Standing in a foot of clear 75 degree water with the sun shining
and a breeze of 80 degrees fluffing one's fishing shirt, you
could wonder what it is like in Minneapolis, or just cast at
the fish and forget how lucky you are just to be alive. I bet
folks up north are not close to worrying about the water getting
a little warmer so the fish will start moving on the flats. It
is 2 December 2007. A small gathering of friends is once again
on the saltwater flats of South Andros Island, Bahamas, fishing
out of the Mars Bay Bonefish Lodge.
EagleXpeditions has been to this lodge five years running and
the transformation from day one until now, at the hands of the
manager/part owner Bill Howard, is nothing short of a wonder.
Our first trip had great fishing and pretty good accommodations
but some aspects needed improvement. One year of Bill and the
bad things were all gone and each year the already good things
get better. New good things keep popping up too. Free drinks
happened a couple years ago, free calls back home another, and
this year the GSM cell service happened along with WIFI. The
staff is excellent: food out of this world. Bill has trained the
guide force up to four with a new guide in the wings so he can
take eight fishermen or four boats out daily. The boats are all
new, or almost new, with poling platforms. Two of the three lodge
buildings are completed, all air-conditioned with super beds all
around. The big things that now differentiate this lodge from
others on South Andros are location and price. The other lodges
are many miles up the coast from the most desirable fishing areas,
requiring either an extended run in rough seas for an hour each way
or a 20 minute ride to Mars Bay ramp to launch with us. The other
is price. Bill is controlling his expenses and offering the best
deal in town. There is a local-run lodge much cheaper but in
talking with guys we met in the terminal at Congo Town, we would
not have wanted their "deal." We saw the boats, the guides and
watched them trolling for fish when we were being polled. Their
boats were beat up and without platforms or even poles. The Mars
Bay Bonefish Lodge ranks a "best buy" in the travel industry.
The travelers with EagleXpeditons this time started with six but
by the time the butts hit the airline seats, only three showed
up...on time. One came in a day late as he forgot when his
reservations were and had to rebook. (Kent is a recent retiree
and is having trouble remembering what day it is.) Another, a
famous author, had a court date change and could not come at all.
He was glad he had travel insurance and got his money back. One
backed out before he paid anything and never got replaced. I
did talk Ted Johnson of Leisure Time Travel into coming down
for a couple of days to see the lodge since I had paid up slots
and enjoy his company. He came a day before us and fished with
us for two days. The three that made the trip, on time as planned,
were Scud, the trip coordinator and owner of EagleXpeditions,
Unk of Bonescharters and Daniel, a young fishing fiend, is an
engineer to pay for his fishing habit. Kent ("Killer") retired
from stock brokering last year.
Ted had an adventure getting to the lodge as the airline he was
connecting to in Nassau had sold his slot. They sent him to the
airfield on North Andros and he took busses, taxis, ferry boats
and begged a local fisherman to take him the last leg. The airlines
in the islands do business a little differently than US air carriers.
It is best to fly non-stop out of Ft. Lauderdale and hope they stop
where they are supposed to.
Day one had Daniel and Unk in separate boats and Scud fishing
with Ted, who wanted to do a photo shoot. Ted had a bunch of
fish already the day before. The water was cool from a passing
cold front which made the fish wait in the deeper warm water
until the water on the flats got warmer later in the day. Scud,
as the designated fisherman with camera man, managed to do
everything wrong for many shots to keep Ted from getting the
desired pictures. Ted had forgotten his wading boots and was
barefooted. He wandered the flats without a whimper but was
seen to be stepping "lightly" by the end of the day. The sand
looks clean, white and flat, but coral and holes in some areas
can provide sharpness that even puts boots on the local guides.
The guys got some nice fish but nothing of the large variety
they were looking for. The difference in fishing for big fish
exclusively, or just fish, is using the boat in deeper water.
At higher tides the fish are back in the mangrove forests
chasing food. As soon as the water gets high enough to them
to enter the trees, they flow in and when it starts dropping,
out they come. Big fish cruise around the edges when they
don't quite fit inside after all the little fish are already
in. Of course, the barracuda and sharks cruise around the
edges waiting for the bones. It all makes for a very
When the tides are flowing, the flats come into play. The
fish, all sizes, flow over and through the flats in large
schools and you walk the flats hoping for the big ones but
are inundated by the smaller 2-4 pound fish. You can end
up with a thousand fish flowing by you in an hour of walking.
The fish swim and "tail" along the way offering lots of shots
and hook ups. Of course, the smaller sharks and ever-present
barracudas are right along with them. The first day Scud got
into a school of fish and had three sharks trying to take the
one fish on his line. He released the drag so the fish could
run away from the four-foot sharks chasing it. When the fish
was out of the way, the guide hit one of the sharks with a stick
sending him off the flat, but the little bone turned back toward
the boat and ran into two more sharks flashing around. While the
guide chased one of the bad guys off, the other ate the fish.
