Here is Elliott’s second part of the Bahamas trip podcast. In this part you’ll here about conservation efforts in the Bahamas and you’ll learn a bit about the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and you’ll also come along with me as we deal with the aftermath of a dead bonefish. Yup… I killed a bonefish. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I did. We’ll explore some of the ethics around that and where I may have, momentarily, fallen down.
It is possible to have a lot of thoughts about where the line is… but sometimes… sometimes is it a little hard to see.
Bonefishing is a blood sport (the picture below isn’t from this trip even… if you fish for bonefish, this is going to happen, sooner or later). Fish will die, even when you do everything right. That’s why it’s so important to get everything right that you CAN control.
I had the good fortune to spend a week at East End Lodge on Grand Bahama with Elliott Adler, a writer for The Drake Magazine and the “Podfather” of the DrakeCast. We are separated by about two decades, but the gap narrowed on the bow of a skiff and we got on well. This was Elliott’s first bonefishing trip and he did very well, being a good caster and a generally fishy guy helped him come up to speed quickly. Here’s a short interview with Elliott on his first bonefishing experience.
We got to spend a week fishing in Grand Bahama for bonefish. What stands out from that trip? Are there one or two moments that replay in your head?
Having never really fished a saltwater flat before, this entire experience was pretty novel for me. The first thing that struck me was the layers of the horizon. This hit before I grabbed a rod. We were out on these flats where the water went from navy blue to turquoise until it hit a bright white sand bar, then behind that was a thin band of green mangroves, then the sky, then the cathedral of clouds, until finally directly above us would be blue sky. This is a classic image of the Bahamas which has been featured on the cover of probably every fishing magazine but it was still pretty breath-taking to experience in person.
While the focus of the trip was bonefish, I had just as much fun catching every other species out there. Between the two of us we probably landed 3 species of snapper and maybe 5 others that I can’t recall. Each one was new to me and they all put up a better fight than the average trout I encounter.
Our guide Cecil really made the trip. I remember him saying something along the lines of “clients don’t come back to these lodges because of the management, they come back because they had a good time with the guide.” I whole heartedly believe this to be true. Without him I would have had a real tough time landing my first bonefish. But much more important than that, he was just really fun to be around. Great attitude, told good stories, and gave really frank on-the-record answers to my questions about environmental damage over the past 30 years and other problems in the Bahamas even though he knows I work for a fly fishing magazine. A lot of lodge owners and guides won’t do that out of fear of harming their livelihood.
How did bonefishing live up to or fail to live up to the hype?
I had always heard bonefishing was about stalking a fish and then that initial run once you get them on the reel. Almost like a positive reenforcement for putting in the hard work and making the right cast. I had a couple fish that made my reel scream and I’ll definitely remember them, but in both of those cases the guide did most of the work for me, which made the reward less sweet. So in those cases the hype seemed to be a bit overbuilt. What got me the most excited was walking the flats on my own trying to put it all together by myself. I managed to land a couple fish without any assistance. They were both small but those will be the most memorable fish of the trip and that individual aspect will be what makes me come back in the future.
What were your impressions of the Bahamas?
In short: Great people, great food, great fishing. You don’t want me to go into my thoughts on the economics of the place.
What’s something you learned from Cecil in our week of being on the water with him?
I relearn this every time I fish with a guide, but it’s always good to be reminded how well many guides know their water and the time and dedication it took for them to gain that knowledge. Cecil was one of the more dedicated fisherman with whom I’ve had the pleasure to share a boat.
Is there a blown shot you’d like to have back? If so, describe it.
I missed so many shots that its hard to pick a single one, but the first fish I threw at sticks out. Maybe it’s because this was the first bonefish I had a chance at catching, or maybe it’s because 40% of its back was out of the water, but I think that was the biggest fish I saw. Of course I landed the fly right on its back and the thing spooked immediately. On a positive note, that fish really grounded me in the flats fishing mindset which was necessary and probably helped me for the rest of the week.
Elliott with a solid East End Lodge bonefish.
Bonefish… great fish, or the greatest fish?
There’s no doubt that bonefish are a great fish, but calling it the greatest would be premature. There are so many incredible species I haven’t even seen. So the jury is still out. Besides that, steelhead still probably hold the #1 spot in my heart.
