Bahamas Draft Fisheries Regulations Set to Shut Down Flats Fishing Tourism Sector?
So by now we’ve all heard about the new proposed flats fishing regulations that seem to make DIY angling and foreign-owned lodges illegal. We’ve all had our little respective meltdowns and (some of us) are wondering how the heck we’re ever going to afford that next bonefish.
Personally, I think this smacks of classic politics and the triumph of so-called “common sense” over cold, hard data. In a 2010 Economic Report Bonefish & Tarpon Trust discovered that flats fishing brings over 140 million dollars into the Bahamian economy. No surprise there. The surprising part is that over two-thirds of that (over 100 million dollars) was from Non-Guided (DIY) Anglers. I was shocked to read that, but after a bit of reading and consideration it made sense. It seems that DIY anglers spend more days in the Bahamas. I mean, if you can afford two days at a lodge for $1,500 USD or a full week for $2,000, which are you going to choose? You’ll drop the extra $500 every time! And, while you’re there for those extra days, you’ll likely drink a little more than you should, drive a little farther to find fish than you were expecting and buy a few more orders of conch fritters than you’d budgeted for.
I mean, this is business 101, right? People will spend more IF they think they’re getting a deal. Witness the iPhone, or Abel reels, or YETI coolers.
This, it seems is why the DIY angler is such a massive contributor to the Bahamian economy. And, it must be mentioned that he spreads his money around: car rental, accommodations, groceries, taxi, drinks, restaurants, tackle shops, and, yes, guides. Everyone gets a little slice.
In light of this I have written the follow letter to the Bahamas Fisheries Dept. Make your feelings known here: firstname.lastname@example.org. YOU HAVE UNTIL FRIDAY, JUNE 26, 2015!
To Whom it May Concern,
I am writing with concern for the new Draft Regulations for the Bahamas Fisheries, particularly Flats Fishing. I am worried that the move to limit (or outright ban) Do It Yourself anglers (DIY) would severely damage the Bahamas’ economy. My concern is based on research data collect by the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (which can be read in it’s entirety here: https://www.bonefishtarpontrust.org/images/stories/Bahamas_Flats_Economic_Impact_Report.pdf, and I’ve also attached a copy for your reference).
In this report they note that “Direct expenditures for both guided and non-guided anglers were nearly $70 million (Table 7). Guided anglers accounted for 21% of this total while non-guided angler spending comprised 79% of flats angler’s direct spending in the Bahamian economy.”
So, the impact to the Bahamian economy by Non-Guided anglers (DIY) is 3 times that of Guided anglers. This is surprising but is because non-guided anglers are clearly spending more time in your lovely, hospitable islands (as Table 7 in the report clearly shows).
I am an independent guide myself in the Cayman Islands, and I’ve also been tempted to push back against Non-Guided anglers, because “common sense” says they’re harming my business. However, the data does not show this to be true. In fact, DIY anglers contribute tremendously to our economy, renting cars, buying petrol, renting accommodations, buying food and drinks, visiting restaurants, frequenting tackle shops, purchasing souvenirs, etc. These moneys do benefit me in the long run because they enrich my island, my homeland and my people. Also, many of these anglers do end up booking me for at least 1 day, and often refer friends and family to me as well. In fact, more anglers in my waters can only mean more business in the long run… IF the proper conservation measures are in place to prevent over-fishing and destruction of habitat.
Of course, I have fished many times in Bahamian waters and do not wish to lose the option of doing a little fishing on my own while visiting. I will point out that I have fished out of lodges (Big Charlie & Fatihas on Andros), with DIY Lodges (Fedel’s on Acklins), and with Independent Guides, including J.J. Dames on Great Exuma. However, on all of these trips I enjoyed grabbing my fishing rod and a Kalik and walking the flats at sunset, looking for just a few more tailing bonefish. Sometimes I caught fish and sometimes I did not, but I always enjoyed myself. It would be a shame for something like that to be impossible.
To be clear, I fully support immediate implementation of a Fishing License requirement (as Florida has required for many years), but it should be reasonable. $20/day is not reasonable. That would add $120 to every week-long stay at a fishing lodge, whose average prices are already barely competitive with other flats fishing destinations like Belize, Honduras and Mexico. A fishing license in Florida (which also has bonefish, tarpon and permit) is only $30 USD PER WEEK! Why would someone pay for a plane ticket, book an expensive lodge AND pay nearly $100 in addition to these expenses when they could simply stop in Miami and be done with it? It think this is something that should be seriously thought through.
I hope that my letter (and the letter of the countless other anglers out there) will provide some perspective on how this Draft Legislation, IF turned into law AS IS, would harm rather than help the Bahamian people.
I saw 3 or 4 swimming straight at me. It was almost surreal. I did exactly as you had described in the book and without a hitch dropped the tan Crazy Charlie about 2 feet in front of the lead fish. I watched astonished as he just kept coming with intent and then tipped…
Loved this story over on diybonefishing.com. It realistically depicts the challenge (and rewards) of catching the Grey Ghost of the flats on fly by yourself. It also demonstrates why some instruction—in this case Rod’s very useful book—is better than trying to figure the whole thing out from scratch.
