21
Jul 16

Andy Mills in Garden and Gun

I was born in 1974, so I missed the peak of Andy Mills’ skiing career and I tend to think of him as a tarpon angler first.

Monte Burke (a real writer, not a hack like me) wrote up a great piece about Andy in Garden & Gun, which is the weirdest title for a magazine that I actually want to read.

This has me thinking about tarpon, one of the other fish I share some brain space with. Tarpon. Mostly, tarpon have kicked my ass. I’ve landed one adult tarpon and three juveniles. I’ve broken a rod on a lost fish, probably jumped 5, fed 20 and nearly wet myself on several more. My interest in tarpon is in direct contrast to my success in angling for them.

Next May I have a conference in Ft. Lauderdale and I’m going to tack on a few days on the back end to try to add another to the tally. My most haunting failures in angling are pretty much all tarpon related.

I envy Andy Mills his talent and his success. I won’t be Andy Mills. I won’t be Nick Mills. I don’t need a thousand fish to the boat, but I would like to hold one more by the lower jaw and look into that massive saucer-sized eye.

Martin tells me they also come in Men's sizes.

Martin tells me they also come in Men’s sizes.

 


20
Jul 16

The Sound and the Fury of PS

If we are happy about the direction of the regulations in the Bahamas, you can bet that our our pal, PS, is not… and he really, really is not. Below, I quote his open letter to Minister Grey. If you read it, and it is not a fun thing to do, just keep in mind he doesn’t seem to call out any one provision to argue against (except the price of the license, which he compares to Colorado, but gets the details wrong). His arguments are nebulous, difficult to get a grasp on, which is pretty much how he’s carried out his opposition to the counter proposals to his own the entire time.

Um... isn't that they guy saying we are all doing it wrong?

Um… isn’t that they guy saying we are all doing it wrong?

The way you should argue is to call out a provision and let us know what impact you think it would have and then suggest an alternative and state why you think it is superior. But old PS doesn’t do that. Maybe he can’t do that. Maybe his mind doesn’t work like that. I don’t know, but that sort of analytical response is something he’s never been able to do without disappearing down a rabbit hole of xenophobia, paranoia and hostility. He can’t stay focused on policy or outcome. His whole argument, for more than a year now, has just been sound and fury and raw emotion and nearly incomprehensible. I say nearly, but really, it is more like totally incomprehensible. How can one person say so much while saying so little?

One can only hope he stand by his threat to resign from the BFFIA. It would be in the best interest of Bahamians, of the guides who work to find us fish so hard in the Bahamas and for us, the clients and customers of those guides, who, together, make up the industry.

 

Dear Prime Minister, Minister Gray and other Cabinet Ministers,

The only thing I have left to give this country is MY LIFE. As I sit here in Colorado, returning home sometime this evening, I have been bombarded from Fly Fishing Guides all around The Bahamas who are screaming about a press Conference held in Orlando at the world’s largest Sportfishing show. THIRTEEN YEARS AGO, I came to The Cabinet of the same PLP Government to get basic legislation done to protect the LARGEST FLATS ON EARTH in the interest of BAHAMIANS and to legitimize the Guiding profession.

Minister Gray, it is a total insult for your PS to be doing a press Conference side by side with The Out Island Promotion Board. The same Minister of Tourism, who has shown ZERO Support 13 years ago for Legislation in the interest of Bahamians, is the same Minister of Tourism who has fought us today every step of the way.

As President of The Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association, I will not be a part of any such Legislation that SELLS out Bahamian interest and GIVES control of our resources to foreign interest and special interest. ALL present promotion Boards of Tourism have fought us every step of the way trying to block this Legislation. They are totally Controlled by special interest and foreign interest who see Bahamians as playing a token role in our number ONE INDUSTRY. BFFIA is the first and only Association in the Country where the Board is controlled and made up of Bahamians who look like the majority of the citizens of The Bahamas. Ironically, it is the only such association that gets zero SUPPORT from our PLP Minister of Tourism and our Ministry of Tourism in general, which claims to put Bahamians first.

Further, this is not a threat, although you may see it as one. In light of these developments, I am prepared to Resign publicly and let The Bahamian people know that after 23 years and going through 7 Ministers of Tourism, we are still struggling in OUR COUNTRY to get through the many GLASS CEILINGS that exist for OUR PEOPLE with respect to real economic empowering opportunities. We pander too much to the special and foreign interests, as if we are like little children who are afraid to cut our own path in life.

