Flats Retro in Black and White
Here’s some images of shallow water marine fishing in the “simplicity” of black and white. The anglers, captains, lodges, and destinations are diverse: Captains Ricky Sawyer (Abaco, Bahamas), Jason Sullivan (Flamingo, Florida), Benny Blanco (Flamingo), Ralph Allen (Punta Gorda, Florida), Bob Branham (Biscayne Bay, Florida), Carl Ball (Biscayne Bay), Kyle Messier(Crystal River, Florida), Greg Dini (Hopedale, La.), Emir Marin (Ambergris Caye, Belize), Matt Hoover (Goodland, Florida), and Rob Munoz (Biscayne Bay). My friend Alan Williams is in the shot with Jason and the snook. The lodges and outfitters involved in some of these images are Cajun Fishing Adventures (Buras, La.), El Pescador Lodge (Ambergris Caye, Belize) and KingFisher Fleet (Punta Gorda).
When walking the flats of Long Island Bahamas on a recent trip it started to rain and the winds died. This started the bonefish tailing in the slick calm waters.
Instead of casting I decided to get out the video camera. I followed this single tailer all the way into ankle deep water and got as close as 10′ away.
A Compilation of Poling Skiffs
Recently I spoke with Sam about my doing a compilation of poling skiffs for Saltyshores, and he was all for it. This would be the kind of undertaking which could never be exhaustively thorough or even necessarily uniform in content. Boat builders are extremely busy, live in a highly competitive world and it is not always easy to get images and specs from them. In addition, my own editorial schedule is tight and at times, feverish. Shortly after our talk, I gave a callout to the skiff builders on the Saltyshores Facebook page and the response was impressive. After forty years of flats fishing under my belt, the results confirmed for me once again that there are so many wonderful skiffs and flats boats available at all levels of market niches. This “survey” does not include what are referred to as micro-skiffs.
As to the ordering of the vessels, a rough alphabetical method seemed the most neutral. All of the spec notes I received or processed are not identical in format or scope but a simple web site visit to each skiff builder will give you all you need. I hope you find all these marvelous vessels as impressive as I did- there’s room for everyone ! Additionally, this is just a peek into the wide world of Florida and Caribbean flats boats. There may be more !
Action Craft 1720SE FlyFisher
*7-8.5″ draft depending on load
*Can also be made of Kevlar Carbon Fiber
*Top Speed 59mph with 135HP
*6 person capacity, 2 large wells
*Exclusive Qui-Dry Hull Design (with full liner)
Action Craft 1890SE FlatsMaster
*9-11″ draft depending on load
*Can also be made of Kevlar Carbon Fiber
*Top Speed 66mph with 200HP
*6 person capacity, 3 wells total in bow and stern
*Exclusive Qui-Dry Hull Design (with full liner)
The Ankona Cayenne
375 Lbs Hull Only
60 Remote Steering
The Ankona Native
14’ 8” and 17’ 2”
250-320 Lbs Hull Only
25 for 14’ 8”
40 for 17’ 2”
Ansil Saunders Bonefish Skiff-
Beavertail Skiffs (Aeon Marine)-
Beavertail Elite- 2 images
Length – 17’8″
Beam – 72″
Draft 7.5″ (90 E-TEC, 2 anglers, gear & fuel)
Power 70 – 90HP
Full Cored Carbon Kevlar Hull
Bohemian Skiffs-Bonefish – Bohemian 17′ (www.bonefishboats.com):
Transom Height 20”Max Horsepower 90hp
Max Persons 6
Fuel Capacity 25 gallons
Baitwell 15 gallons
Please see www.chittumskiffs.com
Dolphin skiffs-This is the forward cockpit of the Dolphin Super Skiff. This flats boat has long been a staple of guides and lodges all over the Bahamas and the Yucatan.
