Save The Last Cast For Me
I never thought I would be a person planning my trips to include fly-fishing. I never thought I'd be a fly fisherwoman.
It all started when my good friends, Randy and Shelley, who had summered in Montana for years invited me up for a week and had all the gear for me to go fly-fishing. Shelley, who I lovingly refer to as "My Leader," gave me her personal guarantee that I would love it. My first outing was a float on the Madison out of Ennis, Montana, with the famous Uncle Ed as our guide. There was no way not to have a great time with Ed. We had three boats each with good friends and good guides. With Ed the fishing counted, but so did the experience.
We stopped mid-morning for a beef jerky (from Restvedt Meat Market, always our first stop when arriving in Ennis) and beer break. Lunch was served on tables with tablecloths, real wine glasses and real wine which we supplied. Ed made leg of lamb over a pit in the dirt and ended with pineapple up-side down cake he baked there. Yes, we were just pulled over to the side of the Madison River, no campground, just Uncle Ed doing his magic. I hate to admit it but at that time I didn't know the difference between a white fish or a trout, junk or dry flies, waterproof or water resistant but it didn't matter. I was having the time of my life and realized, I can - and I want - to do this.
The following winter I met my husband, Dennis. We had been dating a few months when I got the nerve to ask him if he would want to go to Montana over 4th of July for some fly-fishing. I'm not positive he was in love with me yet, but he was ater that. Dennis was living in Portland at the time and was eager to learn how to fly fish, so off we went to Fly Fishing School in Portland. Six men and me. Class was at the fly shop two nights and then the following Saturday we went fishing wading the Deschutes River. I was convinced that our instructor, Gary, was a retired fireman (I love a fireman). This took up a lot of my concentration. I caught the first fish of the day (the biggest fish of the day) and Northwest Flyfishing Outfitters used a picture of me beaming with my trout on their flyer a number of times. They said that was exactly what they wanted their clients to see: fly-fishing is fun!
That was about eight years ago. Since then I have floated the Madison at least twice each summer, except the summer I broke my ankle. It took me a long time to learn how to cast without breaking my wrist. I'm not sure I approve of the method but one guide actually duct taped my wrist to my rod. As I said to Shelley, "I didn't know fly fishing had to do with bondage". The guides had a good laugh at that one. I know he only meant well but I still do give him a little trouble about it. Every guide tells you to cast like your hammering a nail. I keep thinking if they saw how I hammer a nail and how most women I know hammer a nail they wouldn't use this analogy. As time went on my casting got better but then there'd be 10 months with no fishing and I'd fall back on some of my bad habits. I now cast 20 to 30 feet and can manage to cast in the wind and sometimes get "in the zone." But I just love to get out there, have fun, and catch fish.
So where is all this going? I am here to tell that you can go fly fishing and have a great time without waiting until you can cast the perfect cast or tie a fly. I'm interested in fly fishing but I don't think a fun Saturday night is watching casting videos over and over again. I'm not against learning all you can but I only get to fly fish a few days a year, 12 to 14 days on a really good year. I'm going to work on those numbers but for now that is how it is. The real question is why does it make my husband so frustrated that I often catch the biggest fish and I don't have that perfect cast? For me that just makes it all the more fun.
Last December we went to Harbour Island in the Bahamas. Harbour Island is located off of North Eleuthra, about an hour plane ride from Miami and home of "Bone Fish Joe." I had been fly fishing there once before but this year we planned ahead and booked Bone Fish Joe himself and also his brother Vincent for a couple days of fly fishing. The weather was a bit cold and very windy. A good 15 to 20 mph wind was blowing most of our two-week stay. Our friends, Randy and Shelley, who now live full time in Bozeman, had joined us, along with our friend Steve who also has a home on the Madison River. There was also a cast of about 25 others having to do with a 30th Birthday celebration but we were the main bone fishing contingency.
