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Turks & Caicos bonefishing: get a shot at a flats fishery in its prime time.

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Despite being located so close to Florida, the Turks & Caicos, a tiny country of 40 small islands in the Atlantic just north of Haiti, is still "undiscovered" to many sport fishermen. The small, relatively flat islands are scattered throughout the 65mile long Caicos Bank and the southern side of the bank offers world class bonefishing. From the island of "Provo," as Providenciales is commonly known, anglers can access over 30 square miles of bonefish flats.

Provo has in the past 15 years developed an infrastructure that most travel destinations would be extremely proud of. Growth of upscale condominiums and resorts such as Ocean Club, an international airport with direct flights from several U.S. hubs (including Miami and Charlotte) and first class marinas with a variety of charter operations allow traveling anglers the ability to chase bonefish that roam the flats on the unspoiled islands to the east.

I have fished the Caicos Bank several times over the past 25 years and always caught bonefish. On a recent trip, I found the flats around Middle and North Caicos to be a little more crowded though. Not with anglers, other boats, or new resorts or human activity of any kind, but with more fish. I wish I could say that they were all bonefish, but several species were present on my past venture. Small mangrove snapper, mutton snapper, jacks and barracuda seemed to be hungry for our ultralight bonefish jigs.

My guide that day, Lamuel Johnson of Bonefish Unlimited had never seen so many small, non-bonefish species on those flats of North Caicos, but we did find some nice bones still roaming about. We lost more than our share of jigs to the toothy species and lost some flies as well to the ever-present action. We both sight-fished and cast to the "muds" and landed over 50 total fish in about 4 hours of non-stop action. The largest was a 6-pound bone that I caught on my next to last pink marabou jig fished near a flats landmark called the Man 'o War bush.

We checked out several good areas that are typically bonefish hangouts such as the Man 'o War flats with its white sandy bottom off South Caicos and several Middle and North Caicos flats areas covered with more grassy sand and mangroves. One productive spot off Middle Caicos was the beautiful flats just two miles east of the Conch Bar Cave Hill landmark.

The prevailing wind out of southeast pushed a few showers our way that day and created surface ripples that obstructed our view of the bones. Bonefish in the "whiter" waters around Man 'o War flats have a noticeable whiter back. Those in other areas of Middle and North Caicos around the mangroves have greener backs. Both were difficult to discern in the heavy winds.

In the warmer summer waters, the schools of bonefish moving about the Middle Caicos flats may harbor as many as 1,000 small two-pounders, according to Lamuel. "The school quantity is less if the average size is larger, such as 6 or 7 pounds," he points out. "The schools are eating a lot of shrimp and blue crabs near the surface, and our most visible and numerous muds are almost always found in the summer. In fact, many can be spotted from a half mile away. The shallow waters between 18 inches and 3 feet deep are generally cloudier in winds but we still catch plenty of bones."

Fly fishermen can normally catch up to 15 bones a day in the summer months, and spinning enthusiasts tossing ultralight jigs may catch up to 8 or so on a very good day with plenty of sun, minimal winds, and the tides dropping, according to Lamuel. The guide's biggest bonefish caught a few summers back weighed 13 % pounds and his clients have caught several up to around 12 pounds. The most bonefish caught by one of his clients in just one day was 80. He had the angler fishing the numerous muds that they came across that warm day.

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Lamuel notes that the best bonefishing period in the Turks & Caicos Islands extends from March through August. He adds that while it is very possible to have substantial winds in the spring months, they typically do not last all day nor do they even pop up every day. Bonefish have a voracious appetite and there is plenty of forage year around. Quarter-size blue crabs are abundant on these flats. Tide-wise, outgoing is best for working the entire flats, but anglers can also catch bones on the incoming tide as they move onto the flats.

Top baits for most spinning tackle anglers on the flats are 3/4-ounce or 1/4-ounce Wiggle Jigs, according to the guide, and Lam's favorite colors are cream, yellow, brown and pink. Nylon, marabou or even plastic tails on the jigs can be productive on most Turks & Caicos bonefish flats. He advises using 8-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon on spin gear.

Fly rod enthusiasts often go for 8- or 9-weights with tippet varying from 10- to 6-pound test line and an 8-pound test leader. Top flies usually have a tan or light brown hue that resemble the crustacean life found on the flats. Good ones are Crazy Charlies, Bonefish Special, Bonefish Gotchas, and one he created called the "Lam Killer."

Catching the winds down may be the key to the best of days where an angler can venture farther from the Provo marinas and deeper into the shallow flats. One interesting sight while boating through the shallow flats off North Caicos is the Ocean Hole, which is a 1/2-mile diameter blue sinkhole that is 250 feet deep. Its rim can be only 12 inches deep at low tide and it contains lots of snapper and sharks for those wanting to add to the species variety of the surrounding flats.

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The fishing pressure on the bonefish of Turks & Caicos has increased some over the past 15 years for sure, but the bones are still there and the guides don't mind longer runs to catch several. Fortunately, the great catch days are still very possible in these islands.

Comfort in the Turks & Caicos Islands

Provo is about an hour and 20 minutes by air from Miami, and two luxury beachfront suites properties, Ocean Club and Ocean Club West, are only 10 to 12 minutes from the airport. Both are conveniently near the Leeward Marina where you can meet up with your bonefishing charter. There are plenty of things to do on the island when not on the water, such as visiting the world's only conch farm or playing a round at the Provo Golf Club. Try the great dining fare at Ocean Club's Cabana Club Grill or their fine dining Opus Restaurant, or go offsite a few miles to the Vix Bar & Grill (with live entertainment) or Da Conch Shack for some delicious seafood.

For more information on Ocean Club Resorts or their bonefishing, bottom fishing and deep-sea fishing charter packages, phone (649) 946-5880 or visit the website at www.oceanclubresorts.com. For direct bonefish guide contact and flats fishing info, reach out to Captain Lamuel Johnson or Captain Barr Gardiner at Bonefish Unlimited at phone (305) 897-0225, email BonefishProvo@tciway.tcor visit their website at www.Provo.net/Bonefish.
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Title Annotation:Tropical Sportsman
Author:Larsen, Larry
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:5TURK
Date:Nov 1, 2016
Words:1227
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