By Clark Smyth
When Jesse and Eron Sturm (twin brothers) graduated from high school in 1994, followed by Mike Gagne, James Ryan and yours truly, from the same school the following year; each heading off to separate colleges and universities, none would have said, "good luck in college, see you in the Bahamas in 2022." However, twenty-eight years later, we wound up reunited on the front porch of a small Bahamian fly fishing lodge on the north-western point of the Abaco archipelago. We found ourselves discussing tactics, tips and tricks on how to catch bonefish on the fly.
Joined by newcomer Steve Taylor (Jesse's roommate during graduate-school), we sat on the porch of Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge mulling over the how-to's of fly fishing for bonefish. Notably, only two of the six in this group had prior experience in the salt. Half of the remaining four arrived having zero knowledge of what it takes to catch bonefish with a fly rod. Needless to say, learning how to fly cast (let alone catch a bonefish) on the flats of northern Abaco is a bit like a pony-league baseball player stepping into the batter's box at Yankee Stadium with sincere hopes of avoiding striking out. Who's up for learning to fly-cast on the often breezy bonefish flats of the Bahamas? Challenges such as this are likely easier to take on with little-to-no frame of reference. However, the two experienced anglers in our crew unquestionably doubted a positive outcome for the newbies on day one.
After a lengthy demonstration of how to rig a fly rod, how to hold a fly rod, how to cast the rod, how to present a fly to a moving target (which are harder to see than anyone expects) and then fish said fly keeping the line continually tight, when to strip, when not to strip, how to read the fish, and how to set the hook. These conversations lead to the inevitable question of, "what happens after you hook them?" Realistically, the correct response should have been, "you're not going to need to know about that." However, not only did a discussion about how to play fish ensue, but ended in the author attempting to run as fast as a bonefish with a leader in my mouth only to end up face-planting in the hard dirt after the first three steps. With ego curbed, rods rigged, tackle organized, boat-bags at the ready, the group hit the sack in anticipation of their week-long adventure in the Bahamas.
Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge is home to three highly competent and capable fishing guides. Lead by owner/guide Sidney Thomas who is one of the best at his craft in all the Bahamas. His remarkable skill set is on another level. Veteran Greg Rolle is a consummate professional. He understands the pulse of the flats to an astonishing degree. Greg's son Dominick rounds out the three boat crew and although merely 30 years old, Dom has a captivating passion for fishing, a crazy set of eyes (he's able to see fish further and sooner than many), and a very bright future. The team works well together, they are each courteous, patient, and in-tune with both the fishery and their ability to read and relate to people. As a professional trout guide in Wyoming, you get to know all sorts of characters who choose to work as guides in the Rocky Mountain west and not all trout guides are created equal. The same goes for fishing guides the world over. The trio of bonefish guides at Little Abaco are indeed all upper echelon.
The next morning the guide crew enthusiastically greeted our group for our first day on the water. After a short jaunt to the nearby boat ramp in Crown Haven, fly fishing "boot camp" began for the inexperienced bone fishermen in our group. Notably, at the end of the first day came two comments from the new anglers: One, "wow, this is much more difficult than I thought it would be!" And two, "maybe we could use a drone to help find the fish, then the guide could tell us where to cast based on what he's seeing on the screen?"
Comment one, makes a ton of sense. Yes, fly fishing for bonefish is hard. It's likely the hardest way to catch them - and precisely why so many are drawn to the sport. Difficult but attainable. Challenge accepted. Comment two, brings up a topic for another time. Drones and fishing? I don't think so. Plus, the reason I bring up the drone isn't anything about gaining fishing advantage via technology but rather how this group of new anglers progressed over a short six days of fishing. By the end of the trip, the drone comment was forgotten and a new nickname was given to Dominick, the guide. Due to his ability to spot fish from his perch on the poling platform, our group aptly named him the "Bone Drone".
Not only were there seemingly sophisticated mental gain's made (including recognizing that flats fishing is just fine without drones), but some impressive physical gains made as well. Each of the newcomers in this group either learned how to cast a fly rod effectively or made substantial improvements to their previously capable casts. Amazing what a little tenacity, a solid guide crew, and an amazing fishery can provide. By the end of the trip, each newbie had caught and released multiple bonefish on the fly! A true testament to both the fishery itself and the guide crew's ability to teach newcomers the art and sport of flats fly fishing. In addition to the superb bone fishing experience, it should be mentioned that two respectable tarpon were landed (one other jumped). The group was also able to supplement one night’s table-fare by catching a couple of barracuda.
All-in-all this mixed bag of anglers of varying skill levels were able to reconnect (it’s been too long) and further both our relationships and fly fishing skills through a truly memorable travel experience. Everyone in the group was able to land fish by means of one of the hardest tactics possible - but not without a little help from an A-team of "bone drones".