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Fly Fishing for Bonefish (& Tarpon!) - December, 2023 Bonefish Camp Trip Journal


Fly fishing for tarpon
Wading for tarpon! Photo by John McDonald

Fly fishing for Bonefish remains my favorite winter time activity for good reason. It’s hunting, it’s art, and it’s thrilling action all wrapped up in great scenery. Two weeks ago the 13th Kaniak Bonefish Camp took place and we had an absolute blast. 


What follows is from my trip journal, written in real time as the trip unfolded. Glaring typos that would lead to confusion have (mostly) been cleared up. Extra clarifications have been added inside parentheses. 


Note: I write my fishing journals when I first wake up or right before falling asleep. Efficiency is of the essence and thus sentences may lack personal pronouns. It is safe to assume I’m talking about my own actions or emotional state when no pronoun is mentioned.


Select photos courtesy of John McDonald

Film coming soon by Chris Freiberg


Travel Day

12/10/23

10:54pm 

Settlling in at the Cabin. Good to be back. Such a vibe. No towels tho! That’s a shame. (I would find them the next day).


Paperwork lesson learned for the youngsters. Thought they were going to be gone on the next flight out. Glad they made it through! Hell of a story now. Not so comical when they were detained and we hadn’t heard anything. 



Day 1

12/11/23

10:34pm

Tough day for me personally with the back pain (I tweaked it the day before the trip. Had felt better than expected  after landing back in Atlanta 12/6/23 from Indonesia but I guess it caught up to me) but fantastic start. Bonefish for everyone!! 


Day starts slowly. Super windy and overcast so no rush. Decide to run errands early. Go to see K at 7:30 to settle up for cars. Grab the guys some booze. Too early for water. Come back. They open  at 8. No big jugs. Shame. Buy $20 worth of one gallons. 


Chris has made some breakfast. Nice. I’m struggling. Back is super stiff. Can barely move. Get the guys ready. Gav and Hal head back out. Then Connor. Then John and Chris. I tell Chris I gotta do some workout stuff. That’s the right call. Lift for an hour and slowly feel joy returning to life. Listen to some jams.


Ready to go at 11. Walk down. Anchor tube is good but rope is a joke. Come back to get survival kit paracord. Back to ramp by 11:40. Paddle board is a joke. 230lb limit. Lol. Use it to cross channel. Then start to walk and dragging behind. 


Water is cool and high! Def some rain accumulation. And the wind is howling. 


Takes a while to get to the mangroves. That’s were everybody is. 


Run into John and Chris first. Bonefish have been landed! And they are stoked because they were able to capture a ton of stuff. Sick. They are worn out. I can’t imagine lugging around that heavy gear in the soft sand. 


Chat with Connor next. He’s fed one! Hell ya. Great start. Never felt contact tho. Had another one follow and refuse.


Chat with Hal and gav last. They are stoked. Three landed. Hal’s landed his largest bonefish yet. Yessir! That’s what this place is all about. Mostly 1s and 2s (single fish or pairs).


Fly fishing for bonefish
Gav with a nice bonefish!

We reconvene. Pass out some beers. Good banter. Decide to stay up in the mangroves. Start fishing again around 2:30. I stick with Connor. Time to get a first bonefish. We fish just north of sunset flat. One big wake going north. Lose it. Possibly shark as see two more. Water gets a little deep so I keep loving towards the mangrove line where dragon got his first in 2021. 


Sure enough the shallows stuff produced. Big single tailed. Whistle at Connor to get over there. He’s books it over. But fish spooks right as he gets there. All good. 


Keep going towards the dead tree. Telling Connor how it’s super productive and slightly  shallower than sourroundiny area. Boom! Tail. More tails! Oh my they are happy! Hell ya. 


I hold. Connor gets closer. Leader is wrapped on booties. Oh no! He gets untangled. They are still tailing. Glare from setting sun is tough. First cast. Nada. Fish are moving north steadily. Second cast nada. Sends a third and connects! Boom. Wakes everywhere. Fiesty fish. Does well to stay connected. We chat tactics. It runs right at him after first backing turn. He strips in but quickly sees how that gets dangerous. Keep ‘em on the reel. 


Great 5 lb fish. 


See some more tails. Go over. Spook em as I get close as they had stopped tailing and couldn’t see anything in the low light. 


Walk back towards paddle board. Spot one tailer as I get close. Throw a cast. No reaction and don’t see it anywhere. Tough. 


Get To paddleblard. Have to drag at first. Then able to float on it. It slowly gets more and more awful to maneuver. Shit. Back is dying now. Flip it twice. Give up and just float sideways facing into  the wind. Backwards. What a disaster. 


