There’s this post from the folks over at Yellow Dog.
Belize is just a fantastic place full of natural wonders and there will always be those who want to break just a little piece of it for their own. The problem is that this IS a zero sum game. They aren’t making more Belizes. This is the only one the Belizian people have. Screw this up and it is gone for good.
Sadly, Joe passed away in March, 2022. I never got to fish with Joe, although I tried a couple of times. Those who knew him speak of him fondly, both as a person and as someone who loved and worked to protect Biscayne Bay. This interview was from 2010.
When it comes to Biscayne Bay and bonefish a guy who will probably come up in conversation is Joe Gonzalez. Joe has been a guide for a long time, he knows the water, he knows the fish and he’s tagged more bonefish than I will ever catch. Joe and I recently connected via the phone for an interview.
Bonefish release with Captain Joe
What makes the fishing in Biscayne Bay unique and what’s your favorite thing about the fishery?
What makes Biscayne Bay fishing unique, unlike the mid keys or lower keys, our flats on the north end of the bay are not as large, not as big and you can jump from flat to flat with ease until you find fish, unlike most Keys flats and banks that are massive. We also have a very strong winter time bonefishery here, even when the temps drop below the mid-60’s. You can still find fish, usually in large schools and have a banner day with northerly winds of up to 20 mph. We have a gargonian type bottom, lots of sea fans and basket sponges and gargonian sponges and for some reason the fish like to hang out in those areas at that time of year. You find a lot of fish, but you break them off.
Biscayne Bay, being at Miami’s doorstep with three million people, you would think the ecosystem would be in a deplorable state, but actually it is a pristine environment with a healthy fishery and plenty of food stores for the fish.
Biscayne Bay is known for two things… big bonefish and tough bonefish. Does Biscayne Bay deserve that reputation?
Yes, Biscayne Bay is not an easy fishery. Many think of calm, slick water and sunny days to be the best conditions. But ask most guides and they would usually prefer some wind and low light conditions. I myself love fishing in strong winds. The fish drop their guard and eat flies well. They move better and feed hard.
If you look at the world record books, out of 187 world records, 127 of them were caught in the US, most of the world record fish were caught in the Florida Keys and Biscayne Bay area. A lot more people fish the Keys than Biscayne Bay, but 10 world record fish have been caught in Biscayne Bay.
Most people go down to the Keys, Islamorada, to fish. Most of the time, people don’t think of Biscayne Bay or Miami. You usually get people when they are coming down on business and you get them on either end of the business trip. That’s how the start to learn about the fishery, for the most part.
What is the state of the fishery?
It seems like with the cold blast we had in January the fishery suffered a bit. We found that most of the affected areas were the back country parts of both Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay. The exterior parts of both Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay didn’t suffer as much as far as bonefish depletion. I fished hard for two weeks after the blast and the fishing was really good. It was somewhat of a relief to me and to others that there are still plenty of fish around. The press got a hold of some of the bonefish stories and exaggerated. Most of our outside fish ran offshore, probably to the Hawks Channel area and or deeper areas to take refuge when the surf temps dropped below 60.
So yes, the fishery is not as strong as it used to be, but we’ll always be talking about how it used to be.
You’ve been involved in bonefish tagging for the University of Miami with over 1,300 fish tagged. What have you learned about bonefish through that work?
It has helped understand their growth rates and movements. Working with Dr. Jerry Alt and Mike Larkin from the University of Miami Bonefish Research Program, we do an annual bonefish census and it gives us the number of bonefish. We learned that they live up to 20 years by taking the odilith and counting the rings, much like counting the rings of a tree. The oldest fish ever documented was about 20, according to Mike Larkin. 70% of the recaptures are within 2 miles. The tagging program gives us an idea about the number of fish, but it is more useful in letting us know about the movements of the fish.
Mike Larkin putting in an acoustic tag.
I have also helped with acoustic telemetry, which is putting transmitters into bonefish and setting up receiver fences and every time a fish comes by it records which fish has come by. We have learned that maybe
I don’t know if you are aware, there is a bonefish I tagged on February 11th, I believe, 6-7 years ago… the fish was at large 10 months and it was recaptured January 31st and it was recaptured in the middle bight of Andros.
