Men in boat fishing on open water in the Bahamas

Guide Jason Franklin, left, and writer Jon Gluck begin a Bahamian bonefishing bucket list adventure.

David Yellen

I was barely half an hour into a three-day fishing-adventure-slash-dream trip off Grand Bahama island, and my guide, Jason Franklin, had already spied our prey. He had cut the engine of his skiff and was poling us, gondola style, across a secluded lagoon. The early-morning light was a soft, buttery yellow; the water, sapphire blue. There wasn’t a hotel, cruise ship or other sign of humanity in sight. The few tiny, unnamed islands we could see had nothing but mangroves lining their white-sand shores. Robinson Crusoe would have felt right at home.

I turned and spotted the telltale wake. My heart thumped, and my hands began to shake. A fisherman can go for long, maddening hours combing vast swaths of ocean without spotting, let alone landing, a bonefish. There’s a reason the elusive, devilishly camouflaged species is also known as the Gray Ghost of the Flats.

I tried to cast my fly in front of my target to lead him, but after a long winter back home in New York City, I was rusty. My line landed on his back, and he took off. My blunder was potentially catastrophic: It was anyone’s guess how many more chances we’d have.

Just two minutes later, however, Franklin said, “Tails, 50 feet, 3 o’clock. Three of them.”

To a fisherman, the only thing sweeter than the sight of a bonefish is the sight of a tailing bonefish. As the fish eat — pinning shrimp and crabs to the ocean floor — their tails can poke above the surface, providing a seductive target.

This time, Franklin suggested I hop out of the boat and wade quietly toward the fish, to edge close without the boat’s scaring them off. I cast again, and what appeared to be the largest of the pack went for my fly. But I was too slow to set the hook, and I missed him. Strike two.

Portrait of man with fishing pole

"The only thing sweeter than the sight of a bonefish is the sight of a tailing bonefish," says Jon Gluck.

David Yellen

A minute later, Franklin pointed out a school of four more bonefish moving straight across our bow. I cast again, and this time, boom, I hooked one. The fish took off across the lagoon at cartoon speed, a signature “rooster tail” trailing behind him. In an instant he was 50 yards away; a moment later, 100. After five minutes or so, just when I had managed to reel him alongside the boat, he sped away again. Finally, after one last tussle, I landed him, removed the hook from his mouth and released him into the clear water.

“Not a bad morning,” Franklin said.

“Not a bad day,” I replied.

As bucket list adventures go, you’d be hard-pressed to top bonefishing in the Bahamas. Pioneered in the early 20th century by traditional anglers looking for a novel thrill, bonefishing isn’t about dropping a worm in a pond and hoping for the best. It’s more like hunting, with all of that sport’s heart-pounding, Hemingwayesque romance, only more genteel. (Bonefishermen generally adhere to a catch-and-release policy; it’s just as well, since the fish are indeed too bony for most people’s taste.)