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No Fun in the Sun – a Survivor’s Guide to Fishing the Flats

No Fun in the Sun – a Survivor’s Guide to Fishing the Flats
Posted in: Fishing Articles

As the snow months arrive, sadly, the angler’s window of opportunity closes to little more than a crack.

Fishing through the ice, getting out on the few open-water situations available, tying flies, or dreaming of sunny ways or yesterdays.

But all is not on hold until the geese return and break-up begins.

An excellent way to relieve the angling itch is a fun-in-the-sun fishing vacation.

Either through a do-it-your-self trip where you sweat the small stuff and do all the arrangements.

Or a tailor-made excursion offered by several adventure travel agencies or tackle shops that market package trips.

Either way pale and vulnerable northern winter anglers are disgorged from airliners into the unrelenting sunny glare of exotic angling paradises like Playa Pinos, Ascencion Bay, North Andros Island or Ambergris Key.

Of course, western anglers are no strangers to summer sunshine.

And while the July sun remains high in the sky many hours longer than it does in the Caribbean, the tropical UV factor is on a whole different level.

As I was to learn on a fly-fishing bonefish expedition to a little Mayan village and old pirate hang-out called Punta Allen on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula south of the ancient-ruins city of Tulum.

As my flats guide Francesco gunned the outboard towards the Tres Marias islands and the bonefish grounds beyond, I sat in the front of the panga buttoned up in a brand-new angling shirt.

I had been gifted it for volunteer work by a conservation organization and I couldn’t have been prouder wearing it.

The day went well. And despite blowing a lot of shots, Francesco got me enough hook-ups on Crazy Charlies and Gotchas to consider the trip a success.

Until I arrived back at the room to change for red snapper tacos and fresh-squeezed-lime margaritas at the little fish shack under the coconut palms on the beach. And felt a hot sharp pain across my back.

While my chest was rosy and striped like a Scotsman’s kilt.

Yup, sunburn. The gift shirt had little if any UV factor and the torrid Mexican sun burned right through it – except where the patch pockets and button plackets doubled up the fabric.

It wasn’t a vacation-ending incident and the margaritas helped.

But it clearly was a warning.

Fun-in-the-sun can become no-fun-at-all if you don’t take it seriously and make precautions.

Here are some ways to assure your dream vacation remains nightmare free.

A Punta Allen panga

Fly rods at the ready for the day’s adventure in the Bahamas

The most obvious way of warding off a tropical angling sunburn is to cover up.

Board shorts and “tarps off” (no shirt) are definitely not the way to go. Even the fishing shirts that are perfectly adequate in Canada – clearly do not work. As I painfully learned from my Yucatan episode.

A quality, long sleeve angling shirt with a high UV protection rating is best.

But don’t stop there.

Remember you will be putting in an eight-hour-or-more shift in plus 30C weather and long runs in a flats boat.

So light weight material with a yoke vent is also recommended.

Same goes for quick-dry pants. Especially if your fishery features wading – which many consider flats bonefish and permit angling at its zenith.

Zip off legs are OK. As long as you don’t un-zip.

Don’t forget your feet and hands, which are just as vulnerable to tropical burning. Ears and nose too. There’s a school of thought that recommends bare feet on boat decks. Nothing more frustrating than stepping on a fly line coiled on the casting deck as you attempt a long shot at a cruising bone when you don’t realize you are stepping on the fly line.

Barefoot certainly gives you a lot better feel for a fly line than deck shoes ever will.

Which is fine if you have already built up a deep tan on your tootsies. But not if you’ve just flown in from the snow zone.

Needless to say sandals and flip-flops are also out of the question.

Good quality casting gloves are also available.

Hats are a necessary protection on the flats.

But not just any hat. Adjustable ball caps with a gap at the back are an invitation for a serious sunburn spot.

A UV-rated hat with a long bill and a neck cape – specifically designed for flats fishing - are the way to go.

A last piece of sun protection wear is a neck bandana. Or better still a Buff.

 Which can work in a number of different configurations either as a sun or wind guard or for holding your hat firmly on your head while running with the boat.


Taking a winter break to fly fish for permit

A sun block with a high UV protection rating is another obvious way to ward off sunburn.

A heavy layer applied on all skin that will be exposed to the sun is an essential start to a day’s flats fishing.

Also keeping a tube of sun block in your boat bag to re-apply a time or two throughout the day is also advisable.

A brand formulated for active use that stays put when you sweat is also recommended.

A pair of polarized sun glasses, it goes without saying, should be an essential part of your flats fishing outfit.

To catch a bonefish first you must see it.

Generally speaking the guide will stand on the poling deck mounted above the outboard and spot fish.

Then call out the shots which the angler is expected to cover without spooking - mostly a one-and-done situation.

Miss too many and it can get a little frosty back on the guide perch.

To see the fish the guides like to have the sun over their shoulder. Meaning long casts into a still breeze are often required.

Polarized glasses help you cut the glare and by the third of fourth day of the trip you are beginning to see the ghostly bonefish shadows cruising over the sandy bottom.

But by then, of course, you are about to pack up your rod and take the big silver bird home.

Tinted glasses also provide eye protection which in the strong tropical sun is also an angling necessity.

It’s also better to spend the extra bucks on a quality pair of fishing glasses with a strong and durable frame.

Accidents do happen and a broken pair of angling specs can turn a trip of a lifetime into a nightmare.

Exploring the mangroves for bonefish

An essential piece of equipment – both for sun protection and an angling success – is a good pair of flats shoes.

But not just any shoes. There are many models of footwear that describe themselves as fishing shoes not necessarily engineered for prowling about on turtle grass and sand flats.

The key to pain-free fishing is a shoe with a high over the ankle upper.

Also equipped with a Velcro or buckle strap to prevent sand, gravel or vegetation particles from getting into the boot.

The shoes also guard against sun burned feet as noted above.


Wading the flats is about as good as it gets

A tropical fishing break is supposed to be a vacation. Although some treat it more like a marathon – trying to squeeze in the maximum number of rod hours on the water as is humanely possible.

Another obvious invitation to a health breakdown, either through over exposure to the sun or other ailments that can crop up when you are pushing the envelope.

Slow down, take time to smell the hibiscus, no worries. Especially if there is a non-angling significant other along for the trip.

If possible spread the fishing with a time-out day or two built in, which will allow you to explore the area, do a little shopping, listen to the trade wind rattle the palms and remind yourself that this is, after all, a vacation.

Depending on your schedule or budget a few days at an all-inclusive resort before or after the fishing portion of your trip is a great way of experiencing the best of both worlds.

Also a far better method to work on your mid-winter holiday tan under controlled conditions.

And your partner will appreciate it too.


Because fun in the sun, more than anything else, should be fun.


Bonefish on the fly are great sport

5 months ago
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