I had spent a week on the island in May of 2002 and I had wanted to get back to Inagua ever since. Inagua is the third largest island in the Bahamas and experiences only occasional visits from traveling anglers. It is one of those spots that sticks in your brain and exerts a steady pressure until you relent and begin planning a new foray. As a result, I just had to get back and when I decided to visit in October, I invited writer, photographer and guide Jon Cave to join me. As luck would have it, we would be the first anglers to visit the island since last June. Since there is only one guide on the island, the flats are hardly pounded anyway, but with four or five months rest, we thought they would go from great to incredible.
Inagua is unique in the Bahamas. While I consider the Bahamas to offer the best bonefishing in our hemisphere, if you want the other grand slam species, the Bahamas would not be your first choice except for Great Inagua Island. This beautiful island lies in the most southern reaches of this island nation 60 miles off the east coast of Cuba. Inagua has great shots at medium to large tarpon in Lake Windsor, the most reliable permit fishery in all the Bahamas and some stunningly good bonefishing!
John and I arrived at Mathew's Town and set down on a wet runway. We scurried to the new terminal under light sprinkles. Little did we know that these conditions set the stage for our stay. It rained every day we were on the island, not always on us, but the island got downright green during our stay. The exceptional amount of rain became the talk of the town (along with the resulting infestation of mosquitoes we experienced). Rain and bugs, that's the bad news. The good news was we were the only fishermen on the island! We had it all to ourselves. Imagine having a huge island with more flats than you could possibly fish in a month all to yourself. Not a bad assignment!
The island's only guide, Ezzard Cartwright, met us at the airport. He drove us to the apartments he built for visiting anglers. These two attractive apartments are located on the water across the street from his home. We would hardly be roughing it here with air-conditioning, two bedrooms, full kitchen, hot showers, and living room with satellite TV. We dropped our gear, rigged rods and Ezzard took us to the lighthouse flats located less than 1/2 mile from our digs.
We came out of the gates at a full sprint and immediately met with success. I caught eight hefty bones from 2:30 ñ 5:30 p.m. It was great classic fishing to 4-8lb fish that were either tailing on the white sand flats that were lightly sprinkled with turtle grass, or cruising the pale blue channels that connected the more shallow areas of the flats. It couldn't have been better and was a great way to start our five days.
We tarpon fished for two days in the inland Lake Windsor known locally as "the pond" and saw 50 to 200 tarpon each day. These fish were generally 20 ñ 60lbs. Due to the unsettled weather, they were hard to find as singles and doubles. We more often saw them in larger schools of 10 ñ 20 fish. They were spooky, nervous and hard to hook. On our first day in the "pond" we did manage to jump a couple, but Ezzard was frustrated by their behavior. Not us, we were thrilled to see so many fish, even if they weren't acting normally. Since John and I both guide a bit ourselves, we rolled with the punches and told Ezzard to relax - we'd get our shots! We even saw two small schools of permit probably in the 25 ñ 30lb range. A thrilling sight even if we saw them too late on this sunless afternoon to get a good shot.
"The next day we made the trip down to the bonefish flats on the south side of the island. Angry squall lines hung just offshore and these menacing storms threatened to come on shore any moment. By the time we reached our creek system, the light was gone and the wind was freshening. While we waited for the tide to drop a bit more, the first squall hit us. We donned rain jackets and anchored the skiff. The squall passed quickly and with tide levels now approaching "good to go", we motored into the creek. By the time we reached the first flat, another squall had begun. High winds and pelting rain threatened to ruin our day. But even in the storm, we could see big bones hanging just off the shallow flats in 3 ñ 4 feet of rain softened, pale blue Bahamian water. John and Ezzard immediately hooked up. I waded past them spotting fish after fish up ahead. I too hooked up and landed my fish as the squall went from level 1 (wet, annoying and inconvenient) to level 2 (cold and nasty).
