We just returned from a truly wonderful trip to Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge. The first question everyone about Abaco Island upon my return was "How does the island look after the hurricane?".
Well, Abaco is a bit tattered. The evidence of the devastation Hurrican Dorian wreaked is evrywhere: trees snapped off mid-trunk, wrecked cars piled onto lots in Marsh Harbour, mangroves stripped of leaves. But the island is recovering well and certainly our fishing saw no ill effects.
Our bonefishing was stellar with lots of fish on the flats. We had many great moments: thousands of fish at a creek mouth waiting for the tide to turn, tailers weaving their way in and out of the mangroves, doubles and singles heading into the tide as we intercepted them one after another, bones visible from afar tailing above the steely, calm surface as thunderstorms blocked the sun and rumbled menacingly. But as good as the bonefishing was there was more!
We jumped two big tarpon landing one. We caught enough yellow snappers, mangrove snappers, mutton snappers and blue runners, as well as one big grouper, to eat really well. We caught jacks off the backs of rays and had some shots at permit. We caught a big "sticky nose" black tip shark on a fly and even a bonefish on a popper. In addition, I had an all too brief encounteer with a giant mutton snapper... more on this later.
Grouper fingers for dinner tonight. See video here
And a huge hawksbill turtle here
Watch Sid's attempt to corral the spinner shark here
And did I mention tailing bonefish? There were plenty to be found. Silently tailing in on a rising tide, tailers zigging and zagging through the mangroves forcing an angler to figure out where will be their exit point and then successfully put a fly there without hooking a bush, tailers right next to shore rooting and digging sometimes flooping over only to quickly right themselves no doubt embarrassed by their greedy behavior. The list goes on and all. Every moment cool, every tail thrilling.
Watch a great moment with a tailing fish here
"This big mutton snapper was evil. OK, not evil, but certainly conniving. I don't want to describe him as clever given he took me back to school.
I was with guide Greg Rolle and Jim Woollett when it happened. We had had a great day and now, bonefish sated, we were searching for permit and jacks off the back of rays. We saw a few small jacks and no permit in the first hour. Then we spotted a big fish on the back of a big ray. Greg whispered "BIG mutton fish!".
Now a bit of background... catching a mutton snapper on a fly on the flats is a big deal. Like permit, mutton snapper are essentially deeper water reef dwellers. When they venture onto the flats for crabs, shrimp and small fish, they are wary, nervous and very tough to catch. They are perhaps tougher AND stronger than a permit. A big fly-caught mutton is 10 lbs. world records begin at 15...
...and I should mention mutton snappers are delicious. Usually caught on conventional tackle and taken in 25-80 feet of water, they are prized by chefs. Called mutton fish by Bahamians, the debate as to which fish tastes best is between hogfish and muttons.
Anyway, back to the fish off the back of the ray. We knew this was a big mutton. I was pumped! After I lofted a fair cast over the ray and my fly spun perfectly off the ray's back, the big mutton charged my shrimp pattern. It was then we knew how big he really was. He ate and powered off the flat in the time it took Greg to say 20 lbs. The big fish pulled line off my reel and well into my backing before he turned to seek refuge in a shallow reef. He stopped when he reached the rocks. This is a common tactic for mutton fish and the general rule is to loosen the drag until they swim out of the rocks, then tighten up and pull them away from said rocks.
Now this is where this fish became evil and conniving... OK, clever.
I loosened my drag a half dozen clicks, then a bit more as the wind was pushing us away from the rocks and I couldn't get the line pressure off the fish. Just as I pushed one more click, the mutton came out of the rocks. He did not swim out, he charged out at full speed. I reached for my drag, but it was too late. My backing stuck just a smidge, then overran itself and backlashed like I hadn't seen since I was 10 years old fishing with my grandad's bait casting reels. The bird's nest I had created was awful. I croaked out a "I'm F--ked!" and then the line when ping. My huge fish was now just a memory.
Jim and I cut out the backing's birdnest, then retied knots and rerigged. All the time we played back what I could have done differently. A few clicks less would certainly have been a good place to start, but with this nasty, clever critter, I'm not sure it would have made a difference. Evil fish I tell you!
Funny, how these moments of failure stick with you more than the successful ones. I've thought about this fish at least once a day since it happened a few weeks ago. It didn't help that Sid, our host and head guide, told me it would have been a world record. I've already started planning a revenge tour to Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge. I must redeem myself."
On this trip, we ate well and had a great time with each other. The power went out a couple times which meant no water pressure for showers, but this was a minor inconvenience given our fishing. Sidney Thomas, owner of Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge, is working on this. He is planning on having a backup tank with a generator-powered pump to circumvent this post Hurricane Dorian problem. Having said this, LABL is for die-hard anglers. At the very end of the road north on Abaco, there is nothing to do in Crown Haven other than fish or go to a local conch bar for some conch salad and a cold Kalik beer.
Thanks to all for a great trip!
It was great to be with Steve Peskoe, Doug Jeffries, Mike Schwartz, Jim Woollett and Dean Kalmbach. It was really wonderful to see everyone after this long hiatus. And to guides Sidney Thomas, Greg Rolle and Dominick Rolle thanks for the expert advice and long fishing days. And To Ketta and Kate, thanks for the wonderful meals and for all those conch fritters and grouper fingers!