The predators are more numerous here than in any other bonefish
area this gang has fished. Unk thinks the sharks are getting to
use to people and bolder. Daniel got a reputation for keeping
bonefish out of the mouths of the sharks. Most guys depend on
the guide to chase off the hungry beasts or don't cast to the
fish when the sharks are too close. But with a fish on that you
cannot break off or let run, Daniel is the champ. He once had a
fish in his hand when a shark appeared. He usually chased the shark
off by kicking and tossing sand. Some combination of these actions
usually scare them off but one shark did not turn off and Daniel
had to jump over it to avoid being bumped. Both fish and fisherman
got a scare. The guide mumbled something later about, "who said
white men can't jump." Another time he was reviving a tired fish
when he again got interrupted by a black tip that just would not
give up. Most sane folks will give the fish to a shark that gets
too close. He finally walked a long way with the little bugger to
get to water the shark could not get into and then brought it back
to life, once more, and watched it swim away. He was prepared to go
with it to keep it safe, we think. Fish must like this guy. Without
a "call sign" (Unk, Scud, Killer...) Daniel could get "Medic" or
some such moniker but with a last name of Payne, "Anal" will probably
Daniel also had a run-in with an egret over a fish. The egret
thought the fish being revived was just the right size for a
free meal. Unk described it as "funny" the way a two pound
bird stood up to a two hundred pound man. Daniel won this
battle and another critter was saved from a vicious bird attack.
Killer arrived the first evening fished so there were four for
the next day. Ted was going to catch a flight in the afternoon
so took a half day for more pictures and to catch a few more fish
close to the lodge. The day was a maximum walking day as the tide
did not fill the mangroves during our time slot. Some parked the
boat on a flat's edge and walked for eight hours. The walking is
not fast but still covers a lot of sand. Fish flowed out half the
day, took a little break at slack low tide, and flowed in again on
the inbound water. The action can be constant when the water is
flowing well, with easy fish, or slow technical fishing for demanding
fish at lower flow rates. Big flows of water and fish allow big flies
and most any leader and fly will work. The "technical fishing" can
require fifteen foot leaders, tiny flies and soft fly landings.
Scud even went to a seven weight rod to have a lighter line. A
stupid maneuver to take a small bone off caused him to "salt" the
flats with profanity when he broke the tip off. He had "technically"
hooked and fought a fish to the landing phase and then buffooned
picking up the fish only to break the rod. He thought he was miles
from anybody but Unk "quoted" his exact words for the world during
the rum assisted debrief on the porch that evening.
For the next few days we fished one boat with two fishermen and
two boats with one. We had paid for all these guides and boats
and Bill wanted to keep the whole operation going. Most of us
wanted to fish alone some, except Killer who claims to be blind.
He gets the guide full time while walking, and when in the boat,
had two sets of extra eyes working for him. Killer got eight
fish his first day using his disability claim. It could be pure BS,
the blind part; he really needs an audience for his stories and jokes.
It is a full up show as good as any in Branson. A guide alone would
miss some of the nuances...or maybe not. Unk and Scud knew Killer
from before so they traded out passing the ear plugs back and forth.
Scud liked to walk alone and let Killer wear down the guide. On
one walk, the designated "Killer listener" walked outside Killer and
the seeing-eye guide and caught eight fish to their one. They kept
chasing the fish out of the shallows to him like a good pointer.
Rain played in the game a couple of days. It seemed, if you looked
at the weather on TV and left your rain gear, you got soaked. Kent
left his gear one day while with Scud and they paid big time. Rain
came down in buckets just after they got going with some big fish
around them in deep water. The guide picked up and ran out of it,
and out in front of it, so we could get wet some more. On the second
dunking, Scud managed to see a bone from the front end in the heavy
rain and hooked it. The nearby shark thought that was nice of Scud
since he was in the dark too and a battle ensued between the fish,
Scud, the shark and the guide using the pole as a weapon. The fish
got landed, the shark disappointed and Killer sat soaked. He was
probably telling a story but we could not hear him. Scud, Unk and
Daniel all had no-gear showers too. These little storms did not
hurt the fishing and the rain was not cold. In one of these rain
storms a guide lost his glasses overboard. Unk loaned him some Ocean
Waves which did not get returned at the end of the day. Unk threatened
to call in a B52 strike on the whole island if the $200 glasses did
not show up. They caved and he got them back.
The end of each day saw the guides and fishermen sitting on
the porch telling of the day's feats. It was noted that the
fishermen told stories of the size and numbers and the guides
would chime in...or not. That subtlety probably meant
supportability of the statements being made. After a couple
of drinks all the stories matched and the noise was from all
sources. Pictures from all the digital cameras have added much
to claims. The drama is given but the truth is there, even
adjusting to the "posing" for apparent size enhancement. Two
of the guides asked Scud to bring them cameras next trip so
they could walk around the town showing off. One story that
got some attention was about Scud and a guide named Ronnie.