It was nice being on the water with you Elliott. I hope our paths cross again.
You can check out Elliott’s podcast , The DrakeCast, from our week together here.
Man… what a week that was at East End Lodge. It’s been a while since I’ve had 6 straight days of fishing and it was glorious. I don’t think I’ve had 6 days of such good weather in all my flats fishing life (only a decade of doing this, so others certainly have a longer time-span to compare).
The fishing was solid. We had days that were better than others, but overall there were plenty of fish around.
I was accompanied on this trip by Elliott Adler, a guy I had never met before. That’s a risk, fishing with a guy who you don’t know. It worked out well and we fished together well. He’s a good caster and easy to share a skiff with, and I’m not saying that just because he let me catch the first fish, although that helps.
We really got to explore the East End on this trip and I remain impressed with the size of the fishery. There really are a lot of options out there and Cecil, our guide for the week, had enough room to enable him to dodge the squalls and thunderheads that would loom, threateningly off in the distance, conjured from the afternoon heat.
A few memorable moments…
The permit shot – wasn’t expecting one. I had it… I missed it, but when you don’t permit fish often every shot is a memory.
Elliott’s first bonefish – always nice to be there for someone’s first bonefish. It is sometimes the start of obsession.
Paddling crabs – we found a bunch of crabs hitching rides and paddling on mangrove leaves. I had heard about that once before, but had never seen it. They were using tools! Somehow we didn’t get a picture of those.
Late nights with Rob – Rob was a great host and we spent many hours at the bar late into the night talking about everything from Rob’s childhood (which was very different from my own) to politics to Bahamian flats fishing regulations to life on the East End.
Some memorable fish – the cruisers along the shoreline the last day, the fish in the mangroves, the shark munched bone that was hit by both a cuda and a shark.
The day had been pretty good and this our sixth and final day fishing out of East End Lodge on Grand Bahama.. We had waded a couple of lakes you couldn’t get a boat into, although there is no way I could point you to them on a map. Cecil knows where they are.
I had caught a few fish, the winds were low, the sun was high and the clouds were few and far-between. Basically, it was a great day for bonefishing.
The third to last spot we were fishing from the skiff and found a small school of really picky fish. The lead fish would spook easily and the rest of the school took their cues from those spooky fish. Eventually, I got the cast in well ahead of the fish, waited for the jittery fish to pass over and then gave a couple slight twitches and got an eat.
I lost that fish.
Next spot and it was the kind of bottom you have to have bionic eyes to see the fish on. Cecil had me casting at fish and often I only had the vaguest notion of where they were. Still, I got eats. Three, to be exact, and every single one of them came unbuttoned.
Last spot and it was a nice looking flat with a small island in the center. As we drifted I told Cecil to give it 20 more minutes and then we’d get back. It was the end-of-season party at three and we’d be getting in close to that time. I didn’t see any fish and my mind was starting to go through what I needed to get packed up and how long it might take to get to the airport. After ten minutes I told Cecil that we should pack it up.
He said “Just wait. Let me pole you for a couple minutes here.”
About a minute later he had me casting to a bonefish. One strip and I was tight. I landed the fish.
Last cast of the six days of fishing was a fish. Hard to argue with that.
It was the second to last day and we were on the skiff with Cecil. The tide was coming in, the fish heading up into the mangroves, some hanging around the edges. I was up on the bow and Cecil called out two fish cruising in and out of the mangroves, just 40 feet away. It seemed they might move further in and the shot would be gone.
I had a window to make a cast. There were two mangroves about five feet apart and a dinner table sized area of white sand. The fish were cruising left to right. I made the cast, didn’t hang up in the bushes and the fly (a tan shrimp) landed well.
In cases like this I figure you hook the fish and then see where things go from there.
The fish jumped on the fly, I managed not to trout set or pull the fly out of the fish’s mouth and the game was on.
The fish ran back into the mangroves, line screaming off the reel and I tried to lighten the drag to give the fish less to pull against.
We could see the fish thirty feet from the mangroves, back over the sand, unable to move any further. We tried to find the leader or line, but couldn’t see either, so we went back to where the line went into the jumble of roots and twigs. I put on my boots and jumped out of the boat to trace the bonefish’s route back to open water.