I’m very familiar with that fish. I didn’t know that was you!
Everybody thought that Florida bonefish were only found in Florida and that the Bahamas fish were only in the Bahamas and the Mexican fish were only in Mexico. They thought all these fish were different, separate bodies of fish. With that one fish being found down in Andros (and Kenny Knutson our of Islamorada tagged a fish 2-3 years after my fish and it was also found over there in the middle bights of Andros), so there may be a genetic link between Florida bonefish and Bahamas bonefish with that fish making a trans-Atlantic crossing… it was the longest recorded migration at 187 miles, but it was a trans-Atlantic crossing, the fish had to cross the Gulf Stream. The closest point to where this fish was tagged is Bimini, which is 48-50 miles across the ocean and once the fish is in Bimini it is up on the Bahamian Bank.
I was invited by Venezuela, through the University of Miami, to fish in Los Roques and introduce the same tagging program we have here in Florida. The asked me to go, I packed and went. The fishery down there, the different camps and lodges and guides, it isn’t a happy place… folks don’t get along. I was able to go down there as kind of an ambassador. I speak the lingo, I speak Spanish fluently and I was able to go down there and make some peace between these guys and help everyone get on the same page and help everyone realize that by tagging bonefish, it is making the whole business down there a little bit more environmentally friendly. They were very receptive and with me being a guide they were able to relate to me. I was on their same level. It was a real good experience. The main guy that pioneered the bonefishing down there is a guy named Alex Gonzalez. People either like him or hate him. They’ve started a tagging program and they are starting to be able to estimate numbers, get growth rates, and do what we’ve done here. It was great being down there.
When I went down there I thought it was going to be easy. I’ll tell you what… it was hard to get the fish to eat. When I was on my own… now, I know how to strip, I know how to feed a fish… I thought, but I’d try it and they’d spook and I’d work with one of the guides and they knew how to read their fish better than I did because they were their fish. It was crazy. It’s like starting all over again. It showed me that there are things you know from being on the water that are special and unique to each place.
The more you are on the water, the more odd and unique things you get a chance to see. What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen out there?
One of the weirdest things I’ve seen is bonefish being prayed on by porpoise. I’ve seen propose corralling bonefish up on the flats and it’s not a pretty sight. It’s interesting, because it is nature taking its course. It is the only time I’ve seen bonefish coming out of the water and not bibbling, as they do in the Bahamas (kind of a rolling thing that bonefish sometimes do). When a pod of porpoise were chasing a school of bonefish and I saw a couple of bonefish go airborne trying to escape.
Bibbling, I’ve seen that down in Los Roques too. Bonefish sometimes, when they come off a flat and they are in a deep channel, they’ll do what they call in the Bahamas “bibbling,” kind of a rolling on the surface.
Another thing, they say that bonefish are really spooky and guides and anglers get upset when boats run close by and spook fish. Believe it or not, there are flats that have a lot of boat traffic, especially on the weekends, but the fish have evolved to get used to the noise… believe it or not, I’ve caught fish on flats despite having boats up on the flats because the wakes from the boats loosed the bottom and it makes it easier for the bones to find shrimp, crabs and crustaceans I’ll tell my anglers to look for the muds in the muds. I’ll be on the edges of the channels and the boats will come by and create a lot mud, but the fish are in the mud making mud. You are in fresh mud looking for new puffs of mud. It’s kind of weird telling my anglers to look for mud inside mud, but when you find it, it’s a gimme.
One really weird thing… and this was real… I was out with a friend of mine off of Key Largo in the early 90’s and I saw a bonefish with its head out of the water. It looked like it was walking on its tail. We approached it slowly, thinking it was dying or dead, but when we popped up next to it, it swam away… and no, I wasn’t high or drunk. Never, ever have I seen a fish doing that.
What’s your most memorable bonefish?
