By: Sam Collett (@collettjsam)
Photos by: Sam Collett & Ty Hibbs (@whatever_bites)
I’ve developed a bi-annual habit of leaving the southeast Louisiana mud, assembling a band of equally mental friends (and understanding girlfriends) and making a trip to somewhere tropical to wade fish.
This blog will center primarily around bonefish, because permit suck. Anyway, throughout my fish-oriented travels, I’ve developed somewhat of a list of things to do and things not to do should you decide that DIY flats fishing is your thing.
As a precursor, if you can swing getting somewhere tropical and fishing with a guide, you should do it for a multitude of reasons. First of all, supporting local guides is a very good thing. Nobody knows their home flats (Bahamas, Mexico, Belize or elsewhere) like they do.
Secondly, you will catch a lot more fish with a guide, make no mistake about that. The mobility of a skiff and the local knowledge of a guide cannot be replicated by you on your feet. You’re not that good.
That said, there’s something about doing all your homework, driving down a dirt road in the Caribbean and pulling up to a flat right as the tide starts coming in to be greeted by 50 tailing bonefish. If that doesn’t get you going, whatever dude.
DIY fishing is cheap, you can fish all day every day and the only thing you’re really spending is time. I’m actually writing this two days after returning from a flats trip with two of my good buddies, so my screw ups are still fresh on my mind. These are just a few things I’ve learned that can hopefully save you some time and frustration.
Buy a good pack, but travel lightly. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t carry a pack if not for my camera. Keep in mind that you’re likely going to be wading several miles a day though, so a heavy pack in island heat is no fun. Make sure that you have something big enough to keep a water bottle, small fly box, leader material and pliers. Fanny packs are also rapidly coming back in style FYI.
Check your fishing gear with the rest of your bags. This goes for any fishing trip, DIY or otherwise, carry it on. On every single flats trip I’ve been on, someone’s checked bag has gotten lost, this past trip it was mine. This is particularly problematic when travelling to remote areas, because you’re often forced to switch from a major airline to a smaller regional/local carrier to get to your final destination.
So, if the big airline loses your bag, you’ve got to contend with negotiating with the other airline(s) to make sure it eventually finds its way back to you. Better to get where you’re going with no clothes and fishing gear than vice versa.
Various brands have carry on rod bags that are absolutely worth your money and have plenty of space for multiple rods, multiple reels, a small fly box and a couple changes of clothes. The TSA specifically allows fly fishing gear (including flies) to be carried on planes.
The TSA is without a doubt the pinnacle of governmental agencies when it comes to integrity and competence, I’ve never had any issues with carrying on my gear. If they do give you issues, I recommend compliance, lest you be dragged off the plane in a pool of your own blood minus some teeth.
Travel with a cooler. Most airlines are cool with you checking an ice chest with frozen food. In the islands, grocery store food is not only pretty expensive, but it’s often old enough to make Whole Foods employees cry.
Most remote Caribbean locations are dependent on supply boats, and sometimes those boats just don’t come for whatever reason. Packing a hard sided cooler like one from our buddies at K2 Coolers with some frozen foods will save you some money, and you’ll have something to eat should the whole island randomly shut down for three days; it happens. Having a cooler to stash beers in for the trips up and down the island in the rental car is also clutch.
Forget bug spray.
Talk to the locals. It blows my mind how much almost everyone in the islands, particularly the Bahamas, knows about bonefish. Not only that, but you’re there for more than just the fish.
Caribbean folks are some of the nicest on the planet, and for the most part they’re all genuinely stoked that you’re there; talk to them. They have awesome stories, their culture is super laid back and who knows, if you’re cool to the right person you might find out about a flat or creek that nobody else knows about.
Take the fishing too seriously. I know you can shoot 90 feet of line with one false cast into a 20 knot wind, and all the fish where you’re from know your name because you’ve caught them all. That’s sick. You know what’s not sick? Wading a pristine sand flat or mangrove lined creek on a remote Caribbean island pissed off about something.
Wading for bones is hard. Some days, fish don’t eat because they’re fish. Some days, they don’t eat because you suck. Other days, everything works out and you smoke them.
Slow down, take the good with the bad, and appreciate that fact that you’re out there, especially if you’re someone like me that works full time in a field entirely unrelated to bonefishing. I often have to remind myself of all of this, because I, like you, take fishing more seriously than I probably should.
Also, cast at everything you see. Chances are that fish probably doesn’t live back home and catching new fish is sweet.
Explore. There’s a lot of really helpful info online about flats fishing, but keep in mind that if it’s online other people probably know about it too. The first time I ever made a flats trip, I caught a tagged bonefish. I called in the tag number to the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust only to find out the fish was tagged two years earlier in the same exact creek.
If you’re fishing an area that’s widely publicized on the internet, chances are those fish see flies. So if you want to get away from pressured fish, get off the beaten path and go explore some new areas. If the weather keeps you off the flats for a day, load up the cooler with beers and go scouting. Word to the wise – bring rods.
Pass up a gas station without filling up. Ask me how I know.
Pay attention to the tide. Without the mobility of a skiff, the tide controls your success (or failure). There are a lot of tide charts online, but chances are they’re not accurate. As soon as you get to where you’re going, go somewhere where you can start figuring out your tide times. Everyone has their opinions as to which tides are best for bonefishing, but nothing is worse than kayaking three miles to a creek that looked awesome on Google Earth, only to find the bones ganged up in the mangroves laughing at you because you missed the tide.
Buy the ticket and take the ride. Stop sitting around saying you’ll do that next year, you’re not getting any younger. Work is cool and all, but so is fishing super remote locations with your friends and drinking beer. These trips can be done for pretty cheap, and a lot of these destinations are half a day’s travel away. Stop procrastinating.