Peter Brookes: Flat out for bones: Fly fishing in Hawaii

Peter Brookes

I have to admit it: I love the Orvis ad about its company chairman, Leigh Perkins, who, on realizing that he’s early for a flight, stops to fish for tarpon in his dress clothes en route Key West airport.

I can’t speak for the ad’s claim of wrinkle-free Orvis clothes, but I can speak for the man’s impeccable good sense. Let’s see: sit in the terminal answering e-mails or go fishing?

Inspired by this admirable use of time, I decided to try a similar feat.

A pretty much last minute decision, I carefully carved out five hours of a Sunday in Hawaii to chase bonefish–like the mythical tarpon, a “fish of 1,000 casts.”

It’d be my first go for “bones.”

Fortunately, a friend “hooked” me up with Mike Hennessy of Hawaii on the Fly guide service on Oahu (www.hawaiionthefly.com).

Between fast and furious emails, phone calls, and checking the tides off Honolulu, we came up with a plan for some time in the salt. There’s nothing like a responsive guide service.

I met Mike at the Sand Island marina with a first-timer’s mindset: low expectations.

I wasn’t worried about Mike’s ability to put me on fish, but I wondered about my ability to catch a fish that is known for its 40 mph sprints through the water while taking lots of fly line with it.

Add to that the need to cast into a proverbial “tea cup” up to 60 away feet on command, stiff ocean breezes and stripping your fly just right across the sandy bottom to imitate a shrimp or small crab — well, we’re talking about a challenge.

At least for me.

Another thing told me that maybe I should’ve stayed by the hotel pool with a fruity drink in hand as soft ukulele music wafted over me: Hawaiian bones are big.

A little Web “surfing” (what else would you do in Hawaii?) indicates local bonefish can run 8 to 10-plus pounds, making them generally bigger than those found elsewhere.

Once on the water, we sight fish while Mike poles us across the shallow flats; I stood ready on the foredeck for something like: “Thar she blows!”

After a bunch of casts, I get one to eat, but it quickly breaks me off.

The real fun comes in wading knee-deep across the flats hunting for “tailing” fish feeding in the aquamarine water. Fortunately, the bones, with their tail and dorsal fins wiggling happily in the air, are easy to spot.

They’re also thankfully distracted by the “buffet” on the bottom, allowing an angler to get close if one is stealthy enough.

I hook another one, which dashes for the sea, escaping when it goes deep over the coral reef’s razor-sharp edge. Mike is encouraging throughout, telling me that this is “varsity” bonefishing; catch one here and you can catch one anywhere.

As the light fades–and after lots of shots at fish–Mike heads off for the boat, which we left across the flat. He tells me to keep fishing till he gets back.

I’m starting to smell “skunk,” but I keep at it.

As I work my way through pockets of mangroves, I think on all the instruction Mike has given me about presentation, hookset and playing the elusive bonefish.

Almost ready to reel in for the day, I take a shot at a bone tailing about 40 feet out. The fish sucks in the “Jedi Crab” fly, I strip set the hook and the Hawaiian-style rodeo is on.

The line spins so fast off the reel, you almost expect to hear Star Trek’s Scotty screaming, “I’m givin’ her all she’s got, Captain! If I push it any harder the whole thing will blow!”

As taught, I let the bone run, taking 100-plus yards of fly line/backing along. Then the silver “torpedo” turns back toward me, causing me to sprint toward it, frantically cranking in all that fly line.

You should’ve seen the look on Mike’s face when he came around the mangroves in the boat to see me tip up with a bonefish on the end of my line.

With a wink and a “shaka” hand gesture, I declare that all I needed to catch one was for the guide to get the heck out of the way. To that — knowing better — we both laughed.

Dr. Peter Brookes has a Fort Valley home and scribbles about the outdoors here whenever he can. Email: ‎brookesoutdoors@gmail.com