Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bahamas

'Gimme a cast, 11 o'clock, forty feet'. Our guide, Efraim stands on a platform high above the outboard motor, spotting for fish, a long carbon rod in his hand which he uses to pole us slowly across the sandy flats in a few feet of turquoise water. I am standing on the bow of the flat-bottomed fibreglass boat, line stripped from the reel at my feet, fly rod in my hand, poised ready for action. I cast into the milky water, stirred up by bone fish feeding on the bottom where they forage in the sand for shrimps. 'Let it sink, let it sink ...... ok, now strip, strip'. With my left hand I strip, retrieving the line back onto the boat, the fly on the end twitches in the water, tempting the bone fish to bite - but not this time. 'ok, try again' says Efraim.

We are in the Bahamas, on South Andros Island, the largest of the Bahamian islands, Mecca for bone fishermen. Fatty is sitting in the boat, poised with camera in hand. I have warned our guide that I have never caught a fish in her presence and that we may have to ditch her over the side if the drought persists. I cast again, using several false casts in the air to strip more line off the reel and the line flies out in the air behind my head. Learnt at an early age fishing for trout on the Scottish rivers with my father, I lock my wrist at the 2 o'clock position to allow the line to load up behind me, then with a forward flick of the wrist I whip the rod tip forwards and the line curls out over the water and drops gently onto the surface, the fly landing with barely a ripple so as not to scare these notoriously nervy fish.

For fly fishermen, the bone fish is the ultimate fishing experience. They live in tropical waters and due to their silver colouring they feed on the soft white sand where they are almost invisible, the only sign being a moving shadow as they flit across the flats at high speed. They have a near mythical reputation as they ghost through the water, and once hooked they are the ultimate game fish, capable of bursts of speed that strip line off your reel in seconds. Because the water is so clear, one has to fish with very light tackle and unless the fly lands faultlessly in front of the fish, they see the disturbance in the water and with a flash they are gone. They have a distinctive movement through the water; head down like an English prop forward, but at the speed of an All Black winger. First of all you must spot the fish; then the trick is to land the fly a metre or so in front, let it sink a little, and then retrieve the line in short strokes to tempt the fish, which will often follow the fly for a distance before turning away and vanishing into the flats. Just occasionally it will take the fly and then the strike is explosive, with any loose line in your hand streaming through your fingers at a speed that causes friction burns on your skin. The skill is to get the line on the reel, hold the rod tip high to absorb the bursts and let the brake on the reel tire the fish as it races around the flats in an attempt to throw the hook from its mouth. Bone fish are a protected species in many parts of the world, so once a fish is landed, it is photographed and returned immediately to the water where it soon disappears again to fight another day.

' Let it sink, let it sink' growls Efraim, who stands next to me, resplendent in hat, sunglasses, long sleeve shirt, long trousers and even socks to protect him from the sun and the Doctor flies which hover around the mangroves, drawing blood with their sharp teeth. I let the fly sink, counting to ten to curb my excitement. Then I start to strip; long strokes with my left hand, letting the line drop at my feet, all the time running it through my forefinger and thumb on my right hand that holds the rod. Suddenly the line in my hand comes alive, the rod tip bends double and the line is whipped out of my hand, almost catching my fingers. Then the tension comes on and the reel screams as the brake tries without success to slow the first high speed run of the fish as it feels the hook and races for the mangroves. I have never felt a strike like this before, not from a trout or even a big Atlantic salmon and the adrenaline courses through my veins, my heart thumping in excitement. The line goes slack as the fish heads towards the boat. It's vital to keep tension on the line otherwise the hook can come free so I reel in as fast as I can, but with the fish almost in sight, the reel kicks again in my hand and the fish races towards deep water on another screaming run, this time taking all my line and most of the backing. My tackle was chosen for fishing for sea bass in Cornwall, not these supercharged torpedoes in the Bahamas, and just as the fish starts to tire, my fly line snaps and we see the big silver beast pause for a moment in the clear water under the boat and with a flick of the tail it is gone. 'wow, that was a monster Paul, easily ten pounds' says Efraim generously. It's a shame that we didn't get the fish in the boat but the fun of fishing for me is stalking, hooking and playing a fish; but in Fatty's mind, I still haven't broken my duck. I hook another fish an hour later but this time the leader snaps and when Efraim drops us back at the lodge for lunch he promises to bring stronger tackle tomorrow.



