Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Photo Bin - June/July 2013

I enjoy taking a camera to weddings. I like to think that I'm annoying the "official" shooter by having the freedom to chase whatever I please rather than having to get all of the stock situations - cake, garter, first dance, blah, blah, blah. That said, I respect immensely what they do and stay out of their way. No way I'd take that on. It's not like you can look at the proofs and say "Oops! Bad light. We need to reshoot all of this. Next week good for you?"

The above, taken at a family wedding, is a perfect example of having both the freedom to find my own shots and latitude to deal with the Oops Factor. I had fun with the kids but the shot was horrific. Overflashed insanely. But, as I looked at the blown out raw, I loved the faces, could see the broad strokes, and prayed they'd be enough detail remaining. With a bit of digital tweaking, this image emerged. The flower girl and her bodyguards ring bearers. I love the result and can't imagine it being any better. Just one of those happy accidents.

For those of you new here and wondering where the fish are, this is a Photo Bin - my once a month (or so) examination of what's fallen out of the camera, unaccounted for in any real posts. Odds and ends, tidbits, any topic, things of interest - at least to me. Sometimes fishing. Oft' times, not-so-much.

Like, maybe, a submerged wine bottle - cheap wine, at that - bending and distorting the light as its original contents probably bent and distorted it's purchaser's grasp on his world, already misshapen by his liquid existence.

And the perfect home for an exhibitionist hermit crab.

Just up the point from our Long Island lodge, a beached Bahamian freighter, the Mara II, rusts into oblivion. Bright colors, dulled, then re-illuminated in oxidation and golden evening light. Texture on texture. One wonders where the Mara I lies; in what condition. And what of a III?

And fiberglass sinks too. We wandered the back channels of Nassau, on our way home, and blind-casted the waterways along docks, small shipyards, and empty lots. Quite a departure from wading the pristine sands of the flats, but bonefish pop up in the darndest of places and I hooked the biggest of the trip just off that sunken starboard stern, Sandy's aftermath.

But it's good to be home again, from far-away family trips and Bahamian beaches. On my return, our neighbor/friend/architect-of-our home asked that I take a couple of pictures around the place for something or another, and I happily obliged. In doing so, I realized that this southern exposure perfectly reflects the essence of our solar-focused abode.

Large windows, shaded in the summer with perfectly computed overhangs for our particular latitude, become portals for light as the sun drops in winter, heating the four-inch concrete slab flooring so that it radiates warmth throughout the evening hours. The panels on the roof are for hot water - completely sufficient through sunny stretches or, with the throw of a couple of valves and the flick of a switch, as pre-heat for a secondary gas heater. And to escape the heat, the shaded screened porch on the west side is simply the best room in the house.

Actually, I think I'll head out there right now.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Bye Bye to Bones and a Few Thanks

It’s been three weeks since I stepped off the plane back here in RDU, completing an eleven day round trip between home and the flats. Yesterday I shook the last grains of Bahamian beach sand from my Keens and today notions of bass and trout finally began to creep back into my brain.

I guess it’s really over.

It probably would have happened sooner had it not been for the recent spate of crap conditions keeping me off the water here in the southeast; storms, flooding, insane generation schedules driven by an insatiable need for air-conditioning. How did mankind survive before the advent of the condenser?

Anyway, I’ve channeled the tropical vibe long enough. Tried to share the island sun as much as I could. Hope that you felt it, warm on your face, but it’s time to move on. It's time to shake off that out island rhythm and get back to normal, at least for a while.

So, to wrap it all up, a few thanks... Pinky for the kind invitation and unbelievable hospitality at the Long Island Bonefishing Lodge. The out islands are a joy and Pinky's outpost is a bonefishing destination to savor. All the comforts of home, miles of flats to explore, and all of the guided support you might want - or none if you prefer. DIY the right way. Darlene for being the heart of the lodge. From her warm smile in the morning to her divine conch fritters to her delightful grandchildren, she kept a light mood throughout the house, making us all feel right at home. Did I mention the conch fritters? Markk for some mighty fine days on the flats and the single best piece of fishing advice we received all week:

Leave the barracudas alone! the Coral Harbour Beach Villas for letting us crash in their beach house for a couple of days as we wandered the back channels of Nassau, finding bonefish in the unlikeliest of places and New Providence peace off the back deck. my homeboy Tbone for the boxful of flies that carried the day, every day, on this trip. my bonefish-brained blog buddy Bjorn for all his advise and the shrimp pattern that brought the biggest fish of the trip to hand, almost.

...and, of course, to Sam, Marc, Chris. Couldn't have asked for a better crew to share an island with.

