Monday, December 4, 2017

Two Days on North Andros and into the Joulter Cays

Wednesday October 15, 2017
After we said our goodbyes to all our friends in FISH, Steve Peskoe and I jumped in Dencil's skiff, quickly crossed the Middle Bight and headed north in a light chop towards Behring Point on North Andros Island. We cut inside Big Wood Cay and soon were passing the old Bang Bang Club on Pot Cay. Here, the legendary Charlie Smith (Crazy Charlie.... ever heard of him?) lives.

The Bang Bang Club now.

Now, the dock is almost gone and the buildings are overgrown and in disrepair. Once the Bang Bang Club hosted presidents, dignitaries and fishing legends such as Joe Brooks and Ted Williams. Now, it's only a sad reminder of its past glories in the 50's and 60's.

After passing the Bang Bang Club, we veered left towards Behring Point soon passing a big school of dolphins. The larger males were aggressively pursuing the females rolling against them obviously in a romantic mood. We played voyeur for a few minutes then quickly made our way to Cargill Creek where we were to meet our taxi. We said goodbye to Dencil, jumped in Reverend Newton Hamilton's van and began the trip towards North Andros and the Joulter Cays.

After about an hour or so of driving on rough roads, Rev. Hamilton called our host Phillip Rolle to find out where we should meet him when we entered Nichols Town. We discovered Phillip was in the car behind us so we followed him to our abode for the next few days. We dropped our gear at Phillip's lovely house, drove to the island's administration building to secure our fishing licenses, then rigged our gear and soon sat down for a lovely dinner on the porch. Tomorrow we would fish the Joulters.

We were in the lap of luxury with satellite TV, a full kitchen, a screened in porch and roomy comfortable bedrooms.

For info on this destination click here.

After a brief deluge at dawn, we were soon graced with sunshine and it wasn't long before Phillip dropped the skiff off the trailer and into Lowe Sound. The tide was up and so was the wind. Apparently, wind was to be the theme of this trip... so it goes sometimes. We ignored the winds and blithefully went off to find some fish.

We fished in the creeks while the tide was high. As the water began to began to fall, we moved to the Joulters Cays and the classic white sand flats found there. Despite the cool temps and 20-25 knot winds, our fishing was simply sensational, if not a bit challenging. Firm, fine sand flats peppered lightly with turtle grass stretched seemingly to the horizon. Small cays and bars, laced with azure, turquoise and pale olive channels, dictated not only the complexities of navigating, but also of finding fish. We knew this is where bonefish live... now we just had to find them. It was like walking into an elegant castle. You know someone is home, but where might they be.

While Steve waded off with Phillip, my strategy was to look for structure: a channel, a sand bar or a depression in the flat... something for the bonefish to key off of in their navigations and retreat to if danger was imminent.  My plan garnered almost immediate results. I saw fish after fish and even caught a few. I must admit, the seeing was a lot easier than the catching. The wind grabbed many of my casts putting me off target or at times hurled my leader back at me presenting my fly well short of the fish. I had to concentrate on my casting technique and exaggerate my second haul. If I did everything right, I was often rewarded with a tug that took me well into my backing. We finished off the day wading a skinny flat finding tailing fish in the pale afternoon light.

Steve Peskoe and Phillip Rolle cross a typical Joulter Cays flat 

Could you have a better spot for lunch?

On Day 2, the wind was even stronger, the tide bigger and the fish more spooky. Our morning was tough, but after the tide began to drop and we exited the creeks and went to the Joulters. There things quickly picked up. 

Again fishing solo, I headed to a long bar that was getting bigger as the tide fell. I waded in until I found that sweet spot where the depth and the distance off off the bar seemed right. Then, I slowed way down barely shuffling as I concentrated my vision on the narrow window the sun and wind offered. This is my favorite type of bonefishing. Challenging conditions, very shallow water, but always the promise of fish. I had a few tailing fish, but most of the fish were seen subsurface and I was hooked up often enough to label this session terrific. To put a period on our last day, we motored through a series of complex channels to a promising looking spot. I wrote that night after packing up for our departure...

