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Great Inagua Island Bahamas Exploration 05-11-2001

The early explorers named islands for many reasons. Ragged Island was named for its rugged coast. San Salvador was named for the elation felt by Columbus at his much anticipated landfall in the new world. Other islands took their names from the bounty provided. The Dry Tortugas produced succulent turtle meat but no water... in a salty sea peppered with arid islands, few ports held this precious product. To the Spanish sailing in the southern Bahamas, agua was critical and the island of Inagua refreshed many a crew anchored so far from their European home.

Inagua is the third largest and most southerly island in the Bahamas chain. It lies 350 miles away from the casinos and hubub of Nassau. On a clear calm day the mountains of Cuba can be seen to the west across the old Bahama channel. Inagua's climate of sparse rainfall and consistent trade winds create rich salt pans from which Morton Salt harvests over a million tons a year. For many years, avid birdwatchers made up the majority of tourists that visited this remote island. Anxious to see cranes, herons, rare Bahamian parrots, burrowing owls, terns and stunning tropic birds, these ornithologists knew that the island's briny interior was a perfect habitat for an amazing array of birds. Perhaps the most dramatic avian visitors are the 60,000 scarlet pink West Indian flamingos that come to Inagua to feed on the brine shrimp, mollusks and water snails that make mature birds so brilliantly beautiful. In 1959, these ornithologists farsightedly established, through an act of parliament, the Bahamas National Trust. Four years later, the trust established the Inagua National Park taking charge of over 287 square miles which covers not quite half the island.

In the years that followed, a few of the park's visitors were also anglers. They were surprised and delighted to find good numbers of flightless characters weaving their way among the mangroves. They ultimately returned to pursue the tarpon, snook, bonefish and permit they had spotted. They caught their fish and kept quiet about their secret spot. Many returned year after year enjoying what may be the most unique fishery in all the Bahamas.

The island's interior lake, the "pond" as the locals call it, is a vast maze of mangrove wetlands some 8 miles wide by 20 miles long. Open lagoons are connected by secret tunnels where anglers stoop under cathedraled arches as the branches of red mangroves claw at the sides of the skiff. A good guide not only knows where to find fish but how to get home, making his services essential for both angling success and safety. The tarpon here run 15-40 lbs. while larger fish are often sighted. All the tarpon fishing is done by sight in very shallow water. Landing fish here can be difficult, but the takes and fights are chaotic as the tarpon "go airborn" when hooked in these shallow waters. Good populations of permit prowl the mangrove edges and snook secretively lurk barely visible under the leafy green fringe. Bonefish schools are found on these interior flats, but they are not the primary quarry here. Bonefish are better pursued on the north and south perimeter of the island. In fact, there is a beautiful white sand bonefish flat within walking distance of picturesque Mathew Town near the lighthouse built in 1870...a perfect spot for after hours fishing.

If we have any trepidation about Inagua's fantastic fishery, it concerns the number of quality guides available and the extent of the habitat. We feel that although the fishery is extensive, it cannot handle much pressure. It is for this reason that we will limit the number of anglers at any one time to four. This allows one boat to fish the interior lake and the other to fish the exterior flats inside the reef line. To jump tarpon you must cover a lot of undisturbed water and fishing behind another boat would greatly reduce your odds. Tarpon are wary by nature and are best caught by surprise (a mid to long range cast won't hurt either). Our second concern centers around guides. Inagua is a remote and secluded area far from the Bahamas' more well known bonefish centers. There is no tradition of guiding here and while some men may describe themselves as guides, really there are two maybe three men who qualify as true guides on this island that absolutely requires a knowledgeable leader. Inagua native Ezzard Cartwright is the head guide and he has been fishing this area for over 20 years. He has two other guides that he has trained. He provides these fellows with good flats boats, tuned motors, plenty of gas and a wake-up call if necessary. Ezzard runs a tight ship and he would be considered an excellent guide on any island in the Bahamas.

For durability and versatility, Ezzard uses Aluminum tunnel-hulled flats boats with 40-hp motors. The casting decks are large with no obstructions to catch lines. Decks and floors are carpeted to mute sounds. Ezzard and his guides trailer to the "pond" and also to the north and south exterior bonefish flats. These exterior flats hold larger than average bonefish typically 3-4 lbs. and each year Inagua serves up a 30+ inch bonefish to some lucky angler.

The accommodations are in the form of 2 seaside, air-conditioned duplex apartments. Each apartment has 2 bedrooms, a full kitchen and a combination living/dining room complete with a satellite TV. An outside barbecue area provides a dramatic place for an evening cocktail and comes fully equipped with a spectacular sunset scheduled for your pleasure each day at dusk.

Breakfasts are made by each angler from the kitchen stocked according to pre-trip wishes. Lunches are taken in between casts. Dinners are catered and include fish, chicken, conch chowder and chops. Freshly baked pies and cakes are brought in for dessert.

One more word of caution, because Inagua is somewhat difficult to reach and because the island requires a certain flexibility of attitude, we recommend Inagua to experienced and hearty anglers only. But for those anglers, we heartily suggest Inagua!



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