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throw them bones

By Connell and Cat O'Grady

My wife Cat and I had our 13th anniversary last week and we decided to celebrate it by getting away to a secluded island and figuring out how to catch its fish. This was our first time out of the country and even though we were a little (or even a lot) scared and totally out of our comfort zone, we were going to get some learning. Usually when writing about our trips, I give some type of play-by-play but this time I want to write differently. Here is some of what we learned; some will be explained, some you may have to use your imagination… or come by the shop.

First and foremost, we were reminded that bonefishing is not easy. After having such a difficult time hunting bones in Hawaii last year, we were hoping to find San Isabel type bones in the Bahamas. We had heard about people catching 20 or 30 bones a day and that’s what we expected. What we found was that these fish were almost equally as feisty.

I’m going to throw out a quick excuse: we battled clouds, and huge tide swings all week. The fish themselves, out in the Cays, would school up and the most difficult part was finding them on the enormous flats. Luckily our guides were good at that. In the connected flats, the fish seemed to pair up and if you could find them, the cast needed to land softly, a perfect three feet in front of them. One day, I found out the hard way that a good cast was more important than a quick one. It was day three and the only fish I saw that day was thirty feet away and coming right at me… and me, a professional fly fishing guide, panicked, dropped my back cast, and left the cast woefully short. I promised myself that no matter how excited I get, I would NOT put another poor cast on a fish.

Next, we found out what an incredible rod can do. I fished the 7-weight Sage SALT HD all week and after the previously mentioned user-error, the rod worked flawlessly. What a treat. Also, we learned that it doesn’t matter how awesome your 8-weight X is, don’t lift a bonefish out of the water with the rod…

There are a lot of sharks in the Bahamas and although they seem pretty harmless, they can still make you need a change of shorts. We saw probably thirty or so swim past us and you could just slap the water and they would move away. One day, we were walking a flat about twenty feet apart; Cat was about mid-thigh deep. The sun suddenly appeared. I looked up and a four or five-footer was about thirty feet out and coming right between us. I asked her if she saw it and just as she said yes, the sun dipped behind the clouds and the shark disappeared. A little panic set in, and after a minute of neither of us getting eaten, we walked the rest of that flat in ankle deep water.

We also found out that between a shark and a barracuda of similar size, the cuda is a Bad Dude. Cat had a throw down between a 40 inch cuda and a similarly-sized shark about ten feet in front of her and the shark made a swim for the border. Also, I think the barracudas understand that the guides know where the fish are. Several times we had big cudas circling us and when the guide would go back to get the boat, the cuda followed him. And no, I did not mind.

Now I want to get a little away from the water and gab a little about our learnings from the island itself. On this trip we found out what conch is, and in addition we found out how delicious it is. Conch salad and fritters are absolutely delicious. At the restaurant we liked the most, we heard that could watch the owner remove the conch from its shell, pull out the eyeballs then tenderize and chop it up and put it in your salad. No thanks. I also don’t spend time at the stockyards watching my next steak come to life. We also had our first lobster burger and it was the best burger we have ever had; who would have thought you could make a burger out of lobster?

The rest is a bit of a hodgepodge. We learned that no matter how many pictures you take, the actual colors of the water don’t depict accurately; we wish we could take the real colors and implant them in your minds. Secondly, no-see-ums are terrible. Our first evening, we were fishing from the bank and we knew something was chewing on us. When we could stand it no longer, we called it a day and headed back to the car. I wore out my fingernails and Cat woke up looking like she had the chicken pox. We also learned what Diet Coke from 2006 tastes like today. We found a quaint little deli and the special of the day was the “Holiday Club.” I was intrigued so I asked the gal what was a Holiday Club? She looked a little annoyed and grumpily answered, “It’s a club, you know… turkey and ham.” I must have gotten the extra special one because mine had bacon as well. I also learned that driving on the left side of the road was a lot easier than using the correct turn signal. I can’t tell you how many times I went to turn and flicked on the windshield wipers instead. I guess now I know why, in the eight days we were there, I never saw another car use a turn signal!

Now the story gets a little mushy. I learned - oh who am I kidding, I have always known - that even when fishing conditions are difficult, there is no one of the face of the Earth that I would rather spend eight days struggling with than my wife. Thanks for thirteen incredible years.

And lastly, on a difficult trip, one day can make a difference. We loved fishing with our incredible guides, but we really wanted to catch a few fish on our own. On our last day, the conditions were almost in our favor. The tide change was a little later than we had hoped, but the sun actually shined all day. We had picked the prettiest place on the island because we wanted to leave with a beautiful picture in our minds. We hunted fish like every other day and all the week’s learnings paid off: we got three of the nicest fish of the week. The beauty of the area was a little humbling and the sense of accomplishment was incredible. Not that the whole week wasn’t great, but that one day made the difference.

about the authors

Connell and Cat O'Grady own and operate The Drift Flyshop on the Arkansas River in Pueblo, Colorado.  They are incredibly passionate and experienced anglers, and are especially well-versed in the Rocky Mountains waters.