This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

February 23rd, 2004

South Andros, February '04

Every trip has some highlights, and the trip my husband, JC, and I just returned from Wednesday night has some special ones.

We traded a fishing day for an overnight in Nassau. The flight from the US west coast to S. Andros Island is 14 hours. It doesn't matter if we take the 'red-eye' or fly during the day. It is long, little sleep and tiring. We opted for a real bed, a nice brunch and walk about at the Crystal Palace and took the afternoon flight to our destination. There is legal gambling in Nassau, and JC bought a couple of rolls of quarters (our self-imposed limit) and we actually won $45 playing the quarter slots.

We did have a funny experience. We checked in, got our room 'keys' and dragged our weary butts up to the room. Inserted key, opened door - OPPS! The room was occupied! (That could have been very embarrassing to say the least.) Back to the desk, a room upgrade for our inconvenience, a balcony with a water view. Quite nice. I did have some wonderful New York Cheesecake there.

The flight down to the "out islands" as they are called in the Bahamas was in the daylight, with the wonderful water colors that make me almost breathless. This was our seventh trip to the Bahamas, and the beauty never becomes 'usual.' Anywhere there is water, the magnificence of the tropic world is constant.

Our stay at Emerald Palms was wonderful - as it has been each time. The management, Brendan Foulkes and his staff are absolute professionals. We did miss Chef this trip - he was in Nassau as Executive Chef setting up a new restaurant for the people who own Emerald Palms. However, Nina is a fine cook, and trust me, there was too much food. This is not a place to count calories.

We stayed in a villa again, but this time it was the one Uncle Don and Mary Ann had when we made the last trip back in November. Very nice. It is a real treat not to have to cook, clean or make a bed for me - and I appreciated the fresh flowers every day in the villa.

Redington Flats Pants

We did plan on doing a little work on this trip, including putting up a new issue from Emerald Palms. We bought new flats pants from Redington, and they really out-performed our 'old' ones which we bought several years ago from Orvis. The new ones do not have the elastic around the bottom, which makes them cooler by far. They also have mesh underwear built in - perfect. The old ones had something similar, but too tight and cut strangely - so I took a pair of scissors and removed them.

Tilley's new hat

We also bought new hats - Tilley - these aren't on the market yet, like an outback hat, except with about a one-inch band of heavy mesh just below the crown. Any breeze really circulates to keep you cool. The hats have a chin and back strap and really don't blow off running top speed in a boat.

G and L Fly Craft

We tested a new fly rod out of Canada, G and L Fly Craft - the rod was the Bow River Series, 9ft. 8 weight - not a saltwater rod as such, but it performed like it had been designed just for the fishery we had. The guys have been doing the Canadian Shows - so keep an eye out for them.

Nautilus reel

We also obtained, on loan which they call a "Traveler", a new reel from Old Florida. This one was the Nautilus, and what a treat. Either you are into reels or not - but this is so outstanding I have to comment. I really get into a rush with a nice bonefish taking off for parts unknown. I had one on, and the Nautilus reel was on the rod. Instead of being excited about the fish - I said to Castwell, "Wow! This reel is absolutely smooth!" And it is. You'll hear more about it.

Okay, so about the fish. The ugly face you saw on the front page is a Barracuda. Big Barracuda. And JC's first ever, on anything. We weren't targeting them, but we did have a second rod in the boat with one of those braided long flies which are supposed to represent a needlefish. JC did have a hit on one, but there wasn't a stinger hook at the tail and the fish got a couple of inches of the fly - no hook up.

One evening we were tackle tinkering (yes, we do that too) and I came across an odd fly Pete Parker had tied for us. About 2 inches long, round like a popper, covered with a green mylar tubing and red cactus flash at the eye and end. Strange. And it worked. We were eating lunch, anchored out in about 3 feet of water, waiting for the tide to drop. Our guide, Stanley (Jolly Boy) Forbes spotted a 'cudda' about 40 feet away, just hanging out. He asked JC if he'd like to take a shot at it, and JC, eating a sandwich at the time declined. A few minutes later Stanley said, "He's still there, are you sure?" I handed JC the cudda rod, (we mostly used the Sage Xi2s), and he made a nice cast about 4 feet in front of the fish and stripped the fly as fast as he could.

It was amazing! We didn't see the fish move. There was a huge explosion of water and fish out of the water - bent rod and fish running! As the fish was making the first run, JC turned to Stanley and asked, "About how long is this likely to take?" Stanley didn't miss a beat, "Not more than two hours." They had been kidding back and forth all day, the truth is it took about 15 minutes. The fish was about 25 pounds.

JC's big bonefish

We both took bonefish - JC had the largest, 10 pounds, my biggest about 5. We were 'head-hunting' because we wanted some photos of big bonefish. The number of bad shots I made at very big bonefish is reassuring. Yes, I get excited and blow casts too! We probably saw 40 or more fish well over 10 pounds. I lost one - make that two.

We fished with Gary Francis and Jason Duncombe again, both very nice - and good guides. We spent a little time at lunch working on Gary's double haul, getting the timing down where he could throw the whole line. This was the first time we fished with Stanley. He is a older and wiser guide. We noted some really interesting differences in how the guides work the flats, watch for more on that soon. You can reach any of those guides through Bendan Foulkes at Emerald Palms. Any of them will do a good job! Jason did manage to find a momma and baby dolphin for me again. He says it's a good sign to see them, it means there are bonefish in the area. It is their main food.

LF working with Gary

One of the highlights of this trip was a 22 mile run in a flats skiff to the west side. This area is as it was 500 years ago. No development, no people, just the ocean, flats, mangroves and Australian pine. We are told there are still parts of Andros and S. Andros which simply have not been explored. There are several freshwater lakes! What a boon that would have been to stranded sailors.

Momma and baby Dolphin

We also had a tour of 3 other Bonefish Lodges on S. Andros, watch for a report on those to come as well.

All of our bags arrived at the right place at the right time - we flew on American Airlines (and the extra leg room was a treat). I did have an exploding container of blueberry yogurt, but I'm not going there. No sunburns (BullFrog), the worse problem was JC passport disappeared going through security in Nassau - but we got home without it and it's been reported. He will have to get a new one however. That is a reminder to get a photocopy of both passports again...we had the copies of the old ones, and knew the number on his. Someone told us years ago to get several copies and put one in each bag just in case.

Our sincere thanks to all our friends on S. Andros - especially Brendan and his staff - and we hope to renew some new acquaintances we met this time. Patsy and Billy from Charlotte, Virginia were delightful, as were the folks at Bair's Lodge, Neville's and the "new" Bonefish Bay Club. Thanks John for the chocolate!

I can still see the schools of little tropical fish in their Sunday best swimming by. The turquoise waters fading off to royal blue at the drop offs and the surf breaking on the bar. Maybe that's why we keep going back. ~ The LadyFisher

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