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Now, here’s an interesting development. Seems Angling Report subscriber Nathaniel Reed of Hobe Sound, Florida, has caught a bonefish in the Florida Keys that is right up there with the biggest ever taken on a fly. Reed has sent us a photo of the fish and it is hard to dispute his claim that the fish weighed upwards of 16 to 17 pounds. It measured 35 inches in length and was 20 inches around the shoulders. He took the fish this past April 27 near Islamorada, while fishing with guide Eddie Wightman (*). He says the fight to land the fish with a 10-weight rod took an amazing 48 minutes.

Reed doesn’t care about entering the fish in the record book, which is just as well in this case, as one of his fishing buddies had to lift his fly line over a stone crab pot float at one point in the fight to land this fish. That, of course, disqualified the fish for entry in the record book. If that hadn’t happened, where would the fish have ranked? According to the International Game Fish Association (*), the largest bonefish ever taken on any kind of tackle is a 19-pound bruiser taken off the coast of South Africa. As for fly-caught bonefish, the largest on record is a 15-pound, 8-ouncer taken on an eight-pound tippet near Key Biscayne, Florida in 1997. The next biggest is a 15-pound, 4-ouncer taken on a 12-pound tippet around Big Pine Key, about 50 miles south of Islamorada. Obviously, Reed’s bonefish is indeed right up there with the largest ever taken on a fly. Congratulations, Nathaniel Reed…!

Editor Note: Here is the full text of Reed’s report:

Islamorada With Charlie Causey April 28-29, 1998 by Nathaniel P. Reed

Charles Causey, my friend and compatriot in the battle against the "rape" of the Florida Keys, invited me for three days of bonefishing with Eddie Wightman, the greatest bonefish guide ever!" I had to miss the first day due to an endless meeting, but got on the road with great expectations and excitement the afternoon of April 27th.

The long drive ended with a delightful reception by Marby and Charlie at their truly wonderful property on the Bay side of Islamorada just down the island from PTJ’s and Mary Barley’s homes. Charlie and Marabeth (Marby) are the " conscience" of the upper Keys where avarice and greed run rampant. Charlie serves on every possible board dedicated to slowing and controlling development, attempting to curtail the terrible pollution problems from the Key’s 4,000 cesspools and 8,000 leaking septic tanks. "It is frustrating, even depressing, but my love of the Keys drives me on." Marby is "all things" — wife, homemaker, alli, expert researcher trained by years of work at one of Wall Street’s best firms.

Charlie "found" the upper Keys while making his own waves on Wall Street thirty years ago. He became a passionate bonefish fisherman. He fishes for the "gray ghosts" I 00 to 15 0 days a year. He poles his own skiff, wades the soft flats in snowshoes, frequently flies to the Bahamas for two to four days of "easy" fish compared to the incredibly bright fish of the Florida Keys that are hunted and attacked daily by too many guides and too many fishermen. Now 62 years of age, he loves to fish alone, loves to wade.

Charlie and Eddie Wightman have been fishing together for twenty years. Their repartee is similar to Hank Brown and Skip Dunn’s — all kinds of quiet digs and slashes! They know how to have fun together! Eddie came to the Keys as a boy of six. He’s been in love with fishing ever since. Now 57, thin, lithe, 5’8", 165 pounds of muscle, he is a magnificent poler and fishing guide.

Eddie has come to the conclusion that the best backing for bonefish is 20 pound monofilament. The stretch of the mono keeps the fly secured in the bonefish’s mouth. After years of using dacron and noting that many bonefish were able to "lose" the fly after a long run, Eddie tried mono and is convinced that the losses have been dramatically reduced.

Eddie believes the best shots at bonefish are directly in front of the fish or school. The fly is supposed to land 4 to 5 feet short. It is tied with weighted "eyes" to settle swiftly. The next key is the "Wightman strip." Eddie believes in a long, smooth strip. It will attract many if not the majority of feeding or cruising bonefish. Once attracted, you’re supposed to let the fly settle and then bump it with smooth, small strips, rod tip near on in the water, and then speed the fly up if a bonefish gives chase and hand strike. The key is not to make any jerky movements; everything must be smooth.

