This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

AC's winning Shrimpf fly

March 3rd, 2003

Them Bonz



JC (Castwell), my husband, saved the day. Actually he may have saved the whole trip. We deplaned in Ft. Lauderdale and immediately transferred to the small commuter plane taking us to Nassau. I was already on board as Castwell stood at the foot of the steps, visually scanning the baggage cart for our stuff. It wasn't there even though it had been tagged "International" and was to be shipped straight through to our final destination on South Andros Island, Bahamas. JC asked the pilot if they matched baggage with passengers, and he said not really. Opps. JC explained the problem, nicely, and the pilot said he would take care of it. Shortly a cart appeared from the main terminal with our three bags. The important one, of course, was the one with all our fishing gear, including rods. Stowed on board we made the next to the last flight to Nassau, passed through Bahamian Immigration and Customs and loaded onto an even smaller plane for South Andros. Both of the 'commuter' flights were Lear aircraft operated in partnership with Continental Airlines. Other than a very long flight for us living on the West Coast, everything did go very well. The folks at Ritz Beach Resort of South Andros, (where we stayed) are trying to work out direct flights from both Houston and Ft. Lauderdale, which would make travel to South Andros much easier.

Dining Room

We were met at the airport and delivered to our digs for the next week...on the beach, overlooking the pool with a wide veranda. Very nice indeed. Our host, Manager Brendan Foulkes was not at the resort when we arrived - the owner of the several Ritz Beach properties had died unexpectedly, and Brendan was at the funeral. We met with our bonefish guide, and a lady who would take us on a walking tour of the famous inland blue holes during our stay. After dinner we sat outside enjoying the warm evening and the ocean until we about collapsed. Long flight, no sleep will do that to you.

Ritz Beach Resort of South Andros was formerly a government owned lodge, Emerald Palms - some of our readers stayed there in the past. It was purchased by a Danish company, who is in the process of re-doing everything. All the cement, wood, roofs, plumbing fixtures, air conditioning, tile, pool...everything.


Villas

On top of that they built 20 villas or cabins, one and two bedroom, which look like an old-time Bahamian village. At least that is what the Danish architect explained to me...I'm sure none ever had the amenities of these however. Solid mahogany doors, woodwork, windows, Jacuzzi for two and pink marble floors. Superb workmanship everywhere. My first impression was WOW! The villas await furniture, still in customs, and will be available for use in about two months. A wonderful concept.

Off to fish, 8:15 a.m. at the small boat harbor at Congo Town, about a 4 minute car ride. Our guide, Gary Francis has been guiding for ten years on South Andros and had a game plan for each day we fished. Bonefish come in from deeper water with the incoming tide to feed in very shallow water on shrimp and crabs. They go back out with the falling tide, and repeat the process on the next tide. Planning where to be on the correct tide, and stay out of the wind, keep the sun behind the guides back so he can see, and take into account a couple of clients who he had not guided can be daunting. Gary however is a professional (in fact he is the Guide Master for the new Bonefish Program at the resort) and he put us on fish. Lots of fish. For the record, water temperature was 82 degrees.

Guide Gary and my biggest bonefish

JC and I have fished Grand Bahama, and North and Middle Andros, and we were very impressed with a couple of things especially. The bonefish on South Andros are not as spooky as the other places we have fished. Most casts did not require huge, long hauls at all. One of the big fish I caught was less than 20 feet from the boat! We saw lots of fish within a 30 foot range. Especially great for folks who are not long-distance casters. There is a huge amount of fishable water on South Andros, including inland cuts and rivers which allow anglers to get out of the wind. Having seen both North and South Andros from the air, as well as on maps, it seems there are more big flats on South Andros. Keep that in mind if you are thinking bonefish. Far fewer lodges and less competition.

Very extensive flats

We did keep a running total, and ended up with each of us boating 6 nice fish. That makes a tie, especially if you don't count the really big one I lost when the tippet broke just below the knot to the leader. My fault (or JC's) because we didn't replace the section after he landed a nice six pounder. Ok, ok. It was ten pound leader, eight pound tippet, surgeons knot.

