Friday, May 27, 2016

Crooked and Acklins Island Trip Report May 14-21, 2016... Part 1

Our group had decided to visit Crooked Island and its sister, Acklins Island, shortly after Hurricane Joaquin rammed into the islands last fall. Our plan was to base ourselves in a small lodge located on Winding Bay near the settlement of Majors Cay. Somehow this lodge had managed to survive the hurricane and we thought it was the best option left standing. (Details on the lodge later.)

From this headquarters, we hoped to inject a bit of money into the local economy, pursue some fish that hadn't seen much pressure over the winter and reconnect with some old friends to see how their efforts at rebuilding were going.

Going into this trip, we were well aware that both islands had been devastated by Joaquin's huge storm surge and tornado force winds that pounded the islands for over 36 hours. The stories had been sobering. Entire families huddled on a single bed as 15-20' feet of rising water forced them against their own ceilings. Other families evacuated flooded homes to spend the night in small skiffs tied off to their roofs. Here they prayed and fought hypothermia, hoping to once again see morning's first light. These islanders had experienced a night they will never forget. 

The scene as dusk turned to night.

Crooked Island Lodge after the storm.

Hit the hardest was Landrail Point on Crooked and Lovely Bay on Acklins. Both villages were virtually wiped out with most of the homes, cars, generators and means of communication severely damaged. Crooked Island Lodge, the idyllic resort located on a long beach north of Landrail Point is no longer there. Now, it's just a collection of gutted buildings poking out of a giant pile of sand. As we stepped off the plane, the signs were everywhere: roads wiped out, homes ravished and people traumatized. And yet, we found optimistic survivors eager for our visit. The Crooked and Acklins Islanders are testament to the resilient spirit of man.

The road to the ferry dock to reach Acklins Island was wiped out!

Our dining room/ bar with the rooms in the background.
These islanders offered us wonderful, yet simple, accommodations, terrific food (thanks Margaret!), great guides and inspiring stories all peppered with uncommon grace and humor.

Amongst the barren mangroves, hurricane debris and scarred villages, we found lots of fish and enjoyed our reconnection with longtime guides Clinton, Kenny, Michael and Elvis. I have know some of these men and their families for over 20 years... I am happy to report they are making a resounding comeback! 

Here then is my report. This report is given as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened to them. The fact that I can give a simple trip report after what these islands experienced is simply amazing! 

What goes with Mike for the day.

Tony and Doug rigged and ready..

Need I say more?
Day 1
Tony Wendtland and I fished with guide Elvis Collie. Elvis lives in Lovely Bay on Acklins Island. I've know Elvis since he was a teenager. Over the ensuing years. Elvis has become a superb guide and a great person. The three of us fished near Old Woman Cay under light winds and sunny skies.

This was Tony's first trip to the Bahamas. I was hoping he would experience what real bonefishing is all about. I needn't have worried. He caught the first fish he saw! I should have known. Tony is an excellent caster and a very good dry fly fisherman. Both these skills translate well to bonefishing.

We had a very productive morning followed by a slow afternoon. This was a theme we would become familiar with as easterly winds pushed sun-warmed waters out of the creeks and flats in the afternoons. 

Day 2
Mike Schwartz and I fished with Kenny Scavella. Early in the morning, the tide was high. We could see fish in the mangroves, but we had no way to reach them. To try a cast would mean an immediate breakoff. After poling in vain watching fish weave in and out of the bushes, the water finally began to drop. Then it was game on!

At the end of a long mangrove edge, Mike decided to wade to reach some fish and was soon planted in a sticky ooze seemingly either unable or unwilling to move. It turned out to be simply unnecessary.  From this spot, Mike cast his fly into the brisk wind picking off 8 or 9 fish without once moving his feet. A fine marl mud patch drifted slowly behind him as he landed fish after fish.

Facing the other direction, I caught 3 fish and could see many more that I couldn't reach due to the sticky, soft bottom. Finally, after hooking a 5-6 lb. rocket that came within a leader's length of me and ate my fly on the move (sort of a drive-by, eat and run maneuver), I was forced to chase my catch through the quicksand. The fish had quickly pulled all my fly line and a bunch of backing on his world tour through the maze of roots that lined the shore. I struggled in the soft mud to keep up passing my fly rod through many mangrove keyholes he had used hoping to make a successful escape.

I was lucky to land the fish and not break my rod!
It was exhausting as each step threatened to swallow me whole. Behind me, a huge muddy mess showed every bob and weave the fish made on his frantic journey. As sweat rolled off my head carrying sunscreen and bug dope into my eyes, I finally landed the fish.

Kenny somehow noticed my predicament and yelled over the strong breeze, "Scott, you need help?"

"Yes!" I replied, eager to end this beatdown as soon as possible.

Kenny left Mike's side. He quickly polled his skiff downwind and rescued me from the branches of a large bush where I was holding on not willing to take another step. I'm convinced if I had made one more step away from my branch, I would have been swallowed up and eaten whole by this gooey bottom.

"Thank you!" I muttered, washing my muddy tracks off the deck of my guide's no longer immaculate boat. Soon we collected an elated Mike and cleaned the decks once again. The rush was now over and the fish were behind us. It was time to find new grounds. We picked up a few more fish in the afternoon, but again, rising water temps made for a much slower afternoon. But there were no complaints heard from our boat. It was simply a great day!

Our lodging and a bit of laundry

Getting the snapper gear ready.

Day 3
Tough day.... Scott Sawtelle and I fished with guide Mike Carroll. It was sunny and very windy. We could not find a fish to save our lives. We fished flats on which I have previously caught scores of fish... beach flats, shallow creeks, pancake flats... all scenes of previous victories which were now inexplicably devoid of fish. Some flats were opaque and difficult to see into due to the winds, but still, we could see well enough to know there were no attendees.

After wading a long beach, I took a look left and saw a  bar that was shinning like a beacon about 300 yards from shore. I said 'What the hell" and took off letting Scott and Mike finish out the beach flat we where on.  After 15 minutes of wading in waist to chest deep water, I reached the slope up to the bar. It looked great!

I walked up and out of the channel onto firm white sand lightly sprinkled with turtlegrass. The bar was about two acres in size. I was sure there would be a fish somewhere on it. (Optimism runs deep in our breed!). I walked for few minutes, then headed for a pile of hurricane debris that looked like the most shallow spot on the flat. 

As if I had conjured the fish with my imagination, a big bone was happily tailing near the debris leaving a light mud stain to seep downtide. I threw a cast into the air. It landed on the bone's landing strip. The bone dashed five feet to slurp my fly. It was all just so perfect! This fish made my day. It it hadn't been for this guy, I would have registered a big blank bagel for the day. Instead I will remember this perfect moment and not the fact that our day sucked! 

The gang at dinner


  1. Great write up and photos. Love the Crooked Island timepiece. Chest deep water, hmm! Gutsy!

  2. Thanks!... Chest deep and I immediately start getting nervous! Gutsy or stupid?