The Joulter Cays from Phillip's scrapbook
The last hour of our trip was wonderful. The sun was low and half hidden by dusky ribbons of clouds. I was wading towards a sand bar that appeared to have a deeper slot right off shore. Phillip and Steve were a couple hundred yards off to my right and obviously into fish. I could see Steve casting and Phillip pointing.

"Great!" I thought knowing Steve was happy and we would be here awhile.

I wanted one good moment to end this great week. One tail, one good cast, one well done strip and set, one hookup... one more and I'd go home happy man. Hell, I was already going home a happy man, I was just looking for some gravy for my mashed potatoes.

When I got fairly close to the bar, I stopped. Suddenly I thought, "This is the right slot."

It was the right depth. It was somewhat shaded from the wind with the tide flowing out in same direction as the wind. Any fish would be headed my way. I needed to proceed slowly. I focused looking closely for any slight sign on this wind scoured surface. Soon my head was jerked left as a solid bone did a headstand. This was not the subtle sign I expected. This fish was waving a hello begging me to come on over. In the afternoon light his tail was backlit and seemed to glow. He rooted on his nose a few exhilarating moments, then dropped down below the riffled surface.

I made a long cast tossing the line with the wind. The fly landed ten feet upwind and uptide... the direction he was heading. I let it sit and waited. It wasn't long before I saw a small shudder. I barely bumped my fly. The fish tailed and I made a long slow strip. My line came tight and the fish blasted off downwind and into the setting sun. The bone threw a massive splashy rooster tail for 75 yards that sparkled as if ignited by the low light. It was a magical moment.

I blew up Steve and Phillip's fish as I tried hard to stop his run. I yelled "Sorry", but I don't think they heard me with all the wind. Soon he gave up and I reeled him in, unhooked and then thanked him for this perfect conclusion to a great trip.

This guy has spent a lot of time rooting in shallow water and in the mangroves. His tail filaments are shredded!

What a bonefish sees!

Thanks Phillip and Betsy for two great days! Thanks to Steve for a wonderful week on Andros!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Photos from FISH XXVI at Swains Cay on Andros Island

The annual FISH Trip (Forum for Indiana Subjects in Healthcare) just concluded last week. This year marked FISH XXVI and for this our 26th year of toting a fly rod around the globe, we ventured back into the salt. We chose Swain’s Cay Lodge which is located on beautiful Mangrove Cay between the legendary Middle and South Bights of Andros; the very heart of the Bahamas' best bonefish flats. There were 24 of us this year including many old friends and a few new faces that fit in exceptionally well. We all had a terrific time!!
Cheryl Bastian, Kristian and her crew at the lodged joined a terrific cadre of guides including: Shine, Randy, Elvis, John, Kiki, Marvin, Alvin, Leslie, DJ, Dencil, Ephriam, Douggie and Mark to deliver us an exceptional experience. Meals were great, accommodations comfortable and the service stellar.
While we had enough wind to last us well into the future, the fishing was still very good. We enjoyed both days with lots of sunshine and days with barely enough. Yet, despite these challenging conditions we had many opportunities not only while wading but also when being poled by these excellent guides. 
Here then are some photos from FISH XXVI: 
Thanks to all. It was a great trip!!

It was a short flight from Nassau to Mangrove Cay... just enough time to get the ball rolling!

We were made very welcome by the excellent crew at Swains Cay!

Beautiful spot on the beach.

The wrap around deck offers a great spot to enjoy a cocktail.

Brad Skillman rigs for a squall

And not a second too soon!

We enjoyed some good wading opportunities!

Devin Fox planning his strategy for the day

John and Devin Fox make landfall after a blustery day.


Matt Jenkins with a beautiful bone.
Brad Skillman...
with a big bone...
AND a nasty 'cuda!

