Tracy&James | Sunday, 23 October 2022
Tracy and I are now one week into our first flats fishing trip for over three years and we’re finding it tough, physically that is. We perhaps knew that fishing at the intensity that we used to would be difficult, given the long lay-off and the fact we’re both aging rapidly, but we didn’t anticipate that things would be quite as painful as they are. Quite bizarrely on the afternoon we arrived on the island, after doing some shopping for provisions, we pulled on our flats socks and boots and headed for the beach next to our apartment – I couldn’t have taken more than ten steps before I was hit by an extreme pain in my left foot. I’m pretty clumsy but I knew I hadn’t kicked anything but it felt like my toe was broken.
After hobbling up and down the beach, wincing in pain at every step, we got back to the apartment and I did some Googling – it turns out it’s an attack of gout. As an aside, I bet doctors hate it when patients turn up with Google diagnoses, a bit like when someone turns up for casting instruction saying that they think their outfit isn’t right and wanting some pointers on what rod to buy. In fact, if I go to the doctors on my return I might open with the line that ‘after checking Google, I think I’ve got diphtheria’ – that way they can feel all warm inside when they correct my diagnosis to gout. I now sympathise with anyone who has suffered this condition, it feels like someone has smashed my toe with a hammer and is burning it with a match just to make sure. It’scertainly the last thing that’s needed at the start of a wading holiday and I’m only coping by doubling up on different painkillers.
It’s not just our physical capabilities that have changed in the last three years, the flats have too. In our notes from our last trip before the Covid lock-downs we noted that some flats seemed to be holding more water than we’re used to. This is no longer seemingly the case – the flats are definitely holding more water, the sea level has risen considerably. Again with the aid of Google it is apparent that the global rise in sea levels is not evenly distributed and the tropics will experience more of the rise than more northerly or southerly parts. This has thrown some of our notes into turmoil, for example one very productive flat near where we are staying used to be dry until an hour after the low tide and fished best from 2 hours after low up to just short of the high. When Tracy and I got there this time two hours after low the water was already over our knees and we spotted zero bonefish compared to the normal hundreds. We’re planning on going back at low tide, but our thoughts are that this flat never now dries out – and perhaps the fish have changed their tidal routines accordingly.
On another flats area, our normal day was to head in one direction to fish the low up, followed by a trek around a rocky headland to fish another bay over the high. Unfortunately this is now impossible as the higher water means that access to the bay is cut off well before high water – whereas previously we could get there irrespective of the state of the tide.
I’ve spoken to a few acquaintances in the Bahamas about this and have received a mixed response from yes, it’s definitely happening; to no, it’s just the tide variation. Perhaps the question is a bit like asking if you see yourself aging; if you’re the one looking at your reflection every morning as you clean your teeth then perhaps it’s harder to see than someone who sees a photo of you once a year at Christmas perhaps? Anyway, I believe the water level has risen 6 inches or more since we’ve been visiting the Bahamas (a figure that ties in with data found on the internet). Now that may not sound a lot but when you consider the tidal range is typically 3 feet, the increase represents a 15% increase in average water depth, and this is critical when you’re chasing a shallow water species such as bonefish.
Although we’re finding the character of the flats very different, we are catching fish and enjoying ourselves (although cursing in pain with every step). Next week I’ll post more about the actual fishing but leave you with the news that Tracy won our ‘first bonefish of the trip’ competition (I owe her an Indian takeaway) plus she’s had the biggest bonefish so far.
Have a great week wherever you are, I’ll be doing my ‘old-man shuffle’ on the flats.