Sporting Life: Catching the skittish bonefish with peanut butter, jam and a single fly

Our correspondent goes through the necessary rituals to pursue ‘the little white foxfish’ in the West Indies.

‘Are you insane?’ mutters Mrs Reel Life from the depths of the pillow. ‘It’s not even 6am yet.’

‘But, dearest, this is my bonefish day,’ I say. ‘One must prepare.’

Providenciales island, at about dawn. Necessary rituals: apply factor 30, don lucky amulet, slip on Tommy Bahama sneakers, feast on breakfast papaya and scrambled eggs, prepared by our glamorous hostess, on the balcony above the turquoise waters of Grace Bay. Then, we’re off.

‘Mrs RL looks up from her novel and sees the familiar signs of tension steaming from my head’

Driving through the flatlands of salt bush, bleached coral and palms faffing in the morning breeze, we pass the House of Miracles Apostolic Church, then arrive at Heaving Down Rock marina. On the dock, his skiff shifting at anchor and arrayed in his Dayglo togs, is my colourful friend Capt Arthur Deane.

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A large bonefish is carefully landed by an angler in the shallow flats. He released the ?gray ghost? to fight another day.

A large bonefish is carefully landed then released by an angler in the shallow flats.

In the 21 years I’ve known him, we’ve never yet hit the conditions right – full moons (the fish feed all night), high tides (they are inaccessible in the mangrove stands) or, once, when Mrs RL produced an unlucky banana, sudden subtropical storms that lashed us like a lawn strimmer.

Today, by contrast, the 30 miles of sea we traverse seem as smooth as an emerald.

The Turks and Caicos is a conglomeration of islands just north of Haiti, now a haven for ‘financial services’ and snowbirds like us, in search of winter sun, rum and conch salad. Its motto is ‘Beautiful by Nature’ and, although it was once the haunt of pirates, nothing much dramatic has happened here since 1962, when astronaut John Glenn’s space capsule made an emergency landing.

‘We see ’em, we get ’em’

We’re heading towards Middle Caicos, largest of the chain and sparsely inhabited except by a million cave bats, whose guano was once harvested for fertiliser. We don’t see another soul all day.

I have now chased Albula vulpes (‘the little white foxfish’) in 10 different countries and it’s my favourite quarry. Beautiful by nature, fastidious and skittish, the boney streaks for the horizon when hooked and can be a tremendous challenge to see, its mirrored flanks reflecting the substrate, marl or turtle grass where it browses. When alarmed, bones can scatter like smoke, so your presentation cast needs to be both stealthy and quick.

It’s been two years since I last fished the flats and I hope I haven’t lost the knack of spotting them. ‘We see ’em, we get ’em’ is one of Arthur’s mantras.

A guide casts his fly at a bonefish swimming on the flats in the Turks & Caicos Islands just off Middle Caicos.

A guide casts his fly at a bonefish swimming on the flats in the Turks & Caicos Islands just off Middle Caicos.

As I string up my eight-weight, he fingers through my fly collection and selects a cream-toned Enrico Puglisi Spawning Shrimp pattern. ‘That’s the only fly you need out here,’ Arthur advises. ‘Just one fly, man.’ He favours 20lb tippet, to steer the speeding fish away from snags.

Then, he’s aloft on the kicker bridge, poling. Arthur tends to serenade you like some Creole gondolier and some of his reggae shanties are of a decidedly salty nature, but, today, he’s saving his voice for an upcoming performance at the Hole in the Wall bar. Besides, after five minutes, we’re already finding fish.

‘We jammin because I put peanut butter and jelly on your fly!’

‘Two bones, 10 o’clock, 20ft – drop it now!’ I cast and a shimmering shape pounces. Triumphantly, I cry: ‘Bone on!’ After one lightning run, it spits out the hook. And so do the next two.

I’m desperately disappointed. My mouth feels as if it’s full of bat guano and nervous adrenaline is giving me a serious case of fin fever. Mrs RL looks up from her novel and sees the familiar signs of tension steaming from my head. ‘Don’t worry, my lady,’ says Arthur. ‘We get the next one for sure.’

My luck does, indeed, turn. For four hours, we fish without interruption and silvery bonedogs keep homing in on my artificial, even if it splash-lands like some space capsule. Not another one of them comes adrift and they’re all in the chunky, 4lb class, each running me well into the backing.

Off-shore ponds, Conch farm, Providenciales, Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands, West Indies, Caribbean, Central America

Off-shore ponds, Providenciales, Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands, West Indies.

‘We jammin,’ shouts Arthur approvingly. ‘Because I put peanut butter and jelly on your fly!’

As the tide slowly ebbs, fish appear round the mangrove cays in little troupes and the unclouded sun provides ace visibility. It’s rare that everything comes together quite like this.

The bite is so hot, it’s 3pm before we even pause for drinks and a handful of Cheetos, by which time I’ve boated 15. This is about as good as it gets.

The following night, we go to hear Arthur sing at the alfresco bar. Midway through his Bob Marley set, he cries out towards our table: ‘Only one fly, man! Now, we jammin.’

For fishing with Arthur Deane, visit