This Is Fly (Fly Fishing Magazine) features local Fisherman – Story and photography by Wil Flack
Rumor has it that these guides were the best in the country, if not in the Caribbean. Local legends if you will: men who were literally born into the job. Generations of fathers, sons, and brothers have been drawn to the sea. One particular family, the most famous, is master of their realm. Their captain’s seats are not plush white vinyl, but gleaming towers of observation to see the world. And their job? To find silver when not just any glimmer will do.
I first met Abner almost ten years ago, at a time when his hair was long and pink was his color of choice. He was 28. Not the oldest or the youngest of his family, although most would say he is the spiritual one. He is a soft-spoken Pedrano whose family comes first, macabi (‘Mack-a-bee’ Spanish noun – bonefish) second, and everything else follows in its own order, depending on the tide and moon.
Abner is the planet’s finest bone fisherman, without equal! This is quite a statement considering the number of saltwater anglers out there, but it is the truth. No one executes like this guy and if you have any doubts, go fish with him! When you cannot make the shot, give him the rod, stand back and take notes. I have witnesses it a thousand times and will likely see it thousands more because this perfection lives at 18 degrees North.
In his decades of chasing the elusive ghost, every day on the flats brings him closer to the ultimate goal: the perfect bonefish. Anyone who has spent the better part of their life chasing these fish either has seen one, hooked one or lost one. A lucky few have actually brought one to hand. These fish are seldom seen and when they are, you better have your $@#%&*! Shit together. The shot will be extremely difficult, the wind most likely will be fierce, and you had better start praying macabi wants to fly.
Bonefish might be Abner’s passion, but permit is the itch that must be scratched. These queens of the sea have the ability to drive sane men crazy, including Abner. How does a fish reduce to this? It’s only a fish, right? Maybe it’s the fact that they are never around very long: sometimes you see them, sometimes ya’ don’t. Whatever it may be, they are without a doubt the sexiest fish in the ocean. Regard their lips, the dorsal fin sweeping back, and that massive forked tail that make a permit perfect in every way – but it is still just permit. Once Abner gets his fix, he will turn his attention back to bones, until the itch resurfaces.
It was four-thirty when the buzzer pieced the air to signal that another day of chasing tails had begun. Having come to a paradise like this is for the last several seasons, one becomes acquainted with the locals, especially the fishermen. A wealth of knowledge lies at the water’s edge, usually around three when the sun drops in the sky. At first, you do not say anything but you just listen. Tricks are learned, fish are found and fish are lost, but you still just sit and listen. This is the life of a protégé.
A former bartender turned guide, Abner can credit his move from the dark side to one person; Mr. Carlos is the godfather of la familia, and this humble human started it all. I think any man 69 years old, who still poles clients around on a daily basis, is damn cool! We should all be so fortunate! And he has passed all his skills and know-how on to his boy Abner to allow the next chapter to begin.
Saltwater fly fishing takes a special commitment and not everyone has what it takes to be a saltwater angler. To achieve a greater understanding requires decades of dedication and patience. And if bone fishing is about one thing only, sign me up under patience. It is at the heart of every great saltwater angler. Stadium-sized schools of six-pounders cruising toward the casting deck make even the most experienced anglers tremble with fever.
“Don’t hurry strip,” he calmly muttered. Abner has seen it all and seen it again. If you want to go bone fishing, just ask around and his name will come up every time. Even his siblings praise their brother. “When it comes to bone fishing, he is the Michaelangelo with a fly rod.”
Bonefish are the toughest fish to catch on a fly rod. To rephrase that – big, tailing bonefish are the toughest fish to catch on a fly rod – most anglers cannot do it. This fish is big that your fingers will not touch when you go to grab them and that is the whole mystique of it! If you think you are gonna come down here and catch an 8 to 10lb tailer, you are mistaken and likely crazy, Save yourself some money and buy a ticket to your local trout pond.
Macabi are so spooky with their excellent camouflage that anyone who even gets a shot at one, or better yet, sees one, is having sheer luck. Usually something always @$#% it up. You line the fish or he hears the fly drop, whatever the case may be, and they prove to be the hardest fish to catch on a fly rod. Even if you somehow hook one up, 99% of the time it will snap you off in seconds, the 15-lb. test breaks, your ego is smashed, and your nice, expensive, stainless steel fly is gone. It could be due to too much line pressure, backlash, slight trout set, or possibly everything mentioned. A big one will test all your skills and then some. Next time, pray to the gods and hope the planets align, but next time will be a long, long, way off.
I once asked Abner when he would be done guiding and true to his style, he summed it up in the simplest of ways. “When I can’t make the shot, I’ll be done guiding.” Although Abner has fooled many a bonefish and landed countless thousands, I know that with every cast he makes he questions, “What if this is the moment?”
Before you try again, it is best to forget everything you think you know about bone fishing. Eight-pound test does not work. If you say you can cast 60 feet, you are lying, because you can’t hit forty, and the wind is always smacking at you like your new best friend. Persistence pays off and the one who controls the weather live above the clouds! There is no time for excuses, only learning experiences, then one day, most likely years from now, you will get your shot. If you have been paying attention, you might just see that line straighten.
Wil Flack spends winters chasing ghosts and has been fishing with the master for the better part of the decade. To book you own wakeup call, contact gofishbelize.com and make sure you bring your game!Ambergris Today