When we landed at Nassau airport a few days earlier, we walked from the new international airport to the domestic terminal, reminiscent of scenes from one of the early Bond films where Sean Connery arrives to meet Felix Leiter. The immigration officer is charming, and completely breaks the mould; he smiles, laughs at Fatty's jokes and wishes us a happy stay in the Bahamas. We board an eight-seater on Flamingo Air and fly for twenty minutes across reefs and sand banks to land with a bump on the airstrip at Mangrove Cay. A taxi driver takes us the short journey across scrub land to the dock where a speed boat from the resort is waiting to collect us. Ten minutes later we tie up at a small wooden dock where we are greeted by Julian, who minces ahead of us to show us around. Tiamo is a stylish resort comprising ten thatched wooden villas set along a beach and a central communal area with swimming pool, dining tables and an arrangement of comfortable sofas in the shade of palm trees. We discover that the only other guests during are stay are Craig and Ardele, a charming retired couple from South Carolina who have spent the last fifteen years of their retirement travelling the world on the proceeds of Coco Cola share options which Craig acquired in his career as a food scientist. Craig is also an avid fisherman and we are both keen to get back on the water.
































































































Another morning with Efraim is less productive, but finally, on the last cast of the morning I hook a bone fish. Only a small one, but it fights with the same vigour and looks splendid as it poses for a photograph. By now I am literally hooked and after lunch I decide to wade on the flats and try my hand at sight casting without the help of a guide. I wade bare foot in two feet of water, conscious of the sting rays that lurk in the sand. There is a loud splash behind me and I turn to see a three foot shark which I have startled as it glides around the shallows. A large sting ray swims by, a good sign as they tend to hunt in the company of bone fish. Then suddenly I see the distinctive shadows of two bonefish moving fast about thirty feet in front of me, but before I can even get my line in the water they are away and I begin to doubt that i have the skill to do this.

Wading quietly on through the shallows, I spot more shadows, this time it's a shoal of around ten fish heading towards me and I cast; but again they are gone. I stand motionless in the hot afternoon sun and to my delight they turn and head back. I cast my fly and it lands a metre ahead of the shoal - perfect. I force myself to count and then I start to strip in short fast movements as the shoal swims up to my fly. Nothing, then bang! a big strike and the fish is on. It tears off into deeper water then turns and heads towards the beach, then off again. The strength of the fish is amazing to witness but eventually I bring the line within reach and lift the beautiful silver beast from the water. This is a bigger fish but of course there is no camera and no witness so it must remain one of those fisherman's tales. Having stalked, spotted and landed a bonefish I am now confident of more and I wade on along the beach. Another shoal, another cast in front of the leading fish and another explosive take. This time as the fish runs the shoal swims with it and there are twenty fish all darting around me, the water boiling as they break the surface. Another good size fish and I decide to retire to the pavilion on a positive note.










































































Tiamo is much more than a fishing lodge and we snorkel, swim, walk along the beach and eat glorious sea food, enjoying the company of Craig and Ardele in the evenings as we exchange fishing stories and watch the sun set over the flats. The Bahamas are remarkable; despite their proximity to the US there are very few people, the Bahamians are charming, there is abundant marine life and if you stand still and hold your breath, the silence is perfect. Oh, and have I mentioned the bone fish?





































2 comments:

  1. beautiful...but good to have you home - bye bye Louis x

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  2. I like the retiring to the pavilion reference! Hehe
    N

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