Bones & Barracuda
By: Jason Paez • finsandtwins (instagram)
I am dreaming of the salt flats. Having just made the move up into Colorado trout country near the Eagle River don’t get me wrong, I am excited to be fishing my home state waters again, but damn I can’t stop dreaming of salt.
Last month, I was finishing up my MBA at University of Denver and just about the only thing that motivated me at the end, was planning an escape to go fly fishing somewhere cool! Just about everything was a little out of reach, since this would be the first time we would be leaving our twin boys behind, so my wife and I decided the Bahamas would be a good bet. We planned to stay on the island of Eleuthera. I did some research and connected with Shaw Underwood from the nearby island Spanish Wells. He is the head guide for Bullseye Bonefishing and grew up in the Bahamas. His passion is chasing bonefish in the area and he knows just about every flat that holds good numbers of fish. Check out his operation at www.bullseyebonefishing.com
After graduating, I headed to the Bahamas in early June. I wasn’t too overly optimistic on the weather especially once I saw the tropical storm that had developed and even turned into a category 1 hurricane somewhere north of the Bahamas, but I was still excited. The following is a quick run-down of the trip, the gear used and abused, and of course the fish!
The Bahamas aren’t exactly your typical urban fishing but at Urban Anglers USA we figure, hey we all got to get away from the daily grind sometimes and we might as well share what worked for our crew. This way you can use this story if you want to as a reference for your next fishing excursion. Plus, we all love a good fishing story.
Before taking off I connected with our friend Ben Kurtz over at Fishpond USA because when I told him where I was headed he said, “I have got the perfect sling pack for you to try out!” Now, if you are an organized gear freak and need to have all sorts of pockets and places to meticulously organize your flies, leaders, nippers, and whatever else you take on a trip, you may want to look at some of the other Fishpond alternatives. However, if you are hard on your gear, carry a couple boxes of flies, cameras, and other items you want to survive traveling by boat, dodging tropical squalls, and a dunk or two into the water, then this packs for you. The pack I am referring to is Fishpond’s Thunderhead sling. It is fully waterproof, trust me, I put it to good use on day 3 of the fishing trip in a pretty hairy tropical storm! I was able to carry a small Fishpond Sushi roll (soft foam) fly box for my flies, leaders, tippet spools, a rain coat, Go-Pro with head mount, Nikon Coolpix, hemostat pliers, nippers, BuffUSA sun protective gloves, sunscreen, phone, and Yeti Rambler bottle to hold my water. The zippers are beefy and fully sealed and the material withstood a lot of abuse and the corrosive salt water. Nothing corroded from the salt, but I did rinse it after the trip with fresh water. Anyways, the bag is killer and back here on the rivers in Colorado, it has a perfect pocket to sling the Nomad net through!
I also visited Trouts Fly Fishing shop in Denver to setup my rod and reel combos for the trip. For bonefish, I carried a Sage Motive with a Nautilus FWX fly reel. This setup is smooth and kicks ass! The Sage Motive is definitely a casting performer. I am not an expert caster but we had a few casts that were in the 80 ft. range and I hit them with this rod. I would say this rod is built to help the caster get distance more than accuracy, but it works great! Not a super finesse rod however, it definitely helps you get out there to those spooky bonefish and fights great. The Nautilus reel equipped with RIO products Bonefish Line was smooth and the drag was perfect for handling the sudden bursts of speed from the bonefish. Not a single complaint about Nautilus reels from me.
On this trip, I was also very keen to target the “Wolf of the Flats” aka barracuda. For these guys and going after some nasty needlefish, I used my Scott Tidal 10wt. which was also good to have around just in case we came across some Permit. I finally was able to put the Redington Behemoth reel to the test on this trip against some very nice Barracuda. The guys at Trouts had me set that reel up with Rio Products Tarpon line. For the Barracuda, I used a 16 lb. redfish leader that I chopped up and re-tied with a shock tippet section using a uni-knot and at the end of the leader I tied on Rio Products Wire Bite tippet. The double surgeons knot seemed to work the best for getting the wire to tie into the leader and it held up against several large cuda without breaking.