To be absolutely fair, I do need to tell you we were looking for big fish. We had opportunities to fish to schools of small fish. One such school must have had 500 bonefish in it. We could have anchored the boat and caught lots of small fish. We chose not to. If we had never caught a bonefish before I'm sure we would have jumped at the opportunity. That school was swimming past less than 15 feet from the boat.

The largest fish I caught, measured against the rod, went a couple of feet. JC's was guesstimated by Gary at about 10 pounds. We really wanted photos of that one, it had Al Campbell's Shrimpf fly hanging from it's lip. Gary leaned over the gunnel slid a hand under it, when the strain went off the tippet the fly fell out, and the fish swam off.

JC and the big one

We tried several flies and I even had one fish take the fly in it's mouth and spit it out! Enough of the Crazy Charlies, Gottcha's, Clousers and Pink Puffs. We put on one of Al's Shrimpfs and every fish we caught was caught on it. We lost two flies, the one which broke off, and one swallowed by a bonefish. The same fly caught every other fish. The evening we arrived another guide said they had cast to a lot of fish that day, but they were just not biting. They had not had a fish on.

High waves from the storm

We only had three fishing days. A big storm came in, waves on the beach to about five feet. Very pretty to watch, and I spent about an hour tromping up the beach in it. I just wanted to get out in the weather. The sand bottom in this region, and I believe most of the Bahamas is very fine, so when winds and waves stir it up, it's impossible to see anything. It took a couple of days to clear.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

We lazed around, took a walking tour with Sharon Henfield of the inland Blue Holes on 'Crown' land. She showed us the trees and plants used for centuries by the locals for everything, lots of birds and critters. There were many variety of orchids and bracts. There is a movement on South Andros to have this land declared a State Park to preserve it - and considering there is a sizable Yellow-crowned Night Heron rookery on one of the Blue Holes, I'm amazed one the major preservation groups hasn't jumped on this.

Blue Holes connected under land bridge

Sharon and a white Land Crab There are many protected trees on this land as well. Sharon does an outstanding job of connecting the native materials with their uses and history of the region. I would recommend anyone taking this tour, about and hour and a half, plan to do so early in the day as it is very warm by noon. Wear sturdy shoes, the trail is over rock and uneven footing. The views of the Blue Holes are magnificent, and one even has a ladder so you could take a dip! Everyone in the Bahamas is a swimmer, so this is a popular local place.


LF and Brendan Foulkes checking the Chat Room
One of the highlights from this trip was seeing the changes daily at the resort. Amazing progress. The gentlemen doing the work, the main three, Anders, Jacob and Eric are all from Denmark. A crew of local men filled out a crew of a dozen or so. Anders Bønløkke, the General Contractor was kind enough to let me use his laptop (connected to a satellite uplink right on the property) to access the Bulletin Board and Chat Room. It was interesting using it, until then I had no idea keyboards aren't universal.

LF and Top Guide Gary Francis

While we were there the pool was completed as was the new outdoor Jacuzzi. The Manager of the resort, Brendan, JC and I took the inaugural swims and soaks in them. Wonderful teak tables and chairs for the outdoor patio appeared - and we had a candlelight dinner on the first one. The new bar poolside was almost completed when we left, as were the remaining walks around the Lodge rooms. The painting crew was working on the rooms, and the set-up of the system allowing guests to access the satellite uplink remotely was in progress. Just think, you can go bonefishing and check your email wirelessly at poolside when you return. Not bad. Hmm, it also means I could actually put up an issue of FAOL from down there.

The new pool

This week Brendan will be interviewing for a chef and food and beverage manager. I fully expect the food to be of a quality matching anything the big name hotels in Nassau offer; or better.

It was a great trip. We caught fish, meet some terrific folks, hopefully made some friends, and set the groundwork for a possible "Bonefish Fish-In" in the future. Brendan was a wonderful host. My sunburn is about gone, and most everything has been cleaned and put away for the next trip. Well, there is the laundry.

Our room is on the right

But for right now, I think I'll just remember lying in the hammock. ~ The LadyFisher

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