East Cape Skiffs-
The East Cape Vantage-
Max people rating: 4
Available in: tiller, side, center, off-set console
Hell’s Bay Boatworks-
Hell’s Bay Boatworks – Marquesa
•Length – 18′ 1″
•Beam – 79″
•Recommended Power – 90 hp – 150 hp
•Length – 16′ 4″
•Beam – 70″
•Recommended Power – 70 hp
•Length – 17′ 8″
•Beam – 70″
•Recommended Power – 70 hp
Transom Height 20″…
Max Horsepower 150hp
Max Persons 5
Fuel Capacity 30 gallons
Baitwell 15 gallons
Boca Paila Lodge, Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Boca Lodge remains one of the flagship flats fishing and shallow water destinations of the Yucatan. All it takes is one quick flight from any American hub to Cancun and you’ll be picked up by their personal van. The drive -which lasts a couple hours- will take you through the historic ruins of Tulum and along the trendy posadas to the south of the city. About a half hour’s drive down the road to Punta Allen and the lodge appears out of the palm tree and beach vista with the vast Caribbean on your left and the endless lagunas on your right. This destination has been under the ownership of the Gonzalez family from the start and continues to please anglers and non-anglers alike after decades of operation. And the best news is that the highly-publicized crime to the north is basically a non-issue in the Yucatan. Here’s a collection of images from this wonderful place.
CONTACT DATA: www.bocapaila.com
Belize River Lodge’s Long Caye Outpost
Belize River Lodge has long been a mainstay of flats and inshore fly and light tackle fishing in this marvelous country. One can almost call it a venerable institution with a history of having served some of the world’s best anglers. A couple of years ago, the lodge (BRL) acquired an excellent offshore property on Long Caye, which lies offshore smack dab in the heart of incredible flats fishing. While I was there with friend Captain Ken Collette, we caught bonefish only steps away from our breeze-swept second story room. But let me not get ahead of myself. When Long Caye opened, Barry and Cathy Beck covered the new operation from a fly fishing perspective. Very soon thereafter, I was on my way to the very same venue on behalf of the light tackle and lure community. The pictures that follow suggest- as they should- this tropic island and surrounding flats is the stuff of angling dreams.
CONTACT DATA: www.belizeriverlodge.com
The summer heat isn’t the only cause for anglers perspiring at the thought of our National Parks right now. The recent National Park closures have sparked some heat among us fisherman who really enjoy this great resource we have in South FL. Times like these leave me reflecting on the great memories raising Hell in the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks this past summer. Law Enforcement is now patrolling the boundary line entering the ENP from the Keys but I can’t help but feel tempted to cross over and pole some of my favorite flats until the blue lights chase us.
Fall is approaching now as we are adorned by NE winds following the last few storms of the year. As the season takes a shift, so does our fishery. The park closures have kept man out of the glades and there is no telling what we will find when the gates open up once more. I, for one am anxious to get back to my slices of heaven… Everglades and Biscayne National Park.
SaltyShores Close-Up: Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas
Jan S. Maizler
Seasoned bonefish anglers know all too well that certain flats seem to hold large bonefish while other nearby shallows simply do not. This is also true within a local string of island habitats, such as Islamorada’s likelihood of big gray ghosts compared to Marathon’s smaller fish, not far to the south. The same phenomenon is also found in the Bahamas, an island nation that features not only huge numbers of bonefish but certain locales that produce some trophy specimens.
I’ve traveled and flats fished most of the Bahamas and have found Green Turtle Cay to have very large numbers of bonefish that range from four to twelve pounds…and even higher. Happily for anglers, Green Turtle produces the kind of large-sized bones more associated with Florida-but without the Sunshine State’s angling pressure. For those unfamiliar with this gem of a Bahamian island, Green Turtle lies well offshore of northeastern Great Abaco Island. Green Turtle is only reachable by boat, since this island has neither any causeway (like Miami’s Key Biscayne) nor a landing strip for planes. The good news is that there is regular ferry service from the “mainland”, not far from the Treasure Cay airport.
One factor that predicts many big bonefish is the proximity to very deep and “large” water. Towards this end, a sizeable contingent of Abaconian flats fishing guides readily acknowledge the shallow water-small bone and deep water-big bone theory. This is perfectly exemplified by the ultra shallow Marls on the island’s west side, which serves as a vast nursery area to hordes of small bones. However, the barrier islands on Abaco’s ocean side offer the deep beach drop-offs into the Atlantic where the bones get huge. Captain Danny Sawyer of Marsh Harbor actually refers to these large gray ghosts as “ocean bonefish.”
