Angling Destinations' Kit Fischer spent four months this winter on Ragged Island managing the new Ragged Island Bonefish Lodge and exploring the waters of this remote Bahamian outpost. Here is the report of a modern day Robinson Crusoe:
March 1, 2009
I am a castaway. A dot on a map somewhere south of Great Exuma and east of Cuba. My life revolves around everything piscatorial; my clothes stink of fish slime and blood, my shirts have faded to the same muted colors and my skin looks like a well-fried conch fritter. The skin on my lips are blistered, my hands are cracked and my right index finger looks like somebody has sliced it repeatedly with a knife. I live in paradise.
March 5, 2009
The lodge is a new creation, a miracle of sorts, constructed in nine months with 100% of the materials shipped in from Nassau and the States. The island and its 50 inhabitants are far removed from the tourist havens of the Bahamas. Life on Ragged remains elemental.
Phicol Wallace, the local lodge owner, has transformed the building into the Taj Mahal of Ragged. It stands next to crumpled brick structures and half completed houses. Everyone on the island is extremely friendly. Most fish for a living so we enjoy a common passion. The only difference is that most of our conversations focus on what fish tastes better rather than fishing tactics...
My duties vary, but ultimately I'm a "McGyver". I keep things working and train the guides. And, as much as my lodge duties permit, explore the fishery.
March 10, 2009
For months, I've dreamed only of endless days walking pristine beaches and flats in the pursuit of fish species I only previously imagined. This is my time and I want to make the best of it. So I fish and then I fish some more. Even when bad weather hits, I still go give a few throws just to make sure I don't miss an opportunity. Even if I'm not fishing, I watch other people fish. Or I watch locals clean fish. I find myself watching fishing shows on TV during the evening, even bass fishing. I'm obsessed, but I revel in my madness!
March 20, 2009
Every Friday brings new guests: fresh, enthusiastic fishermen nearly shaking in anticipation as they jump off the plane. I watch and study their obsessive, cult-like behavior in awe. It is a humbling experience to be in the presence of people who may be more crazed than me. Their nightly line cleaning, obsessive knot tying and fly arranging amazes me. It's like gladiators preparing for battle. They argue over the finer points of a blood knot versus a surgeon's, they debate the merits of deer hair vs. fish hair on a Clouser and with a cigar in one hand, they fondle their equipment as they recount the day's action. I listen and watch fully entralled. Did I mention we are all mad?
April 1, 2009
Most destination anglers could be classified as "binge" fishermen. In other words, they fish on one or two trips a year and go as hard as possible, barely allowing time for meals or socializing. One of my criteria for assessing an angler's zeal is to clock how much time elapses between wheels down on the runway to fishing rod in hand. The gonzo record stands at 20 minutes...
Destination anglers devote every possible minute of their trip to fishing because they realize that their next opportunity to wade for bonefish or smoke cigars in an ocean breeze may not happen again for a long, long time. They all know (sadly) that when they return to Colorado or Virginia or Nofishville, they will be left with a suitcase full of sand, clothing smeared with bonefish butter and memories of aquamarine water.
April 20, 2009
On another island I might have tired from fishing. But Ragged's diversity kept me wired. Although the island isn't even seven miles long, I go for a week straight and catch different fish every day. It's all about the wind. On windy days I slog around the mangrove flats near the back of the runway, exploring the endless mazes of pristine bonefish habitat. With an east wind I patrol the beach near Percy's Eagle Nest on the southern end of the island and catch barracuda and horse-eye jacks. On calm days, the eastern shore lays down and it's loaded with snapper, jacks, triggerfish, grunts and other reef species. I'm living the dream.
May 12, 2009
Three months in, the doldrums of island life are setting in. My muscles are beginning to atrophy as I've learned that fishing doesn't provide much aerobic activity. Guests have already left on the skiffs for the day and my daily chores are finished. The sun is hot enough by 9 am that coffee is no longer appealing and I consider tying a few flies. Instead I grab my ten-weight, a light spinning rod, three full trash bags and head to the dump. I toss the last bag of trash onto the pile, but as I lift it from the cart, the bottom tears out and coffee grounds and old lobster guts bury my feet. If for no other reason than to clean myself, I head to the beach.
Whitecaps are slamming three-foot waves on the beach and the chance of decent fishing is minimal. But I soldier on, tossing out a popper on the spinning rod a couple times to no avail. I'm almost ready to chalk up this blustery day as a loss when I decide to take a couple throws with the fly rod. Can't explain why I did this, as casting into three-foot seas with twenty-five mph winds is usually neither fun or productive. But I worked out a few short casts.
