The Boneyard

I got the phone call from Clint our lodge manager on Monday that the weekend looked perfect for tides and weather. I quickly assembled a crew and had the flights booked by dinnertime, we’d fly out Friday and come back that Monday leaving us two days to fish the bluewater and flats surrounding Abaco. On my previous two trips the weather was rather challenging and this past weekend made up for it. I don’t think we had a gust over 5 knots the entire weekend and the cloudless blue bird skies made for perfect sight fishing conditions.

On Saturday we drifted around hole in the wall pulling on snapper, grouper, sharks and anything else you can imagine which made for a great afternoon and produced some great eats for the next two days.

On Sunday we launched the skiff around 10 and started poling the mangroves while waiting on the tide to drop. We hooked our first bone around 10:30 and had a few more shots shortly after but did not connect. Around 1 we had a perfect falling tide to take a look for permit and after a short ride we found a ray holding two permit. I proceeded to show these fish every permit fly in the box and got some close follows and a few looks but no dice… permit fishing. Before abandoning the permit we decided to toss a rabbit bonefish jig on a spin rod and worked it right into the fish’s line of sight. All in one motion he ate the jig and began emptying the 2500 size reel. In a moment of disbelief I hustled off the platform and before I could rack up the push pole and start the engine the hook pulled…permit fishing. After a couple beers and a few what if’s we started the bonefish search again and my friend Andrew was able to land his first bonefish on fly. We found a pocket of shallow water back in the mangroves that was loaded with tailing fish and after working them for a while it was time to make our way back to the ramp. We had a wonderful day fishing the flats of west Abaco and it was a great ending to a short, but sweet trip down to the lodge.

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View of the harbor at Schooner Bay from the balcony of Blackfly Lodge
View of Schooner Bay harbor from the balcony of Blackfly Lodge

On a side note I put together some footage from a few previous trips to make this new short video The Boneyard

Enjoy!

The Boneyard from Austin Bacon on Vimeo.

Stu and Vaughn at Black Fly Bonefish Club

Stu and Vaughn It’s not everyday you get a chance to fish with a “fishing legend” of any kind, much less someone like Stu Apte. I say that because Stu is a really nice guy and a gentleman.
Also along on this trip was Stu’s wife Jeanine who, according to Stu, is the light of his life. These two people belong together, that’s for sure.
Stu and Jeanine Stu and I had been working on fishing together for quite some time but our schedules, mostly his, were always pretty tight and we just couldn’t make it happen. Finally, the seas parted and we had dates that worked.

Fortunately, another scheduling snafu became a blessing when my good friend Mike Conner was able to get away from his hectic freelance writing schedule to join the group. Mike was the former editor of Shallow Water Angler and writer for just about anybody that had anything important to say about fishing. If you look back in any magazine that you still have a copy of, you will probably find Mike’s name. So here’s our group…Stu and Jeanine, Mike Conner, my wife Jean and myself. A pretty good group of fisherman in my opinion.

Air Gate Jean and I took a flight with our friends at Airgate Aviation out of Daytona Beach. They are a fairly new airline to the Bahamas, replacing (thank God) the old Vintage airline that was never pleasant to fly not to mention wondering if they were organized enough to stay in business…which they weren’t. Anyway, Airgate is very well run, they keep their daily schedule and are even thinking of increasing the number of daily flights. The planes are beautiful and perfectly maintained and they service Marsh Harbor and Treasure Cay. So now we have two airlines servicing the N.E. Florida area to Abaco, Airgate out of Daytona and Craig Air out of Jacksonville.

We arrived on the early flight to Marsh Harbor and we were greeted by friend and General Manager Clint Kemp. Clint has been promising to take me to his secret flat since we’ve met but for some reason, we never had time to go there. I can tell you this about his secret flat…I know why it’s a secret! You would never find this spot in a million years Capt. Clint Kemp if you had to do it on your own, but it would be worth it believe me. OK, we have 3 hours to fish before we have to be back at the airport and we have to go to Jamie’s Place (my favorite Marsh Harbor restaurant) for lunch. We’re done with lunch and Clint has to blindfold us to take us to the flat (just kidding).
Clint and Jean Wading We rig up, get our boots on, pick our fly and hit the water. We walk about 50 feet and here comes the first fish, then another, and another…the fish are leaving the flat on the outgoing tide and they’re feeding along the way. Clint nails one, then Jean gets one and looses it. I do the same. Damn, I wanted to break my record for catching a bonefish within 3 hours of landing…not going to happen it looks like.

