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Acklins & Crooked Islands: Bahamas 05-10-2003

In our hectic work-a-day world, time runs at a fast pace. Client meetings, kids, job sites, patients and customers fill our schedules to the brim. In the out-islands of the southern Bahamas, time and responsibility are reckoned differently. Jobs and work are, of course, priorities, but family and friendship are never neglected and time seems to slow down to a more manageable pace. One of the best reasons to go to the southern islands (besides the fishing, of course) is this decompression of time. There is always tomorrow and most of the day's activities are governed by the realities of the sea and weather. Fishing is a way of life in the Bahamas. The natives develop their skills on the ocean at an early age spurred on by the need to gather the expertise necessary for survival.

Seeking a new schedule (and some big bones), we began our journey this May on Acklins Island, a 50-plus mile chunk of limestone and coral set deep in the southern part of the Bahamas Archipelago. The best part of Acklins is its massive white sand flats that line the island's entire western shore... an area engineered for bonefishing! On Acklins Island, the Newton Williamson Family at their Grey's Point Bonefish Inn hosted us. This small inn is located on some of the best bonefish flats on the north end of the island. Grey's Point not only has great flats right out front, but it is also just a short drive to the huge west side flats. Perched on a ridge overlooking Gordon's Bay, Grey's Point is a classic Bahamian lodge and everyone in our group enjoyed Newton's wife Shirley's great cooking and hospitality. The lodge's guides understand long fishing days and the subtle details that result in solid bonefishing. We often broke our group of eight anglers up into squads with two heading south and fishing near Snug Corner, two fishing the lightly-pressured flats around Gordon's Bay and the remainder of us fanning out on the enormous west side flats. Everyone in our group caught respectable numbers of fish with the cool morning tide seemingly the best period each day. However, one evening we began to worry a bit when at 6:45 one of the boats had not returned. At 7:00 they arrived with smiling faces and great stories of tailing bonefish on the early evening spring tide. Many fish were caught on this classic Bahamian day.

In addition to the bonefish, we saw some big 'cudas, caught a few and were once again amazed at their speed and acrobatic ability. In one particularly bizarre chain of events, one member of our group lost a bonefish to a good sized 'cuda... only to minutes later hook and land the same 'cuda. We were sure its belly was huge due to its most recent bonefish snack! Terrance, the guide, wanted the 'cuda for his family's dinner and in cleaning the fish at the dock later that day, they were able to retrieve the lost bonefish (albeit somewhat worse for the wear) and practice an unusual form of "catch and release".

Everyone in our group enjoyed the solitude and beauty of Grey's Point. Sunsets on the deck (sometimes with a can of bug spray handy) were always memorable. The day's fish tales coming from tan smiling faces helped to further slow time down to a more manageable pace. It occurred to us many times that the intense focus required to fish in the hot sun all day is a great tonic for anglers burdened by their day-to day pace in the states.

At mid-week, we took the daily ferryboat across the narrow north bight called "The Going Through" and landed on the eastern edge of Crooked Island early in the morning. Master guide, Clinton Scavella, met us and quickly got us to Turtle Sound where we joined the other guides to go fishing. Our accommodations were located at the spotlessly clean Frank and Ruth's Guesthouse in the quaint settlement of Landrail Point on the island's northwest corner. Landrail Point is a beautiful little village that provided us with an opportunity to soak up some real Bahamian ambiance. Meals were served family style at Willie Gibson's famous island restaurant. Serving some of the island's best seafood, we gorged on local crawfish (lobster), grouper, peas 'n rice and homemade Key Lime Pie. No doubt about it, Willie serves up some of the best food around and everyone looked forward to her meals!

Our fishing days on Crooked Island were long. Many times we did not arrive back at the dock until well past 6:00 P.M. The morning tides again seemed to produce the best bonefishing with everyone, novice and experienced anglers alike, catching fish. We had a few really good shots at permit during our time. On one particularly memorable occasion, a 20 lb permit charged a fly and missed it while attempting to eat it. His attack created a large mud cloud stirred up from the soft bottom. Frantically spinning figure eights, the fish searched for the fly. Five or six seconds elapsed, an eternity to the anglers in the boat who were waiting for the fish to come tight. As the fish searched for the fly, the boat drifted closer and closer until at the same moment that the angler strip-striked, the permit noticed the skiff. The gig was up and the permit jetted away! As with most permit stories, it was now officially a near miss, frustratingly satisfying if there is such a thing!

Crooked's interior flats hold some resident tarpon and we were able to hook and land one good-sized tarpon (about 60 pounds), late one afternoon. But that's hardly the whole story...

After cast netting some live pilchards, we set up on a good-looking corner. We peppered the area with blinded baits and did quite well catching some jacks and mutton fish on our fly rods. Then we saw the big broad tail of a tarpon! With eyes buggered-out and adrenaline running, we decided to try the classic "bait 'n switch" fly technique on this big bruiser. This involves using a pilchard as a teaser at the business end of a spinning rod. The teaser is then whisked away at the last minute as the fly rodder casts his artificial at the area vacated by the spinning rod's live bait. We grabbed Clinton's small spin outfit, hooked-up a live pilchard and threw it out into the roily waters of Turtle Sound. All was going well until we made the mistake of hooking the big tarpon on the lightweight spinning set-up instead of on the intended 13 wt. fly rod! We couldn't believe our reflexes were not quick enough to get the spinning rod's live bait out of the way before the tarpon ate. Initially we were horrified, but that quickly turned into what-have-we-done-now giggles. Luck was in our corner this day and we brought the fish to a lip gaff in a little over an hour. The only logical conclusion was that this was a real Crooked Island trophy, spin or fly! Oh well... it's always better to be lucky than good when one is tarpon fishing and besides what a great excuse to enjoy a cold Kalik while we tell the story to our friends!

We all ate too much and enjoyed the Kalik beer, the friendly Bahamian faces, and our guides' hard work... we also caught our share of nice bonefish (with one true 8 pounder being tops). We caught a nice tarpon, had a few great permit shots and saw some truly pristine bonefish country. On many occasions, we visited flats I have never seen before in seven years of fishing these two sister islands! Crooked and Acklins Island's expansive flats offer itinerant anglers everything they seek in the Bahamas. In addition, we were able to slow down the clock, reorganize our priorities and focus on just that flat right in front of us. It was a perfect respite from the hectic pace we had all left behind. It won't be long before we let that clock wind down again and go back to our favorite place... the southern "out-islands" of the Bahamas!







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