Off he goes...
Some of the photos from trip participants:

Our fearless leader, Terry Heath, in his now legendary came pants

David Winter with not one, 

but two big bones!
...and a third he had trained to eat out of his hands!

Friday, November 10, 2017

A Typical Day Bonefishing at Water Cay, From October 2017

Roll out of bed at dawn. Before you do anything else, check the weather. Mumble if it's windy, count your blessings if it is clear and don't say one single word if it's clear and calm. Curse any person that says (usually in a perky tone) "It's a perfect day with no wind." 
Ahhhh... there it is. Now it is almost guaranteed, just short of 100%... the wind will pick up in the next 2-5 minutes and reach gale force by the time you've guzzled your first cup of coffee. But I digress, go grab a cup... it's ready by now.

Guide Greg Rolle savors his first cup.

As you sip your coffee, do your best to wake up while you sort gear, pick flies and try to remember that thing you were going to remember to do today. You know, that thing...
That thing... maybe it had something to do with my casting?

Scott Sawtelle and Dean Kalmbach shake off the cobwebs..

Grab your partner for the day, your gear, a camera, a few rods: one for bonefish, one for permit, maybe a third for 'cudas... and don't forget a few beers for the way home.

Then it's to the boats and you're soon heading out to see what they day will bring...

...maybe catch a beast like this one Mike Schwartz caught on Day One

...or maybe wade away from the boat to get a photo of that big fish you caught in the tidal race between two small cays. You floated your fly right into the bone's mouth. The fish never moved. He just ate your crab like a river trout eats a nymph. Then, after you land the fish, you decide to wade out to get a photo, get your feet stuck in the marl, lose your sandal, get laughed at by your partner and your guide Ezra. You never do get your photo because you were too worried you'd never see your sandals again.

Then catch a few more fish while always learning something new from the exceptional guides at Water Cay. 
Here is an example of a little tidbit picked up one day. Let's call it 
Lesson #152 - 
Flies That Hover

The WC guides do not like a fly to be too "bushy" when the tide is moving briskly either up or down. They want a fly that sinks fast and hugs the bottom. The guides think that many crab flies and heavily dressed shrimp flies, can be lifted by the tide rubbing against the bottom of the flat. As such, the fly hovers inches off the bottom thus acting unnaturally. Put another way, a "bushy" fly can hover (even if it is heavy) by the action of the tide against the bottom. So always check your fly to make sure it’s getting down fast enough (and stays down) given water depth AND tide velocity.  Lesson 152 was given by Ezra Thomas on Day 2.

Take-away from learning Lesson 152
Take-away #2
Take-away #3
Water Cay bones are big. The reward for learning these lessons is big fish often hooked in very shallow water. The fishing around water Cay is some of the coolest you will ever experience. It is rare day that you don't get a shot at a 7-12 lb. bone. What you do with these shots is up to you. Are you a good listener? 

Steve Peskoe listens very well!

As the sun travels across the sky, the day flies by. There are fish seen, fish missed and fish caught. It's all about your percentage. As you get better, your batting average goes up. I think the Water Cay guides have made a pac with the Water Cay fish to constantly push you to become a better angler. You'll walk away from Water Cay a better angler than when you arrived.

Soon it will be the middle of the afternoon and you haven't eaten lunch yet. You've been so engaged in the fishing you haven't felt a bit hungry. But you better eat soon or you'll spoil your appetite for dinner.

As the sun gets lower in the sky, you head home for cocktails, a spectacular sunset and a filling home cooked Bahamian meal of lobster, or conch or baked chicken or snapper.

By the time you finish dinner, it's dark and you're feeling the day's efforts. Maybe you have the energy for a game on TV or the inclination to tie a fly or smoke a cigar. But, soon it's off to bed for a few pages of a good book before sleep and the prospect of getting up tomorrow to do it all again.

Next rain delay!