Friday, December 2, 2004 - Cozumel, Mexico
This was to be totally a different experience for me – both saltwater, guide fishing and bonefish are all foreign, but I was excited. I awoke at 5 am to not miss my pick up. I was outside my hotel at 5:15 and there wasn’t a soul around – except the security guard in front of the jewelry store next to our hotel who was passed out on a chair in front of the main door. Suddenly there was a loud sound approaching that sounded like a motorcycle without a muffler – it was however a 1968 volkswagon beetle and it was owned by my guide arranger. I jumped into the mostly rusted machine, saying hello to my guide (Alfredo) in the back seat and the arranger in the front seat (Tuza). With the windshield directly against my face we started on our journey. As I looked around at the vehicle I could see that it was not your typical ride. It was a two door four seater, but the front seat was so small that I felt like I couldn’t breath. The car was stocked with the 3 of us, a cooler, 3 or 4 fishing rods, a seat cushion, a gas tank, and various other items. We chugged along the local roads headed for the north shore. After about 3 miles of driving we hit the end of the pavement and rode along a potholed road as we swerved left and right to avoid them. After about 2 miles and about 10 minutes we arrived at an area that would normally be called a marina – but it had no deep water, but rather about 4 feet with a sandy beach that had about 30 boats tied up on buoys. As we swerved our way through palm trees over the road/beach, sometimes coming very close to going in the water, and others almost not fitting between the palms - we went to the very end. We hopped out and Alfredo and Tuza were busy getting the boat ready to go. Filling the engine with gas, pulling the boat in, loading it with gear and grabbing the hidden pole from the nearby jungle. Soon we were off. It was a mild morning and the sun was nearing the horizon. We opened up the engine and were cruising over the mild ocean in about 30 feet of gin clear water. We’d skim over coral reefs and then long stretches of sand and then more reef – never getting much deeper or shallower than 30 feet. After the 20 minute ride along the coastline we could see the sun just starting to peek over the horizon in a magma pink ball – we also came to a delta were there was water slowly flowing out of. The delta was about 10 feet wide and as we approached Alfredo flipped up the engine and we coasted towards it. We both jumped out and pushed the boat over the sandbar inlet and into the knee deep water on the other side. We hopped back in and started the engine and off we went, but at a much slower pace. Alfredo quickly pointed out the wakes that were pushing around the cove to the right – Alfredo steered the boat over to a mangrove and we jumped out. He tied the boat off and we started to head around to the open inlet on foot.
The inlet was about 100 yards across and was surrounded on the left side by tight mangroves and on the right by the inlet opening – straight ahead the flats opened to a mile long stretch of openness. Alfredo tied flies on both rods and handed me the 8 weight. I have no experience with an 8 weight and it was heavy as hell. He showed me how to cast and I tried it too – it was ugly. He left the 6 weight in the boat and we head out on foot. The water was warm – about 10 degrees colder than the air, but still warm. We walked around the corner of the mangrove and we could see at least 5 schools of fish making their waves across the inlet. Bonefish are bottom feeders who suck the sandy bottom into their mouths and then crush anything they find. Their mouths are turned down like a freshwater carp, and they have no teeth, but their jaws are extremely powerful and can crush shell fish. The fish mostly stay in groups chugging along the bottom – but they do break apart in groups of 2 or 3 to patrol the edges on the mangrove. The object to catching bonefish is to cast the fly – usually a pattern imitating a small shrimp with huge eyes – just ahead of a school, letting the fly sink to the bottom and then just as they approach you strip it back to you in a slow motion. The fish will usually trail it and jump on the fly, turn its head and run the other way at the set of the hook. I started casting to the schools to no avail – splashing the water to much on the landing and spooking the fish. I threw to 3 or 4 schools and the Alfredo wanted to cast. After his third cast he had one on and let me land it. After three runs of about 200 feet each I finally landed the fish. It was the thickest fish I had every felt – and was about 16 inches long and about 1.5 pounds. The bone was the most muscular fish I had ever seen, with a huge dorsal fin and a sleek silvery torpedo body. It also had a coat of white slime that was like a molting skin. The fish was pretty spent and when I plopped him back into the water he wasn’t in much of a hurry to go back to the school. I decided I needed to change rods and Alfredo had me stalk a pair of larger bones right up next to the mangroves. They were eating off the bottom with their rear fins sticking straight up – a pretty neat sight and easy to notice in flat water. I pitched to them three or four times and on the fifth time I had him on. He ran me straight out into the flats cove about 200 feet and then did a semi circle to the east and then right back to the west. He wasn’t too happy and wasn’t in a hurry to be landed. After several close runs he was back out to sea and finally I forced him in close and I landed him. Alfredo snapped a few pictures of the 2.5 pounder and I petted the fish and released him – what a great fight. The wind started to kick up now – it was about 8 am and Alfredo had warned me about this. There were no tails to be found and so we decided to start stalking.
