Feb 27 – March 6, 2021
What a trip! Just like every Huckaby vacation we had adventures every day. We hit the islands of: New Providence, Andros, many of the Exumas, Rose, Treasure and more. We snorkeled in and around Pablo Escobar’s cocaine carrying plane that crashed. We fished guided two days on Andros. Ridiculous fishing. I am not a counter but on the first day I caught well into the teens on bonefish. Plus other species like many horse eye jacks. I caught a really nice bonefish…a bucket lister …then was outdone by my son, Mark, who caught a bonefish of a lifetime. 25 year old’s should not be able to catch a bonefish like that.
I have dragged my Dear friend Tom O’Connell all over the US fly fishing with me for over a decade. He’s come to love fly fishing like I do…just not as obsessively. I have bush-whacked him through some crazy ass stuff to get to the river. He’s the only buddy I have ever put through getting snowed in from fly fishing in August….in Wyoming. And the craziest thing is that from playing college football his body is a disaster. He’s always in pain. And he always man’s-up.
So, when Tommy told me he moved to Florida and wanted to visit the Bahamas to bonefish I told him I was all in. Let’s face it, the bonefishing thing in the Bahamas is on every fly fisherman’s bucket list. And then he said, “Feel free to invite Kelly, her friends, your kids and their friends. We have room.” So, with around 4 months of planning we executed. And we needed every bit of that planning and more:
- COVID-19 tests on both sides of the trip for 7 people
- qualifying and paying for Bahamian travel Visas.
- all the calamity that comes with 4 groups of people flying from 4 different places.
- COVID outbreaks on some of the 10,000+ islands of the Bahamas.
- a gas shortage in the Bahamas preventing direct routes to the lavish resort Tommy inked for us.
- And what frustrates me the most: a group of 4 mid 20s that do not read email
My fly fishing investment was not too significant. COVID cancelled my “once in a lifetime” fly fishing trip to Cuba last year and the Bahamas requires most of the same gear. It is definitely the same flies which I spent 6 months tying. I had all the expensive flouro leaders and tippet. My son Mark only has trout gear. So I brought rods and gear for him too. Here is the arsenal of rod / reel combos I brought to the Bahamas:
|8 wt Sage Fli
|TFO BVK SD III
|SA Bonefish Taper/Flt 100ft WF8F
|9’0″ 4 piece
|8 wt Sage Launch
|Orvis Hydros Large Arbor IV
|rio outbound short tropical WF8I/S6
|9’0″ 4 piece
|8 wt Orvis Helios II
|Orvis Hydros Large Arbor IV
|Rio tropical outbound short
|10′ four piece
|10 wt TFO TiCr2 300-400gr Lefty Kreh
|Rio tropical outbound short
|9’0″ 4 piece
|12 wt TFO BVK
|Rio T-17 30ft Shooting Head 510gr sinking
|9’0″ 4 piece
|TFO BVK SD III+
|Rio tropical outbound short
Tommy arranged 2 days of guided bonefishing for the 4 of us guys with the world famous Captain Marvin Miller. It should be noted that my son Mark, now 25 and living in Bozeman for 6-7 years is quite the stick. He can double haul. But, Mark really only had trout experience. The same went for his best buddy Conner Burns (Burnsie) who was mark’s roommate his freshman year at Montana State and lived with him on and off ever since. Burnsie is no stranger to vacationing with the Huckabys. Especially when fly fishing is involved. Burnsie is also a stick. And he is really good on the oars. He works at Ro Drift Boats in Bozeman. He credits me for teaching him how to fly fish when he was 18, but I think that is only partially true.
My son Mark shot this video of Pablo Escobar’s crashed cocaine smuggling plane.
Bonefishing is an 8WT thing. So, I brought 3 8 wts thinking Mark and I would each have a 8wt and we’d have a “just in case” backup. But, Burnsie also brought a couple 8wt Scott rods. Tommy owns an 8 wt Orvis Helios 3. So, we were covered. My two “goto” rods would be:
- a 10 foot Orvis Helios II with a rio outbound short tropical floating line on it. That set up is pretty much the top of the line gear designed exactly for bone fishing. It came home broken. This is why backup rods are so important.
- A Sage Fli with a traditional scientific anglers bonefish line
All the other rods, reels and lines were for “just in case”:
- Before the trip I read that we were going to hit the pompano season right as it started. The pompano is a delicacy, and I was dreaming of nailing them in front of our lavish place on the beach. The 8wt sage launch had an intermediate sink rio tropical outbound short line on it to fish subsurface which is what is called for when fishing the pompano.
