At this point you’re all familiar with what’s going on at the lodge, the characters found around the lodge and the general lodge vibe.
With that being said, this is a fishing lodge… On the water… In the Bahamas… So what about the fishing?
In the world of saltwater fly fishing bonefish are right up there next to Tarpon as one of the most pursued flats species in the world. In the world of bonefishing, Andros South lodge is a well known destination and so are its fisheries.
The fisheries of South Andros are broken up into multiple sections. The guides of South Andros generally fish the East, South and West sides of the island on a regular basis. Conditions and weather will always dictate what’s accessible but for the most part you’ll be fishing the creeks and cays to the south, to the west and many of the creeks in between. Tides dictate what’s accessible at certain times of the day but the guides know when and where to be at any given tide. The Andros South lodge is located at Kemp’s Bay and is one of the southernmost lodges on the island which means seeing other boats is uncommon.
There were days when we came across a couple other boats as we ran from spot to spot but seeing no one else throughout the day was not an uncommon occurrence. Our last day of fishing was the calmest day of the week. We took this opportunity to visit a couple flats way down south, one called “Airport Flat” that I had heard mentioned numerous times. A trip to the Airport could only be done on calmest of days and unless I make another international trip in the near future, Airport Flat will remain the closest I have ever been to Cuba at about 80 miles away.
After eating breakfast and loading into the shuttles, the rods were sent down to the Little Creek boat ramp with the anglers fast in tow. Anglers were paired up with a guide the night before and each guide would, one by one, pick up their anglers and disappear toward the horizon. Between the two anglers, there would typically be 3 or 4 rods and sometimes a spinning rod rigged for cuda, aka, the “meat stick”. I usually took an eight weight and a ten weight and, if room permitted, I brought a back up 8 as well. At Fishwest, we like to round up a few of the new rod models from the manufacturers we carry to bring down as demos. This gives the customers, and ourselves, time on the water to compare and test a variety of rods and sizes. The go-to rod size was a 9’ 8wt and we had rods on hand from 7wt to 10wt. This year we brought down rods from Sage, Winston, Loop, Orvis and Scott. What better way to check out that rod you’ve been eyeing than to get it out on a skiff and put a bonefish or two on it! A few of the trip favorites were the Sage X, Winston BIII Plus and the Orvis Helios 2.
One of the first realizations I had after stepping up on the bow of the skiff and making a couple casts at fish was that I was not going to be making many of those 50-90 foot casts everyone talks about when discussing flats style fly fishing. After a full week on the flats I think anglers should be prepared to be consistently and accurately making 20-50ft casts more often than the 50-90ft casts I have heard of in the past. The long casts were fun and when there was no wind we had the opportunity to make those longer casts but the first couple days of the trip were semi-windy and often overcast which meant fish were only visible at close range. There were instances where we couldn’t see the fish until they were within 20-30ft of us. These casts were by far the casts I struggled with the most. I had to continuously remind myself I was fishing a 12ft leader and I needed to be leading the fish by a few feet which meant trying to load a fast rod with less than 10ft of fly line out of the tip. In general, I prefer slower rods. Slower rods, for me, allow for more delicate presentations and make those short shots a little easier. Fast action can mean a number of things in terms of modern rods. Fast from one company could be similar to moderate from another. I say it all the time in the fly shop, “casts are like snowflakes, every angler’s cast is a little different”. Complimenting your cast with an action that works with the angler instead of against the angler is going to provide a better fishing experience and less frustration on the water. Practicing casts of all ranges prior to a trip will have you familiar with a variety of casting situations and will also lead to less frustration on the water as well. There were also variety of leader rigs down in Andros for the trip and, as a noob, I followed the Bruce Chard recipe for hand built bonefish leaders. The general recipe for Bruce’s bonefish leader would be:
Hard Mono- 2ft +/- of each of the following: 30lb > 25lb > 20lb > 16lb > 12lb > back to 16lb fluorocarbon.
I used Rio Hard Mono specifically and I noticed each step down was a decrease in diameter of .003”. Once you get to the fluoro, the decrease was .002”. This consistent change in diameter kept the leader’s taper nice and consistent. The only modification to this recipe I made was sometimes extending the section of fluorocarbon to 2-3’. Another aspect of fishing for bonefish that stood out to me was the fact that I didn’t need a bunch of leaders and to be honest I didn’t need a bunch of flies either. I tied up 3 leaders; one for each eight weight and a back up leader for anyone who needed it.
