In June last year, Dustin Carlson sent my wife, LeeAnn, and I an invitation to join him and other Fishwest customers for a week of bonefishing at Deneki’s Andros South Lodge in March 2013. LeeAnn got real excited about the prospect of going to the Bahamas and we immediately committed. We are both freshwater fisherpeople with saltwater experience limited to surf fishing, we really didn’t know what to expect.
With nine months to prepare, Dustin and the Fishwest staff gave us all of information, advice and guidance we needed, from tackle selection (they found an 8wt rod that Lee could throw all day and not get worn out) and casting lessons to advice on packing lists.
After much anticipation we finally arrived at the lodge and we received the warmest welcome from the Andros South staff (see the post from JC about his sage advice on international travel) Now I am not the kind of guy that likes the white table cloths, fancy furnishings and swanky cuisine, I like the simple approach with a local flair and this place really fit the bill, it exceeded our expectations. The trip was all inclusive and cooks and staff were local residents that treat the guests like family. The food was AWESOME, fresh spiny lobster (crawfish), fresh conch in both fritters and fried, grilled grouper that was swimming 2 hours before it hit the home made BBQ, ribs and fried chicken, fried plantains, kasava root boiled in jelly coconut milk, made to order sandwiches for lunch, and coconut macaroons made with shredded coconut that Lee just had to get the recipe for, the best beer (Kalik) that has crossed my palate in a long, long time. The beach that was postcard perfect and not a soul on it judging from no footprints was just a few feet away from the lodge’s self serve Sack Tide Bar (a tiki hut) and the ocean that’s the most beautiful shade of blue. The Slack Tide has an interesting piece of memorabilia, a broken poling pole, but more on that later. We found the guides just wonderful, all of them have their personalities, and are willing to coach and help with casting and catching as long as you listen and you may have to ask for it, depending on the guide as they don’t want to intrude or be pretentious. Each one of them expressed a genuine concern for being stewards of the environment and only take from the sea what they need, never more and they protect those bonefish like they are their kin.
We got there the day we were supposed to start fishing, on Sunday at 1030 as we were delayed over night in Florida due to weather on the island and the plane could not land (the international airport in Congo Town is very small) and the lodge staff swooped down on us and rigged everything up so we went fishing on our travel clothes and our guide, Freddie, got us on fish within an hour. There is an old defunct Navy Sub base on an island not far from the lodge that we fished around the early part of the first day and it reaffirmed why I don’t scuba dive, we had a gianormous bull shark that looked bigger than the 17 foot skiff we were in swim past us. Believe it or not, when I saw the shark I immediately, actually said to the guide without any thought, “We need a bigger boat!”. Freddie said not to worry, he has seen and dealt with bigger sharks than that “small” one.
The rest of the week we fished the west side as the weather was good, just a little cool, it took an hour boat ride to get there through a tidal creek system, sometimes having to get out and push the skiffs through skinny water. It was like being at an aquarium. We saw hundreds of sharks, alot of stingrays, multiple species of fish, sea turtles, various types of crabs, 5 dolphins herding the bonefish on the shore to eat them.
On Monday we were fishing along in the morning, with our guide named Ellie and he said “Good ‘cuda 9 o’clock, 90 feet”. The locals eat them so I threw a tube lure over it and the barracuda followed the lure to five feet from the boat. Then I saw a blender, the size of a five gallon bucket, full of razor blades open up and all hell broke loose! I looked back at Ellie who was on the poling platform and he looked like this may have been a mistake judging by the look on his face. The barracuda tried to jump out of the water through the fight but it could only get a third of its body out of the water. A half hour later, I got it alongside the boat so Ellie could get it unhooked as he wanted to let it go, he said it was at least 15 years old and full of eggs. He really didn’t want to bring it in the boat but had to in order get the hook out of it. It was five and a half feet long and at least 40 lbs, Ellie said probably 45. Ellie said it was the biggest barracuda he had seen or landed in 18 years of guiding and they work 6 days a week, October thru June. We got a picture of him holding it, he (I) didn’t want me to hang on to 45 pounds of real bad attitude that could take my hand, arm or head off. That fish was the talk of the day in the bar in town and at the resort. Other guides that saw the photo could not believe the size of the ‘cuda.
