Andros Island ñ by far the largest of the Bahamas' 700 officially recognized islands ñ has three major bights and countless tidal creeks that cut into and through the island's extensive pine forests and massive mangrove lowlands. The island's eastern shore is protected from prevailing northeast winds and resulting wave action from the deep "Tongue of the Ocean" by the third largest barrier reef in the world. This windward shore has all the island's firm high ground and it is here where most of the island's 7000 inhabitants live in scattered small villages. These settlements begin at the northeast corner at Nicholls Town and end at Mars Bay about half way down the south island. This leaves the south and west sides of Andros a remote and untouched wilderness. These areas can only be accessed with considerable effort by motoring around the north and south ends of the island or through the serpentine bights that slice through the island's midsection.
All of Andros' bonefish lodges were built near these eastern settlements. Here, supplies, air service and access to deepwater shipping were readily available but not necessarily the island's best fishing waters. Some of these lodges survived and some did not and over time, Andros' once solid reputation was slowly eroded through overuse of these easily accessible fishing waters. Once prolific waters became less productive as bonefish, harassed by a seemingly constant stream of anglers, moved on to feed over less visited flats.
Some of the better lodges on both the north and south islands have recently made concerted efforts to access the island's western shore through the North Bight (Tranquility Hill Fishing Lodge) and through Little Creek (Bair Bahamas Guesthouse) on the south island. These noble efforts reaffirmed Andros' reputation as the "big fish" (both in terms of numbers and size) capitol of the world... meanwhile, the South and Middle Bights remained largely ignored with virtually no fishing pressure.
Our goal on this trip was to fish these areas through the South and Middle Bights and around the horn on the south side. We began our tour on the south side of the South Bight at a new lodge called Tiamo Resort. Accessible only by boat from Driggs Hill (about 15 minutes from the South Andros airport), Tiamo was built originally not as a bonefishing lodge, but as an eco-resort. But given Tiamo's access to world-class bonefishing, fishermen will most certainly be seeking out Tiamo, if not vice versa.
We were met in Driggs Hill by guide Jason Duncan and Tiamo owner, Mike Hartman and quickly shuttled to the resort for delicious omlettes and great coffee in the main lodge. Tiamo has a unique feel, especially for the Bahamas. Surrounded by lush foliage, iguanas and songbirds, Tiamo's ambiance is more like Belize or Costa Rica, but certainly unlike anything we have seen before in the Bahamas. With high ceilings, natural wood and lush vegetation, both the main lodge and the very roomy individual private bungalows are open, airy and very comfortable. Built cryptically into the old growth original forest, these buildings are shaded, quite cool and virtually undetectable from the ocean. With no roads, Tiamo is a peaceful hideaway that is difficult to describe to the seasoned Bahamian traveler conditioned to a different type of experience.
Tiamo's owners are extremely thoughtful, environmentally aware and determined to carve a unique experience out of the jungle. Entirely solar powered, at Tiamo we enjoyed cool comfortable evenings under powerful, yet quiet, ceiling fans and we showered daily under plenty of solar heated water. The level of service from both our American hosts and their Bahamian staff was impeccable. My fishing partner, Bob Hartmann from New Jersey described Tiamo not as a typical fishing lodge, but a wonderful remote experience that just happens to have some of the best bonefishing on Andros.
We fished three glorious days out of Tiamo... two days in the South Bight and one day on the west side. We enjoyed classic flats fishing to big Andros bones often in very shallow water. Creek mouths in the South Bight often held tailing fish especially on both sides of the low tide. Our biggest fish was measured at 27 inches at the fork...we guessed around 8 pounds. We saw and lost bigger! We jumped one tarpon on the west side and saw many more in three different spots. We could have spent a month just exploring the South Bight and its entrance to the west side. We saw blue holes, ancient sea turtles, large lemon sharks, ospreys and some of the most beautiful flats on earth. I enjoyed days of 18, 6 (our tarpon day) and 15 bonefish. We could have upped our numbers if we had stayed with the school fish, but we usually sought tailing singles in shallow water. We sought classic encounters and not numbers... and the South Bight never disappointed.
