Disclaimer. Disclaimer. I’m not a saltwater expert. Nor am I some bonefishing guru. But I did learn a lot the past two weeks about what a person needs when chasing bones and other flats species and I was able to put some great gear to the test in the Bahamas. Regarding a winter trip to the Bahamas, why wouldn’t you? I’ve been threatening to get out of Montana and into the sun and salt for years and this year, thanks to offers from Cabela’s, Bimini Sands Resort (see their new bonefishing/ lodging package, which is a total killer deal),
and Abaco Lodge,
I did it. I spent four amazing days on Bimini casting at bones that ranged between three and 12 pounds and then another eight days on Abaco fishing the famous and bonefish-laden Marls.
Now I’m trying to figure out how to get back to the Bahamas in March or April. It’s that good and the break from cold temps and snow is a real spirit-raiser. Another option is to head to Belize for bones and permit at Turneffe Flats Lodge, which is a sponsor of Angler’s Tonic and a killer place to stay. I visited Turneffe several years ago and had a blast casting at big permit and lots of bones. Got some huge tarpon, too. Regardless of where you go, here’s what worked for me in the Bahamas and what should work really, really well for you. Call this piece, What to Wear for Bahamas Bonefishing 101.
Cabela’s GORE-TEX Guidewear Jacket
You can pay more for a jacket to keep the wind, the rain, and the salt splash away from your body, but I don’t think you need to. This jacket is bomber and for $219 you won’t find a better deal. The hood system is great. Pit ventilation zippers and articulated sleeves offer great mobility and versatility, and the cuffs can be velcroed tight for reaching in the water. There are plenty of pockets and an Aquaguard waterproof zipper on the front. You could wear this for fishing, hiking, mountain biking, or just as a light spring, summer and fall jacket. Killer deal and a great Cabela’s jacket for the Bahamas.
CABELA’S L-Tech Saltwater Fly Rod ($249) and CABELA’S MTX Fly Rod ($399)
Price-point my brothers. Tough to beat these rods when you consider how inexpensively they get you into the game. I threw both of these rods in the
Bahamas and each performed well. I especially liked the MTX in a 9′ 6″ 7-weight. I was able to site, stalk, cast to, and hook and land a nice six-pound bone, by myself, on the first night of the trip, using that rod. The fish that I hooked ran through a pile of mangroves before I was finally able to bring it to hand (see image) and the rod allowed me to keep it away from the thickest vegetation where the fish wanted to take me. And listen, you can get the MTX + the WLx fly reel as a package, for around $500. Deal there, boys.
The L-Tech Saltwater rod threw nicely, too. In fact, we had an impromptu casting session where we reached out from 80 to 100 feet and tried to hit an old ship that was grounded on a reef. Good fun and great insight into what this rod is capable of doing. My opinion: you can’t go wrong with either of these rods.
RIO’s Quickshooter Bonefish Line, aqua-blue coloration
RIO touts many features to this line but the one that stood out to me was how easy this rod is to waterload. What does that mean? It means that you can cast to a bonefish 60 or 80 feet away, get refused or have the bonefish not see the fly and move off, and then pick up the line in one motion and recast the same amount or even more line. That happens all the time with bonefish. You’ll have a cast headed for the perfect placement in front of a bone and the thing will change direction for no reason before your fly reaches the spot. That’s when this line shines. Technical stuff: RIO says the Quickshooter line loads at close range and stays stable for long casts. It has welded loops on each end, which I’m really liking these days—no more need for nailknots and glue! Perhaps the best endorsement of this line I can make is that a top bonefish guide picked up my rod and hucked about 100 or more feet of line in a single cast. Then he turned and threw into a 20-knot wind. He nodded his head and said, “Yea, man. Pretty good.” I threw the weight-forward 7F line off a seven-weight rod. Great stuff.
PATAGONIA’S Guidewater Pants
I don’t like zip-off pants that double up as shorts. If I’m going shorts, I’m going shorts. If I’m going pants, I’m going pants. And these are the most comfortable of the lightweight pants I’ve tried out. And, as I’ve moved into my mid forties I can get bummed when some skinny pants show up for testing. These pants are a true fit. The large is a large. These pants are just cool looking and they fit great. They are lightweight and flap in the breeze. In the Bahamas I was nice and cool, even while wearing these, in temperatures up to 83 degrees. The Guidewater’s have lots of pockets including a super-deep recessed side pocket. And they dry fast. You need to take a pair of pants to the Bahamas and these are the ones I’d recommend.
