12lb+ Hawaiian Bones, Coach Duff and Flailing in Paradise

After a lifetime pursuing micro-cutties, dwindling Puget Sound salmon and steelhead runs, and a stint in Ketchum, ID trout bumming for a few years, was finally able to make the leap to some warmer water and huck for bones. And hucking would be the operative phrase, both in reference to a “gradually improving” salt water cast and a most accurate description of the actual activity. That is to say, it was the most fun I have ever had not landing a fish.

With enough hoarded miles for a moderate space shuttle flight, combined with the addition of Alaska Air’s new Bellingham-Honolulu direct (yes, you read that correctly). FFJ’s Creative Director, Jessie Lu and I had simply run out of excuses to not shut down the iLife for a bit and get out into the analog world 0f warm emerald waters.

Speaking of emerald waters, it was via a strong recccomendation of Brian Bennett of Moldy Chum via Davey McCoy of Seattle’s Emerald Water Anglers that we were able to make contact with Hawiian bones guide Terry Duffield AKA Coach Duff. Thanks to both Brian and Davey, because Coach Duff proved to be a hell of a guide, the best casting coach I have ever encountered and an enjoyable dude to be around. A former Univervisty of Hawaii defensive coach, Duff was with the team for their 12-0 run to the 2008 Sugar Bowl before shifting gears. After sitting through a conversation with a booster who bragged about the absurd amounts of money spent on recruiting that year, and taking a long look at the whole situation, Duff decided to chuck an offer for more money to coach in the Big Ten and instead, focus his life on guiding and fishing for some of the biggest bonefish on the planet. A Marine and former Special Forces soldier, who served in Somalia, Duff has access to the nearby base for launching his unique panga-flats boat hybrid. And the rig is gaurded by Marines, a nice option to be sure.


Coach Duff photo: JessieLuDesign

Having never actually seen a bonefish before, and casting to a 12+ pounder in the first fifteen minutes of hitting the water, Duff seemed like a solid choice off the bat. Although the challenge of casting in 25 knot winds was substantial enough, ultimately it was the challenge of fighting against every single instinct from a liftetime of trout and salmon that proved the toughest: Not putting the fly on the nose of the fish; not stripping at a baitfish pace, and ulitmately not setting the hook with the rod.

With at least a dozen bones sighted in a three-hour sessi0n (none under 8 lbs) and three-four legit shots resulting in a couple of refusals and a couple of staight botches (spooked the fish, stripped too fast, etc.), it was a hypnosis like none I’d ever known. And one that I know I am never going to shake: I am figuring out my next trip already.


it’s all nervous water… photo: JessieLuDesign

The following day I returned for a wade-in session on my own, although I had a few half-ass shots wasn’t finding them like prior. It was a short session as we were flying out later that eve, but right before the proverbial final cast, I noticed a silvery knife protrude from the waters next to a single mangrove shoot. A BIG taililng bone sat feeding 12 yards away. First cast got mangled in the wind but the fish remained unfazed and continued to hoover the bottom. Second cast hit fairly spot on — leading the fish a couple feet and with a concentrated SLOW strip, he moved and ate the fly.

What happend next was a glorious, frozen and trascendental moment of exctasy followed by glorious, frozen and trascendental defeat. Which I look forward to writing a bit about in the next issue of FFJ.

A huge thanks to Coach Duff and Stephanie, Doc and Audry, and all the kamaihna locals we met during our too-short stay.

We’re coming back.


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