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Destination X: Northern Bahamas 10-17-2009

There are gaps on the map... those off-the-edge, back room, for employees only kind of spots. These places are off the radar for most anglers. For those that know about them and hope to one-day visit, their whereabouts are spoken in hushed tones. These spots can pull at you like gravity making you behave in weird ways. These spots get under your skin and start to itch. These spots are usually beyond the reach of civilization or if within reach, lack available facilities. To reach them can play hell with your fishing budget and anglers are forced to seek solace in the words "One day..." When you find one of these spots, you start studying charts, which only makes matters worse. You may find someone who has visited the area and the itch gets unbearable. These spots grow in your mind and take on a life of their own. Unfortunately, the logistics, not to mention the time, energy and money, of getting to these places can be eye watering and it is no surprise that most of these places remain chaste- but it is precisely for this reason that the fishing can be so good.

Angling Destinations has always been obsessed with these gaps. From the Seychelles to French Polynesia and from the Bahamas to Los Roques, we have explored the most hard to reach areas within these fisheries. These beyond the beyond spots stir our passions and have driven us to do some crazy things. We have kayaked down the west side of Andros and camped on strips of beach near the outer marls of Abaco. We have suffered bugs, heat and most importantly, the lack of cold beer, to fish these inaccessible areas. For our most adventuresome clients, we have positioned liveaboards on south Andros and Acklins to fish the most remote areas on these fantastic islands. We are gapologists. We study maps and wonder... and eventually our curiosity gets the better of us. Then we go!

Gapology requires secrecy and gapologists must be a tight-lipped crew. Gaps that are revealed don't remain gaps very long. (It is for this reason that we will not reveal the specifics of this trip. If you want to know more about this trip or others like it, you can go to anglingdestinations.com and visit Destination X to find a full explanation on the concepts surrounding gapology... the "don't ask, don't tell" of the angling world.)

I will tell you that in October, three longtime friends of AD signed on to explore one of these lightly pressured areas in the Bahamas. Doug Jeffries, Dr. Craig Johnston and Fred Abramowitz took a chance on the unknown and followed our lead, three superb guides, two camp staff, three beautiful skiffs, one Carolina center console cargo boat and a 30 foot lobster boat (which would be home for the guides) to a totally deserted cay in the northern Bahamas. Here, we camped for 3 nights and fished for 4 days... and we fished hard. We were up at first light and in the boats shortly after dawn. We explored not only the cay on which we were camped, but on numerous smaller cays in the area. Both Fred and Doug caught personal best bonefish and we all boated numerous 8-10 lb. fish. Fred summed up the area best when he said, "If I had to bet my life on a double-digit bonefish, this is where I would go."

Our weather was spectacular... actually a bit too good! For the four days we were camped on the cay, Miami, Florida was experiencing record high temperatures. As a result, our mornings were great, while as the day wore on under a perfect blue sky things slowed down until everything came to a halt in the late afternoon. It was then that we returned to our tent city for a swim and a cold beer. We took our evening meal in a big dining tent away from the prying jaws of the no-see-ums.

On Day Two, Doug Jeffries and I joined Sidney to fish some flats on the windward side of our cay. The flat was a bit milky due to wave action until we got nearer to shore... it was then that we started seeing bonefish. Doug latched on to a monster, but his hook pulled when the fish wrapped his line around a few bushels of Sargasso weed. But this was not to be our last shot as the next few hours were filled with big tailing bones. We caught a few in the 9-10 lb. range and would have had more, if not for the mangrove snappers that ducked in to steal flies from under the noses of the bonefish. For their trouble, these snapper ended up in our cooler destined for the Weber grill we had brought with us.

Our morning simply could not have been better. As we rounded a point and entered a big bay, many cormorants spooked from a big rookery. Most flew out into the bay where they rafted up to noisily discuss the disruption. A few stragglers, probably with bellies too full of fish to fly, swam out of the mangroves and paddled hard to stay ahead of our skiff.

Now I must digress, I've been bonefishing a long time and I've seen some crazy stuff. I've seen bonefish on the backs of rays and bonefish dogging tiger sharks. I've seen bonefish chase crabs up on shore like orcas chasing seal pups. I've seen bonefish hydroplane in 4 inches of water to chase glass minnows. I've seen bonefish skitter up tidal races like salmon and leap over sandbars to get away from barracuda. I've seen bonefish on giant trevally and tarpon... not just in the vicinity, but on them, like a remora on a cobia. But I have never seen this... and this was merely Chapter One of the two chaptered book "Weird Things I Saw on This Trip".

Remember the cormorants that were scuttling along ahead of our skiff? Well, as one bird paddled nonchalantly to keep pace with us, its webbed feet kicked up mud in the shallow marl and a huge bonefish followed examining each puff of mud kicked up by the cormorant. When the cormorant zigged, the bonefish zigged. When the bird zagged, zag went the bonefish. The only time the bonefish left the cormorant was to examine a couple mangrove leaves that were floating near the cormorant's path. (Remember this, we'll get back to this later!).

After a quick perusal of each leaf, the bonefish would effortlessly catch up to the cormorant and continue checking out each puff of mud left by the bird's foot stroke. Soon, Sidney swung the skiff's stern and I dropped a bunny gotcha on the cormorant's tail. I stripped one time, the big bone charged the meal like Bill Clinton on a cheeseburger and we laughed like kids. Soon, an 8-9 lb. bonefish came to hand. I had never seen this before and I asked Sidney and Doug if they had. No, it was a first for all of us. Fish long enough and you'll see some weird stuff!