SIMMS’ Flats Sneaker
Three days before my trip to the Bahamas I decided to go snowboarding. Great move, right? I knew the potential and at the top of Snowbowl I did something freaky while getting off the lift and my board bit in the snow and I heard a massive crack in my leg. First I thought I’d broken my leg, then thought it was just my ankle. I said, right then, if I can walk tomorrow I’m still going to Bimini, even if they have to wheel me through airports to get there. A broken ankle isn’t going to stop this boy from standing on the bow of a flats skiff. Even now, I’m not sure if my ankle is broken or not. Still majorly swollen. Still painful to the touch. Here’s the point—I couldn’t bounce around the docks and on the boat without wearing something on my feet for support. Flip-flops weren’t going to do it. So, I packed SIMMS’ flats sneakers with me and they were awesome. First of all they offer great support, which prevented me from doing any more damage to my ankle, which was really looking like a kankle after the snowboard incident. Second, on some sort of death march through the marl on Bimini, they stayed on my feet with great lacing, and they kept the coral and other debris out. They are super lightweight and comfortable, enough that I told my partners I could probably play some competitive basketball in them (with a healed ankle of course). If you can get away with it, I would always go barefoot or in flipflops or sandals while fishing from a flats skiff, but if you have a busted wheel, these would be great option. For wading the flats, these are awesome, exactly what you need.
Armed with these two shirts I could handle anything the Bahamas threw at me. I got the longsleave shirt in the Cloud Cammo coloration and it was popular among all the guests at Abaco Lodge. Maybe I’ll take orders and ask SIMMS for a commission because it seemed like every other lodge guest was going to get a long sleave Cloud Cammo shirt when they returned home. These shirts are super cool, super slick/soft, and a joy to wear. Also, when they get wet, often from taking saltwater splash over the side of a boat, they dry quickly. I got the short sleeve version in Steel Grey coloration, with the SIMMS brand name running along the side under the sleeve. Kindof a cool style deal, I thought. If you want sun on the arms, go with the shortsleave. If you want sun off the arms and a little more protection from the wind, go with the long sleeve in Cloud Cammo. With these two shirts you’re well armed for any flats adventure. And, if you need protection for your neck, put on a Buff.
PATAGONIA Island Hopper Shirt
Great lightweight shirt that I wore while fishing and off the water for dinner. The Island Hopper Shirt looks great and doesn’t fall into the technical fly-fishing shirt category with those vented backs and chest pockets that make us look, especially with fly boxes in them, like we’ve hit the plastic surgery center for implants. I love the straight cut at the bottom of the shirt, too. Style points. And that collar? Saves your hide if you forget to bring along a Buff.
SCOTT S4S 9′ 7-weight fly rod
Threw this rod with Frank Smethurst at the International Sportsman’s Exposition in Denver in January and said, “Frank, yo, I got to have one of these.” A quick call to Scott and a 9-foot 7-weight S4Swas on its way. In Denver I was throwing 100 feet of line, right out of the casting pool. On the water in the Bahamas
I was throwing a good 60 to 80 feet in big winds and at least 50 feet straight into the blow of 20 knots or better. This is a strong, but delicate rod, with lots of information transfered from the fish all the way to the rod but and your hand. There was one time when I hooked a big Marls bone, which means a four-pounder, and was able to turn him, at the last second, away from a mangrove. I’d turned the rod away from the fish and put everything into the flex. Inches from sure long-distance release, the fish turned. I would say that the S4S and a sweet reel (more on that item in a moment) saved the day. Want to take a sweet, sweet stick to the Bahamas? Get the S4S, and don’t be worried. It will have you covered, even if a shark or Baracuda needs to be thrown at.
SAGE 8080 Pro Reel
Took this reel south to use while I was fishing at Abaco. I have to tell you is the 8080 Prois bomber—it’s got a great drag system that allows minute variations, and it will really, really clamp down when you need to stop a fish. While fishing in the Bahamas I felt just fine throwing to sharks and ‘cuda and tarpon, and bones, knowing that this reel held enough backing to keep me connected to large fish no matter how far it wanted to go (the reel holds 250 yards of backing). And, if I needed to stop it, there was always the option of cranking down that killer drag. What did I not like about his reel? It seemed
a little heavy for the seven-weight S4S. It weighs in at 9.5 ounces and made the S4S rod a little unbalanced. But I still threw 80 to 100 feet of line and my arm didn’t get fatigued because most the time we were scanning for fish instead of casting at fish. That’s bonefishing. I think this reel would be perfect on a nine-weight or 10-weight (can you say Hello Permit, tarpon, ‘cuda and shark?) and balance a rod of that size and weight just fine. Would I throw this on the seven weight again? Yes, and I plan to before long, if I can figure out a way to get back to the Bahamas or Turneffe. This is a big-time reel that should serve well in a variety of conditions for years and years and years.
OTHER ESSENTIALS: Kalik and Cohiba
Thanks to the generosity of Abaco Lodge, Bimini Sands, and Cabela’s, we had plenty of Kaliks on the water each day and every damn one of them was refreshing. Cohiba’s. Got set up by Abaco Lodge and my friend Armando, who purchased those stogies for my enjoyment. On the water in the sun. Why wouldn’t you pack these with?