The 'E2 Way' keeps angler Jane Jeffries happy — and her prey gets to live another day.
"Strip the line, then strike," is ringing in my ears after a day with Itu (E2) on Aitutaki's lagoon. A certified bonefishing guide, he is a legend and knows the elusive fish like no one else. So it is no surprise we caught one on our second cast.
But not by chance.
Scouring the lagoon we look for "the milk", as E2 calls it. The milky water is a sign of bonefish, as they are seabed feeders. As they scratch for shrimps, worms and small molluscs, they stir up the fine white sand, creating an opaque turquoise soup.
When I first heard about "Bonefishing, E2's Way", I was intrigued.
Being a fly-fishing woman and knowing a little about the bonefish species, catching these large fish on such a flimsy line just doesn't seem possible.
But here we are, with a weighted dry fly (no bait fish), and as I cast I watch the line slowly sink into the unknown. It is not deep, perhaps 3m, but I can't see the bottom. We drift ever so slowly with a sea anchor and within seconds I get a strike.
The reel runs and I let it go, and it goes again. I reel it in and it goes again and again and again. Bonefish are an extremely strong, fast fish, their deeply forked tail providing immense power.
After playing it for many minutes it surfaces and with E2's skill, we net it. Wetting my hands I hold my slippery catch before letting it slip over the side and back into the lagoon.
E2 is one of 11 children, brought up in the biggest fishing family on the island. His dedicated fisherman father has imparted his knowledge of the sea inside and outside the reef.
E2 started "Bonefishing E2's Way" in 2008 and is committed to ensuring sustainability of the bonefish in the lagoon. When the Government implemented the bonefishing management plan in 2009, E2 worked with them to determine the spawning grounds from his vast knowledge of the lagoon.
As a result, several sections on the east side of the island are now marine reserves for bonefish and although they can be fished "E2's Way", bonefishing is now a "sport" and catch-and-release is the order of the day.
However, eating the bony fish is something the elderly members of the villages believe is their right, as it was their staple diet growing up. As it is now a protected fish providing a growing tourism opportunity for anglers and fishermen, not everyone is happy.
Sustainability of fish within the lagoon is key for E2 and he will not pass on his net fishing skills to his children. He says he will only teach them how to line fish, unless it is outside the reef.
Bonefish can also be also caught in the flats or very shallow waters by experienced anglers. Spotting a bonefish can be difficult, but casting and carefully presenting a fly in front of the fish without spooking it, is even more difficult. E2 describes the bonefish as intelligent and says it takes skill to do this.
Having notched up a few bonefish, we head to One Foot Island for a picnic lunch. We relax in the shade, getting reprieve from the sun before snorkelling in the lagoon.
Back on the boat, E2 has one last trick up his sleeve. Among his array off fishing lines is a more traditional line with a "popper" for catching giant trevally.
E2 tells us it wasn't that long ago they caught an 80kg one, so we are hopeful.
After a lesson casting the popper, we learn to strip the line with a jerking motion so the large lure skips over the water surface. Despite casting it over a coral bed where trevally are typically found, it was not our day. But it was the bonefish we came for.
The protected bonefish will provide anglers with a great sporting experience in the Aitutaki Lagoon, but more importantly, the sustainability of the bonefish will be ensured for generations to come.
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to Rarotonga. From there, connections are available to Aitutaki through codeshare partner Air Rarotonga.
The writer visited Aitutaki with help from the Pacific Resort Hotel, Aitutaki and Air Rarotonga.