My wife greeted me with, "You just got the strangest phone
call." as I walked into the house after church. "Pardon me?"
I replied. "A man named Dennis called from Washington and said
you had won the drawing, and you needed to claim your prize
within 3 days." And thus started my bonefishing trip to Andros
Island in the Bahamas.
I had noticed an interesting drawing awarding a bonefishing
trip mentioned on the Fly Anglers On Line (FAOL) web site
late in 2001 and decided to register for the drawing. Now my
old friend and hackle supplier Dennis Conrad (Conranch Hackle)
had called to inform me that I had won. Once I talked to Dennis,
figured out what was going on, and calmed down I called the
FAOL folks to claim my "prize." To this day I'm not sure which
was the greater prize, the bonefishing trip, or meeting Deanna
and Jim Birkholm.
Both Jim and Deanna got onto the phone to congratulate me and
explain what the prize actually entailed. We spent an enjoyable
time getting acquainted and discussing bonefishing and fly-fishing
in general. They said that they would notify the donator of the
prize and that the sponsor would be in touch with me in the near
future. Well. . .the near future turned into two weeks or so, and
after a follow-up call to FAOL the sponsor did get into touch with
me. The conversation progressed well enough, but when it was over
I had a vague feeling of concern, as if we hadn't fully communicated.
At this point I should mention that I am a 60 year old U.S. Government
executive involved in international liaison, and have either lived
overseas or dealt with international business most of my life.
Additionally, I speak a number of languages to include the "Bajan"
slang common in the Caribbean as a result of being born and raised
on the Canal Zone. So when I noted that vague sense of concern,
it was my subconscious speaking. Unfortunately I wasn't fully listening...
I have just returned from the trip and feel that I have a much
better insight into bonefishing on Andros Island then I did
before. There are a number of cautions that I would advise,
and some options I would recommend that folks look at before
embarking on such a journey. ESPECIALLY if you are either
bonefishing or going to the Bahamas for the first time. Don't
get the wrong idea here; Andros is a wonderful place, the folks
down there are fantastic, the fishing is absolutely first class,
and HANDLED CORRECTLY you should have a wonderful experience.
The Ministry of Tourism is very active in their efforts to
ensure that you have a great time. The most basic advice I
can give is contact the ministry officials if you have a question,
there toll-free number is 800-327-7678 (available within the U.S.)
and the folks there are wonderfully responsive.
I was really ready to go on this trip, and I had done my homework!
I had read the requisite books. Bought my tickets for Nassau and
Andros. I had picked up a backup 7/8wt rod. I had learned and
practiced my double haul, bought my SPF 40 waterproof sunscreen,
picked up 4 spare rolls of film and checked out my cameras. My
FFF buddies had supplied me with all the flies I could ever use.
I talked with everyone I could on the subject of bonefish in
general and Andros bones in specific. A week before I was to leave
I started efforts to reconfirm everything with my guide.
I sent an email outlining our agreed upon plans...no response.
I waited 24 hours and sent another email...no response. I waited
24 hrs and called and left a phone message...no response. I
immediately tried to send a fax...no response. I finally
reached a live person on Sunday and left a message. Good,
that was taken care of! WRONG. I came tearing home from
work on Tuesday, ready to pack and be at the airport at
5:00 AM Wednesday morning, and I noticed a message alert
flashing on my answering machine. "This is Simon's wife,
it's not convenient for him to guide this weekend...can
you cancel your trip..."
My blood pressure went through the roof; I started thinking
about appropriate bullet calibers to use to inflict maximum
pain... I began to wonder which of my old "black" friends
were closest to the Bahamas to blow up a house or boat, or
better yet...BOTH!!!?? You tell me I've won a Bonefishing
trip off the Web, I make all the preparations, and now this!!!??
So I got onto the phone and start working thru the web site
folks that set up the contest way out in Washington State.
I also started calling the Bahamas at Jim and Deanna's behest
(no one EVER answers). We (website folks and I), worked until
11:00PM Central Time, even involving the Bahamas' Ministry of
Tourism folks, whom the website folks know personally. The final
word at 1100 is; "Get on the flights, and when you get to Andros
grab a taxi and go to such and such a hotel, further word will
await you there." So I finish packing at 1230, muttering and
cursing (good thing my darling wife is still at Vanderbilt
working on her Masters), and off to bed to arise at 0400 and
get to the airport.