My Return home today will be met by hundreds of Guides from Inagua to Grand Bahama who are questioning whether the Government, which was the same with successive Administrations, truly has their best interests at heart.

As you can see, I have attached a fishing license from Colorado, which cost me 14 dollars for a one day license and raises a serious question. Why is our Government telling the world that we will charge 20 dollars a week to fish the best flats in the world? Again the special interests, who totally control our Ministry of Tourism, is advising The Bahamas Government, because we lack the much needed confidence in our own.

[Bjorn – a comment – I see a CO week license at $21, according to their website. A day is $9. So, even the stuff it would be easy to get right, he gets wrong.]

Minister Wilchombe, I have been in Andros now for 23 years, which as you know is the largest island in The Bahamas. It follows, therefore, that I have NEVER seen The Ministry of Tourism hold a single meeting collectively with regards to addressing Tourism on Andros. Even though we have the most Guides in The Country, we have one Family that came from Canada dictating to your Ministry what should happen in Tourism on Andros. They have now been joined by a token black Member of that Board who is prepared to sell her Country and her Soul to the special and foreign interests for pecuniary and non-pecuniary benefits no doubt. Is it any wonder that we are no longer number one in the Caribbean the way we run Tourism in our Country? You have not even shown the common courtesy of acknowledging a single communication from The Board of The Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association, while publicly claiming to put Bahamians FIRST.

Also Cabinet Ministers, you need to know that such persons, like Perk Perkins from Orvis, Ian Davis from Yellowdog Fly fishing, Oliver White the front for Abaco Lodge and Bairs Lodge, are some of the many special interests behind the scenes advising our Ministry of Tourism. Jim Klug, who is part owner of Yellowdog, is also on the Board of The American Fly Fishing Trade Association. It was, therefore, no surprise that they all sat in the room in Orlando yesterday.

Finally Mr. Prime Minister, you had the courage to put this vital piece of Legislation on the agenda to move it forward and, Minister Gray, you have had the courage to lead this important Legislation when our Minister of Tourism fought us every step of the way. So that you are aware, I got instructions from The Father of our nation, as he sat in a van in Staniard Creek and shared with me his vision for Bahamians and The Bahamas. All his books I have read and are in my possession! While he began the journey that led initially to our political independence, he acknowledged that the next step in our journey was and remains economic independence. A Country and People cannot be empowered when its resources are controlled for the benefit of the special and foreign interests, as is sadly the present economic model in our beloved country. Needless to say, this is for ALL of you in Cabinet who like to call Sir Lynden’s name but refuse to live up to what he was really all about. From the College of The Bahamas to the Defence force to the many other institutions he established, this Historic Legislation is a part of the journey to reach true economic independence .

 

Yours sincerely,

Prescott Smith
President
Bahamas Fly Fishing Industry Association
P O Box CB-13498
Nassau, Bahamas


15
Jul 16

How close we came

Happy in the Bahamas, a scene now likely to be repeated.

Happy in the Bahamas, a scene now likely to be repeated.

Reflecting on the news that the proposed regs look, really, pretty good, I think it makes sense to look at the ideas that got shed from the start, through the middle and to the (possible) end of this process.

  • Guides issue licenses – This could have let a guide just decide not to give you a license, meaning you couldn’t plan a trip because you could get there and find no one wanted to give you a license.
  • The Box – there were going to be set areas for DIY, not the best, and that would be it.
  • No DIY on certain Islands – Along with the boxes, some islands would have just been off limits. The whole place is open for business, willing to accept your business in whatever form you can give it.
  • BFFIA everything – At one point or another it was proposed the BFFIA would certify guides and lodges. They were going to decide where conservation money would go. They would take care of enforcement. That’s all gone. They’ll be part of it, but not all of it and it won’t be their show. If you wonder how He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named feels about the legislation, he’s on the verge of imploding over it, which I take as an excellent sign.
  • No Confusing License Scheme – There was a time when you might, on a single trip, need three different licenses based on who you were fishing with. That’s gone.
  • Foreign owned lodge ban – This was never likely, but the intent was in there, even if the mechanism couldn’t work.
  • Second home owners can still fish – You can take your wife out or your buddy out if you have a house in Abaco or Exuma or Grand Bahama.

Basically, this is a straight forward proposal with all the idiocy removed. This is a pretty solid proposal and I support it. There will be a license. There will be certification and training to ensure the quality of the guides (that last Abaco trip I had maybe 6 or 7 guys tell me they were “guides,” who clearly were not, so that seems a good thing).