- That 10 WT TFO lefty kreh is my absolute favorite saltwater rod. It’s the one I railed all those bluefin trevally on in Kauai. I have also had good success on roosters with it in Mexico. I brought it just in case we saw some permit or tarpon.
- And that TFO BVK 12WT was a virgin. I bought it for the cancelled Cuba trip and had never casted it. I brought it to the Bahamas with a 700 gr heavy sink line just in case we wanted to target a larger tarpon or shark or…..
Getting to the Bahamas
Until the last minute, the plan was that Tommy, me, Kelly, Mark and Burnsie were going to take a boat across from Miami. It was going to a be a 4-5 hour trip. That was the plan. The gas shortage and rough seas precluded a direct route which turned the trip into a 12 hour ordeal that introduced too much risk. So, we inked flights to Nassau from Miami. Camille and her roommate Natasha, who live in St. Petersburg, FL had always planned to fly straight to Nassau. Tom inked us a nice beach house at the Palm Cay Resort. We also chartered a boat and hired a captain from the Palm Cay Resort for the entire week we were there. And man did we luck out with our captain, Ryan D… He literally and figuratively took care of us for a week. We surely would have died without him. With him we had so much fun. He is a friend now. I’m confident he is the only honorary Huckaby with dread locks. We even took Ryan and his girlfriend Vashti out to dinner to celebrate with us. Hopefully, they will take us up on our offer to stay with us at the “Huckaby Hotel” in Carlsbad.
I always write on this site about dealing with the inevitable calamities of backpacking. Well, it’s not just backpacking trips that produce calamity. This trip was riddled with calamity:
- Camille dropped her iphone into 20 feet of water at the dock. Ryan, put a mask on, swam down and got it. It still worked.
- I slipped on the stairs in our lavish beach house at Palm Cay Resort and tumbled on my ass down to the bottom. I was cleaning the sand off the stairs with wet paper towels and had just told the girls to be careful because they were slippery. What a dumb-ass. Thank God I wasn’t hurt. I have learned how to fall. I fall a lot. But, mostly in the wilderness.
- I left my GoPro on Andros Island on Denzell’s guide boat. Through cousins and moms and friends and planes Ryan got it back into my hands 2 days later. I owe him forever.
- My iPhone died. Not the battery; the phone. I plugged it in to charge and the screen went black. There was a shock at the outlet so I think it fried. I had to live a week without a phone when I intended to keep up with work during the trip. Maybe that was God.
- My Orvis Helios 2 came back broken. Thank god for Orvis’s awesome warranty.
- I got bit by an iguana. Those damn things have fangs like a cat.
Tom and I were having real trouble finding guides until I stumbled into Stephen Vletas from Tight Loop Travel on the inter-web. Until Stephen, all we could find were guides that required you to stay in a lodge. Stephen was super responsive by email. I highly recommend having him take care of you if you want to pull something like this off. Stephen booked us with the world-famous Captain Marvin Miller and his crew of guides on Andros Island. Two days of guided bone fishing on Andros Island! It did not disappoint.
I talked to Mark on the way there to Andros and he said he was a little nervous. That does make sense. Confidence on a trout stream is vastly different than hunting the skittish bonefish in crystal clear water. So, I put Mark and Burnsie with Marvin for both days by design. That little plan worked perfectly. Those boys had an absolute hoot of a time with Marvin. They both caught bonefish; a lot of them. What 25 year old hunts, spots, casts perfectly, and strip sets on a 10 pound bonefish?! At points they were having so much fun they even targeted the big barracudas. I guess catching 10 pound bonefish was not enough; 25 year olds need to catch and release 20 pound barracudas.
Tom and I fished with “Shine” on the first day and Denzel on the 2nd day. What I was a bit nervous about was Tom. He’s still a beginner in terms of casting. And everything I have seen on TV, youtube and read about in magazines always talked about the requirement for precision double hauls past 40 feet. Plus, the trek to Andros Island each day from New Providence Island took a couple hours. we missed the incoming tides on both days. We did so well I can’t imagine how crazy it would have been if we caught the incoming tide. While we fished Ryan cruised the gals around the many beaches and reefs to snorkel, hang out, and cocktail.
