Clint Kemp from Black Fly Lodge in Abaco and the Bahamas Fly Fishing Lodge Association spoke about the regulations battle today. He didn’t have any updates or news to share, but he did have some perspective to share and I think it is worth listening to. So… here’s Clint.
There is sometimes some confusion about what fishing regulations are like in the States.
Pretty much, in the US, you can fish where you want to fish. If the season is open and you can get on the water, you can fish it.
You don’t need a guide to fish in Florida, not even for Tarpon at the height of the migration.
You don’t need a guide to fish for redfish in Louisiana or Texas.
You don’t need a guide to fish for trout in Yellowstone.
You don’t need a guide to fish the Big Horn or the Big Hole in Montana.
You don’t need a guide to float the Green River in Utah.
You don’t need a guide to fish the Deschutes for steelhead in Oregon.
You don’t need a guide to fish for cutties in the Snake in Idaho.
You don’t need a guide to fish for salmon or trout in Alaska.
You don’t need a guide to fish for bonefish in Hawaii or Puero Rico.
You don’t need a guide to fish for rainbow trout in California.
You don’t need a guide to fish for stripers in Montauk.
There are a few places that have special regulations, usually to relieve fishing pressure or to address boat traffic issues. There are some places you are not allowed to guide, like in some Parks.
In all of these places there are large and thriving numbers of guides. I’d be shocked if Florida doesn’t have more guides than the Bahamas. Most guides don’t go through special training, although many are required to get a guide’s license, which has more to do with liability insurance than skill. To my knowledge these guide licenses are (mostly) purely administrative. They don’t asses if you know how to fish or if you know which end of the rod to use. You fill out the form and pay your money and you are a guide. Many guides are booked a year in advance by the same clients, year after year.
People use guides in all those places. They use guides even when they can fish on their own without guides. Anglers, in the US, use guides for many, many reasons. Maybe they don’t know the water well, or they are new to fishing. Maybe they are expert fisherman and just want to benefit from the guide’s deep knowledge of “place.” Maybe they just enjoy the experience of fishing with someone who knows the names of the birds and the trees and the flowers. Maybe they only have a few days to fish a year and want to maximize their time on the water.
Bahamian guides are no different. People choose to fish with Bahamian guides for many of the same reasons. You can let people choose how they want to fish and so long as people aren’t hurting the fish or the flats, many, many, many will chose to fish with a guide (and anglers are not harming the flats, by and large, as DIY anglers can only access a tiny fraction of the flats a guide with a skiff can access). I love fishing with a good Bahamian guide in their home water where they know the tides like the backs of their hands and can find fish even when the wind is howling and the lights are off. That’s worth a lot, and American anglers know that, and will pay for it, if that’s the kind of angler they are.
You want to regulate your own industry. Great. However, you also need to understand your consumer, the buyer of your product. No company can just ignore their consumer and then demand that they continue to buy their products. If you alienate your buyers, your buyers will go other places and become someone else’s buyer. That’s not a threat, that’s just how markets work.
In your particular case, the buyers of your products really don’t like being dictated to because they are rarely dictated to when pursuing their hobby in their own country. If you roll out dictates to them in your country they may not react well. I’m not talking about buying a license here, I’m talking about DIY. Almost all anglers have to buy a license in the US, but this is a fast and straightforward process, often done on-line or over the phone or through a business which is open on the weekends and holidays. We make it easy. It isn’t a barrier. There are also some places that don’t require a license, like Hawaii.
Bookings last year were up in Belize, from what I understand. Were your bookings up? I’m not talking about what someone told you about their bookings… I mean your actual days on the water. Did you do more than you did last year?
If your days were down last year, I’d bet the businesses who rely on the DIY anglers were hit even harder. The guest houses and the car rentals and the restaurants and shops. You start aiming at your anglers and it isn’t just the guides who suffer, it is all the other folks too, your neighbors.
It is true that Eastern Canada has some very restrictive rules on guides. They are the outliers, not the norm.
Regulate your industry, but know your decisions and how your decisions are communicated impact the willingness of your consumers to consume your products.
“It was then agreed, among other things, that only Bahamian citizens should be permitted to be licensed as guides and authorized to offer guiding services for the fly-fishing industry; and that visiting anglers engaged in fly-fishing activities be required to use the services of a licensed guide.”
“As a consequence, I am happy to reiterate the continuance of the Flats Fishing Regulations, 2017, and I look forward to the input and continue support of stakeholders as we move this process forward.”
So… this came from Minister Wells (firstname.lastname@example.org) and it appears to contradict the Prime Minister, insisting the regulations ARE still in place and NOT suspended.
