I’ve heard you don’t forget your first. Honestly, my first is best left forgotten, but that’s a story for another time. As you know, after the 2nd or 12th or maybe the 283rd , it all begins to blur, but my first bonefish – I won’t forget that experience - not ever.Cuba. The flats of Cayo Romano hug the north coast maybe 500 km to the east of the Partagas cigar factory, dead in the center of old Havana. Richard French from #Slipstream Angling in Toronto brought the small group of us to the flats of Cayo Romano. My first time on that kind of water, in that kind of sun, surrounded by that kind of expanse. Standing on the bow of the flats boat, I felt oddly taller than normal – almost as though I grew a few inches in a few seconds simply in response to the sense of surrounding space and distance. Cuba is larger than life. The 366 square kilometers of Cayo Romano flats are larger still, with unmolested bonefish, tarpon, and permit.
Juan had only been on the pole for maybe five minutes when he yelled a whisper to me “Pescado en cuarenta pies de las once”. You guys who have done this stuff know the routine. The shallow water was the color of a silver cream rippled 4x8 sheet of aluminum. The sky was buffed silver blue. The sand was on the warm cream side of silver. The fish was the color of air and impossible to see at 40ft, eleven o’clock, moving left to right, through choppy water at this very moment. Without any experience or any clue for that matter, I actually managed to see a spec of disturbance at that distance and that black dot of a fish eye tied up inside all that silver cream. No idea how I saw it, but I did. Call it a one time only gift from God. One backcast and I’d double hauled a crab pattern to five feet in front of a perfect swimming machine. Now what?
I have to say the strike was uneventful. The odd steelhead on the Hoh River might act the same. The line stopped solid and then continued to move slowly left to right. I thought “cool, hooked my first bonefish in ten minutes. Exciting, but I been here before with much bigger fish. I know what I’m doing. I ain’t no fool.” I reached up to start to reel the fish in, and suddenly both Richard and Juan screamed “Don’t touch the fucking reel!” Richard grabbed toward my hand. My fingers had not yet reached the reel handle at the moment when the bone fish spontaneously combusted and decided to instantly turn and leave Cuba for Key West without me figured into the mix. A nuclear bomb of a run. I just looked at the reel as it screamed. Had it been my $250 trout reel, it would have melted in my hands.You know the rest of the story. One of the great experiences. I can see how grown adult people can get mindlessly addicted to this sort of thing. It’s like nothing else. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to go bonefishing in Cuba again or bone fishing period. I just don’t know. But it really doesn’t matter. This moment is burned into me.I took a couple quick portraits of the fish before we let it go. I’m happy with them. Most shots of fish seem like it’s actually more a shot of the angler holding up a fish as though it’s some manner of trophy or some kind of accomplishment. This was an honor, not an accomplishment. I love the way that Juan seemed to gently cradle the fish as though it was a baby bird or a fragile porcelan statuette. We caught more bonefish that day, but this was my first, and as you know, you never forget your first. Bonefish.
My favorite bonefish portrait. My first bonefish. Something elemental about this fish. They're almost impossible to see in the water and you can see why in this photo. Water and fish pretty much match. The guys who are flat out obsessed with these fish suggest the only way to spot them from 30 feet away standing on a flats boat is to key in on that black eye. By any standard on your best day that ain't no easy trick.
Just a couple thousand hand tied bone fish flies. Not sure where you buy that kind of time, but whereever you find it, it ain't cheap.
By any measure, a kick your ass swimming maching.
Standard crab fare for hungry bone fish. The bone fish cruise the flats with their tails in the air and their noses crammed in the sandy bottom looking for these little guys.
Chasing after a bone fish in less than two feet of water can be a circucs and then some.