Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Crooked and Acklins Islands, Bahamas - Days 1,2,3

May 13-20, 2017
Turtle Sound on Crooked Island from the air

We had such a great trip last year to Crooked Island, we decided to return this year. As you might remember, in the fall of 2015, Crooked and Acklins Islands were ravaged by Hurricane Joaquin. Today, the evidence of this massive storm is still everywhere: we motored by areas where the mangroves have been stripped bare, we drove on roads scoured clean of asphalt in places and passed through settlements where a few of buildings had been reduced to rubble. 

But the islands are recovering. Some of the mangroves are sprouting green leaves, buildings are being repaired and many of the roads are now open. Our guides and long time friends Clinton, Kenny, Michael, Randy and Elvis represent well the islands' resilient crew. We were happy to see these communities making such a strong comeback! 

With the locals, we didn't talk as much about the hurricane this year. The islanders obviously were sick of the subject and wanted to move forward, so we just fished hard and had fun...

Our lodging was roomy and very comfortable

Here then is my report:

Day 1
Mike Schwartz and I fished with Kenny Scavella. We spent the morning searching for permit, but with freshening winds and an increasing high cirrus cloud cover, we only got one good shot and it was upwind and behind us. If we had only seen this big permit earlier ...but we’ve all heard thus before.

Mike Schwartz under the ominous high cirrus clouds

In the late morning we gave up on our permit quest to fish a complex bay/creek system near Old Woman Cay. Over the next few hours, Mike and I both went well into double digits despite the cloud cover. The fish sought the shallowest edges of the creeks making finding them possible despite the poor light. This was to be our theme for the week as the increasingly thick high clouds did not bode well for our weather the next few days....
It was very different from last year when I wrote :

“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. “

Oh, what a difference these days in May this year would bring. A strong cold front brought lower temperatures and higher winds. The water stayed cool all day and the fish were there... if you could see them and position yourself so you weren’t casting directly into the brisk wind.

John Riggs and Mike Schwartz load up rods for the group

Day 2
Doug Jeffries and I fished with guide Elvis Collie. Elvis lives in Lovely Bay on Acklins Island. We met Elvis at the ferry dock on the Crooked side of the two island. We didn’t have to go far to find fish. Despite no sun and a brisk easterly wind, we once again found fish often tailing in very shallow water. Our morning was very productive, then we motored to the “Race Around” where we had trouble finding fish on the dark bottom with no sun. After a couple good fish, we backtracked to a white sand flat where we hoped to find fish coming out of the mangroves seeking deeper water as the tide dropped. 
I wrote in my journal:

Photos above thanks to Doug Jeffries

"The strong easterly wind suddenly shifted direction to the south. Our cloud cover thinned and the late afternoon light became weirdly phosphorescent. Elvis pulled up to a beautiful white sand bar that guarded two channels which were separated by a small coral cay. Beyond this cay was an extensive shallow flats system. We had arrived at slack high tide. Soon the tide would begin to fall and all the water on these flats would drain out these two channels. We were positioned perfectly.

We found numerous roots of feeding bonefish on these flats

I eagerly jumped out of the skiff, tromped across the sand bar and began to wade inland. I waded swiftly and somewhat noisily. I wanted to find a fish before we ran out of time and told myself as soon as I busted one I would slow down. The flat started out quite firm, but this solid level footing soon gave way to steep hummocks. Then, after a few more minutes of walking, the bottom became not only steep, but also sticky. As I slogged from hill to valley cursing the bottom, I busted three or four good fish. Under the light cloud cover, I hadn't seen them, not that I was working very hard to do so.

Me on my  "afternoon" flat
I immediately stopped and took a moment to look and listen.
I told myself, "Where you find one fish, you’ll find many". 
Taking my own advice, I stopped moving inland and began to wade very slowly across the flat careful to keep the water at the same depth. Soon I saw a slice of ruffled water. I perched on the top of a large hummock and waited.

Everything was so perfect: beautiful low afternoon light, tide at exactly the right level, and now virtually no wind... I wanted the game to start. I told myself if I could only get one fish I would be happy. Of course, I was lying to myself, but it was quite a convincing thought as I searched for the other actors in my play.

Suddenly a tail popped up. I flipped an easy cast, moved the fly an inch or so and the fish rushed the fly. I made a long, slow strip and the fish was on. My flyline was quickly pulled to my backing. I retreated to shore. I didn't want to screw up the the flat by noisily chasing the fish off. I quickly landed a 5 lb. bone, sent him on his way with a quick "thanks!" and slowly waded back to the “right depth”.

Another fish was ready to go. I repeated my routine. This happened time after time until I began to feel somewhat gluttonous.  It simply does not get any better than this: a beautiful flat under perfect conditions with big, solid cooperative, tailing fish.

After a couple hours, the wind came up again just as the flat began to empty out. The tide was now ripping into the channels. It would take another lengthy search to find the fish again. Unfortunately, we had run out of tide... and time. I knew we needed to get to the boat and get on with the evening. I could see Doug and Elvis had made the same decision. They were wading quickly towards the skiff. I picked up speed as the flat leveled off. Soon it became hard sand once again.
As I marched to meet my compatriots, I said to myself
"If I had only gotten these few hours for the entire week, the journey would have been worth it!" 
This time I wasn't lying to myself!"

Doug Jeffries with a nice bone

On Day 3 
Anna Riggs and I fished with Randy. The winds had increased to a solid 20 knots overnight and a thick cloud cover squashed my wishful thoughts concerning sunshine today. We were experiencing very odd weather for May in the Bahamas. This was a November cold front that had moved in on us... weird!

We started fishing on some outside flats that were milky from the wind churning up the fine sand. This fine silt made our visibility next to nothing. After a brave, but unsuccessful try, Randy took us to a large shallow interior lagoon. This “lake” could probably only be accessed by fish on a high spring tide. Now the opening was dry, about 10 feet across and clogged with hurricane debris.

Anna Riggs on the way to the skiffs

Anna and John Riggs gearing up for the day

Initially, we waded through a sticky ooze, but that soon gave way to a soft, but firm enough bottom. I crossed a channel to wade while Anna and Randy took off on the near side to search for fish. The tide was slowly rising as water now seeped into the narrow opening. I almost immediately began to spot fish where the channel met a shallow pan that extended into the islands interior for miles

I picked up a few nice fish, then spied some big fish tailing off to my left away from the direction we were  wading. I turned around ignoring the ever-softening marl. The tails drove me on making me unwilling to turn back despite this increasingly sticky footing. My efforts were rewarded as I spotted and caught fish after fish. With each catch a muddy patch drifted slowly away from me. When I stopped, I sunk into the marl which required considerable effort to get “unstuck” and move on.

I often initially spotted the fish weaving in and out of the mangrove bushes and had to wait for them to come out before I could toss a cast. Once hooked, I had to pursue many of these fish by taking the pressure of my line and passing my rod through the bushes. Each time I bent to this task, I hoped I wouldn't break my rod in the process. These fish used every arch and keyhole in the mangroves in their attempt to escape. Looking back, a muddy fingerprint showed every twist and turn the fish had made. This was very engaging, if a bit exhausting fishing. By the time I waded back to the boat for a very late lunch, I was a sweaty, gooey mess.

We spent the last hours of the day casting for tarpon and snapper up against the mangroves. Anna caught a nice mutton snapper that a 6' blacktop surfaced to grab. We saw a few tarpon, but again, with the cloud cover, we didn't see them early enough and they were spooked by the time got off a cast. 

NEXT DAYS 3, 4, and 5

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