The Bahamas’ fly fishing industry has been saved (for now, at least).

What this means to me is that I will go back to the Bahamas. I will go back with my family for family trips. I will go back and fish with guides, at lodges and on my own. It means the Bahamas can continue to be a special place for me and I’ll continue to enjoy its places and people.

I’m happy for my Bahamian friends and I’m happy for my fishing friends.

There are very real threats to the Bahamas, mostly from over-development and industrial exploitation. We have to continue to watch these things and use our muscle, when we can, to keep things in the Bahamas as beautiful and pristine as possible.

 


13
Jul 16

First take on the Bahamas Regs from ICAST

You can go to the BTT facebook page and watch the presentation of the regs by the Permanent Secretary at the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, Ms. Rena Glinton. It is also on the BOTB facebook page.

Here’s my first take on the regs presented at ICAST.

  • DIY appears to be mostly, if not wholly untouched. Your DIY fears appear to be mitigated for the vast majority of anglers. The only folks caught out are boats with more than 2 people, although the language on that is a bit iffy for me at this point.
  • There are not different licenses for guided or unguided or semi-guided. There’s just one license with different lengths of time.
  • License fees are modest and in-line. $20/week and $60/year. I’m OK with that. The fee is still split between conservation and the general fund.
  • The training and certification of guides will take place with guide associations… plural. That’s good. This will include the Abaco guide’s association too.
  • The enforcement powers will be governmental, not NGO, which means it isn’t the Prescott show.
  • Catch and Release is the law of the land, except locals are allowed to maybe keep one to eat, although I don’t know if that is per-day or what, exactly.
  • I wasn’t sure if locals needed a license or not.

My main point of confusion was about if you needed a guide if you had a boat. Ms. Glinton might not have had this totally right. She said that if one person was fishing and another was poling, it was only one angler and wouldn’t require a guide. But, out of skiff, unless you are throwing hardware or bait, you aren’t going to have more than one person fishing at a time. You could have, in theory, 5 guys in a boat and only one of them is going to be fishing at a time. So, I don’t think that is actually what they mean.

They presented some numbers that were a little questionable. They said recreational flats angling accounted for $500,000,000/year. The previous study was $140M, so this is a 2.5X increase over those numbers, which make it possible, but not probable.

Funny to me, they presented the $500M/year number, a job number of 18,000 (both directly and indirectly) and a recreational angler number of 37,000. Then, on the heals of those numbers, they said because of those numbers it “… has become necessary to regulate and develop this sector…” Kind of like saying “Given the billion users and billions of dollars of income, we, the government, have decided the step in to help Facebook better serve its users and to ensure it will continue to grow.”

I’d argue that if recreational flats fishing contributes $500M annually to the Bahamas, that’s a pretty good argument to leave it alone, unless you think the regulation of the flats industry will add to the tally or preserve the future of that industry and the evidence that the industry is in peril is pretty scant.

Still, the regulations appear, at first blush, to be pretty good. DIY is in tact. The BFFIA is not going to get the keys to the kingdom. The government will be tasked with enforcement, not brute squads or the BFFIA.

It might be possible to improve on the legislation, but it could be much, much, much worse. Really, every previous proposal from the BFFIA/Fisheries has been horrific, but this is much more in line with the voices of reason.

That’s my $.02.

 


12
Jul 16

News pending tomorrow

Well, it has been quiet here at Bonefish on the Brain world headquarters, but I suspect there will be news tomorrow. There should be news out of ICAST and I’m waiting to hear exactly what that is.

It has been a long year and I don’t expect any resolution. A shallow shoreline generally means the water is shallow too, meaning what you can’t see is often similar to what you can and what we have seen is just a long back-and-forth between Tourism (yay) and Fisheries (boo).

I do know that whatever is being announced has not been shared with the Abaco Fly Fishing Guide’s Association (we like them), which is one of those things that makes me a little uneasy.

So, we wait.

Feels like staking out a channel for tarpon and just waiting for them to show up. Long bouts of boredom followed my mere moments of thrashing, banging, crazy activity.


01
Jul 16

The Dangers of Facebook

Caught!

Happy to share this tiny bit of news with my friends.

Happy to share this tiny bit of news with my friends.

However…

Umm....

Umm….


11
Jun 16

El Pescador Tarpon Tagging Expedition

This looks like a good time.


10
Jun 16

A little mangrove destruction in Fresh Creek

I saw some photos yesterday of some mangroves being ripped up near Fresh Creek in Andros.

