Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bonefish flats are calling my kayaks

I've been contemplating a bonefish trip to the Florida Keys. I'm thinking this spring.
But I want to divert a little from normal. I want to put together a group of four anglers and take the kayaks to the Keys.
I'm thinking kayaks are the way to go. They're so stealthy, even wiley old bonefish wouldn't know you're there.
I've got some spots in the Keys which would work out great. I would envision me poling my kayak along, then spotting a bonefish tailing, stopping the kayak, picking up the fly rod, making a cast and hooking a fish. Of course, it's always easy in my dreams.
I've learned that it's often easier in low-light conditions. Mike Lang and I used to fish a Redbone media tournament out of Islamorada every year. We'd go down early and spend at least two days fishing prior to the event and another day after. We'd usually stay at Breezy Palms. It wasn't upscale by any means, but it was clean and a place to sleep. We didn't spend much time in the room.
We'd get out of the water prior to dawn and head for our first spot. That was usually Teatable Key, just a few hundred yards south of the motel. Once there, we'd pole along until we'd start seeing tails. Then, we'd stakeout or anchor. We'd usually see 20 to 50 tails within casting range. We took a number of bones this way.
By the way, Lang and I each won this event. In our first tournament, we were fishing with Islamorada guide Rusty Albury. Our first spot was a flat on the ocean side near Holiday Isle. Lang drew first chance and was on the bow. When he picked up his fly rod, Albury said, "Let me see you cast and work the fly like you would for a bonefish." Lang made a cast, let the fly sink and then began setting the hook. A big bonefish had inhaled the fly.
A few minutes later, he landed a nice 6-pounder.
Albury began laughing at the bewildered Lang.
"If I had told you I'd seen a bonefish there, you would have choked," Albury said.
About an hour later, we were in a cove and saw about 20 bones tailing around. I was on the deck and made a cast. No dice.
Lang was backing me up with a spinning rod and shrimp. He made a cast and hooked up quickly. His two bonefish were more than enough to win the tournament.
A couple of years later, we were with Albury again.
"I requested you two," he said. "But we're going to have to get our fish early. It has been so hot that if we don't have a fish by 10, we won't get one.
We not only didn't get a fish by 10, but we also didn't even see one. At 10:30, we left the bayside and headed toward the mouth of Tavernier Creek on the oceanside. Albury poled us onto a large flat and we began looking. It was almost as if we were going through the motions because it was so hot.
About 15 minutes after we arrived, we saw a school of six bonefish swim out of the channel on onto the flat. They were heading our way. I took a deep breath, made one false cast and sent the fly in front of the school. I let the fly sink, then began retrieving it.
I was into a nice bone.
Albury landed the fish about five minutes later. After a quick photo, he released the 8-pounder.
It was now time to head back to Cheeca Lodge for the awards lunch.
Ed Marinaro, former pro football player and star in Hill Street Blues, was the emcee. He handed out the awards and then grabbed a print that was designated for the Grand Champion.
"What this fellow did,' he said, "is what keeps me coming back. I've never caught a bonefish on fly, but that's what I dream of."
He then called me up and handed me the print.
Ironically, it was the exact print that I had seen in the Redbone Galley the day prior.
"Mike, I'd love to have this print," I said.
Little did I realize I'd own it less than 24 hours later.
Another popular spot for us was a flat just south of Lignum Vitae Key. Mike and I hooked quite a few fish on this flat -- usually right before dark.
I was fishing this flat one day in the spring of 1999 with Branden Naeve, a guide from Nokomis, Fla. We were looking for bones when we noticed a couple of large tails out toward the edge of the flat in about three feet of water. Naeve was on the bow and I atop the poling platform. I took my time and poled him toward the slowly moving tail.
When he was about 75 feet away, he made a cast. Although Naeve put the fly right in the permit's window, the fish spooked.
We poled back onto the flat.
Thirty minutes later, we saw another couple of tails. This time, I was on the bow and Naeve was poling. He pushed the boat toward the tails. When we got to withing 80 feet, I started to cast.
"Hold on," Naeve said softly. "Let me push you just a little closer."
But when he pushed the pole into the shelly bottom, the soft crunch of shell and graphite sent those permit scurrying like scalded dogs.
There's a lot of bonefish water in the Keys. They're beckoning my kayaks. I've got four boats. Looking for three more anglers.
Remember, there's virtually no cleanup at the end of the day and we don't have to buy gas.
Let me know.

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