Finally get to ramp after an hour. Can barely move it. It’s full of water. I had a hunch after second flip. Can barely get it up the ramp.  Furious. Last thing my back needed. 


Back to house well after  dark. Get in shower to decompress. That helps. Then some lay down back work helps. 


Leave for S’s around 7:30. She hasn’t responded to my txts so unsure. But she’s there! Yay! great to see her. She is not game for the camera. Starts hollering and runs away. Hahaha. 


Day 2 Sunrise from the floor (back movement!)

Day 2

12/12/23

6:07 am

Slept fairly well. Heavy brief rain in the night. Roof was leaking and dropping right on me. Grabbed towel and place it on my right shoulder to catch it.  


Pad is leaking alas. But still pretty comfy. Just blew it back up. Didn’t take much. 


Red sky at morning. Hopefully we don’t have to take warning. Wind has died down. If I had more spunk I’d get going straight to island right now. 


10:42pm 

Worn out! Excellent day. Now that was some fun angling. Tailing bones in super skinny water  deep in the creek. Then a couple of Oceanside chances and then a massive channel tarpon fight for Connor in the early evening. So fun. 


Left the house around 7:45am. Hit the trail a touch after 8:40. Good hike in. Tons of rainwater on the moon flat. 


Get to creek. Water is cold and high. Nothing in the island channels. Keep going. Nothing in the mogul bog in the sparse mangroves. Go to  the fluff trough. Nada. Up into the white firm flat.  Nada. Ditch pack so I can keep covering ground. Gotta find fish!



Boom. See one tailing between two small mangrove islands. First casts spooks it. Wait for it to keep moving. Lead it big time. Wait wait wait. Small strip. Boom! All over it. Super fun. Hell ya. Good fight. Little dude. It swims up into the super skinny flat when released. Interesting ! 


Next one is tricky.


Then a couple tailors in the trough. Tough angle with the wind. Can’t get their attention. Spook some. They go into the flat as well. Good sign for more fish. Think about changing flies. Hook one on a backcast. On for a bit but spits in when I  try to force it out of mangroves. Get up into another mangrove. Hook a nice one with another big lead. Try to keep out of mangrove and it gets in some roots. Can feel extra tension. Run over but too late. Maybe should have backed off drag earlier but it did a 360 around some roots so likely breaking off either way. 


Tie on pearl craxy Charlie. Find a nice solo tailing in white sand. Great eat. Fun fight. Starts running. Slips off! Boo. Cut off big weed guard. Keep moving. Getting close to channel. Nice solo tailing in the roots. Lead it. It’s coming out. Boom nails it. Funny fight. Really doesn’t want to leave mangroves. Circles back and forth. Finally goes to channel  for a bit. Never gets into backing. Once I leader it, it stills have lots of fight. Get a quick lift vid with GoPro and let it ride. It still goes back into flat. No channel! 


Don’t see any at the point. Circle back. Talk to gav and Hal. Hal’s landed one. Gav had a bite. Awesome. 11:30 by then. I want to go up super skinny on that crunchy flat just to check. Will meet back up at 12. Bump one while walking up that’s floating. It goes in more! Take a bunch of shit angle shots at it from far as it keeps cruising away at terrible angles. 


Meet up at 12 to hike out. Connor has had a couple of shots in trough. 



Back to cars by 1. Go Oceanside. It looks decent! Nice and low. Unfortunately cloud cover has arrived. We walk north. Not much. Finally see a tailer on the sand side. Try to lead it with a big scampi. Get caught in turtle grass. Boo. Needed the pearl Charlie with a weed guard from earlier! Dive into bag and find one. Switch over. But No more chances! 


Spot some tailers in the trough as a group. Gav gets a shot then Connor. No luck. 


Still spotting some past 4pm. To the cars at 5. Chris and John have done the shuttle to get some drone shots. Time for bridge tarpon! 


Get there at dark. Rig up. Local guys fishing. Quick chat. Connor is up. Goes bayside. Then we see them. Switch sides. Big chartreuse Baja clouser with Krystal flash. Feather tail and deer hair head. 


We are watching in head lamp light. Decide to spotlight one spot. Their eyes glow red when caught in the light. They don’t seem to like rotating light. 


One moves. Then we see it cutting across. A bite! It comes right at Connor. He’s stripping hard but it gets off. 


