Adventures in Bonefishing

Last year I wrote about my first bonefish of 2022. The story was published in the March issue of Hawaii Fishing News. For those that missed it, I have now made the article available on my blog:

I have been fortunate to spend the past several years fishing with some of Hawaii’s bonefish royalty, including Captains Makani Christensen, Ed Tamai, Chris Wright, and others. I still don’t know exactly why they adopted me into their clan. It’s probably not because of my fly fishing prowess. Maybe they just like my stories.

Anyway, it is something of a tradition among the local fly fishing guides to mark their first bonefish of each new year. Having the unfortunate burden of a “real job,” I found myself extremely busy with work for the first few weeks of January. Needless to say, that left me quite a bit behind in catching my first bonefish of 2022. When I finally did get a break, Makani was off-island, and Chris had a client booked, but Ed agreed to pick me up early on a Friday morning. 

The morning was cool under a totally clear sky, and the winds were light and variable. The recent volcanic eruption in Tonga had started the Pacific Ocean sloshing like an enormous bathtub and, three days later, the effects were still discernible. Every twenty or thirty minutes the placid water of the bay would begin to move, all in one direction, and all at once, flowing palpably around our legs and swinging the boats on their anchor lines.

Despite these strange and sudden water level changes, I felt pretty confident that I could land at least one bonefish. They were active when we arrived, their sharp tails poking out of the water, shining silver in the morning light, as they foraged for crabs and shrimp across the flat. Ed hooked the first fish, which came off after its initial run. I thought for sure I was going to get bit a short time later, but my cast ended up lining a second fish that was hidden from sight in the glare, scaring it into the first fish, which resulted in them both making a mad dash for the horizon.

As the tide drained and the flat got shallower, the fishing slowed down considerably. There were still some fish around, but they were mostly cruising the edges, close to deep water. Ed and I walked to one side of the flat and then split up, heading along the edge in opposite directions. I had changed my fly, from a small brown crab to a black and tan mantis shrimp. I found a couple of fish on my way up, and they responded well to the new pattern, rushing forward when I stripped it across their paths, but I didn’t manage a hook-up. After almost a month away from the water, I could feel how out of practice I was. 

I had turned around and was on my way back down the flat when I spotted a nice bonefish up in the shallows. It was facing away from me, and swimming pretty quickly. It was a tough shot, but I made a long cast that somehow landed just right. Almost immediately, I felt my line go tight. I ran forward to keep clear of the jagged edge of the flat as the fish ran out into the channel. After managing a few strong runs, my confidence was high that I was going to bring it in successfully. I was pleased that my first fish would be above average weight, probably over six pounds. As I reached for my backpack to grab my camera, the fish suddenly made one more strong, but short, run. And then the fight stopped. I could still feel weight on my line, but no movement. Puzzled, I reeled more quickly. When the fish finally came into view, I saw a trail of blood in the water. Had I somehow hooked it in the gill? I was confused, as bonefish almost never swallow an artificial fly. The truth was far more shocking. When I brought my line in, I had only the first third of the fish on my hook. The body had been cut vertically behind the pectoral fins, almost like someone had taken a cleaver to it. 

As I freed my hook, I spotted the culprit. A galapagos shark, every bit of seven feet, came cruising by the edge with a purpose. Not wanting to be on the evening news, I tossed the fish head towards it and retreated to the shallows. I snapped a few photos as the shark followed the scent trail to claim the rest of its meal.

Losing bonefish to sharks is fairly common in other places, like Christmas Island, or the Bahamas, but those are usually small bonefish and small sharks. When I met up with Ed and told him what happened, he said he couldn’t remember anyone losing a bonefish to a shark on that flat, let alone a big fish to a big shark! I wasn’t sure if landing 30% of a fish really counted as my first bonefish of the year, but I think it will probably stand as the most memorable fish for a while.


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