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Goin' for Bones

Stalking bone fish (and dodging sharks) in the bahama flats is fly fishing's noblest pursuit
Jim Daniels
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

(continued from page 1)

Not all Bahama bonefish lodges are on the same scale as the Deep Water Cay Club. At Moxey's Bonefish Lodge on Mangrove Cay, a long cast off the south end of the Bahamian island of Andros, there are only two or three guides and the amenities are modest, but most of their clientele are there just for the fishing. Whereas Deep Water might have 22 guests at a time, Moxey's will have four or five. The atmosphere at the lodge and the town where it's located is low-key and simple, and everyone, it seems, is named Moxey.

Lundy Moxey, a jovial man who runs the dining room and the bar at the lodge, serves puffy conch fritters prepared by his mother as he regales guests with stories of monster "bones" hauled out of Middle Bight, or the time his brother, Carl, guided Ted Williams when the baseball legend caught more than 100 bonefish in a single day. (Former President George Bush is another avid bonefisherman.) Lundy also confides that he's even developing his own fly, to be called the "Hungry Moxey."

Eighty-five-year-old Phil Winslow, a retired orthopedic surgeon from Islamorada, Florida, is a well-traveled angler who's fished salmon in Russia and Iceland and rainbow trout in the lakes of Chile. He says he likes the bonefishing at Moxey's because of its austerity. "There are fewer fishermen here and there's less pressure on the fish," he says. Another guest, Casey LeCasse, an avid sportsman from Greenville, Maine, came to the Bahamas on his friend Winslow's recommendation. Most of the bonefishing done out of Moxey's takes place a short 15-minute boat ride from the dock in front of the lodge, which is located in--where else?--Moxey Town.

It takes four parts to make a successful bonefisherman: one part hunter, one part angler, one part meteorologist and one part ichthyologist (a zoologist who studies fish). As a base note, it doesn't hurt to be a little clairvoyant as well. On one windy, overcast day, Dick Lamberton of Lake Oswego, Oregon, and his guide, Whitney Rolle, headed out of the Deep Water Cay Club in search of bonefish near the sandy schools off Brush Cay. They'd been out for almost three hours and had tracked down a fair number of fish, with Lamberton even managing to accurately throw his line despite a 20-knot wind and arthritis in his right arm. But no bones were biting. He tried the most favored flies: "Gotcha," "Pink Puff" and the ever popular "Crazy Charlie." Finally, Lamberton and Rolle agreed it was time to head home. "They're real spooky today, must be a big storm comin'," Rolle said. Lamberton explained that the fish will respond to a drop in barometric pressure by not eating, which only intensifies their already nervous condition. "The bonefish will school up when a storm comes and they take on a collective mind," Lamberton added. That night at the lodge, as Lamberton was finishing his glass of Cabernet at the dinner table, a tropical depression blew out of the east and hung over the flats for four days.

There are two ways to catch bonefish: from a boat or wading in the water. An informal poll of guests at the Deep Water Cay Club seemed split on which method they preferred. Many of the older clients seemed to like staying in the boat. "There're too many sharks," one man whispers as he looks around to make sure noneof his peers was listening. But an equal number truly fancied getting out in the water and stalking their prey on foot. Presenting the purist's perspective, the waders felt that true fly-fishing was meant to be done walking the sandy flats, straining to see fish through the water as you pursue them in their own element--despite the sharks.

And make no mistake, there are plenty of sharks. Black tip, nurse, mako, lemon and hammerhead are all in abundance in the Bahamas. They are simply part of the landscape. As one guide put it, "Where there's bonefish, there's sharks. You got a flat with no sharks, you got no bones."

In fact, as a testament to behavioral adaptation, it's common to see sharks following the bonefishing boats at a respectful distance as they pole along the flats. But reports of attacks on humans are almost nonexistent. The sharks are interested in bonefish, after all, especially the weakened ones that are fighting for their lives at the end of an eight-pound-test line. Pity the poor bonefish. As Peter Hall, managing partner of Deep Water Cay put it, "Bonefish live in fear and die in terror." While it may be catch-and-release for humans (they're not suitable for the dinner table), bonefishing is strictly à la carte for the sharks.

Mel Magidson, Bill Rich and Joseph Pinder have been cruising the East End for about an hour when Magidson starts getting a little antsy. A strong, warm breeze nudges small swells to rise on the electric-green water, and the intensity of the sea's color casts a pale green wash on the underside of the clouds that drift overhead. "Time for some tunes," he says, smiling. He pulls out a small cassette player, sets it down on the boat's fiberglass seat and drops in Bob Marley's greatest hits. The aqua-green world of the early morning is broken by the wails of reggae.

Rich, lighting his Cohiba, frowns in mock disgust. Pinder continues to pole along the mangroves while looking out over the water for fish. Magidson starts to dance, rolling his arms and rocking his hips. "Bonefish love reggae," he says, laughing. Sure enough, in a matter of minutes, Rich has a feisty seven-pound missile running on his line and it appears headed for Cuba. There's a serious if contented look on his face as he begins to slowly bring his fish in. *

Jim Daniels is a Maine-based writer-photographer who reports frequently from Latin America.

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