Friday, May 15, 2015

Of Bonefish and Barracuda

When my future wife Katie told me to plan our honey moon, she told me she required only one thing; a warm sunny beach. The rest was up to me.
"Honey, can we go fishing a day or two on the trip?"
"Of course. I'd like that." 
It was then that I knew I was marrying the woman of my dreams.
I choose Cozumel Mexico as our destination. My research had shown me that the island was relatively safe, full of all inclusive resorts, had snorkeling opportunities and most importantly, flats fishing.
After a wonderful wedding we were off to Mexico! The first couple days we spent lying on the beach and soaking in the sun. As pleasant as this was, you knew I had one thing on my mind........ Our day of Bonefish fishing.
On the third morning of the honeymoon we took a taxi to the marina to meet our guide Enrique, and his helper Juan. By 6 AM we were off and cruising to the Northern lagoons of Cozumel.  
We cruised North past a few large resort hotels before turning East into the rising sun. The beautiful blue waters of the Carribean seemed to make the sunrise that much more gorgeous.
Enrique slowed the boat and aimed for the mangrove covered shoreline. There were no flats in sight but I trusted that our guide knew where he was going.
Enrique grabbed our fly rods and inspected our gear. 
"You fish for Bonefish before?" he asked.
"No, first time."
"Me too." Enrique smiled big and laughed.
Everyone in the boat laughed. Then he stood up and said "lets go."
Enrique didn't speak great English and so far had said very little to us. Including what the plan was and how we would actually fish. He stepped out of the boat and walked off disappearing into the brush.     
I looked at Katie and said, "Well I guess we better follow him."
We both chuckled and chased after Enrique into the brush. 
A short distance through the brush led us to a lagoon. My excitement level went up as I saw the shallow clear water. The three of us quietly waded into the warm pleasant water and began looking for fish.
We hadn't gone far when Katie spoke up. "There's one." She pointed to a spot.
"What did you see?" I asked.
"A bonefish. I saw a couple clear fins stick up."
"Yeah that would probably be a bonefish." I replied.
Not wanting to annoy or deviate from the guides plan, I stuck close to his right side waiting for his instruction.
We went a little further and I spotted another tailing fish. I pointed to him and Enrique's eyes got a little wider. "Ok."
Enrique slowed but kept walking. I was a little unsure why he didn't have me cast to these fish. I could only assume he was taking us to a better spot.
Enrique stopped and pointed to some "nervous" water. I could tell a school of fish was there and we soon saw one begin tailing. Enrique pointed and said "Cast".
I made my cast and Enrique guided me on how to strip the fly.
"Short slow strips."
I retrieved the fly about halfway back to us and felt a soft tap. It felt strange but I kept on retrieving the fly. I always guessed with as quick as bonefish were that when one took your fly it would be a solid stop to the retrieve. I looked at Enrique with curious eyes. "I think I had one. Do they hit it pretty soft?"
"Yes." Enrique replied slowly nodding his head with Carribean-like excitement.
I picked up my line and shot another cast back to the nervous water.
My fly landed with a PLOP and the water erupted with movement of ten or so bonefish scurrying for their lives.
Whoops, I thought.
Enrique walked on.
We began to see schools of Bonefish all around us. We walked another 20 yards and Enrique stopped and had me cast to another fish. This time I placed my cast perfectly and began stripping. I felt the soft take of another bonefish and gave a quick, hard strip set. No fish materialized on my line. 
"Soft strip and lift of the rod." Enrique said nodding his head. 
I was beginning to realize our communication needed to improve if we were going to catch any of these fish. I began to ask more questions of Enrique as we continued to walk. 
I asked Katie if she was ready to try.
"I think I'll just watch for a while," she said with an intimidated smile.
Another group of fish presented itself and Enrique had me cast. Despite the wind, my 6 wt was punching the line through to where I was aiming.
We worked a school of fish for a while and Enrique had me change to a heavier fly.
We continued our slow walk through the clear flats. The bottom varied from soft silt to hard rock and coral. I was very glad someone had suggested wearing flats boots. Without them, our feet would have been trashed from all the sharp rock and coral.
I still wasn't sure why we were walking past so many tailing fish. All I could assume was that he was taking us to some "honey hole". We continued along, until we stopped seeing fish. We walked another half mile back to the boat. I was happy to have seen so many bonefish and at least felt a couple takes, but a tad disappointed to have not connected with one. Katie and I were still happy just being out there and experiencing something new. However, I thought, the next time I see one near me, I'm just going for it.
We got back into the boat and Enrique took us to a couple islands. 
"Snook and barracuda." Enrique said as he gestured for me to hand him my rod.
Enrique tied a very large, heavy squid pattern onto my 6 wt. He then handed Katie a light spinning rod and hopped out of the boat. 
"Cast to shadows next to brush." Enrique said as he waved his hands in the direction of an island.
I had Katie go ahead of me and hit some of the prime shadows before I did. Instantly she was into a fish.
"Woooooo!" Katie yelled, as a fish thrashed and pulled.
I waded over to her and Enrique just in time to see him grab a small barracuda attached to Katie's line. 
He promptly released the fish, and Katie was off and casting again. I waded back to a promising area and began casting to the shadows. BOOM! My fly came to a dead halt as a barracuda slammed it after only two strips. Instantly, line started peeling off my reel as the fish zipped toward what little structure was in the area. The run ended quickly and the fish starting racing towards me. After gaining control of my line and the fish, I grabbed the little torpedo-like barracuda and admired him. 
Before I could release my fish, I heard thrashing water and looked over to see Katie fighting another one. I ran over to take a look. This one was a little bigger than the last; about 25 inches long.

