On The Fly Saltwater
Article and featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs
“They’re coming. Strip, strip, strip. Pick it up and go a little bit to your right. Let it sink, let it sink,” was the instruction delivered in a calm even voice, that then changed to one of excitement. “He’s right on it now, strip. There you go!”
Indeed, On The Fly South’s Polly Dean was hooked up with a bonefish that was on the go. The instruction was being delivered by our guide “Bonefish” Stevie Ferguson on the isle of Great Exuma in the central portion of The Bahamas chain of islands.
The Exumas consists of 365 islands – most of which are uninhabited – stretching from northwest to southeast, roughly 170 miles southeast of Nassau. Of those, the largest is 37-square-mile Great Exuma, with 11-square-mile Little Exuma to its south and connected by a bridge.
Our angling action was occurring on the first of two days we were to chase the bones with Stevie along the western shore of Great Exuma. The guide picked us up at Grand Isles Resort to make the short drive to an off-the-beaten path dock in the village of Moss Town, where he grew up and still lives.
Bonefish Stevie Ferguson. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Stevie Ferguson got his start in the guiding business in 1983 at just 14 years old. Local entrepreneur Ken “KB” Bowe, the originator of Chat ‘N Chill, recognized a young man who was destined to get in trouble if he did not get focused. So, Bowe bought a boat for the young Ferguson to aid in getting him on the road to becoming a premier bonefish guide on Exuma. It was a bit of philanthropy that paid off handsomely for both the guide and his future clients. These days Stevie likes teaching fly fishing to newcomers to the sport and he is heavily into conservation of the resources on Exuma.
Soon after taking to the water with Stevie, one gets the impression that he knows all the bonefish by name in the waters just west of the island’s capital city of George Town. When the action would slow, you’d hear a melodious call of “here boney, boney, boney” from the back of the skiff. It seemed as if the invitation worked, for bonefish would shortly be spotted.
Much of the shoreline along the maze of cays in this region is fringed by coral rocks that rise a couple of feet above the high tide line. As we motored out, these shores were ignored, as we headed for the few spots where the rising tide was able to flood back into shallow mangrove flats.
Casting to the edge of the mangrove flat. Photo by Polly Dean.
On high tides, the bones are so far back on these flat, they are virtually impossible to reach, especially since the bottom is a bit too mushy for wading. That makes the couple of hours prior to and after the low tide the best time to target them. You can catch the fish coming out on the falling water, or find them milling about waiting to ride the flood back in.
Our first day we fished the deeper 3- to 4-foot water just off such flats during the low tide for the bones moving in pods. That situation called for tossing No. 4 Gotcha or tan Crazy Charlie patterns to get the fly down to the fish faster. The bones proved to be aggressive, but Stevie still needed to provide us with a tip about our casts. “You can’t put it on the water and pick it up too many times,” he cautioned. “You’ll push them back.”
Large flies like the No. 4 tan Crazy Charlie were best on the deeper flats. Photo by Polly Dean.
Additionally, he said, “When the guide gives a clock face direction and distance, don’t waste time looking for the fish, go ahead and get the fly out there, then follow instructions of when to strip while you look for the fish.” That too proved a valuable tip, since the 10- to 15-mile-per-hour winds put enough chop on the surface to make the bones hard for us to spot.
Beyond that, our only problem was that the smaller fish too often beat the bigger ones to our presentations. As a result, we began poling along, a cast away from where the mangroves ended at the edge of the flat, looking for the lone or paired larger bones. The action was slower, but the fish bigger.
Day two of the fishing turned out to be a bit slower, as the fish were harder to find.” Mother Nature does what she wants,” Stevie noted. “You never know from one day to the next. The bones go where they go.”
But, using his local knowledge, Stevie eventually pulled the boat up to a couple of mud mounds sticking above the surface. These were positioned with a commanding view of two shallow channels exiting a mangrove flat. Stepping barefoot onto the mound the footing was a bit mushy, but firm enough for standing still without miring up. Stevie then backed the boat off a bit out of the way of our casting.
Tangling with the bones with muddy feet! Photo by Polly Dean.
Roughly 40 feet back up those channels a large school of bones was milling around feeding. To exit the flat as the water fell, they would have to pass right past our feet. Tossing casts back to them provided multiple hook ups, before the falling water caused the entire school to rush past for open water. It was a fruitful and exciting end to our days of targeting bonefish on Great Exuma. It also was well worth the time spend slogging back into the boat and dangling feet over the side to wash off the mud!
For more details or to book some days of fishing with Bonefish Stevie Ferguson, visit his website.