Additionally, the press release was either crafted with a great deal of care to say something pretty important, or it was crafted with absolutely no care and makes a huge implication without understanding what it had done. The statement says “…visiting anglers engaged in fly-fishing activities be required to use the services of a licensed guide.” That doesn’t call out the 2:1 angler:guide ratio for boats, but just says if you are fly fishing in the Bahamas you are going to need a guide. That’s DIY folks. That’s been what these guys have been after the whole time. So… was that just super careless or was that the first big announcement of DIY as a fight out in the open?
Truth be told… I have no idea. These guys were supposed to be the good guys, but they don’t seem to be all on the same page. This is a page straight out of the BFFIA playbook and a massive step backward for the industry and all those who care about the Bahamas.
And so it continues. The PM on one side, the Minister for Fisheries on the other.
Here’s the latest article from the Tribune.
These folks claiming the sky would fall if the regulations are revoked… I mean… that would just revert to the situation the flats have been in since, I don’t know, Bahamian Independence.
The threats to fisheries of the Bahamas go something like this…
- Over-harvest of conch and lobster.
- Poaching from foreign vessels (like from the DR).
- Increased demand for unsustainable catches by countries who are buying into the Bahamas in a big way, like, oh, let’s say China.
- Development that destroys nursery habitat or impacts spawning aggregation sites.
- Global Warming.
754. Impact of catch and release bonefishing.
But, yeah, by all means, let’s put in place some ill-thought-out regulations to regulate issues that don’t exist and let’s throw in some xenophobia, some protectionist propaganda, some fear mongering and let’s also ignore all those concerns voiced by the people who actually contribute financially to the industry.
Also… let’s make it hard to get a license (like not making it possible to get one on a weekend or holiday).
Way to go guys. Bang up job.
Cindy and the Abaco guide’s association must be tired of constantly having to issue rebuttals to this sort of idiocy. I don’t envy them.
Here is to hoping the PM wins on this one. Also, let’s hope Fisheries loses this bit from their portfolio and it heads over to the cooler heads at Tourism.
Remember last week when things seemed to be kind of settled? Well… hold on a sec.
Turns out the Minister for Fisheries is not on the same page as the PM, according to this story from the Tribune.
The problem here is Minister Renward Wells. He’s the one overseeing fisheries and he’s from Andros. Being from Andros he’s influenced by the very strong pro-BFFIA sentiment there and appears to be buying into some of their utter nonsense. Minister Wells seems to be insisting that provisions like the “2 anglers, one guide” rule for boat is in-line with regulations in Colorado and Montana, which is, of course, a complete and total fabrication.
You want to put three friends in a boat and have them row down a river in Colorado (or Montana or California or Wyoming or Idaho) without a guide you can certainly do that, as many, many, many (that’s THREE manys) anglers do. Of course, I doubt Minister Wells looked into such matters himself, just taking BFFIA talking points as truth. To take a position like that, that such a provision is similar to other places, you have to just not look into it at all. It would take about 2 minutes on Google to figure out that is total nonsense.
You can also fish for reds in Louisiana without a guide. You can also fish for tarpon in Florida without a guide. There is no State in the US where you are required to use a guide or to have a 2:1 ratio. It isn’t a thing, no matter what the BFFIA says.
Now, I thought once the PLP was out we’d be past this type of utter and complete shite, but… but… Andros vs. Abaco/the rest of the Bahamas is kind of like the Urban vs. Rural divide that used to be a driving force in American politics.
The position of the PM seems pretty clear.
The corrosive effect of the BFFIA seems to be lingering, doing nothing positive and sewing discord, kind of like what Taco Bell does to my digestive tract with similar end results.
News out of the Bahamas, according to the Tribune, is that the fishing regulations have been officially suspended. This comes as the math starts to look like a 20-40% decline in bookings in the wake of the BFFIA’s push for regulations on flats fishing.
I mean… yeah… of course.
Suspended is not “totally scrapped” and really, they were suspended anyway (although I had heard some rogue guides/individuals in Andros had been trying to police the regs anyway). Maybe it will come back. Maybe it will be better. It could certainly have been worse, as the original proposals were.
The PLP is playing it according to the script, saying the govt. is abandoning the flats and creating an open season on their fishery. It was their hard work which was responsible for the 20-40% decline (and that’s bookings, not DIY, which I’d guess was down even more). I guess if they want fewer people coming to the Bahamas to fish, that does, in some way, lead to less pressure on the fishery, kind of in the same way the Chernobyl accident helped create a defacto nature preserve.
Time will tell. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Myself? I’m looking forward to heading back to Grand Bahama, the island where I caught my first bonefish, and fishing out of East End Lodge this July (yes, it will be hot, but there will be cold beer and likely a strong breeze).
On Caye Caulker at the Sea Dreams dock, the dock light makes things just work. Once the sun is down the bonefish mill around and they can be caught. The last night there I caught six before deciding to call it a trip.
