We just came back from our third trip to the Bahamas. It's become an annual bonefish
trip - and while we would love to spend much more time playing with the bonefish (or bonz as the
locals pronounce it) it is a long and expensive flight from the West Coast. On top of that is
time away from our computers - it does take in the neighborhood of 120 hours per week to
produce and maintain Fly Anglers OnLine. That means when we do take a trip, we need to
have the next week ready to change over before we leave, and if we really get lucky most of
the following week ready as well. And there are still expenses for the lodging, food, guide, tips, bar
tab, and maybe a little to purchase a goodie or two.
One of the "goodies" on this trip was a lovely basket,
made by the mother of my student Cindy. Cindy has four brothers, none
of whom would teach her to cast. JC and I were glad to see a sharp young
gal interested, so giving a couple of lessons really was a pleasure. She would
really like to be the first woman guide on Andros. When we left she gave
me a lovely basket her mom made as a 'thank you'.
Imagine my delight when the "Basket Lady" showed
up at Tranquility Hill (by invitation)! Yvonne Russell and Shalmaine Neymour
have a neat business called the Straw Mart. Yvonne is shown in the photo
with her baskets - and wearing the hat I bought! Beautiful work.
The Bahamian people are wonderful. I don't yet understand
what it is about their culture, but the vast majority are happy people. Friendly, helpful,
courteous and very well spoken. I can't help but wonder if we as a people in the U.S.
present such a positive image to those visiting the U.S.
Our friend "Bonefish" Simon Bain arranged to have
us met at the airport, and we were surprised to see a steady stream of taxi's, and
a limo there to pick up new arrivals. We also met the Tourism Representative,
Donna McQueen, from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism at the airport where she
has an office. This was on Sunday! Simon had told Donna we were going to try
and help some of the local folks bring more business to Andros. (More on that later.)
And again, Donna could not have been more helpful. Yes, it's her job, but just to
clue you in, she made a special trip on her day off - even though a big wedding was
on her schedule that afternoon - to get some of the Androsian Batik fabric for me.
I wonder if the head of even your local Chamber of Commerce would do that.
One of the highlights of the trip was a meeting with Andy
Smith President of the Andros Island Professional Fishing Guides Association, and his
Vice President Simon Bain. Our last night on Andros included the usual dinner, but
Andy and his wife, and Simon were guest of honor. Andy had been the main guide for
the rest of the folks staying at Tranquility Hill. But he was also there to explain what the
Professional Guides Association was doing. It's the first group of guides to do this, at
least anywhere I've ever heard of, and it really is exciting.
The older, experienced guides got together, formed an Association
with the intent of improving the skills of the guides. To be honest, Andros Island had
received some bad publicity because of guides who really weren't qualified to be guides.
There was also a problem with guides who were hung-over, poorly equipped, and
some were just bad.
Since JC and I were both licensed guides in Montana many
years ago, we are aware standards for guides vary a great deal. While Montana guides
must pass a written examination, work for a licensed Outfitter, be bonded, and covered
by the Outfitter with liability insurance, conversely the State of Washington has no
standards other than paying the license fee. Salt water guides do have to pass tougher
standards in Washington.
The good guys in this case on Andros Island are the guides
who formed the Association. There are 28 members at this writing. They began
a program to train new guides. The course includes boat handling, fly casting
(so the guide can help teach the client) basic fly knowledge, fish behavior,
spotting fish in various situations, wading the flats, tide changes (which and when),
how to direct and convey information to the client, safety procedures, and courtesy.
I'm sure there are areas I've missed,
but that is the basis of the training. There are eight
Guides-In-Training now. The Executive Board of the
Association tests the trainee and makes the decision on
the readiness of each potential guide. Once accepted he
becomes a member of the association and will be
recommended to the various lodges.
We had an opportunity to meet and wade the flats with one of the
students, Bradley Mackey. He did a fine job pointing out the fish on the flats, and spent
considerable time with Dave Ulmer to find a nice big bonefish on the flats. The two
photos shown here are of Bradley, and one pointing out a fish to me.
This is a wonderful example of a group taking
responsibility for the betterment of the whole economy!
They saw a problem, and the way to get more folks to
come to Andros to fish was to have more - and better guides.
The better job the guide does, the more fish the client catches!
More fish equals better tips, and a more positive report to the
anglers friends on his fishing experience. Or as someone said,
what goes around comes around. The whole
economy of the island prospers!
If you have an opportunity to fish Andros
Island (highly recommended at any time of the year - there is
no "season" and the weather in the summer is wonderful! rarely
having temperatures above 85 degrees - more on this to come) by
all means insist on a guide who is a Member of
the Andros Island Professional Fishing Guides
We are proud to support their efforts!~ Deanna Birkholm
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