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Bottle Creek, North Caicos
“I was scared; really scared, as wave after wave came crashing over the bow of my little kayak, water pouring inside, as I paddled furiously, valiantly – stupidly – across the widest part of Bottle Creek, head on into 30mph winds.”
Truth be told, the often inaccurate Caribbean weather forecasts had been saying for weeks that things weren’t looking good for mid December but it had been seven months since I’d last hooked a bonefish and I wasn’t going to let a small thing like a storm stop me. Besides this was day one of a 21 day expedition and I needed to go fishing NOW!
In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have. My hands were blistering – ok, I admit I’m a city boy – while iron-black skies and frothing seas meant it was going to be impossible to see anything below my inflatable, let alone the ghost of the flats. But then, 90 minutes after launch and still not quite by the mangroves I was aiming for, I paddled straight past one. He’d have been hard to miss. He was right by the boat…. and absolutely enormous!
Since seeing a 10b fish on some scales I know 99 per cent of guides talk BS when they tell you how much a fish weighs but I’d still say this was close to 8lb. Massive. And gone…..
It’s been said it would take a week to explore all of Bottle Creek. Well, I spent more than two weeks there, deep in the mangroves or wading on the wide open flats and didn’t come close to seeing half of it. The obvious fishing areas are just that, obvious, but there are lots of other spots to explore. It would take months to fish it all and a lifetime to know it well. Oh, and did I mention that it’s absolutely full of fish?
With various channels cutting north through the mangroves and one long, deeper channel running east to west, there are plenty of places for fish to come and go at feeding time. But beware the moon as neap tides here can leave you literally high and dry.
The early part of the falling tide was when I got my best results. Fish coming out of the mangroves in ever increasing numbers still up for a silli-legged Charlie but as the tide dropped, they became more skittish, almost impossible to catch.
During quieter times when the tide was against me I’d head to the deeper channels and take a fish or two there, or explore spots away from the creek: I took half a dozen decent sized fish during my stay, just walking down North Caicos’ endless beaches. Get the tide right, keep your eye out and you’ll find fish.
But don’t be thinking it’s easy! One day I went out fishing with one of the locals. In the morning, with not a ripple on the water, he slaughtered me 4-1. My mistake, what he told me over a lunchtime sandwich, was that I’d waded out with the sun on my back and was casting long, fish-frightening shadows as well as nice, tight loops. Doh! A little crest-fallen but lesson learned.
In the afternoon, though, honours fell to me. As I started to walk out to a tailing fish 100 yards in the distance, the local – a gifted fisherman make no mistake – chose to move in the opposite direction. After catching my tailer, another appeared close by. I caught that, too. And then another and another and another, tails were popping up everywhere. I returned to the boat with a huge smile after my sixth. The local looked downcast. He’d skunked. That meant 7-4 to me, the Brit. “I just didn’t see any fish where I was”, he added mournfully. It’s never easy.
I was walking and kayaking up to 12 miles a day. DIY-ing here is not for the faint hearted – and my feet became raw from sand-abrasion as I foolishly like to wade without boots where I can, but I never caught a fish as big as that one I saw on my first day.
Well, that’s not entirely true. On my last day I caught a fish closer to 40lbs. 40lbs? That would be a new world record, I hear you scream. Well, yes it would if it had been a bonefish and not an angry lemon shark about three and a half feet long.
It didn’t put up much of a fight, in case you wondered, and broke off as I slid my hand down the leader to free it. The hook had snagged on the fleshy outer part of its mouth, a fair way from those razor sharp teeth. Still, that was my first shark on the fly and something to talk about around the bar.
I’ve gotten to know TCI pretty well over the years and there’s good fishing all over the place but do mind where the boundaries for the national parks lie. Get that wrong and you could face a huge fine.
I would also implore any visiting angler to employ the services of a local guide for a day or two at least. Aside from helping you get your bearings and put you on to some decent spots, you might even enjoy his company. Yes, it’ll cost you, but it’s vital DIY anglers appreciate that people on these islands have to earn a living and that if you’re not spreading any money around, well, that may have negative implications for all of us down the line.
That said, the people of TCI are fantastically warm-hearted and welcoming. I absolutely love the place. I married my wife Amelia here five years back – she’s caught some crackers too – and was telling another local before I left how I was thinking of buying a house in TCI one day. “Oh, man,” he said, “the bonefish won’t like that much at all….”
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