After these perfect days, we returned to enjoyable conversations with our hosts over cocktails followed by wonderful meals including mahi-mahi and curried chicken. If there was a downside to our trip, it was the no-see-ums that appeared early in the morning and at dusk. Recent torrential rains had dramatically increased the bug populations, but if you choose to visit Tiamo, you should be prepared for this. Tiamo's powerful ceiling fans and fine screen netting meant no problems indoors during either sleeping hours or at dawn and dusk, so bugs never became a real problem. We never got around to the snorkeling, sailing or kayaking that Tiamo enthusiastically provides to guests ñ the fishing was just too good... next time!
Kemps Bay Bonefish Club
From Tiamo, we returned to Driggs Hill where we met Lisa Lamb and her son Ashley who have recently renovated the Kemps Bay Bonefish Club. After the 15-minute drive to the club, we met our impeccably dressed guide Elesa Ferguson who placed our gear aboard a brand new Dolphin Superskiff. We trailered to Mars Bay having made the decision to go for the south end on this beautiful clear day. Thirty-five minutes after we left Mars Bay, we were catching fish off the Water Cays. We quickly caught a few 5-pound bones, but large, aggressive lemon sharks began dogging our hooked bones so we decided to leave the school opting for true catch and release instead of catch, release and consume. We immediately found more fish, in fact, we were into fish all day. I enjoyed a two-hour period on a falling tide in which I caught eight singles in very shallow water the smallest of which was 5 pounds and the largest was around 8 pounds. On these hard packed white sand flats, a single seemingly materialized about every 10 to 15 minutes or just as my mind began to wander. Wary and extremely alert, these south side rockets required quiet presentations with unweighted flies, but good casts were almost always rewarded with aggressive takes followed by backing melting runs...moments under a blue Bahamian sky you wish you could record and relive during the upcoming long winter months. After this perfect day, we returned to Kemps Bay sated and ready for conch fritters, grouper fingers and a cold Kalik beer. With top-notch guides and equipment, the owners of Kemps Bay are committed to seeking out the best fishing opportunities possible. We were more than pleased with our guide Elesa Ferguson. His 12 years of guiding experience in these complex waters translated into a spectacular day for us. Kemps Bay is a comfortable lodge on a spectacular white sand beach. This lodge is perfect for intact groups of 4 to 6 anglers seeking modest accommodations, great food and good access to the south side. I'll return soon to Kemps Bay Club for further exploration of this wild side of Andros.
Mangrove Cay Club
Extended fishing trips rarely have perfect weather throughout and unfortunately, after dinner, winds began to freshen and by morning a true nor'easter had reared its ugly head. We nonetheless departed Kemps Bay optimistically and motored through choppy seas across the South Bight to Lisbon Creek on Mangrove Cay. Out taxi was waiting, we loaded gear and shuttled the eight miles to the new Mangrove Cay Club built on the south side of the Middle Bight. The Mangrove Cay Club is a state-of-the-art bonefish lodge recently opened by Cargill Creek veteran Liz Bain and her husband Alton. The accommodations are very comfortable built with the discriminating angler in mind. Eight spacious air-conditioned rooms each with an ocean view, sitting room, veranda and private bath share club grounds with a beautiful dining room and lounge. Here some of the most friendly and nattily dressed bonefish guides imaginable meet clients each morning to go over the plans for the day.
Although the strong winds and rain put a damper on our fishing, previous experience with the Middle Bight and its prolific fishery convinced us that this beautiful new facility offers the best opportunity from which to explore these unpressured waters. We are already making plans to return to the Mangrove Cay Club. We encourage anglers to strongly consider this lodge when making plans to visit Andros Island. At Mangrove Cay Club everything is in place to enjoy great fishing with all of the amenities in a congenial and relaxed atmosphere.
Now it's time to plan our spring Bahamas trip... I would sure like to get a crack at more of those Andros Island bonezillas!