More casts. On again! This one is big! Run down. Holy hell. I can see the tail in my headlamp. And the eye is glowing 6 feet away. Survived multiple jumps. So wild. Massive fish. Connor does well. Makes it through three jumps. Then spits it swimming a way. Weird. Leader is barely chafed. Even crazier. Must have been popsicled. Cus that was a nasty fight and minimal damage.


Keep going! I go to grab more flies. Another hook up. Run back. Then he lands it. Medium sized Jack. Fly is toast. Go down and stick on new yak clouser. No luck after that. Leave at 7. What a rush! 


 

Day 3

12/13/23

6:38am

Wow damn. Slept like shit. Way too much wind. Ended up coming to the kitchen at 3 am or so. Good to get some sleep then. Survival instincts just won’t relax when the wind is gusting like that. 


3:34pm 

Aw man. So damn windy. I want to see tailers! Sitting in the south Lee cove of first island. Just to get a touch of calm. 


10:33pm

Solid day. Made the most of it. Headed to the baby tarpon spot around 8:30. 


See my first tarpon by 9:15 or so. Floating along a mangrove. Cast through the roots. It nails it. Get the hook set. It semi-jumps and spits. Damn! Think I want to high with the rod trying to keep the line clear of the roots after first contact. So cool to see tho. Promising! 


Keep going. See one roll just on the open edge at the end of the peninsula. To the left. Lead it. Strip strip.  Boom. Contact. Then nothing. Wonder if the hook is too big. See a big wake further to the left. Keep going. Gets thigh deep. No bueno. Super cloudy. Can’t see shit. 


Walk to the right to end of peninsula. Starts raining. Time for a snack. Everyone groups up. Shoot the shit. Rain stops. Clouds lighten. Turn on GoPro. Sun is coming out. Tell guys  how to spread out and work next area. Walk around mangrove island. There’s one! One fact,  It’s three cruising right towards me. Get line off reel. Quick cast. Won’t line up on how they change swimming angle. Further cast. Wait. They close. Smalll strip. Long strip. Boom! Nasty hookset. Just mail it. Rip it’s head off! (Not literally, but that’s how you need to set the hook on tarpon). Hell ya. 


Shout at the guys to get ready for the other two to swim by.  


Get thru the first two jumps. Chaos! 


Fight goes on for about 5 minutes. They are bigger than I recall! 



Super fun that we are all together. Get a quick group pic. Then solo. Takes a bit for the Tarpon to recover. I’m worried for a sec. Then it kicks the hell out of me and storms off. Perfect!! 



Connor and I wade back up to other side of peninsula. Nada. Time to go back out to mangrove edge. Get hal and gav. 


Nothing. Wade almost to the flamingo island. I’m hitting a wall. Tell them to go to the next point and then turn Around. Put rod and  backpack in mangrove clump. Good break. With John and Chris.  Then we see them casting like crazy before the point. In the cove bend. Hal gets some commotion then gav is on! Woo! 


Some great jumps as we walk over. A few more. I ask gav if he wants help he says yes. It’s similar in size to mine. Pushing 30. Get the leader. Barely holding it. It snaps like nothing. Completely shaved down to a point. Damn! Sometimes you need a bit of luck on hook placement with them! 



The tarpon action tapers out after that one alas. We turn back. Nothing spotted on hike out. Back to the house. Nice lunch while we stare at the flat flowing in the sun. The wind is roaring but the light is promising. I had been thinking a creek afternoon mission would be necassary.  We paddle out. And the clouds roll in. Welp. There’s chop everywhere from the wind. Guys blind cast the channel for a bit. Variety pack of smaller fish. 


Three blind(casting) mice

Day 4

12/14/23

6:51am

Slept better! In bed a little too late tho. Slept in the kitchen. Great call. Helped a ton (I used the fridge as a wind barrier). Could sleep for three more hours easy. 


10:42pm

Lesson learned on the bridge tarpon. After high tide its way too much current ! 


Was same high as Tuesday. (redacted). But was too late. It was a roaring river. Tuesday was (redacted) at  7:16pm. We fish from 5:45-7. We got there at 9:30 tonight and it was (redacted) at 9:16pm and it was comical. Way more wind pushing water as well tho. Same low 5 hours prior as well (redacted). So identical just later start relative and more wind and it was unfishable. 


The day was awesome. Wind was down in the am. We decided to pivot from creek plan and go straight out given less wind. It was the right call!  



Paddle out was rough but white paddle board worked well enough. We got to the lunch spot island and it was loaded with water. My gut is saying to get the the skinny water firm flat. So I tell the guys to cut across hard.  


Paddle through bottom edges of mangroves. And go straight  into an 8lber. Welp. That sucks. Time to walk. Walk for a while without seeing anything else. Then I can see tailers once in the open flat. Oh ya! 


