Fly fishing: Tested by bonefish in paradise

Roger Beck's 'shopping bag special' fly.
Roger Beck's 'shopping bag special' fly.
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The sun blazed down relentlessly from the summer blue sky, patched with white candy floss clouds. The temperature hovered around 30 degrees; I know that this scenario was commonplace across Yorkshire during June afternoons, but this was 6.30am and I was in a state of deep shock having crawled from my bed over an hour ago.

I don’t do early mornings. They are unnatural. Nevertheless, there I was, rod in hand, barely conscious, gingerly lowering myself into the boat, urged on by Mario’s firm hand shake and infectious grin.

There was no Yorkshire landscape visible over the prow of the boat. A sapphire panorama interrupted only by crashing waves on the reef confirmed that I was in Belize in the Western Caribbean hunting salt water fish with a fly rod. My fishing companion for the day was Mark thus fulfilling a promise we’d made four years ago. On that occasion, Mark was too ill to join our Central America expedition so it was not only realizing an ambition but confirmation that he has returned to good health.

Our target was the bonefish that inhabit shallow tropical waters and are the piscatorial equivalent of Usain Bolt. We left the dock and motored parallel to the coast of San Pedro Island. Conditions would’ve been ideal had it not been for the 25mph wind. Accurate fly casting in such conditions is challenging and accurate casting is essential to intercept bonefish. The plan was for Mario, our guide, to spot the fish and the angler to drop the fly about 5ft ahead of the shoal at a range of about 20 yards. If the fly drops behind them, they don’t see it, if it drops further ahead, they don’t see it.

Mario navigated to a lagoon sheltered by mangroves. The calmer conditions made casting easier but the mangroves also provided sanctuary to malevolent misanthropic marauders called Diachlorus ferrugatus, or Doctor fly as it’s known in Belize. It’s completely undeterred by any form of repellant and, if bitten, you are on your way to its namesake. Bearing in mind a need for casting accuracy, these challenges provide fine spectator sport. One hand is required to hold the rod and the other to control the spare line, leaving neither free to waft at insects. The only solution is to keep up rapid body movements, bobbing and weaving, which is not easy on the small rolling deck of a fishing skiff.

Despite all these tribulations, Mark and I avoided meeting the Doctor and landed about a dozen bonefish between us. The successful fly, of my own design, was christened “shopping bag special” because the flashy bits under its chin reminded us both of the handles of old-fashioned shopping bags. I only tied one of this particular pattern and here (pictured) it is, somewhat battered by bonefish.