I love to fish! I used to hate the thought of ending my fishing for the season. Nothing but a long cold winter to endure before I would again wet a line. Not any more! I now look forward to taking a fishing trip to some tropical location to break up the long haul through the off-season. It really gives me something to look forward to and there is nothing to compare to the Bahamas for great weather and superb fishing. Once you experience the laid-back atmosphere and beauty of these islands, you will always remember it and want to return again and again. It can make the prospect of facing another winter almost enjoyable
Andros Island is located in the western Bahamas and is known as “The Bone-fishing Capitol of the World”. This island offers a large number of top quality fishing camps that are dedicated to your fishing success and pleasure. The Andros Island Bonefish Club (AIBC) and Tranquility Hill Fishing Lodge, just to name a couple, are located in the same vicinity near Bhering Point. I recently enjoyed a fishing trip at the AIBC. I didn’t know what to expect and had never been to the Bahamas. At the prompting of my good friend and fishing buddy, Len Lapsys, we set up a trip for early July. We met in Fort Lauderdale and chartered a flight to Andros Island for seven nights and six days of fly-fishing for the “ghost of the flats,” the elusive bonefish!
We arrived at the small airport at Andros Town, quickly cleared customs and were met by a car from the camp. After a 20 minute ride, we arrived and were greeted by the friendly staff. I instantly knew I was going to have a great time. Within an hour we were headed for the flats, and I caught my first bone after just 10 minutes of fishing. It only got better after that! The Andros Island Bonefish Club is located on the eastern end of the North Bight that crosses Andros Island. It has a commanding view of the ocean and the mouth of the Cargill Creek. It is owned and managed by the host, Rupert Leadon, who is also the head guide. Rupert is a superb fisherman, extremely warm and friendly, and runs a top class operation. He oversees all operations at the camp and is an invaluable source of all kinds of information from fishing techniques and tackle suggestions to colorful accounts of the history and lore of the islands. The camp is well maintained and has comfortable accommodations for up to 24 guests. The main lodge serves as a dining area and has a well-stocked bar with all kinds of beverages and treats and an especially tasty local rum. It is open and airy and is the place where all gather to swap fishing stories of the day or just to relax and prepare for another great meal.
At this camp, other than fishing, the food is a close second. Rupert appreciates the need for abundant food when fishing and makes sure it is always at it’s best. Dining is informal and family-style. His head cook Ike can prepare the most delicious food specializing in locally caught fresh fish. I especially liked his “Johnny Cakes,” steamy hot with butter to top off the meal. Nothing can top Ike’s conch fritters for a “hold me over till dinner” treat after returning from a long day of fishing. I liked a tall local rum with tonic and fresh lime just to add gusto to the fritters. Of course, I was sitting on the patio looking out at the beautiful blue Caribbean. Exquisite!
Rupert has hired an American, Donna Teeny, to oversee the daily operation of the camp. Donna is an accomplished angler and fly-fishing enthusiast and can anticipate your needs. She makes sure that all the details are in order so that your fishing experience will be most enjoyable. At the Andros Island Bonefish Club, fishing is the primary focus of the entire staff. A typical day begins at dawn with a good breakfast. While you eat in the main lodge, the guides and dockhands like Swiper prepare the boats and load the coolers with food and beverages. When you finish breakfast, you can make up your lunch from the buffet and it will be put in your cooler. You then head for the boats and another day of fishing in paradise. Bonefish are the principal specialty of this camp but tarpon, permit, and huge barracuda are also common. You can literally catch bonefish from the patio in front of the lodge, but the best grounds lie in the “Bights,” natural navigable breaks that cross the island from east to west. Andros is known for big “bones” with the average fish between 5 and 7 lb. and a good number of fish over ten pounds. Only the Florida Keys can compete with bonefish of this size, but the number of fish in the Keys is far less than around Andros. The island is very big and is surrounded by flats. It is two thirds the size of Puerto Rico, about 125 miles in length and almost fifty miles across and is largely undeveloped. Only the East Side is inhabited and residents number less than ten thousand. Several US Navy Submarine bases are located on the island. The East Side sports the third largest coral reef in the world and attracts many scuba divers. The “Tongue of the Ocean” lies just outside the reef, and the Caribbean drops off to thousands of feet of blue water just beyond. Andros is also famous for its “Blue Holes” which were a topic explored by Jacques Cousteau and the National Geographic Society.