My most memorable bonefish… I was fishing with a guy named Mike Swerdlow, who’s been doing it forever with some of the best guides in the Keys since the 70’s. Mike’s the kind of guy that, when fishing together would screw me up a bit because he wouldn’t let me get close to the fish so he could make a 70-90 foot cast and usually that isn’t a high percentage shot with most of my clients, but Mike is different. He wants the hero shot, at 100 feet, and what’s funny, is that he can make it. We were fishing an area in Biscayne Bay called Feathervit Bank in the early 90’s when there was a fair number of big fish in that area and we spotted a single fish, up on the bank, tailing. We had been fishing deeper water for mudding fish so he had on a relatively large epoxy fly that was popular back then and was too heavy to throw at tailing fish, but he asked me pole up to that fish and give him a try. It was a small window of opportunity and we didn’t want to lose it. So, I went ahead and polled up to the fish, but I told Mike the fly was inappropriate, but he insisted on not changing the fly that would have been far better in 2.5 feet of water as opposed to 12 inches. He made the cast with that big epoxy fly and put it about a foot from the fish with a big plop and the fish jumps on the fly, runs 100 yards west on the bank with the line making a bonefish rooster tail all the way. I wish I could have videoed that fish. It is still vivid in my mind. It is moments like these that we live for, dream about and spend countless amounts of monies and time for that feeling.
The tailing fish…. One solo fish… back out of the water fish… that’s the highest, the pinnacle… and to do it with the wrong fly on a long cast… it was that scenario… never in a million years would I think the guy was going to catch the fish… and to have it happen and it was probably an 11-12 pound bonefish.
What’s your favorite rod/reel?
I’ve been using the NautilusFeatherweight. I love those reels.
As far as rods, I’ve been using the S4S in an 8 wt. with a matching Nautilus reel.
My Facebook Memory today was me with a very nice tarpon on a trip I had with Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures and Jim Klug in Cuba. I wrote Jim just to thank him for that experience and we got to talking about fly fishing travel and where things stand now. I sent Jim some questions and he took the time to respond. Thanks for that Jim.
For me it is going to be a while longer. I’m vaccinated and employed, so that’s good, but child care is much more complicated and my wife’s doctor schedule is unpredictable for the time being. We’ll need things to settle a bit before I find myself on a flat, but I am thinking a lot more about it these days… looking at pictures, going through my gear, thinking about what plans I need to set in motion.
Jim provides some insight and good advice in the answers below.
How did Yellow Dog weather the pandemic?
Well … We’re still here! There is no doubt that 2020 was a difficult year for our business and for destination angling in general. We had thousands of trips that were cancelled or postponed
What did you learn about the travel business and your own company as a result of the pandemic?
We had some interesting and important take-aways from 2020, and we learned some valuable and important lessons about both our business and our customers. All told, Yellow Dog navigated some tricky waters in 2020, and along the way, we identified some key take-aways from the past 16 months:
We learned that for our clients, having a legitimate agent working on their behalf is incredibly beneficial – especially when things get difficult. We saw this play out time and again in 2020. While we were not always able to immediately fix things or deliver the perfect answer for cancelled trips, we worked tirelessly for our customers – operating on their behalf and looking out for their interests. Having an agent like Yellow Dog (the largest creator of trips for many of the lodges in the industry) often-times made a difference. For people that had booked on their own or through a smaller shop or hobby agent, the outcomes – and the solutions offered – were often-times markedly different.
Patience is everything. We’ve learned that tenacity and persistence goes a long way when it comes to re-bookings, re-schedulings and other resolutions. In the beginning of the pandemic, many operators and lodges were unprepared or unable to provide optimal solutions for cancelled or affected trips. Over time, however, we were able to work with many of these operations – on behalf of our clients – to secure better solutions and improved offers. Patience pays!
Being nice matters, and when the shit really hits the fan, you truly see the very best of people, and also the very worst. Luckily, the vast majority of our customers and clients were patient, nice and incredibly understanding throughout the pandemic, realizing that the world shutting down was not our fault nor the fault of the lodges or guides. The entire destination angling infrastructure took a devastating hit in 2020, and – unlike major airlines or cruise ship companies – there were no industry bail-outs or easy money. Every lodge, guide, outfitter and agent was hurt by this, and for every one of our clients who was kind, patient and understanding in the face of cancelled trips and disrupted fishing plans, know that it was very much appreciated!
