Travel Log: Strange Weather, Adventures in DIY* Fly Fishing (Part I)

Mr. WindKnot admires a beautiful sunrise at Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera.

Eleuthera, Bahamas May 2004

It cannot be coincidence that no language on earth has produced the phrase, ‘as pretty as an airport’.

Indeed, and Miami International has achieved a level of ugliness that a writer like Douglas Adams, to pick a name at random, would say could only be the result of a special effort. Nevertheless, it was not without a certain thrill that I disembarked from our plane into the bowels of the arrival concourse. We were on our way to the Bahamas, and no number of surly security personnel and bad food (at larcenous prices) could dampen my spirits.

The Bahamas hold a special place in any bonefish angler’s heart – as anyone who has flown over this string of islands can attest. The view that greets you from an altitude of several thousand feet is calculated to make any saltwater fly angler lust in their heart [1]. This archipelago stretches from Bimini (roughly 90 miles off Florida’s coast) southeast to Great Inagua, where you can see Cuba on a clear day. From the air miles and miles of keys, reefs, basins and flats stretch to the horizon. As I peer from the port window I’m reminded that the very name for the Bahamas is derived from the Spanish word, bahamar, meaning shoal water. With over seventy-five thousand miles of flats belonging to this island nation, I’d say it was aptly named and this makes it the perfect place to attempt a DIY bonefishing trip.

Of course, nowadays everyone and their mother has heard of bonefishing with a fly rod (and probably seen it on Saturday morning television), and almost every saltwater fishing magazine has an article on the newest bonefishing lodge where they guarantee to put thirty bonefish under your belt by cocktails on the first day. Belize, Mexico, and the Turks and Caicos all have their lodges, but the Bahamas have been with it from the beginning. Since folks have pursued bonefish with a fly rod, they have gone to the Bahamas to do so. With its closest islands sitting just offshore of Florida, they are easily accessible. The residents speak English, and there’s plenty of fish and plenty of water for everyone.


We touched down on a small airstrip outside Rock Sound, Eleuthera, Bahamas. By an act of God our luggage made it, though I had taken my usual precaution of packing my reels, lines and rods in my carry-on. I had to take it on faith that my flies would make it, since a post-9-11 world regards them as deadly weapons that must be locked safely in the bowels of the aircraft. Exactly how one hijacks a 747 with a barbless #8 Crazy Charlie has never been made clear, but there seemed little room for discussion with the safety personnel at the check-in counter. I toyed briefly with the idea of trying to smuggle in a few about my person, but abandoned the idea in favor of maintaining my freedom.

There were four of us on this trip. Aaron met up with my dad and me in Miami and Andy joined us in Nassau. Only three of us were fly fishers, but Andy was up for anything, particularly a trip to an exotic island. Beach barbeques, gorgeous sunsets, warm tropical waters and rum drinks sounded like enough fun to convince him. For us other three (more serious and practical minded fishermen), an extra head made the cost of accommodations that much less. That’s not to suggest that the cost was exorbitant anyway. We had rented a place on the beach in Tarpum Bay for $80 a night. It came equipped with two bedrooms, a working kitchen and shower that drizzled sulfurous smelling brackish water, and, most importantly, working air conditioning. No pool, no maid-service, no satellite TV. With our group consisting of a college student, a preacher, a struggling bonefish guide, and a priest in training, luxury accommodations were well out of range.

That was also the reason we were not ensconced in the lounge of a fishing lodge somewhere in Andros or Belize – that and the desire to see how a strictly do-it-yourself bonefishing trip would pan out. I’d done the lodge thing, as had my dad, and while it is certainly a satisfying experience, I was anxious to try the other side of the coin. Besides, I felt that one of the major hurdles for do-it-yourself anglers should be no problem for us – that of spotting bonefish. Aaron, our priest-to-be, was a beginner, but we felt that given fair numbers of fish he’d catch on quickly. We were full of hope and anticipation of a week of glorious flats fishing.

*Shorthand for “do it yourself” fishing. Often seen on forums, blogs, and is even gaining currency in some of the less formal and stuffy print magazines.
1 The sight is so amazing that you momentarily forget the pathetic smallness of the aircraft you’re in, which reminds you more of a rather unkempt bus than an actual aircraft. [back]

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