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Bahamas: Sea Hunter Liveaboard 05-09-2009

She is 79 feet long and 30 feet wide. She is a hotel, a restaurant and a pub. She sits firmly attached to the Bahama Bank in Jackfish Channel. This aqua blue channel cuts northwest into the prolific flats that are pulled up like a blanket over the southern end of Andros Island. She is the
Sea Hunter and for the adventuresome, lies in the middle of angling heaven. From this anchorage, an astounding array of white sand flats, tidal creeks and deserted cays surround you. If weather permits, patch reefs and the the deep blue water of the legendary "Tongue of the Ocean" can be reached aboard the Sweet Jessie, the 33-foot sportfisher that sits bumper to bumper with the the Sea Hunter.

The Sea Hunter fishes six anglers. Although there are berths for many more, limiting the capacity to six provides an increased level of comfort, as well as uncrowded fishing opportunities. The Sea Hunter is not a ship for the mai-tai sipping, harbor-hugging, twitter-happy show off. The Sea Hunter is a craft built, outfitted and organized for the dedicated ocean explorer whether he or she be a scuba diver, snorkeler, or fisherman. The Sea Hunter's crew of six is totally geared to get you doing what you came to do. They are ready shortly after dawn with coolers packed and gas tanks filled. If you are the fish-until-you-drop kinda angler, you don't have to be back onboard until dusk... unless you decide to return to the Sea Hunter for a mid-day break. One of the luxuries of the Sea Hunter (as compared to a lodge) is that you are usually within 20 minutes of the mothership. If you decide to venture further, you can always go the conventional route and pack a lunch. The choice is yours! The crew wants to work the daily schedule as you see fit. On this trip (which this report concerns which was just concluded in May), we were off shortly after dawn. We packed lunches some days, but just as often returned to the Sea Hunter for hamburgers, a cold beer and a short rest before exploring some other flat system. When we were done for the day, usually with the sun perched just above the western horizon, we motored back to the Sea Hunter for hot showers before we raised the cocktail hour flag. And please, make no mistake, the aft deck of the Sea Hunter provides a world class spot to sip your libation of choice as twilight spreads over the flats that surround you.

If you love to fish, this is the trip for you. The longest run we made was 30 minutes, the shortest five. By being based on the Sea Hunter, no precious daylight hours were wasted getting to and from the flats. And as any experienced flats fisherman knows, the more time you get to spend hunting, the more likely you are to have one of those days that leaves you truly sated in the evening. If your are contemplating a trip aboard the Sea Hunter, it is important to note that all bonefishing is done while wading. For the angler who loves to be in the water, this trip is heaven. For the beginner, one can literally be surrounded by thousands of fish at times, while for the expert, larger fish are found in small schools and as singles and doubles.

On this trip in May, we arrived just as the full moon began its wane. Our tides were low early in the AM and then again in the late afternoon. By the end of the trip, as the tides moved off the spring and the low came later in the morning, we had good tides most of the day. We always seemed to be able to find a few fish even on the high tide of the early afternoon, but our mornings were the best and more often than not, simply spectacular.

In the morning, the water was cool and the fish aggressively slithered into skinny water. With the sun just up, we could often see tails glittering over white sand and sparse turtle grass flats. Schools of 20 - 50 fish were often literally everywhere. The were times when we had to turn our back to school fish and go looking for the bigger fish. These bruisers cruise edges, slink into cuts and are the first ones to leave when they are discovered on the edges of the school fish.

Anglers in our group were often pulled towards these schoolies. If you were seduced by the schools and they become your focus of attention, the larger fish often went unnoticed. It took a while for us to figure this out. The schools served as an early warning system for the bigger singles and doubles. These school fish were "nervous nellies" who blew up at the slightest operator error... a sloppy presentation, a crack of coral underfoot or a splashy wading mis-step could ruin your shot. But if you did it right, one fish caught led to two and soon you were in double digits for the day. And if you did it really right, you caught a few school fish early in the day (to get the smell of skunk well away from you) then focused on catching bigger fish. Anything over 5 pounds was usually caught as a single or double. We caught numerous fish in the 6-7 lb. range and three 8-10 lb. fish were landed.

Sure we had some slow periods, but all-in-all everyone on this trip would tell you they saw more fish than anywhere else they had ever been. Everyone got plenty of shots, but some days the fish were bitchy and you worked to get a hook-up. On other days, the bones ate everything and at time darted 6-8 feet to take your fly. Such is bonefishing... each day is new and different.