A secret flat We pick up Stu and Jeanine from the 4pm American Airlines flight and head down to the lodge, thinking of how good Clint’s famous Mojitos are going to taste. After an incredible dinner of conch chowder and conch fritters we pack it in after the usual long traveling day.

Saturday morning gives us a taste of what we’re going to have to fish in the remainder of the trip….wind of at least 15 knots and mostly cloudy. Well, that never stopped us professionals from giving it all we had. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough! I think the master (Stu) got a couple of fish that first day plus a quick nap in between fish…how does he do that? Jean and I got skunked but we got lots of practice casting in the wind. Mike arrived mid-day, so he was at the lodge to greet us when we got back. We settled in for dinner and spent the evening sitting around comparing flies and strategy for tomorrow.

Sunday, was a little nicer with less cloud cover and what seemed like less wind. It might have been a case of wishful thinking! The fishing was much better for everyone on this day with Stu leading the pack again. Mike caught several nice ones, I caught a couple and Jean got her first bonefish right at the end of the day. On the way back to the lodge we decided to check out one of our favorite bonefish spots…”the road flat”. Paul on the previous day said that he had seen several fish on the road flat and I thought we should give it shot. We pulled off the side of the road and sure enough, there were the fish. We got the rods out quickly trying to keep an eye on the fish and not loose them in the setting sun. Stu got a shot off but the fish ignored it. Mike moved down the road a bit and found a big guy working along the mangroves. Mike waded out and finally put the feathers in front of the fish and had one on. This guy didn’t want to come in but Mike finally convinced him it was the right thing to do. What a way to end the day. BUT, the real highlight of the day was that it was Jeanine Apte’s birthday. Clint made one of his special dinners with an incredible chocolate dessert and of course a few adult beverages to top off the evening.

Jean Wading Monday was our last day to fish and it was our most productive day out of the trip. We worked the inside bays early in the tide where Stu pulled one out of the mangroves. As the tide came in we moved to the outside edges south of our boat ramp creek and found several singles and a school or two that were interested in eating. At lunch we switched boats so that I was fishing with Stu and Jean and Mike were fishing together. Immediately both boats found fish. In fact Stu and I got into a school of probably several hundred fish holding in a depression on the flat. They were easy to spot because of the flashing and discolored water. I threw first using a “King of Abaco” and got hooked up right away. Stu came up behind me and fired off a Puglisi spawning shrimp which they liked just as well. Are you kidding…a double header on bonefish…that’s us! The day continued with multiple hook-ups on both boats and we got some good photos for Mike’s article for Fly Rod & Reel Magazine. On our last pass heading back to the dock, we fished the shoreline south of Sandy Point looking for anything that swims, like maybe a permit or possibly a tarpon. There up on the sandy shoreline was a dark circle moving in our same direction. OK, this was going to be easy! Then from the beach we see two yellow labs bounding into the ocean heading in our direction. Yellow Labs No way they’re going to come out to us, but yes here they come. So from behind the boat two furryheads are tracking behind us thinking who knows what but still coming our way. Thinking that we may be going too fast to catch (like a car) they head into the beach….right through the school of bonefish! As it turned out, the fish eventually settled down and we got our shots. We caught several once we changed flies and went to the standard pink charlie, the “go to fly” when over white sand in the Bahamas.

Vaughn and Stu Our departure day was calm and bright….of course! Oh well, we had a great time celebrating Jeanine’s birthday, drinking Clint’s now famous mojitos and warming up for Stu’s 80th the following week. But before we all left, I had a project I have been thinking about for years. After finishing Lefty’s portrait a few years back, I had wanted to do a portrait of someone else that was a legendary figure in the fishing world….this was my opportunity. In preparation for this trip, I found a photo of Stu that I transfered on to a canvas in the form of a line drawing. My plan was to have everyone take a turn painting on the painting and then sign the piece. Clint's Mojitos We would get as much done as we could and I would finish the rest in my studio. I would donate the finished painting to the charity of Stu’s choice and we would produce a poster of the painting so that Stu could have a piece to sign and donate to future charities and events. I was hoping that we would have begun the painting on the first night of the trip but those darned mojitos kept getting in the way. We spent the morning painting and signing the canvas, Mike recorded us painting and we left the lodge ready for our next adventure.