For protecting myself from the sun while out on the water, I threw on Howler Brothers long sleeve sun shirts, BuffUSA fishing masks and gloves, and Smith Optics Chromapop shades.
Most of the flies we used were variations of the Pink Gotcha fly. I used a needlefish fly to get the bigger Barracudas to strike, and Clouser variations for the smaller guys. We also had some luck on Silly Leg Gotcha flies as well for both bonefish and cuda.
Stand up paddle boarding is pretty fun but growing up surfing a lot, it can be kind of boring. Enter my idea to fly fish from a paddle board after the local and large needlefish near our hotel. Plus, there were some small barracuda that were fun to catch. Most of my first day I spent fly fishing around the rocks and small reefs from a paddle board. Got pretty sun burnt, but it was a good way to break the ice and get ready for fishing with Shaw out on the skiff! I hooked several needlefish but those things are hard to set the hook well on and I actually never landed one. I am on a mission next time to make it happen!
I met up with Shaw from Bullseye Bonefishing around dawn and we launched the skiff from nearby Spanish Wells. Shaw is a character and can tell you all about Eleuthera, Spanish Wells, and the fishing there. He has a keen eye for the fish and knows every coming and going regarding tides, fish habits, and the saltwater flats around the Bahamas. We hit up about half a dozen flats the first day and I was able to catch my first Bahamian bonefish! I learned really quick that when you start poling a flat in this place you got to keep your cool. The fish are everywhere and if you start flailing around you will blow it. We came into one flat on the first day that I started spotting bones almost everywhere. My tactic was first, a deep breath, then pull out line, select a fish that was reachable with a good cast, breath again, and go for it. Strip, strip, strip, long strip, boom! Shaw would yell “dem fish right there is chasin’ your fly get ready!” It was like that all morning. We hooked up with bones and nice cuda! I was stoked!
Rain, sun, wind, rain, and then sun. “Not sure I will get to fish today” I had told my wife, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I met Shaw at the dock in the afternoon under the premise the weather would be better. Wrong! Hmmmm, this day reminded me of my fishing trip in Biscayne Bay outside Miami. As soon as we got to the first flat it did not look good. Trust me we could see bones muddin’ but I kept hearing a low rumble and was thinking to myself, “I think I am going to get stuck out here.” Shaw and I made the call that it might be a good idea to run like hell and fish the next day. We figured with a little head start we might just out run the squall that seemed to be heading our way. Waves started crashing over the skiff, wind started blowing, I threw on my rain coat, zipped up my Thunderhead sling, and I got fully soaked. We didn’t out run the storm but we made it back. All my gear in the pack stayed dry but I was so soaked to the bone and I am pretty sure that rain came down so hard that my coat’s waterproofing failed!
We didn’t get into many bonefish but this day had some epic barracuda fishing. I even casted to several small sharks but no luck. The highlight of this day was a nice 25lb. barracuda in the range of 5 ft. long that made my reel scream. This guy hit my fly, took a run that ripped line out of the water as it went broadside to my position on the boat, and then flew into the air like you see Tarpon do! After several more fast surface runs followed by aerial take-offs, I lost him. Huge bummer, but it was so much fun battling him! This was my last day out with Shaw and after we got some good fishing and filming in on the barracudas, we cruised around and had a beer to celebrate! We became good friends that trip and I will definitely go back again!
So again, I sit here dreaming about the salt flats. Dreaming about all the bonefish I can’t wait to go try and catch and of course hunting down some more of those fearsome barracuda. If you can save your pennies and take a trip to the Bahamas, I highly recommend it. The water was beautiful, the food was excellent, the people are friendly, and the fish are challenging yet super fun! I will keep dreaming about going back to those salt water flats and I cannot wait to return!