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Hawaiian Bonefish

I recently had the great opportunity to fly across a whole lot of water to a small speck of rock in the middle of the pacific and though I only really had time to fish seriously for one day, I managed to connect! A big tip of the hat goes out to Clay over at Nervous Waters Fly Fishing for helping me out with a spot or two where I might run into a bonefish on a do it myself basis.

The habitat here is diverse - deep channels and flats, waist deep sandy pockets and mixed coral, all the way up to super skinny water that goes dry with a low tide and is nearly always subject to waves washing across it. I hit the water an hour before tide change, and saw a feeding pair almost right off the bat. Sneaking up on these fish while crunching across treacherous coral is no walk in the park. These guys got uneasy and cruised away to who knows where when I was trying to set up for the roughly 80' shot quartering into the wind. I had the hardest time seeing these fish if they weren't tailing - you old hands at the bonefish game are nodding and smiling right now, but for this redfish hunter they were grey ghosts indeed!

After the initial jolt of adrenaline from spotting my quarry, I was completely psyched up and eager to find some more. I slowed down my wading pace and went along as stealthily as I could. After another hundred yards or so I was rewarded with a large tail popping up at 40 feet, facing away - if you've never seen a bone tailing before it's like seeing a spike suddenly thrust from the water, their caudal fin is deeply forked and very pointed. I strained my eyes behind my polarized lenses but even in 5 inches of super clean water I just could Not see the fish. The best I had was a slightly darker green-blue smear attached to the tail. Seizing my chance, I quickly calculated the wind and laid a cast aimed at placing my fly a foot ahead and to the left of the fish. The loop straightened and dropped, and the tail went down... I waited, intense, and twitched the mantis shrimp imitation...

Twenty feet further on, the bone popped his tail up again to mock me. I quickly learned to appreciate how fast the fish were moving across the flat; I never had time to take more than two shots at any fish that I saw, and if I was further than a long cast from a fish that I saw tailing it was pretty much pointless to try and wade to the tail because they would be long gone by the time I got there over the coral.

The tide started to rise, prompting bigger fish to push up into the skinny areas and I started to see some very large. At least this Texas boy knows how find some tail! Walking slowly with the wind, into the tidal flow, I caught the flicker of a fin above the surface and snapped my attention to that spot. A bonefish was worming his way towards me into the wind with his back emerging up out of the water as I watched. I dropped to my knees, ignoring the coral biting into my kneecaps as I readied myself for the shot. He stopped and tailed on something at around 65 feet, and I almost cast to him but something stopped me; I decided to wait a bit more. My heart thudding in my chest, I held my leader as my fly swung loose in the breeze. I watched the fish's gleaming, shark-like profile get closer and closer.

At what I guessed as 45', the bone stopped with his head behind a knob of coral. I tossed the fly aside and rolled my line up off the water, back and then flicking out, landing the fly a foot to the fish's left, out of sight behind the outcrop. Sliding forward, the bone turned towards me slightly and I could see his head clearly, just under the surface. I made a 3 inch strip; the fish immediately turned on the movement. I made two tiny twitches; he simply swam over and ate it. Thankfully my hands knew what to do, because my brain was melting down. No way he just ate that! No WAY! As klaxons were screaming in my brain, my hands smoothly and swiftly executed a strip strike, lifting the rod quickly to keep tension and keep the leader above coral. In a giddy fog, I watched the fish as he cleared the remaining line and hit the reel. Lurching to my feet, I just held the rod as my reel arbor started to groan backwards, slowly growing in speed and pitch as the fish figured out he was hooked, and then the reel was screaming. I was grinning like a fool and watching him torpedo across the flat, slinging water and chunks of seaweed everywhere. I expected the fight to be over any second - any errant bit of coral could cut me off. To my surprise the fish tired out around 80 yards of backing into the run... or at least I thought he tired. Whipping around, he began swimming nearly directly back to me. My eyes were wide and my mouth started uttering all the proper profanity due the situation. Reeling furiously and backing up as quickly as possible, I was stumbling over coral and almost ended up on my back more than once.

I finally caught up to the fish and got tight again - no sooner had I a good connection than he burned off again, but this run was much shorter than the first and I began to dare to hope that I would land him. Gingerly controlling the bonefish, turning his head every time he tried to gain momentum, I worked him to my hand. I let out a little whoop of victory, and then yanked my head up to the unfamiliar sound of applause. Seems on Hawaii everyone either fishes or appreciates fishing as an art - my screaming drag and splashing around had attracted a small crowd of locals. Realizing I had to get rid of the fish before they figured out how good it was and got any closer, I snapped a couple hurried pics with my camera phone and gave him one more lingering look as I popped the hook from the corner of his mouth. Moving him once forward and back, I released his tail as he surged away from me. Turning back to the crowd, I waved and smiled. They were very disappointed that I released it and I explained to them that the fish had been small and that I would leave it for them to catch later. They brightened a bit at that idea, and wandered off without asking me what I had caught. Turning back to the flat, I closed my eyes for a moment and basked in the euphoria a bit more before going back on full alert and covering more water. That would be the only shot I had for the rest of the trip, but I didn't care much. I had already done what I came to do.

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