It worked. I followed the backing back to the line and then back to the open water. The fish still had some gas, but not much. He came to hand moments later, a nice fish, about 5.5 pounds (maybe 5).
The cast, the fight through the mangroves, landing the fish, the good release… that was my favorite fish of the trip.
Back from a week of fishing at East End Lodge and my liver is thanking me for the respite.
The set-up at East End Lodge has a bar in the common room/dining room where you can normally find Rob, co-owner of East End Lodge, working away at his laptop in the morning as he pours over weather reports, or in the evening as he mans the bar pouring a cocktail or two.
Let me just say, I’m pretty sure Rob tried to kill me one night with rum. Every time I looked away (and even when I didn’t) my glass was magically re-filled, an impish grin on Rob’s face. Luckily, his plot failed and I survived, able to fish the next day with no ill effects.
OK, that may be a bit of an overstatement.
Truth is, the place had a great vibe, Rob and Cecil (business partners and friends) are great hosts. The whole staff was friendly and accommodating.
I got back home just a few hours ago from East End Lodge. This is the second week of July and it closed out their season. After six days of fishing this last week, here’s what I can tell you about fishing the Bahamas in July (experiences may differ).
There are trade-offs in everything… opportunity costs. To get thing A you give up thing B.
What you get by fishing in July is silky smooth conditions, the only breeze being the boat ride from one spot to the next. Previously, I think I had seen one day of flat conditions and in the six days of fishing I had there was only a half-day of light wind.
Glass is forged in heat.
I didn’t know it could be like this.
The last morning
That’s what you get, but what do you give up?
The July sun without wind is a baking kind of heat. It is a “Your phone is too hot to properly function” kind of heat. If you can deal with the hydration-stealing, sweat-dripping heat, and there are those who simply can’t (I’m looking at you dad), it may be the most wonderful time to fish (I’ve heard conditions are similar in October, but I haven’t fished that month).
You also have storm cells which build in the heat of the day and can unleash torrents of rain and sheets of lightning. We were driven off the water a couple times, ending the day an hour or two early, but that seemed a small price to pay.
We did find some water which was simply too hot. When water temps get to 85 bonefish will find cooler, usually deeper, waters. There were plenty of places still getting a good flush of tidal water.
The geography of Grand Bahama and the alertness of our guide, Cecil, meant we simply dodged the storms. We could go North or South and weave our way around the dark clouds. We got rained on for a grand total of about 45 seconds, which is all credit to Cecile.
If the fishing is so good and the conditions so inviting, why do pretty much all the fishing lodges close down? Hurricane season? Maybe, but while we were there Rob, co-owner of East End Lodge, turned down several trips for August. People are still willing to come. So, what is it?
One word… lobster.
It’s pretty much about the lobster. All the guides will be out checking their lobster condos come August 1. I’d be surprised if there was a guide in all of the Bahamas who won’t be out collecting lobster once the season opens. It is a critical component to a Bahamian’s income and even more so a part of Bahamian culture.
If you are a wind hater and enjoy hobbies like smelting or glass blowing, July just might be for you.
I didn’t fully fill up my new fly box, but I did put some good Grand Bahama meat in there. I have the rods and the lines and all my gear. I have my sunscreen and my Body Glide to prevent that inner thigh chaffing that can straight up ruin your trip.
My next trip is NOT going to sneak up on me. I started tying for it last night for East End Lodgein Grand Bahama.
I’m tying some meat flies. #2’s. Some with lead eyes, some with bead chain, all with more material that two #6’s use.
The fish of Grand Bahama, to my memory and from my limited experience, are just bigger than most places. The may average around 4 pounds and I’ve seen the photographic evidence of fish will into the 10+ pound range. Hawaii, the West Side of Andros and Grand Bahama seem, to me, to be the best places to look for your 10 pounder.
This trip is going to be an interesting one. I may finally get to meet BTT’s Justin Lewis and I’ll be accompanied on this trip by Elliott Adler, who produces The Drake Cast(the Drake’s podcast, which I highly recommend). Elliott has never caught a bonefish before and he’s going to be in the waters of my first bonefish.