Yes, it's taken me a while to get round to writing this blog post from our winter trip, but with the sun shining today it's taken me right back to memories of the beautiful Bahamas...kind of!
This year we packed our fishing gear up and set of to the island of Eleuthera, our 6th time over there, so that shows how much we love it. You'd think we'd be getting bored of it by now, but with 200 miles of coastline to explore I doubt that day will ever come. This year we had chosen a place to stay on the Atlantic side of the island, as this is what we wanted to explore more of on this trip. Typically the wind was howling in on this side and we only had a handful of days when we could get out and fish it with the fly. But in normal fashion it didn't let us down and there's a few sneeky bays and inlets we know of that can get us out of the wind, without having to go over and fish the Caribbean side of the island (beautiful but in general smaller fish). I can't really pick out one highlight as looking back there's so many good fishing memories, but as far as exciting stuff goes then casting out giant poppers without hooks on to entice some big sharks closer in so Shaun could have a chuck at them with his fly rod, has got to be up top. We'd had a couple of near misses while landing some Barracuda from a rocky mark, and once the Sharks had tasted blood (the picture above is what we landed!) they wanted more! Seeing the speed that these can just appear, dart about and follow the lure with their backs out of the water is pretty terrifying stuff. I know Shaun was disappointed when one swerved at his fly and missed, but to be honest I was quite relieved, after all it is me that ends up having to land the thing! Shaun's disappointment was however wavered as he did end up catching a couple of nice sized (Renee handle-able) Sharks on his fly rod over the holiday, but I know he's left dreaming of the bigger ones. We did however get to experience the power of one of these amazing creatures when Tony, Shaun's Dad who was holidaying with us, hooked into and landed a Lemon of about 60lb on his bait set up. We really thought it was going to spool his 4000 size reel on the first run, it just kept going, but he had to let it. It was only 20lb braid he was using and on his little 8' spinning rod so there wasn't much he could do to stop it, and once he finally got it in, it was all he could do to lift it for his photo, what a great father and son fishing tale.
This year I think our main revelation that I'd like to share with you tropical anglers is the use of weed guards on our flies. It made all the difference when stalking those extra spooky Bonefish over grass flats and produced the highlight of my trip for me just on day two, a beautiful tailing Bonefish of about 4lb. We have fished this particular flats every trip over to Eleuthera and know it's our favorite, it's huge, full of all sorts of wildlife, there's shallow grass banks perfect for seeing tailing fish and the fish here are a really good average size. But these guys don't get that big by being daft, they are about as wise and spooky as they come. Not only do they spook at the plop of a fly if it's placed too close, they don't like to see the fly dropping through the water and they don't like it pulled across in front of them, it has to be going away from them. You get the idea, it's a tough but good challenge! So when you've stalked a fish for a while crept up so you can place your fly right in the direction it's heading (hopefully it won't change course), cast out well in advance so it doesn't see the fly falling, then when it finally gets to a couple of foot away you go to pull and it's jammed into the grass, if I describe it as heart break I'm not exaggerating. Then to really stab the knife in deeper the fish normally ends up swimming directly towards you, you hunker down and pretend to be invisible, but it spots you and scarpers at 100 miles an hour, your chance is gone. The genius that is a simple mono weed guard solved this problem, why we've never thought of it before I have no idea. Well I think we've discussed it in the past, just always forgot about it when preparing all our other tackle for a trip away, and maybe dismissed it as we wondered if it might hamper the hook up. One day we'll know everything about what we need to do to catch fish, but where's the fun in that! So the moral of the story is if you're fishing any rougher or weedy flats either add weed guards before you go or take a simple kit of some heavy mono, a bobbin of thread and superglue along so you can add guards while you're away. This is really handy as sometimes you don't know what flies are going to work best and don't necessarily want to add guards to all your flies.
Something else new we tried this year that worked a treat was a home tied olive mantis shrimp pattern. last year Shaun hand caught some in the shallows in his hands and inspected them, his verdict was that they were 'just like a green sausage'. So he decided not to spend hours at the vice tying up the most intricate crab and shrimp patterns this year but went for a more simple approach, and what he produced really did look like nothing (apart from a green sausage) but it worked. He used olive jelly fritz for the body, burnt mono for eyes and barred rubber legs, some he added weight to with chain bead eyes and of course some had the weed guard. This fly only takes 5 minutes to tie but I'd strongly recommend it to anyone fishing the flats. It was also the fly that caught me my highlight Bonefish in the paragraph above, hence why I'm a convert too!
We fished solid for 21 days with highs and lows, for me that was two PB's, a gorgeous bar jack and snapper both on the fly and a 7 day blank! So on the last day I took a break and walked along one of our favorite beaches without a rod in my hand for the first time. I thought about what we'd seen, what we'd caught, what we'd not caught and when or if we'd get to come back. Lost in my own thoughts I nearly missed Shaun waving madly at me from across the bay, that was enough relaxing done, time to try and run on sand! It was well worth the effort and as I got closer he shouted 'thought you might like to see this', he was just landing the most beautiful chunky Bonefish of about 7lb, what a cherry on top way to finish the holiday....I think we'll go back.