Suddenly out of nowhere, less than two rod lengths away, a five-foot tarpon came gliding toward me, hugging the shoreline. With only a foot of flyline out beyond the guides, I slap the fly on the water and watch in awe as the fish fins toward me, casually opens its mouth. My fly vanishes into this cavern. Having never hooked a tarpon on a fly before, I didn't know exactly what I'd gotten myself into. The next half hour I yelled and screamed as I ran up and down the beach fighting the fish of my life. I wrestled the beast onto the beach and unhinged its jaw to retrieve my fly. I was now not only smeared with last night's trash, but also covered in putrid tarpon slime. I cradled the fish in my messy arms, amazed by its sheer weight (well over fifty pounds) and paid my respects before returning it to the ocean.
I continued fishing, the adrenaline still coursing through me, but for the first time in months, my enthusiasm began to wane. It must be how a golfer feels after he hits a hole in one and realizes that it can't get any better. I felt elated and deflated at the same time. For the time being at least, there was no more white whale to chase.
May 13, 2009
It's the day after the tarpon, and my fishing fever has returned. The breeze is light from the southeast and the sun is blazing. I decide walking a flat would provide some good exercise and catching a few bones could provide the perfect morning tonic. I head north to Gunpoint Flat and start wading south along the mangroves. This is my bread and butter flat. When all else fails, I can come here and hook at least three or four bones in an hour. The flat is enormous by Ragged standards, a couple miles in length, and its hard, white sand is a pleasure.
Standing on the shore, I tie on a pink squimp and strip out 40 feet of line into my hand. I'm ready to go. Not twenty yards from where I parked the golf cart, a single bone cruises directly towards me over the turtle grass. I haven't even taken a cast yet. I haul my line and fire a shot. The fish looks, he dips, I strip, the line tightens. Fish on! The fish takes off like a bolt hugging the shoreline looking for a stray mangrove shoot to wrap me around. I take off running with the rod above my head trying to clear the line and direct the fish to deeper water. After a couple runs that take me deep into my backing, I land my best Ragged Island bone in my four month stay- an eight pounder. I know the fish gods must be watching and I honor them by quitting for the day.
June 1, 2009
Bluewater fishing is new to me. I grew up fishing the freshwater streams of Montana where a canoe or raft is the preferred watercraft. I had tossed bluewater sportfishing aside as a pursuit for NASCAR drivers and the uber-rich. Oh, how wrong I was.
In April, we acquired a seaworthy vessel, a 31-foot Contender with twin Yamaha 250s. In the boating world, I quickly learn that this is good. A whole new host of fish are now suddenly available and ripe for the picking. Fishing the bluewater is a completely different game and the diversity of species is phenomenal. One day it's nonstop action with birds and breaking blackfin and yellowfin tuna, the next day it's a king mackerel or dorado crashing into the spread behind the boat, creating mayhem as thirty-pound beasts tangle mono and rip line at an unbelievable pace.
I quickly learn that bluewater fishing is a team sport. No wading off on your own to fish a good looking flat. All eyes are either on the horizon scanning for birds and signs of life on the ocean or they are checking the depth sounder for ocean ledges and structure.
So where does the fly rod fit in to this equation of horsepower and hardware? Upon finding schools of breaking fish (usually bonita, skipjack or blackfin tuna), we position the boat to drift through the action. Then, we get shots with the 10-weight from the front of the boat, hurling Clousers and deceivers at aggressive fish. What does a ten-pound tuna feel like on a 10-weight? Try hooking your line to the end of a greyhound and see what happens. Tuna average 10 mph when feeding and when hooked they can reach speeds greater than 40 mph. Whoa!
June 10, 2009
Four months on "the rock" now. Ragged Island "the rock" has provided me with: blackfin tuna, yellowfin tuna, skipjack tuna, bonita tuna, dorado, king mackerel, cero mackerel, Spanish mackerel, California yellowtail, barracuda, houndfish, bonefish, tarpon, boxfish, gray snapper, yellowtail snapper, lane snapper, schoolmaster snapper, mutton snapper, shad, Nassau grouper, strawberry grouper, blue runner jack, horseye jack, bar jack, amberjack, triggerfish, grunts, lemon shark, nurse shark, spinner shark, lady fish. I think that's all!
I've learned something about the ocean with my stay on Ragged. There are lots of fish out there! That statement may seen obvious, but to experience it first-hand changes how you see the ocean. More importantly, it is nearly impossible to get sick of fishing when every day is different from the last. Who said it is possible to have "too much of a good thing"? Feeling the raw power of a bonefish burning your reel or a 1/0 Owner hook breaking on an amberjack can only be described as awesome.
Combined with this beautiful new lodge, the fantastic food we enjoyed, and our enthusiastic guide team, Ragged Island serves as the ultimate base for the adventure angler. As an island Ragged has one thing on its mind: Fish! For your own castaway adventure on Ragged Island, contact Angling Destinations. www.anglingdestinations.com