An Outdoor View: Bonefishing, Part 5

Author’s note: This column is the fifth in a series about fishing at Christmas Island in 1987. — LP

My initiation to bonefishing was looking grim.

Due to the waves, the cloudy sky and the murky water, seeing the fish was impossible. On my first cast, the wind grabbed my line and wrapped it around my neck. After three or four tries, I managed to get my fly out a few feet past my rod tip. It was encouraging to see that the other guys weren’t doing much better.

We were fishing with Crazy Charlies, a bead-eyed, shrimp imitation that was invented for bonefishing in the Bahamas. The trick, I had read and heard, was to cast your fly about four feet in front of a bonefish, point your rod at the fly and retrieve it with short strips. But since we couldn’t see the fish, we were just casting blindly, hoping a bonefish happened to be near where our flies happened to land.

After awhile, I started making some fairly decent casts. I found that by keeping my rod low, close to the water, I avoided some of the the wind. I’d practiced this “side-arm” casting in my driveway, along with the double-haul, and that practice paid off on this windy day.

The five us flogged the water for several minutes, with nothing exciting happening. I was beginning to think that I’d come halfway around the world for a snipe hunt. I had cast about 30 feet out, and had retrieved most of that when the line between my fingers came to a sudden stop. The next thing I knew, all of the fly line that had been hanging in loops in the water was whipping through my rod guides so fast that I jerked my hand back in fear of being caught in a loop. Miraculously, the line didn’t hang up on anything. My reel was now screaming as only a cheap fly reel can scream. The fish took 80 feet of fly line and another 100 feet of Dacron before stopping.

Someone had told me that bonefish will always run for deeper water when hooked or spooked, and this one had done just that. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I never would’ve believed a fish could swim that fast. I began reeling it in. It came toward me, and I could almost see it. But it saw me first, and took off again, taking as much line as the first time.

I brought it back, and this time, got a good look at it. I expected to see a good-sized fish, maybe the size of a 5- or 6-pound sockeye, considering the run it had made. But when it surfaced, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was maybe a foot long, with a small mouth and Audrey Hepburn eyes. I’ve seen bigger herring. I pulled the barbless hook free, watched the little bonefish rocket off into the murk, and wondered how anyone ever lands a 5-pounder.

That was the only fish I hooked, but it was enough excitement for one day. The other guys had about the same luck. Tired from a long day of travel, we quit and headed for the hotel.

At the hotel’s Happy Hour, we sat under a thatch-roofed bar on the beach, listened to the surf and watched the sun dive into the ocean while embellishing our feats of the day. We’d survived the long flight over the ocean, the hair-raising ride to the flats in a rusty pickup, and had even pestered a few bonefish.

At dinner in the hotel dining room, the food was good and plentiful, buffet style. Bare-footed native women in bright red dresses with yellow print flowers brought water. The food is long on fresh seafood, such as trevally, wahoo and lobster. We were told that bonefish, though eaten by the island Natives, are strictly catch-and-release for tourists.

After dinner, we retired to our rooms to prepare for another bout with the bones on the morrow. Again, I roomed with Howie. Again, he was awake into the wee hours, tying flies.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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