Fly Fishing for Bonefish in Cozumel

by Martín Aylwin Fernandez

Fly Fishing Instructor- Angler www.patagonianation.com

I. A dream come true.

A few years ago when I saw the first video of fly fishing in saltwater fore bonefish, permit and tarpon, I knew that before I die I had to fish them. Hooking a bonefish on a never ending flat and hearing the shrill sound of the reel screaming non-stop, frantic, energetic, sharp and winner became, since then, a obsession.

I was fortunate to fulfill that dream in my youth. And with more enthusiasm than economic resources, I began planning this trip that will remain in my memories as one of the best, and that transformed me into a saltwater fishing fanatic. I Saved as much as I could with the earnings of my classes as an fly fishing instructor at Rod and Gun fly shop, and invested in fishing equipment, tying materials and all that was needed to make this trip a perfect one, to fulfill the dream of many, and that at my young age I was lucky enough to perform.

II. Fishing in Maya Land.

After a10 hours flight, and almost 2 hours by car, we arrived to Playa del Carmen. Only 8 hrs separated me from making my dream come true, a dream that has been fed for the previus 4 months of wainting. 06:00 am, the alarm clock rings and I head to the pier in Playa del Carmen. My destination? Cozumel, one of the best bonefish fisheries in Mexico. A beautiful island, once a trade port between the different Mayan settlements in the area.


Once I get down of the ferry that connects the mainland to the island, Gaspar –my guide- was waiting for me. Gaspar is an expert and easy character man, that was going to be mi professor and partner, in this, my first adventure of fly fishing in Caribbean Sea, a well known destination for all fly fishermen for catching species such as tarpon, permit and bonefish. As Nassim Joaquin –owner of the operation- told me, Gaspar is a strong “paddler” that will always put me in front of the bonefish. With this reference, I decided to listen and obey all what my guide had to tell me.

After 15 minutes of of car ride and pleasant conversation, asking all I could before fishing day started  and solving some doubts, we reached to a small pier full of coloured boats on a paradise beach, most of them, for the artisanal small scale fishing . And among them, a modern boat, that will be our skiff for all that day. It is a simple place, no major tourist facilities and no pretensions, which accounts an island located in beautiful, secluded white sand beaches, that makes you leave behind the image of big all inclusive hotels, restaurants and tourism, and makes us appreciate Mexico’s  on it’s more pristine state.


We got on the skiff especially designed for fly fishing on the flats, with a completely flat sill, and organizers to keep any possible fishing tool. Equipped with everything needed for a day of fishing in the Caribbean (rods, reels, flies, tippet, food, drinkable and lots of sunscreen) I started my first day of fishing in the Caribbean Sea.

After 20 minutes of navegation trough beautiful turquoise and deep blue waters, we arrived at a beach in a very narrow peninsula. We got out and walked 30 meters that separated us from a saltwater lagoon, before connected to the sea, where we would make the fishing that day. Gaspar let me installed at a clear water and extensive dream beach. On it, Gaspar tells me I must be fishing alone about 40 minutes to allow him to switch to a special boat inside the lagoon and more suitable for access to the mangroves to fish an area in which only this operation has access.

 And there, giving me the minimal prompting, he let alone, trying to catch the elusive bonefish, to practice for when he arrived. For Gaspar was only a practice, a looseness of many months without fishing, a pre-apprenticeship, perhaps to refine the casting, for me, was a challenge, a personal duel. I had to apply without having it done in the field before, all the knowledge gathered from reading many internet articles, magazines, and practice without much help a fishing that is far from being equal to the fishing I have been doing for 15 years: trout fishing. It was for me testing my skills as a fisherman.

I did not walk more than 10 steps from the shore of the lagoon, and already at 20 cm depth I noticed how a group of fish was frightened and swim away incredibly fast. Immediately I thought it was a bonefish school. With no experience at sea, I started looking for fish, and remember again and again what I have read in articles and reviews, you don’t fish what you don´t see. You don’t fish blind. And with that thought in mind, I began what became a real hunt. Giving small, quiet steps, walking along the flat, I could see fish everywhere, but without the trained eye, the shadows, could be any fish species. And without a guide to help me, I had to try to attempt to capture some of the shadows, to hopefully hit with a bonefish. Basically, learn from the error was at that point my objective. I Located two fish (that I hoped where bonefish) at 50 feet away that swim freely searching for food.

