I opened the door to the rental car slowly, not sure if it was still attached to the vehicle. The causeway hardtop had been completely washed away by hurricane Ike. In places the road is no more than a bed of limestone making the drive from North to Middle Caicos a bit rough at times. I walked towards a young man at the boat shed. "I'm looking for Tucker", I said. I knew immediately from his big smile that I had found him. "We're going out tomorrow morning, be here just before eight o'clock." he replied. As we spoke, Tucker positions himself with his back to the sun. His face is already parched from too much exposure. Three full days of scouting Bonefish flats shows upon his sun-scorched face. Walking around behind the airboat he pronounced, "Just got back in. Got one thing to say about tomorrow, it will be EPIC."
Tucker Brubaker arrived at the Blue Horizon Resort only four days ahead. It was not a problem that I was going to be his first client here in Middle Caicos. In fact, I relished the idea of getting in early to try out the new territory. After all, we are talking about fishing flats that have been virtually untouched. It's not as if Tucker is new to the sport any way. His background is strong and saltwater fly fishing runs deep in his blood. His grandfather, Bruce E. Brubaker Sr. (better known as "Hush Puppy") is a pioneer of the sport.
Leaving the Blue Horizon Resort we headed south to Lorimers Landing, a scenic point at the far east edge of the island in the mangroves. Off in the distance are the extensive saltwater flats surrounding Middle Caicos. Our mode of transportation is a shiny new airboat. It is is a smooth ride with its brand new Corvette engine. Once the airboat powers across the flats I can see why it is absolutely essential to our voyage. The draft of the boat is zero inches. We need that to reach these areas that would otherwise be inaccessible. Most of the trip we travel 35-45 mph through waters of less than a foot in depth and in one instance we drove over a sandbar around 50 yards wide. "You could drive this boat down the highway if you wanted to." he said. From his perch above, Tucker could see easily across the vast expanse. Perhaps vast is an understatement. The enormous extent of these flats is well beyond anything I had imagined. As we rode I lost count of the Bonefish we saw along the way. Some in schools but other larger ones drifted along as solitary monsters. It is the size of the fish here that is extraordinary. Since the airboat has no underwater prop it gets you right on top of the fish before they have the slightest idea you are there. Many fish we spotted en route are in the six to eight pound range. One had to be 12 pounds, if not bigger.
Finally, we reach our destination, a particularly good looking flat. By now my heart is racing. Tucker went off to the right with my fishing partner Clark. I went about 100 feet to the left. Walking forward conditions seem close to perfect with both the wind and sun to our backs. Having no clouds in the sky Tucker is able to quickly locate fish. "Two groups coming this way!" he shouts. Happy fish heading slowly towards us, their dorsal fins and tails exposed in the shallow water making them easy to see and giving us the advantage. I laid out the first cast of the day, about 40 feet and let the fly sink slowly to the bottom. Three quick strips and I've got their attention. Now I let the fly sink to the bottom again. The first Bonefish in the school goes vertical, nose down and tail out of the water. "I've got you now," I whispered. One quick longer strip brings the fly off the bottom and in an instant the fish attacks. "Fish on!" Clark exclaims. As I gaze his direction I see he is not talking about mine, he has his own. Fifteen minutes into the trip we are doubled up.
The bottom of these flats is made of oolitic sand, a blend of coral and ground up pieces of marine shells. Their grains are rough and a handful reveals many sizes and colors. A harmonious blend of tiny bits of reef, algae, organic debris, and shells (calcium carbonate) blended from billions of minuscule carcasses formed in the wave-agitated water rolling along the bottom. The sand is large and stays nicely settled on the bottom. The flats are also littered with countless very tiny black snails, peppered across the salt laden bottom. Walking the flat is like walking on carpet. Most of the wading is barefoot and easy. No long pants required. Absolutely no glass or sharp objects to worry about, they just can't get here. One is quick to notice there is no trash and no other signs of human existence as far as the eye can see. This crystal clear water is absolutely perfect for growing large Bones and we are the only ones here to witness it.
Prior to this job he was Fishing Director and Lead Guide at Ambergris Key, located at the extreme southern part of Turks and Caicos. It was there that Tucker gained the local knowledge needed to learn how Bonefish worked these flats. "I haven't got them completely dialed-in yet, but for the most part they will be leaving the flats and headed up the creeks as the tide comes in." he says. We saw the larger Bones work the flats and stay solitary in deeper channels. The Bonefish in Middle Caicos are generally larger than the ones they have in North or South Caicos. As the tide rolls in we, and the Bones, head up the creek. Surrounding the flats, numerous Mangrove lined creeks extend into the heart of the Caicos Islands. Getting there is easy when you have a boat that goes anywhere. For awhile we stood on the front of the boat as our guide pushed us along with a long pole. Our preference however, was to get out and wade. As good as the flats are for finding fish, the creeks seem even better today. We went on to catch a few more before returning back to the Blue Horizon Resort.
Day two fishing with Tucker. This time my fishing partner is my son, Hampton. He arrived on the island the evening before, having a week off from his studies at Wake Forest University. Like his Dad, he seems ready for a break from his hectic schedule. It will be his first "real" Bonefish fly fishing trip. My daughter Lane preferred to stay at the Blue Horizon Resort with my wife while the boys fished. One good thing about the resort is that it is nice enough to bring the girls along.
We made it out to the flats again, although we saw several large Bones, at first we could not get any to take the fly. Being high tide, we elected to try the creeks. We left the airboat and started again on foot. My son positioned at the mouth of the first creek with Tucker. I walked up stream a ways and spotted a school containing about twenty Bonefish. "Big school headed your way!" I cried. Hampton eased towards the creek bank. I could see that he and Tucker had crossed over to the other side to gain a better view.
From my vantage point I could see the only the top half of his fly rod flex above the bushes as he made the cast. Then the rod lowered beneath the bushes and out of my sight. Momentarily the rod lifted again. This time bent over double from powerful pull as his first Bonefish ever on the fly raced up the creek. As I watched I almost missed sight of a second school of Bonefish passing right in from of me. I quickly casted upstream in front of them and stripped gently drawing the Gotcha across the current. The school approached as the fly disappeared into the dark water in the creek bend. That is when he took it and ran. Doubled up again, Tucker got a photo of Hampton, released his fish and made it up to me as the large Bone on my rod made his third run. "Still got some fight in him, take your time," he said as he waded across the creek nearly out of breath. We caught more in that spot before heading back to the airboat. That day I witnesses my son, Hampton, catch his first, second, and third Bonefish ever on the fly. I am not sure who was the most excited or satisfied. The guide with his first clients on his new job, the young man with his first Bonefish on the fly, or the father reflecting on another EPIC Bonefishing adventure.
Click here to see more photos.
Click here to see the slide show video