It’s the last day of Mancation, and I’m scraping peanut butter out of the jar for breakfast. Our annual Mancation takes us to a secret spot located somewhere in the Bahamas. No wives or women attend. We basically fish like crazy (some sleep like crazy), and eat what we catch for 5-6 nights out of the week. This year was Scott Gilmer’s first trip.
Scott isn’t one to shy away from an adventure, and he knows one mode: ALL IN.
If he goes skiing, he skips the training hills and goes right to the Olympic champion level – at full speed. His first skiing trip he crashed so hard that it was termed a “yard sale” – meaning he hit, and stuff went flying everywhere, and scattered the ground like a Saturday morning yard sale. He wound up with a broken bone, and probably multiple concussions. True story. When he plays touch football with some guys from church on Sunday afternoon, tackling gets involved, and he ends up with no cartilage remaining in his left shoulder. True story. If he were to take up chess he’d probably turn it into a rugby match somehow. Not a true story… yet.
I also know Scott works like crazy, and is extremely devoted to his family. It seems he’s been worked more hours than an AC Unit in the middle of the Sahara Dessert. Because of this, Vegas Odds had Scott as the favorite to win our annual Chris Costello Sleeping Award given to the guy who sleeps the most. The rest of this story I’ll write in reverse.
I typically walk 10-15 miles a day on Mancation in search of the “gray ghost”, and most of it in water that’s ankle to knee deep. It’s the only way to catch DIY bonefish. We try to do it ourselves, and it requires simply covering miles of the most beautiful water known to man. I’m wired differently, I work really hard, and I play even harder. Scott went all in with this mission from day one. By day six an exhausted Scott said, “I’m sick of the saltwater.”
He had reached a level of physical fatigue – with assistance a mild sickness that was keeping him on or near the couch and house. He kept up with me for several days, listening to everything I said, casting when I said to cast, and generally going anytime the conditions were right (sun shining and 3 hours on either side of a low tide). He actually took a day off to recover from the soreness of the first two days in hopes of being able to go back to his normal hardcore style.
What did all of this hard work get him from Monday to Saturday? NOTHING. Not one bonefish. Heck, he even went offshore, and caught a fish roughly the size of a tic-tac. That was it. I kept telling him that it happens to everyone fishing this style from the beach for bonefish. It’s takes great eyesight, pinpoint accuracy with your casting, perfect conditions, and then most importantly – a ton of luck. Bonefish are the whitetail deer of the ocean. They see everything and spook at a lure that lands within 50 yards of them (we don’t fly fish … yet)
In five years of making this trip I had caught roughly 25 bonefish from the beach, and Jonathan Allen was in the same ballpark with his catches. That’s 7 days of fishing, 10-12 hours a day, for 5 years, and it equated to maybe 5 fish a year. During this same time 6 other guests combined had successfully landed zero bonefish (over 12″). So, over 30 different weeklong attempts, from some very good fisherman, caught NOTHING.
Let’s now rewind to our first full day. Scott had never thrown a spinning rod. He didn’t even know what a bail was. I basically gave him my brand new setup, a two-minute tutorial, and we stepped out the back door onto the beach. John Crews, another rookie, also struck out with us. For me, guiding someone to a great fish trumps anything I can do personally. So, I was eager to try and see what I could do with these two rookies, even though the odds were higher of a snowstorm on the Bahamas than Scott catching one.
We stopped near the waters edge and Scott practiced a few casts, picked up the basics, and he was casting 50-75 feet (no where near far enough to catch a bonefish in the conditions). It was a high sun, no wind, and the sand bars were becoming exposed by the gin-clear water. These conditions make it even harder to catch bonefish, because they can hear a pin drop in Miami (from the Bahamas), and the water is as clear as an aquarium – so they spot your “fake” lures very easily.
We kept walking along and I spotted a few fish and we made some casts, and all of the fish spooked (like they usually do) or didn’t care anything about our lures (like they usually do, when they don’t spook). Finally I spotted a big bone and made a perfect cast. Zero interest. I told John to cast and he did. Zero interest. Meanwhile Scott had stopped and was “practicing his casts” behind us on the same sand bar.
2 minutes later…zzzzzz…. Scott’s drag started screaming. I went running over to him and figured he had a barracuda, or a shark (both very common on the flats), but I noticed he needed some coaching. He was reeling against the drag, which was expected for a first timer, and the fish was about to run off all of his line. So, I tightened down the drag, and Scott got the routine down while listening to everything I told him. He stopped the fish before it could run off all of his line, and about 10 minutes later a big bonefish came into sight. All I could yell was, “Are you kidding me?!?!”
He had successfully hooked the bonefish of a lifetime, without seeing the fish, without ever having thrown a spinning rod, and without having any idea how hard it all was to actually accomplish! Five minutes later with the help of John, we were able to control the fish, exchange high fives, and take a photo of this once in a lifetime 26″ 5.8-pound bonefish.
Ironically, Scott wasn’t able to fully appreciate what an accomplishment this fish was until he had finished grinding out the rest of the week with soreness, sunburns, exhaustion, and no other fish. By the following Sunday he realized just how amazing this fish was under the circumstances.
Mark this one down as a true fish story!