World Wide Fishing!


Amateur Bonefisher On Andros
August 12, 2002

By Ralph A. Shuey (aka CZKid)
Photos by the Author


INTRODUCTION

My wife greeted me with, "You just got the strangest phone call." as I walked into the house after church. "Pardon me?" I replied. "A man named Dennis called from Washington and said you had won the drawing, and you needed to claim your prize within 3 days." And thus started my bonefishing trip to Andros Island in the Bahamas.

I had noticed an interesting drawing awarding a bonefishing trip mentioned on the Fly Anglers On Line (FAOL) web site late in 2001 and decided to register for the drawing. Now my old friend and hackle supplier Dennis Conrad (Conranch Hackle) had called to inform me that I had won. Once I talked to Dennis, figured out what was going on, and calmed down I called the FAOL folks to claim my "prize." To this day I'm not sure which was the greater prize, the bonefishing trip, or meeting Deanna and Jim Birkholm.

Both Jim and Deanna got onto the phone to congratulate me and explain what the prize actually entailed. We spent an enjoyable time getting acquainted and discussing bonefishing and fly-fishing in general. They said that they would notify the donator of the prize and that the sponsor would be in touch with me in the near future. Well. . .the near future turned into two weeks or so, and after a follow-up call to FAOL the sponsor did get into touch with me. The conversation progressed well enough, but when it was over I had a vague feeling of concern, as if we hadn't fully communicated. At this point I should mention that I am a 60 year old U.S. Government executive involved in international liaison, and have either lived overseas or dealt with international business most of my life. Additionally, I speak a number of languages to include the "Bajan" slang common in the Caribbean as a result of being born and raised on the Canal Zone. So when I noted that vague sense of concern, it was my subconscious speaking. Unfortunately I wasn't fully listening...

I have just returned from the trip and feel that I have a much better insight into bonefishing on Andros Island then I did before. There are a number of cautions that I would advise, and some options I would recommend that folks look at before embarking on such a journey. ESPECIALLY if you are either bonefishing or going to the Bahamas for the first time. Don't get the wrong idea here; Andros is a wonderful place, the folks down there are fantastic, the fishing is absolutely first class, and HANDLED CORRECTLY you should have a wonderful experience. The Ministry of Tourism is very active in their efforts to ensure that you have a great time. The most basic advice I can give is contact the ministry officials if you have a question, there toll-free number is 800-327-7678 (available within the U.S.) and the folks there are wonderfully responsive.

THE TRIP

I was really ready to go on this trip, and I had done my homework! I had read the requisite books. Bought my tickets for Nassau and Andros. I had picked up a backup 7/8wt rod. I had learned and practiced my double haul, bought my SPF 40 waterproof sunscreen, picked up 4 spare rolls of film and checked out my cameras. My FFF buddies had supplied me with all the flies I could ever use. I talked with everyone I could on the subject of bonefish in general and Andros bones in specific. A week before I was to leave I started efforts to reconfirm everything with my guide.

I sent an email outlining our agreed upon plans...no response. I waited 24 hours and sent another email...no response. I waited 24 hrs and called and left a phone message...no response. I immediately tried to send a fax...no response. I finally reached a live person on Sunday and left a message. Good, that was taken care of! WRONG. I came tearing home from work on Tuesday, ready to pack and be at the airport at 5:00 AM Wednesday morning, and I noticed a message alert flashing on my answering machine. "This is Simon's wife, it's not convenient for him to guide this weekend...can you cancel your trip..."

My blood pressure went through the roof; I started thinking about appropriate bullet calibers to use to inflict maximum pain... I began to wonder which of my old "black" friends were closest to the Bahamas to blow up a house or boat, or better yet...BOTH!!!?? You tell me I've won a Bonefishing trip off the Web, I make all the preparations, and now this!!!??

So I got onto the phone and start working thru the web site folks that set up the contest way out in Washington State. I also started calling the Bahamas at Jim and Deanna's behest (no one EVER answers). We (website folks and I), worked until 11:00PM Central Time, even involving the Bahamas' Ministry of Tourism folks, whom the website folks know personally. The final word at 1100 is; "Get on the flights, and when you get to Andros grab a taxi and go to such and such a hotel, further word will await you there." So I finish packing at 1230, muttering and cursing (good thing my darling wife is still at Vanderbilt working on her Masters), and off to bed to arise at 0400 and get to the airport.

