GAME OF BONES:
At dawn in the tropics, a special level of calm settles over an ocean flat, rendering it so still and soundless that you find yourself whispering for no discernible reason. The skiff glides across glass for fifteen minutes, then drifts to a halt as you step to the bow, peering across a lagoon that looks and smells like vacation.
You hear nothing. You feel nothing. But you see everything. So when that pair of big bones swims out from beneath the mangroves heading your direction, you clearly comprehend that the hooking and fighting and occasional landing is all just gravy for a visual feast that freshwater can’t quite deliver. But you’ve still got to make the cast.
In the world of applied medical research, Reaction Time (RT) is a measure of the response to a particular stimulus. RT plays a crucial role in all of our lives, by determining how quickly each of us can slam on the brakes, hit a fastball, or send a 60-foot cast to a seven-pound bonefish cruising through the shallows.
A day of saltwater flats fishing provides as much visual stimuli as any of us can reasonably expect our human eyes to deliver. We use our other senses—the smell of a shallow lagoon; the sound of terns riding a breeze over our head; the feel of a muscle-bound snook on a short leash, bending back to the mangroves. All of this plays into why we covet the salt, but the main draw of standing for hours on the front of a skiff or wading for miles across a never-ending flat is the allure of what we will see when we’re out there.
Because sometimes that’s all we get. We’re not blind-casting, we are scanning, nonstop, for tails and pushes and fins flashing in the sun. When you see your first permit come within range, that dark shape moving toward you, bigger and stronger and faster by far than whatever is swimming in the pond back home, it will forever alter your idea of what it means to be an angler. And the memory of that visual will stick with you far longer than any memory of the fight.
Bonefish can come from all sides—singles and doubles, mudders and tailers, or one big school to follow around for hours. Permit don’t come from all sides. Often they don’t come at all, and when they do, they can disappear quickly, just like that perfect double-haul you had back at the dock. Nothing lowers your RT faster than an approaching permit and an audience. At the very apex of go time—the precise micro-second to make your presentation—your line will get tangled. You or your guide or your fishing partner will quickly and heroically untangle it, but by then it won’t matter because you’ll be standing on your line, so the cast that needed to go fifty feet goes fifteen instead.
Bonefish will always be the baseline flats target for most saltwater flyfishers. Even in areas known for permit it can be hard to ignore the bones. So the scene plays out the same way for thousands of flats fishermen every year: You and your partner have the 10-weight rigged and ready, but whoever is on the bow will be holding the bonefish rod. It’s crappy light, so you enter that tricky search mode of scanning 40 yards horizontally, then peering six feet vertically, lest a permit suddenly appear at the end of your rod tip. Which, of course, it does.
“Permit, permit! Grab the 10-weight! Grab it!! Here, you go!”
“No, go ahead!”
“No, man, you! Go, dude! Go get it.”
The fish is long gone, of course, spooked by the boat and all the bouncing around, prompting the guide to utter a permit angler’s two least-favorite words: “Going away.”
But permit will eat a fly. So you’ll get one eventually. Maybe even your first time out. And when that day comes, just be prepared for lot of time spent permit fishing to replace a lot of time spent doing whatever else it is you do now.
Until then, it’s back to the bones. Or maybe a little jaunt to a backcountry creek for tarpon and snook. During times like these, a flyfisher learns that the traditional 45-degree angle of a cast won’t always do the trick. Sometimes your line needs to stay low over the water in order to skip your fly beneath overhanging mangroves. Other times, the backcast needs to be only vertical, going straight above your head because that’s the only option. These are fun casts to watch your buddy try to manage as you point at him and laugh, but they are less fun when you’re on deck—when it’s you that wraps your fly around the mangrove branch where the 10-pound snook formerly sat, waiting in ambush.
Luckily, there are Caribbean beers and tropical mixed drinks to take your mind off mistakes. A night of boozing may not help your Reaction Time the next morning, but the fish will keep coming back, as will you, for as many years as you can stand on that bow and cast at the most intoxicating targets our sport has to offer.
Words by: Tom Bie
In order to sell prodcut you really have to know and believe in a product. That means getting on to the deck of a flats boat year after year to help build, deliver, and understand what the best tool is for the job. Here is my perfect setup for the Tarpon in the Keys
Sarah has spent her angling career pursuing fish in the expanse of the bluewater from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Along the way she has learned what equipment works in this demanding environment. This is her perfect setup for bluewater fishing.
Some people are born lucky. Peter Morse has traveled the world with a fly rod in hand and has spent countless days wading the flats in search of tailing bonefish and some of the worlds largest bonefish. Here is his perfect setup for the big bones of the Pacific.
At Sage, we are anglers and we are craftsman. We are not just a brand, we are workplace, on an island, in Puget Sound. In an era when mass production and mass marketing has infiltrated our lives and our passions, we view our craft and our calling differently. We build the world’s best rods and reels, one at a time, using our hands and hearts. Each rod we make is constructed in our factory with proprietary materials, custom componentry, Made-in-the-USA carbon and a precise process that passes each flyrod through 23 sets of hands and hundreds of steps on its journey. We make things in the same spot where we’ve built up our business during the past four decades. It’s a great place with good fishing. It’s where we call home and where your rod or reel was born.
Words & Photography
Editor / Writer Few editors have done more to celebrate the true undercurrent and real experience of flyfishing than Tom Bie. As founder of The Drake, Bie built a publication that tells the unfiltered stories of guides, trout bums and characters from deep within our community. He maintains an appreciation for just about everything flyfishing—from warm, bonefishing destinations and wild, native Steelhead to backing the conservation battles that protect our waters. He’s always up for a new stamp in the passport and stocks a steady supply of Red Bull to keep his reaction time sharp.
Photographer Jeremiah Watt is a climber, skier and angler who has made his name capturing the environmental context, raw emotion and human experience of the cultures he bleeds. Documenting memorable moments in iconic locations—from mountain streams to tropical flats—his work takes us to a different place. Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Miah is a fan of both wine and whiskey and is always up for a late night with an eclectic crew of fellow travelers or an early start in search of dramatic light.