Ricky’s airplane trip from Boston to New Providence is packed; filled with numerous couples that seem to know each other. The flight is 3½ hours; non-stop to Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport. Ricky has made the journey many times; from Boston’s Logan and New York’s John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Newark’s Liberty International and Fairfax’s Dulles International airports.
The flight is uneventful. Seats upright; belts buckled; safety messages; seats reclined; belts unbuckled; Blue chips and bananas; soda water; ESPN on the TV screen; garbage in plastic bags; belts re-buckled; seats returned to upright; only missing mind the gap. The landing is smooth and unexciting.
After chatting through customs and picking-up a single roller bag, Ricky takes a 10-minute taxi ride to Jet Aviation. Although a private terminal, Jet Aviation is located on the grounds of the international airport. Three people ride the Stella Maris Resort Air Service turboprop to Stella Maris Resort Airport. The pilot Joel Friese, one passenger with a home on Long Island, and Ricky.
The trip affords the bird’s eye view of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas’ southeastern island chain. Leaving behind the man-made, cruise ship ports and the architecture of Atlantis Paradise Island; the commercial resorts of Andros Island; and the private and public islands of Greater and Lesser Exuma including White Cay’s history of filming The Pirates of the Caribbean, the plane reaches the eighty miles of Long Island, known for its craggy headlands and its limestone sinkholes and its soft, sandy flats; split by the Tropic of Cancer and residing within the Lucayan Archipelago.
Jill Smith arrives at the airport. Along with her brother Joel, she operates the Stella Maris Resort Club. Followed by a Bahamian big, warm welcome there is a short, uphill ride to the Resort. She fills in what has happened. What is going on? Who is here and who has passed? Where are the kids and what are they up to? Jill is married to the Island’s guide, James Docky Smith; the sole reason Ricky travels from one northern island in the United States to another southeastern island in the Bahamas.
A worldwide, ubiquitous and popular moniker, Stella Maris means Star of the Sea. Founded in 1963 by Harry Aufochs, the Stella Maris Resort Club is an expansive place with personal accommodations and group villas; swimming pools and sandy beaches; tiki bars; and a full kitchen serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Checking-in, unpacking, cleaning-up, confirming the fishing license and downing a Khalik or two takes several hours. A three-course feast of spinach salad with citrus vinaigrette, pan-seared fillet of Nassau grouper, and a Stella banana split with blueberries completes the journey. After dinner, like the airplane travels, settling in and sleeping until sunrise are uneventful.
In the morning after breakfast, Jill drives to the marina. Docky waits with his flats boat. An immaculately kept, seventeen foot, VARIS Mirage with a 90 HP, four-stroke Yamaha outboard. He finishes his breakfast. Lunches are packed in the cooler along with the ice and the fresh water and the fruit. The kit is stowed. The boat shoots over the flats. The everyday is left behind. The hunt for bonefish is on!
James Docky Smith is Bahamas’ bonefishing, not only for Long Island, but throughout the country. Through his eyes, there burns an intense affection for the sport. As a guide, and not as a God, Docky mixes talent and skill with love of his work. Docky radiates a feeling of goodness; about where you live; about your work; about yourself; and about everything else. For Docky, one day on the flats conveys a lifetime of knowledge.
The landscape of bonefishing is a medley of color and texture. The sand can be white or grey or beige. The water can be clear and light blue or rippled and emerald or deep aqua; the tides can be high in the mangroves or low in the channels; the land can be craggy and sharp, or deceptively smooth and subtle; the clouds can be towering and puffy and white, or overwhelming and gloomy and dark; the sky can be sunny and deep azure or overcast with rain to the ground. And unbeknownst to all, this mosaic can swing while tracking the bonefish.
Docky keeps the rules for bonefishing simple.
- Know your tools. Cast a medium-action, composite graphite/resin, 7 or 8-weight fly rod with a balanced, anti-reverse reel; 300 yards of 30 lb. Dacron backing; matching weight-forward floating fly line; ten-foot, translucent leader; 12 lb. clear tippet; flies that meld with the feeding habits and patterns and preferences of the bonefish.
- Trust your guide! Local experience goes a very, very long way. Your guide has lived through more in one year than you will stumble over in one lifetime.
- The wind is your friend, your buddy. It affects the height of the tides; the direction of the boat; the distance of the cast. Most of all, the wind brings unasked for energy, so learn to adjust to it and harness it and exploit it.
- Be patient and predictable and persistent. The number of fish you catch is of minimal importance. Saltwater bonefishing is not the same as freshwater trout fishing. Strip setting is vital, and it is the only way.
- A good day on the water is one splendid bonefish landed with good form.
For Docky, bonefishing requires a blueprint, a distillation of preparation meeting opportunity. The epitome of this blueprint is Fishing’s Two-by-Two Matrix: An unadorned version of What versus How.
The first question is: What to do?
- One can cast a line for bonefish or permit or tarpon or snook, all the while remaining inshore or traveling into the ocean? Each fish and technique and environment are different.
- Or one can practice and practice and practice. Cast the rod by feel for accuracy and reliability and repeatability. Cast the rod by clockface for distance and direction and windedness. Acquire the skills for hauling; for comfortably switching handedness; for managing the fly line.
The second question is: How to fish? How to travel?
- One can slowly and stealthily and methodically walk the flats: An intensive, physical experience requiring complete control. There can be no lapping waves; no stepping on razor clams or resting dollar rays; no making noise or vibrations or other disturbances in the water; no stepping in holes. Barely lifting, almost sliding each foot while walking between solid mounds.
- Or one can zoom by flats skiff: Moving quickly and easily and covering miles of ground. From the bow’s casting platform, being elevated makes it easier to see, from large schools to a single bonefish. Prevent the fly line from blowing overboard by managing it to the windward side, (right-to-right; left-to-left).
Always fish against the tide. And most importantly, do not rock the boat.
Whether wading or walking, the stalking of bonefish is analogous to the shadowing of game birds. Whether a single fish or a single bird; schools of fish or flocks of birds; it is all the same. Remain cool and calm and quiet. Know what the bonefish eat, from crabs to shrimp to small bait fish. Know how bonefish eat, combining crushers and sea water. Know how to follow bonefish tracks. Know how to anticipate bonefish movements and habits.
Remember, there is always more. But luckily, it is all in Docky’s Book.
As the sun goes down, Docky and Ricky return home. They stow their gear; stop to feed the pigs and the goats and ducks and the chickens; run the boat to the marina; load the boat onto the trailer; and drive it to its nightly resting spot. In the pick-up truck, Docky and Ricky navigate Long Island’s main artery, enter the road between the gates, and climb the hill to the Stella Maris Resort Club to prepare for the evening. At either the Stella Maris Resort Club or Docky’s Flats Bar, the words are Time to Get Tear Up with Blue Lightnings, guacamole, and Goombay.
Tomorrow, the bonefishing will be unchanged. The hunt for the grey ghost will be the same; making sure to get the routine right. Always fishing calmly, coolly, quietly and with good form.
Copyright 2023 by Eric Silfen. All rights reserved.