However… in the daylight those fish are a different story. It is the same school of fish, or the same few small schools of fish (maybe 30-40 fish total), and when the lights are on they just won’t be fooled.
I tried some of the Hawaii tactics from last year. I tried going small, but the current would just carry the fly away before the fish could even see it. I tried taking out the flash and going neutral colors, but it seemed any fly, of any color or shape, would send the fish scurrying for cover. I tried leading the fish by 9 feet, but as soon as the fly line landed on the water the fish would just turn around and swim slowly away from the offending line.
So, size didn’t matter, color didn’t matter and you couldn’t cast within 9 feet. They really were pulling out their inner permit.
I, after a few hours of trying over multiple days, finally gave up.
Those same fish would eat a heavily weighted tan shrimp at the fringes of the dock light’s glow with savagery usually reserved for barracuda eats.
I fished at night.
I kind of love Caye Caulker, Belize. This year was Year #2 for Spring Break and if I can avoid any legal trouble stemming from this trip, next year will be #3.
We booked this trip through Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures and stayed, for the second year in a row, at Sea Dreams, near the northern tip of Caye Caulker just shy of “The Split.” We even stayed in the same room, #5, a modest courtyard room with two single beds. The travelers were just myself and my 11 year old daughter.
Caye Caulker sits off the mainland, about a 40 minutes water taxi ride from Belize City. This year the taxi driver at the airport took it as his personal mission to get us on the boat set to depart in just a few minutes. He did. It was Indy 500 stuff. I tipped him well, but won’t seek him out in the future. We got to the port and walked on the boat and it took off. The kind of timing you see in the movies when no one is ever sitting around waiting for anything.
When you get to the island it is just another world. Shoes optional. 2-3 cars on the whole island. Kids, families and tourists walking, biking or golf-carting around. It is intimate. It is tight. It feels safe in the way the mythical 50’s sound safe.
We got to Sea Dreams, got our room, went to get dinner and then I went back to catch a bonefish off the dock… which I did almost immediately. That’s my kind of place.
The next day was a chillax day. We arranged for a snorkel trip later in the week and I strung up all the rods (a total of four). We fed the tarpon… man I love that… we went through three bags of bait. We had a day of guided fishing set up the next day with Haywood, owner of Sea Dreams.
Haywood is, to be totally clear on things, a damn fine person. His whole family is pretty awesome, as we’d find out later in the week. Haywood is pretty much the perfect age (read the same age I am) and he has an 11 year old daughter, in addition to another younger daughter. His wife co-founded the local high-school and he gushes about her very much in the same way I gush about my own wife, who I think is amazing. I like Haywood. I’d even be friends with him in real life.
Our fishing day on Tuesday started off with me on the deck, but nursing a bit of a headache that didn’t come from booze. In the back of my mind I was starting to say “Man… something is off here.” One bonefish down and my daughter got a chance to be up on deck. I relished the opportunity to sit down a bit, which is very, very out of character. I was feeling achey. My head was pounding and I needed a rest. Haywood got my daughter a snook on some live bait, which was nice, and I had to admit to the boat that I was not feeling very good and maybe she could take more time on the bow.
Me… giving up bow time. Whaaa???
A couple Tylenol, lunch and a bit of a break and I did get up and try things again for a bit, missing one or two snook grabs, breaking off a cuda and landing a couple other small cudas. But, by the time we got back to the dock all I wanted was bed. I laid down and didn’t get back up. My daughter actually got us dinner. I ate some rice, but that was all I could manage.
I woke up at 4:00 AM wondering if I was going to be ill. At 6:00 AM I found out that, yes, I was in fact going to be ill. Vomiting ensued and kept up until about 10:30, the tanks empty… scoured out in fact. I was not going anywhere. I was not capable of going anywhere. We were not going snorkeling. We were not doing Mayan Ruins. We were going to be lucky, super lucky, if my daughter didn’t catch whatever it was I had. The trip kicked into survival mode.
My daughter took care of me, our roles flipped. She went out and got me gatorade. She went out and bought me bananas after watching a YouTube video about what to do when you have a GI bug. She entertained herself around Sea Dreams, at the little dock, walking about the streets near the hotel. She stepped up. I was super proud of her.
A view of my bedside table shows I was on the Fluids train.
Later in the afternoon she told me she was going to take a bike out. It was a comment over her shoulder as she walked out. I wasn’t in shape to chase after her to talk more about it. She’s not a hugely experienced bike rider, but the streets are sand, everyone’s out, there aren’t cars… seemed OK. A while later Haywood came in to tell me she’d fallen off a bike and she was OK, but did I want to take her to get checked out by a Dr? I put some clothes on and went with Haywood and my daughter to the private Dr. She checked out pretty quickly and we went back to Sea Dreams and I went back to bed. Haywood stepped up there. He was huge.
