How to wrangle a bonefish

The easiest way to fly-fish for bonefish is to stand knee-deep in clear water over a sandy bottom, moving parallel to the shore as the school of bones move. The most difficult way to catch bones with a fly is to fish from the nose of a skiff in muddy water dotted with young mangroves. If you are lucky enough not to land a fly in the swaying arms of the mangroves themselves and to actually hook a fish then you have to contend with the bone wrapping the line around and around a juvenile bush until the line breaks. It’s a frustrating way to fish.

Yesterday Nick and I were out fishing with Keko in one of those difficult patches of water where small mangroves rise up out of the water like weeds in an abandoned lot. Nick did a good job casting where Keko wanted him to, avoiding this mangrove and that until he was able to hook a bone. The fish took off with his line, as they are want to do, and it wasn’t two minutes before it had wrapped itself around not just one but two small mangroves.

Keko didn’t hesitate for a second. As soon as he saw that the fish was stuck and about to break the line, he jumped out of the boat and went after it. Now this may sound easy to do but it’s not. For one thing the bottom was extremely gooey and after every other step, Keko would sink down into the muck. For another thing, we were perched over turtle grass so he couldn’t really see the bottom. There might be jellyfish floating a few feet below the surface or a stingray or two gliding just off the bottom. Or he could step on a spiky conch shell or a hunk of dead coral. It’s treacherous out there.

No matter. Nick had a good-size bone on the line that was fouled in a bush and Keko was going to go rescue it. With one hand holding Nick’s line and the other outstretched for balance, Keko forged ahead until he’d reached the first mangrove the fish had gone around. He carefully followed the line around the bush and lifted it free. Then he headed at a 90 degree angle towards the second mangrove where the fish was really tangled good. Following the line, he untangled it until he came to the fish. He reached down in the muddy water and brought it up. It was a monster. Then, after he’d cleared the line, he released it and instructed Nick to start reeling in fast. Nick did as he was told and a few minutes later the bone, which Keko estimated to be between five and six pounds was at the boat. You can watch the whole thing on the video above.

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