This Travel Company Is Breaking New Ground
Angling Report Editor Emeritus Don Causey filed this report on a relatively new, upper-crust adventure travel company that is moving into the fishing field in a big way.
Think about it. How many new fishing companies have emerged of late in the angling travel business? I mean big ones with money behind them and new ideas on how to attract and hold the interest of traveling anglers? Frankly, I can’t think of one, or I couldn’t until I began to take a serious look recently at Eleven Experience (www.elevenexperience. Tel.970-349-7761 or 877-598-5421), which started out as an upper-crust adventure travel company in 2011 specializing in things like over-the-top skiing and mountain biking trips in France, Iceland, Colorado, and other places.
From the beginning, Eleven Experience offered fly fishing as one of its adventures, especially at its flagship property in Colorado, Scarp Ridge Lodge, where, incidentally, it pipes in ambient oxygen to help new arrivals avoid mountain sickness. See what I mean by upper crust? Fishing was mentioned at other places, too, such as its Bahama House property on Harbour Island, but pretty much as an amenity, not a principal activity. Personally, I wrote them off as just another luxury travel entity trying to incorporate fly fishing without understanding the activity or the people who love it.
I realize now I was wrong about Eleven Experience, and I have subscriber Frank Foster to thank for my awakening to what the company is up to. Frank and I are old phone chums but met personally for the first time in Italy this past fall, where we were both on fishing trips arranged by Claudio Tagini (see my write-up on Tagini in the December issue), and it was there he told me about his upcoming mothership trip to Andros Island with Eleven Experience. When he told me where his mothership was going to be anchored, I was astounded. Clearly, this was a company that knew fly fishing and had real connections to be able to operate a mothership in the face of new regulations outlawing non-Bahamian-owned motherships in the Bahamas. Seems Eleven Experience has some kind of Cruising Permit that completely legalizes what it is doing.
At any rate, I asked Frank to drop me a note about his experience, the substance of which follows after this introduction. That note just arrived, and it inspired me to do some quick research on Eleven Experience’s dedicated fishing destinations. They currently include lodges in Colorado, two motherships that operate in four different areas as dictated by the fishing calendar (the Florida Everglades; Cocodrie, Louisiana; the Marquesas south of Key West; and the Bahamas), plus a lodge-based trip to southern Chile. Its website makes passing mention of an Atlantic salmon trip in Iceland, which I plan to check out soon. Clearly, this is an agency to take note of, especially if your tastes tend toward truly elegant surroundings, fine wine, good food, and interesting new ideas on where and how to go fishing. You’ll need deep pockets to book much fishing through Eleven, to be sure, but actually not as deep as I thought until I studied their website. Anyone who can book an expensive Atlantic salmon or peacock bass trip can save up and fish with Eleven on an individual basis. Buying out an entire week at one of their facilities is another matter.
As always, I am agnostic about new companies and the language they use to describe what they are up to, but it is worth noting that the company says its mission is embedded in its name: Eleven Experience. They strive to provide an experience that exceeds ten, they say, and they go on to talk about trying to inspire participants in their “experiences” (they don’t like the word “trips”) to have the “best day of their life.” Is this just marketing hyperbole? We won’t know until enough Angling Report subscribers weigh in with reports. In the meantime, I think it’s entirely possible that noise in the distance may be the sound of the bar being raised on fishing travel. Here is what Frank Foster says about his Eleven Experience off the coast of Andros Island:
Your legendary publication, The Angling Report, has a feature called “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Well, the Eleven Experience guys can’t even spell “bad” or “ugly.” And they’re not very familiar with “good” either. In my experience, the only word they understand is “excellent.” Their devotion to excellence apparently emanates from founder Chad Pike, an American who has risen toward the top of the American investment firm the Blackstone Group LP. I’ve not met him, but I understand he is one of those discriminating chaps who demand the highest levels of service delivery, but he does so in a manner that makes him revered by his organization. I also hear he’s an excellent angler.