Wind is howling. It’s tricky. They are feeding up into the flat. Into the wind. And I’m downwind. So trying to curl up above then is super tricky. Spook the first few getting into position. 


Finally feed one. Pearl crazy Charlie. Spits hook early. Boo. 


Then spook a few more. Decide it’s too much. Time to lengthen the tippet. Replace the 16 with a longer section of 15. Same diameter. Same fly. Feed another. But never connect. Fly is full of the little fuzzy grass. No wonder fish never got hook punched. Shame! 


We keep fishing up into the skinny stuff. Rain rolls thru. 


Bonefish in the mangroves for Connor

Freiberg catches up. Fish are tailing. I anchor Quincey and take off.  Time to get an eat on film. I spook one. New fish. Moving away but tailing sporadically. Can’t get its attention. Keep speed sneak walking to keep up. Boom. On! Small one but on film baby! Woo! 


Talking with freiberg. I’ve checked back at his kayak and my paddleblard a couple times and something is different. I don’t see any white. Oh no. The paddleboard has escaped. I take off. It’s a long walk and to add insult I spook fish along the way. But it’s rescued. 


March back up. Crew is all hanging out on a tiny island. Get some still casting photos. Everyone splits back up. I end up marching all the way to the furthest spot up. Which was so fun in fall 2020. There’s still a few fish up there but it’s not crazy. The hike out about breaks me. 


A conch burger is extra magical after wading all day

Day 5

12/15/23

6:54am

Up at 6. Couldn’t even see the front flat. So much rain and clouds. Shame. 


John is heading out this morning. He will be missed! His photos look incredible. Stoked to see them in all their glory after the trip. 


10:24pm 

Worn out! Body is feeling it now. Back way better than the start of the trip though. But now its exhausted. But the normal wading exhausted.


Excellent day considering the conditions. Howling wind. Pissing rain. Rolling clouds. Tough trifecta for sight fishing! 


Slow morning as garbage conditions to start. Got to the (redacted) at 10:15. Headed out for the death march. 



Good walk. Everyone did well. Get to the creek mouths. Bump a nice one floating in the mangroves in the glare. Slow down. Bump another one! Bastard! 


Then spot one in real tight. Quick flick out. Rod sweep to strip. Don’t dare move to set. Never see it eat even though it’s 9 feet away in clear water on light bottom. It turns slowly and heads out. I give a little bend of the rod. Hit ‘em! On for a second. Then gets wrapped on a rock and it’s off. Damn! Keep the fly tho. 


Success comes soon after. Super stoked for that. 


Failed feed on the mangrove island. Lost the fish in the clouds and cast ahead of where it was tracking. Sun comes back out as it’s right at my fly line. No! 


But then fish become elusive. We walk Another mile or so before another fish is fed. It’s in the backside of the big flat. I see a shark in the middle. Bad sign. Keep hunting. Spot movement at a creek mouth. Yea! Cast in the the creek trough and wait. Boom. Got em. Three more spook out towards Connor. But the disappear. Fun fight for mine. I leader ot and walk towards Chris to get close up release on camera. And it’s off too soon. Womp Womp.  


Work into the creek Bo Shaw crushed in fall 2020. Nothing in the first hundred yards but then it starts. Big fish. Spooking out. Damn damn. The clouds and light angle sucks. They aren’t tailing so there’s no hints until they freak out. Pretty rough to have 8lb fish swim 5 feet away as they exit. 


We fan out into the next flat. I encourage everyone to really slow down. Freiberg is trying to circling up light ahead. I hate it cus that will likely spook a fish before we can see it. And there’s a spook! In the skinniest of skinny. 


Don’t move! 


I’m the furthest left. And it’s to my left. I’ve got no qualms about claiming this fish. It’s torpedo-ing out of the flat. A big raised wake. There’s a few mangroves roots between us. What angle will it take. 


It cuts to the far side. Perfect. More space. I send out a cast. Wait. Attention strip. And it tails! But. I contact. Strip. Keeps tailing. Oh my. It’s found real food. Cast again. Drag the fly across its nose. We are on! Woooo!  


Fish takes off towards Chris. 


Close your legs!! Then it keeps going towards the guys in order. Haha. Wraps the line on a rock. Connor clears it. Teamwork. Landed. Boom. And the release is on film. Happy days as Chris has been hoping for more of that. 


Chris heads back to get back to the car so he can get the drone going for our exit hike. Unfortunately, I correctly warn that he will likely get lost.