The flight to Nassau is uneventful. Delta does a great job, even lets me carry on my 8'6" 3pc bamboo rod, etc. Get to Nassau, and now we get to deal with Bahamasair! Flight is supposed to depart at 2:30PM...everybody is sitting in one big waiting room with the chickens, etc...while the gate agents snooze. At about 3:00 one of the other fishing persons goes up to the gate agent to find out what's happening..."No problem, mon..." As he is walking back to where several fishing persons are grumbling about the wonderful service a garbled message says... " mumble, squawk!!!, gurgle...304 to...humma, humma...squawk!!!" I said; "That may be us!!" So we grab our stuff as a bunch of Bahamians start heading for the door... sure enough it's our flight. Turns out that they really didn't want to fly, but they had this other airplane (much smaller than the scheduled bird) and they finally woke up the crew... so we finally got off the ground at 3:30PM. (Yes Margaret, we all verified that our luggage got on and off the airplane.)

We have a beautiful short flight to Andros Island, powder puff clouds all around, and miles and miles and miles...of flats. Suddenly we are over the "Tongue of the Deep," the water goes from 2-3 feet to thousands of feet (that's right, thousands) deep. This is one of the many reasons that the fishing is so good on Andros and the Bahamas.

Then we are over the strip on Andros, it reminds me of my flying days in Viet Nam, except here the folks are friendly. I get off the plane, and check for my bags at the mini-terminal. Folks are friendly and willingly help me with my bags and direct me towards the taxis. The "taxis" are a bit minimal, but the driver knows my guide and we agree on a fare to the hotel. A few miles around the corner and we are at my hotel. Nice looking hotel, "The Lighthouse Yacht Club and Marina," all pink and spiffy and well cared for in appearance. We unload my bags and rods etc. and I almost run into the lobby. "Hi, I'm Ralph Shuey...Simon's client!"

"That's nice, but do you have a reservation?"

"Uh Oh! There were supposed to be arrangements made for me to stay here for 4 nights, while I fished with...." I can tell the lady has no idea what I'm talking about. My blood pressure starts going back up. About that time the telephone rang. The clerk picked up the phone and got a funny look on her face... "It's for you," as she pointed to the house phone on a nearby table.

I picked up the phone and a voice said: "This is 'xyz' the Minister of Tourism for the Bahamas! Welcome to Andros! How are things going?" RELIEF!! I explained the current situation and turned the phone back over to the desk clerk. From that point on, the trip started getting better.

I was shown to a lovely room overlooking the marina and started unpacking. (No guys, so far I hadn't touched a drop. At that point, if I'd had one drink, I'd have drunk the bar dry.) The next hour was spent on the telephone...calls from the Ministry of Tourism, the website folks, my wonderful bride, etc. At about 6:00PM a call came in from the lobby, it was my guide.

At this point I've got to get clear on something. Communications are ALWAYS a problem, and just because folks are speaking English doesn't mean that you are necessarily communicating. Folks on the Bahamas have a different "mind set" than we, and while this is different it does not mean that it is "right or wrong"...it is just different. Email is not as reliable there as here, nor (in my opinion) is it viewed as primary means of communication as it is in many parts of the U.S. Telephone answering machines are subject to having children play with them, with subsequent disastrous results. This may sound silly, but do not cease talking with your contacts for fishing expeditions like this UNTIL YOU ARE 100% CONVINCED THAT YOU ARE BOTH IN AGREEMENT AS TO WHAT IS TO BE DONE. This applies to airlines and hotels and taxi drivers, etc. as well. If you do not appear to be communicating, then get someone else to talk to or use another vendor; period. If you send emails, or leave messages on telephones, DO NOT ASSUME THAT THEY HAVE BEEN RECEIVED AND ACTED UPON. If you do not get confirmation of emails or phone calls then you well may have a problem. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO INSURE COMMUNICATION. Also, nail down exact costs and get a confirmation in writing. If you do not do this then you are open for problems...and this does not apply solely to the Bahamas...this is anywhere (even the good old U.S. of A.)

