McClean's Town, Bahamas - Doug Ibbetson, retired California banker, former Alaska fishing lodge operator and co-host of a West Coast radio fishing show, is about to become a goodwill ambassador for Bahamas bonefishing.
Ibbetson caught and released his first bonefish earlier this month near McClean's Town in Grand Bahama Island. He got the estimated 4-pounder on the same fly rod he uses to catch steelhead trout in the Pacific Northwest - an 8-weight with intermediate sinking line. He was overwhelmed by the experience.
"This is a kick in the head!" Ibbetson exclaimed, moments after guide Bersol Davis put the fish back into the water. "I can't imagine what it would be like to catch a big one. Pound for pound, it was the strongest fish I ever fought."
Before that, Ibbetson had never seen a bonefish. He had only heard about the species from well-heeled guests at his lodge on Alaska's Prince of Wales Island and from listeners asking questions on the Let's Talk Hookup radio show he co-hosts from Carlsbad, Calif., with Pete Gray.
Ibbetson couldn't help his listeners in their quest for bonefish knowledge, so he telephoned the Bahamas Tourist Office seeking more information.
Tourism officials responded by inviting him to attend the World Invitational Bonefishing Championship on Oct. 30 through Nov. 2 in Grand Bahama Island.
They set him up to fish with Davis so he could experience one of the island nation's biggest tourism draws first-hand.
Weather conditions on the day Davis and Ibbetson fished were far from ideal. A cold front was blowing through, dropping water temperatures, roiling the flats and sending the sun in and out of the clouds at irregular intervals.
Many of Davis' favorite bonefish holes around the island's remote east end were empty. But the guide persevered and located a pack of fish milling around and feeding near scattered mangrove shoots in a sheltered lagoon.
"I could see them, so I stripped the line and saw him come up to it and he took it and it was like a bat out of hell," Ibbetson said breathlessly. 'He went through the mangroves and under the roots and I said, 'I'm never gonna get this thing.'"
But Ibbetson was lucky. The fleeing bonefish failed to break off his leader on the obstructions. Davis eased over to the fish using his pushpole, then reached down and grabbed it.
Ibbetson was ecstatic.
"Lots of fish will go down and you have to crank them in, but they don't give you the run like this fish does," he said.