Taking Aim at Green Turtle-
In planning for the trip, I was sure to book my fishing days on a quarter moon, a time when the tides would not be extreme as well as avoiding the potential nighttime feeding “problem” during the full moon. I chose the month of April to fish Green Turtle, since mid-spring generally provided features of warming shallows in the Bahamas amidst a weather scenario of diminished cold fronts. Though the spring could be windy, it has always been my experience that breezy, gusty days would offer less spooky giants than would the flat days of summer. In fact, it would turn out that the winds blew out at 15-20 M.P.H. generally out of the northeast during my five days of fishing.
I chose Captain Rick Sawyer for the big bone expedition. “Ricky” is a legend on Green Turtle and a native guide residing right on the cay. I fished with him before and quickly found that I liked the man-and his vessel. In contrast to the “super- shoal” skiffs needed for the skinny water Marls, fishing the ocean side flats and Atlantic expanses required a sturdier, larger flats boat- and Rick’s 17-foot Maverick fitted the bill perfectly.
The rule for Bahamian flats fishing is that anglers bring their own tackle. My choice for these brutes was nothing short of ruthless- 9-foot long Daiwa steelhead spinning rods matched with large line capacity Cabela’s Salt Striker spinning reels. My standard practice when traveling for a species like bonefish- especially the wise old giants- is to be sure to bring the offerings that would ensure releases and pictures, not “shots.” This meant backing up my 1/8 ounce BackBone lures with some fresh-frozen shrimp from Miami. My fly tackle would be reserved for another trip to the Marls, a place where parachuting a fly gently amongst small tailing bones was an appropriately pleasing necessity. But this was a story trip for the Old School, Big Guns, No Crap approach since some of these fish routinely run 150 yards and longer- even with 8-pound line!
I also reserved a room at the New Plymouth Inn since I wanted to be in the middle of the island’s historic “downtown” district. The Inn is named after Green Turtle’s main city, and this whole area is more like a British Loyalist village than an island settlement. Interestingly, the Inn lies only a block from the ferry and charter boat pickup dock and is also is within walking distance of one of Green Turtle’s biggest flats.
After I arrived on-island, Rick came over to the Inn to say hello as well as to take my bait for daily storage and use from his house and skiff. We decided that 7 a.m. would be our regular meeting time at the dock. Rick said that since this time of year could have daily wind direction and velocity changes, our first order of business would be to determine which big bonefish flats would fit the conditions. I was especially excited when he also mentioned that the “Downtown” flat near the Inn recently had some big schools of “surface-swimming” bonefish on it. Florida flats anglers are far less familiar with any surface signs of bonefish besides tailing and waking. In the Bahamas, it’s another story. Whether the locals call it “heading”, “dancing”, or “bibbling”, it’s not uncommon for bonefish to swim along the surface while breaking the water. While some theorize that the fish are spawning, others feel the fish are simply traveling. In either case, it’s simply academic when your knees are knocking like castanets when you make a presentation to over a hundred large bonefish breaking the water.
Ready, Steady, Go! –
Day number #1 featured brisk north-northeasterly winds, which put the “Downtown” flat right in the lee of the cay and our first stop of the day. It took Rick and I all of five minutes to reach the edge of the flat. Parenthetically, short runs are typical of this bonefish paradise- the longest runs to the mainland flats are thirty minutes at most.
Within minutes of poling westward, a déjà vu moment opened as Rick said, “ eleven o’ clock…one hundred yards…bonefish on top.” Even in the low light and vigorous breeze, it was easy to see the surface commotion of surging shapes and swimming tails overlaying a green aggregate mass. Rick let the incoming tide and quartering breeze move us along while he kept the skiff’s track spot-on with gentle pushpoling.
Rumble time came very soon as I cast my jig close to the edge of the pulsating school. Within seconds of my retrieve, my line tightened and I jab struck the fish two or three times. The drag on my reel let out a long though precise watchmaker’s howl as my fish dumped well over a hundred yards of line on its’ first run. Rick chuckled as we both knew this was a large fish. After three more runs, ten minutes, and a billion heartbeats, I had a beautiful bonefish of at least eight pounds alongside the boat. After hefting the fish for photos, Rick felt the fish was closer to nine pounds. In the next hour we were able to take three more fish from that big school by judiciously poling around after the fish. We both felt that the leeside breeze helped riffle the surface and made the fish less spooky.