Mangroves, as most folks here would know, are vital. They are the nurseries for juvenile fish. They hold the shoreline in place when the big storms come through. They are host to crabs and shrimp and all manner of wild things.

You shouldn’t rip out mangroves because you want to put in a fuel station.

But… if the reports are true, that’s exactly what our good ole pal Prescott Smith is doing down in Andros. Yup, that Knight of Conservation appears to be ripping out mangroves. And yes, that’s a bonefish flat right in front of the ripped out mangroves.

It boggles the mind.

The number one threat to bonefish is not angler pressure or illegal netting or pollution. The number one threat to bonefish is habitat loss.

There is a lot of habitat in Andros. Miles and miles and miles of it, square miles. It is the biggest nursery in the Caribbean. It is only that good because it is mostly intact. Bonefish won’t be lost by a few huge devastating blows, but by a thousand little cuts. This is one such little cut.


06
Jun 16

Interview with Tom Karrow

Tom Karrow is gathering up guide stories, histories and knowledge all for a pretty cool project.  I asked him to share some information about this project and to lend some of his insights gained thus far.

Check it out.

Tom interviewing Bahamian guide Jeffrey Ferguson, photo by Dan Decibel.

Tell me a little about the project you’ve been working on. What was the inspiration and where are you in the process?

The project I am working on is funded through the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust as well as a series of other industry supporters including Nautilus Reels, RL Winston Fly Rods, FishPond, 12 Weight, Costa, the Fisheries Conservation Foundation and World Angling. I have also had great on-island support from lodges like, North Riding Point Club, H2O Bonefishing, Deep Water Cay, Bairs Lodge, Swains Cay Lodge and industry associations like the Abaco FlyFishing Guides Association.. not too mention the dozens of participating guides including amazing Bahamian elders like Ansil Saunders, David Pinder Sr. O’Donald McIntosh, Basil Minns, and Maitland Lowe. My primary goal for BTT is generating fisheries habitat maps in collaboration with local Bahamian angling guides on Bimini, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Exuma and Andros. These islands were selected because of the size of their angling tourism sector and the longevity of their fisheries… Bimini became a popular angling destination as early as 1923 with the establishment of the Bimini rod and gun club. While I am working with guides to generate habitat maps, I am also examining fisheries population dynamics for Bonefish, Tarpon, Permit (and more). These populations have changed over time, and it is critical to establish some sort of “baseline” in the absence of commercial fisheries catch rates. Without a baseline, it is difficult as a resource manager to assess increases or declines in populations, the effects of conservation measures, climate change impacts or source point pollution issues like dredging, oil spills, or waste water discharges. Many Bahamian guides have been guiding for decades; their experiences on the water are vital for better understanding ecosystems and the changes that have occurred in these systems. I am also trying to give these Bahamian icons recognition for their tireless efforts in working to learn about the fishery, and establish a world-class fisheries-based tourism destination. Their stories and experiences are being documented both in print and on film for release of a book entitled “Ghost Stories” and an accompanying documentary film. Film shorts and a trailer will be released through the International FlyFishing Film Tour (among other media sources) and will highlight not just bonefishing/fish porn, but the Bahamian culture, its history, food, customs and more. Ghost Stories will tell the story of the Bahamian bonefishing through the eyes of local Bahamian guides. I am grateful for support from Capt. Will Benson and World Angling who bring a wealth of professionalism and expertise to this vital effort. The challenge lies in funding for filming which is very costly.

Tom interviewing Ronnie at Bair’s Lodge in Andros while Dan Decibel films.

What is something that has surprised you about your project thus far?

A couple of things come to mind. Firstly the sheer magnitude of Bahamian generosity, courtesy and willingness to accommodate me needs mention. I have not found more polite, friendly people and I love returning to the islands. Beyond that, I think the beauty of the islands is stunning. Each time I land in a new destination, I say to myself… “this is the most beautiful place I have been”…. it makes me appreciate travelling throughout the islands and reminds me to encourage anglers to try new Bahamian destinations…. there are 700 Bahamian islands after all! I too am guilty of returning to familiar grounds when travelling but I can say, angling diversity throughout the Bahamas is worth seeing and you will become a better angler having had more experiences in a variety of locations with the teachings from local guides. Each destination I travel to holds a place in my heart whether it is because of local people, the geography, the food etc. and I hope some day to return to each place. I am fortunate to have met and interviewed, some of the Bahamian legends that I have; I cherish the time I have had with each of these finest of people.

You have been doing a LOT of traveling around the Bahamas recently. Any tips or tricks for helping get “there” with your sanity intact?