Trip insurance can help, but it is important to understand the fine print and details. For years, trip insurance was the security blanket that promised to make things right if a fishing trip was cancelled or disrupted. And when it came to work conflicts, illness, hurricanes or cancelled flight routes, these policies usually paid off. The problem with trip insurance is that – like all insurance products – the companies know how to cover their asses against big-time cataclysmic events, and way down the list in the fine, fine print of things that were NOT covered was … you guessed it … “worldwide pandemics.” It turns out that most insurance policies would not cover trip cancellations that were pandemic-related, which meant that travelers who seemingly did everything right (booking early, securing a trip with the right deposit, and of course covering themselves with a travel insurance policy) were left hanging when their trips were cancelled due to lodges (and the world) being shut down. Moving forward, we fully expect that travelers will remember this, and we hope that those companies and products that have failed to protect travelers in the pandemic will be replaced by innovative policies and new products which actually deliver.
Having a solid and healthy destination angling infrastructure is crucial to our sport. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve known that – eventually – things would get back to normal and we’d be able to get back to doing what we love most: traveling and fishing the world. Having a lodge to return to (or your favorite guide still around to fish with) is a big deal, so being supportive of this infrastructure matters. For everyone that accepted a trip roll-over, re-booking fee or new dates, and especially to those that sent along the equivalent of a guide’s tip or donated to industry economic relief efforts, thank you.
Are you seeing the pent-up demand from a year off?
Oh yeah! Things are absolutely crazy right now. Once January 2021 hit, things started ramping up, and it has only gotten crazier since then. After a brutal 2020, Yellow Dog just closed out a record-setting first quarter of 2021. It was as if someone flipped a switch in early January, and people are now booking and reserving trips at a pace we’ve never before seen. Trip dates are being snatched up as quickly as toilet paper was selling out ten months ago, and the biggest challenges for the year ahead will unquestionably revolve around availability. If you are thinking about planning a trip for the near future – or even 2022 or 2023 – my advice is to start the process now. Getting out in front of the demand will ensure prime dates and great guides at the best lodges and destinations. “Last-minute” trip planning – while still possible – is going to be more of a challenge than in years past. If you know that you want to travel and fish in the near future, then get a jump-start on the planning process and get your dates and destinations on the books.
Many waters got an unanticipated rest over the last year. What are some of the benefits or silver linings after a year-long COVID shut-down?
Obviously, one of the biggest positives that has come from the pandemic is the environmental benefit that comes from literally shutting the world down for months on end. Global satellite images from space in late-2020 showed pollution levels that had dramatically decreased from those of only eight to ten months earlier, showing how nature can heal and recover when we simply reduce our footprint and let the planet do its thing (even for a relatively short period of time). For anglers, the effect of this “global rest” has been evident and abundantly obvious over the past several months in the quality of the fishing and the behavior of fish that we’ve witnessed across the planet. For many of the destinations that have already reopened (Alaska, Belize, the Bahamas, the Yucatan, Costa Rica, the Seychelles and numerous other destinations), we have already seen off-the-charts fishing and numbers that have not been seen in years.
Were there any operations that didn’t make it through?
That remains to be seen. This is something that will likely play out in the year ahead, but sadly, we are going to see some lodge, outfitters, guides and agents that will likely be gone by the end of 2021. The travel industry and destination angling as a whole were absolutely crushed when the world shut down. People stayed home, lodges closed, and airlines stopped flying. Small business loans and programs designed to keep people employed provided some assistance here in American; however international lodges, guides, outfitters and support businesses were largely left to survive on their own. Many of the guides we’ve fished with and come to know over the years were dealt a serious financial blow, as there was literally no work and no income for most of the year. Some guides were forced to sell their boats. Lodges terminated large numbers of staff, and many in the fly fishing community left the fishing world all together. Every international operation (along with many domestic operations) was hurt by the shut-downs, widespread cancellations and the lack of sales, and it will likely take years to fully recover.
When folks are booking now, do they require proof of vaccination or testing or what is it that has to happen to get back out there?