My guide had his family with him and wanted me to join them for dinner! Needless to say our first dinner together was a bit strained, but helped greatly by the fact that Simon's family was there at the restaurant. Who can be upset when a wonderful wife and beautiful and intelligent child are there? I had made up my mind that I was going to make this work, and I am convinced that Simon had as well. We both worked at the situation over the whole period of the trip and by the end of the trip I think we were pretty comfortable with one another.

One thing is immediately apparent once you scratch the surface of society on Andros Island. Everybody is related to one another! With less than 10,000 people on an island 100 miles long and 40 miles wide, the number of folks there are pretty thin. This does work to an advantage when the Bonefishing Guides Association starts selecting new students; they know everyone. Other than Bahamian government jobs, U.S. Navy jobs, and a few small commercial enterprises there isn't much work to be had other than fishing related efforts.

We started our fishing expedition the next morning bright and early at 7:30. Simon picked me up at the hotel in his pickup and we drove about 20-30 miles down island to his boat. To my eyes the weather was pretty good. Temps never got much above the low to mid-80s, and the wind was blowing continuously at about 10-20 knots. Apparently, we had a front near the island and this was to cause us problems the first two days that I was there.

Here again we need to discuss communication. If your guide does not bring up the subject of casting and your capabilities, then for God's sake you need to bring it up! He needs to know exactly what you can do under various circumstances...the quicker he finds out, the easier things are going to be for all concerned. At least the first 30-60 minutes of your outing should be devoted to what you are capable of, how he is going to operate, and how the two of you (or three if you have a partner) are going to perform as a team. If you have never fished for bonefish before, LET THE MAN KNOW! Cast for the man into the wind, with the wind, etc. Have him call out the commands he expects you to follow. Work together to determine what he means when he says 40, or 50, or 60 ft. Trust me, this is very important, because when you start getting into fish a whole different element can creep into the game...anxiety! You want to perform well, you are normally paying a lot of money to be there and you really want to do a good job. Well, the best way to do that job is to relax. If you can follow all the guide's instructions without getting too excited, you will be miles ahead.

We took off out of Cargill Creek, just north of the North Bight, which separates the island into a north and south half. The North, Middle, and South Bights run east-west across from Andros' populated eastern side to the deserted western side. The waters of Andros are absolutely beautiful, and seemingly inexhaustible. Hundreds of square miles of clear shallow waters, that is full of fish, fish and more fish. There is nothing like charging out in your boat at 35 mph plus and then having your guide slam the throttle shut over a mile from shore and say; "Get out of de boat!"

I thought "O Dear!! Here comes the pay off! He's going to throw me out and I've got to swim for it!" But no, I stepped out of the boat into 14-16 inches of water and walked towards a barely perceptible underwater point that is just sticking its head above water. Simon complaining because we have intermittent cloud cover, which along with the chop on the water from the wind is making it very difficult for him to see the fish. Within about 30 minutes I have my first bonefish on the rod!

My first fish ultimately turns out to be the biggest I catch on Andros, about 18-20 inches and to my estimation about 4 pounds. Now let me be the first to disclaim any knowledge as to how I caught the fish! Out of the blue Simon said; "Give me forty feet at 11:00 o'clock!" He then said, "Leave it, leave it, long strip, long strip... leave it.... he's got it!" The next thing I know the line is melting off my reel and there is this little bow wave running out across the water. About 250 feet of line later Simon is saying; "Reel!, Reel!" and so I start reeling. And, just like the books say, when the fish gets to within about 50 ft. of us he sees me, and off he goes again. Soon we have the fish between us, and Simon removes the hook, kisses the fish (Yuck!), and turns him loose after thanking him for playing with us. We spent the rest of the day running around to several different areas, but the combination of wind, cloud cover and temperature limited us to one additional fish.

The second day we motored over to the wild west shore of the island. We had a hard day as far as bones were concerned, again only catching two, but we encountered BIG sharks, rays, and tarpon. Simon cast to an 80 lb. tarpon with my 7/8wt and WHAM!, the fish came about 3 feet up out of the water before he broke off. But, as Simon says; "Best place to loose a tarpon fly is in a tarpon!" Good thinking.

I'd like to be quick to say that the fish were probably there; I just didn't do a good job of casting to them. There was one that I barely saw that went about 10lb. Simon was probably pretty disgusted with me. On the way back to Cargill Creek we stopped off at the famous "Bang-Bang Club" on the northern edge of the Middle Bight to see Simon's father-in-law, the famous "Crazy" Charlie Smith. "Crazy" is in his late 70s but actively rebuilding the old fishing camp. He quickly confirmed everything that Simon was complaining about when he met us on the dock; "How did you do with this terrible weather?"

