It was early January, and a number of states were experiencing below-zero temperatures. So a few days bonefishing in the Bahamas seemed like a great way to shake off the chill.
A ragtag team of outdoor writers and some of YETI’s brightest minds converged at Fort Lauderdale airport, in South Florida, then shuttled to nearby Air Flight, for the jaunt across to Great Abaco, Bahamas.
UP AND AWAY
Thirteen of us piled into two small planes with all our gear, and were soon up among the clouds, looking down at the deep, blue waters of the Gulf Stream, en route to Marsh Harbour.
The 75-minute charter flight took us right over the Abaco Marls, and everyone peered out the nearest window for a bird’s-eye view of the 400 square miles of shallows, where I envisioned tailing bonefish would welcome us in droves, and eagerly gobble every fly in my arsenal.
Abaco is a favorite vacation spot of mine, so I was no stranger to the area or its finned inhabitants. But it had been a couple of years since my last visit, and I couldn’t wait to be on the casting deck of a skiff, scanning the flats for tails, wakes, and other signs of bonefish.
Just 15 minutes after clearing Bahamian customs and immigration, we arrived by van at Abaco Lodge, located right on the water, overlooking the Marls. The place has everything an angler could possibly need for a memorable fishing getaway, including superb accommodations, exquisite food and drinks, and a very capable and pleasant staff.
The forecast called for temperatures in the 60s, warmer than it was stateside when we left, but with rain and a stiff 15 to 25 mph breeze, hardly ideal sight-fishing weather. However, we were going to fish the fabled Marls, and expectations were still high. We just zipped up our rain jackets and got ready to rumble.
A fleet of 17-foot Maverick Mirage HPX flats skiffs, spotless and equipped with a leaning bar up front and a poling platform in back, were tied up at the dock, where the seasoned guides met their respective anglers after breakfast, and helped load their bonefish gear on board.
The night before, the YETI crew introduced us to some of the latest YETI products: the waterproof Sidekick, ideal to pack fly boxes, leader spools, and spare sunglasses; the Hopper Flip 12 soft cooler, which doubled as a dry bag to stash rain gear and our valuables (since every boat already had a YETI Tundra); and the Camino Carryall 35, the perfect tote to load and unload tackle, food and drinks, wet wading boots, or even ice (since it’s waterproof). YETI had sent plenty for us to use, so we gladly took them up on their offer.
After an unremarkable first day on the flats when bonefish were sparse and still getting over the effects of a passing cold front, I shared the casting deck with Kelly Bastone, freelance writer and seasoned fly angler from Colorado, who’d fought a couple of bones to the boat on day one, only to have the hooks pull at the last minute. A couple of hours into the morning, despite a howling wind, she hooked up again.
This time, the fly stayed put, and after a couple of nice runs and plenty of cheering from the peanut gallery, Kelly patiently coaxed the fish boatside. Soon, she finally wrapped both hands around a Bahamian bonefish. Ah, the pleasure of having that thick bonefish slime all over your fingers and palms!
As the day grew warmer, we came across more fish, many from unexpected angles, with no warning. Our guide Michael worked hard with the push pole, and eventually I got a good shot. Luckily, everything clicked. The fish attacked my fly and was immediately off to the races with all my fly line in tow. A few minutes later, I gave the grey ghost a bit of CPR and bid him farewell.
Our third and final day of fishing, we woke up to flat, calm waters stretching as far as the eye could see. Sometime in the wee hours, Lady Luck had shut off the fan. As we hopped aboard the skiff, Tim Neville, a tall, well-traveled writer with bylines in the New York Times and various outdoor publications, shook hands with me and our guide Freddie, who, now that the wind was down, was as excited as we were about the prospect of finding tailers. It turns out I knew Freddie from way back, when he guided in South Andros, and we shared a few laughs reminiscing about the old days. That is, until the first tailing bones came into view.
Tim masterfully lead one of the fish with his cast, teased him perfectly with his stripping cadence, and then sealed the deal with a strip strike. The sweet sound of a screaming drag interrupted the nervous silence, and fists went up in jubilation. Well done, Tim!
UP TO THE TASK
The first tailing bonefish of the morning had been looking for food in water so skinny that it’s dorsal fin was actually showing. But my cohort for the day was up to the challenge, and a moment later he was posing for a couple of snap shots with the feisty bone.
PUFF, RUSH AND BANG!
Not long after taking my turn on the casting deck, we came across a pair of healthy bones rooting for grub in a scant 8 inches of water. I laid a cast two feet to the right of one, waited for the fish to look up, and bounced a Borski Swimming Shrimp along the bottom. The bone spotted the puffs of sand, rushed the fly, and bang! I was hooked up.
Pretty soon, Tim was back on the bow with more tailers in his crosshairs. This time, a pack of four fish were milling around in a finger creek, pushing shallower and shallower. Freddie poled us as close as he could get, but a substantial cast was still required to reach the target. Managing the delivery with ease, my accomplice again set the hook, cleared the line, and relished every run from the speedy bonefish.
SEE YA LATER
The spent bone needed a couple of minutes to catch its breath and regain its strength. But with lots of lemon and blacktip sharks around, Tim made certain it was in good shape before sending the fish on its way.
Freddie kept finding tailers for us — a couple of small packs, but mostly singles and duos, so Tim and I just alternated shots and caught fish the rest of the day, including three or four 5-pounders that pulled plenty of backing off our fly reels during repeated escape attempts.
TIL NEXT TIME
By the time we reeled our lines in to return to the dock, we’d released 8 bones and had at least twice that many close encounters. We celebrated our action-packed day by digging a pair of Kaliks out of the cooler. As we sipped our beers, I sensed Tim was thinking the same thing I was: Hope to see you again soon Mr. Bonefish.
Back at the lodge, members of our gang trickled in and gathered around a fire pit, a nightly tradition that afforded us all the opportunity to trade tall tales, get to know everyone a little better, and test the Hondo Base Camp chairs, YETI’s new indestructible folding chairs, which proved amazingly comfortable. The camaraderie carried on past dinner, until we retired to our respective rooms to pack for our return to the U.S. and our busy lives. As we boarded the plane the next morning, I instinctively switched to work mode and focused on the chores awaiting at the office. But it was reassuring to know it wouldn’t be long until I was back in Great Abaco, fly rod in hand, chasing bonefish.