Apr 4th, 2014
So much of the Bahamian saltwater experience has been written about over the years that this March my interest finally boiled over. I just couldn’t let another season go by without getting down there and finally we made it happen. My wife Chrysta and I assembled an exciting itinerary encompassing four of Fly Water’s favorite operations and ten glorious days exploring the wilds of South Andros.
Arriving at the small airport in Congo Town is like being air dropped squarely in to bonefish Disneyland for a shallow water flats junkie such as myself. It’s immediately clear that the place lives and breathes bonefish. From the airport workers, shuttle drivers, fellow travelers and locals everyone seems to know about bonefish and can certainly tell by the look of us that we aim to meet some of their prized bony inhabitants.
From the air it’s striking to see how vast the island is and remarkable to realize that the main land mass is entirely made up of a million small lagoons, creeks, channels and cuts. More than once on the trip we found ourselves guessing the direction back to the lodge after a day of fishing, only to be pointing in wildly different directions and nowhere near our course.
I found the guides masterful in their approach (both from the poling platform and with a fly rod in their hand), unique in their style and certainly all business when it comes to stalking bonefish. Previous to the trip, friends and colleagues relayed stories of guides that are not bashful about letting it be known that you hosed yet another shot, blew up yet another school, or simply need to learn to cast.
It was good that I was mentally prepared for… I’ll call it Bahamian “guide intensity”, but I have to say that I fished with five different guides on the trip and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with each one of them. They have such unique stories, personalities and styles that if you really open yourself up, you can have an amazing time just getting to know them a bit.
Yes, they take their job seriously. Yes, they mostly expect you to constantly perform at your best while on the front of the boat, but never once did I feel like a guide was not on my team. And yes, I definitely sensed frustration when the wind blew 35 knots and every approaching fish seemed to be upwind. Or when yet another one of my errant casts smashed a 6lb pound bone on the head, scaring it half way to Cuba.
Ultimately for them, catching bonefish on the fly is like a religion. It’s truly important to them that you catch and land fish. As many fish as possible. Perhaps at times they can seem to even want the fish more than you do! They do not take their task lightly and you have to ask yourself, would you really want them to? My advice is to practice your casting, go with an open mind, be ready to swallow a little bit of your pride and above all listen to your guide!
Our first stop was at the Deneki Outdoors operation called Andros South. This casual bonefish camp sits on the eastern shore of the island in close proximity to the vast and productive flats of the south island. Upon arrival to Andros South, one feels immediately at home among bonefish crazed, addicted salwater anglers couple with warm Bahamian hospitality.
Hard core flats anglers will find everything they need and nothing they don’t at Andros South. Including but not limited to a clean air-conditioned room, comfy beds, cold and plentiful complimentary Bahamian Kaliks, hot showers, a fantastic fleet of loaner gear and a highly experienced and skilled stable of guides. Not to mention some out-of-this-world conch fritters, grouper fingers, mac and cheese, lobster and fried snapper!
After our far too short of stay at Andros South and some inclement weather we took a quick drive down to Bair’s Lodge for a few days and were lucky enough to experience some fantastic fishing. Immediately on arrival to the lodge we were greeted by our gracious hosts and lodge managers Ray and Ann Shewnack. Ann’s positive energy, insight in to daily Bahamian life on Andros and her attention to detail is truly infectious. Ray is a skilled angler and successful author and sees to coordinating the fishing side of the operation.
On arrival we received a brilliant tour from Ann and were shown to our beautifully appointed room on the upper floor. The stunning view of the private sandy beach was only punctuated by a slew of richly colored Argentinian hard wood and brilliant white trim throughout. Bair’s truly defines a luxury fishing experience with all the amenities of home. Comfortable enough for a non-angling spouse to relax in elegant surroundings but in a charming and certainly non-pretentious atmosphere.
We fished with guides Ronnie and Tee for two full days and found our groove hooking plenty of hard fighting bonefish and had some amazing encounters with tarpon, various snappers and several popper hooked jacks while blind casting in a “blue hole”. Fishing blue holes was a fantastic diversion and fascinating to think about. These never ending holes pop up right out of the middle of a flat and are filled with a myriad of critters. We saw Loggerhead turtles, sharks, huge barracuda and schools of snapper milling about on the edges. In some cases dive teams have tried to find the bottom but never succeeded.
On our last day at Bair’s, lodge manager Ray took us to a very special place near the lodge he calls the “Manager’s Flat”. We found several nice fish cruising on the sheet white sand and even managed to land a couple. It was a brilliant way to end our stay at Bair’s and we were thankful to Ray for showing us his very special flat. Pretty sure mine was bigger!
After our time at Bair’s it was again time to move on. Ann drove us to the small settlement of Driggs Hill where we caught a boat that would take us to a luxurious eco-adventure resort called Tiamo Resort. Tiamo is not exclusively a fishing lodge. They cater to guests looking for a luxurious, private and beautifully quiet Bahamian retreat. Guests have the option to book bonefishing days, diving adventures, snorkel tours and a slew of water sports including complimentary sailing and paddling devices. Wakeboarding, eco-tours, spa treatments and massages can also be arranged. Tiamo is situated on a pristine white sand beach, perfect for feeling the warm Bahamian sand beneath your toes. Our private pool villa featured an incredible king size bed with a fully screened in porch and private saltwater pool looking out onto the pristine south bight of Andros. For couples looking for an amazing luxury get-a-way with the ability to fish or dive Tiamo fits the bill perfectly.
From Tiamo Resort we made the short journey by boat to Libson Creek where we met up with a transport to the settlement of Moxey Town and the beautiful bonefishing operation of Mangrove Cay Club. Mangrove Cay is a professional bonefish operation through and through. The lodge was conceived, built and designed from the ground up specifically to be a bonefish lodge. Our hosts Liz Bain and her husband Alton expertly manage all of the moving pieces and their kindness and warmth is only matched by the proficiency of their staff. Meals at the lodge were nothing short of mindbogglingly good. Fresh fish, lobster, prime rib and traditional conch dishes served every way possible adorned each evening dinner service. It seemed to defy logic how food of this quality could be prepared so far removed from fresh markets and massive grocery stores. Nearly 13 years old, the guest cottages and main lodge literally sparkle in maintenance and cleanliness and look as though they literally finished building them yesterday! We settled nicely in to our private two-room suite barely a stones throw from the stunning middle bight of Andros.
Unfortunately, our fishing days at Mangrove Cay Club were hampered by some unusually windy conditions which kept us off the water a substantial amount of time. When we finally did a get chance to explore their vast local fishery, the water was whipped to a froth which made visibility extremely difficult. Incredibly clean, comfortable and beautiful in its simplicity Mangrove Cay Club accommodates both hard core fishing guests and non-anglers alike with ease.
South Andros has so much to offer the traveling angler. From first class luxury lodges to simple fishing focused camps, it’s only a matter of deciding what’s appropriate for you and just going for it. While some of the lodges remain in close proximity of each other, the guides do a fantastic job of staying out of each other’s way and the fishable terrain is vast. When conditions are right, all of the destinations we saw have access to the famed West Side. Bair’s and Andros South also have a fairly easy run to the prolific flats on the very southern tip of the island. We saw literally thousands of bonefish in this area in huge schools. At times we had fun trying to pick the biggest bones out of a school. Several times our guide Tee would yell, “You missed the biggest one mon! Pull it outta there before a little one grabs it!” We mostly opted to target larger fish isolated away from schools but whether it’s size you’re after or getting sheer numbers to the boat, Andros has a bonefish destination for you and an appropriate level of accommodation to satisfying hard-core anglers and non-fishing companions alike.