Coming home is coming home! It’s great to get home but I sure miss that blue-green crystal clear water, fresh conch and the national drink of Cuba. Fortunately, I’ll be going back soon. Mike’s article will be coming out soon (I’ll let you know via Twitter and Facebook) and we’ll start tying flies for our next trip.

Hooked on the Fly in Abaco, episodes 1 & 2

It seems like most of my adventures start with some sort of reference to art or an art project. The TV show “Hooked on the Fly” is no exception. Chris TravisWe got a call one day from the show’s host, Chris Travis, who had just finished filming an episode in Key West and was told by his producer that the hat he was wearing was a trademarked design hat (The Black Fly) and he needed permission to wear it…this was AFTER the show had been finished. Chris called and before the conversation went too much further, we had made a deal to do a show for the 2011 season at Black Fly Bonefish Club in Abaco. If we were really lucky, we would try to catch enough fish for two shows…we’ll see. The real result of Chris calling was finding a new friend.

Capt. Jeffrey CardenasThe TV crew arrived in Abaco while I was out fishing with our guests who were already at the lodge, author, Captain and friend, Jeffery Cardenas and Alan Keough from out west. Alan caught his first bonefish on this trip…and several more. We had a fantastic day, lots of fish, shots at permit and conch ceviche on the boat for lunch. Doesn’t get much better than that! We had a great time that evening, incredible food, telling stories, sharing some rum and catching up on life in the Keys.Vaughn and Alan

The first day of filming was a little slow due to wind and clouds, which we have been battling since January. We caught fish but it was tough. Also on this first day we were joined by my old friend who I hadn’t seen in years, Sue Cocking, outdoor writer for the Miami Herald. I read Sue’s stories online and you should too. She’s one of the best in the business and a VERY good flyrod angler. So this was our crew.

Sue CockingDay two…. windy again but tolerable. Sue caught 2 fish for the day and us guys didn’t do as well. We in our wisdom decided to make a run up to the southern marls to go for numbers. It was the other way around…they had ours! The good thing about our lodge is that even if the fishing is slow, we eat very, very well. Clint Kemp, our general manager is also our chef until the main lodge opens next year. Clint always has a surprise for us at the end of the day. In fact, one of our recent guest said that never in all of his life while on a bonefishing trip did he quit worrying about catching bonefish around 3 o’ clock  and start thinking about what Clint was serving for dinner.
VaughnDay three was epic or “Eptic” as they say in the  Bahamas and we caught more fish than the previous days put together.  One unforgettable event happened in the afternoon as Chris was on the bow and our guide, Paul Pinder (Director of Fishing Operations) spotted a huge permit feeding on a ray. This was the opportunity of a lifetime for anyone who has ever fished for permit and Chris had a bonefish fly on. Chris was throwing at a big brown spot that he thought was the ray and didn’t see the prize not too far away. Finally Chris spotted the big guy and all along I was trying to hand him a permit rod that I had rigged for just such a moment. Chris didn’t want to take the rod thinking there wasn’t enough time to switch….anyway, the permit took off and Chris missed his fish. It was one of the biggest permit I’ve seen in a while.

We managed to get in some of the interviews that were necessary to pull the conservation concepts and the role of Schooner Bay together. Both Clint, Sue and I all talked about our ideas and our relationship to Black Fly, Schooner Bay and the concepts of sustainability in the world of fishing. Good stuff I think and timely for all of us.