As the flood tide reached its’ zenith, Rick suggested we try a big flat that was formed in a protected cove a few miles to the north of us. Rick fired up his Yamaha Four-Stroke and off we went. As we headed north, his skiff cut through the wind-churned waves like they were Jell-O. Big waters and big fish need big boats!
Rick made a sharp right turn, eased off on the throttle, and came off plane. After cutting his engine, he poled around a point into a C-shaped flat that was rimmed with a huge sandy beach dotted with some large ‘luxe homes. After poling about two hundred yards, Rick spotted a large ocean tally tailing over white sand off the point of our bow. I think he was surprised when I cast at the fish at all…but I certainly did! In Florida, that kind of fish is a rarity on the flats.
My cast landed about five feet in front of the fish. As the shrimp settled into the water column, the fish swam over and tipped on my presentation. As my line tightened, I pointed my rod at the fish to give it a bit more line. When the line got taut with the weight of the fish, I struck it with my characteristic two or three times. The ensuing fight was worthy of any bonefisherman’s attentions and was satisfying. When I got the fish alongside, we both hefted the fish with a unanimous pronouncement of twelve pounds. After we released that platter-shaped battler, we spent the next few hours releasing another three bonefish ranging from seven to ten pounds.
The pattern over the next four days would have us switching flats based on wind direction and tidal stage. We fished a huge cove on the mainland, multiple cays north of Green Turtle, and many flats on the cay proper. Yet all our s big bonefish spots had one thing in common- close access to large expanses of very deep oceanic water.
One of the highlights of the trip was during the last moments of my charter when I cast to a pair of huge fish easily looking fifteen pounds close to the Green Turtle shoreline. Though I made a good cast, one of those wise old piggies gently picked up my small shrimp and blew it out during a cruel and short window of just a few seconds. I thought the fish smiled at us as it eased off the flat amongst a light forest of mangrove roots. Yet the consolation that we’d managed to release twenty-five fish with a top size of twelve pounds eased the frustration of those last moments.
How to Get Here-
Numerous direct flights are available from Miami and Fort Lauderdale on Gulfstream/Continental and other airlines to Treasure Cay and Marsh Harbor (about 20 miles south). The ferry to Green Turtle Cay runs every hour from the Treasure Cay dock, mere minutes from the airport.
Abaco Flyfish Connection- Captain Rick Sawyer
Web Site- www.abacoflyfish.com
Journey to El Pescador Lodge and Villas
By Jan S. Maizler
Photography By Jan S. Maizler
El Pescador Lodge is located in a very special part of Belize, which is Ambergris Caye. The “caye” lies on the northern offshore fringes of mainland Belize. While Ambergris Caye looks like an island, it is not entirely so, but really an extension of a land mass which begins in Mexico and ends in a peninsula in the same fashion as does Miami Beach. The size of the bay between the caye and the mainland is absolutely immense and has some of the finest flats and shallow water fishing in the world.
The east side of Ambergris Caye fronts the Caribbean Sea. The good news is that there is a bountiful barrier reef which starts north of the Caye and runs -with some breaks- along the entire coast of Belize. This provides superb reef and drop-off blue water fishing for anglers so inclined. And on Ambergris Caye, the reef is quite close and accessible to all the resorts which typically are on the east side of the peninsula as well.
The main town is San Pedro which lies at the southern tip of the caye. San Pedro is an incredibly laid back, hip, and yet trendy town which is a blend of Isla Holbox, Key West, and Green Turtle Cay. Which is to say, that while you’ll find every amenity, restaurants, and great lodgings, the place is set off by a plethora of bare feet, mostly golf carts, a few cars and vans, and travel-by-boat. It’s a hard place not to love, and most interestingly has a small plane runway which literally ends in the middle of downtown San Pedro. El Pescador Lodge lies conveniently only two miles north of San Pedro, which means a very short boat ride from downtown.
A seamless four-step process got me from Miami to alongside the pier that juts out from El Pescador. Firstly, I took American Airlines to Belize City, which is the hub for that country. (Of course on your first leg of the journey, you can choose any major carrier from the “hub city” near you.) The next step was a scenic seventeen minute transfer flight to San Pedro by Tropic Air. While I could have arranged for the transfer flight myself, I opted to have El Pescador do it for me. I had been blessed with clear weather on that flight and happily took in the eye-popping sights of the green and blue water world below the plane.
