Gone bonefishing

Where were you last Super Bowl Sunday? I was wading across a tropical tidal flat in the Caribbean Sea, up to my knees in warm, sparkling clear saltwater.

The shallow bay stretching out in front of me was about as long as a football field. On the fringes grew low clusters of ancient green-leafed red mangroves. Overhead, billowy cotton clouds were pasted against a bright blue sky. The tropical sun beat down, illuminating the tawny sand-coral bottom flecked with patches of rust-colored grasses. With a faint splash, a reddish egret took wing.

I was moving stealthily-one cautious step, then a pause, another step and another pause. I held my fly rod in my right hand and a small, fluffy shrimp-like fly in my left, 30 feet of floating fly line trailing in my wake. Suddenly, my guide motioned excitedly, his body leaning forward into the breeze. My eyes were straining through polarized glasses to see what he was seeing.

"Bone, mon-bone!" he pointed ahead with excitement, "Eleven clock. Cast, cast!"

At once there they were: a synchronized school of submarine-gray forms against the light sand, six or seven fish swimming right at me, each pushing a tiny wake ahead of itself in inches of water.  They slowed and turned left, silvery sides flashing. One fish and then another stuck its rounded snout into the superfine marl, grubbing for a clam or a worm. Puffs of gray silt surrounded their dark tails, tips protruding through the surface, actively wriggling and glinting in the winter sunshine.

A couple of quick sidearm false casts and I dropped my fly just to the right of the grubbing bonefish. One veered over to inspect it.

"Strip strike, strip strike!" my guide yelled, as my fly reel began whirring. The rest of the fly line went racing through the guides on my rod, now bending and pointing to the shimmering fish-eye horizon that the strong and blistering-fast bonefish on the end of my leader was determined to reach.

Lying roughly east from the Florida Keys and north from the midpoint of Cuba, Andros is the largest but, oddly, the least-explored island in the Bahamas. Fewer than 10,000 people live here, but this pine-covered coral hideaway-104 miles long and 40 miles wide-is larger than Rhode Island. Its spectacular 140-mile-long barrier reef is the second-largest in the Western Hemisphere. And inside and shielded by the crashing, colorful reef are some of the finest bonefish flats in the world.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on a conversation between former Olympic downhill skier Andy Mill-widely acknowledged as one of the world's finest tarpon anglers-and  renowned fisherman Lefty Kreh, now in his 80s. Mill said: "You're known as the godfather of saltwater fly fishing. How does the thrill of the tarpon stack up with all the great fish that you have fished for over the world?" And to my surprise, the fly-casting maestro replied, "I think that most experienced saltwater fly fishermen I have talked to and who have caught a lot of different species would rather catch bonefish than anything else."

A five-pound game fish over one that often exceeds five feet? That says something.

Getting There:

Congo Town Airport has a 5,324-ft runway. One-hour charter flights are available from Miami and Fort Lauderdale. FBOs are Earco Elite, (242) 332-3244; and Bahamasair, (242) 369-2806. Note that passports are now required of all U.S. citizens.

Recommended Lodge:

Andros South Bonefish Lodge, Kemp's Bay, www.androssouth.com, (800) 344-3628

Recommended Reading:

Fly Fishing for Bonefish, New and Revised (2008) by Dick Brown; Fly-Fishing for Bonefish (2004) by Chico Fernandez

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