Saturday, March 17, 2012


The trip slips away... no bones about it.
Unfortunately, humility doesn't come in small doses. You can't take a prescribed amount, or get "just enough" of it.

It comes, instead, in waves. It washes over you, permeates you. It seeks out your weaknesses and puts them on display for the world to see. It giggles and sniggers. It points and whispers.

It humbles.

And today, I am humbled.

I spent a week on Long Island in the Bahamas, and I didn't catch a bonefish. And, damn it, I tried. Hard. And I've spent the better part of a week trying to figure out how it happened, how a guy who's been fly fishing for the better part of 20 years could wander among the mangrove flats in the tropics and not, even by sheer chance, catch a bonefish.

I've worked through an odd series of emotions over the last few days. First came frustration. Then anger. Then disbelief. Then, on the last day of the trip, resolve. Finally, when I stepped off the last flat without a single bonefish captured in megapixels on my camera, acceptance. It wasn't meant to be.

Sure, there were factors that played into my poor showing. It was my first time bonefishing, and we had some challenging weather that included wind and rain. And wind. I also ventured to a lodge where the whole idea is to basically "do it yourself." I figured, with the group of guys I was fishing with--experienced bonefishers all--I'd get the instruction I needed, and while I certainly didn't expect to catch fish hand over fist, I did think that I was good hands.

And, truthfully, I was. I had lots of great advice. One of the lodge's guides even walked and waded the flats with me one day, and I saw fish. I put flies in front of a few of them. I even watched as fish followed my fly nearly to my feet before I spooked them. The only solace I can take away from this latest adventure is that, even for the experts who were fishing with me, fishing was slow. Conditions were never really perfect and, on the day the fishing turned on, it turned on like a light switch. Sadly, it turned off again just as quickly.

I had a lot of close encounters on the last day on Long Island. Two, in particular, still wake me up at night.

The first was infuriating. I spotted a fish, made a pretty decent cast and I had the fish following the fly about 20 feet out. The line pulled tight, I did my best strip-set and snared a 10-inch barracuda that managed to slip in front of the bonefish and steel the crab fly. I watched as the bonefish zipped off into the flat, never to be seen again. To add insult to injury, the 'cuda drew blood on my thumb just before I released it.

The second near catch breaks my heart. Rod Hamilton, a bonefishing guru, took me under his wing that last day, and to his credit, he found the fish. He put me in position for a number of good opportunities, and together we watched as fish after fish followed my fly but refused to eat. And, for clarity, I'm quite certain that much of the problem had to do with my limited saltwater cast, a skill I intend to work on. After watching my loop fall apart in the wind countless times, I was forced to admit that I was simply under-equipped.

But as the sun slid into the sea on that last day, Rod spotted a pod of bones moving at us about 40 yards out. I managed to keep my cast together long enough to put the fly in front of the nervous water as the fish approached.

Strip. Strip. Line tight. I set the hook and came tight ... against the bottom. I think Rod was as dismayed as I was.

As I stepped off the flats that last day, I gave one final glare to the skinny water that beat me down over the course of the week. I plopped into the bench seat in the bow of the skiff and brooded all the way back to the lodge. I was ... embarrassed.

That's when the acceptance set in. As I said, it just wasn't meant to be.

This time.


  1. Hi Chris -

    Sorry about the lesson in humility on the salt.

    Just recently discovered your blog and have been enjoying it immensely.

    In case you need a memory "jog", I'm the guy from Rigby ID ( now Lolo MT ) who used to send you fishing reports for a year or so.


  2. Now you have to go back! This experience will make success that much sweeter.

  3. Yes, I started the week calling you a big baby. Wind, boo hoo. But now, my friend, you have my complete and unmitigated sympathy. We take our skunks hard, we fishermen, but the magnitude of a week in paradise that turns to bupkis is almost too much to bear. I feel you pain, brother.

    But... one word... redfish.

  4. Chris,

    1) Everyone who went on that trip indicated the conditions were horrendous. While there is always wind on the flats, 30 knots with little to no sunlight for spotting fish is beyond challenging.

    2) Bonefish are a very wily, worthy quarry. If they were easy, they wouldn't be so damn addictive.

    I am in need of casting practice as well and, if you are at all interested, I am setting up a casting course in IF with a bunch of hula hoops. Let me know if you'd like to join me.

    Keep up the good work. Your blog is outstanding.

    1. And Brent... thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate it.

  5. Unbelievable, man. I feel for you - saltwater fly fishing can be tough. But then again, a week in the Bahamas can't be that bad, right?

  6. Brent... I am IN. Let me know when and where!

  7. Damn.

    This means, of course, that you'll have to wreak havoc back in home waters. I'd say fishing every day for a week and a half with a solid three day trip within a month should set things right. That's what I always tell myself when I fall flat on my face on epic trips.


  8. From what very little experience I've had in the salt, I took away one Big Lesson: it's an entirely different game out There. I was left with the distinct impression a western small stream angler on the salt flats is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. I left sunburned, windblown and battered, but totally enamored with the Beauty, Power and Speed I witnessed out there. You are a lucky man still! mike

  9. Indeed... no complaints, whatsoever. The lodge was great, the people were wonderful ... the fishing was slow, and I'm convinced it was because of the constant battle between the wind and the tide. That said ... I will go back. And I won't get skunked again.

    And you're right... saltwater fishing is the long game. Our little Western trout? The putter and the pitching wedge...

    1. As the old golfer's saying goes - drive for show, putt for dough.

  10. Tough week Chris. This definitely gives you a reason to go back down to the sunny south...


  11. At least you got to the Bahamas...I'm sending you an Unaccomplished Angler sticker. You earned it.

  12. That sounds like a rough trip and I empathize deeply with you. As Kirk least you were in the Bahamas! So if you were looking for a silver lining, that would be it.

    Just think, once you do catch one, you will appreciate it that much more.

  13. Been there, often. I don't know why fish rejection is so humiliating, maybe because of our failure to fool something with no cerebral cortex.

    To paraphrase David St. Hubbins, there's a fine line between clever and stupid.

  14. Good point, Pete... good point. I know which side of that line I fell on a couple weeks ago ;)