Once I arrived in San Pedro, I gathered my bags and had a cab driver (who the Lodge had waiting for me) take me to the boat transfer dock. The cab ride to the water was literally two minutes but certainly could be done on foot by folks with very little luggage. The Lodge boat was waiting for me and my belongings were stowed on board. Since El Pescador is so close to San Pedro, I had just the right amount of time to enjoy and finish an ice-cold Belikin beer.
I was greeted at the dock by a staff member, quickly checked in, and escorted to my second floor balcony room. Besides the spectacular view of the beach, the room was decorated with Mayan and Caribbean touches and I was welcomed by crisp air conditioning started up well in anticipation of my arrival.
After settling in, I had lunch on the patio amongst the palms and nearby the pool. The shrimp quesadillas were superb and introduced me to the food and beverages of El Pescador- which was second to none. My breakfasts were to be huevos rancheros and fresh fruits, lunches on the panga during fishing days would be rolled sandwiches, snacks and cold beverages. The dinners would prove to be memorable and included stone crabs and fresh-caught grouper. My favorite drinks at El Pescador would be a good wine and during the days, lots of fresh limeade. After I tried a margarita after a days’ fishing, this item went on the libation list-immediately!
El Pescador Programs and Offerings-
After the lunch, I went down to the office to get more information about my specific schedule as well as to learn additional general resort offerings. I spoke with one of the directors of the Fishing Program, Ed Blank. He confirmed that I would have three days of flats fishing: two days on poled pangas with captains Emir and Cesar and one day working the backcountry behind the lodge by canoe with Ed himself. Ed told me that El Pescador has full services and guides for all manner of tackle preferences and skill levels. Though I’d brought four, six, and twelve pound spinners with lures for each local species, I learned that the Lodge-as well as their guides-had all kinds of tackle as well. Ed also told me that the Lodge can utilize the services of over fifteen guides each day!
El Pescador has a family-run operation that insists on offerings for everyone, which includes non-angling visitors, friends and family. The Lodge has a comprehensive snorkel and diving program in these clear bountiful waters. Inn addition, they offer tours to nearby cayes as well as mainland ruins. There are even well-tailored itineraries such as Family Adventures and Couple Getaways. And of course, this does not include chilling out on the beach and do it yourself explorations of hip San Pedro town.
My first fishing day begun with captain Emir, whose obvious passion for fishing and expertise would somehow mitigate the brisk northwest frontal winds and cloudy skies we were facing.
On our way south, Emir said that today would be terrible for fly or lure casting to sighted fish. His strategy would be to “work” known hotspots and blind cast with live bait or lures. When we made our first stop, he baited my eight-pound rod with a live crab. He told me to cast upcurrent, let the bait drift until the line got straight off the bow, and then retrieve it slowly. It is without exaggeration that I report that I had a huge “take” on the third cast and struck hard. Because my line was smoking off the reel, Emir was sure it was a permit. One half-hour later after much reeling and pursuing, I had a twenty-pound permit alongside the panga, a large specimen for this region. After photos, we released him.
Emir’s next move was to idle south under these cloudy skies, looking for big schools of predator jacks breaking the surface. In twenty minutes, we spotted a huge school waking towards us. I picked up my six-pound spinner rigged with a forty-pound leader and Money Minnow swimbait and made a perfect cast. I was instantly hooked up to a jack of at least fifteen pounds but during the battle it was cut in half by a shark. But, soon enough, we found another school and with a perfect cast leading the fish, I was hooked up again. I must say the jack fought harder than the permit and appeared to be less than twenty pounds- but not much. After we took photos, we released it to resume its’ hunting life.
My mind was on tarpon, so I asked Emir to spend the rest of the day looking for sabalos. Though it was too rough to cross the bay to the prime tarpon grounds, Emir probed the island creeks and we did cast to a few with only one strike.
On the second day, I joined Ed for a guided canoe trip into the maze of lagoons behind the lodge. The weather had cleared and featured sunny skies. We eventually found plenty of bonefish in the smallest calmest lagunas, but they were quite hesitant to take my jig. After four hours, we paddled back to the lodge.
