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Bonefishing in the Bahamas - Travel Feature

The Old Men and the Sea

by André Gayot

Bonefishing in the Bahamas
A Sea of Tranquility

Even an acute eye could not have detected what was the sky and what was the sea. The elements melted their colors into each other, erasing the thin line of separation that usually tells us where our world ends and the unknown one begins. The planet had come to a quiet fusion with the universe. I could not sense the slightest shiver of a breeze. It was as unreal and awesome as one of the best paintings by Salvador Dalí.

It seemed that the speedy, flat motor craft skating full steam ahead was going to pop out of the frame and rocket its passengers into space. The sun was lazily pushing itself past the eastern tip of the Grand Bahama Island. Under the guidance of Fred Rolle and in the company of Doug Wilson — a seasoned photographer and fisherman — I was heading off on an exceptional fishing expedition, the kind only known to a happy few aficionados such as presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Fred, who is not much younger than his two old men passengers, was leading our first steps in the practice of bonefishing — an off-the-beaten-path sporting activity practiced only in rare locations. The flat waters of Grand Bahama's eastern tip is an ideal location.

Fred zigzagged in these shallow waters to ride into the deeper channels, following his knowledge of the sea as well as his instincts. The craft slowed down as Fred shut off the engine. There was no motion and total silence. We thought, probably in unison, that at this precise instant the world was perfect. Then the deep and soft voice of Fred was heard saying: "Lots of fish, man; lots of fish!"

The suspicious bonefish (known to scientists as Albula vulpes)

We had not seen anything. "I knew they would be there," added a modest but triumphant Fred as he pointed. Staring wide-eyed, we caught a glimpse of a few ripples on the surface. The suspicious bonefish (known to scientists as Albula vulpes) were feeding in less than three feet of water with their tail fins scratching the surface, hence the ripples that betrayed them. We knew where they were, but they were too far for us to cast our lines and the water was too shallow for the propeller. Silence became the essence of the hunt. Fred pushed on a long perch to bring the small craft to a reasonable distance. A bonefish does not like to be disturbed when feeding. It won't respond to any invitation that's too insistent but won't bother to address a too-distant solicitation, either . The most appetizing shrimp will not lure this naturally skeptical fish if it is not offered at the right time and place. That's the beauty of the sport.

Bonefishing guide Fred Rolle
Bonefishing guide Fred Rolle

We cast and cast again. The school of bonefish did not pay the slightest attention to our efforts. "That's all right," nodded Fred, whose sight was able to penetrate under the ocean. He had noticed how superbly indifferent the darn things were, but had more than one trick in his fishing bag. Slowly we revolved around the not-so-hungry school and Fred reasoned that if they didn't have a big appetite, maybe they had a small one. He attached a smaller shrimp to the hook. Doug was beginning to be a tad demoralized. "Your turn to cast," he decided, passing the rod on to me. After a few more casts, the miracle happened. A sharp bite was followed by the sensation of a whale pulling that minuscule thread in all directions. Excitement reached a peak and the "crew" jumped up, ready to partake in the long-awaited victory.

"Keep the rod up," instructed Fred with a touch of jubilation in his voice. "Don't resist. Let him pull out as much line as he wants and pull him back when he is tired." So I did just that, trusting Fred's experience. After a good ten minutes of combat, the fish was wriggling around the boat. That was the end of the game. The rule is that the fish must then be set free to return to its life, with our apologies.

Bonefishing guide Fred Rolle and André Gayot
Fred and André Gayot

Doug was resurrected. He seized the rod and cast again. In a matter of minutes, he got his, too. The situation was even. The old men were happy. "Mission accomplished," Fred probably thought.

A thin wake slightly tore the tranquil surface. "Ah, ah," grumbled Fred, "here he comes." Obviously, he was expecting the visit. The intruder was a shark heading slowly toward the waning school of bonefish. It was breakfast time underwater. We felt it was probably appropriate for the humans to retire, to not interfere any longer and let the life of the sea return to its usual pace. As we returned to the landing, musing and taking the time to admire again the infinite emerald and turquoise hues of the incredible landscape, a sense of peace and beauty filled the heart of us two old men. We looked at each other and knew it was one of the best outdoor experiences we ever had. It was a bit of sport, a bit of emotion, a bit of suspense and a lot of gorgeous nature.

Captain Phil and Mel's Bonefishing Guide Services
Philip and Mel Thomas
McClean's Town, Grand Bahama Island

All photos by Doug Wilson, of Doug Wilson Digital & Analog Photography

Check out the travel story "Grand Bahama Island: The Awakening"
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(Updated: 11/21/12 CT)

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