Bonefish are pretty much 180 degrees from the species most anglers target on fly. Everything, from the presentation to the hook-set is wildly different from what we’re used to. I see it every day I guide. If you cast past the fish and pull the fly towards them: game over. If you “trout set”: game over. If you roll-cast and rip the water: game over. If you use tippet with the letter X anywhere in it: game over. Walk the flats and blind cast: game over.
Rod’s book contains the fundamentals of targeting bonefish on the fly and helps clarify all these issues. After that, it’s just up to you get out there and do it!
If you haven’t already subscribed to Rod Hamilton’s blog on that site, you should. Weekly stories, fishing reports and tips to get you fired up (and more prepared) for that next flats fishing venture.
Two fish displayed evidence of bacterial infection following handling, and both fish were exposed to the zinc sunscreen treatment. Based on these results, anglers should consider avoiding handling of fish with sunscreen-coated hands, as well as with UV gloves.
FlyLife Magazine just published an interesting article outlining a couple interesting experiments done at Bahamas’ Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) wetlab where they tested the effects of sunscreen tinted baits on bonefish feeding behaviour and whether sunscreen (conventional or zinc-based), sun gloves or clean wet hands are better for handling fish.
The results are interesting (and you can read the full account at the link above), but the basics are this:
- Sunscreen doesn’t deter or attract bonefish to bait. They are primarily sight feeders, so a refusal is probably because of something off in a presentation, or the fly pattern itself. Don’t blame the sunscreen.
- Although conventional sunscreen removed the most slime, zinc-based sunscreen seemed to cause the most damage to the bonefish.
- Clean, wet hands are the best for handling fish… so remove those sun gloves first.
I personally love the work Bonefish & Tarpon Trust are doing, and if you care at all about these species, so should you. Give em a click. Read. Join.
Rod Hamilton over at DIYbonefishing.com is giving away tons of stuff, including a FREE bonefishing trip to Long Island, Bahamas. There are also weekly prizes like fly rods, etc. All good stuff!
Rod is the author of Do It Yourself Bonefishing, the latest must have book for DIY anglers interested in connecting to the grey ghost of the flats, both on their own and guided. Along with Kirk Deeter, Rod has put together a great volume full of practical angling advice and a fairly comprehensive list of places to fishing. The best part is Rod has considered both the adventurous, hard-core angler and those who have to consider fitting in a few days of fishing on a family trip. I highly endorse it (and not just because I just received my autographed copy a few days ago).
Day II November 30, 2013 In Transit, Bahamas
Dawn is a grey and drizzly affair, but calm. Perhaps our luck is turning.
Aside from the typical incompetence by the local airline (SOP), the transfer goes smoothly. Even though my companions have been to Acklins before their excitement is palpable. Watching the panorama of the Exuma keys extending to the horizon a few thousand feet below our fuselage does little to alleviate that. After nearly two solid days of traveling, there is only one thing on our mind: bonefish.
Strangely, my own emotions are subdued, even calm. Traveling does that to me, no matter how exciting the destination. I think travel is a kind of mobile meditation—removed from the quiet room and the silent garden—an opportunity to practice awarenessing.
I have plenty of time to practice. After touch-down and collecting our bags, we head for the lodge, which I’m now informed has excellent flats out the back door. But, instead of squealing tired to get there—rigging our fly rods en route—we stop for fuel, to grab a few cold beers (which I slug guiltily in the back of the rental car) and just to pass the time of day with a few of the locals. The upshot is we’re on the water about an hour later than feels reasonable. But never mind; we’re here and safe and there are indeed bonefish. The tide low and starting to rise, ideal to find bones pushing past into the creek system behind us.
My first shots are bold, aggressive. I’m using a fairly heavy crab pattern, because it’s the Bahamas and the fish here are idiots. Plus, I’m me; I got this. But, staggeringly, in the quiet of the slack tide my fly lands heavily enough to spook the few fish I see. Perplexing. I switch patterns for something lighter—a Gotha-like thing with bead-chain eyes—and connect with the next fish I see. The take is gentle, nervous even and I respond by hammering home the fly and attempting to horse the fish in. This results in a pulled hook and lost fish. Brilliant.
The clouds of the past few days still haven’t fully clear out, so visibility comes and goes. The westering sun doesn’t help. I finally land a couple, but all the fish I’ve seen have been smallish—1½-2 pounds—so I wade deeper, looking for their bigger cousins. Behind me the newbie Bob is working the shoreline, and I can’t help but notice that every time I turn around he’s casting at something. Schools of baby bones in shallow water? Must be. Right?
Right. I keep wading down the main channel, scanning for grey shapes in the failing light. Even if I don’t spot them in time, spooking a few would at least tell me they’re there, but no, nothing. Not a needlefish.