I Prepare the casting, but was not effective, the fly falls behind the school, without being able to enter their feading field. Second cast, which was in the precise direction, was nos effective, because while I was casting, the school suddenly changes swimming direction. Third cast, well placed, just one meter in front of them. When the fly touch the waters, the fish react immediately, speeding toward my fly, a pink crazy charlie tied by me. I keep striping, I do short, quick strips, as I read on the internet. I’m nervous, the fish are getting closer, I move the fly, and one of them, decides to attack. It takes the fly, l strip strike to hook the fish, and BOOOM!! Frantically swims like a torpedo toward the depths of the flat, the drag begins to sound like I had never heard – and no doubt for the strength and the speed the race was a bonefish. Now I know what are the reels for –I thoguht permanently-, and the drag kept ringing sharp with the bonefish at the tip of the rod.  The bonefish had take more than 70 feet of line when my leader broke. I check it, and the strength of bonefish had cut the knot. Analyzed this fact ex-post, I realized that I made the mistake of having the drag too tight.

I learn the lesson, and loose the drag.  I repeat the knot, and tie a pink crazy Charlie again. I return to the “ghost flat” hunter, in a 300 meters long flat. I must find a new school of bonefish. My inexperience made me made a mistake that I repeated several times while I was alone without my guide Gaspar. I saw a solitary figure in the water swimming alone in the flat. I cast just in front of it, and as soon as the fly gets to the right depth the fish takes the fly and cut the leader just after the strike. It was a small barracuda, very similar to the figure of the bonefish to my untrained eyes. Later, Gaspar, and the passage of hours, gave me the experience to easily recognize the bonefish, and thereby avoid throwing the fly to barracudas. I was lucky enough to catch a barracuda from the cheek, so that it could not cut the leader, and begun swimming with a stunning force, similar to a bonefish. In less than 6 seconds, a 3 pound barracuda had taken all the line in the water, plus 20 meters of backing. The barracuda fight hard and did two amazing runs before giving up.

 

A few minutes later, I locate another school. I follow them for more than 60 meters of beach, and get to the perfect position to cast. Bonefish swim fast and is not simple to follow them in the vast flats of Cozumel. I cast in to them, the fly falls about six feet in front of them, a bit far. But I don’t have enough time to cast again. I decided not to move my crazy charlie until the bonefish were just two or three feet from it. I start striping the fly with fast and sudden stops.

Suddenly, I have 5 bonefish chasing the fly. I kept striping. One of them anticipates the others and attack the fly. I stip-strike, and starts the impressive escape at an incredible speed. And I -with an overwhelming happiness- was watching the line going out crazy from my reel. A good picture of how these fish fight is like fighting a trout of 5 kilos on steroids. In less than 3 seconds, the bonefish had taken me most of the line in the water, when my line tangled in the index finger of my left hand. Immediately the strength of the run, produces so much pressure in the line, that having wrapped around my finger, it cuts the 10 lbs resistance leader. It’s still turning in my head the idea: “now I know what are the reels for”. Never before the reel has been so fundamental in fishing that fishing for “bones”. I am left with a bittersweet happiness and frustration. And with the same enthusiasm that I began this journey, I come to hunt for bonefish again.

I recommend if you are a beginner into saltwater fly fishing like me, start fishing for Tarpon. Bonefish can be a little complicated if this is your first experience at saltwater. Not as difficult as Permit, but they can really get tough some times.

We went fishing into some mangrove flats in the lagoon, and we ran into some schools up to 40 bones. Once located, the guide is extremely important, therefore, its mission is to direct the boat to chase them, positioning the fisherman into them,  at a moderate distance, and cast, without spooking the school. We repeated this procedure with 6 schools we encounter on our way. But the sensitivity of these fish, and the inexperience on my part, traduced in two inaccurate casts that spook 2 bonefish school. Now it makes sense the tipical Chilean phrase “other thing is with guitar.” Fisherman’s always cast perfect, until the bonefish appear. Other 2 schools repeatedly ignored my fly, but we managed to catch two bonefish from the boat.