Had we only the bonefishing we would have been a happy bunch, but for the avid angler, there are many more ways to burn your daylight hours and a few evening hours as well! We fished patch reefs with conventional tackle for mangrove, lane and mutton snapper. We caught big lemon sharks and barracuda with baited hooks. We caught snapper off the backs of rays on the flats and snorkeled the patch reefs leading to the Tongue of the Ocean. Here, with Hawaiian slings and pole spears, we secured an excellent dinner of snapper one evening. Although they were out of season, we saw lots of legal size lobsters and a well-placed shot could have put plenty of these delicious delicacies on the table (as it did on our trip last fall... please see the Nov. 2008 trip report). At night, we fished with bait off the Sea Hunter's spacious aft deck and caught enough big mutton snapper for another superb dinner. In addition, the Sweet Jessie was fully equipped for a day in the "big blue" where wahoo and yellow fin tuna are often caught and mahi-mahi are almost always caught... usually on the fly!

The crew of the Sea Hunter does a wonderful job. Eager, friendly and energetic, their goal is to give you your money's worth. The captain of the Sea Hunter, Zyndall McKinney, the captain of the Sweet Jessie, Elliot McKinney, and the two young men who man the skiffs, Alex and Andy, all come from Crooked Island. All these McKinney's grow up around boats and bonefishing. These guys can find fish and love doing so. They are also a lot of fun and are a critical component to the warm and friendly ambiance of the Sea Hunter. Chris and Glenda round out the crew. Chris not only prepares most of the ship's excellent, hearty meals, but also serves as first mate on the Sweet Jessie. Glenda is in charge of all housekeeping... she also made a mean birthday cake for one of our trip members!

A strong 20 knot wind was making it difficult to reach the ridiculous numbers of tails that I was seeing upwind. I took a deep breath and with a little patience combined with some stealthy wading, I was almost always able to get into the right position. After a couple hours of this, I was deep into a double-digit day and decided to wade downwind to join my compatriots. I crossed the berm of the flat. While fishing, I had watched this flat from upwind as it was covered by the rising tide. On the far side of this undulating flat, I saw a small ray and some apparition on its tail. I lobbed a cast downwind and caught an 8 lb. mutton snapper that was apparently scoffing up the prey displaced by the wallowing ray. A large lemon shark pushed me towards a quick release and soon I was wading towards my friends once again... now with a truly spectacular day under my belt.

I was wading fast not really fishing too seriously...sort of the whistle-while-you-work approach, when I saw a dark shape quartering the flat. This fish was coming fast out of a deeper channel to my left. He seemed to be in a big hurry. I clumsily lofted a cast and plopped my big pink fly upwind and well off his trajectory. He never slowed, but did steeply veer to take my fly on the run. There was no hesitation, no inspection and no tailing. He just ate! After all, he was running behind and this little morsel must have been only a harbinger of whatever he expected to find whenever he got to where he was going.

I stripped and that was the precise point that his schedule for the day changed. Like a typical Type-A, he initially ignored the irritation with an all-out sprint, then bore down by hard wagging his immense tail. My bright blue backing disappeared into the channel of the same color . After a good long while, the weight of all that line and backing pulling against my drag reduced his run to a series of mighty pulses. I then began my retreive filling my spool with backing and then the pale yellow fly line. This time, with no sharks around, I took my time. I took a few photos and measured him from head to fork. He was 27 inches... huge! What, 9 lbs?... certainly 8! I never took the fish out of the water or touched him more than just lightly when I taped him. Upon being released, he energetically and singlemindedly was on his way again. He was late...late for a very important date. He may have been overdue, but he would not be absent and I was happy about that.

The Sea Hunter provides one of the biggest bang-for-the-buck angling opportunities in all the Bahamas. For the angler that likes to wade, does not require the services of a traditional guide and likes to fish from dawn until dusk, this is the trip for you. In addition, anglers get a bluewater day in the Sweet Jessie (weather permitting), and can fish and/or dive patch reefs for snapper and lobster in season. The Sea Hunter is also a great spot to be with friends. There is just something about being on a boat, anchored far away from civilization right on top of your fishing grounds, that makes any fishing trip more of an adventure. To Mike Mach, Steve Dooley, Bill Ludwig, Fred Abramowitz, Larry Towning and Todd Cook, thanks guys for a truly GREAT trip! Let's do it again soon!!

Written by Scott Heywood








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