Through rain spotted glasses, I saw a big bone probing the edges of the mangroves. I tossed a sloppy wind-destroyed cast somewhere toward the fish. I know not where the fly landed, but luckily this big boy did. He jetted 6 feet to take my fly. After securing himself to the sharp end of my hook, he retreated through, under and around the mangroves creating a cat's cradle of epic proportions. My only choice was to retrace his movements through the bushes. With cold rain soaking me from above, I relished in the relative warmth of the ocean water as I kneeled to pass my rod under the arches and branches that were trapping my fly line. I managed to land this fish and only briefly enjoyed the heft of his 7lbs before another big fish appeared further up the mangrove edge. As the storm went from level 2 to level 3 (horizontal and crazy), I couldn't see much of anything through my rain-pelted Polaroid's. I did manage to deliver a short cast towards him, but really it was just a swing and a toss in his general direction. I couldn't see a thing and it was only the pull of the fish that let me know he was on. This time I couldn't even see where the fly line went through the mangrove roots.... too much rain in the air and on my glasses. I almost broke my rod twice as the fish pulled just as I was trying to pass my rod under the wrong root arch. With rod tip bent at a sickening angle, I waited for a crack that never came. Somehow I landed the fish. It was the day where seemingly no rules applied. I broke no rods, I couldn't see, I couldn't cast and somehow I couldn't fail. By the time Ezzard, John and I met up again at the skiff, we were all laughing out loud both bemoaning our weather and congratulating ourselves on our good luck. John said, "Just think how good our fishing would be if we just could see!"
At low tide, as the sun tried to shine through the edges of the next squall line, we had two hours of superb fishing to tailing fish. I think I caught 10 fish in these two hours...all tailing fish, all 4 ñ 7lbs. Incredible and it would have continued had not the next squall chased us off the flats and towards home.
On day three we went back to Lake Windsor and saw a lot more tarpon. They were still skitterish, schooled up and acting weird, but we managed to stick four and jump three. We just couldn't stay buttoned-up so we didn't boat any, but all in all, it was a great day. We saw some tarpon in a daisy chain and this spawning behavior might explain some of their abnormal behavior. At days end, we saw 100 big tarpon holed up at the downwind end of a large flat. We stuck one, but lost the whole leader to an Albright knot apparently damaged by the big tarpon that had made a leaping juggernaut through a maze of mangrove roots a few minutes before.
On our last day, we headed north to Alfred Sound. We trailered the skiff through big puddles and over sandy, hard packed dunes. We saw no other cars or boats and had the entire north shore to ourselves. We decided to focus on permit and ignore the bonefishing... at least until the afternoon when the tide got low. We hooked no permit, but that hardly describes the thrilling, knee knocking moments we experienced that beautiful morning. We had three excellent shots at permit from 15 ñ 30lbs. Each fish examined our fly so closely that we were sure they were going to tip up and eat. Each time this happened our breathing stopped and our voices dropped to a whisper. Each time we came up empty. Such is permit fishing. These were the kind of heart stalling moments that make your begin to plan your next trip before the one you're on is even over.
We finished out the day with some excellent angling for tailing fish. Yet another squall had eaten our sunlight. We all felt that if we had had any sun at all, the fishing would have been not merely good as it was, but stupendous. We knew we were surrounded by fish, we just couldn't see them unless they tailed in our vicinity. We drove home over flooded roads vowing to return to Inagua soon.
This was an absolutely wonderful trip. We had more rain and bad weather during our five days than the natives have experienced in the last 5 years. Yet we still managed to catch lots of fish! Imagine what the fishing could have been with some sun and normal winds.
Ezzard Cartwright did a fantastic job. He always found fish and was always a pleasure to be with. I would recommend Ezzard's services to any diehard angler looking for a remote and prolific fishery. Having said this, this trip is not for the faint at heart. You'll fish long hours, need good skills and have to be mentally tough enough to endure the twists and turns remote destinations always manage to deliver. But you can count on this ñ a great guide, comfortable air-conditioned accommodations and an unusual, prolific and untapped fishery.