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Archive for Sunday, March 28, 1999

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March 28, 1999

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All winter long, thoughts of the bonefish of Los Roques Archipelago National Park ricocheted around Mark Praeger's head.

Whenever Praeger had a chance, he would tell tales about the five days he spent in pursuit of the wily and pugnacious bonefish at this series of nearly 200 Caribbean islands that sit about 90 miles north of Caracas, Venezuela.

Los Roques is so idyllic and unique, Praeger said, that even Ernest Hemingway wouldn't be able find the words to describe it. Not even the photographers for National Geographic magazine can capture the subtle beauty of its endless mirror of gin-clear salt water, which is interlaced with ultramarine channels and punctuated by islands of mangroves.

so seldom does it rain that some of the natives don't bother to roof their primitive abodes. But it rained one day during Praeger's stay, and that was the first rainfall in four years.

Until recently, most of Los Roques 500 inhabitants worked in the lobster-fishing trade. Then a few years ago some travelers from Germany and Italy discovered it, and it is on the verge of becoming a destination for sporting tourists who snorkel and scuba dive.

But for now it is one of the wonders of the angling world, and during Praeger and his party's visit in October, they were the only fishermen on the islands.

Praeger, a Lawrence surgeon, was joined by his son, J.D., and Bob and Chris Schumm.

All four of these Lawrence anglers are fly-fishing enthusiasts, and the classical way to pursue a bonefish is with a fly rod.

According to their guide, El Roque is the finest bonefish angling in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, it won't last. It has been predicted that within five years the days of four fishermen catching 20 bonefish a day will be gone, and it will be like the rest of the rest of the world, where a fly fisherman is pleased to catch one a day.

On this trip, the foursome landed about a hundred bonefish and tangled with scads they couldn't subdue. What's more, between the reel-burning encounters with the bonefish, they caught snook, yellow-tailed snappers and a potpourri of other fish.

Every day began with a quick quest for a tarpon, but the tarpon always spurned their offerings of a tuft of feathers and Mylar.

Most of their days were consumed by wading the beaches at one of the islands, making double-haul casts of 60 to 70 feet with a 12-weight fly rod, attempting to drop a vulgar-looking concoction of rabbit fur tied to a No.8, 2XL hook several feet in front of a bonefish's snoot, and deftly manipulating the fly by rapidly stripping it in and pausing at the appropriate second.

When the cast and retrieve is executed perfectly, the bonefish will charge the fly, engulf it and make an attempt to head to some faraway place like Argentina.

Speaking of Argentina, Praeger, Bob Schumm and Phil Humphrey just returned from 10 days of fly-fishing for eight to 15-pound sea-run brown trout on the Rio Grande at Estancia San Jose, Argentina.

Of that junket, they tell tales of long casts against the harsh winds of Argentina's Tierra del Fuego and 45-minute battles with humongous brown trout that gulped perfectly crafted green-butted skunks or golden-stone nymphs.

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