This past spring, I and four close friends decided we needed a little R&R by taking a personal, warm-weather fishing trip. After considering the standard monetary restraints of a bunch of 20-somethings, the obvious choice was a DIY trip. We landed on wandering the fabled flats of Andros Island. Fast-forward a week; after walking 8 to 10 miles a day, we learned that there was
more to fishing in the Bahamas than just finding a tailing bonefish. While the group managed to pick off bonefish consistently throughout the week, we realized that bonefish were far from straightforward (crazy, right?). We learned quickly that low tides would regularly surrender fish, but the inherent bonefishing frustration was taken to a whole new level on the high tides. With the high water, the bonefish would disappear into the mangroves and throw us off their trail for hours at a time. After a few days of trying to track down the little devils in the back lagoons and clay
marls during the high tides, the frustration was palpable. Bonefish sightings were
fleeting, and the wading was miserable. The few fish we’d connect with were quick to break us off in the mangroves. However, there were a few saving graces to these periods of bonefish desolation- the more underappreciated flats species of Andros Island, the plentiful sharks, and barracuda. Keep in mind here; we were a group of fishermen, not ‘Bone’ fishermen. We weren’t
there to just catch bonefish, we were there to catch fish and have a good time. So, by
the middle of the week, we had all but given up looking for bonefish on the high
tides. The shots were 10 to 1 for sharks/barracuda to bonefish, so the group was
kept thoroughly busy. The sharks were eager to pick up a crab off the bottom and
scream drag, and the barracuda produced line-burning runs. It was a surefire way to
get tight on the flats while the bonefish were fickle. The last full day of the trip, on one of those ominously high tides, I was prowling a
back lagoon looking for bonefish. It was getting to the point where the mangroves
were filling in, and I was about ready to call it and start looking for sharks. While I was taking my last few scans through the shallows, a large, almost fluorescent shape caught my eye roughly 40 feet away. I was legitimately startled, realizing that the biggest barracuda I have ever seen in my life seemingly materialized within casting
range. I quickly fumbled to grab my ‘cuda fly attached to my pack, which was looped onto a
piece of wire ready to go. By the time I tied on the small EP minnow, the behemoth
was on the move, tracking stealthily down the lagoon. I followed as quietly as I
could, slowly but surely making up ground on the fish. By the time I had walked 50
yards along the mangrove edge, I was within range. I took a long desperation shot
and was immediately heartbroken. I threw slightly behind the fish and wrapped
myself on a mangrove stalk. S%*T!!! I thought for sure I had blown it. But to my surprise, the fish was still calmly moving so I let it continue to slide away. After one big, smooth pull on the line, the knot pulled and I was free to continue the hunt.
With my wire back and my fly gone (the knot pulling was a blessing in disguise, I
never would have stood a chance considering how quickly it broke on the
mangrove), I tied on the only other baitfish imitation I had left- a gurgler variation I
picked up back in California for Striped Bass. I wasn’t overly optimistic, but it was
the only shot I had left. With a fly back on the end of the line, I began stalking the monster once again.
After another 50 yards or so, I finally was closing in on casting range. All of the
sudden, BOOOMMMMM!!!! The fish exploded forward, leaving my hopes crushed.
Strangely, the fish spun around in a tight circle, blasting back towards the original
area it spooked from. Slowly it dawned on me- the fish hadn’t spooked, it was trying
to feed, and was clearly charged up.
At this point, I was a good 60 to 70 feet from it but within casting range. I landed a
reasonable cast in front of the fish, and absolutely tore the popper across its path.
Nothing. I took a few more steps in its direction, threw another cast well past the
fish and did the same type of retrieve- nothing again. The fish was barely inching
along, so I continued to have shot after shot, changing the retrieve, but still getting
no love…until I stopped stripping altogether.
On one of the slower retrieves, I noticed the ‘cuda was at least acknowledging the
popper, but not doing much about it. Without having the option of changing to a
different fly to try and entice it, I figured I’d strip it into its face, and see what it
would do if it was sitting dead in the water. The barracuda slowly cruised up, looks,
and turned off about 3 inches from the fly. Wow. I’m onto something here. On the very next cast it meandered straight over and stuck its’ gigantic face halfway out of the water, and sucks down my popper! Buck fever had never overtaken me so badly in my life, and I trout-set the fly straight out of its mouth! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!? Somehow, against all odds, the fish didn’t spook. I took a second to regain my wits and re-approach the fish. With a clear strategy in place and my nerves settling back in, I took another shot. Same thing as round one- first cast refusal. The second cast- the ‘cuda grabs the popper like a big brown sipping a mayfly! Unlike the first take, I was ready. I paused, ripped a strip set, did one of those classic tarpon ‘point the rod, hold and pull’ sets, and the fight was on!
Drag began screaming off my reel faster than I ever seen before, and panic started to
set in. At the rate this fish was moving, there was no shot I was stopping it before it
found some mangroves to wrap me up in. I locked down my drag, but the line continued
to rip off my reel.Next thing you know, the backing was shooting out of the rod as the
monster came rocketing out of the water. I began screaming over to Paul who was
on the other end of the lagoon, knowing that I stood no chance of dealing with this
fish on my own. Fortunately, the fish stayed out in open water, and I started to think
this all might come together. Little by little, the drag slowed, and I began recovering line as I moved towards Paul’s end of the lagoon. By the time Paul and I met, it was clear I was in the driver’s seat. We talked through the landing strategy, I passed him my camera, and after a few horribly anxious moments, it’s all over. The fish of a lifetime was finally in my hands. We never ended up taping or weighing it, and I think it’s almost better that way.
Having held my fair share of big fish, I can confidently say it was easily 50 inches.
The head was unlike anything I’ve seen before. I can still see it as clear as day.
After that Barracuda, I didn’t catch a single other fish the rest of the trip. It didn’t matter. I was beyond content; the fact that this fish story didn’t end in heartbreak and the fish swam away healthy meant everything to me. Turns out, bonefish aren’t the only trophies swimming around Andros Island… You can follow along with Rex’s adventures on his Instagram at @rexmess. Other anglers/photographers include: Paul Nicoletti- @pablonicoletti; Jake
Kirsch- @_jakekirsch_; Pat Hilbert- @pattytales; Jake Schmidlapp- @cjschmidlapp)