We detoured a bit on our way home to "Shark Hole" at "Crazy" Charlie's suggestion. What a sensation. You are buzzing along in the shallows (nothing over 3-4 ft deep) and BANG!, here is this hole about 70-100 yards in diameter that is over 300 feet deep! Simon had me throw over the fly and we started trolling around the edge of the hole. We could never make a complete circle without something hitting the line...Jacks, Mackerel, whatever. After about 30 minutes of that we headed home.

The agreement was that on Saturday we would start early because Simon had to fly over to Ft. Lauderdale in the afternoon for a boat show. He was to pick me up at 0700 in the morning and we would get out on the flats early and quit by noon. By this time I could start to see the fish. I could pick up a bonefish or two if Simon pointed them out to me. But seeing those critters on your own is another story. Even if you know they are there it is well nigh impossible to see them until your eyes and senses adjust to the task. (Yellow or brown polarized glasses REALLY help over the standard green/gray.)

Saturday we hit the water with a bang! We only traveled a couple miles from Simon's anchorage to a gorgeous flat. I am not exaggerating when I say that this single flat was over 2 miles square. Saturday was our day. We were wading for approximately 4 hours, and in that time "Old Blind Ralph" saw approximately 500-1500 bones. No kidding, the tide was coming off that flat and the bones were coming with it. We were so busy casting to fish and catching fish it was nbelievable. The drag on my old Pflueger started to slip it had been used so much! I had to switch reels and we were back in action. Most of these fish were in the 2-3 pound class, but Jumpin Jimmenie, they were bones!!

When we quit, I was happy. I could now see bonefish on my own to a limited degree, and I had caught a goodly number of fish. I could go home and say that I had had a successful trip. A quick stop at Simons nice little tackle shop (only one on Andros) and I picked up a couple beautiful souvenir baskets for my bride, and I was off to the hotel to pack.

THE RETURN HOME

Now it was time to leave Andros, and I did so with a heavy heart. I had just learned to see bonefish, had one really outstanding day's fishing, and it was time to go home. Because of Delta's schedule I had to overnight on Nassau, and I was looking forward to an opportunity to do some gift shopping before getting home. I had started two weeks before I left home to make a reservation with a hotel close to the airport. And, I had the same kind of problems with hotel reservations that I had with the guide… I tried several times to email the hotel, I tried the fax routine, and finally in desperation I called. Yes!!, a real person answered and she sounded as sweet as an island breeze, she assured me that the hotel s lovely, and I had a guaranteed reservation..."No problem mon." So, on the way to the airport I mused..."I wonder if I'm going to have any problems on Nassau? Nahhh"

The flight back to Nassau was uneventful, in fact the plane was on time, a minor miracle I'm told. The taxi ride to the hotel was also a non-event, other than almost having a heart attack carrying my bags all the way to the taxi stand (hint: The only taxis are at the International Terminal). Although, when I told the taxi driver my destination he gave me a little smirk...or was that just my imagination?

Oh, Oh!! I thought as we arrived at the hotel, "This looks a little seedy." But, what the heck it's only one night. I proceed to the desk. No sweet-talking young lady, but a young man sat behind the desk. I introduced myself and stated that I had a reservation for the evening. Wrong again! No record of my name or reservation, but he had a room; at 50% more than I was quoted. We had a long conversation, laced with suggestions as to whom I was about to call, and suddenly there was a room available at the quoted rate. "Great!", you say? Well, not so great, the room was a dark hole without window one, and an air conditioning system that was on its last legs, etc. etc. We've all been there. Maybe I didn't imagine that smirk...

I forgot to mention, my credit card wouldn't work and the desk attendant's cash scanner (that's right, cash scanner) said all my large bills were counterfeit. So I paid him with the last small bills that I had. "Hmmm- this doesn't add up", I thought. But I had a receipt. This last exercise ruined any desire for shopping; all I wanted was a beer and something to eat. The closest place to eat other than the hotel "restaurant" was 2 miles away, and I was pooped. So I went in and ordered a beer and sort of looked around. I talked with the young lady running the place and asked about the food and the fact that the smallest bill that I had was a 50. She told me the food was actually better then the place looked and why didn't I use my credit card? I explained the problem and she sort of looked at me strangely and said; "Give me your card." She walked away and came back a couple minutes later and said, "There's nothing wrong with your card."