We each caught half a dozen barracuda before we sat down in the boat for lunch. I felt like Enrique had taken us to his "kiddy pool" for us to catch some fish.
I leaned over to Katie and said, "I think barracuda are the bluegill of the flats."
"So they're really easy to catch?"
"Yeah, I think Enrique just wanted us to feel good about ourselves." I said with a chuckle.
After lunch, we set off on foot again in pursuit of bonefish. We waded through the knee deep water for nearly 30 minutes without spotting anything but a few needlefish and a stray barracuda. I decided to wander 30-40 yards off of Enrique's right side, just to cover a little more water. I found a coral pile that rose to within 6 inches of the surface. I stepped up onto the pile and found that I could see a little better from this height. I stood there and looked to my left and then to my right. I was about to step down when they appeared out of nowhere. A school of 10 or so bonefish magically materialized to my left, only 25 feet away. They were headed almost directly at me. Without even thinking, I made a quick roll cast. The fly landed a few feet in front of the school. I made two small strips and a fish was already on my fly. I felt the soft take and set the hook. Immediately the fish was gone with his buddies and headed right for a clump of mangroves. The fish was so strong, all I could do was pray he didn't wrap me up. The bonefish slowed and made a 180 turn and headed straight back towards me. I stripped the line as fast as I could but the fish was too fast. I began stepping back to pick up the slack line and nearly fell in the water, tripping up on the coral. As soon as I gained control of the line, the fish turned around and made another screaming run. This time he took me well into my backing. After slowing again I was able to bring the fish in and Enrique grabbed him.
"Nice fish," he said with a smile.
We released my first bonefish and continued walking. I was now like a hawk, my eyes wide and looking in all directions. I REALLY wanted another bonefish. My wish, however, was not granted here. We walked another 3/4 mile without spotting any fish.
We got back into the boat and Enrique poled us into some deeper water. Juan threw out the anchor and we came to a stop.
"Cast there." Enrique said, as he pointed to some darker water that looked to be about 6 feet deep. "Long cast. Slow strip."
I casted as far as I could with the sideways wind and began retrieving my fly. I made it a third of the way back and felt something strange. I set the hook and felt the pull of a fish. The fish took off and made a long run. After a long battle, I brought in another bonefish.
"Keep going." Enrique said, as he released my fish.
I got back up on the platform of the boat and casted into the deeper water again.
Several casts later, I hooked into another bonefish. This one was a tad smaller but every bit as good of a fighter. Enrique released the fish and told me "5 more minutes."
The next 5 minutes did not produce any more fish. I reeled up and sat down as we left the lagoons and headed back to the marina. Overall, I was happy with what we accomplished for the day; I had caught a few bonefish and Katie had caught some fish. However, I couldn't help but wonder why we had walked past so many bonefish in the early morning? I've fished with guides before and been a guide myself. I know its best to listen and do exactly as the guide says. But, I don't agree with walking past fish that seem very catchable. What I took away from the day and what advice I hope to share with anyone going to another country to fish, is this. Do your best to establish good communication with your guide early in the day, even if their primary language is not English. Ask your guide lots of questions. Ask him what you will be doing, and what he expects of you. Hopefully by doing so, you will know what to expect and have satisfying success.