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Birthday bonefish

Mark Bowler celebrates a special day in perfect Piscean style

A permit cake tops off the day.
A permit cake tops off the day.

I don't hold much truck with star signs, horoscopes and all that astrological mystique, but I do think it's an interesting coincidence that I'm a Pisces. I studied fish, I write about fish, I spend my spare time fishing, and, in fact, my whole life has revolved around my fascination for fish. However, I maintain a true Piscean would never have allowed themselves to be born just before March 15, the opening of the trout season.

As a result of my (or, rather, my mum's) poor timing, my birthday is usually celebrated with me up to my armpits in cold, flooding Scottish meltwater, with a cutting, early March wind biting my ears, casting a heavy tube fly in the vain hope a salmon might see it. I do it more as a ritual, rather than as a mission; more in hope, rather than belief.

However, this year was different. In early March, when my birthday came round, I found myself in Honduras, waiting at the lodge for the FF&FT reader trip party to arrive. Guanaja lodge is on a small 'desert' island, nestling behind a reef, right in the middle of a bonefish flat. What to do on this glorious sunny, warm day, with at least six hours to kill? Hmmm.

Lodge boss, Steve Brown, helped me with my plan. A quick boat-trip to Graham's Cay, which joins onto a major expanse of flats. The boat would drop me off, and return to pick me up in four hours' time.

For me, if ever I was given the choice of what to do for a special day, then it would be to wade a tropical bonefish flat, with the added chance of encountering a permit, on my own. Paddling knee-deep in warm water in the sun is always a pleasure, but then having to spot the bonefish and then get into a position to get a cast at it provides a unique cross between hunting and fishing. Due to their superb camouflage – their silvery scales literally mirror their surroundings – it's the sun, casting a shadow onto the bottom, that gives the 'ghost of the flats' away. And, then, these Honduran bonefish were as spooky as they come. Land the fly clumsily, too close, or throw a shadow with your line, or even move the fly unnaturally, then these fish headed for the horizon. So my birthday challenge was laid down. Fishing like this so occupies the senses, so focuses the mind, that even four hours isn't really long enough; time just disappears so fast when you are concentrating this hard.

By the time I had to wade back to catch my boat back to the lodge, I'd seen plenty of tails, lots of shadows, hooked a couple, and lost a couple. No permit seen, but that didn't matter. That's permit fishing. Back at the lodge, I grabbed a beer, set up my vice and tied the fly which I'd found worked well: an ultra-light, super-mobile bonefish pattern, fitted with the compulsory weed-guard, for the incoming guests, flopped into my hammock with a book, and rocked gently in the afternoon shade for their arrival.

That night, the cooks at the lodge presented me with a cake with a scan of a permit imprinted on the icing – an impressive state-of-the-art cake-decorating process. I love permit... and I like cake, too. So an excellent birthday, despite being 5,000 miles from home. Maybe my stars came into line after all.

  • Mark Bowler is to run a bonefishing school in Crooked Island, Bahamas in late November with ex Florida guide, Dave Grove. More information: www.gofishingworldwide.co.uk

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