"Oh, really?" says I. So, I step out to the desk and lo and behold there is a new person behind the desk. In about 10 minutes I had my small bills back and the room charged to my credit card. Why do I mention all this? Well, after I got back to the good old U.S.A. I was greeted by a double billing on my credit card statement. Once when I made the original reservation, and once from my pre-dinner transaction. Oh, and by the way, about 2 weeks after that, my credit card company informs me that my card number had been compromised and some schlock outfit in China was trying to roll up charges on it!

After a good (surprise) dinner with real vegetables, and a couple more beers I happily retired to my room to find that the TV cable was inoperative and I would have to make do with my reading material. I picked up the book I had studied on fly fishing in the Bahamas and began to review it in a new light... and you know, as I read it from my new perspective the authors alluded to many of the same problems that I experienced, they just didn't come out and say it. So I guess I have to just come out and "say it."

Make sure that you use the services of someone that has a good track record to make arrangements for you if you want to go fishing in the Bahamas, ESPECIALLY IF IT'S YOUR FIRST TRIP. Ask plenty of questions, and don't be afraid that they might get upset. If you don't get a clear answer, make sure that you continue to press until you get one. If you don't like the answer, or you don't feel comfortable with what is being explained to you, say so. Make absolutely no assumptions. Insist on having ever minute detail important to you explained. You will be paying for everything, so insist on knowing what you will and will not get for your money. If they get too evasive, go to a different outfit - something's probably not right. For example, one of the most knowledgeable agencies for fishing the Bahamas had this to say about one spot that I enquired about after my trip. And I quote; "...is to tell them the plain truth---good location in the Bight, very basic accommodations and food, and things will go wrong, so don't go unless you're prepared to deal with adversity."

Am I saying that the Bahamas aren't a great place to go fishing? NO WAY! The Bahamas are absolutely wonderful, the people are great, and the fishing is world class, but YOU HAVE TO KNOW THE TERRITORY, as the man says. After you have been there once the surprises should be few and far between. Are folks out to screw you, NO WAY! But, if you insist on trying to do things on the cheap (like me) you are open to the same problems that you are in the good old U. S. of A. when you try to do things on the cheap.

Is there anyway to fly fish the Bahamas (or anywhere for that matter) inexpensively? That my friends is an entirely "other" question, and one that my FFF chapter members have asked me to investigate. You first have to define "inexpensive." From what I can tell right now, if you have an opportunity to go on a solo guided bonefishing trip where the total costs are less than $350-400/day, exclusive of transportation, then grab it!

OH, and by the way… Thank You Deanna, Jim, and most of all Simon. I will always remember the trip, and I'm ready to go again. My new 10/11 wt will be ready soon and the reels are cleaned up, the drags renewed AND I'M READY.

SOME ADDITIONAL OBSERVATIONS

    1) If you think you can go the first time and not hire a guide...forget it! Guides run $3-400/day and without them you will waste your time. They know the water, the fish, and when they will come together.

    2) It will take you a MINIMUM of 3 days to begin to see bonefish on your own. Even under ideal conditions it just takes time to adjust to seeing the fish. Even the guides can't see fish all the time. Most of us are rank amateurs, and even the pros use guides.

    3) It ain't cheap. I'm working on figuring out how to cut the expenses, but it just isn't cheap!

    4) Take an arsenal of rods; you need variety not only for fish size but also because of the wind. If I had had a 9wt with me it would have helped fight the wind better the first two days. A 10wt would not have been out of line given 20+ mph winds.

    5) Rig up all your rods! You just don't know what you are going to run into, and you will just be frustrated not having the right rig available when that Permit or Tarpon shows up and the only thing you have is a wimpy 7/8wt. (Ain't it hell? Wimpy 7/8wt?) ~ Ralph A. Shuey


More Fly Fishing in the Caribbean:
Montanans Go To Andros
Peacock Bass Fishing in Puerto Rico
Grand Bahama Island - Bonefish
Grand Bahama Bonz

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