by.Courtney Marie Martin
As most of you know I just returned from a week-long trip at the Long Island Bonefish Lodge, located on Dead Man’s Caye, Bahamas. My feet are raw and scabbed over, raccoon eye tan line is rockin’, my calves are tight from days of wandering in mud that was sometimes waist deep, but my smile couldn’t be brighter. My journey began with a five hour flight delay due to the plane breaking, which resulted in me missing my layover flight in Nassau, that would have connected me to my flight to Dead Man’s Caye. After spending a night in Nassau with friends due to this delay, it was time to get back on track, and make up for lost time.
When we landed on Long Island the welcome was warm and inviting. As soon as we made it to the lodge, Nevin, had us get changed and hit the water. I only located a handful of bones our first half day. They were already spooked by numerous barracuda trying to crush them on the flat, so I let them be. One of the hardest parts about do it yourself fishing in an area that is unfamiliar is that when you get lost, and all the islands look the same, you have no way to tell anyone where you are. First day out, totally lost, for over an hour, no one in sight. At first I was pretty nervous, then I embraced my surroundings; endlessly peaceful.
This doesn’t go without saying I was exhausted and dehydrated by the time I finally found my way. When we arrived back at the lodge everyone exchanged hugs and stories over dinner. I was exhausted and fast asleep by 9pm every night. The next morning my mind was racing with “what ifs”; what if I can’t do this by myself, what if I can’t see the fish, what if I can’t land them by myself, what if the photos are terrible… I put my big girl pants on and threw negativity to the wind.
We hit the water with Markk, who took us to a huge flat, on the left side was more of a secluded lagoon area, on the right were crystal clear flats. Guy T and Kent Edmonds from TFO ventured off to the right, I had my mind set on the secluded lagoon area to the left. As a Mosquito Lagoon native, muddy water makes my heart go pitter patter. Muddy water also makes bonefish 100% visible, it turns them from grey ghosts into black, very visible, silhouettes.
The first two schools of bones I stumbled upon were bedded down, not tailing, and attempting to camouflage themselves on a grassy bottom. Well it worked, because I damn near walked right over them spooking the daylights out of them. Markk told me later in the day the bonefish do this on purpose, to hide from the local osprey that prey on them. As I made my way to the entrance of the lagoon area I saw a push. Three bonefish pushing right toward me about 70’ out, I dropped a pink crazy charlie sporting a couple silly legs right in front of them and the chase was on. I felt a bump on the fly, strip set, and he took off. I happened to look over my shoulder scanning my surroundings to see where this fish would try to break me off, and I see Markk off in the distance walking toward me. I yelled to him, “fish on!”, and he began trotting toward me faster. I was shaking with excitement as my fish started to settle down, first solo bonefish mission on fly was finally becoming a reality.
As soon as my fish was revived and released, Markk continued on his way toting my 9wt TFO mangrove to find fish of his own. It wasn’t even ten minutes later and I see this large solo shadow 80’ out, using the same fly, I threw just in front of him and began stripping away until I felt the bump. Strip set, and he took off for a large set of mangroves.
Even with only using 12lb tippet he was unable to break the line.(A little side note about fishing with 10-12lb tippet and the reasoning behind it; you may get more breakoffs, but the reasoning behind it is that if the fish does break the line and a piece of line is still attached to him, that if he were to get tangled up in the mangrove spikes where they like to stay that the fish will be able to break the line again. Anything above 12lb tippet they run the risk of getting hung up and dying because the line is too strong to break. The locals have actually found bonefish skulls attached to mangrove spikes by line entanglement.) I gave him a minute to settle down before I retraced his path and walked him like a puppy through the mangroves he wrapped the line up in.
I landed two more bonefish in this same area within the next twenty minutes, changed my beat up fly with only half a silly leg left, and headed off to find Markk to tell him. I was too excited to hold it all in
On my way to track Markk down, I came across a secluded muddy water area, sporting a 50’ radius, with three dead waterlogged trees located in the back portion. It was very shallow all the way around and appeared to be deeper in the middle.
I saw a few very large dark shadows swimming slowly, for a split second I thought they were juvenile tarpon they were so big. Then I realized…, “tarpon don’t live here”. They were bonefish, and not just any bonefish, atleast 10lb and up. After two solid refusals I finally got one to eat, strip set, and buttoned him up. Your first guess as to where he went is probably spot on, straight for the dead submerged trees. I’ve never seen any fish move so fast, he hit the trees so fast and hard with the line it straightened the hook and blasted the fly right out of his mouth. Within five seconds of hook up the bonefish of my dreams was gone, all I could do was smile, and laugh.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for these amazingly powerful fish. I set back out to find Markk and located him throwing fly in another secluded area not too far from where I was. We walked back to the boat together to grab our packed lunches, he was a trooper and listened to me go on and on about how excited I was. After lunch and meeting up with Guy and Kent we hopped over to another flat. I went off to the right and hugged a deeper channel shoreline while Guy and Kent ventured out onto the flat on the left.
I noticed that day and the day prior how hot the shallow water would get as the day progressed, so in the mornings I would focus on finding bones in the skinny water, and as the temperature climbed would focus on water that was cooler with more depth. I kept noticing a glistening flicker off in the distance and continued walking slowly towards it. My curiosity paid off, the first tailing bones I’d seen in two days. I was about 50’ out and threw to them twice, both times they acted spooky, third times the charm. Strip set one of the bigger bones in this large school, with a fish on, the school would not leave him and stayed with him for at least five minutes. Once he started to settle down, the school dispersed, and I was able to leader him. His tail and fin tips were lit up the brightest blue you’ve ever seen, he stayed calm as I took a few photos under water, revived him, and watched him swim back to his school.