The flight to Nassau is uneventful. Delta does a great job, even
lets me carry on my 8'6" 3pc bamboo rod, etc. Get to Nassau, and
now we get to deal with Bahamasair! Flight is supposed to depart
at 2:30PM...everybody is sitting in one big waiting room with the
chickens, etc...while the gate agents snooze. At about 3:00 one
of the other fishing persons goes up to the gate agent to find
out what's happening..."No problem, mon..." As he is walking back
to where several fishing persons are grumbling about the wonderful
service a garbled message says... " mumble, squawk!!!, gurgle...304
to...humma, humma...squawk!!!" I said; "That may be us!!" So we
grab our stuff as a bunch of Bahamians start heading for the
door... sure enough it's our flight. Turns out that they really
didn't want to fly, but they had this other airplane (much smaller
than the scheduled bird) and they finally woke up the crew...
so we finally got off the ground at 3:30PM. (Yes Margaret, we
all verified that our luggage got on and off the airplane.)
We have a beautiful short flight to Andros Island, powder puff
clouds all around, and miles and miles and miles...of flats.
Suddenly we are over the "Tongue of the Deep," the water goes
from 2-3 feet to thousands of feet (that's right, thousands)
deep. This is one of the many reasons that the fishing is so
good on Andros and the Bahamas.
Then we are over the strip on Andros, it reminds me of my flying
days in Viet Nam, except here the folks are friendly. I get off
the plane, and check for my bags at the mini-terminal. Folks are
friendly and willingly help me with my bags and direct me towards
the taxis. The "taxis" are a bit minimal, but the driver knows
my guide and we agree on a fare to the hotel. A few miles around
the corner and we are at my hotel. Nice looking hotel, "The
Lighthouse Yacht Club and Marina," all pink and spiffy and
well cared for in appearance. We unload my bags and rods etc.
and I almost run into the lobby. "Hi, I'm Ralph Shuey...Simon's
"That's nice, but do you have a reservation?"
"Uh Oh! There were supposed to be arrangements made for me to
stay here for 4 nights, while I fished with...." I can tell the
lady has no idea what I'm talking about. My blood pressure
starts going back up. About that time the telephone rang. The
clerk picked up the phone and got a funny look on her face...
"It's for you," as she pointed to the house phone on a nearby
I picked up the phone and a voice said: "This is 'xyz' the Minister
of Tourism for the Bahamas! Welcome to Andros! How are things
going?" RELIEF!! I explained the current situation and turned
the phone back over to the desk clerk. From that point on,
the trip started getting better.
I was shown to a lovely room overlooking the marina and started
unpacking. (No guys, so far I hadn't touched a drop. At that
point, if I'd had one drink, I'd have drunk the bar dry.)
The next hour was spent on the telephone...calls from the
Ministry of Tourism, the website folks, my wonderful bride,
etc. At about 6:00PM a call came in from the lobby, it was
At this point I've got to get clear on something. Communications
are ALWAYS a problem, and just because folks are speaking English
doesn't mean that you are necessarily communicating. Folks on
the Bahamas have a different "mind set" than we, and while this
is different it does not mean that it is "right or wrong"...it
is just different. Email is not as reliable there as here, nor
(in my opinion) is it viewed as primary means of communication
as it is in many parts of the U.S. Telephone answering machines
are subject to having children play with them, with subsequent
disastrous results. This may sound silly, but do not cease talking
with your contacts for fishing expeditions like this UNTIL YOU ARE
100% CONVINCED THAT YOU ARE BOTH IN AGREEMENT AS TO WHAT IS TO BE
DONE. This applies to airlines and hotels and taxi drivers,
etc. as well. If you do not appear to be communicating, then get
someone else to talk to or use another vendor; period. If you
send emails, or leave messages on telephones, DO NOT ASSUME
THAT THEY HAVE BEEN RECEIVED AND ACTED UPON. If you do not
get confirmation of emails or phone calls then you well may have
a problem. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO INSURE COMMUNICATION.
Also, nail down exact costs and get a confirmation in writing.
If you do not do this then you are open for problems...and this
does not apply solely to the Bahamas...this is anywhere (even
the good old U.S. of A.)
