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FISHING Bonefish require both luck and skill



Published: Sat, July 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



No bones about it -- catching the elusive bonefish isn't as easy as it looks.

By SUSAN COCKING

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

ROATAN, BAY ISLANDS, Honduras -- If you fly cast like Lefty Kreh -- or his junior version, Nick Cardella -- then you probably will catch just about any bonefish you see. Sometimes by the whimsy of fate, however, it is your worst cast that will fetch the bone.

This is what happened to me recently on the flats of Roatan, Honduras, with guide Cassidy Hyde of Mango Creek Bonefish Lodge.

Buoyed by fly fishing successes in Biscayne Bay and the Bahamas, I thought I had begun to shed the aquatic strain of "buck fever" that causes erratic casts and shaking knees. I will not get weird, I told myself.

When Hyde pointed out a small group of tailing bones on a rocky flat, I managed to plant the fly less than a foot in front of the leader's Plexiglas nose.

"He's got to eat it," I told myself confidently. But then, nothing happened. The bones just kept nosing around and moved off a short distance.

I tried to strip the line in, but discovered the hook was stuck in the crevice of a rock. I had to free it manually, and, by then, the tailing bones had disappeared.

The same thing happened on another flat, only this time, the bone in question was a lot bigger. The fly got stuck on a submerged log, and we watched the fish try unsuccessfully to find it. Because it emitted no odor, the fish gave up and moved off. Once again, it was gone by the time I freed the fly.

All wet

At this point, my confidence -- already shaky -- was collapsing in a soggy heap. I made a whole series of bad casts to happy fish -- including one particularly humiliating encounter with a tailing permit that actually hung around while I made 10 horrendous casts in a row. (And, did I mention there was no wind?) Finally, the fish looked up, saw me and split -- probably headed for Guanaja. I guarantee none of us are likely to experience that degree of stupidity in a permit again in this lifetime.

Like a bad fishing story clich & eacute;, the sun had fallen low on the horizon when my fishing partner, John Martin, Hyde and I arrived at a sandy beach for the final round.

Determined not to make a short cast, I managed to deliver my entire 40-foot casting range to the school -- and, of course, lined them.

A surprise catch

Rolling my eyes in disgust and uttering several bad words, I was on the verge of breaking the rod in two over my knee when Hyde whispered urgently: "Strip, strip!" -- meaning, of course, fly line -- not clothing.

I did as he said, and he yelled: "He ate it! He's got it!"

I recovered just in time to keep the dangling line from tangling in the reel. Every bit of fly line peeled out, and then the fish was into the backing. It was impossible to reel against the drag, so I just stood there gaping while the fish did whatever it pleased.

What pleased this fish was to try to strangle Martin, standing about 20 feet away. It made a left-hand dash, pulling the fly line down over Martin's shoulder, nearly circling his neck. Quickly, Hyde freed the line so I could continue the fight. After a few moments, the fish slowed, and I managed to reel it up to Hyde to be released. As you can see, it wasn't big at all, but this species learns line-burning, 200-yard dashes at birth.

"I can't believe it," I said breathlessly. "I did everything wrong and still got this fish."

A true demonstration of the axiom that it's sometimes better to be lucky than good.




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