A great day was now in the bag, but as Doug took the bow, we were poised for the moment that would make this one of the best days ever.

Sidney poled us away from the cormorant colony and up to a spot where a small island split a cut into two channels. Tide flowed strongly from the flat above and on the downtide side of the cut, streaming bundles of Sargasso weeds flowed out towards the bay like the tails of horses. We resumed our search for bonefish until we saw two huge forms tucked up tight against the small island in maybe a foot and a half of water. 'Cudas? No... tarpon! Doug graciously offered me the shot. I stripped a badly kinking line off my reel and awkwardly tried to coax the tarpon with a short strip of a green zima hoping to strike silver between the maze of mare's tails. It was impossible to get a proper action on the fly between the weed bundles and to make matters worse, my line was kinking badly.

"Behind you." Sidney whispered.

I wheeled to see a large tarpon only a boat length's away sitting between two weed bundles. Keeping with the theme of the day, I cast and the fish ate. I strip-struck and the huge tarpon danced across the lagoon's surface as I tried to feed the kinky line thru the guides. As the tarpon raced off, I spied a knot in my line as it moved towards the stripping guide. It was one of those moments that you know no good can come of. I thought the knot might rip guides off the rod or perhaps break the rod. I had no control and there was no stopping what I had set in motion. I think I muttered something profound like, "Good God." What the knot did was pass thru the larger guides on sections four and three and stop at the first guide on section two of my 4 piece 10 wt. (follow that if you're not a fisherman!) The ugly big knot then plucked sections one and two from section three carrying them neatly out into the bay like a special delivery of one big bag of fusterclucks towards Mr. Tarpoon. Suddenly, I was bowing to a 70-80 lb. tarpon with a 4.5-foot rod. Actually, it worked quite well, but I thought that any second the fish will break off. As a result, I'll lose the upper two sections of my fly rod and we'll end up with a really good story and a little less gear.

What happened next just confirmed that there was some magic in the air on this day. The aforementioned weeds began to collect on the fly line and this slowed down the efforts of the tarpon. I took pressure off the fish and Doug, always coolheaded and extremely fishy, first grabbed the knot, untied it, then collected the upper half of my fly rod and reunited sections three and two to make a recognizable object once again. He finished this just as the tarpon went off again dancing out into the bay.

We were not out of the woods yet! The weed bundles were now reaching critical mass and Doug turned his attention towards clearing them. Each time Doug cleared a big batch from my fly line another batch would collect when the tarpon ran or jumped. Doug disassembled each bundle as if he did it every day. The fish was quickly becoming his fish and not mine. I was just holding the rod while he did all the skilled work. Doug had untied knots, reassembled rods and practiced advanced horticulture while I stood there wondering if just maybe we might land this fish. Eventually we got the fish away from the worst of the weeds and backed him up to shore in a clear spot where Doug expertly lipped him. It only seemed fair to take the first pictures with Doug holding "our" fish! We took lots of photos and I hope I thanked Doug enough... if not, THANKS DOUG! You were a champ and I owe the chance to hold this big silver howitzer to you. Man, what a day! We never hooked another fish the rest of the day... so what!


It was great to return to our comfortable camp each evening. Each angler had his own no-see-um netted tent and we could take our cocktail hour in the dining tent. There we could watch the sunset while enjoying the libation of our choice including cold beer and plenty of ice for rum and cokes. For dinner, we dined on fresh lobster, Bar-B-Que chicken and fresh mangrove snapper. We usually retired early to read or sleep for dawn would come soon and we wanted to be ready to go. The no-see-ums were at their worst at dusk and dawn and there is no getting around the realities of tropical camping. This trip was for hearty souls only.

Remember, I promised you Chapter Two of "Weird Things I Saw on This Trip"... and remember the big bone I caught on the wake of the cormorant and remember he would only leave the cormorant's mud puffs to examine mangrove leaves floating nearby? Well, a few days later, Doug and I (remember Doug is very fishy) were with Ezra up a shallow creek. The sun was veiled behind some wispy clouds billowing out of the top of a massive thunderhead so our visibility was poor. But every now and then we could hear a series of popping sounds and sometimes see a fish snout biting at what we thought was the creek's flat surface. Upon closer inspection what we were actually seeing was bonefish pecking at mangrove leaves that were washing out of the creek with the falling tide. The bonefish, with their underslung mouths, would take a few shots to get it right, and then they would take a leaf back to the big boney crushers where they would pulverize it and any small crab hitching a ride on the leaf. They would Cuisinart the crab, eject the leaf and stun any human spectators watching. We didn't know if leaf selections were random or whether they inspected leaves first to see if there were any hitchhikers. All we know is we watched it happen over and over.

A fish nearing a leaf was an easy mark with a well-placed fly. If the fly plopped, so much the better. Then the bones would charge the fly and inhale it. Ezra had seen this before and has used unweighted flies to do what he calls "dry fly "fishing. This involves a cast to a leaf, hit it if you can, and any herbivorous bone would snout up to take the unweighted fly off the surface. How cool is that? Weird stuff happens out here.


This was simply fantastic trip. Sure we had our uncomfortable moments. We had some bugs and some of our nights were hot for sleeping especially in the early evening, but all in all, it was worth it to have this quality of angling available to us with virtually no boat ride to reach it. The tents were quite comfortable and the dining tent proved to be essential. We ate well...thanks Russ!... and our cocktail hours were simply beautiful as we watched the sun set in a blaze of orange, reds and pinks often seen thru the frosted glass of an ice cold Kalik. We are already planning a repeat exploration of this area in June so calls us if interested for more details.

Written by Scott Heywood


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