Vaughn and a 12 plus pound boneDay four was critical as we had at least one show in the bag and we were working on maybe getting two out of the deal. Sue had a deadline to meet so unfortunately she had to return to Miami…her cat was sick too. I was fishing by myself with Paul and Chris was fishing with Tony Bain. Paul was working along his usual edges and we, or I should say I, had already spooked a few fish that should have eaten. this was not looking good. Then….. here comes my fish!  I got the fly off quickly and it landed right in front of the fish…he took off to the right just like the others and we both were thinking the same thing…oh no, not again. Then, he just turned around and ate the fly, the “King of Abaco”…I couldn’t believe it. As the line was burning my finger I was thinking this was the biggest bonefish I had ever hooked into, Was this possible that I was going to catch this incredible fish…and on film! We got the fish in after about 20 minutes (I think) and I jumped into the water along with camera man Jeff to get the underwater shots done. None us had any sort of measuring tape or a boga grip but I could say for sure it was over 10 lbs and maybe it was more than 12, it doesn’t really matter.

Chris and a nice 8 pound bonefishDay 5 was not good for me because I was on a plane home and Chris was knee deep in bonefish the whole day. We definitely got our two shows for the 2011 season and Chris made up for the permit by catching an 8 pounder on his last day. It was a great trip and I can’t wait to do it again.

“Breaking the Surface” starring Diana Rudolph & Kim Bain-Moore film at Black Fly Bonefish Club, Abaco Bahamas

I love it when I have too much to say on the blog. We just had an incredible week of fishing at the Black Fly Bonefish Club in Abaco with our guests, Diana Rudolf and Kim Bain-Moore of the new TV show “Breaking the Surface”. This great new show hasn’t been on too long and you can find it on the Sportsman Channel. We will announce the air dates on this Blog and our Twitter page @ twitter.com/blackflyvaughn
Diana Rudolph & Kim Bain-Moore
Diana Rudolph & Kim Bain-Moore

The week started with overcast skies and winds roaring around 25 to 30 miles per hour, a true test of your casting skills. Oh well, you have to make the best of what you have! I’ve done a ton of TV shows over the years including “Fly fishing The World”, “Spanish Fly”, “Fly Fishing America” and sometimes you just have to “go fishin”. I did one show with Jose Wejebe in Belize and I know that the wind was blowing over thirty. We were laughing when we left the dock thinking this was going to be a first in TV fly fishing. You literally couldn’t stand up without spreading you feet out to compensate for the wind…it would blow you over. Well, we actually caught fish! Jose caught 3 I think and I caught one. I remembered the advice, keep the wind blowing over your left shoulder. The weather for this show wasn’t that bad but it was tough for the ladies and the guides too. Kim had the advantage as she was using spin gear. Kim is an excellent angler and is the only woman on the Bassmaster Tour at this time. She did very well over the course of the four days using only artificials. To be honest, in the Bahamas, I think that the fly angler has the advantage. Diana, world record holder and fly fishing celebrity, fought off the temptation to go to spin gear and stuck with the fly rod the entire time. The first day was a struggle but she landed several bonefish that not many anglers would even have tried for.

Leaving the dock for a great day on the water
Leaving the dock for a great day on the water
Kim and one of many bonefish she released.
Kim and one of many bonefish she released.

Day two was better, more fish were landed and everyone was beginning to get into the swing of things on Abaco and island time. My partner Clint Kemp and I were responsible for providing all the food for this trip. Clint is an excellent chef and has been using his family recipes to add pounds to our guests with no complaints. Every night we had some kind of seafood dish. One night we started off with Clints conch fritters, then conch salad and finally lobster tails in garlic butter. Did I mention the ice cold Kalik beers? We had fried snapper, cracked (fried) conch, cracked lobster, more conch salad and more conch fritters. I’ve been to lodges in the Bahamas and never had a Bahamian dish the whole time we were there. Come fish with us just for the food!

Capt. Vaughn and his patented Vulcan Bonefish Release
Capt. Vaughn and his patented Vulcan Bonefish Release
Capt. Clint and a couple of nice bonefish
Capt. Clint and a couple of nice bonefish

Back to the fishing…..Day three was beautiful with much lighter winds, clear skies and mucho excitment. Fish were every where we went and the camera crew got more footage than they could use. Big fish, medium size fish, permit, snappers, cudas and everything in between. The highlight of the day was Diana’s permit. It was a beauty and without a scale we all guessed that it weighed in between 25  and 30 lbs. It was caught at the end of the day so there was not time to go for the tarpon to complete the slam but there was always tomorrow. Did I mentioned all of the ice cold Kalik beers to celebrate the permit?