Proof of vaccination is not required to actually book or reserve anything (at this time) but there are plenty of countries that are requiring proof of vaccination for entry as a tourist. Regardless of how you personally feel about vaccinations, the fact is that life as a traveler and as a traveling angler will for sure be easier in the months (and possibly years) ahead with proof of vaccination. This is going to be true for some time to come with many foreign destinations.
Are there places that are still closed/highly limited?
For sure, and some that are likely to remain closed into 2022. Right now, New Zealand, Australia and the Cook Islands are all closed indefinitely. Argentina, Chile, India, Canada, Russia, Christmas Island and several other popular fishing destinations are all still closed as well, although we are hopeful that things will open in the months ahead. We’re thinking August for Christmas Island, although that is not a for-sure opening date!
Is there somewhere in particular you are excited to get back to?
For me personally, I’m really excited to get back to the Seychelles for the coming fall season. Honestly, any place that requires a passport stamp is going to get me excited at this point!
Any recent trips that you’ve been able to do?
I actually just returned from an incredible week in the Yucatan, fishing Xcalak and Chetumal Bay. An incredible fishery with some of the best permit fishing I’ve seen in years.
What would you say to the traveling angler who is still hesitant to get back out there?
You need to be comfortable to travel right now, and that is a personal thing for everyone. DO your homework, research what is involved in traveling to a destination, and above all have someone in your corner that can help if problems or unexpected delays pop up. But travel is possible right now, and there is a lot of great fishing that can be accessed and enjoyed in a safe, easy manner. Regardless of your destination, however, when you are ready to get back out there, we are absolutely recommending that anglers begin their planning and booking processes earlier than normal. As a result of losing the entire 2020 season, there are countless trips that have had to be rolled over and rescheduled for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, which means that availability for the foreseeable future will be tight. For those destinations such as the Seychelles, Cuba, prime permit destinations in the Caribbean, and others that were already in high demand, it will be even more important to look ahead and plan well in advance. Even destinations in Belize, the Bahamas and the Yucatan are likely to book up quickly for this season and well into 2022. Our recommendation for those that know they want to get back out there is to start the process now.
Years ago I tried to put together a trip to a lodge on Ragged Key in the Bahamas. I couldn’t pull it off. No regular flights in or out and charter companies to sort though and, yeah, never got it to happen. I ended up diverting to Long Island, which had regular flights, and had a good trip. But Ragged has always kicked around in the back of my head.
It is isolated. It is small (~60 people live there, maybe less). It looks juicy.
Flats on the west and deep water to the east looks like a very good big bonefish scenario.
So, I was excited to talk to Will Blair, who happens to be making a go of it at the newly opened Lost Key Lodge. He was just about to fly out there when I got a hold of him for a few minutes to chat. Seems he might have the flight situation more or less sorted out, which is good. He’s keeping the numbers low, four anglers a week, and there’s a lot of water to cover. Sounds a bit like paradise.
I just checked, and… well… it might be going well. I stole this pic from his facebook page. Holy bonefish.
Yeah, this place is going to be stuck in my head for a while longer.
My 7 year old son is into wildlife. A lot of kids are at this age, but he seems REALLY into wildlife. Bugs, birds, mammals… he loves it all. It is fun, what can I say?
On our last morning in Central Oregon, on our way to drop me off for a couple of hours of fishing on the Fall River, we cam across a heard of elk stampeding across the road. The kid was elated. Fifty, or more, elk crossed before our eyes. It was the first time my wife had ever seen an elk as well. I had been trying to explain the difference between an Elk Crossing sign and a Deer Crossing sign without much luck, but now she gets it. Elk are huge.
A minute later a coyote crossed in front of the car as well.
That’s some Yellowstone-level wildlife viewing and all before we got to the river.
I was meeting Vinnie, a local guide, for two hours of guiding, some special presented through AirBnB Experiences. We found him easily at the Fall River Camp Ground and he led me to the river, which was a stunning little jewel. It was very easy to spot the fish in the totally clear water.
The fish were both large in number and in size. Deadfall gave plenty of cover for the fish, but it was clear whatever happened, I’d be able to see it all play out.
There was a midge hatch that started and then raged a bit and I decided to put on a #20 zebra midge, which fooled the first fish it encountered. It was a nice, healthy fish with a bit of mono extending from some deeply hooked fly (not this fish’s first rodeo). I got it on its way and looked forward to the next fish.
