Written by Stephen Eder
Photos and patience by Ugo Angely
It all begins on the edge of a frozen pond in Woodstock, New York. I’m standing ankle deep in crusty snow whipping my 8 wt. in the 30° F breeze. Dude, I’m practicing my double haul cast because I’m about to go on a fly fishing trip of a lifetime and I don’t want to blow it.
My destination is Rangiroa, located in French Polynesia. Rangiroa is the worlds second largest atoll. It was formed by a lava dome that collapsed a gazillion years ago. My mission: catch a bonefish – and the ones in Rangiroa are among the world’s largest.
Weeks earlier, I began researching YouTube bone fishing videos. Boners like the shallows where they forage for little crabs and other goodies. Glib experts warn that these shallow flats are often raked by high winds. You have to have a good double haul cast to get your line out through these gales or the only way you’ll ever catch one of these skittish fish is if it dies of laughter watching the wind send your fly into your face.
On my first back cast, the business end of my line snags the windshield wiper of my Subaru. When I climb up the snow bank to free the tippet I try to act like this was part of my plan.
Weeks later I arrive at toasty Rangiroa airport. 93° F 1000% humidity. I’m here directing a documentary film shoot on sharks. Whenever I can, I get up early to practice my double haul on the ocean side of the atoll, hoping if I can cast in the heavy winds there, I might have a chance of getting the line out a respectable distance inside Rangiroa’s coral confines.
The shoot ends successfully and next morning after the crew departs for the States. I rush down to the dock by Rangiroa Divers to join the one man who can make my bucket dream come true: Ugo Angely. Half Italian, half Polynesian, Ugo served as the skipper of our camera boat. A mass of muscle, stealthy intellect and intensity, Ugo’s booming voice cuts through the wind so cleanly he almost blew out the eardrums of our sound mixer one day. Using his marine radio is a mere a formality.
Ugo knows “the flats and where are the bonefish.” So far he only knows me as a film director, but as far as fishing’s concerned, he has no idea if I’m just another careless poser who will plant a fly in his neck.
Ugo’s boat, manufactured by Tahiti Nautic Center, is operated from a cockpit in the bow. Ugo can steer with one hand and harpoon Mahi Mahi with the other.
As we clear the cement wharf , he puts the pedal to the metal. Two hours later we are on the far side of the 43 mile-long, 16-mile-wide oval-shaped atoll. The flats where we anchor are breathtaking, and the heat is intense. I thank the fish gods that the winds are kind of manageable.
Ugo and I load my backpack with my extra rod, some water bottles and a point and shoot camera. We slip overboard into what feels like bath water and immediately we are dogged by a half dozen, yard-long black tip sharks and blue remoras. Ugo dials down his voice volume from fortissimo to subito. “Steve I don’t like the sharks, they are a pain always.”
We wade a dozen yards from the boat when we spot our first bonefish. “There Steve, make a cast, queakly!” The fish is barely thirty feet away and when I drop a Strip Tease fly in its path– BLAM, it blasts off. I should have waited, wasn’t really ready, maybe the drag was too loose and the fish spat out the fly before I could set it. I’m mad at myself for getting caught with my pants down, but Ugo says, “Hey Steve, don’t worry yourself. Many bonefish here. Be patient.”
After a long wade we spot another bonefish. I’m casting farther now, but too hard.
I seem to be landing in the right spot but the fish are uninterested. The reason? @#!ing A. There’s no fly at the end of the tippet. So much for my “special knot” so I start tying Ugo’s preferred loops instead.
Then finally a nice cast to an incoming bonefish. For a second I think I’m hooked up when Ugo sputters, “ @#$ remora.” The remora is hooked by the lip luckily.
Seeing its vivid blue flanks almost makes up for its ugly sucker. At least the black tips following us are not interested in flies, only live or dead bait.
Another hour goes by and lots of bored bones. Finally we see a customer about 12 yards away. I cast just right. “Steve, come on, strip, strip, ‘ees following. Now stop, strip one more time.” WHAM. It was like catching one of Chris William’s Vaal River yellows that mated with a Mark 48 torpedo. This time I had set the drag correctly on my trusty Colton Terrapin reel, and after a few breathtaking runs I edge the bone to a very shallow spot. I remove the fly gently and hold the 1.5 kilo fish up just long long enough for Ugo to snap a pic.
But instead of letting me release the prize back to the water Ugo says, “ Steve give heeem to me now”. Ugo then carries the bonefish several yards away before letting it go. He then begins shooing away a pack of black tips as the recovering fish leaves the scene. He’s protecting it from being mauled and eaten. You dah man Ugo.
In spite of chugging liter bottles of water, it’s all getting a little hazy in the high x-ray sun. But cloaked in elastic handkerchiefs like two shipwrecked terrorists, we persist. Suddenly, Ugo stops and raises his thick arm. “Steve, there. Big shadow. Fish very big I think — 6-kilo bone. Getting closer. Now cast to the right. No good. Cast again now! ”
The huge bone inhales the fly and blasts off for blue water stripping about 40 yards of line. I set the drag tighter and manage to make the first turns on the reel to work the fish in. I’m making progress when there is an explosion of white water. Ugo and I watch helplessly as a five foot long lemon shark tears the fish to pieces. I hear Ugo say, “That’s why the sharks I never like. Not the first time I see this. Not your fault.”
I am deeply grateful my two previous catches got away. Losing the last one to sharks dropped my adrenalized ego surge down to a realistic level. The lemon shark would never have eaten that big bonefish had I not hooked it in the first place.
“It’s time we go back now. Getting late Steve. We hadda a good day.”
Yes, Ugo is right. I had the best day of my fishing life at Rangiroa.