As I watched the latest reports on hurricane Matthew’s path of destruction through the Caribbean, my hopes of our scheduled bonefishing trip began to fade. The current radar images were indicating a direct hit on North Andros, our intended destination.
In the grand scheme, a missed fishing trip paled compared to the horror the residents of that largest of the Bahamas chain of islands had to be experiencing at that very moment. Yes, we would surely miss out on some great fishing that had been planned months ago. But that’s certainly not the whole story. Much of what lures us back to those spots has little to do with the “catching”. I’m sure we’d agree that the expanse of the flats and the diversity of its wild inhabitants are what draws us back. That coupled with the Bahamian people who make us feel welcome and ensure our visit is both productive and enjoyable are the appeal. With a distinct laid-back approach to life, they quickly help you adjust to “island time”. A welcome transition to the often hectic pace we lead here at home. Those were the folks whose lives were being threatened by the massive storm bearing down on them during its northward trek.
Fast forward to about two weeks before our scheduled departure. We received communication from our contacts at Angling Destinations that things were looking up for our trip. To say we were skeptical is a bit of an understatement. Reports continued to improve as the days passed. By the time we landed at the San Andros airfield, on North Andros, a collective sigh of relief could be heard from our International Angler contingent.
After a minor baggage hiccup, we were greeted by a familiar, friendly face. Allan, our taxi driver remembered us from last year’s trip and in typical Bahamian fashion, welcomed us with a broad smile and handshakes all around. As we pulled up to the green frame house that would be our home base for the next week, it was apparent that the storm that had wreaked havoc on many of the surrounding structures completely missed this one!
Phillip, our host and head guide along with Elias and Schemer, his current guide team, were happy we could make the trip and seemed as eager as us to return to the flats. This would be their first foray into the Joulters, since Matthew left its mark. This was another step for them getting their lives somewhat back to normal as well as bringing some much needed income to their local economy.
Our first day of fishing made it apparent to Phillip and the boys that Matthew had made some significant changes to the flats. Regardless, we all returned to the boat launch at day’s end with plenty of fish stories, thanks to their savvy and fish-finding skills. Back to the lodge we’d go, to unload our gear from Phillip’s battle tested Ford F-350 pickup truck, hose off our tackle, boots and anything else that carried sand. The next hour or so was spent performing various tasks (in no particular order) such as replacing worn leaders and flies, hanging up wet clothes, and enjoying a couple (or more) cold beverages, before getting cleaned up for dinner. Dinnertime on any fishing trip is usually accompanied by a myriad of stories and discussions. This one was absolutely no exception. Subjects ranged from politics to pickle slicers and oh yes, a few more fish stories.
There are always at least a few highlights throughout a week’s worth of fishing, and no trip would be complete without a “big fish” story. Honors for this trip go to good friend and longtime customer of International Angler, Gene Ferguson. Those of you who know Gene can attest to his enthusiastic approach to fishing. Those who haven’t had the pleasure of sharing a day’s fishing with him are missing out on a chance to witness a guy who mixes intensity with a man-sized helping of boyish excitement! This is a guy who managed a 50 bonefish day during a recent trip to Mars Bay, on South Andros. Pretty impressive!
On this day, Gene was paired-up with our guide Schemer as they exited the skiff, onto “Shark Bight” just as the incoming tide was beginning to flood. With little or no wind to mask the anglers’ movements, the few fish that were soon seen had already sensed danger and were sneaking away. As Gene scanned the blinding white sand, he detected movement, 45-50 feet to his left. Two fish quartering toward him. Since they were already within casting range and had not yet spooked, Gene quickly shot a cast to what appeared to be the larger of the two bonefish. The size 2 Puglisi Spawning Shrimp entered the shallow water quietly just ahead of the oncoming targets. One strip… two strips… Unlike the numerous times you and I have tried that tactic, only to have the smaller fish dart in and grab the fly, the fishing gods were smiling down on Gene at that moment, and the big brother rushed in and pounced! As often happens when a big bonefish eats, mayhem ensued. For the next few minutes the tug of war continued, the silver streak peeling out flyline and going deep into Gene’s backing not once, but twice. As the big bonefish tired from Gene’s relentless pressure, he circled closer and closer until Schemer was able to cradle the fish at his feet. Both angler and guide recognized this as an exceptional fish, and Gene laid his fly rod next to the fish, in order to gauge its length. That mark was later measured at 30”. A ten pounder in any book! Schemer handles many bonefish during the course of a season, but Gene chuckled as his guide revived the huge fish for what seemed to be an unusually long time. Since neither of them had a camera, he wanted to admire the jumbo bonefish just a little longer. Once it was apparent the fish was back to full strength, he was gently released back to the flats to fight another day.
The general theme, as the week progressed seemed to be that fish were being found in very small groups of 2 to 5 bonefish, but the vast majority were found as those difficult to spot ghostly singles. Challenging and rewarding best describes it. Slowly wading the shallows… spotting, intercepting, making an accurate cast with a quiet presentation to one of those big singles, getting the “eat”, then playing, landing and finally releasing that silver bullet, all the while standing in the middle of a huge white sand flat that seems to stretch to the horizon in every direction. Ask anyone who’s been there, done that, and they’ll surely agree that it’s at or near the top of the list of great fly fishing experiences. Many of the gents I’ve had the privilege to share a bonefish flat with have been repeating it for 25 to 30 years, or more. Their enthusiasm on each trip doesn’t seem to be waning. If you haven’t felt the blazing rush of a hooked bonefish yet, don’t put it off any longer.