We work our way across the east end of the flat to the other creek exit. Fish pop of sporadically but no chances come to fruition. Shame! 


The rain keeps rolling on the hike but a double rainbow keeps the spirits up. 


Double rainbow almost visible

We briefly tarpon fished in the early evening but we were pretty worn out and the tide was slack so we told ourselves we would come back after dinner. (We went to bed instead) 


Chris’ gear corner. Note the coffee maker. I kicked him out of the kitchen

Day 6

12/16/23

5:56am

I simply cannot do six hours of sleep only. My body loathes it. Slept well tho. Fell asleep with the head lamp on (reading) by 11:30 or so. Then came to at some point and turned it off. (I was fine, so dramatic first thing in the morning)


10:37pm

What a day. Absolute ass kicking at first. 


The boys hit it early. I took it easy to get some back movement in and I knew there was no way I was keeping up in the paddle board in this wind. Just howling. 


The water is even higher. I find the guys way up in the mangroves as expected. Hal has landed a nice one! Santa hat and all. Hell ya. A couple chances each for everyone. 


Fly fishing for bonefish Christmas
Hal in the holiday spirit

Hal and I keep pushing in. Gav and Connor go to get their kayaks. And it simply does not turn on like I would hope. I walk this one flat that barely has any water on it usually. Ankle high at the highest high tide. And it’s knee deep!! Wild. Spook two. Need them to be tailing! 


Ditch paddle board. Go on a hike. Cool cus it’s an area I’ve never fished much as usually too shallow. 


Go way up. Can see a light bottom cut near the tree line. Nothing on the way there. Do a massive crescent route to maximize visibility and still nothing. brutal. 


Get to light bottom spot. Wait. There a shadow. Nice cast. It follows. Strip. Never connects. Odd. Another cast. Another follow. Nothing. One more cast. Three big side swinging follows. Woosh woosh woosh. Like a rooster fish. No contact. What the hell!!  


It’s a long walk back to the paddle board. Back into mini channel. Nothing along mangroves. Go to small island in the middle of big flat that was so good the other day. Anchor and tie off the mangroves as it’s blowing at least 23 knots now. Just roaring. The flat is basically foam. Don’t see shit. Walk all over. By the time I come back the boys are all there. And it’s been uneventful. I’m out of ideas. Water is a good foot or more higher than it should be. Clouds all over. And wind is ripping. Not a good combo. 


We shotgun a beer. I get first with gav close behind. Still got it baby. Haha! 


We agree to work our way back to the house. Early dinner then back to tarpon fishing in the dark. Connor and I are paddling along in the mini channel. Mostly cutting across so once we are fully exposed to the wind we are simply paddling with it instead of across. 


Then an idea hits me. There’s some super white sand moguls next to the deep lagoon back here. And they are usually barely covered in water. So right now could be perfect. We anchor up when close. Creep around. Nothing nothing nothing. Then I spook one. It’s moving away slow tho. Straight into the wind. One cast. Not far enough. Second cast lands just to the side. Some big steps to catch up and send a third. Right on the head. It spins and crushes the fly. Let’s goooo!!!  

 

Fly fishing for bonefish
Against all odds!

The evening is thrilling. Connor wastes no time. He’s still in pursuit of landing his first tarpon on fly. Within ten minutes he connects with a bruiser. The jumps are electric in the dark. Water noise all over. But the timing is off on a jump and the hook gets bent out.


Pain!

Next fly up! I tie on a monster bucktail hollow fleye with mono extension that Sean Clark gave me. 


Nothing happens for a bit and then we hear the jump. The fight continues. And then we see it’s the perfect size to land on the rocks. Connor gets his first tarpon on fly on the last night of the trip. Gotta love it! 


Connor’s first tarpon on fly!

Departure Day

12/17/23

6:50am

Slept poorly. A good reminder on the folly  of caffeine. Was exhausted but mind racing until

Midnight. (Yesterday) Drank a tiny cup at 6am and felt great. Then got greedy and drank a bigger cup at 9am. Too late! And too much! 


Time to finish packing and head to the ferry in an hour. 


5:45pm

It appears I’m exiting modeling retirement. Hand modeling for a booze shoot tomorrow. Frat legend Austin was built for this. 


I simply didn’t respond when they asked for hand photos before confirming the booking. Hahaha. Line cuts. Tarpon scratches. A blister from paddling. A week of good living will do that. 


(I got home around 7pm and started moisturizing like crazy and my hands recovered by the next morning. What a riot)


Night time is the right time when it comes to tarpon fishing

Peak airport fashion by Chris

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