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Crooked & Long Island Bahamas Exploration 02-26-2002

Sometimes it can be hard to find a good guide in the far corners of the Bahamas. We've all had it happen... you show up at the landing on your first morning and a 17 year old "guide" shows up late in a 20 year old Boston Whaler with one of the engine's prop blades so badly damaged that the engine threatens to vibrate off of its mount and fall into the ocean. Bad lunches (or really bad lunches!) and hung over guides can convince any angler that the southern Bahamas is not all that great.

This thought echoed through my head as we buzzed 200 feet over the surface of a perfect cobalt blue reef headed towards the landing strip on the northwest corner of Crooked Island in the southern reaches of the Bahamas. The American managers at Pittstown Point Landing on Crooked Island know well the dubious reputation some out-island guides have earned and they have taken exceptional care to create a professional guide atmosphere. Their small cadre of guides is on time, well dressed, polite, poised, knowledgeable and experienced. Led by Jackson Hole guide Carter Andrews and Crooked Island native Elton "Shakey" McKinney, these guides fish the remote waters from Turtle Sound to Long Cay to the stunning Fish Cays and the west side of Acklins. I was pleasantly surprised to see how really good these guys had become since my last visit to Crooked island a few years ago. Great habitat, especially a large productive habitat, can mean very little when "guides" are poorly motivated or clueless about the subtleties of tide, wind, weather and the mercurial nature of the bonefish.

Lucky for me, this was not the situation on Crooked at Pittstown Point! Carter Andrews has been the motivation behind numerous improvements and for the last six years his passion has been discovering and developing the fishery around Crooked Island. I was especially impressed that all of the guides have reached a level of expertise where they are committed to seriously pursuing permit. These guides have had some excellent results chasing permit, which is often difficult in the Bahamas. Of course, permit fishing is tricky business anywhere and it is never easy to consistently catch this elusive fish on the fly. Aboard his 36-foot Luhrs sportfisher the "Thunderbird", Carter has shown his guides and clients that the blue water fishing just off the spectacular edges of the island may be some of the best in all the Bahamas. Huge wahoo (many over 100 pounds!), yellowfin tuna, king mackerel, large dorado, skipjack tuna and the majestic blue marlin have all been caught in solid numbers using traditional techniques. For the fly rod angler, Carter has also found consistent success using netted pilchards to bait and switch wahoo, tuna and dorado. Having caught some very large fish using this method, Carter is one of a very small number of captains in the Bahamas who understands what it takes to produce top-notch bonefishing one day and an epic battle with a world-class pelagic fish the next day.

Recently refurbished, the rooms at Pittstown Point Landing are very comfortable with air-conditioning, nice private bathrooms and plenty of fresh water produced by a new reverse osmosis purification plant. With the Bird Rock Lighthouse just offshore, the view from the beach or in front of the ocean-view rooms may be one the most beautiful in the Bahamas. Perfect turquoise water fades slowly to deep blue and invites snorkelers to explore numerous patch reefs and coral heads in the grotto that begin just yards from shore. Delicious meals featuring fresh local seafood, homemade bread and sumptuous Key lime pie are served in a quaint building that was the oldest out-island post office in the Bahamas. Newly refurbished and more charming than ever, this is a great spot to sit in and have a cold Kalik while you watch the golden hour of sunset develop before your pleasantly tired, fish spotting eyes. Pittstown Point caters to flight enthusiasts who choose to do their own flying into the Bahamas and appreciate Pittstown's long, well-maintained airstrip.

Our fishing at Crooked Island was very good especially considering the really bad weather that moved in on us. We caught plenty of hefty tailing bonefish, saw a few large permit, jumped two 30 to 40 pound tarpon and had a great time hooking barracuda and blacktip sharks. The fishery here is tremendously diverse and even with our marginal weather, fishing opportunities were always available. As our single engine Beechcraft banked away from Pittstown, I vowed to return to Crooked Island in the summer months and explore the prolific offshore opportunities to tangle with the dorado, tuna and wahoo that are always present at this Bahamian angling paradise.