I walked around the mangrove and saw nothing. I crossed another large cove and Alfredo saw a few, so I hurried over to him and got two casts to a fish but spooked him. We decided to jump in the boat and stalk via sight. Within a few minutes we were onto two more larger fish. I made a perfect cast, but the fish exited right through a small opening and they were gone. The sun was now high in the sky, but there wasn’t a sound to be heard but ocean and birds. I think throughout the whole day we heard 1 plane and didn’t see another human being. We did see tons of different birds – from pink cranes to blue heron to pelicans to white herons. We stopped at another mangrove and jumped out, I crossed over a dry spot because I thought I saw another school. It was a larger school and I hid to the side of an island and waited. The school was heading right for me – 100 feet out, I cast right in front of it and hooked one. It didn’t seem that big, but he took off 100 yards in the opposite direction – I had the rod tip up, but he kept going – he hooked on a rock and snapped off everything. Frustrated I went back to the boat to get another fly. Alfredo tied one on and we hit a small inlet that had a rock “wall” type of formation along it. We could see several schools way out that would spin along the wall and then head out again – only to come back and do it again. He set up with his rod on the far side of the rock wall and I stood closer to the mangroves. He hooked into a fish and new right away it was a Jack and not a bone fish – and he didn’t want to spook the bones so he yanked the fish right out of the water about 50 feet over his head. It was an 8 inch Jack and he unhooked and started casting again. The fish were headed right towards me, but I couldn’t keep from splashing the water. The fish made another turn and Alfredo did the same think – catching a Jack that was hanging with the school. The fish soon disappeared and we decided to head out to another spot.
The day was calm with just enough wind to put a ripple on the water. Suddenly Alfredo jumped up and saw fins next to the mangroves. He kept asking me if I saw them – and of course I didn’t. He told me the general area and I just cast blindly. On my second cast I had another fish on. This time he stayed in the same cove, but kept swimming left to right back and forth. Finally he snapped me off on some rocks – another missed chance!
We started out again, poling slowly along the flats. Alfredo saw a huge school of bones that looked like a cloud of darkness in the water. Now it was about 12 noon and the sun was directly overhead. He told me to look for the shadows and flashes of the schools. The school was headed right towards the boat, but the water was a little deeper and there were no fins to be seen. The fish spooked and shot out into the cove. We anchored and head over to the cove on foot. Alfredo saw “hundreds” of bone fish just about 60 feet away in the deeper water. I casted with no luck. Finally I made the correct cast and hooked a bone. The water was open here and the fish took off. I had to back track to the boat to keep the bone from spooking the school. I landed the smaller fish (only about 1.5 pounds) after a short fight. We returned to the spot to find the bones gone. Alfredo led ahead and soon he saw another school. I let him fish because he seemed frustrated that I wasn’t catching enough. We could see the occasional school in the distance and we took turns pointing them out to each other. When a school was close enough we casted – or shouted to the other guy to let him know a school was close. On occasion a school of 50 or more bones would swoop between us. Alfredo hooked one and the fish took him over 100 yards snapping him off in the process. We cornered a school and I hooked another fish, only to find it to be an 8 inch barracuda. The fish was ugly and pretty at the same time. Skinny as hell and tons of teeth protruded from its mouth. It was a good looking fish and I popped him back in the water. Alfredo told me it was a cuda even before I landed it – the guy just knows these things!
Alfredo said he saw a small alligator – he said it was about 100 yards out sitting on a log. I didn’t see it, but that’s ok with me!! We kept fishing, the day was getting hotter and now it was close to 2 pm. We fished to multiple schools or swirling bones. At one point a huge school of bones passed right in front of me and right behind Alfredo, they were spooky and kept moving – passing us two or three times. I split off and chased a few more, but ended up hooking up with a few Jacks and tossing them back. We finished up the day with a slow push back – basically I stood on the hull of the boat and sight fished while Alfredo poled us back to a deeper section. On several occasions he’d yell left or right and I’d try to cast in a tangled mess. I missed a couple of fish that came real close. It was a long push back and I was tired and sunned out. We made the delta where the water was funneling back into the flats – we had a beer and soon we were on our way whisking over the water back to the marina. Alfredo was pushing me to drink beers so I downed 3 more on the trip back. It was a beautiful day and now you could see a couple of hidden beaches where hotels drop visitors off to be secluded (no roads or buildings out there). Back at the marina at around 3:30 Tuza and his daughter were there to meet us. We tied off the boat and jumped in the Bug and headed back. They pointed out a great restaurant along the way and dropped me at my hotel at 4:15. What a great day. We ended up going to La Lobsteria for dinner and then I unknowingly crashed at 7 pm not waking until 7 am the next morning.
It was a great day of fishing and unbelievable experience.