When I went to Grand Bahama last month I was joined by Elliott from The Drake, who happens to put out The DrakeCast, a solid podcast you should be listening to.
It is happening. I’m going to Christmas Island at the end of January, 2019. I’m going with my friend Shane, who I haven’t fished the salt with since 2010.
I’m somehow not tying flies yet, but I will be.
Christmas… so… tell me your bits of Christmas advice.
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.
It was a wonderful time and I miss it.
We were running along a sand/rock shoreline when Cecil spun the boat around and killed the engine.
“Permit, on the beach.”
My reaction to the news was not joy, but more a sense of dread. Permit shots are things to screw up. Permit shots become moments of second-guessing and regret. Permit shots almost never end well.
Elliott, a day after catching his first bonefish, gave me the bow and I got up to throw at the thing. I could see it, silver-bodied and black-tailed against the white bottom. The first and greatest hurdle had been cleared… finding the fish. Here was the fish. He was in range. He wasn’t running. I had no wind. The set-up was good.
I was worried about the fly. Was it heavy enough? I put on a tan shrimp with barbell eyes. It would get down to the fish, although the fish was maybe in 5-6 feet of water and it would take time.
In the back of my mind I had two thoughts about the fly. First… it wasn’t a crab. Aren’t you supposed to throw crabs at permit? Isn’t that how you are supposed to do it? Secondly, why don’t I have more good looking crabs? I don’t fish crabs often at all, but why is that? Has my avoidance of crabs handicapped every permit encounter I’m going to have for the rest of my flats fishing life?
Cecil told me to shoot at the fish and I did. The cast wasn’t bad. I was in the zone, but again, doubts crept into my mind. I went back to my first (only) permit from Belize, a small fish to be sure, which behaved in most ways like a jack, chasing down a fly stripped quickly and eating an inch below the surface. I also thought back to my one permit shot in Cuba where I again stripped the fly in quickly and the permit followed, putting his frigging nose on the fly without eating it before becoming board and blithely giving up on the chase. There was also the permit shot in Mexico where the fish lit up on the fly when stripped, but then gave up. But… aren’t permit supposed to eat only crabs cast 10 feet in front of the fish when the fly never moves an inch and the fish simply intuits the fly’s presence?
So… strip or not to strip?
In the end I managed to pick the middle road the satisfied neither type of permit.
The fly landed about 5 feet from the fish and the permit saw it and moved toward it, looking interested. At this point I simply gave it a slight twitch and that was enough for the permit. It moved away and started ambling leisurely away from us.
We followed, waiting to see if it would turn. I asked some follow-up questions of Cecil like “WHAT SHOULD I DO!?” He was in the “leave the fly alone” camp. Noted.
Mostly, the fish showed us his back. I made a couple more casts when he turned slightly, but to no avail. The last cast was too close and it moved away, disappearing over a darker bottom.
The shot had passed.
As friend Nick Denbow told me, “The permit you catch is easy, it is all the other ones that are hard.”
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.
Missing these two right about now.
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.
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.
I’m ready to head to Grand Bahama and East End Lodge.
Sometimes the anticipation of the thing is better than the thing itself. I’m betting this is NOT one of those times.
Things are not going well in Southwest Florida… not well at all. Below is BTT’s press release about what they are seeing.
Once again, Florida’s fisheries are suffering from the legacy of long-time mismanagement of Florida’s water resources. Southwest Florida is plagued by an unprecedented red tide that is causing kills of gamefish. Reports from those on the water estimate that tens of thousands of snook are dead – all of them adults in the peak of spawning season. Breeding-size redfish, as well as tarpon, which usually seem to avoid red tide, are also being reported dead. The ongoing red tide is a sign of the ‘new normal’ in Southwest Florida because too many nutrients are entering Florida’s estuaries and coasts due to water mismanagement. Here are the facts:
- The organism that causes red tide, Karenia brevis, has been present in southwest Florida as far back as written records go – the Spanish wrote about it.
- Karenia brevis does not benefit directly from the extra nutrients flowing down the Caloosahatchee from polluted Lake Okeechobee, or from the extra phosphorous entering Charlotte Harbor from phosphate mining. This is because other plankton organisms are better initial competitors for those new nutrients.
- Karenia brevis DOES benefit secondarily from the extra nutrients – once the nutrients have been used by those other plankton species, and then are cycled back into the ecosystem when those organisms die and decay, Karenia brevis goes to work. Consider this the Legacy Effect of water mismanagement.
- The ongoing red tide is unprecedented in modern times in intensity and duration.
- Although red tide has always been in the region, the frequency and intensity of red tide events have increased, and red tide events last longer. This is becoming a new pattern, which means events like the ongoing red tide will become more common.
The excess nutrients in Southwest Florida waters are from two sources. First, they are from the high-nutrient water from Lake Okeechobee that is discharged into the Caloosahatchee River as part of water mismanagement in South Florida (the same mismanagement that is killing the Everglades and St. Lucie River). Second, the phosphate mining industry in the Charlotte Harbor watershed produces runoff high in phosphorous, which feeds red tide and other plankton organisms.
Southwest Florida is home to Boca Grande Pass, part of Charlotte Harbor, the Tarpon Capitol of the World. Tarpon gather in Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor during May and June in association with spawning. It is likely that this red tide will negatively impact tarpon spawning.
Charlotte Harbor is also home to an amazing snook and redfish fishery. During summer months, snook spawn in passes and along beaches. This red tide is impacting spawning snook directly, which will impact the region’s snook population.
This red tide event is the new normal unless the state’s water management policies are changed. This is about the future of Florida’s $8 billion saltwater recreational fishery.
We urge readers to contact their political representatives at the local, state, and federal levels and tell them that policy change is needed immediately.