Let's do it again sometime. I'm hooked.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Gordon Beach

We put down the rods and we wandered, we swam
Watched stingrays and sharks glide the bright turquoise waters
Or simply sat on the unblemished sands and meditated on the glory before us
Too exquisite to fish
Too beautiful to believe

Gordon Beach, Long Island, Bahamas

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Bonefish mean 8wts and we bent a few

Redington, Hardy, G.Loomis, and Scott

Mystic and Orvis, TFO and Sage

Smoked a few reels, as well

Lamson, Nautty, Orvis, Redington

Gear junkies, we are. No denyin'

And bones are as good an excuse as it gets

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Moments We Remember

The radios crackle in synch with the skyline.

Get back to the boat, boys. We gotta get outta here.
Yeah, I don’t like the looks of that lightning.
Not the lightning, mon. The darkness. We need to get off the flats while we can still see the bottom.
Huh? You know this place like the back of your hand, Pinky.
Sandbars, Mike. They move.

Point taken. We turn and we race, Sam and I, as much as one can in shin-deep chop, the three-hundred yards to the skiff, dragging the rod tips in our wake. Pinky might not be sweating the lightning just yet, but, as the highest two points on these flats, we don't feel the need to add another nine feet. There’s enough of a charge running down our spines already.

These are the moments we remember. Sure, the thrill of the catch is what those back at home think that we’re chasing, but it’s more. It’s the rush. It’s the feeling of riding the thin edge of control. It’s the realization that you’ve pushed it as far as you should, and maybe then pushed it a little bit more.

It’s watching a big ‘cuda slide by, close, as you wade ass-deep, resurrecting every adventure article you read as a boy suggesting who’s really the king of the flats, then impulsively putting a fly on his nose, only to watch him confirm that reputation, leaving shredded mono, visions of razors, and questions of sanity in its wake.

It’s tip-toeing to the edge of a bottomless blue hole and considering swimming across.

It’s hearing Pinky transmit Bones on your three, coming fast. Two cruisers behind. If they show interest in your fish, crank the drag. Break it off. And if they show interest in you, throw a handful of bottom their way.

Throwing mud at sharks. Unconvincing.

It’s finding one of those migrating sandbars and, with the rain lashing down and salt spray in your face, jumping off and dragging the skiff to deeper waters; eyes on the horizon, adrenaline pumping, heart rising to your throat, and a big, albeit nervous, grin on your face.

Yeah, these are the moments we remember.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Best Bonefish

It wasn’t the first bonefish. It wasn’t the biggest. But it was, without question, the best. The best because there was no one around to see it. Markk said it would be like this, the day we arrived. We smiled and nodded in earnest agreement, but we hadn’t a clue how right he would be. This DIY stuff hadn’t completely sunk in.

Pinky calls it Do It Yourself bonefishing, but it’s more than that at the Long Island Bonefishing Lodge. More like Do It With As Much Help From Friendly Experienced Guides As You Need And Want Until You’re Ready And Comfortable Enough To Do It Yourself. I guess I’d call it DIY too, as the acronym DIWAMHFFEGAYNAWUYRACETDIY is perhaps a bit cumbersome.

Here’s how it worked for the four of us:

Day one, we split into pairs, a rookie and second timer on each skiff with Pinky and Markk at the helms. Our hosts took us out to the expansive flats, anchored the boats, and walked for a while with each of us newbies; insuring that we were capable and prepared, helping us understand what to look for, where to look for it, how to be ready, what flies to use, how to present, and how to respond when one of the silver finned rockets decided to eat. Pinky and Markk grew up on these flats - more knowledgeable guides I could not imagine – and with Pinky at my side I brought to hand my first bonefish. It was damn good, but not the best.

For the most part, we are competent anglers so the fledging was brief and light-handed. It’s tailored to the needs of the individual, making Pinky’s lodge a great place for bonefish beginner and expert alike; providing each the environment they’d require for a satisfying fishing experience. Preparing you to be successful, whatever level of fisherman you might be.

And once prepared, you're turned loose.

Each day, after the first, we’d pair up again, switch the day’s fishing partners, and bounce between Pinky and Markk, then skip through the Cays to one of the endless flats spread out along the beautiful west shore of Long Island. Rocky Cay. Gouldin Cay Bank. Grandpa’s Fishin’ Place. Once on the grounds, we’d step off the skiffs, radios in pocket, and strike off on our own, choosing to fish side-by-side with our partner or wander apart as our fishing styles, or mood, fit. The skiff, and our guides, stayed in the neighborhood, tucked out of site in the Cays, or moved on to the next rendezvous point, usually well and abstract in the distance, but always, if needed, in touch by the walkies which doubled as comms between anglers. A large pod coming your way, bro. Three o’clock. Be ready.