Eddie and Charlie like crab patterns which they tie themselves. The critical factor is the weight of the eyes: a light fly for shallow water, a heavy fly for deep water. "Get the fly down to the bonefish’s level pdq!" As for rods, they both believe that to cast effectively in the usual 15 to 25 knot winter and spring winds, the best outfit is a 10 wt. rod overloaded with an 11 weight line.

Eddie is married, has a superstar of a son — a fine athlete, student and a wonderful young man. Eddie has been guiding since he was 16 years old, prefers bonefishing but spends time on tarpon and permit. He has restricted his guiding to about 150 days a year and only guides "long time" anglers.

April 28 — Off at 8:30 am in Charlie’s super skiff. Eddie had schools of small tarpon located which would make a good start for any day. We stopped on the deep water side of a bank. Eddie said excitedly, "They’re still here!" The bottom was a mixture of dark grass and rock, which, with the slanting sunlight, caused me serious problems in seeing either an individual tarpon or any cruising schools. The tarpon were also a dark color which made them very difficult to see. Eddie, however, had no problem finding them, pointing out individual tarpon with his pole.

I jumped a 15 pounder and lost another after a savage strike. Charlie hooked a bigger tarpon, perhaps 3 0 pounds, that threw the hook after a busting jump. Finishing with the tarpon, at 10:30, we crossed Florida Bay to a n endless flat where Eddie was sure that numerous bonefish would be found. Before lunch, I landed a 6 pound bonefish but then we suffered through a long, slow two hours without a sighting as the tide fell and began to flow in. Finally, around 3:00 pm, Eddie spotted a nice bonefish which I hooked and landed – a 7 pounder. An hour later, Charlie cast at what appeared to be a school of big bonefish. A fish took his fly after one bump that turned out to be a 9 pound redfish, a species that had been nearly fished out by the commercial fishermen but are making a great comeback throughout their range. At 4:30, Eddie spotted another large bonefish which I hooked and landed: an 8 pounder.

Home at 5:30 p.m. A long day of poling, a wonderful experience.

April 29 — It was windy at 8:3 0 am; IO to 15, growing to 15 to 20 mph by noon. A strange cloud cover cut visibility; high cirrus with 50 % cumulous low level clouds. We experienced frequent blackouts because of the scuttling clouds. There were warnings of heavy afternoon rains as El Nino’s weather pattern persisted.

Off at 8:30. 1 asked "permission" to try for one of the giant, highly educated Islamorada local bonefish. Eddie quipped, "They all have PhD’s." There are four or five flats literally right off the bay side of Islamorada. The bonefish on these flats are among the largest anywhere but they are pummeled by hopeful anglers daily. Some of the largest fish only feed at dawn, in the evening, and at night. Eddie swore that they can feel, see and smell anglers. Even a perfect cast is regularly rejected. Eddie likes the incoming tide with the wind behind it.

"Nat, this flat is ‘Failure Flat’ " said Eddie, cutting his eyes to me. I had four good shots at 3 singles and a pair. Eddie’s summary was that I had made "one perfect cast, two good casts and one disastrous cast." The four fish either ignored the fly or fled.

Flat #2 had several large bonefish but they were still in the deep water edge and we couldn’t really see them well. At the far end of the flat, a pair of large bonefish began to mud. Eddie positioned me perfectly. A good cast produced a take, but I lost the line while trying to hand strike – and the bonefish was gone. Recriminations, disgust, begging forgiveness — what a bonehead! "That was the largest bonefish that I have ever cast to or hooked and I blew it!" Convinced that I was done for the trip, I was feeling down, defeated and out.

The next flat was covered with "T’s" – wooden cross bars which have been put on the flat by researchers to measure the nutrient load from birds on a frequently tide flushed flat.. The 50 odd crosses make it look like a graveyard. Every one of the perches had a bird living on them: tems, gulls and cormorants. As we poled onto the flat, Eddie said that he could see a number of bonefish feeding. While lengthening line, I hooked a dam needle fish that caused a long delay while Charlie and Eddie repaired the leader. It took longer than anyone expected because several sections of the Ande leader needed to be replaced. The first fly, which had been carefully selected for the location, fell apart while being tied on the leader, so I had to search again for the "perfect" fly and found it in a small tan crab-like model. Finally, just before I 1:00 am, we were ready.