Our charter flight to Long Island, some 50 miles northwest of Crooked Island, was just the way I like chartered air travel... uneventful and quick! Touching down in Deadman's Cay at the central portion of the island, we were met by the owner of the Atlantic Hydeaway, a lovely small lodge on the east side of the island. Perched overlooking a beautiful small bay that is conveniently sheltered by huge barrier rock islands; the lodge is a wonderful place to spend a week. After a refreshing swim in the bay and an excellent dinner, we bedded down in our private bungalow with the sound of the sea rolling up the beach encouraging us to give in to sleep.

The next day we were met by head guide Ivan Knowles. Ivan is one of the island's "old guard" and knows all the secrets of the interior salina flats, as well as complexities of the beautiful outside flats that stretch for miles along perfect white sand beaches. Long Island's interior flats are vast with fantastic bonefish habitat reclaimed from the long abandoned "Diamond Crystal" salt mining operation. After thirty years, nature has reclaimed this area and for bonefish, it is a fertile smorgasbord with enough worm, shrimp and crab burrows to cause bonefish to flock to the salinas on the incoming tide to forage in this rich protected environment. The wade fishing here is exceptional with almost all the flats offering hard, white sand bottoms with easy footing. On the right tide, the fishing is fast and furious, with large schools of 2-3 pound bonefish tailing under a bright Bahamian sun. There are larger bonefish to be found on the outside flats bordering the deeper reef edges. These flats are really beautiful and offer classic opportunities for large singles and doubles that move quietly along the edges on the flood tide. Ivan Knowles and his two sons know this fishery intimately and we caught some healthy big bones during our time with them.

After a few wonderful days, we headed south to the Lochabar Beach House, located about 12 miles south of Deadman's Cay near the island's capitol village of Clarence Town. Isolated and truly picture perfect, the Lochabar Beach House is a charming, colorful home sitting on a mile-long, white, sugar sand beach. The bay in front of the house has one of the island's largest "blue holes" which is host to an amazing variety of fish and is perfect for adventuresome snorkelers. The house itself is decorated with many relics from past beachcombing expeditions and has an open-air classic tropical feeling about it. Off the beaten path, the Lochabar House is completely private with no other homes nearby. Lochabar is the perfect place for families looking to do a little bonefishing while enjoying family fun-in-the-sun activities.

While at Lochabar, we fished with veteran island guide Cecil Knowles, who fishes the area around Deadman's Cay. Experienced and very friendly, Cecil knows how to find fish! Using his 18-foot Rahming skiff, we visited many flats and had greats shots at bonefish. Upon returning to Lochabar after the guide day, we found some great looking flats in a bay near the house. Although the tide was too high, we did see evidence of bonefish on these nearby flats. Further exploration of this area on a lower, incoming tide will almost certainly confirm that you can enjoy after hours, self-guided success here.

From Lochabar House we crossed Long Island yet again and visited the impressive Greenwich Creek Bonefish Lodge. Overlooking the flats of Deadman's Cay, Andre Cartwright's two-story lodge has a beautiful fresh water swimming pool, large air-conditioned rooms and a classic wrap-around lanai porch with a perfect view of the bonefish paradise that stretches before you. Greenwich Creek is as nice as it gets in the out-islands and is certainly one of the top ten bonefish facilities in the Bahamas. With a large dock facility and easy access (10 minutes) to the prime flats of the salina, Greenwich Creek has it all including talented guides, great food and all the amenities. As such, Greenwich Creek has earned our unqualified recommendation. Greenwich Creek is not only an excellent place to spend your next fishing vacation, it is also, at $2,100.00 per week, absolutely one of the best bargains in the Bahamas.

Lounging under a huge shade tree at the Deadman's Cay airport, I reflected on the amazing variety of opportunities we saw on our "island tour". Crooked Island may have the most diverse, lightly pressured fishing opportunities in all the Bahamas. If you want to catch bonefish, permit, small tarpon, dorado, tuna, wahoo and numerous reef species, Crooked is THE place to go! Long Island, on the other hand, has great classic bonefishing opportunities, some of the best wading flats in the world and wonderful, yet different lodge choices from which to base your trip. I can't wait to get back to the southern Bahamas soon... where the living is easy and the fish are good looking!




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