My allowing the girl to fall off a bike in Central America is likely going to result in legal paperwork getting served here at BotB World Headquarters in the coming week or two. Not looking forward to that. So goes joint custody.
Later that night Anna even ate dinner with him and his family. I wasn’t going anywhere. They took her in for the evening. It was pretty much pure awesome, just a family helping my family out when we needed some help.
The next day my stomach was still off, but I was feeling, oh, let’s call it 50%. I could at least go out and get breakfast and lunch with my girl. Her bike fall had injured her shoulder a bit and so there were some activities that were just not going to be workable. Our vacation options were pretty much down to walking around, eating and watching island life go by.
There was some fishing in the evening… thank the fates for dock lights, and that was pretty much it.
The last night we were out on the dock and I set Anna up with a fly rod and a heavy shrimp fly. The fish were eating the fly without it being moved, but she wasn’t connecting. I hooked her some fish and she got to land them and we got to enjoy a little bit of what the trip could have been. It was a really nice few moments.
The island is just a wonderful place. There are activities a plenty to sign up for, even if we didn’t get to participate in much of it this year. It is just a great place to be, even if you are puking your guts out.
Watching Buccaneers and Bones just now and they are having a Bahamas vs. Belize comparison.
I’ll be heading to Belize for the 4th time on Sunday. That’s going to be great.
Later this summer I’ll be heading to the Bahamas for trip #8.
They are just different places. It isn’t really fair to compare the two, but, let’s do that anyway.
Bonefish – The Bahamas wins this one. There may very well be 5 pound bones in Belize, but there are many, many more 1 pound bones. There are Bahamian islands with small average sized bones, but the Bahamas also features monsters, ten-plusers. The Bahamas is just such a pure bonefish fishery, it isn’t really a comparison. So many flats, so many islands and the bones are just THE species to chase.
Tarpon – There ARE tarpon in the Bahamas, but you don’t head to the Bahamas to go tarpon fishing. Belize is going to win on that front. That’s where I caught my first tarpon and where I lost my first larger tarpon. Tarpon are what make Savannah Caye a well known spot and there are other known tarpon spots in Belize as well.
Permit – Ya know… I don’t know. I’ve heard some great stories of permit fishing in the Bahamas, but if you want to catch your first permit, you are more likely to go and have success in Belize, so, I’m going to say Belize. Belize is where I caught my first (only) permit, although I certainly have seen some in the Bahamas as well (big ones too).
Grand Slam – If you are looking for all three, you are going to head to Belize. I’m proof you can make that shite happen.
Beer – The beer of Belize, Belikin, isn’t even 12 ounces. Kalik and Sands take this one.
Guides – Toss up. I’ve had some amazing guides in Belize. I’ve had some amazing guides in the Bahamas. Generally, the Bahamas is known for bonefishing guides and Belize is known for permit guides.
DIY – There is just more area in the Bahamas. You can DIY in Belize, sure, but you just can’t beat the square miles in the Bahamas.
Snook – Belize… not many snook in the Bahamas. Sure, there are some, like this one from East End Lodge, but you are much, much more likely to get into a nice snook in Belize.
I love Belize. I love the Bahamas. This year is a very, very good year, as I’m going to visit both. The very best situation is when it isn’t either/or, but both.
I’m at the point where I’m excited, but I also know high expectations are a killer.
As fantastic as last year’s Caye Caulker trip were, the day of fly fishing was mostly washed out. I got one nice snook to hand before the storm enveloped us in it’s dark and watery embrace. We spent at least an hour in a hut trying to stay out of the rain. It was not, in pure fishing terms, a super day, although it was still a wonderful day in terms of being on the water with my daughter.
This year should be easier with Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures making sure I’m in the right place at the right time and taking care of many of the getting-there logistics. With the airport on Caye Caulker out of service for repairs, they are making sure I’m getting met at the airport and taken to the water taxi and getting picked up at the dock. Nice service.
I have one day of fly fishing coming up in Belize. Other days will be ruin tours and snorkeling and hanging out. I have just the one day with a guide and we’ll have to keep my daughter happy at the same time.
It could rain hard again.
There could be thick cloud cover and the fish could be hard to see.
Wrong tides… that happens when you don’t have a week of fishing.
My daughter might not be feeling well.
I could get stung by something in the turtle grass and have agonizing nerve pain that keeps my from sleeping at all the night before (as happened during my honeymoon to Belize 5.5 years ago).
There are a million (ok, a few dozen) things that could go wrong.
So… I won’t get too excited.
Need to mentally slow play this.
But still. I’m excited. Jittery (and only on my first cup of coffee).
Can’t wait to get down there and I don’t have to wait long.