Remember you are on ” island time”, relax, go with the flow and enjoy the journey…. some of the most interesting people and contacts I have made were during “travel days”. Travel with the locals, embrace Bahamian people and their culture. More practically, leave lots of time, carry essentials with you (in case luggage arrives later) and fly direct if possible to avoid transfers, weather delays etc.

Tom with guide Dex Rolle in Exuma. Photo by Dan Decibel.

What do you think the state of Bahamian guiding is in at this point?

The quality of guides I have found throughout the islands is unparalleled. The best in my opinion, recognize the importance of the industry to Bahamians, they acknowledge their important role in that industry, they are well versed in local ecological processes and they are tourism and hospitality experts… largely self trained by the way, although there is a ‘tradition’ of guiding in some Bahamian families. In a few cases, the 3rd or 4th generation of family guides are now carrying on this tradition having learned from Bahamian greats.. a perfect example of this is the Pinder family of Grand Bahama who were, and are, lead by phenomenal Bahamian great, David Pinder Sr. Other families like the Smiths, Leadons, and Lowes follow suit. Beyond this, there are some issues with other aspects of the “state of guiding” in the islands. On many islands, new young guides are hard to find. Elder guides tell me, the younger generation finds guiding too hard, too much work and they see jobs in medicine or law as more credible. This will be an issue in the future of the Bahamas. We all have to address this problem as technology takes a greater role in the lives of our children and time in the outdoors is reduced.

Describe one of your favorite flats.

Personally, I prefer angling from a boat. I like diversity in a flat, I like a mixed shoreline and beach, coral and mangroves… I find it more challenging. I also like some access to deep water where species like Permit and Tarpon may travel through on their way to the flat so there is potentially a surprise on every flat. I love the flats of Northern Grand Bahama because they provide such diversity in terms of species and habitats, and I thank both H2O Bonefishing and Grand Bahama Bonefishing for showing me this incredible habitat. Sandy areas mixed with grass flats and everything in between allow for just about anything to happen. If wading, I much prefer a hard consistently white sandy flat so I can get beautiful Bahamian sand between my toes … I think of Exuma for this type of flat and I am on my way there today!

When you are on the water a lot you see some weird things. What’s something you’ve seen on the water that fits that bill?

Last time I was in the field, I had some down time to actually fish… a rarity rest assured! Research and interviewing are the focus of my time in the Bahamas… that is sometimes tough because I do love to throw a line and fly! However, two things come to mind with that question. On a flat on Great Exuma in January, I was wading when I heard and then saw a 5-6 foot black tip shark beach itself while chasing its prey. Right out of the water and well up the beach, it frantically thrashed about as it tried to return to the water which it did. Before that, I had never seen something like that. I also remember being with Androsian great, Charlie Neymour on a strong outgoing tide in about 10 feet of water looking for Permit in June. The water was so hot, that large off-shore permit up to 60 or 70 lbs. came right in on the boat, taking refuge under the boat in the shade it provided… that was crazy and pretty amazing to see. I might have gone in to swim with them had the current not been so strong the fact that some large Bull Sharks had followed the permit!

Where are you headed next?

My research efforts began in 2014 and I am approaching the end of official field work. While there will always be more guides to interview (and I would love to), from a research and funding standpoint I am close to having enough interviews from each of the study islands to accurately represent the local fisheries. Currently, I am en route to Exuma to interview a few more guides and will then travel to Andros for several weeks of travel and interviews from the south end all the way to the north end. I try to interview 50% of the guides on each island so I may return to Abaco in the fall for a few days. I would love to continue this study on Acklins, Long Island, Eleuthera and other Bahamian islands, but those are not in the cards at this time!

Thanks Tom. Can’t wait to see this thing!

 

 


28
May 16

Getting out

I love the longer days.

One thing I kind of hate about winter is the later afternoon darkening. The world seems so less full of possibilities when it is dark at 5:00.

Now, it is still light after dinner. That means I can be a good husband and father and still manage to sneak away for a bit to fling flies in the Bay.

So, I did.

The stripers aren’t here yet, at least not in numbers sufficient for me to find them… or not where I know where to look, I suppose. I have a lot more to learn about chasing stipers in San Francisco Bay, but that’s part of the process. You have to suck at something before you can be good at it.

The fish count yesterday was 0 stripers and 1 Jack Smelt.

I’ll take it.

The sun finally setting on the SF Bay in late May.

The sun finally setting on the SF Bay in late May.