On Tuesday we fished with Sparkles, a guide who has a passion for big bonefish and seeing his anglers catch them. He wanted Lee to show him what she could do with a fly rod, so she threw a cast for distance, he then told her to cast to a small mangrove so she nailed it first cast. He then did not question her abilities the rest of the trip. Most of the fish we missed, we couldn’t see but Sparkles could, so we were blind casting at his direction. Later in the day, we were motoring out of a mangrove creek when Sparkles pointed in front of us and shut the motor down and got the pole out. He was pointing to a land point that was a convergence between two creeks and there was a great commotion going on in the water against the bank. Three adult and two juvenile porpoises were knocking schools of bonefish against the bank and swimming almost out of the water to get them. He poled us to the point as the dolphins went up the other creek and we watched them feed, breech and frolic in the water. They are loud when they click and sing, we could hear them in the boat. Sparkles said that they knock the bonefish against the bank to knock the scales off them so they cannot swim then they gorge on the fish.
On Wednesday, between me and Lee we caught over 25 bonefish, all thanks to Ellie and his keen sense of fish habits and eyesight that would make a hawk jealous. He took a great deal of pride in our accomplishments that day. Most other days it was between 15-20 bonefish with too many blown casts, mostly because of the wind, but we had some good coaching and mentoring from all of the guides.
On Thursday Lee and I fished with apart with friends from the fly shop, she with Dustin, I with J.C. Dustin is a superior photographer and wanted pictures of Lee to post on his fly shop website. And he got some good ones during the week. In the afternoon, Lee caught a bonefish and was bringing it in when a good sized lemon shark decided to try and eat it. As Dustin reached over the edge to get the fish for Lee, the shark circled around the boat, came underneath it to get the bonefish. Lee kept telling Dustin “get your hands out of the water!” When the shark came out from under the boat, the guide, Charlie, jumped down from the poling platform cursing the shark and hit the shark in the head with the pole and scared it away. Back to the pole at the Slack Tide, if you YouTube “Hammerhead Hammers Boat”, you will see an incident like what happened to Lee and Dustin. The guide in the video is Sparkles. When I was with J.C., he got his first barracuda that our guide, Norman gave a headache too. JC gave me a lesson in casting unintentionally and showed me that he can sing too. We caught numerous barracuda over the week and I lost count of how many we hooked.
On Friday it was slow for bonefish because of a cold front, but great for barracuda, we got into schools of them and Lee caught her first one, a nice 3 footer that fed the locals. But we did catch identical bonefish on two different islands within an hour of each other and have good video of it, both of the bonefish were 26″ long and just over 10lbs, which are considered trophies. I hooked mine first and thought it was big, and when Ellie got excited, I knew it was a good one. He was jumping around the boat to get a tape measure and the scales to weigh it. There was a shark that Ellie thought might take it and it got a little intense playing the fish away from the shark. Lee caught hers when we moved to another island and again Ellie got real excited grabbing the scales and tape. He was surprised that it was within 1 oz of the one I caught earlier and gave Lee accolades for her angling skills. He took us over to Leaf Key and I swear we were so far out that I thought I saw Florida. That’s where we got into a school of barracuda and had a heyday casting and catching them.
Saturday we traveled home, a close to a trip of a lifetime that LeeAnn referred to as “Bahamas Wild Kingdom style”. This is a trip that I would recommend to anyone, the lodge was clean, comfortable, and with a staff that displayed hospitality unrivaled anywhere we have ever been. There were fishermen while we were there brought their wives who didn’t fish, but based on our conversations with them, they thoroughly enjoyed relaxing on the beach and shopping in town while their husbands were on the boats.
I had been tying flies for months prior to going on this trip and one of goals I had set was to catch fish on every style of fly that I had tied. That goal was met within the first day and a half and I am already starting to tie for our next visit. In case any of you go, I am taking orders for custom flies.