Judith O’Keefe has fished many places; saltwater, freshwater, rivers, streams, lakes, oceans, you name it, she’s done it. But for a longtime fisher(woman) like herself, a trip to the Bahamas for some bonefishing made her feel like a child on a grade-school field trip again.
When you imagine your first Bahamas bonefish trip you probably envision a well appointed lodge on Andros Island or perhaps Grand Bahama, with knowledgeable, patient guides, and schools of bonefish that provide just enough of a challenge. Not a chance. It’s more like an hour boat ride and you’re dropped off on a remote cay with a Scott STS, 7-weight rod, a decent assortment of flies, a tent, and a cooler with ice, beer, and a little food. Hopefully, the ice and I would last eight days. Yep, that would be my introduction to the world of bonefishing, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
That was years ago, and I’ve been on many saltwater trips since then, fishing for bonefish, permit, tarpon, and snook, but they all pale in comparison to that first trip: A wilderness experience in the Bahamas. Who’d a thought? As far back as I can remember I’ve had a deep connection with the natural world. I grew up in Northern California and as a young girl I’d happily loose myself in the rolling hills that surrounded my home. The terrain changed when I moved to the high desert of central Oregon in 1990, but the fascination with my surroundings continued. However, the wilderness east of Florida is something entirely different: the miles of juniper and sage are replaced by miles of saltwater flats, the lava rock by coral, the deer and mountain lions by eagle rays and sharks.
Seasoned flats fishermen know that to successfully hook and land a bonefish you must first see one. If you don’t have a guide standing up on the poling platform of a flats boat, you’re at a disadvantage. Eventually, one’s eyes become accustom to identifying those fish shapes; the way they move and feed. But a six-foot tall guide, standing on a platform five feet above the water will see much better than a wading angler . . . and I’m 5’2”. Sure I wanted to catch fish, but I was exploring. Instead of searching for bonefish in the distance, I’d frequently find myself distracted by the sea cucumber, beautiful conch shells, and brilliantly colored starfish at my feet. More than once, my partner would sternly remind me, “This is NOT a field trip!”
Today, with a number of saltwater trips behind me, I think I’ve reached a fine balance. The focus is clearly on landing some beautiful fish. The bonefish remains my favorite on the flats and if there are small to mid-size tarpon swimming in the channels, I’m right there. But my appreciation of all that the outer islands have to offer has only deepened: The incredible natural beauty, the friendly locals operating on “island time”, and their wonderful native dishes. I can spend time at a lodge or go on a “do-it-yourself” trip when the opportunity presents itself. I can travel anytime between November and May. I’ll stay a week, ten days, or longer. The details of how, when and where aren’t important. What is important is taking a field trip to the Bahamas at least once a year . . . doctor’s orders.
Judith is hosting a trip on April 20-25, to Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas. This is a prime time bonefishing trip, to a top lodge, at an affordable price. This trip is geared towards, but not limited to, first timers or those that have had limited flats fishing experience. For more information, contact Fish Head Expeditions at Jerry@fishheadexpeditions.com or 503-539-1451.