My guide had his family with him and wanted me to join them for
dinner! Needless to say our first dinner together was a bit
strained, but helped greatly by the fact that Simon's family
was there at the restaurant. Who can be upset when a wonderful
wife and beautiful and intelligent child are there? I had made
up my mind that I was going to make this work, and I am convinced
that Simon had as well. We both worked at the situation over the
whole period of the trip and by the end of the trip I think we
were pretty comfortable with one another.
One thing is immediately apparent once you scratch the surface
of society on Andros Island. Everybody is related to one another!
With less than 10,000 people on an island 100 miles long and 40
miles wide, the number of folks there are pretty thin. This does
work to an advantage when the Bonefishing Guides Association starts
selecting new students; they know everyone. Other than Bahamian
government jobs, U.S. Navy jobs, and a few small commercial
enterprises there isn't much work to be had other than fishing
We started our fishing expedition the next morning bright and
early at 7:30. Simon picked me up at the hotel in his pickup
and we drove about 20-30 miles down island to his boat. To my
eyes the weather was pretty good. Temps never got much above
the low to mid-80s, and the wind was blowing continuously at
about 10-20 knots. Apparently, we had a front near the island
and this was to cause us problems the first two days that I was
Here again we need to discuss communication. If your guide does
not bring up the subject of casting and your capabilities, then
for God's sake you need to bring it up! He needs to know exactly
what you can do under various circumstances...the quicker he finds
out, the easier things are going to be for all concerned. At
least the first 30-60 minutes of your outing should be devoted
to what you are capable of, how he is going to operate, and how
the two of you (or three if you have a partner) are going to
perform as a team. If you have never fished for bonefish before,
LET THE MAN KNOW! Cast for the man into the wind, with
the wind, etc. Have him call out the commands he expects you
to follow. Work together to determine what he means when he
says 40, or 50, or 60 ft. Trust me, this is very important,
because when you start getting into fish a whole different
element can creep into the game...anxiety! You want to perform
well, you are normally paying a lot of money to be there and
you really want to do a good job. Well, the best way to do that
job is to relax. If you can follow all the guide's instructions
without getting too excited, you will be miles ahead.
We took off out of Cargill Creek, just north of the North Bight,
which separates the island into a north and south half. The North,
Middle, and South Bights run east-west across from Andros' populated
eastern side to the deserted western side. The waters of Andros are
absolutely beautiful, and seemingly inexhaustible. Hundreds of
square miles of clear shallow waters, that is full of fish, fish
and more fish. There is nothing like charging out in your boat at
35 mph plus and then having your guide slam the throttle shut over
a mile from shore and say; "Get out of de boat!"
I thought "O Dear!! Here comes the pay off! He's going to throw me
out and I've got to swim for it!" But no, I stepped out of the boat
into 14-16 inches of water and walked towards a barely perceptible
underwater point that is just sticking its head above water. Simon
complaining because we have intermittent cloud cover, which along
with the chop on the water from the wind is making it very difficult
for him to see the fish. Within about 30 minutes I have my first
bonefish on the rod!
My first fish ultimately turns out to be the biggest I catch on
Andros, about 18-20 inches and to my estimation about 4 pounds.
Now let me be the first to disclaim any knowledge as to how I
caught the fish! Out of the blue Simon said; "Give me forty feet
at 11:00 o'clock!" He then said, "Leave it, leave it, long strip,
long strip... leave it.... he's got it!" The next thing I know
the line is melting off my reel and there is this little bow
wave running out across the water. About 250 feet of line later
Simon is saying; "Reel!, Reel!" and so I start reeling. And,
just like the books say, when the fish gets to within about
50 ft. of us he sees me, and off he goes again. Soon we have
the fish between us, and Simon removes the hook, kisses the
fish (Yuck!), and turns him loose after thanking him for playing
with us. We spent the rest of the day running around to several
different areas, but the combination of wind, cloud cover and
temperature limited us to one additional fish.
The second day we motored over to the wild west shore of the island.
We had a hard day as far as bones were concerned, again only
catching two, but we encountered BIG sharks, rays, and tarpon.
Simon cast to an 80 lb. tarpon with my 7/8wt and WHAM!, the fish
came about 3 feet up out of the water before he broke off. But,
as Simon says; "Best place to loose a tarpon fly is in a tarpon!"
