Vol 7 No. 14 - December 27, 2006

Winter Bones

Ramsey Smith and Rusty Chinnis both hook up with bonefish while fishing on South Andros Island in the Bahamas.

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

I first met Andrew Bennett, owner of Andros South Lodge in South Andros Bahamas, in Denver this past August at the Fly Fishing Dealers Show. When the conversation came around to bonefishing, Bennett was eager to tell me about the big fish opportunities that the area offered during the winter. My experience bonefishing in the Bahamas had been during the prime spring months of April, May and early June, traditional months for chasing the "gray ghost" over the vast flats that surround the largest islands of the Bahamas chain. I was intrigued by his description of the numbers of fish, their size and the lack of any angling pressure during that time of year. When I got a call from him in September with an offer to join him and several other anglers in the fly fishing industry for a week in November, I quickly accepted.

Savvy anglers know that the winter is the best time to explore these storied Bahamian waters. The general angling public is wary of this time of the year due to the threat of cold fronts that pass through the area just as they do in the U.S. The big difference with Andros is that the latitude is much farther south than destinations on the more northerly islands. On this trip I would experience first hand the fishing challenges and opportunities present during a powerful cold front.

Andros South Lodge is located approximately 30 miles north of the extreme southern tip of South Andros, the largest and least populated Island in the Bahamas. Situated on a lovely white beach, Andros South is a 10-minute ride from Little Creek where the lodge’s 18 foot Dolphin skiffs are moored. The location gives access to the southeastern side of the island with its myriad cays and creeks as well as a "direct" route to the unpopulated and vast west side. During our six days of fishing we never saw another boat other than an occasional sighting of one of our own group. This is what I refer to as the "real" Bahamas, an area that has none of the trapping of the "American Caribbean," the luxurious resorts and Four Season pampered mentality. Instead we were treated to the charm, warmth, and hospitality of the Bahamian people and their rich, varied and sumptuous local cuisine. At the end of a day’s fishing, I enjoyed walking to the Ocean View bar, located on Little Creek, where we drank a cold beer, talked about the day’s exploits, and either watched or joined the locals in animated games of dominos.

The first two days on the water were beautiful with light winds, blue skies and some excellent bonefishing opportunities. We fished the west side on days one and two, never seeing another boat either day. Immersed in an incredible seascape of endless flats and serpentine creeks, the fishing was steady with no more than 20 minutes between shots at doubles and small schools of bones to six pounds. I fished with Bennett and we alternated shots, never getting tired of standing on the bow or taking pictures while waiting our next turn.

On the third day, the largest front to pass through the area in two years brought clouds, accelerating winds and plummeting temperatures. It looked as though we would get to test Bennett’s hypothesis of winter bonefishing in spades. Although everyone made a valiant attempt that day, all boats were in by noon as weather conditions worsened. That night as winds howled through the palms, and temperatures dropped into the low 50s, even the most optimistic of our crew was hard pressed to put on a hopeful face.

The next morning dawned cold, bright and blustery with sustained winds of 25 mph and gusts to 30. Even our guide, Josie Sands, didn’t give us much of a chance that day, but I’m glad he didn’t tell the fish. I shared the bow with Ramsey Smith, a guide at Bennett’s camp in Alaska and the assistant tennis coach at Duke. Throughout the day, beginning at our first stop, we cast to and landed bonefish to eight pounds with amazing regularity. At times the fishing was so fast that we would hand the rod to one another and strip line off for another cast as we unhooked our fish. On a day that most anglers would consider impossible, we landed 15 bonefish and cast to hundreds of fish, including two dozen that Sands estimated at 12 to 15 pounds. On the next day we had better conditions and even more impressive numbers. We boated 19 bones and had three doubles. Smith even cast to and fought a 100-pound blacktip shark that took a large popper on an 11 weight rod.

The last day of the trip, lodge manager John Toker joined us for a day of wading the flats on the southeast side of the big island. The conditions were perfect as everyone including our guide Sands caught and released bonefish during a fast rising tide. We fished from the boat for a couple of hours during the high tide and then ended the day on a beautiful flat that teemed with schools of waking bonefish. Over beers that afternoon at the Ocean View, Smith confessed that he had been trying to find an early flight out three days earlier when he lost confidence in our chances, and what a big mistake that would have been. I must admit that I hadn’t been very optimistic myself, but now I’ll plan my trips during the cooler months. I saw, first hand, the size and numbers of bonefish that swim the flats during the winter months. Bennett was right, and he couldn’t have picked a better week to prove his point.

Anglers interested in classic Bahamian bonefishing will love this destination. The lodge is single occupancy, comfortable and features sumptuous local cuisine. For information on Andros South Lodge go to www.androssouth.com or call 1-800-344-3628

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