Blind date in the Bahamas

Fishing Lines
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The Independent Online
CALLING all opticians - here's a wonderfully simple idea to drum up business for only a trifling investment. All you need to do is offer cut-price fishing trips to the Bahamas. After my experience of the past week, I can guarantee every angler you send will be begging for an immediate consultation on his return.

I've always prided myself on my ability to tie size 24 hooks, (smaller than a gnat) without glasses. Now I'm convinced I need trifocals at the very least.

The big attraction to anglers here (though far from the only one) is bonefish. They are not particularly big - an eight-pounder is a specimen and a 15-pounder a monster. And not especially beautiful: its streamlined body, silver scales and long fins tipped with greenish-blue are aesthetically pleasing, but it's not a patch on dozens of more glam fish that inhabit the coral reef here.

The bonefish's main attraction is its speed and power. It makes a trout look like a tractor - big ones will pull 100 yards of line off so fast that bone burn from trying to stop a whizzing reel is a regular local complaint treated by the local doctors.

Another delight is that bonefish grub for crab and shrimp in water often less than a foot deep. You can't drop a bait or fly on their heads, but have to stalk them instead. When you're near a feeding fish you unconsciously hold your breath because they are wary of the slightest noise. Even the plop of a fly hitting the water can send them scooting away as if pursued by a shark. And that's another attraction. I've seen numerousstingrays, sharks, barracudas and turtles while stalking, and lost one huge bonefish to a lemon shark.

That makes it all sound loads of fun, but to do it properly can cost $400 a day. You need a guide to locate the fish in miles of seemingly featureless shallows, otherwise you're wandering into the sea and hoping. But you also need a guide to see the fish.

On Andros, I fished with Prescott Smith, a church minister and bonefishing guide. He has eyes like an osprey and can spot fish 100 yards away. It might sound simple, but bones are almost invisible in the mud and coral. Oh sure, I've spotted a few, but most of our conversations went something like this:

Prescott (whispering): "Three fish at 11 o'clock, travelling right, 60 feet away."

Me (whispering): " I can't see a thing."

Prescott: "Straight in front! Feeding! Where my finger's pointing?"

He made it sound like a herd of hippos wallowing a few yards away. But even top-of-the-range Serengeti polarising glasses don't overcome the basic problem - you're trying to spot a fish nicknamed "the ghost of the flats".

In the end I just asked him to tell me where to cast and when. My whole week's been like that - me peering earnestly at the water, my guides frothing because I'm too blind to see the fish.

The only consolation has been that every evening in the bar (a sight for sore eyes) all the other bonefishers tell the same story - losing fish by casting too close, even questioning whether the guides really did see all those fish or just pretended in order to keep our adrenalin flowing. One American was nearly suicidal: his guide spotted a shoal of more than 100 fish and he couldn't see any of them.

It hasn't all been the optical delusion that is bonefishing. The angling potential around the outer Bahamian islands in particular is incredible and barely explored. I've caught a 100lb tuna, a 50lb barracuda, swum with sharks, dived for crawfish and conches.

Action Man stuff, huh? Except I feel like Action Man with his contact lenses upside down and back to front.

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