Eddie peered across the flat and said, "Hey, the bonefish are still feeding!" I blew the next three opportunities in a row: all at major bonefish. I either cast too long, too short, misplayed the "Wightman strip," couldn’t see them until they were, too close, you name it — it happened. Finally, I cast at a large solo bonefish off the starboard bow of the skiff. The fish was feeding into the wind tide, busy muddying. The fly fell 5 feet upstream of him and sank. As the fly was swept to the fish by the tide, I gave it one smooth strip and to everyone’s surprise, the bonefish swam over and ate the fly.

The bonefish fled the flat through the bird stakes. "Take the drag off; Charlie, start the engine!" Eddie was in control. I cleared the line from the stakes, Eddie poled the skiff off the flat and we began the chase. I had lost over 150 yards of line and was sure the bonefish had swum around Channel Marker # 12, a tall concrete post that was covered with barnacles. "Hold on, Nat," bellowed Eddie and "Keep off the drag!" I don’t know why the mono backing wasn’t cut by the piling or the growth on the piling, but we cleared it!

After reeling in a huge amount of backing, which took me awhile, we were confronted with the next hurdle: the bonefish had doubled back, headed upstream" and had turned around a stone crab pot line. The line, of course, was covered with green and brown sharp clinging shells and barnacles and should have cut the mono backing — but it didn’t. Charlie reached overboard and lifted the backing up over the float. Again, I spent a whole lotta time reeling as again there was more than 150 yards of line out.

The next obstacle to my success was an anchored boat with three anglers fishing for tarpon. The bonefish headed for their anchor line. Eddie called out, "Would you lift your anchor?" The three fishermen responded instantly, pulling up their anchor with 20 yards of anchor line’. What a refreshing, reaffirming act. It is becoming rarer and rarer to encounter anglers in a choice spot who would understand and react so quickly. Anonymous thanks to them!

The bonefish turned and went back upstream, into the tide, and then doubled back around Channel Marker # 11. Eddie chased him, drove the skiff upstream and again the backing slid off the channel marker without being cut. I had one more exciting long run which took the bonefish onto a small flat west of the channel marker. There I was finally able to get the backing onto the reel and successfully finish the fight with the fly line on the reel and the bonefish in the bag!

After a full 15 minutes of holding the bonefish, trying to tun him over, trying to get him to come to the surface, with none of that working, I wondered if the hook has slipped out and was he hooked on a fin or on the side of his head? Finally, 48 minutes after being hooked, Eddie reached down and handtailed the bonefish. "Good heavens, Charlie, look at this bonefish!" They were in my way and I could only hear Charlie say, "My God, he’s a genuine monster!"

The bonefish was stocky – 35 inches long; bulging – 20 inches thick around the shoulders and heavy, all the way to his tail. Eddie admitted, "It’s bigger than my personal record of 15.6 pounds.. Charlie added "It’s bigger than my 15.12 pounder." We quickly photographed and released the monster. He had been hooked in the comer of his mouth. He was so strong that I could not lift him with a ten weight rod bent double! Think of pulling an 11 weight line around for 48 minutes. Rarely have I fought a more determined fish.

During lunch, the "battle scene" was repeated and each obstacle ‘ debated and discussed. Finally, Eddie said, " You know, it was meant to be. The needlefish, the new leader, the long pause, a change of flies, the obstacles-all of that – it was meant to be."

I have always wanted to catch a really large bonefish. Charlie and Eddie are convinced the fish must have weighed between 16 and 17 pounds, a potential world record (except for assistance in clearing the crab pot float), but a "life fish."

On the long drive home, through torrential rain, I had plenty of time to relive the fight. "It was meant to be," and realize that this was the largest bonefish that I had ever seen, the largest bonefish that I ‘will ever hook or land. "It was meant to be!"

Well, there is a 40 pound permit out there, somewhere! Thanks, Eddie; thanks Charlie — for an experience of a lifetime!

Important discoveries: 20 pound mono backing Pledge, the furniture polish, is great for cleaning dark glasses. Birds seen: Great White heron ,Great Egret, White Ibis, Reddish Egret, Blue heron, crowned pigeons, ringed doves, pelicans, terns, gulls, ospreys, Frigate birds

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