The bulk of our notes relate to navigation, both where to drive the car to and where to walk/fish once we’re there. As far as this goes, Google Earth has enhanced our fishing no end, coupled with a smart phone GPS app, we no longer waste time trying to find the specific narrow track cutting through to a flat that looks like all the other narrow tracks that go nowhere (I’ve spent way too much time in the past reversing for miles out of dead ends). If we’re going somewhere new, and perhaps hard to find, we’ll now plot every junction by its GPS coordinates along with some sort of a description e.g. sharp left into trees etc. This generally means that we get to our intended fishing spot at the correct time, although it’s not fool proof. There are still occasions when the road has been washed away or the bridge, that looks fine from the satellite image, turns out to be two planks of wood that would barely support the weight of two of us on foot let alone a Jeep (I don’t really want the conversation where I have to explain why the hire car is nose down in a creek).
Google Earth also won’t tell you exactly what you’re going to be faced with when you arrive at any given location. Differentiating between a nice, wade-able flat and a mosquito infested swamp or mud is surprisingly difficult without visiting in person (and occasionally mosquito infested swamps lead onto nice flats!). There’s also been plenty of times when we’ve arrived at a ‘flat’ on low water to find it covered by 3 feet of water, perfect if you’re in a skiff but not so great for wading. On a similar vein, some images show what appears to be dry land but actually turns out to be perfect, skinny flats. As such we don’t rule out a potential fishing spot until we’ve seen it with our own eyes. Obviously recording details like this ensures that, as we get to know the island we’re on, we get to spend more time on productive fishing than scouting trips.
Recording the state of the tide is also important, particularly in relation to when (hopefully) fish were spotted or caught. Tide tables for most islands are published online, however they often don’t give sufficient detail. In the Bahamas you will often find that the tide will be calculated for just one, or maybe two places if you’re lucky – usually harbours with a high number of visiting yachts. However, many of these islands are natural barriers to the tide, thus as the water rises in the Atlantic it must then flood around the land to the Caribbean side. This can delay the tide by up to a couple of hours even though, geographically, the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts may only be separated by a mile or so. (This can be used to your advantage to fish more than one spot at prime time if you get your planning right). Flats on the Caribbean side which are closer to the north/south extremities of the island have less lag in the tide than ones that more centrally located. Once you start to log the state of the tide in each location you soon get to build up a picture of how the water flows in and out. This can then be used to predict the tide in new areas by using the data from spots either side (although bear in mind that some areas can have very local variations caused by any number of features).
Making notes of unproductive areas is just as important to us as marking where we’ve found fish. Bonefish tend to be creatures of habit, they have a daily (tidal) routine that they stick to given the chance. Tracy and I have waded many miles of flats that were seemingly perfect (plenty of prey items, crabs, clams etc.) but have spotted no fish until we’ve reached a certain spot and then we’ve found lots. If this observation is repeated for a second or third visit, you can be fairly confident that the bones don’t feed in that area for some reason. As such you can choose to walk past it or perhaps fish it at a faster pace than you would normally and hope for a surprise. Either way, you then get to spend more time in the more productive area. A couple of flats we fished last year required an hour’s walk in order to get to the fishy areas, now that perhaps doesn’t sound a lot but in the heat and walking over a mixture of soft sand, lava rock and shell banks whilst carrying all our gear, it’s draining. Our notes reflect this, suggesting we take extra water and make the walk in comfy trainers – these are then hung on a convenient tree before we enter the water in our wading boots (I also wear trousers with zip-off legs for this sort of flat, so I can make the walk in shorts). As an aside, I never wade barefoot – if the bottom is perfect white sand with no shells, rocks or coral to cut (and infect) you then I suspect you’re probably fishing in the wrong place.
So there you have it, our notes cover the exciting stuff like who caught what, where and on which fly through to the mundane such as what to wear when getting to the flat. I’m sure many will think there’s more than a hint of OCD in this, but it works for us and helps with the memories of the trip when we get back.
I thought I’d finish with a Google Earth quiz, below are four pictures, two are flats from which we’ve caught bonefish and two are swamps where we’ve (nearly) got stuck – can you tell which is which?
All the best, James.