We thought all you anglers looking for a great father/daughter or father/son trip might find this trip report from our longtime friend Jeff Rodenberg interesting. Jeff and his daughter Taylor visited Sandy Point on Great Abaco Island in June. They stayed at Rickmon Bonefish Lodge and had a great time as you will see below. It's great to see a hardcore angler sharing our great sport with his kids. Thanks Jeff for the report!
As a result of the time I spend fiddling around tying flies, my two little girls have developed at least a passing interest in fly fishing. One night while viewing a bone-fishing show I recorded on DVR, I made an off-hand comment to the effect that when they got to be 10 or 12 they could come with me on a bonefishing trip to the Bahamas. They never let me forget it, so for my daughter Taylor’s 11th birthday, she received a packet of info from purveyor of angling adventures Scott Heywood describing how six months of eager anticipation later, she and I would be fulfilling that dream.
And despite a day of air-travel hell courtesy of a Spirit Airlines pilot strike, on June 14 we climbed out of a little Cessna 402 in Marsh Harbor. We were festooned with fly rods, flip-flops, smiles and snorkels. Our final destination was Rickmon Lodge in Sandy Point. For the next four nights and three days our primary goal was to have fun. Vehicle for that goal: fishing.
We’d pulled up to a mud in the middle of the bay. I normally have about zero interest in fishing them, but there are circumstances in which I have to admit I find them “useful”. One such instance is maybe for 5 minutes the first day of the trip to work out any casting kinks and remind myself to strip-strike. Another might be if I have an 11 year old in the boat with me who isn’t quite yet as interested in “the hunt” as the simple delight in sharing lots of tugging at the end of a fishing rod. And of course, there is the predator factor. Around any large congregation of fish such as in a mud, encounters with barracuda and sharks are almost inevitable, much to the delight of an 11-year-old…and okay, maybe to a 46-year old as well….
Which is to say about the time I hooked the 4th or 5th mudder for Taylor to crank in, I was delighted to hear “barracuda!” from the back of the boat. Taylor jumped up front clawing the fly-rod with the hooked bonefish out of my hand and ordered “Daddy – catch him!” With Taylor engaged in bone-battle, I jumped to grab the spinning rod with a tube lure and fired it out toward the 4-footer. The tube achieved splash down and the toothy fin-missile immediately slammed it with that piscaviciousness that simply has to be experienced to be understood. I was so stunned that I didn’t even react – just stood there with my mouth agape – until I made such a feeble and painfully late attempt to set the hook that even I had to laugh. Ricardo was practically bent over, and Taylor was giggling like a schoolgirl (which, well, I guess she literally is…), but still reefing on her bone. The ‘cuda reappeared at the edge of the mud and I tried again and the ‘cuda tried again. This happened about three times, and each time I failed to connect hook to mouth. Amongst the casting, pole bending and laughing at Jeff, a six foot lemon shark snuck in under the radar to add yet another layer of mayhem. While I was still trying to tempt the ‘cuda, the shark took a swipe at the bonefish that Taylor now had under the bow of our boat. He missed, but the second time the bone wasn’t so lucky. The predictable result of the lemony headshake was an 11-year-old’s shriek, a limp rod in T’s hand, and bonefish burger under the skiff. As the ‘cuda lurked off no longer interested in the tube and trying not to look afraid of the shark, I gave T a hug. Her grin was a mile wide and her eyes sparkling like bling on a prom dress. She’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life.
A good part of this trip, maybe even the most important part, was not about the angling. It was about the simple enjoyment one gets in the adventures and little things that happen along the way. It was about showing a little girl that other parts of the world are not to be feared for their differences, but to be experienced for those differences. It was about watching beautiful sunsets with a bowl of ice cream on the deck, and doing a jigsaw puzzle by flashlight when the power goes out. It was about being in a place with a more relaxed pace of life, reconnecting with a little girl whose pace of growth is just the opposite, way too fast…
I finished my après-fishing shower, dressed and walked back out to the main lodge area to fetch a tasty treat (aka cold Kalik beer). Taylor was standing by a table next to Ricardo’s daughter India, who was putting together a fly-rod. Taylor said, “Dad – we saw some bonefish tailing right over there so we’re going to go catch them!” India was now working on attaching the reel and said something to the effect that she needed to get a different one, at which point I told her – “why don’t you just grab one of mine out there on the table?” The new buddies were out the door and headed down the beach with my favorite Sage. As I stood back a bit so as not to interrupt and took a few photos of their casting prowess, I realized I’d was seeing a friendship, even if only a short one, being made – one of the most beautiful things in life.
