This trip was a celebration. A chance to slow down and be with my family and celebrate a few events together. For my wife, a reading specialist at Big Horn Elementary, it was a celebration of summer and the end, albeit temporary, to the madness that is the life of a teacher. For my son Ben and his girlfriend Bailey Swingle, it was a trip to celebrate their recent graduation from UC-Denver. They both had received their doctorates in physical therapy two weeks ago. With school now behind them, and busy jobs in their future, this trip gave gave them some much needed R&R. What better place to do this than the Bahamas with its unlimited fishing and snorkeling options, postcard-perfect white sand beaches and welcoming locals.
Since my wife Sara and I had visited Crooked Island a few years ago, we decided this would be a good choice for our family celebration. We began planning this trip almost nine months ago over dinner and margueritas with my friend Fred Abramowitz after a sensational Wyoming trout day. We decided to meet Fred Abramowitz, his wife Amy and their three year old son Misha for a week on Crooked Island in June 2012. We decided to stay at Crooked Island Lodge as Fred and Amy had visited this resort a few seasons ago and had always wanted to go back.
As well as a celebration, this trip would be a homecoming of sorts for me. I hadn’t been to the island in a few years, but I had first fished the island some 20 years ago and had visited the island to bonefish quite a few times in the ensuing years.
On my first visit, Elton “Shakey” McKinney, now a well respected guide with four kids of his own, had been an 18 year old kid himself. Then, it had taken us forever to putter in his small skiff to French Wells. Now, Beavertail and Hewes flats boats with 150 hp engines rocketed us to the cut at the Wells in minutes. Then, Shakey had poled his tiny skiff with a spear he had used to get lobsters. Now, carbon fiber Loomis push-poles are manned with considerable skill by the guides. Then, Shakey had a corroded spinning set-up of questionable reliability and when I had handed him my fly rod to try, he had looked at it as if it was an absurd and useless toy. But to his credit, he gave it a shot and I like to think that was the beginning of it all for him. He took to the rod like champ and in in that one day went from clumsy and awkward to pretty close to adequate. Of course, now he is a superb caster, employs an incredible set of guiding skills and is to my mind, one of those special Bahamian guides with a finely honed “fish sense”. Now, some twenty years later, Shakey is still passionate about his vocation. He never “phones it in” and always invests in your day with an abundance of stealth, guile and energy. Shakey has really been the role model for a whole generation of guides on Crooked. His professionalism is shared by the other guides on Crooked and their culture of guiding prowess makes Crooked a top choice for bonefishermen seeking rich and remote flat’s opportunities. He is now commercially farming, as well as guiding and hope to one day open his own lodge. He is a good man and I told him when I left... “you should be proud of yourself Elton” and I meant it. It was great to see him!
I also got to to see some of my old friends from the Sea Hunter. Alex “Coco” McKinney (Elton’s son and now an accomplished guide himself) and Elliot McKinney. Shakey’s brother and also a great guy. It was also great to see the other Crooked Island guides namely: Jeffrey, Michael and Randy. Crooked Island has a talented and friendly guide cadre. It was great to be with them again.
It was a tremendous pleasure to watch my son Ben catch his first real “fly rod” bonefish with Jeffrey. Jeffrey taught Ben a lot about bonefish behavior and how to stalk and cast to bonefish. While Fred and I waded off to fish no our own. Jeffrey and Ben had a great time together. As I took photos of them with my telephoto, I could see Jeffrey and Ben pantomime casting techniques, as well as trade a few basketball moves.
It was also wonderful to get to spend some time with Clinton Scavella. Clinton is a true gentleman who is always looking out for the other residents of the island. His nickname is the “Godfather”. His moniker is well-earned and comes from his stewardship of his island and its residents.
Sara, Ben, Bailey and I spent one day “fun fishing” with Clinton at the remote Fish Cays. We first cast-net a whole live-well full of pilchards off the east side of Long Cay then motored out to this simply stunning area where turquoise channels connect white sand bars. The individual islets of Fish Cays are interlaced with azure cuts that separate the perfect cays from each other. Here we chummed the cuts on a falling tide and while I took photos, Sara, Ben and Bailey hauled in lane, grey and mutton snappers, as well as Nassau grouper, ocean triggers, (locally called ocean talley) and other assorted Fish Cay residents. We had a great time and thrilled at the spectacle that is the wild ocean. At one point, Sara hooked a tern that had picked up her pilchard. She handed me her rod not knowing what to do and as I was reeling in the bird to release it, an 8 foot lemon shark moved in no doubt contemplating a novel addition to his normal diet. I got the bird into the boat just in time and released what Clinton called a “white marlin”. I grabbed the bird by the head to avoid its sharp beak, removed the hook and flipped the bird in the air. It flew off uninjured to everyone’s great relief. I must say there was a small portion of me that wanted to see what the shark would do with this big feathered jig. It would have been an awesome sight and most probably the shark was merely seconds away from inhaling the tern. I never made this impulse known.
We also watched a spinner shark cut off two of our baits in two successive surging leaps. His violent attack reminded me of the “death from below” of a great white only on a smaller scale. It all drew oohhs and ahhs from the five of us. Later, having switched from spinning rods to fly rods and deep cuts to shallow flats, we watched two enormous nurse sharks mate in two feet of water while a dozen small lemon sharks milled about waiting for the same bonefish we were searching. Ominous lightening followed by deep rolling thunder began to surround us and eventually chased us off the flats. We motored home to cold kalik and a “silly” drink with an umbrella. We spent the late afternoon cooling off with these libations and playing cards in the dining room. A great day was had by all!
On other days we snorkeled, visited the Bird Island Lighthouse, bonefished, caught conch jacks that reminded me of bluefin trevally in the Seychelles, swam off white sand beaches in waters that were the perfect temperature, kayaked, built sand castles, goofed off and oh yes, bonefished. We had a great time!
If you love real, “non-resorty” areas, Crooked has it all. The flats of Crooked are massive, beautiful and rich with sea life. The cuts are home to snapper and numerous reef fish. The bluewater is just offshore and begins at the lighthouse so no long runs are required to reach the “big blue”. This is great for the fisherman, but for the avid fisherman looking for a good vacation spot for his non-angling family and friends. Crooked Island has those white sand beaches, friendly people, great snorkeling and ambiance we all look for and that accomplishes the mission of “making everyone happy”.
Written by Scott Heywood