Harbour Island is unique in that it is just 3 miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide and home to over 20 great bars and restaurants, miles of pink beaches and GREAT bone fishing. When I called a few months previous to our arrival and actually got Bonefish Joe on the phone I was so excited I felt like I was talking to Mick Jagger. Although the guides didn't insist on deposits I sent them some money because I wanted to make sure we had guides. There are easily accessible flats on Harbour Island that you can wade in without a boat or guide, but the guides have x-ray eyes that can see things us mortals just don't see. Guides on Harbour Island bring the boat, their expertise and that's about it. Vincent has a cooler, and now a newer cooler which we left him, but Bonefish Joe doesn't even have a cooler. They may have a fly or two but not many and no tippet. It's not like the Madison where most guides have enough gear on board to open a small fly fish shop. So come prepared. You must have all your equipment because there are no rentals for fly-fishing gear on Harbour Island. I had my new 7 weight and Dennis an 8 weight. We had a box full of flies but mostly used variations of shrimp imitations.
The first day Shelley and I headed out with Bonefish Joe and Randy and Dennis went off with Vincent. Within 2 minutes we realized that fly fishing here was a singular boat event. We were off one direction, the boys the other, and only a feeling of brotherly competition between Joe and Vincent keeping us connected. On the Madison we often put in with 2 to 4 boats with all of us meeting up later for a jerky snack and then later for lunch but this was definitely each boat on his own.. On the Madison we usually do full days but on Harbour Island we would do half days.
One afternoon, after a couple of previous days of frustrating fishing and bad weather, Shelley and I discussed perhaps not going on our scheduled trip. We had been debating all morning. We kept singing, "a $300 ride" to the tune of Gilligan's Island 3 hour cruise song. Then as 1 P.M. got closer we realized we couldn't pass up an opportunity to bonefish and bonefish together. Even a bad day fishing is always memorable. The guide boats accommodate 2 or 3 anglers but with only one fishing at a time from the boat. So off we went with Vincent, Bonefish Joe's brother. At one point we were just beating into the wind and it was raining, we were both a little sea sick so we shared a beer and some gold fish crackers which about covered our supplies, and we just looked at each other and laughed and laughed.
The guides on Harbour Island have a way of going "ou ou ou" (don't be thinking French on translation) or getting very excited and saying "der dey are, der everywhere, der everywhere" at which time you are completely excited even if you're not sure what exactly is going on. Then they start telling you, "cast der, cast der , at one o'clock". Be sure and check with your guide if he has 12 o'clock at the bow of the boat or from where you are standing. Bonefish Joe used one way and Vincent they other and when they start yelling where to cast you want to be able to follow their instructions.
If you are lucky enough to get a hit, hold on because it is a wild ride. Have someone show you about "palming" before this time arrives because if you get a bone fish on there's a good chance you are going out to the backing maybe once or twice.
Yahoo! On our last day I went out with Dennis and Vincent. Randy, Shelley and Steve had left the island. It was still windy but then you start realizing it will be a long time before you have this opportunity to bone fish. We spent the first 2 hours visiting many of the spots that had worked before with Vincent saying "They're just not here, they're just not here". Vincent let Dennis out to wade and Vincent and I went off looking for bone fish. At one point Vincent saw some bones and he wanted to cast for me to get me in the thick of it. I had to put a stop to this because good or bad casts I need to catch my own fish with my own cast. We went to all the regular spots and nothing.
| Then we see a girl on a dock pointing and saying "they're here." Vincent starts saying he thinks they must be "couda" ( barracuda ) but we go in close to the dock and you could them, a huge school of bonefish, maybe 50 of them. It was my turn. I cast into them and they ran away but then they came back. I cast again and WOW he bit and he bit hard. I was out to the backing twice and this baby could fight. I finally landed a 7 lb 27" gorgeous bonefish, moments before the end of our trip. He was the length of my arm. In fact, he almost took my arm off, but I would donate my arm to do it again. What a thrill! Randy and Dennis had spent hours of the trip watching their casting tapes and all of them Randy, Shelley, Dennis and Steve can cast beautifully and really get some line out there. I went out with my heart on my sleeve and my Irish good luck and landed the biggest bonefish of our trip. During our previous trip to Harbour Island I had the same experience - Steve and Dennis making these gorgeous long casts but the bonefish were right at the boat. And yes, I caught more then them and the biggest (but who's counting?). The most fun next to catching the monster was e-mailing the photos to all of our friends. I had one off to Steve as he was boarding his plane home.
When I crawled into bed late that night Dennis leaned over and said, "You really should take casting lessons." But don't worry he's not bitter.