They drove over an estimated twelve foot long hammer head
shark on the way to a far away spot. They circled around and
taxied along side of it for a while. It was not scared but
Scud was "concerned." That fish could have eaten the boat
and the guys in it with a couple of gulps. Ronnie said the
big guy must have followed tarpon up to the flats but they
were not spotted during the stay.
One great day Scud talked Bill Howard into fishing. He has
many tasks to keep his operation going but loves to fish. He
had not been in a month or more and finally accepted. Big fish
were all they wanted so staying in deepening water in the boat
was the goal. George, the guide, is one for walking all day and
this was not to his liking. Of course, with the first school of
fish, both Scud and Bill jumped out of the boat and chased them
into the mangroves. George contrasted this with the goals just
given him and decided they were lying. Bill caught a fish and
Scud only scared them. Bill's leader got screwed up in the mangroves
or the fact that it was three years old made a change necessary.
While fussing around in the boat, Bill got the line wrapped around
the motor and had a real fight on his hands before George turned
the motor off. Scud tied him a new leader out of modern materials.
Scud got the first big fish while being polled along a flat in clean
deep water. It looked like they would have a big day. Then Bill
broke his rod while casting at the next fish. There might have
been a knick in it because of the way it broke. Bill was fit to
be tied as the fish were still there. Scud gave Bill his rod (Bill
only brought one) and sent him off wading to catch a fish and cool
off. Bill walked off as Scud called out "please do not break my pole."
Bill got a fish and Scud completely rerigged the last rod in
the boat so they would each have a bonefish rod. Barracuda were
off the menu for the day. They now had an eight and a ten weight
to work with. George decided the boys had enough of the good fishing
and gave them a long boat ride ending up on a flat telling them to
"get out and walk." The fishermen did not want to walk and made
him go to another place. George retaliated by driving another
million miles to another flat and said "get out" again. Scud
said he would just sit in the boat and Bill could go if he wanted.
Bill walked and Scud got polled until the fish started coming.
Then Scud walked fifty feet to wait for the flow and only after
the first couple of groups had big fish among them. The fish
were not easy and the ten weight Scud was using was little big
to toss light flies to flighty fish. Bill got a bunch and Scud
a few and all the big ones got by them. Little fish swimming
with big ones get to the fly first as they are faster, or maybe
As to the fishing in general: We all caught many fish for
the week. Those working for big fish got fewer but that is
the game. There were a lot of five pound fish caught among
the 24 four pound average fish. A couple of sevens were
reported as were at least three eight pound fish landed. There
were, as usual, several big fish seen each day. A lot of stars
have to be aligned and the right chants said to hook a big one,
but they are there. Unk swears he had a school of a dozen fish
come at him with the smallest being ten pounds. He was using a
fly the guide had laughed at called a "chilly pepper." Why, when
he had many proven patterns? Well, a book he read said it was
"magic." The fish all rushed over and gathered around the fly
perfectly delivered and then puked and left. Unk had the fly
off in ten seconds flat. Too late, that was the shot of the week.
We saw no permit or tarpon this trip. Permit are usually seen by
someone. Last trip six of them showed up in front of one fisherman
and he wrapped the line around himself trying to get a shot off.
The guides do not target permit as they don't believe a fisherman
really wants to fish all day and catch nothing. Tarpon are a
long run and in the springtime.
We did get another fisherman at the lodge late in the week
and he stayed after we left. He was from New Jersey and did
some job that had to do with 'oil futures price advising.'
He explained that several times but understanding was going
to be tough by guys who do almost nothing else but fish.
Jay was his name and he did not get away often. He was
amazed at the fish numbers and his lack of currency in
catching them. After day one, we all had him out working
on his technique. He was then armed with many confusing
tactics for the following day. We left. He either got
better or had to flush out our "help" and read a book.
Daniel stayed a day extra and said the wind really came
up (normal there is 1020) and he had the best day
of the trip. He went to one of the guide's "secret spots"
and had many fish with the smallest over five pounds.
Nobody was there to hear if the guide and fisherman stories
matched so we will believe every word.
Bill Howard has his lodge running at full tilt and heavily
booked already for the next year. He is all "word of mouth"
now and has stopped going to trade shows and advertising in
the magazines. He cannot take much more anyway. Scud is
trying to reserve a week in the early December each year and
another in Feb. He has a couple slots open for Feb 08 and
probably four or five for next December 08. Ted may manage
to send some folks as he indicated he liked the place and
package. Working directly with Bill at the lodge works best
for filling cancellations short notice. Before this place
gets crowded, like Belize and Mexico have, filling the bonefish
"square" is mighty painless at Mars Bay. ~ Captain Scud Yates