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!