On The Fly Saltwater
Article and featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs
The crew from On The Fly South had fished the east end of Grand Bahama Island several times in the past for bonefish. Those ventures had been both with guides and on a do-it-yourself basis. On the other hand, this would be our first time at tackling the bones on the western tip of the isle.
Also, as we landed on the airstrip at Old Bahama Bay Resort and Yacht Harbour after making the short hop aboard their private plane from Stuart, Florida, we were anxious to see how this part of Grand Bahama had fared during Hurricane Dorian. That Category 5 storm had ripped across the island in 2019 leaving in its wake up to 70.000 people homeless, 84 dead and three times that many having simply vanished in the storm.
Signs of Hurricane Dorian’s passing were still evident along the shorelines. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
While there were still signs of the devastation, most of the damage had been done on the easterner end. Thus, Old Bahama Bay and the rest of West End had basically recovered.
The next question was how had the bonefishing fared? The power of Dorian had obviously affected the habitat the fish prefer. On the other hand, between the hurricane recovery efforts and the travel restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic, traveling anglers had been kept away and the bonefish had remained mostly unmolested for two years.
Bonefish Tommy Rolle at the controls. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
To find the answer, we headed out with guide Tommy Rolle, better known as Bonefish Tommy, to check out the situation first hand. Tommy, who lives in the village of West End and has been guiding these waters for 35 years is the son of the late, legendary guide Bonefish Folley. Needless to say, he is an excellent resource for targeting the area. For a number of years, he also was the head guide at the Pelican Bay Resort, prior to it being taken over by new management. He now runs his own independent guide service.
Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Tommy conveniently picked us up in his skiff on the beach at Old Bahama Bay and headed a bit to the east along the shore. As we cruised, the effect of the storm on the mangroves was obvious. Along the shore many bare stems jutted skyward with no leaves, giving the vista a skeletal look. Still, there were patches of green where the mangroves were beginning to regenerate.
It was along the edges of these mangrove flats that we began our search. These shallows go completely dry on low tide, but as the water flows back in, bonefish cruise the edge, then ride the flow back into the mangroves. It did not take long for us to find some of those fish. The ones we encountered were singles or in small pods.
The fight is on! Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Tommy offered some advice, once we spotted the first fish approaching. “Keep in mind wind and the position of the fish. You don’t have a lot of time to cast,” he offered. As is so often the case on the brine, there was a good breeze coming across the water.
Photo by Polly Dean.
His next piece of advice corrected a mistake that anglers all too often make when fishing in shallow water. We get in too much of a hurry to begin the retrieve. “Even if you cast right in front of the bone, let the fly sink,” he explained. “That’s what shrimp and crabs do. They drop down to burrow in the sand.”
Another important tip ran along that same line. “Make long strips, but stop the fly to tease the fish,” Tommy said. “If you use short strips, the fish will swim right by it.” Once the fish sees the fly, nothing changes. “When he comes for it, strip long and make him think the shrimp is escaping. The bones are very aggressive.”
Hooked up to a good bone! Photo by Polly Dean.
Tommy proved to be right on the money. Dropping my Gotcha fly in front of a bonefish near the mangroves, a couple of long strips provoked a strike. When the fish finally came to the gunnel, it was not only my first bone of the day, but proved to be the biggest. Tommy’s seasoned eye placed the fish in the 7- to 8-pound range.
The biggest bonefish of the day. Photo by Polly Dean.
The rest of the day, Associate Editor Polly Dean and I took turns hooking up with a steady stream of bones. All of them provided the excitement of the take, followed by sizzling runs into the backing on our 9-weight rigs.
During one of these battles, Polly was fighting a fish when it managed to get the line around a submerged rock a good 40 yards from the boat and up in some very shallow water. A stiff breeze had now kicked up, so Tommy was on the poling platform holding the skiff in place.
Rather than have her break off and lose the fish, I went over the side to try and free the line. The broken bottom made barefooting impractical, so I wore a pair of Crocs. Keeping the shoes on and staying upright was an adventure, but eventually I waddled out to the rock and did free the line, providing her the chance to bring the fish to the boat.
Seems anytime you are on the flats for bonefish, it can provide a surprise or two.
Bonefish Tommy on the poling platform scanning the water for grey ghosts. Photo by Polly Dean.
To book a day of fishing with Bonefish Tommy Rolle contact him via email at email@example.com. You can reach him by phone at (242) 346-6060 or (242) 646-9504.