Bob is still casting and the light is failing fast so I wade toward shore. Maybe I’ll pick up a tailer on the way. I’m still fixated on spotting bigger fish in the channels when a disturbance near shore catches my eye: tails! Big ones. I wade into position and realize this fly won’t do; it’s much too heavy. I retie and also lengthen the leader a bit. It’s probably unnecessary but I’m running out of chances and want to actually land a decent fish. With the new fly on I wade in close, searching for signs of life in the glare. Suddenly I see a swirl and a push headed my way. My cast snakes out to intercept, but drops to far ahead. I let the fly sit rather than recast. Dusk has come and the glassy water belies the slightest movement on my part. There! I see a movement toward my fly, I think. I begin a halting, gentle retrieve, feeling for the take and then there’s that moment, that almost imperceptible feeling that something is going to happen.
A few hours later I hold a sweating drink as the crew discusses plans for tomorrow. I listen smugly with half an ear and no opinion. Wherever we go will be fine, I’m sure—interesting anyways. Besides, I’ve already got a 5-pounder under my belt, dinner smells good and tomorrow is the first full day in a full week of fishing. It’s a good day to be alive.
Day I November 29, 2013 Orange Hill Hotel, Nassau, Bahamas
The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli.
I watch squalls pass to the north, unless that’s south. The overcast is so complete that I really can’t tell, but it feels north. Spindrift mists my glasses, blurring the horizon further.
I cross back over the low berm of sand and climb the concrete steps of Orange Hill. Tomorrow we’ll board a small prop plane and fly an hour and a half eastward in this crap. Our destination: a tiny island somewhere east of Bimini and north of Cuba. There, I’m told, we’ll find bonefish—lots of them and dumb as rocks (or rockets, which is a more apt description of that particular species).
This is a fish that, based on current evidence, will drive sane people from the comfort of their home to fly thousands of miles, endure strange food, stranger landscapes and bloodsucking creatures in their millions just for the opportunity to catch one, and then gently let it go again. What a weird and wonderful little world we live in.
I reach the hotel bar: dry, plainly furnished, with a quartet of anglers drinking in the corner. In place of a bartender there’s a ledger with a number of hash marks. Ah. The honor system. There’s a picnic cooler with an assortment of beer. A little digging surfaces a Kalik and after the first swig I feel my hopes rising. Surely the weather will clear to the east, right? Bound to. Surely.
I wonder if the cracked conch is any good here.
I write this not as a guide or an angler, but as both. Cards on the table (in case you haven’t read the About page), I am a bonefish guide. I’m also a fierce advocate of DIY flats fishing. As such I feel in a unique position to offer an opinion that considers both the perspective of the guides and the adventure angler.
Let’s be honest, we DIY’ers might start with the best intentions: We’re going to explore, man, drive around and fish the whole island. But then, of course, we have no idea how the tides affect fish in that area, so (barring good luck) we’ll likely hit it wrong and (often) erroneously conclude that a fish-less flat is fish-less because it’s a bad flat, when it’s just a bad tide.
On the other hand a guide has to think about tomorrow, and next week, and next month. So if the fishing is tough, they’ll still move around, trying to spread out the pressure while still getting the best shots at fish. It’s a balancing act they have to do every day—considering the wants/desires/dreams of the client vs the health/longevity of the fishery (and their career).
I’ve heard it said that it’s not the casual DIY angler that’s pressuring the fish. I’d definitely have to disagree with that.
See, the psychology of a DIY angler is one I completely understand, having been there myself. I mean, if I’ve spent all that time planning a trip, scouring the forums, browsing Google Earth, and arranging all the flights, rental cars, lodging, etc, and coordinated all that with my buddies, and then the fishing turns out to be tough I get desperate to catch fish. We all do. Especially if (as is probably the case) that’s going to be my one exotic flats fishing adventure for the next year or two. So if I only find one flat that reliably has fish I’ll be sorely tempted fish there every day.
We tend to live in a myopic world of our own wherein we are the only anglers clever and adventurous enough to step off the map and do it ourselves. The truth is there were many before and they’ll be many afterwards—all desperate to catch fish with no real incentive to consider the ramifications to the fishery.
If I can slip back into my guide boots for a minute, I can attest that I’ve seen a flat take over 2 weeks to recover after being pounded every day for a week by a single DIY angler. It was one of the two weeks I was resting that flat and when I returned with a paying client expecting willing fish, I found spooky, closed-mouthed ghosts. So, I guess in the final analysis I’m echoing Dr. Addams and Bjorn on ThisIsFly when I say, DIY is great, just don’t be an A-Hole. But, in fact, I’d go farther and wonder if it’s possible for a normal, respectful angler turned DIY-angler-on-the-edge-of-desperation to be anything but. To be honest, the jury is still out for me.
REDACTED: August 29, 2013
So, to review:
- Fierce advocate of Do It Yourself Fly Fishing.
- Everybody stop being A-Holes.
WindKnot the Angler