Andros Island has three large “Bights” crossing the island at just about its midpoint. The North, Middle and South bights all offer excellent fishing around an almost infinite number of keys and coves. The ultimate fishing can be found on the West Side which is basically virgin and uninhabited. It is, however, a long run; almost fifty miles to cross and then another ten miles or more to the good grounds. We made the trek on three of our six days of fishing. The fish were bigger and more plentiful, and in this area, we had a few shots at big tarpon and permit. On a sad note for fishing in this area, a commercial crab harvesting business has recently set up operations, and they are taking large numbers of blue crabs, the natural forage for big tarpon. It’s no wonder that there has been a noticeable decline in these magnificent gamefish. Even so, during the height of the season in the winter months, this area is supposed to offer outrageous fishing with multiple hook-ups of bones and tarpon and many permits. During this time the fishing is so good closer to the camp, that the long run and additional charge for fuel is probably unnecessary.
The fishing boats are typical flats boats, Dolphin Super Skiffs with 40 hp motors and poling platforms. The guides are all very knowledgeable and know the ways of fish on the flats. They can spot a bonefish, direct your cast and have you set up on the fish without you ever having seen the fish yourself. Their ability is uncanny. I fished with Barry Neymour who is a world-class guide and an outstanding individual. Barry works out of several camps and his services command an additional fee. All the guides at this camp, however, are excellent and each one seems to possess a special talent for some aspect of this type of fishing. Nick, Chris, Danny, Nelson, Dennis, Brian, Wellie and all the rest are the best; if you are really lucky, you might get to fish with Rupert.
I would recommend that you bring your own tackle. The camp caters to fly-fishing but spinning tackle is also popular. If you wish to have tackle supplied or to fish spinning gear, let the camp know in advance. They will arrange for tackle and set you up with a guide that is most knowledgeable with that tackle. You can also arrange for a bottom fishing trip on the coral reef that lies just one-half mile off the shore of the camp. Once again, let them know ahead of time so all can be prepared for your arrival. I brought three Penn Fishing Tackle™ fly-fishing setups for my week of fishing. A #9 and #10 rod with 2.5 fly reels for the bonefish or small tarpon and permit. I would recommend nothing less than a #8. A floating line is a must as it can be quickly “water hauled” for a quick follow-up cast and is also very visible right up to the leader. Visibility of the fly line is essential to the guide so he can determine the proximity of the line and fly to the fish. I used Rio Products™ and Cortland™ fly lines and they performed very well. Make sure that you have the maximum amount of backing on your reel. An eight-pound bonefish will strip over a hundred yards of line before you know it happened. I found myself looking at the reel many times wondering if I was going to get “spooled” by a hard-charging bonefish that was heading for Cuba. I hand tied my own leaders to about 7 feet with 10 lb tippet, but the guides will gladly set up a leader system if you so choose.
I also brought along a big gun #13-15 rod with 4.5 AR reel in case we ran into a really large tarpon. I had the opportunity for one shot at a big tarpon with that rod and it cast very well. However, as fishing luck would have it, after a perfect cast of 70 feet, a needlefish picked up my fly just as the tarpon was ready to inhale it. Goodbye tarpon! What a bummer! The next time I visit the AIBC, I want to try for a big barracuda with that rod. Some of the barracuda that move onto the flats look like logs. I can only imagine what it would be like to be hooked up with a fly to a four-foot long “cuda” that is trapped in the shallows of the flat! What fly pattern should you bring? From what I witnessed you only need one, the “gotcha” shrimp imitation fly. It is the favorite in all of Andros. My buddy Lenny brought boxes full of “gotcha” flies and other varieties all tied on Tiemco™ hooks and hand sharpened to a needlepoint. “Gotchas” tied on a #4 hook for bonefish and on a 2/0 hook for large tarpon will cover your needs. The guides, however, will always have a selection of other flies if the fish become picky. They pride themselves on having a successful trip and a satisfied customer. They will have what it takes to catch fish under any conditions.