I don’t really need to review the fishery available to anglers aboard the Eleven mothership in the Bahamas because it spends its time anchored in Miller’s Creek on the west side of Andros Island, allowing easy access to a highly respected fishery with which many fellow subscribers are familiar. While the usual suspects abound (large bonefish, shots at permit, and barracuda) the west side offers a tarpon fishery solid enough to make you never forget to pack a larger rod. In fact, on my trip I saw six or eight tarpon. Of those, I jumped two and “boated” one. I say “boated” because it happened while fishing off the stern of the mothership after dinner one night. A leaping 40-pounder I had hooked landed on the aft deck right at my feet!
The anchorage of the mothership is only 45 minutes from the Water Cays, and we went there one day, all of us wading as we tackled the pleasant task of dealing with small schools of large, cooperative bonefish. A 45-minute run north allows you to fish the Spanish Wells area, and running 45 minutes toward some variant of east gives you a choice of fishing the South, Middle or North Bights of Andros.
The Eleven mothership is a 74-foot Hatteras motor yacht. It’s not new, but if it were an automobile it would be called a “cream puff,” as every square inch of it is immaculate. It has two gorgeous “public” spaces: one is a large salon with satellite television; the other is for gathering and dining. There were four anglers on the mothership in all, and we had three staterooms at our disposal. Two of our crowd were a father-and-son team, and they took the master stateroom that has two heads, each with their own luxurious vanity, and a shared, equally luxurious, shower. The master is a very large, plush stateroom with elegant woods and a surfeit of closets and bureau drawers. The bed situation is a little tricky, as there are two queen-size beds that are only a few inches apart. This is no problem for a father and son, but I understand Eleven recognizes it’s not ideal for two gentleman anglers and plans a classy removable partition between the beds of some exotic, beautiful wood like teak.
The VIP stateroom has two twin beds nicely separated and is elegantly appointed with a large head and shower that would grace almost anyone’s land-based home. The third stateroom is in the bow with an over-and-under bunk and its own head. Not as tony as the other two staterooms but still very nice.
As I said, there were four anglers on the boat. Guess how many crew: four! Captain Tom McLaughlin is the consummate professional and a delight. He was assisted by two mates who were full of personality and sometimes seemed to almost fall down as they tried to scramble into action to respond to our every whim.
Gregarious and fun Chef Penny caused us all to ask for the phone number for Weight Watchers when we disembarked. She served us he-man breakfasts and superb lunches, and she brought the bounty of the nearby sea to us each night. There were fresh stone crabs, lobster, conch, and mutton snapper, plus hogfish shot by our diving captain. While the dinners were not New York restaurant haute cuisine (and not intended to be), they were way above the standard, but always good, Bahamian fare one gets at most lodges. And the wines, normally a blind spot with Bahamian lodges, were nothing short of marvelous. As an example of Eleven’s attention to detail, the pre-trip email solicited not just food allergy data from us, but food, wine, and liquor preferences.
Eleven Experience indeed provides an excellent experience, and that includes the way they handle the fishing part of the Andros program. Eleven uses independent guides from Mangrove Cay, and they were all outstanding. They came out to the yacht in their own skiffs but fished us on Eleven’s brand-new, latest, greatest Beavertails with the most creative and effective leaning post design I have ever seen. Perhaps the best example of excellence in service delivery by Eleven was the fishing hours. Guess who decides what those hours are: the anglers. You leave when you want and stop fishing when you’ve had enough. No clock watchers in this crowd‒delightful!
All considered, I loved the Eleven Experience. It made me want to work on my casting a little more in the hope of measuring up. Enjoy!
Postscript: Frank Foster says he is booked to fish Eleven’s mothership in the Marquesas soon, and he has promised us a report on that experience. In the meantime, we are eager to hear from others who have fished with Eleven Experience. Send your reports directly to me at: [email protected].