rain that pounded our backs. We looked around but couldn't see a thing.

Then, miraculously, a figure appeared at the limit of my vision. It was Alex D. piloting the dinghy and Stefan H. signaling to us from the bow! They couldn't see us, but were motoring along the drop-off, hoping that we'd see them. It worked.

We raced towards the shape in the background and threw ourselves into the small boat. We learned that Stephan and Alex H were taking shelter in an abandoned building on shore and that they were safe. We high-tailed it to the mothership for some form of shelter.

Once the rain subsided enough to see more than 30ft. Alex went in search of Stephan and the other Alex. He found them and returned everyone to the mothership. We appraised our situation and decided that we had had enough of the crap weather. We were all water-logged, Adam probably more so than any of us judging by his sick hands, and thought that a nice, warm bed in a stationary and enclosed building would be nice.

We again hoisted anchor and made for home, disappointed that we got in to so few fish but content in the knowledge that we would not be giving up for the remainder of our month together.