I'd like to be quick to say that the fish were probably there;
I just didn't do a good job of casting to them. There was one
that I barely saw that went about 10lb. Simon was probably
pretty disgusted with me. On the way back to Cargill Creek
we stopped off at the famous "Bang-Bang Club" on the northern
edge of the Middle Bight to see Simon's father-in-law, the
famous "Crazy" Charlie Smith. "Crazy" is in his late 70s but
actively rebuilding the old fishing camp. He quickly confirmed
everything that Simon was complaining about when he met us on
the dock; "How did you do with this terrible weather?"
We detoured a bit on our way home to "Shark Hole" at "Crazy"
Charlie's suggestion. What a sensation. You are buzzing along
in the shallows (nothing over 3-4 ft deep) and BANG!, here is
this hole about 70-100 yards in diameter that is over 300 feet
deep! Simon had me throw over the fly and we started trolling
around the edge of the hole. We could never make a complete
circle without something hitting the line...Jacks, Mackerel,
whatever. After about 30 minutes of that we headed home.
The agreement was that on Saturday we would start early because
Simon had to fly over to Ft. Lauderdale in the afternoon for a
boat show. He was to pick me up at 0700 in the morning and we
would get out on the flats early and quit by noon. By this time
I could start to see the fish. I could pick up a bonefish or
two if Simon pointed them out to me. But seeing those critters
on your own is another story. Even if you know they are there
it is well nigh impossible to see them until your eyes and
senses adjust to the task. (Yellow or brown polarized glasses
REALLY help over the standard green/gray.)
Saturday we hit the water with a bang! We only traveled a couple
miles from Simon's anchorage to a gorgeous flat. I am not
exaggerating when I say that this single flat was over 2
miles square. Saturday was our day. We were wading for
approximately 4 hours, and in that time "Old Blind Ralph"
saw approximately 500-1500 bones. No kidding, the tide was
coming off that flat and the bones were coming with it. We
were so busy casting to fish and catching fish it was
nbelievable. The drag on my old Pflueger started to slip
it had been used so much! I had to switch reels and we were
back in action. Most of these fish were in the 2-3 pound class,
but Jumpin Jimmenie, they were bones!!
When we quit, I was happy. I could now see bonefish on my
own to a limited degree, and I had caught a goodly number
of fish. I could go home and say that I had had a successful
trip. A quick stop at Simons nice little tackle shop (only
one on Andros) and I picked up a couple beautiful souvenir
baskets for my bride, and I was off to the hotel to pack.
THE RETURN HOME
Now it was time to leave Andros, and I did so with a heavy heart.
I had just learned to see bonefish, had one really outstanding
day's fishing, and it was time to go home. Because of Delta's
schedule I had to overnight on Nassau, and I was looking
forward to an opportunity to do some gift shopping before
getting home. I had started two weeks before I left home
to make a reservation with a hotel close to the airport.
And, I had the same kind of problems with hotel reservations
that I had with the guide… I tried several times to email the
hotel, I tried the fax routine, and finally in desperation
I called. Yes!!, a real person answered and she sounded as
sweet as an island breeze, she assured me that the hotel
s lovely, and I had a guaranteed reservation..."No problem
mon." So, on the way to the airport I mused..."I wonder if
I'm going to have any problems on Nassau? Nahhh"
The flight back to Nassau was uneventful, in fact the plane
was on time, a minor miracle I'm told. The taxi ride to the
hotel was also a non-event, other than almost having a heart
attack carrying my bags all the way to the taxi stand (hint:
The only taxis are at the International Terminal). Although,
when I told the taxi driver my destination he gave me a little
smirk...or was that just my imagination?
Oh, Oh!! I thought as we arrived at the hotel, "This looks a
little seedy." But, what the heck it's only one night. I proceed
to the desk. No sweet-talking young lady, but a young man sat
behind the desk. I introduced myself and stated that I had
a reservation for the evening. Wrong again! No record of my
name or reservation, but he had a room; at 50% more than I
was quoted. We had a long conversation, laced with suggestions
as to whom I was about to call, and suddenly there was a room
available at the quoted rate. "Great!", you say? Well, not so
great, the room was a dark hole without window one, and an air
conditioning system that was on its last legs, etc. etc. We've
all been there. Maybe I didn't imagine that smirk...
I forgot to mention, my credit card wouldn't work and the desk
attendant's cash scanner (that's right, cash scanner) said all
my large bills were counterfeit. So I paid him with the last
small bills that I had. "Hmmm- this doesn't add up", I thought.