Diana scanning for tails on a beautiful day!
Diana scanning for tails on a beautiful day! Photo by Kim Bain-Moore
The second fish in the SLAM
The second fish in the SLAM. Photo by Kim Bain-Moore.
Catch and release of a beautiful permit!
Catch and release of a beautiful permit! Photo by Kim Bain-Moore

All right…..now, down to business. This was our last day, beautiful sunrise, no clouds, flat calm seas….did I go to heaven? This is unbelievable…First we went for the bonefish because the outgoing tide is perfect and the tarpon don’t seem to move until the tide turns around. With four bonefish caught early, head guide Paul Pinder – our partner in Black Fly Bonefish Club and Director of Fishing – Diana and camera crew head off to the tarpon flat. The action was quick … here they come, six tarpon in a string slowly working their way along the 3 foot depth line. Diana has a small Keys-type buggy looking shrimp pattern on. She makes the cast to the lead fish but the one next to it flashes out ahead of the lead fish and inhales the fly….she’s on!   Jumping, singing drag, jumping, bowing, down and dirty, he rolls over and she got em!  OK, she’s got the tarpon, the bone and now the rest of the day for a permit. I’m not sure how many permit we saw and cast to over the four days of fishing, maybe 80 or more, but it just didn’t happen on this day.

Well, she had a slam in two days and caught I don’t know how many big bonefish and that was good enough for Clint, Paul and I. I guess the point that we as lodge owners wanted to make was that we have the diversity of species here at Black Fly Bonefish Club and that is rare in the Bahamas. The fishery here in Abaco is more like fishing out of Key West … but you have the place to yourself. I’ve fished in a lot of countries and managed three different fishing lodges in Mexico, Costa Rica and Belize and I’ve never seen a fishery like this one. I even got my personal best bonefish on that last day…. over 10 lbs.

An Interview on the beach....
An Interview on the beach….

We’re still  building our new lodge, but for now you can come visit us at our interim lodge, Black Fly Beach Club and sample what we have to offer.  Give us a call, 904.997.2220, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Did I mention the ice cold Kalik beers?

That's a Wrap, Great Trip!
That’s a Wrap, Great Trip!

A Key West Slam (oh so close!)

Another valued customer of the store, Brad D. on a recent trip to the lower Keys with two of his fishing buddies had a great time pursuing the Key West Slam on fly. To qualify for a Key West Slam on fly an angler has to catch and release a Tarpon, a Bonefish and a Permit all in one day using a fly rod. Although Brad and his buddies didn’t achieve that goal, they came close and had a great time in the effort. Here is Brad’s story.

We had a great trip to Big Pine Key and spent most of our time trying to learn the backcountry. Over four days we managed to land 6 bonefish and 4 tarpon. Plus we got some great shots at tailing permit, and even had one eat. We had the most success on bonefish near the Contents, with lots of great tailing action. The TK Special and a light tan fox fur Charlie worked just fine. The baby tarpon in the Big Pine backcountry probably would have eaten anything, but we hooked them on an olive tarpon mouse and a brown and orange grizzly tarpon fly.
Lower Key's Bonefish
Lower Key's Bonefish
Lot's of tailers
Lot's of tailers
Lower Keys junior tarpon
Lower Keys junior tarpon

The lower Keys offers a tremendous opportunity for great fly fishing action year ’round but it’s especially good during the early summer through late fall. Often overlooked for the more heavily promoted areas like Key West and Islamorada, the lower keys from Marathon down though Sugarloaf Key offer the best opportunity for a Slam. The heart of that area centered around the gulf side flats north of Big Pine Key has it all. From April through October the area offers plenty of tarpon, bones and permit for a fly fisherman to pursue. In my guiding career, I spent many many days putting my clients on shot after shot of all three. Granted it’s hot and there is the almost constant threat of storms be they local or of the more threatening tropical variety, the majority of the time it’s ideal conditions for fly fishing. Light winds, calm seas and good tides are the hallmarks of the summer season.

The area around the Content Keys north of Big Pine Key
The area around the Content Keys north of Big Pine Key

It’s a big area and it’s a hard area to fish without good local knowlege so if you’re interested in giving it a shot, give us a call at the store (904-997-2220) and we can give you the names of some of the guides that work the area year ’round that I know can show you just how great the fishing can be.