Bounty of bonefish in Bimini

Veteran flats guide “Eagle Eyes” Fred Rolle poled his skiff along a sparse mangrove fringe next to a noisy construction site on North Bimini recently, looking for bonefish.

“Should be some over by those roots — they were there yesterday,” Rolle, 64, said calmly.

Standing on the bow wielding my 9-weight fly rod, I was skeptical. The once-lush mangrove shoreline of North Sound now is mostly a sandy causeway dotted with isolated stands of prop roots — the result of Resorts World Bimini expanding its sprawling housing/marina/casino complex. It didn’t look much like bonefish habitat to me.

But then Rolle pointed out some dark torpedo shapes milling around in the shadows about 50 feet away.

“There they are,” he said. “Let me spin the boat” — a polite warning to not hook him with the little Crazy Charlie fly on my back cast into the wind. So I waited until he was in position.

“Now start casting,” Rolle said.

I set the fly right in front of the school of about 30 fish, and one grabbed it immediately and began zig-zagging into the meadow of prop roots — ripping out all of my fly line and part of the backing. Rolle poled after the fish as I tried to keep the line tight while unwrapping it from around the roots. The small but feisty four-pounder had managed to snag the fly line no less than four times.

But Rolle and I were patient, and eventually we caught up to the fish, photographed it and released it.

“Been a lot of fish around lately,” Rolle said.

Less than ten minutes later, not far away, I was connected with the second bone of the day — probably five or six pounds and strong enough to straighten the hook, as we observed when we brought it to the side of the boat and examined the fly. I went on to hook three more that unfortunately became unbuttoned and got chased by a really nice one about eight pounds that veered off the fly inexplicably in the middle of its pursuit.

“We see thousands of fish starting in January through April,” Rolle said. “I think the fish population is getting bigger, because every year at this time we see thousands of little baby bonefish along the shoreline.”

And that’s not all. The morning before I arrived, Rolle guided a customer to the release of a gigantic permit on spinning gear using a crab for bait. Rolle didn’t have a scale to weigh it, but he said he had a hard time lifting it far enough out of the water for a photo. He said permit are most plentiful in March with windy weather, and that an angler’s best shot is to cast a bait or a fly to the fish when it is following a southern stingray.

“They stick along with the rays because they’re digging up food,” Rolle explained. “If they’re not on the ray, you don’t hardly stand a chance.”

While bonefishing can be bountiful in Biscayne Bay and the Lower Keys in winter, it has declined sharply in Florida Bay in the Upper Keys over the past ten years.

Fishing the flats of Bimini is a good alternative because of the islands’ proximity to Miami (about 50 miles) and light fishing pressure (only a handful of working flats guides). And at an average of five pounds, Bimini bones tend to be larger than in other islands of the Bahamas.

Hopefully, these spirited gamefish will stick around even as manmade disturbances increase and their habitat shrinks. Perhaps we should buy them hardhats.

If you go

To book a bonefish or permit charter with captain Fred Rolle, call 242-473-0580.