My last day was to be with captain Cesar and an apprentice. I told them I wanted to fish for bonefish. After a half hour Cesar slowed down and cut his engine. He poled the panga onto the edge of a flat and pointed to the edge of some mangroves where a dozen bonefish were tailing. After we got into position and the fish were in the clear, I presented my jig lightly and was rewarded with a good “take.” After five minutes, I had beaten a bonefish of five pounds; again quite large for this part of Belize.
Wherever we would go, we’d find bonefish. I caught another six fish as well as a colorful boxfish. But as the tide started to fall, the bonefish got “very nervous and picky” as Cesar put it. Another hour of fishing continued to reveal their reluctance. But I was happy with the results and needed to get back to the lodge to do some more photos.
As we headed back, Cesar said, “it was a great day.” And I said, “yes, it was!”
El Pescador Lodge and Villas
P.O. Box 17
Toll Free: 800-242-2017
Web Site: www.elpescador.com
Jan Maizler is a veteran writer, author, editor and blogger with over 35 years in the outdoor writing field. He has written eight books and more than 600 articles for all the leading saltwater angling magazines, as well as many prominent websites. He has traveled all over the world and is past International Game Fish Association world record holder for permit on 4-pound line and bonefish on 2-pound line.
Suggestive techniques for handling a bonefish boat-side.
Importance of a single species.
Albula Vulpes; better known as the bonefish, is a species worth protecting. Theories of where our local Floridian bonefishery is headed in the not too distant future still remains a topic to be discussed as different groups can debate on and on about this to no end. Groups like the Bonefish Tarpon Trust have devoted many hours and dollars to research these important topics and back them with hard scientific evidence. Either train of thought can not deny that water quality, habitat change, the 2010 winter, fishing pressure, and predation have definitely effected the bonefishery in a negative manner. The fishery is changing indeed but this write-up is not about where the fishery is headed or whether there is a primary cause for why the fishery is what it is today. This article will discuss techniques for a healthy bonefish release.
I truly believe that each and every single bonefish we release is just as important as the next. Bonefish directly and indirectly bring millions of dollars to our sport fishing economy, as well as help in keeping us locals sane when we feel the need to stalk a truly challenging species on the flats. Though they are scrappy fighters at the end of your line, bonefish are actually quite delicate and fragile fish. Depending on how a bonefish is handled boatside, harm can come immediate or minutes later if handled for too long outside of their comfort zone. If we are to help the survival rate of each bonefish released, we must find it within ourselves to take the extra step to make sure they are released healthy and able to evade predators that may have picked up the trail of distress left by the battling bone.
Talk amongst colleagues
I have had many conversations with friend and avid bonefisherman Dr. J.A. Llera, about the state of our bonefishery as well as different tactics he’s explored when carefully handling these delicate fish. Bonefishing makes up 98% of Dr. Llera’s recreational time and he has spent countless hours studying the species from the eyes of an angler. He has gone beyond studying how and where they can be caught (which he has pretty well figured out accounting the many bonefish he successfully releases on fly while fishing solo), but also how to release his caught fish back into the wild giving them the best chance of survival. Dr. Llera has even devised a sling device used to measure the weight of large fish that does not remove the important slime coating that protects a bonefish from disease and bacteria. He has also concluded that it is just as important to have the fish in the water revived before attempting to handle it, then it is right before releasing it. The best analogy for this is letting a marathon runner catch his breath after he has just run a marathon. That is a wise analogy that has stuck with me since hearing it.
So here I stand on my soap box…
So we have touched base on the 2 things to keep in mind; protecting the vital slime coating on the bonefish, as well as keeping the fish healthy and energized before handling it. I personally am sure that a simple quick out of water and back in photo op isn’t too harmful to a bonefish but I beleieve it is best to keep the bonefish in the water as much as possible unless you have a memorable fish you absolutely have to photograph or have to run a weight fish back to the tournament scales in an oxygenated well. I mean how necessary is it to have 50 in the skiff grip and grins of the same person with a 5lb bonefish. I won’t claim to be a saint in this matter as I have made my mistakes in the past when it comes to handling these fish but through mistakes, time, and proper education, my school of thought has definitely changed. I share these thoughts with others hoping to make some sort of difference, as little or big as it may be.