Rickmon is owned and operated by Ricardo and Monique Burrows, and their whole family, including their 5 daughters and 3 sons, seem to get in on the fun. We met many of them during our too-short stay and have nothing but good things to say about them and the operation they run. We were the only ones staying there during our trip. We were treated like royalty. We dined on grouper, conch fritters, Cornish game hens and every other bit of scrumptiousness that rolled out of the kitchen. By the end of the week, Taylor had a list of 12 new foods she was proud to have tried and enjoyed.
T and I waited for Ricardo to bring the boat around, and she walked into the water and started looking around. She bent down, grasping gently at the bottom and proudly held up a 5” sea slug. “Check this out Daddy”, she said giggling, “India showed me when you drop them they squirt ink everywhere!” When I related to Ricardo how it was the little stuff like that that had brought us to Abaco, he admitted – “I never would have picked one of those things up if Indie hadn’t figured it out and showed it to me….” His smile and the tone of his voice betrayed a modest pride in his little girl, and I knew he shared my thought - that being a father is one of the most beautiful things in life.
Ricardo was our guide for our three days on the flats. He has a quiet, patient demeanor that I assume developed from having 8 children of his own and/or having guided inept anglers like myself for years. He has a gentle laugh that puts little girls at ease when they are a touch spooked by the 3-foot lemon shark swimming between them and their dad. He was eminently happy and seemed to enjoy as much as I did taking the time to stop for a snorkeling session, watch dolphins frolic or pole after sea turtles. None of which is to take anything away from his capabilities on the angling side – he was just plain excellent in that regard as well. We caught plenty of bonefish, wading and from the skiff, and he put us on the Holy Grail….
It was late the second day, and given T’s fascination with barracuda, we decided to troll the tube down to Key Point where we intended to intercept bones departing with the tide. We were, quite literally, in sight and within a quarter mile of the lodge on the north side of the “Town Flat”. As we trolled the slightly deeper edge, we kept watch on the shallower white sand. After about 10 minutes, we saw the dark shapes of what we thought were 4 barracuda. Ricardo turned the boat toward them as I reeled in preparing for a directed tube launch. He continued to monitor the fish, but suddenly shut off the motor and said excitedly “oh man – those are permit! Jeff, get your crab and strip line!”
I think I’ve seen maybe one or two permit in my 7 or 8 Bahamas flats fishing adventures, and certainly never within my feeble casting range. I won’t bore you with the details, but we ended up seeing over 30 permit during the next two days as the tide went out in the late afternoon, yielding 8-10 legitimate shots. Ricardo said it was some of the best permit fishing he’d experienced in a very, very long time. Of course, I failed abysmally to cash in on Ricardo’s guiding competency via actual permit capture, managing only to perfect my “panic haul”. This highly refined casting technique starts as a double haul, but the excitement causes one to lose any semblance of composure and hands flop around with such poor timing that the motion could be mistaken for a seizure. The predictable result is that your crab lands with lots of slack line nowhere close to the permit and you experience one of the most beautiful things in life - a memory of the “one that got away”.
There is no other way to put it, Taylor and I had an incredible trip. I quite literally couldn’t have scripted it any better. We experienced tailing fish, mudding fish, and cruising fish. We marveled at sea turtles, sand dollars, starfish and sea slugs. I got my usual case of sea anemone rash; we laughed at each other and shared several dinners for two. We endured pretty much the worst that air travel has to offer, smiling the whole time, and we fished, snorkeled and relaxed, smiling the whole time.
I can’t thank Scott enough for his assistance in selecting the venue. I can’t thank Ricardo and the Burrows family enough for making it everything and more that we hoped it would be! And Ricardo, if you’re up for it, there are three other little girls in line after Taylor. And I can’t thank my daughter Taylor enough. T – I’d travel anywhere, anyplace, anytime with you- you were one of the best traveling companions I’ve ever had. I love you more than you can imagine, and can’t wait to go again…You treated me to one of the most beautiful experiences of my life!
Written by Jeff Rodenberg