But I had a receipt. This last exercise ruined any desire for
shopping; all I wanted was a beer and something to eat. The
closest place to eat other than the hotel "restaurant" was 2
miles away, and I was pooped. So I went in and ordered a beer
and sort of looked around. I talked with the young lady running
the place and asked about the food and the fact that the smallest
bill that I had was a 50. She told me the food was actually better
then the place looked and why didn't I use my credit card? I
explained the problem and she sort of looked at me strangely
and said; "Give me your card." She walked away and came back
a couple minutes later and said, "There's nothing wrong with
"Oh, really?" says I. So, I step out to the desk and lo and
behold there is a new person behind the desk. In about 10
minutes I had my small bills back and the room charged to
my credit card. Why do I mention all this? Well, after I
got back to the good old U.S.A. I was greeted by a double
billing on my credit card statement. Once when I made the
original reservation, and once from my pre-dinner transaction.
Oh, and by the way, about 2 weeks after that, my credit card
company informs me that my card number had been compromised
and some schlock outfit in China was trying to roll up charges
After a good (surprise) dinner with real vegetables, and a
couple more beers I happily retired to my room to find that
the TV cable was inoperative and I would have to make do with
my reading material. I picked up the book I had studied on fly
fishing in the Bahamas and began to review it in a new light...
and you know, as I read it from my new perspective the authors
alluded to many of the same problems that I experienced, they
just didn't come out and say it. So I guess I have to just come
out and "say it."
Make sure that you use the services of someone that has a good
track record to make arrangements for you if you want to go
fishing in the Bahamas, ESPECIALLY IF IT'S YOUR FIRST TRIP.
Ask plenty of questions, and don't be afraid that they might
get upset. If you don't get a clear answer, make sure that
you continue to press until you get one. If you don't like
the answer, or you don't feel comfortable with what is being
explained to you, say so. Make absolutely no assumptions.
Insist on having ever minute detail important to you explained.
You will be paying for everything, so insist on knowing what
you will and will not get for your money. If they get too
evasive, go to a different outfit - something's probably not
right. For example, one of the most knowledgeable agencies
for fishing the Bahamas had this to say about one spot that
I enquired about after my trip. And I quote; "...is to tell
them the plain truth---good location in the Bight, very basic
accommodations and food, and things will go wrong, so don't
go unless you're prepared to deal with adversity."
Am I saying that the Bahamas aren't a great place to go fishing?
NO WAY! The Bahamas are absolutely wonderful, the people are
great, and the fishing is world class, but YOU HAVE TO KNOW
THE TERRITORY, as the man says. After you have been there
once the surprises should be few and far between. Are folks
out to screw you, NO WAY! But, if you insist on trying to do
things on the cheap (like me) you are open to the same problems
that you are in the good old U. S. of A. when you try to do
things on the cheap.
Is there anyway to fly fish the Bahamas (or anywhere for that
matter) inexpensively? That my friends is an entirely "other"
question, and one that my FFF chapter members have asked me
to investigate. You first have to define "inexpensive." From
what I can tell right now, if you have an opportunity to go
on a solo guided bonefishing trip where the total costs are
less than $350-400/day, exclusive of transportation, then grab it!
OH, and by the way… Thank You Deanna, Jim, and most of all Simon.
I will always remember the trip, and I'm ready to go again.
My new 10/11 wt will be ready soon and the reels are cleaned up,
the drags renewed AND I'M READY.
SOME ADDITIONAL OBSERVATIONS
1) If you think you can go the first time and not hire a
guide...forget it! Guides run $3-400/day and without them
you will waste your time. They know the water, the fish,
and when they will come together.
2) It will take you a MINIMUM of 3 days to begin to see
bonefish on your own. Even under ideal conditions it just
takes time to adjust to seeing the fish. Even the guides
can't see fish all the time. Most of us are rank amateurs,
and even the pros use guides.
3) It ain't cheap. I'm working on figuring out how to cut
the expenses, but it just isn't cheap!
4) Take an arsenal of rods; you need variety not only for
fish size but also because of the wind. If I had had a 9wt
with me it would have helped fight the wind better the
first two days. A 10wt would not have been out of line
given 20+ mph winds.
5) Rig up all your rods! You just don't know what you are
going to run into, and you will just be frustrated not
having the right rig available when that Permit or
Tarpon shows up and the only thing you have is a wimpy
7/8wt. (Ain't it hell? Wimpy 7/8wt?) ~ Ralph A. Shuey