Luck of the Bonefish

By Michael Kew

Yvon Chouinard, bonefish-bound...perhaps. Photo: Kew.

ROUSED BY WARM SUN on my face, awakening unfolds to a dream outside my porthole. Oily-glass lagoon resonates, ablaze with dawn. Sole sounds are muffled wave action and the gentle lapping of water against hull. I exit the bunk and head for the bow.

The air is heavy, windless, hot. Sweat ensues. This, an odyssey through time, represents volumes from my pre-travel life, knowing that this exists somewhere, but lacking memories and passport stamps. Storybook longing over seductive tropical imagery and lucid tales of the South Pacific precede anyone’s baptism in Polynesian seas.

Yvon, a veteran traveler, appears from belowdecks.

“Ah, this is paradise for me,” he nods. “When I was a kid, I read every book I could find on the South Pacific, and this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to disappear out here someday. (laughs) My wife doesn’t like the tropics, though. Otherwise, I’d be here all the time. Go with my fly rod and my surfboard and find some island that had good surf on it, good bonefishing….”

Après-surf and brunch, Yvon and I board the ship’s tender and buzz into close range; Francois kills the motor. Adrift within the lagoon’s calm, far from the roily pass, a broad, sandy flat is declared quintessential bonefish habitat. Nearby, a few decayed fishing shacks face dense coconut palms—Polynesia’s most important tree—hinting a wistful regard to overfishing and a once-seemingly endless bounty.

“Well, there’s no fish here compared to…I mean, you can go all day trolling out there and you won’t catch a fish,” Yvon says, absorbing the scene. “If you were at a place like Christmas Island or some of the less-inhabited places—or some places that haven’t been fished out—you can’t go a quarter-mile without hooking up with something. There’s still some pelagic fish here and stuff, but it’s pretty well fished-out, especially the closer you get to Tahiti.”

Exiting the skiff, we infiltrate with low expectancy. Yvon wades and searches, casting over the sand and coral knobs.

“Bonefishing is like a combination of hunting and fishing,” he says. “You’re just searching all day. Your perception gets real acute looking for these fish. When you finally get one, they’re so strong—they’re just amazing.”

Casting several times on different days in different lagoons, not a single bonefish is landed during our Tuamotu junket. Yvon shrugs. “Hell, I don’t know. Maybe it’s like Hawaii. Maybe bonefishing here is a seasonal thing, too.”

Luckily for us, surfing is not.

Chouinard, bonefishless in the Tuamotus. Photo: Kew.