Five bones in one day, my smile was contagious. Soon after I was reunited boat side with the rest of my crew and headed back in for dinner. Over the next couple days I landed five more bones, the terrain and fishing was tough, but I was up for the challenge. I witnessed first-hand one of the major conservation issues currently going on in the area, with gill netters present not far from the flat we just fished, my heart broke. If we don’t preserve what little we have left, this will all be gone, and there will be no future generation to follow in our footsteps. This is apparently an on-going, don’t ask don’t tell problem on the island. With a heavy heart, and the thought of bonefish being gillnetted, along with other innocent by catch, we headed in.After dinner with the gang it was off to bed.
Up and at ‘em early, with breakfast on board, we were ready to go. A lot of fish, during the past few tough days of fishing, were able to shake loose and multiple breakoffs, but this last day brought torrential down pours and lightning. After walking a mile and finding no fish in crystal clear water, I crossed over to another flat. About a quarter mile into the flat, I’ve never been surrounded by so many tailing bones, it was a sight I will never forget. Surrounded by hungry bones on a flat with hit after hit, some landed, some not. I hooked one bonefish that was so big and smart he headed straight for the only large mangrove spike and wrapped it 10 times, uprooted it, and even though I loosened the drag, he finally broke my line.
A large storm that had been brewing on the horizon all day finally made its turn toward us, what was a moment of bliss quickly faded into a feeling of unease that I don’t encounter often. I located the boat about a half mile away in the pouring rain and began my waterlogged hike as the lightning cracked and thunder rolled. In the back of my mind, even at twenty nine years old, all I could think was how pissed my mother would be if she knew I was out on the water in this.
At many points on my trek, I was having to crawl on my hands and knees due to the thickness of the muck, on my way to the closest island to the boat where I hunkered down. Thirty minutes into the storm, the lightning seemed to let up a bit. Reunited with Kent and Nevin, we made our way to the boat, and ate our lunch quickly hoping to make our way back out to the same flat. This was more than wishful thinking as another wave of storms sat on the horizon. We waited fifteen minutes to try and track which way the storm was rolling. After about a dozen large cracks of lightning and pouring rain coming in waves, we called it a day, and attempted to out run the storms.
What was supposed to be our last day of fishing, became a rained out day. After we arrived back to the lodge I discussed with Nevin and Kent about taking the yaks out in the backwater lagoon side of the island, and looking for bones, before we flew out the next day. The tide was going to be perfect in the morning for the bones to push hard. Kent and I hit the water at 830am, he headed left, I headed right into the muddy mangrove infested forest.
I knew landing a bonefish in here could quite possibly be impossible, armed with only 12lb tippet and my 8wt BVK, I was up for the challenge. I took my time, calmed my nerves, and was able to shoot some footage of bones tailing within arms reach, literally holding my breath throughout the filming.
With storms coming in fast I called it a day and met up with Kent at the same trail we dragged the yaks down. Within minutes of washing everything off the rain began to come down. Showered, and packed for our 3pm fly out we waited on the others to make their way back to the lodge.
Throughout my entire trip I used 6 flies total, that includes the fly I let the school masters and mangrove snapper destroy on a twelve foot drop ledge we found. It was like turning a fly rod into a cane pole, I was so distracted and giddy over catching and photographing a handful of school masters on fly off a ledge, that Markk had to get my attention and ask me if I was ready to go in.
I used mainly pink crazy charlie patterns sporting silly legs tied by my buddy Matt Schwierjohn based out of Louisiana. Who knew a backwater boy from Louisiana could tie epic bonefish flies? I never had a doubt.
I am living proof that you don’t have to have; the most expensive rod/reel combo, the top of the line kayak, anything more than 10-12lb tippet, the best guide money can buy, crazy expensive camera equipment, or the most expensive sunglasses. You can do it yourself and not go broke doing it.
This week was the best confidence builder for me with fly fishing thus far. I have caught a good number of bones on fly in the past, with a guide, but this was the first time I ventured out on my own with my rod and my chest pack and landed over a dozen bones on fly by myself. My pictures might not be magazine worthy like the rest of my crew, but my story is. Mud was often waste deep, dehydration was real, getting lost weighed heavily on your mind, exhaustion would set in, but there was no turning back.
The rewards were endless, some of the biggest bonefish I’ve landed on fly, and to say I did it all on my own will be an experience I can never forget. My mind is no longer filled with “what ifs”, because I can do it, and I did. I accomplished a task that I never thought possible. As a woman, nothing is more fulfilling than; venturing off on your own and achieving a life-long task.
Not all those who wander are lost.
Long Island Bonefish Lodge is family owned and operated, all meals are freshly prepared by the staff and are included in your stay package. The staff is warm and welcoming, you truly feel like a part of the family. The meals were amazing; conch gumbo, smothered grouped, Nassau grouper stuffed with crab, fresh lobster tails. The staff takes great pride in their cooking and it showed. After an exhausting day’s trek in search of glorious bones on fly, to come back to the lodge every night to; conch fritters, warm showers, clean and comfy beds, a welcoming atmosphere, and delicious food made it worth all the beating we took throughout the day. I look forward to bringing my parents with me to the lodge this coming spring.
Big thanks to; Skinny Water Culture for telling my story, TFO for building badass rods that can take a beating, Nautilus Reels for being able to take a dunking and keep on thumping, of course the always fabulous Long Island Bonefish Lodge for being the hostess with the mostest during the week-long stay, Matt Schwierjohn based out of Louisiana for the epic flies, Ryan Rice of Flyline Media for editing my tailing vid(we can’t all be tech savvy lol), Bonefish Tarpon Trust for all their conservation efforts, and Hoorag for trying to get me to cover my burnt face.
Courtney Marie Martin