There was no next fish. The word was out and the fish shut their mouths and for the rest of the short session I just cast futilely at large trout who showed no inclination to eat and a very keen awareness of the artificial flies coming downriver toward them as they deftly slid out of the way of each presentation.
Really pretty place.
The highlight was the elk.
Then, it was the road home… back down 97 and by the grand lady of Mt. Shasta. That view never really gets old.
A good trip North. I saw my dad and gave him a hug for the first time in a year. Fish were caught. Memories were made. Old connections were strengthened. Beautiful country was seen and appreciated. Hard to complain.
The boy and I had a day of fishing on the books and so, we went fishing.
First, we went to a lake a neighbor told us about. The road in still had a bit of snow on it, but nothing that would keep you from getting there.
Now… I don’t fish a lot of lakes, but said neighbor had told me the general game plan and I followed it, complete with the fly he gave me to try.
Funny thing about the neighbor… we were staying at an AirBnB up near Bend and when I introduced myself to the neighbor it turns out he recognized me from a fly fishing message board that we were both very active on back in the late 90’s. So, that was fun. The old Northern California Fly Fishing Board was the source of a lot of knowledge, some lasting friendships and some great memories until the trolls took over and pretty much ruined the thing. Thanks trolls.
We managed to catch a couple nice rainbows under the watchful gaze of a bald eagle who was crying from one of the trees lining the lake. Pretty fun and a great bit of Central Oregon scenery.
Next we went to the Fall River (the Oregon one, not the California one) to the hatchery, where I was told there were fish in all the holes and, yeah, there were.
The hatchery is an odd place… people lined up at all the discharge pipes and fish (large fish) just kind of hanging out there. Unclear if any of these were wild or if they were all planters or what exactly the story is there. Someone probably knows, but I didn’t ask.
The previous day on the Metolius I had seen a guy who looked like he knew what he was doing fishing a large streamer under an indicator. I don’t know that I had ever seen someone do that and I watched him for a bit and I decided to try it out. I didn’t get any love on the Met, but then, no one else was catching either. I tried it out again on the Fall and, ya know what? It worked. Had this fish take on the first pass with the good ole’ wooly bugger. It turns out I rather enjoy big fish, even if they might, possibly be from a concrete river. I don’t know if this fish was wild or not, but it sure looked clean to me.
The boy and I had a good day fishing. Weather was nice. Fish were caught. We created some memories. He worked a lot on his casting and he got to reel in most of the fish I hooked. We were all smiles at the end of the day and that, I’m pretty sure, is what it is all about.
I, a fly fishing expert, thought I should check to see if there were any fish in this river. I caught fish there years ago (a decade ago?) and thought I’d give it another go.
Turns out… there are no fish there anymore. See, if there were, I would have caught them, because I’m such an expert fly fishing angler. So, ergo, thus and so forth, there can’t be any fish here. You get it. Flawless logic.
This river is known by some, and by those who decide what things are named, as The Metolius and what it lacks in fish it makes up for in just jaw-dropping beauty. Man… this place is pretty. Of course, there are no fish. I checked… and there’s not really a way I can think of I could fish for hours and not catch a fish. I mean… that’s crazy talk, right? Ha.
I stopped by The Fly Fisher’s Place, in Sister’s, to drop some knowledge on them, to grace them with my experiences from 10 years ago. I think they were pleased to have been so graced (really, they were very nice and gave good advice and I dropped some coin).
It is a humbling place… beautiful and difficult. I didn’t see anyone else catching and there were plenty of anglers out. Blue, cloudless skies are great for bonefishing, but not as great for trout when you want a hatch to come off. Who knows… maybe the few fish in the river (about 600/mile) were frisky and had moved to other areas of the river to spawn. I don’t know.
I got skunked. I didn’t see a fish and I didn’t feel a fish and I didn’t hook a fish and I didn’t land a fish. Zero. Nadda. Nothing. Damn pretty place though.
This river is in my top ten of most beautiful places to fish.