I have written many times about the little things that separate average guides from great guides. Well, Shine (that is a nickname, btw, all the natives seem to have nicknames) is a great guide. He quickly saw that Tom was limited to a 20-30 foot cast. So, instead of putting tom into 3 foot deep clear water requiring a 50 foot accurate cast he moved the boat into deeper murky water where he felt the bonefish would be holding during the slack tide. What I witnessed next was absolutely brilliant. A true sign of a great guide. Tom blind casted 20 feet at 3 o’clock and Shine said, “That’s fine. Let go of the line. Let it sink. Wait….wait…” and as Shine said that he poled the boat backwards sideways another 20-30 feet or so turning Tom’s 20 foot cast into a 50 foot cast. Tom had no idea, but I noticed it. I had no idea before I came to the Bahamas, that bonefishing requires a long smooth and slow strip. Pretty much the opposite of the lighting fast stripping you need to do in Kauai. So, then Shine said, “Start stripping…smoother…strip… strip… strip….” And sure enough Tom got hit, strip set and was on. I was laughing and hooting and hollering because honestly, at this point, although I had not even fished yet I wanted tom to experience success desperately. And sure enough Tom got that bonefish on the reel and landed him. I turned to Shine and said, “I saw what you did. That was brilliant.” He just smiled.
Captain Marvin Miller: “Now this is why you come to Andros….for the big bonefish….”
Now it was my turn. Within minutes I had landed my first Bahamian bonefish. And that is how the day went. Tom and I alternated catching fish after fish for 3-4 hours. We smattered in a few horse eye jacks in the process. I caught one big one that Shine poo-poo’d. In the Bahamas, Bonefish are special; jacks are not.
I did have a “holy shit did you see that!” moment. I set hard on a bonefish and as they do it took a long run. I reeled it back in and a huge barracuda shot out of nowhere and ate it from the broadside. The tail of the bonefish floated downwards and the head came off my fly.
It’s amazing how much better the guides are at spotting the bonefish than my untrained eyes were. Shine would frequently shout out something like, “2pm 35 feet.” I’d stare at that location and see nothing. But, sure enough if I made the cast, the bonefish was there. I did spot one nice bonefish in a couple feet of water 40 feet at 12 o’clock and casted at it before Shine called it out. I was pretty proud of that. Unfortunately, it popped off after I was pulling it back from it’s first run. The set to land ratio is pretty good in this type of fishing. You use barbed hooks with a wide hook gap. if you stick them in their rubbery jaw with a hard strip set on 10 foot, 12 pound flouro leaders. they don’t tend to shake out. It’s because of that you do not fight them on the line after you get them on the reel. After they run they tend to turn and run back at you. The terror of losing tension on the line is almost unbearable for a trout fisherman. But, Shine said. “just keep reeling.” and I did. And he was right. Time and time again he was right.
I did land a bonefish that Shine felt worthy of a trophy shot. I knew it was a nice fish because it did 3 runs on me. I laughed the entire time shouting, “This is so fun!”. The first run went into my backing. I have not been into the backing in years.
The 2nd day was slower, but that is only because I caught a nice bonefish on my first cast. Everyone knows that catching a fish on your first cast of the day is a complete jinx. Our guide for the 2nd day, Denzell, cruised us into really amazing and beautiful places as we hunted. We also fished the murky deep water and did well. For the last hour we hunted big fish and rarely casted. It reminded me of the countless hours I have spent on the Carlsbad beaches looking for Corbina.
After the second day of fishing was complete, we caught up with Mark and Burnsie on Marvin’s boat. I knew something was up because they were both smiling ear to ear. And so was Marvin. Mark had more of a smirk on his face. But, was quiet. I said, “So, how did you do?”. Mark handed me his phone and showed me this picture:
I said something like, “You out-fished me again.” with a smile on my face. Then the two boys excitedly told me and tom stories of their day. of how they hunted, stalked and set on monsters like that 8-10 pound bonefish. Marvin was clearly pleased. I was truly pleased. I’m sure he sees lots of fly fishermen, but rarely gets two gung-ho 25 year old’s from Bozeman, MT.
The following two days we managed to sneak in a little unguided fly fishing wading from shore and a little trolling in between sightseeing and snorkeling. Of interest I caught a flounder near the pablo escobar drug smuggling island of the Exumas that the movie “Blow” is based on. And on rose island I caught what I first thought was a pompano. But, upon further study of the picture it was actually a juvenile permit. I saw him cruising very clearly in crystal clear 2 feet deep water. As he passed in front of me I shot a cast just 20 feet, landing perfectly 10 feet ahead of him. A long slow strip and whack! He fought me pretty good before I released him.
It’s funny that this trout guy really has the bug for saltwater fly fishing now. I have lived by the pacific ocean for 40 years and never really got excited about salter water fly fishing until just recently. Oh yea, I’m going to get back to Andros Island to fish with Marvin if it kills me.
Captain Ryan took us to one of the islands in the Exumas that hosts a large wild population of iguanas.