Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Bill Helberg's Believe It or Not

Remember the old newspaper cartoon Ripley's Believe It or Not? 

If so, you'll recall Ripley's panel dealt in items so unusual that readers might question the claims. Well, my friend and longtime client, Bill Hegberg, has been working on his own Believe It or Not. 

But let me start at the beginning...
Perhaps spurred on by some comments I made to him a long time ago about how we caught bonefish with bare red-shanked hooks while in the Seychelles in the early 90’s, Bill has been quietly experimenting with this concept. He has made some references to me about it over the years and then a couple weeks ago, I got a text from him while he and his friends were visiting the Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge on Great Abaco Island.

Bill said in his text, "No refusals - 6 bones on bare hooks”. His comments were accompanied by this photo of his fly box:

Of course, I asked for more info and Bill (who I know to be an excellent angler and caster) told me that he was fishing all six days on this trip with bare hooks! He was using Gamakatsu SL11-3H hooks and Gamakatsu Octopus hooks in red and green, as well as some steelhead hooks, but his best luck was coming with the lighter Gamakatsu SL45 hooks in silver.

Yes, just a plain old silver hook tied on his tippet with a loop knot. The loop knot was crucial, as an improved clinch slid around to the crevice where the wire formed the eye and pulled the hook sideways, spinning and spooking the fish. With a loop, the hook rode bend down in the water column during the strip.

Bill added that you must land the hook close to the bone's head. The fish just don’t see it if its three feet away (unlike a regular bonefish fly.) A cast where the hook hits the water before the flyline (always a good idea!) often resulted in the fish charging and taking the hook almost before the line got to the water. Bill suggested using a long leader of 12-15 feet.  Once the fly quietly lands, it may be necessary to make tiny strips to get the fish’s attention. The biggest fish of the trip ( 8lbs-or so) came after following the hook and tipping on it three times. Again, a big strip means the fish loses sight of the hook, so strip short and slow with a tight line.

Bill Helberg with a nice bone on a silver hook.
Head guide Sidney Thomas is a convert!
It’s not the most productive way to fish. Bill caught 5-6 fish a day with lots of shots, but it wasn’t from refusals (except the shiny green hook; Bill said they hated that), just the difficulty of presenting the hook well. He even had the owner and head guide Sidney Thomas trying it successfully!

So take this story for what it is worth and be cognizant of the facts:
You must make a long cast with a long leader.
You must be an excellent caster.
Believe IT or NOT!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Joulter Cays, Andros Island, Bahamas October 27-November 3, 2018

Imagine taking a piece of white paper, squeezing it into a tight little ball, then uncrumpling it and placing it on a table top. Next, with the palm of your hand, rub the paper until it is flat against the table top. That's what this bone dry flat looked like as it gleamed under a hot Bahamian sun... white, wrinkled and blank.
More on this later.

After having had such a great trip last fall off the north end of Andros Island in the Joulters, I was eager to get back. Never being one too shy to indulge my angling dreams, I contacted some friends who I knew would appreciate this experience. Soon we had booked dates and a year later, we found ourselves at the new Grand Hyatt in Nassau enjoying a beer and dinner surrounded by opulence, slot machines and dreams dashed. Tomorrow we would search for our dreams.

From the beach at the Hyatt

and it's excesses

to North Andros

and its fun!

The next afternoon, after a 10 minute 52 second flight from Nassau, we touched down in San Andros. Soon we were at the liquor store loading up with Kaliks, rum and a few other assorted libations. At the beautiful home that would serve as our headquarters for the next six days, we met our hostess, Betsy Sandstrom, who gave us the lay of the land. We then rigged rods, sorted gear and soon settled in for a great dinner brought to our house by Makeesha, our cook for the week.

It was obvious ours was a great group. Laughter came easily to these folks. And I could tell immediately they had their expectations in check. Everyone was simply up for a good time quite willing to let the chips fall where they may.

Phillip Rolle, our host, head guide and one of the most enjoyable people you will ever meet in the Bahamas, stopped by and told us to be ready by 8:00 am. No problem for this crew. We were eager to get going. Phillip fishes primarily in the vast Joulter Cays accessed from Lowe Sound, which is only a 15-minute drive from our house. The Joulters are a maze of white sand flats, turquoise channels and pancake banks. The Joulters offer some of the best habitat in the world for stalking shallow water, and often tailing, bonefish. This area is perfect for wading and that's virtually all we did each and every day.

The next six days offered up challenging, but very rewarding fishing for shallow water bones followed by evenings of good food, football and hilarious conversation. Now that's a good combo!

Hitching a ride back to your skiff is very welcome after a long hike.

Now, back to that crumpled and creased piece of white paper: 

As I stood on the bow of our skiff, what stretched before me was a huge piece of that paper. Our guide, Bones, called it The Stage. A vast, brilliantly white, furrowed flat. Now, at dead low tide, its secrets were unavailable. As I studied its contours, it was virtually impossible to decipher. The micro-channels which become a very pale turquoise blue with water and provide the routes for bonefish onto the flats were now invisible. I stared then thought I saw a small depression off to my left some 500 yards away. If they did indeed come up this depression, the fish would hug either side of that slot as the tide came on flood. I took off to find out while Anna and Bones took off to the right. Bones knew this flat well so Anna was in good hands. I walked towards where I thought the fish must come in with the tide for 45 minutes to an hour before I had that small voice in my head whispering "mistake?"

