Here at Andros South, we were recently joined by Alaska West guide, Whitney Gould, for her first bonefishing trip. When not guiding in Alaska, Whitney spends her winters chasing steelhead throughout the Pacific Northwest, not exactly a tropical setting.
Knowing that many of our readers have never experienced flats style fishing, we asked Whitney to recount her first bonefishing experience from the steelheader’s perspective. If you’ve never fished for anything but coldwater species, but have always been curious about flats fishing, this one’s for you.
Waderless Fly Fishing
A feeling comes over me when it’s time to wrap up another winter steel head guide season. It’s deflating knowing that I won’t have the opportunity to pursue this magnificent fish for another eight more months. So, this year rather than sulk around and drive my husband crazy with an endless amount of ‘what to do next’ questions, I decided to make the transition less traumatic by buying a plane ticket to South Andros. I invited my husband to go along, and he responded by saying, “I don’t think you can swing for bonefish.” I quickly realized I was going alone and leaving my waders, dog, and husband behind.
The shuttle flight from Fort Lauderdale to Congo Town had a 35 pound checked bag limit. My duffle suitcase weighed six. I realized that the rest of weight depended on what I put in the bag. Waders, wading boots, fleece jackets, and rain gear can add up pretty quickly. But I was going south and needed only a few items along with two single handed rods and reels. In a state of confusion I started to pack two weeks in advance. Super stoked to be under the weight limit, I set out for Andros.
As I stepped off the plane, ferns were replaced with sand, and slate colored skies were replaced with an intense blue. Lucky for me, I bought a new pair of sunglasses as I was initially welcomed by intense sunlight.
Day one was unexepected. Bonefish, clear waters, and waiting for the grab. Something was out of place. As a two handed fisherman who has learned to wait, and feel the weight of the fish prior to setting the hook, the grab never came. By the time I went to set the hook, the fish had released the fly and was gone. I was waiting and nobody was knocking. Suddenly the seasoned steelhead/salmon guide became a beginner once again. I was at a loss, and the more I tried the worse it got. I managed to land a few fish, but far fewer than the ones I got to take.
That evening I learned that bone fish will quickly suck in their food, smash and swallow; if it’s tasteless the fish will eject the foreign object extremely fast. Faster than the average steelheader can comprehend or react. Nevertheless I spent my week attempting to out “Whit” myself and the fish. A few errors I found I had to overcome were:
- Trout sets do not work well with bonefish.. Ever.
- Swearing and stamping your feet on the bow also doesn’t work. It will only get you a time out from the guide and spook the other fish. Bonefish are extremely spooky and can hear loud noise and voices.
- Leave your loud click and pawl style reels at home. Josie, one of the guides, is convinced that bonefish are hyper sensitive to noise and that I was spooking fish simply by pulling line of my beloved old style reel.
All in all I loved my trip to South Andros. The crew was super fun and amazing. The guides patient and professional. Once again, I was humbled by the fish I was learning to catch. These fish are smart, fast and hard to see. To be successful one needs to fish for them on their terms, not ours. It’s well worth the journey for an amazing experience. I can’t wait until next year.