Rod Hamilton has been an avid fly fisher for over forty years chasing salmon, trout and steelhead from his home base in British Columbia, Canada during the summer and flats species in the tropics during the winter. Through his recently published book Do It Yourself Bonefishing and blog www.diybonefishing.com he shares his passion for catching bonefish on the fly with like-minded fishermen from around the world. In addition to the book and his online outlets he writes for a variety of magazines and is currently working on his next book, Bonefishing: Off The Beaten Flat.
Rod will be sending Dispatches from the Flats as he fishes his way across some of the best bonefishing flats in the world. His dispatches will be updated to the Winter Issue of OTFM. Stay tuned.
Of course if you measure success by “how many fish are caught” the game is heavily tilted in favor of a guide. There’s just no comparison between fishing with a veteran of the flats and bumbling along on your own. The guide is going to take you places you can only dream of reaching on foot. He knows where to be on each tide, what fly has been working and can spot a “dime” three feet underwater at seventy feet. So for most fishermen using a guide is the most practical use of what may be a limited amount of time on the water. Though the fish numbers may be lower, wading a flat or walking a creek system on your own has unique rewards. The angler becomes part of and is immersed in the fish's habitat. Not standing above the water but standing in it. Not being told what to do, but simply doing the best you can. Not drifting three feet over the crabs, shrimp and starfish but bending down to pick them up. Touching, hearing and feeling the bonefishes world. Beginning to understand how it all fits together and symbiotically attaching your senses to that of the fish. So you only caught four fish, who cares. Since I am not strictly a Do It Yourself fisherman, DIY has come to stand for Design It Yourself. In other words designing fishing adventures that best fit my personality, budget, skill and expectations. This year's travel encompasses a wide range of destinations and experiences, ranging from full service lodges to a “bonefish camping trip”. I’ll be in flats boats, trawlers, pangas, kayaks and stand up paddle boards. Some nights I’ll go to bed happy after being pampered at the lodge, some nights I will fall into bed dead tired after walking six miles on my own in knee deep water. Half the fun is designing the trips. The other half is living them. As I tie my last fly (Greg’s Flats Fly ) and finish packing for this years tropical destinations I eagerly look forward to the new places and people I will meet. No preconceived notions as I set out. I expect I will catch some bonefish, get my fair shot at permit and maybe tangle with a tarpon or two. When I get back home in the spring I guarantee that the good stories will all revolve around the people I fished with. Their pictures may be with a fish, but might be with a margarita. Their expression may tell the story of the “one that got away” or of the one that didn’t. But, rest assured, every face will display the tranquility that comes with knowing they are in paradise.
I started bonefishing twenty years ago. Like most of us, I hired a quality guide in the Keys and was thrilled to be getting my first shot at fish seen only in magazines. The guide picked me up at the hotel in Key West and on the way to the boat ramp I proceeded to regale him with my skills and conquests with a fly rod. As I stood on the front deck of his boat, my bravado began to evaporate as I blew shot after shot at what I could only assume were bonefish, since I couldn’t see them. The emotional rollercoaster was the equivalent of being shot down by the cheerleader at a seventh grade dance. First embarrassment, followed by frustration, anger and finally resignation. At the end of two days I had caught exactly “zero” fish.
My previous twenty years casting to trout, steelhead and salmon in the Pacific Northwest had ill equipped me for the challenges of catching a Florida Keys bonefish. All of my flaws were exposed. I couldn't see squat and my finely honed casting stroke was worthless when throwing a line seventy feet into a hurricane (read normal tropical breeze). Though I didn’t land a fish, I was hooked. There was plenty I needed to work on, but that first trip introduced me to a world I have come to love. Life has been good to me and I am fortunate now to be able to spend four months a year fishing the flats. I don't seek or value one approach over another. I spend two to three weeks each winter at lodges and fish with independent guides an equal number of days. Even with the occasional day off that still leaves me more than sixty days to fish. Those are the days I explore on my own or with buddies. To me, wanting to fish without a guide from time to time is a natural progression. After spending lots of time in the company of professionals, at some point it's interesting to see if you have learned anything. There is just something different about catching a fish by yourself, relying on your own skills rather that those of someone else. Being successful requires knowledge of tides, bonefish habitat and movement, the ability to spot fish, a good strip strike and finally landing the fish. There is a great feeling of accomplishment that goes with capturing a bone on your own. Not being able to take a picture because you are by yourself might be the greatest picture of all.
Sunset on the flats. photo by Rod Hamilton
by Rod Hamilton