Another thing to consider for equipment would be wading shoes. Sometimes wading and casting from a place that is inaccessible to a boat can be very productive. The biggest bonefish spotted on my trip was in a sheltered cove behind a sand bar that even the flats boat could not cross. The fish were in a shallow pool, and they were huge. There were three of them and all had to be near record size. I would guess the smallest was almost 12 lb., and the largest may have been 14 lbs. or more. I jumped out of the boat and waded to where I could make a cast. Once again, I was unsuccessful as the fish kept “spooking” from the fly no matter which pattern I used. It was a real thrill, however, and I can remember my knees shaking all through the stalk
Before making the trip I purchased a pair of high contrast amber polarized prescription sunglasses. I cannot tell you how valuable they were. The greatest excitement in fishing the flats is the visual impression of the fish and underwater life especially the “visual take” of the fly. The high contrast amber really allowed me to see what was happening. I consider quality glasses crucial to fishing success and pleasure. In fact, I can attribute my first big “bone,” a fish of about 8 lbs., to my fishing glasses. Barry spotted a group of fish moving across our bow as we were poling in a cove near “Big Wood” Key. He said they were moving to the right at about 1 o’clock and 60 feet out (directions to a fish are given by the guide as hours on a clock face with 12 o’clock at the bow and 6 o’clock at the stern, add the distance and you know just where to look and cast) and that there was a big one in the bunch. When I looked at the spot, I could really see the fish clearly with the high contrast amber lenses and noticed that the big one Barry wanted me to target was closest to the boat. I made one false cast and knew it would land beyond the big boy and be gobbled up by a smaller fish. I made the adjustment on my cast by just slowing my “shooting haul” and the fly dropped five feet in front of the big “bone”. He spotted it almost immediately and ate it in a flash of silver. I set the hook with a long strip keeping the rod tip low to the water and pointed at the fish. He was hooked solidly and, as usual with bonefish, gave me about a second to clear my line before he took his first run. What a run it was: all my fly line and at least one hundred yards of backing against a stiff drag. Two more blistering runs and 10 minutes later, my first “bragging rights” bonefish was at the boat and ready for a gentle release.
Travel to Andros is fairly easy. The big decision is whether or not to charter a small plane for the hop from Fort Lauderdale or Nassau or to go with the only scheduled airline, Bahamas Air. Bahamas Air is rather casual about arrival and departure times. If time is critical or you are traveling with a group, I would definitely recommend a charter flight. If money is not a problem, then, by all means, take the charter. Bahamas Air is about $150 one way from Fort Lauderdale with a stop in Nassau and at least three hours of travel time. A charter is about $700, will accommodate 5 to 7 people and you will be in Andros in an hour. When I do it again this winter, I plan to fly directly to Nassau on a scheduled airline from the States and the take the short 15-minute hop on a charter flight to Andros. The cost for the charter is about $300 for up to 5 passengers. If I can’t hook up with another person or two I will hop a Bahamas Air flight for about $50. At the Andros Island Bonefish Club, the prices are very reasonable. $2205 per person, double occupancy, will get you 7 nights and 6 full days of fishing with guides and all meals. For those with less time available, like “I have to get out of here for a long weekend,” shorter stays are also popular. Four nights and 3 full days of fishing with guides and meals go for $1185 per person double occupancy.
When you consider the cost of a vacation to any other destination, a trip to Andros compares very well.
If you like to fish light tackle for the ultimate challenge and thrill then flats fishing on Andros Island should be your next destination and the Andros Island Bonefish Club is definitely a great place to stay.