At times like this, I follow my instinct. I surrender this mix of experience and intuition. It usually tells me where the fish will be and I have learned to go with it. I shoved doubt out of my mind and waded a few more feet knowing a fish had to come in HERE. It looked too "right". Within minutes, 100 feet in front of me, an unmoving, hardly visible bonefish had settled into a slight depression. The bone was absolutely still no doubt eagerly waiting for more water hoping to be the first on the flat. To paraphrase, "the early bone gets the crab." 

I threw a small tan crab into the depression about three feet from the fish. I dropped my rod tip to the water, took out all the slack, then bumped the fly 4-5 inches. I stripped not again and waited. A couple of seconds went by. The urge to strip again was strong, but I held fast. Then the fish charged my fly, pinned it to the sand and ate. I made a long strip, set the hook and raised my rod. 

"Thank you" I said to whatever Fish Gods had assembled to watch my efforts. 

The next few hours were magic. Fish after fish, all in very shallow water, many tailing. It was wonderful and made the "Death March" back to the boat a whole hell of a lot easier.

I have great memories from this trip.
-Alice Sudduth hooking a tailing bone one morning in a dead calm slick. A rain squall would soon arrive, but for now, as Schemer, her guide for the day, leaned over her shoulder. Alice whooped and fought the fish. Beautiful to watch!

Schemer and Alice stalk

-I remember Phillip and Jay Hillerson laughing uproariously in between catching fish. I remember hooking a bone out of a pod. The bone then suddenly turned into a 6 foot lemon shark. After 20 minutes, I couldn't pull the shark off the bottom with my 8 weight. He eventually broke off... I was relieved. Then there was that 6-8 lb. permit I hooked off the back of a five foot lemon shark. I have never seen a permit on a shark before. Phillip hadn't either. Unforgettable!

-Separated by 50 yards of pure white sand, Jimmy Ellis and I hooked up at exactly the same moment. This after we got out of the skiff and waded without seeing anything for at least 15 minutes. What are the odds.

 -I remember John Riggs taking fish after fish out of a pod in deep water at high tide. I couldn't get one of these nervous fish to eat to save my soul. I told John "I suck at this." He just laughed as did Phillip. Good to get a dose of humility now and then!

John Riggs with just a little bit to much sunscreen
-And I remember Anna off in the distance with rod bent too as we fished that crumpled piece of paper. As it turned out, Anna and Bones had also had great fishing and an 8lb. bone was among many they caught. So many great memories from this trip!

I want to thank everyone that made this trip so much fun. Anna and John, Alice and Jimmy, Jay.... Betsy our host, Betsy's other half and our head guide Phillip... our other guides Bones and Schemer... Makeesha our cook. THANK YOU ALL!
A wonderful time was had by all. 
If interested in this destination contact me at scott@anglingdestinations.com or call 800-211-8530
Below find a few more photos that will have more significance to trip members.

If you look closely Alice, you can see your tailing fish!

Our busy road... here comes Phillip!

Kalik's new labels celebrate 30 years and display all the islands in the Bahamas

Feeding treats to the local "potcakes"!

Phillip's gifts to the ladies and the end of our trip.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Sidney Thomas Offers Some Great Advice to Bonefishermen.

Sidney Thomas is a tremendously talented guide. He has all the requisite attributes a superior guide must have: great eyes, expansive knowledge of his fishing grounds, a  tremendous feel for where the fish will be on any given tide or weather profile, the ability to pole a skiff quietly and position it properly for the cast even in a driving wind and perhaps most importantly, good people skills. But Sidney has one more skill that makes him unique, he has dissected the technical aspects of the sport and is able to convey the assembled techniques to his anglers.

Sid's subtle, but highly effective technique for catching bonefish, which we previously labeled the Water Cay Method has changed the way many bonefishermen approach their quarry. (See a few examples here.)

Recently, this renowned guide, closed his Water Cay Lodge and opened a new lodge on Great Abaco Island. On my recent visit to see how work was coming on his new lodge, (see Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge), I asked Sidney to demonstrate his basic technique for the camera. While a pod of huge bonefish passed behind us while we were filming, Sidney kept his concentration, overcame his shyness and passed on some sage advice. Give a listen, it might come in handy on your next trip!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Report on Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge Oct 25, 2018

In 1932, The Great Abaco Hurricane screamed up Abaco Island in the Bahamas striking the settlements of Hope Town, Marsh Harbour, Green Turtle Cay, Coopers Town and Great Guana Cay. Six residents died and the hurricane destroyed most of the island’s homes and public buildings. Winds reached 200 mph on Great Guana Cay where some of the stone blocks from a destroyed church were carried over a half mille by the winds and storm surge. Vessels caught in the storm registered Force 12 winds on the Beaufort Wind Scale.

