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Finally, The Angling Report has just learned that Montana fishing travel company, Sweetwater Travel (888-347-4286; www.sweetwatertravel.com), has acquired Mangrove Cay Club on Andros Island, Bahamas. The company already owns camps in Mongolia, a steelhead property in British Columbia (Sustut Lodge), and two fl y-out lodges in Alaska (Copper River Lodge and the Royal Coachman Lodge). That’s in addition to an important fishing operation on the family ranch in Montana (Harrison Homestead). Mangrove Cay is an important lodge, and it is Sweetwater’s first saltwater fishing property. Acquisitions of this importance don’t happen every day, so we asked Sweetwater’s Jeff Vermillion to answer a few questions at press time.
What does the purchase of Mangrove Cay Club mean for Sweetwater Travel?
Mangrove Cay Club for Sweetwater means that we can, at long last, send our clients to a saltwater property that will deliver superb food, lodging, service, and, most importantly, some of the best bonefishing in the world.
But why buy a lodge in the Bahamas,as opposed to somewhere else?
Finding a saltwater property that was right for us has been very difficult. We’ve been looking for one for 20 years. My brothers and I looked hard at places in Mexico, Central America, and French Polynesia, as well as other islands in the Bahamas, and there were always issues with location, fisheries management, or with the fisheries themselves. We finally settled on the Bahamas because the government there has made conservation of bonefish and other sport fish a real priority. This gave us confidence that the fishery there will be well managed into the future. Then there is the location of the Bahamas close to the United States. That makes it easy for U.S. anglers to reach a facility there.
Why buy Mangrove Cay in particular?
Our expectation for our clients, as you know, is first and foremost about quality fishing; the next priorities are location and quality of the property and facility. As for the former, Andros Island is one of the most famous bonefish places in the world. Double-digit fish are a weekly occurrence for most anglers at Mangrove Cay, particularly during the November to March period, plus the surrounding waters have plenty of two to five-pound fish that are aggressive feeders. Additionally, during our checkout visits, we had regular encounters with tarpon, particularly in late May and June. Little by little, we came to realize that the longtime, on-site operators of Mangrove Cay, Liz and Alton Bain, had absolutely nailed it as regards location. From the lodge one can access the bonefish flats of South Bight, Middle Bight, and North Bight, plus the world-famous west coast of Andros. Mangrove Cay also provides almost immediate access to blue water, and it is less than ten minutes from the airport. A great community that provides the superb staff that has given Mangrove its reputation is just minutes away as well. The facility at Mangrove Cay was a huge selling point for us, too. It sits above the water on coral rock looking out on the water. When you are there, you don’t see roads or neighbors—just a superb view. The guesthouses here are huge, impeccably designed, and well spread out over a very large property. The central lodge is well designed, too, and functional from every standpoint I can think of. Few fi shermen understand how challenging it is to build a lodge like this in a remote location.
So, what kind of changes do you plan to make?
Each new venue we develop here at Sweetwater gets us to thinking about exciting new things we can do. But in this case, we realize our ideas could get in the way of what is already a great product, thanks to the hard work and intelligence of the current managers. We do plan to test a number of things on the fishing front to provide even better angling, but none of those will be labeled “permanent improvements” until each has been tested and given a stamp of approval by the clients.