This fit my style well for I’m a mover on the water. Wading and searching for fish is a joy and as often as not it seemed that the flats were my own. Miles of shin-deep, shimmering, salt without a soul in sight, only the wind to be heard. Alone to fish or cut bait with no one to impress. No pressure to succeed but my own. And it was during these times that the best bones were caught. No celebrations. No high fives. Just me and the flats and the fish. Quiet and deep satisfaction. I'd done it myself.

Markk was right. The best.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Island Hopping

Monday, July 1, 2013

So That I Might See

I close my eyes so that I might see.

You reach a point, staring across these endless shimmering flats, when your brain refuses to go on, refuses to sustain the intense focus, refuses to continue to filter the overwhelming visual input pouring in as you try to divine the shadowy shapes of bonefish - tropical snow blindness, I suppose, brought on by sun and wind and want - and you begin to wonder whether the problem is that there’s no fish to be seen or that you are simply incapable of seeing them. Doubt creeps in. Doubt, and the deep suspicion that your angling inadequacies are being exposed in the whole.

So I close my eyes and take deep, centering breaths; forgo sight to smooth the internal chop, to calm the inner breezes, and, instead, listen, smell, and feel through my pores the glistening expanse that surrounds me. I resolve to not look at the waters, but, rather, to look over them; to see this shin-deep Bahamian haven as a whole, not to fixate on parts, freeing my senses to wander, unfocused, to notice the imperfections on the periphery; the subtle variations that might mean fish.

So oriented, I open my eyes and, as if on cue, they appear. Three sleek shadows, sixty feet out, sliding through the shallow salt in short flowing S-curves like banners in a gentle breeze, moving tangentially to my right. There’s little time.

Stiff wind at my back, I turn away from the fish, put my left shoulder into the blow, and flip a quick backcast into the path of the ghosts. I’ve worn enough fly line this week. The small pink crab imitation lands lightly. The shades twitch, but do not bolt, and continue along their serpentine course.

Pivoting back, I drop my rod’s tip into the water, draw the floating line straight, and wait. The pod stays on track until a short strip, a bounce of the crab, pulls one away from his mates. Another strip, he follows. More, with increased urgency, and he swims towards me, intent on the fly, until my leader has but a tug or two left before re-entering the tip. I hold my breath and get low, expecting to be seen, but, at the last instant, the wraith turns and the line goes taught. I feel his weight.

A hard, direct strip sets the hook. But the bone seems unsure, slides a dozen feet to the right, and pauses, graciously allowing me a quick glance at the loose loops of line floating low at my feet. It's good that they’re clear for I’m allowed only that briefest of peeks before he evaporates in a puff of blue silt. Houdini'd be proud.

Loose line whips off the water, flies through my fingers, and sizzles up the rod. Graphite resonates like a tuning fork. The bone takes it all and gets to the hardware; drag kicking in, buzzing like a swarm of angry bees. The 8wt bends, and stays bent. Before I can blink, the bimini twist tying poly to dacron ticks through the guides and the stick begins singing a higher octave. Backing falsetto.

150 feet… 200... 225… I lift the tip skyward to maintain my tenuous leverage and to keep the streaking line clear of the sparse mangrove spikes that dot our shallow battleground. No down and dirty here. He’s in charge, for now. I’m just hanging on.

250… 275… Finally, spool getting thin, a respite. The bone slows, slides laterally, and begins an oblique return as I scramble frantically to keep tight, cranking spastically, cursing the size of my arbor. In what seems like forever, the bimini ticks, more slowly this time, back through the guides, but we’re far from done. The fish refuels, turns on the afterburners, and jets away once again. The reel resumes its complaint. The rod hums in refrain. We do it again. And again.

In time, the runs become shorter, less electric, until the fish acquiesces, comes reluctantly to hand. It’s as dazzling as the water from which it is lifted; silver scales, mirroring this sparkling environment, reflecting perfectly my cradling fingers; slices of light tightly packed on a sleek, strong frame, shaped for speed; adornment and form worthy of this fish full of spirit and fight and grace. It looks perplexed.

I’ve been there.

So as it slips from my fingers and returns to its haunts, I relax and give thanks that I’m here; that I’ve faced the work-a-day winds, the onslaught of detail, and the endless shimmering expanse of the too busy life – the corporate snow blindness of success and stress and want - and had the good fortune to be able to refocus; to refuse to go on. To look over instead of at, see the broad shimmering flats of life in the whole, free to wander, unfocused, to notice the perfections on the periphery; the subtle variations that might mean happiness.

I’ve closed my eyes so that I might see.

Note: My friends have heard me say, on any number of occasions, that the least interesting part of fishing literature is the fishing itself. It seems all the stuff around the endeavor has so much more meat. But this, after all, is a fishing blog, so I felt compelled to give it a shot, at least this once.

Besides, if you can’t make catching a bonefish exciting, you might just as well pack it in.

And thanks to the Long Island Bonefishing Lodge for making this all possible.