As the storm finally left the north end of Abaco, it had one last surprise upon reaching Cave Cay and the vast area of flats surrounding it. Cave Cay, lying 5 miles off the north coast of Abaco, was virtually obliterated by this Category 5 hurricane. The storm razed the island and the force of the wind and water cut the island in half. The surviving residents had no where to go. In the days following the storm, the government (the Bahamas were then under British control) relocated these residents to the mainland on Little Abaco Island. The government built small homes to house the victims and created in the process a new village called appropriately Crown Haven. 

Sidney Thomas... absolutely one of the Bahama's top guides

Now, 86 years later, Sidney Thomas and his wife Keeta, have returned to their home on Little Abaco Island. Sidney, frustrated by the lack of upkeep promised by the family that leased the building on Water Cay to them, are now relocating their bonefish lodge from the beloved Water Cay to Crown Haven, some 40 miles away.

Sid and Keeta

They are calling this new lodge Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge. The lodge will occupy a home built by Sidney Thomas some 30 years ago. There will be no issues as to repairs or cooperation this time! Keeta and Sidney will be living on one side of the lodge and the other side will house up to 6 anglers in three bedrooms. A living room with TV will offer a place to relax and food will be prepared and served by Keeta in a kitchen which is adjacent to the living room. The three bedrooms will share two bathrooms. The entire home is air-conditioned with brand new outside units. This will not be a fancy lodge. It will be clean, comfortable and cozy. Plenty of amenities for hardcore anglers.


There is a great seaside bar within walking distance. Everyone is very friendly in the village and eager to help Sidney get his lodge off the ground. Fishermen come in daily with their catch so there will be much better access to fresh seafood at Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge than at Water Cay. 

The little bar is near where boats are launched.

Fresh snapper!

The best way to reach the lodge is though Marsh Harbour. There are two daily flights on Silver Air from the states and other carriers daily bring travelers from Nassau. Marsh Harbour has three good liquor stores so getting supplies for a sunset cocktail or two should be a snap.

Boat launch with bar in the background


But that is not the good news. 
The good news is...

To the west, east and north lie some of the best bonefish habitat in all the Bahamas. Previously difficult to access demanding either a long boat ride from the east end of Grand Bahama Island or an hour drive from Marsh Harbour or Treasure Cay, this area has always been highly prized by in-the-know anglers.

I personally can attest to the quality of this area as I have been fishing it off and on with great success for over 30 years. (but that is another story). From Mangrove Cay to Cross Cay and from Stranger Cay to Powell Cay, beach flats, mangrove lined creeks, white sand banks, tiny cays and oceanic cuts stretch as far as the eye can see. In fact, the very channel that cut Cave Cay in half by the Great Abaco Hurricane is just one of hundreds of prolific bonefish spots within reach from the boat ramp. From Crown Haven, the guides of Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge can chase the tides on both sides of the island as tides can vary by as much as 4 or 5 hours.

Also, If the wind is from the northeast you can fish the west side of the island, if its coming from the southeast you can fish the east side of Abaco, the lees of the west side and its oceanic flats that stretch to the north. But this variety and options are not really the best news... anglers who loved Water Cay and the guides there will be thrilled to know, Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge will access some of the BEST wading flats in the Bahamas. From hard-packed sand to beach flats to undulating pancake flats much of this vast area is very wadeable!

Those of us that loved Water Cay know that if Water Cay Lodge lacked anything it was wadeable flats. Not any more. Now the great guides of Water Cay including Greg Rolle and Sid are making plans to put visiting anglers on these great firm wadeable flats.

As renovations continue, Little Abaco Bonefish lodge is, at the present time, a work in progress. But the raw materials are in place. Good guides, good skiffs, hard-working staff, a good cook, and terrific flats and fishing hold great promise for the future.

Let's wish Sid and Keeta good luck on their new adventure!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Drew Decides to Make a Visit

Last Saturday morning, a storm rolled in bringing heavy rain which soon turned to a dense wet snow. What was to be 1-3 inches became 6-7. Behind the storm lay an arctic cold front. By evening the temps had dropped into the lower 20's. It felt more like February than October.

This would normally have been all good and well... we would have hunkered down and enjoyed the beautiful fresh snow. But my nephew, Drew Overholser, who is on the faculty at the Journeys School of Teton Science Schools was on his way from Jackson Hole. He had two high passes to cross: Togwotee Pass in the Absaroka Mountains and Powder River Pass in the Bighorn Mountains. What should have taken him a bit under seven hours turned into nine. We worried about him all day knowing how taxing that journey can be in a winter storm. He finally arrived blurry-eyed and tired a bit after dinner time .

We had planned on fishing Sunday, but we awoke to 17 degree temps and everything encased in ice and frozen slush. We soon punted and watched football. On Monday, I took the afternoon off and with pleasantly warming temps, we drove to a small ranch outside Buffalo, WY.

The water was very cold, but as the afternoon wore on, the weather warmed into the lower 50's and we finally got some fish to move. Drew caught some fish, I caught one of the most beautiful browns I have ever seen and we ended up having a great day. Thanks Drew for making the effort. It was a lot of fun!