Despite living in FL for about 12 total years, I was embarrassed to say I had never caught a bonefish. They don't live in my immediate local area, but that's still not a real excuse since they can be found just a couple hours drive away. Sure, I've briefly looked for them once or twice in the past while targeting other species, but I never have specifically gone on a trip to target them—until just a few days ago.
This summer, I decided enough was enough and I HAD to catch my first bonefish this year.
tIt wasn't a big deal if it was done on a fly or not, but that was definitely my preference. Luckily, the Biscayne Bay area near Miami is an easy drive from home and touts a healthy fishery for bonefish. It's also fortunate that I just happen to know one of the best in the business in that region—Captain Carl Ball. As a native of the area, Carl has been plying these local waters all of his life and intimately knows the whereabouts and habits of the various species which inhabit them. I knew that if I was going to make it happen with the shortest drive possible, he was going to be the man to help me!
Tropical weather squashed our previous fishing plans in September, but the weather gods finally cut us some slack in early November. Upon meeting Carl around 7am at the marina on Key Biscayne, we were greeted with a beautiful morning. The wind was light, the air was dry and cool, and aside from a few broken clouds to the east, the sky was otherwise clear. This was a sightfishing trip, and the conditions definitely looked like they wouldn't pose much of an issue!
After leaving the dock in Carl's awesome Hell's Bay Marquesa powered by a Yamaha 90 4-stroke, we embarked upon a modest boat ride enroute to the first flat. On the way down we encountered a couple areas of confused chop, but his skiff absolutely squashed the stuff. It's not our first time fishing together, however I am always amazed at how this little boat rides. It is amazingly dry and eats up some sloppy conditions!
A short time later, we rolled up on the first bonefish flat which was comprised of mottled grass/sand bottom under a couple feet of water. Carl climbed up on the poling tower, I took my position on the bow casting platform, and we both began scanning the waters for the silvery ghosts. Despite crystal-clear water, those broken clouds to the east and the makeup of the bottom meant that the fish were likely not going to distinctly announce themselves to us. Still, we kept vigilantly searching as he expertly polled us along.
Sharks, rays, boxfish, needlefish, and ballyhoo were abundant (as they were all day), but the bonefish were seemingly eluding us in these first minutes.
Thankfully, the wait didn't take long as Carl spotted the first school of bones at close range 11 o'clock off the bow. With line already stripped out on the deck, I released the fly from my left hand and fired a quick cast a mere 25-feet off the bow. Stripping the fly with a couple of quick hops, one of the bonefish darted over and eagerly gobbled up the fly....FISH ON!
The fish immediately ran towards me then turned and bolted away as I worked to clear the line. However, the line somehow ended up in a pretty gnarly knot, likely caused by being jumbled up on the deck. As the fish ran, the knot cleared a few of the guides then became firmly wedged in one of the snake guides. DOH! I was in serious trouble! I could tell the knot wasn't going to fix itself, so I put the fly rod on the deck and frantically worked to untangle the knot all while the bonefish pulled and lunged on the other end. Fortunately, the bonefish was a small one so the situation wasn't nearly as sketchy as it could've been. Meanwhile Carl documented my rookie move by snapping a few pictures from the poling tower! Luckily, the knot was picked out in about a minute's time and I finally got the fish on the reel properly. After the remaining fight came to a close, I finally slid my very first bonefish into my palm. What a moment!
To summarize the remainder of the trip, I went on to catch a second (larger) bonefish, missed two other grabs, blew a couple opportunities, and also had a couple shots on a few permit. We saw lots of life both above and below the surface and had all of the spots pretty much to ourselves. The weather also went from good to great as the remaining clouds drifted off and the winds faded off to just a soft breeze. Although I was fatigued at the end of the 8-hour day, I was elated that Carl had helped me accomplish my mission!
Capt. Carl ball is not only a hardcore and super-knowledgeable guide, but personality-wise he's a great guy to spend the day with. He's easygoing, polite, and will patiently work with you throughout the entire day to ensure success. No worries if you'd rather not flyfish—he also guides many conventional anglers as well. If you're thinking of visiting the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area and want to experience some exciting shallow-water fishing, make sure to check out his website linked below!