One of those catches was especially significant. We were in a lagoon connected by a short corridor to another smaller lagoon and 10 meters away we spotted a school of at least 30 bonefish eating and tailing, devouring everything the swamp puts in their path. Gaspar, my guide recommended me to bend over, and carefully cast. They had not seen us yet, “he said”. First cast, and because of the excitement of the moment the cast was not long enough. Bastards! Gaspar said, they saw the fly. “ Pongase agudito mi pescador” he kept telling me (be sharper my pescator), I cast again, and this time with Swiss precision, the fly falls softly 50 inches of the leader of the school. Immediately I notice that changes the behavior of the bones, and all of them swim faster to my fly. I striped faster and without stopping, and saw as only 3 bonefish chasing my crazy charlie. One of them comes forward and takes the fly just 4 meters from the boat, like a torpedo scape at the end of the lagoon, taking me of all the line that  was in the boat and over 20 meters of line more on the spool. I, being aware for not repeating past mistakes, was especially careful to protect the line of not getting tangled for not loosing the “bone” this time. When it ends swimming, I start retrieving the line, and 10 meters from the boat the bone escape again,  taking of more than 30 meters of line again, just as if my reel has no brake. I was only seconds away from taking my first bonefish, and for Gaspar’s joy, the bonefish did not escape and I could see the majesty of this pearl trophy, the ghost of the flats as English-speaking anglers call them. An award that exceeded by far the efforts and made the whole trip worthwhile. I congratulated my guide, and celebrated with a cold beer my first bonefish.

After a few minutes of following a few schools, I managed to capture my second bonefish from the boat. A new beer and started the return to where we had the skiff. In that place would my guide left me to catch some bonefish again in the afternoon that returned to the flat with the high tides.

I got off the boat, and walked quietly across the sand. Slowly walked by 20 inches deep water, looking in all directions for a bonefish trail, to close a day that was already perfect. On a seaweed bed that was located in deeper water, and 35 meters from my self, a bonefish school appears moving fast from my right. I estimate the trajectory of the school, and walk to achieve the perfect position to cast. From where I was, I had to cast about 16 meters, and if the cast was accurate, was a strike for sure. They swim quickly in to me, and when they were 10 meters from the strike zone, I decided to cast, and although the wind was strong, the fly landed right where the bonefish would pass according my calculations. Although I cast before I needed, the fly was in the strike zone, and the bonefish swimming into it. I let the fly sink, and when they were just a feet from the fly, I begin to strip fast. Immediately, several of the bonefish that were “tailing” jumped in to fly and one of them took it hard, I strip-strike and hook it, and then I become a spectator of one of the most amazing races I have witnessed in my 14 years fly fishing. I had casted 15 meters and the bonefish had removed the remaining meters of line from the reel in a matter of seconds, and watched how the backing get out of the reel fast. I could not do anything but rely on my reel, and could not retrieve, because the handle would hit me in the fingers. I never heard my reel sound so fast and strong, I laughed, thinking about how envy my friends will be, and how lucky I had been to be there at that moment and that time. 20 meters of backing out, and I started to felt that the small bonefish was tired, so I retrieve in until the first 10 feet of line entered the reel, when the bonefish in a second attempt to escape pull out again the. Already exhausted, it gave up. That bonefish was the third of the day, and I couldn’t be more happy. This trip I had planned for so long, closed perfectly. With the rod in my hand, on a beach with turquoise waters and white sands, with a bonefish captured after a good fight, and the sun looming. I couldn’t ask for more. Few things can compare to that experience. We take some photos so that people in Chile believe my stories. I released the bonefish to deep sea waters in Cozumel, where I hope to return again to capture a bonefish again, that for me has been one the most incredible species that I had ever fish.


Thanks to:

I will thank Nassim Joaquin, who organizad the fishing trip to Cozumel He is a great saltwater fisherman and he can help you whatever your need are.

If you want to Contact Nassim his mail is: nassimjoaquin@hotmail.com.

Any question about this article, its photographs, or bonefish techniques, please contact me in: maylwinf@gmail.com

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