Bailout – maritime in origin, it’s the act of removing water from a sinking vessel….usually with a small bucket.

 Bailing Out With Bonefish

Every fly fisherman knows frustration when unable find, hook or land their target species. But, to fishing guides, being compensated for their expertise – wind, clouds, murky water or a lack of interest….are just excuses.

Key West’s annual tarpon migration attracts a flood of anglers anxious to test their skills on one of the world’s top gamefish. At the height of the season, these silver sided, air breathing monsters flow down the beaches in schools often a mile long. Although an awesome sight for anyone with a rod in hand, if the wind is wrong, the tarpon develop lockjaw.

On these days many Key’s guides turn to barracuda as a bail out fish. Although exciting when hooked, jumping and snapping and armed with a dangerous mouthful of teeth, a ten pound cuda is not a 100-pound tarpon.


Capt. Grizz fishes marlin, – his territory, offshore of Cabo San Lucas Mexico. Twelve wt. rods and a “tease them up and throw” technique is the preferred method when perusing stripped, black, blue marlin and sailfish.

“Veteran captains know when it is not going to happen. On those days we’ll head inshore for rooster fish or cero mackerel. We’ll downsize the tackle and bend a rod. It can turn the day around.”

Bailing out it’s called and every charter captain and guide has a plan. When the targeted species can’t be found –or won’t co-operate, switch.

“Jardine de la Renia”- “Garden of the Queens” is reverently referred to as the most natural reef and flats ecosystem existing in the Caribbean today. Cuba’s oldest aquatic preserve was a favorite spearfishing site for Fidel Castro, a fact, along with geography – it lies sixty miles off the island’s south coast – has allowed it to lay virtually untouched by man.

This collection of uninhabited barrier Keys, or Cayos, and miles of flats separate the shallow bay of ____ from the clear blue water of the Caribbean. Beyond the deserted white sand beaches and the pristine coral reef, the ocean bottom drops to infinity.


My new friend Alec Rich first called it to my attention in the middle of our second day of fly fishing in the Gardens.

“See how he keeps taking us back to bonefish.” He said quietly. “Every time the fishing slows we go back to catching bones.”


Alec and our Avalon fishing guide Tony are the same age, early twenties. Although separated by language, these two young men from totally diverse backgrounds and experiences found a bond in the shared love of fishing….the report was instant.

Alec recently graduated from Tulane with a degree in finance and has begun his banking career in petroleum finance.

Tony just completed the two-year training program required by all Avalon guides and has begun a career of poling fly clients from the world over across the pristine flats of the Garden.

Both are smart, observant and anxious to make a mark in their chosen career fields.

Awed by the raw beauty of our surroundings, the young man from Texas had been justifiably distracted. Now, this beginning banker’s analytical training emerged as he began to understand Tony’s pattern.

Sure enough when I paid attention the method to our guide’s madness took shape.

Bonefish in muds, in the mangroves and atop the grass covered flats seem readily available throughout the day. When the tarpon became mid-day scarce, or the tide stage was unfavorable for permit, Tony had a bonefish spot just around the bend.

“All guides have a limit to how long they can go not catching fish.” I explained to Alec one afternoon. “And, they all have a bailout plan.”

“It’s just bazaar.” Alec offered. “The guides are using one of the most sot after fly angler’s targets, to break the boredom… bailout.”

We were enjoying mojtoes mixed and delivered to the rear deck of our mothership “Tortuga” by Milkis, Avalon’s beautiful blond bartender. Avalon fishing Center is the exclusive fish and dive company of the Garden. Shaded from the brutal mid-August sun, we chatted with others of our group from as far away as Finland about our new discovery.

Chris and son Mike, from Boulder added they had stayed with the bones one full morning, releasing over thirty before breaking off for an afternoon dive. “We bailed them off muds.” Mike said. “But when the tide got high we found them in the mangroves, fining and tailing.”

No one can say for sure if this bailout with bonefish strategy will work year round but, for a week in late August we found it a great solution for combating what ordinarily be the down hours of our fishing days.






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