So if you absolutely have to remove the fish from the water for a photo op, keep in mind the 2 things discussed… slime coating and fatigue. Make sure a bonefish is revived before removing it for a quick photo op and keep your hands wet (or even use a rubber glove) when handling the fish. The biggest slime remover and bonefish killer of all time is the bonefish bear hug with a dry cotton or microfiber shirt. If you really care about the fishes survival, try to avoid that at all costs. Handling the fish as close to the water as possible will also lessen any damage inflicted to the fish by dropping a strong wiggling fish onto the hard deck of a flats skiff. If you release a bonefish and it turns belly up, it will likely succumb to predation or disease, even if you poke it with a push pole to “motivate” it to swim off. I’m sure most of us have been down that road.
Rubber gloves and nets with rubberized meshes are great tools for controlling a bonefish boat side. Keeping a fish in the water inside a big net with rubberized mesh will keep the fish in the water and swimming into the current without rubbing off it’s slime coating. I have personally witnessed that a bonefish releases much healthier when using these types of net and keeping the fish in the water in the current boat side before, during, and after handling. You know a fish is healthy when it just shoots out of your hand and darts off instead of waddling off. These nets with rubber meshes can be found at most local and retail tackle stores today. You can even purchase retractable versions for those in skiffs with limited storage space. They range anywhere from $20 to over $200.
The most reasonably priced and great functioning nets I have found thus far is actually a net I found at Bass Pro Shops. This net is actually made by their own in house store brand. Here is a link to the net…
Other options are also available as companies like Frabill and Stowmaster make a premium net for such applications.
No matter what you choose, just keep in mind storability, functionality, and durability. In my experience, with proper maintenance, even the cheaper nets can last a long time.
Now that all the tools and techniques have been discussed, it is up to us to find it within ourselves to take action in protecting these magnificent gamefish for not on their future, but also for the fishery we hand down to the next generation.
It has become tradition for good friend Capt. Tim Mahaffey (www.flatshead.com) and I to take a day to pursue and attempt a 5 fish slam on fly that to my knowledge has not been documented in the past. These 5 species are the most sought after gamefish in Islamorada; Tarpon, Snook, Redfish, Bonefish, and Permit. To achieve a feat like such would be the ultimate accomplishment, but to document this with professional cameras and a pro photographer will certainly raise the bar. Timing had to be perfect, the skiff had to be set up right, and the fly anglers on the skiff had to have their act together and be able to work well as a team poling and/or fishing.
Our tools: My Mercury 115ProXs powered Maverick 18 Mirage flats boat, a range of old school and new school G Loomis fly rods, lots of different flies, and lady luck.
With my good buddy Rick De Paiva tagging along to capture todays events, we headed off into the darkness of morning in search of silver. The day started off as planned with a 50lb Everglades tarpon to the boat for a quick photo, fly extraction, and safe release. The next species we would spend time on would be the elusive snook. Luckily, our first snooky looking hole held some small tarpon and a snook that was willing to eat a minnow fly. I fought the snook more carefully then I had fought any other snook I have ever hooked. With some luck, I kept the sub-slot snook out of the snags in the water and it finally came to hand. With two out of the way, we moved on to the venerable redfish. We poled the 18ft Maverick flats boat up onto a very shallow flat where the tide was bottoming out. The tide had not been right yet and the mood displayed by the fish were evident of this. It didn’t take long for the tide to turn over and the water to start moving again. Once this happened, our flat lit up with happy spotted flats waving about in a very civilized manner. We caught half a dozen redfish on the tail covered flat before moving off to find our 2 other species in Islamorada. It was difficult leaving so many fish but to catch our next two species, we had to race time and tide. Luckily, at 50mph+ we arrived where we needed to be right on time. While bonefishing, we had a quick shot at a pair of permit that didn’t seem interested in our offerings. Our bonefishing led us to find an area with better current flow. Once we found that, it yielded 4 bonefish shots, 3 fish hooked, and 2 bonefish landed. The toughest of the 5 species was the last challenge to complete our already epic day of fishing. We poled our way onto a flat that should hold permit only to have the red zone on the flat run over by a weekend angler in an Actioncraft with rods flying out the back of his poling platform rod holders and cuda tubes doing pinwheels. Disappointed at what had just occurred, we poled the rest of that flat and didn’t get that permit shot we needed. Coming this close to achieving the ultimate slam only means we should attempt this again another time. Perhaps our next attempt will be more rewarding, as if the day of fishing we just had wasn’t rewarding enough.