This was the first trip I tied an entire box of flies for. One of my favorite aspects of fly fishing is catching fish on my own flies. I especially enjoy trying to catch the first of a new species on my own fly. When I fish flies I’ve tied it’s no longer coming down to my cast, or my presentation, or even my fly choice that is going to be the deciding factor whether the fish eats or not, it is at that point, going to come down to the fly I designed and produced when it all comes together. Not all the flies I tie are Morgan Griffith originals but I like to add my own flair to classic patterns like the Gotcha, Spawning Mantis Shrimp, or the Bonefish Junk from Umpqua. I modified a lot of these patterns by using what I have on hand. If a recipe call for orange rabbit fur for the egg sack and I don’t have it, maybe I will use Hareline’s Fusion Dub in orange instead. We get a lot of people coming into the fly shop looking for specific materials for specific patterns and I love trying to tie a specific pattern as accurately as possible but I won’t give up on a pattern if I don’t have the correct materials. Who knows, you might find that your version fishes even better. Catching bonefish in Andros by no means requires one-off original patterns and the bonefish down there are pretty darn willing to eat. If you don’t get an eat, or at least, a rejection, the odds are the fish didn’t see your fly. With that being said, I brought my materials and tied each angler on the trip a fly to use as we sat around the patio one night. A couple of the guys caught a few fish on the fly and a couple guys had multiple rejections. These reports came from different areas of the island and I’m not sure I will ever be able to pinpoint the exact reason the rejections happened but that’s half the fun of tying. Some work and some do not, that’s how we learn.
Prior to this trip, I had heard a lot about bonefish from a couple of the shop guys who have been down to Andros in years past. As much as the bonefish were revered, I couldn’t help thinking “I’d rather be fishing for something larger than a trout”. I knew they pulled hard and shot for the horizon when hooked, I knew how beautiful they were but until I was fully immersed in the flats environment, I didn’t quite understand. The fish were more beautiful than I had ever imagined, the water was more clear than I had expected and the bonefish habitat was far more vast a habitat than I had ever seen from most other species I’ve ever fished for.
We fished a variety of flats, some by foot and some from the boat. Four or five of our six fishing days were spent in the boat with an occasional walkabout but the days the wind was up and the clouds were out, we covered a lot of ground by foot. I really enjoyed experiencing a wide variety of weather while down there; I lucked out and never saw much rain unlike a couple of the other boats throughout the week but we saw sun, wind, clouds, and no wind one or two days. The majority of the flats we fished were sandy bottom with mangroves along the edges. We fished flats and creeks throughout each day and we typically hit a few spots with some motoring in between on a daily basis. Some days we would pull up to a flat and as quick as the first angler could hop up on the deck and cast there would be a fish hooked up. Sometimes one angler would be hooked up and the next angler would start casting and other days we would stand on the deck until we wanted a break. Throughout the week some of us fished with a different guide each day and some of us fished with a few of the same guides multiple times. Every guide down there has a different personality and style of guiding; this is where we, as anglers, stand to learn a lot. If you take the time to pay attention to your guide; what he’s saying, where he’s looking and how he’s reacting to the ever changing conditions, you will learn a lot and likely land some fish.
In addition to the never ending supply of bonefish in Andros, we threw flies at barracuda, sharks, and a variety of other species. All I have to say is barracuda are one of the most explosive species I’ve ever caught, and there are plenty of them down in Andros.
Each day of fishing was wrapped up at Josie’s bar which is located right next to the boat ramp. Cold Kaliks, sun burns and fish stories with friends were found in abundance just like the bonefish were. The guides would hang out for a bit, guides and clients from other lodges would also visit and it was a great way to end a successful (most days) day of fishing.
There’s not much more I can say about the fishing down in Andros. The guides were all exceptional, the boat rides to and from the flats were always scenic and joyful and the bonefish pull harder than I ever imagined.
Stay tuned for the next installment of “I underestimated Bonefish” where I take a look back at gear I loved, gear I wish I had and how I would do things differently knowing what I do now.