It seems a million years ago I was at East End Lodge in Grand Bahama. Rob, owner of the special piece of paradise, tried to kill me with rum, but was otherwise a perfect host. In-between here and there Dorian came through and smashed the lodge to kindling and then COVID settled down over the land stopping most travel and much commerce and generally throwing the world for a loop.
Well, today, there is a little hope on the horizon. East End Lodge reopens on March 1st.
It feels like the light on the horizon to see this happening. I know it is important to the folks out at McLeans Town, the guides, their families, and I find it being important to me as well.
I know many of you are old as dirt and hopefully you are finding that comes with some advantages when it comes to getting in line for your COVID vaccine. I’m one shot in, getting my second next month and looking forward to getting a little bit back to normal.
2021 for me is likely to not see me in tropical places doing tropical things, but I have my eye on 2022 and East End Lodge is on that list of possible destinations.
I’ve fished the East End of Grand Bahama more than I’ve fished any other single location for bonefish. I love it there. I can fly out of SFO on the West Coast at midnight and fish a flat in the afternoon in Grand Bahama (ya know, back when I went places). I love it more than is reasonable.
I hope some of you make your way out to East End Lodge, catch some bonefish, have some cracked conch, maybe some of Rob’s very nice rum, and have an excellent time.
My buddy Shane just sent me a picture of his big Geet from Christmas. I think he’s still there, but he managed to send me a picture of him, smile stretching ear to ear, holding up a big GT. Pretty cool to see. Very happy for him.
It was a year ago I was in Christmas Island with him and I was looking for my own GTs. I caught a small one (a giant trevally the size of a small trevally), I lost a mid-sized GT to the coral at the Korean Wreck and I cast at and failed to catch a big one.
That last fish I can recall pretty well even now.
It was the last day and we were on our last flat. The light was fading and the water reflected a silvery gray making it almost impossible to peer into the water even a few feet ahead of us. I thought the guide was just running out the clock and I didn’t blame him. We’d been looking for GTs and we never seemed to quite be where the fish were. He’d put in a good shift, but we just hadn’t done it.
Then the guide points.
A fast moving bulge of water, 80-90 feet out, heading our way, pushing water like a snow plow. I made a good cast in front and beyond the fish so I’d pull the fly in front of its nose. The guide was in my ear yelling “FASTER! FASTER!” and I was stripping as fast as my top gear could manage. I swept the rod to add some speed as I’ve done from time to time with cudas and you could see the fish light up on the fly. He was close and you could see the open mouth and see the eye and the water sheeting over his back.
In my mind I was thinking “THIS IS IT! LAST FLAT! LAST DAY and damnit, it is going to HAPPEN!”
Except it didn’t. The fish saw us and just turned off and away and that was the end of it. I was just left there shaking, wondering how this crescendo somehow managed to fall flat. I had seen the fish in my hands, but it had only been in my imagination, a brief projection of what success and joy would feel like.
Shane had that look on his face today in that picture. It isn’t a great quality picture (he’s going to send better pics when he gets a chance as he’s still there), but you get the point, don’t you? Victory. Success. A dream realized.
I was going to skip my annual saltwater trip this year. The beating that Grand Bahama and Abaco took kind of hollowed out a piece of me and it didn’t seem there’d be much “there” there anyway. I got a new raft and figured maybe I’d head to Idaho for that week instead.
However, after watching the trials and tribulations of the folks out there via social media (Cindy, I’m looking at you) I had another thought… maybe this is when I actually should go to the Bahamas. Maybe this is where I should spend that money and time. The Bahamas has maybe never really needed me, but, maybe now they do.
So, this May I’m going to head to Abaco. Probably over Memorial Day weekend with most days falling the week before. I’ll look at getting an indy guide and maybe trying to convince a few others to come along.
Marsh Harbor was hit very, very hard, but the further south you go, the better the island starts to look. Power and water are a concern in lots of places, but not in the south. I’ll be able to crack a cold Kalik at the end of the day and enjoy some Bahamian grub. Flights are starting to come back on-line and if you go, you’ll be taken care of and your business will be appreciated.
I’m happy to share details if you are interested in making the trip yourself, or if you’d like to come along with me as I try to figure out this post-Dorian trip.