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The Deep Water Cay Club (*) on Grand Bahama Island is not one of those bonefish spots you hear a lot about. Founded as a private club back in 1958, it is a low key, high ticket place that eschews any kind of noisy promotion and quietly thrives year after year on repeat business. There have been some hiccups of late in the smooth operation of Deep Water Cay Club (and more about them in a moment), but the place nonetheless remains a favorite of some of the biggest names in American business, medicine, law and politics.
The club is located on the eastern end of Grand Bahama Island right where the island mass breaks up into smaller islands and bends southward. Its location is ideal from a fishing point of view as the many islands in the area afford sheltered fishing even when cold fronts (a perennial winter problem for lodges in the northern Bahamas) whip through the area. The lodge boasts that it has 250 square miles of fishable flats and a glance at the map confirms the claim may well be true.
The fish here run on the large side, with seven and eight pounders common. The club record is a 13 pounder. The guides use 16 foot dolphin Super Skiffs with 55 horsepower engines. Most have been working for the club for many years and definitely know what they are doing. Someone looking for quibbles might point out that the new on site managers, Peter and Shari Hall, have little fishing experience and as a result have not pushed through any kind of flats rotation or flats assignment policy. The end result is, guides occasionally pile up on certain flats and/or revisit the same flats too often. The problem is on its way to being resolved, I was told, by the planned hiring of a fishing manager.
So, who is this club right for? The angler who wants a very high level of service (uniformed fishing guides no less!), good food, fine fishing and a retreat like atmosphere. The latter quality is assured by the lodge s location on a private island. It is enhanced by the fact that visitors stay in individual cottages, all with magnificent views of the ocean and within earshot of wonderfully sibilant Australian pines.
As for cost, rates at Deep Water Cay almost crack $400 a day. Airfare from your arrival airport in Florida is another $270. Additionally, it s assumed you will tip your guide $25 a day. Adding even more to the cost for many anglers is the fact that there is no nonfisherman rate at Deep Water Cay. Anglers and nonanglers pay the same rate.
If all this sounds very upper crusty, you ve got the right impression. The club is owned by several wealthy investors in Tennessee who say they pour all profits from the club right back into it. The big project at present is the construction of a plush new lodge where meals will be served and after fishing tales will be spun. The price tag for the new facility is several hundred thousand dollars, and it s being undertaken without any plans to increase rates or expand the number of guests that can be accommodated. For certain it is going to enhance Deep Water s reputation as one of the best fishing lodges in the Bahamas, maybe anywhere….
All of this and one could say more is the good news about Deep Water Cay. The other side of the coin is the emergence of a serious competitor up the island a ways, who has his eye on the same upper crust clientele and who appears to have the backing necessar to create a lodge every bit as elegant as Deep Water Cay. The competitor is Ed Dawes, the former manager of Deep Water Cay. An accomplished fisherman, Dawes has a considerable following among previous guests of Deep Water Cay and word of his North Riding Point Club (*) is spreading fast.
Everyone involved is being very discreet, but clearly there is a great deal of ill will flowing in both directions between Dawes and Deep Water Cay. One flashpoint is competition for guides. Already, one guide has left Deep Water and gone to work for Dawes. Depending on who you ask, some…all…or none of the rest of the guides are about to follow suit. Fueling the conflict over guides is the emergence of a union organizing effort at Deep Water.
It was impossible at press time to gauge the seriousness of the union situation, but no one was denying it existed. Reid Sanders, one of Deep Water s investors, said he was prepared as a last option to live with a union at Deep Water if that is what the guides and lodge staff want. I don’t think that would be good for the lodge or good for the people who work there, he added. He went on to say he was confident a work stoppage would be avoided.
The labor turbulence, of course, plays into Ed Dawes’ hands. He denies that it does and genuinely, I think disclaims any responsibility for it. "I simply want to build my own lodge and go my own way," he says, indicating whatever happened or didn t happen at Deep Water Cay is …history.
One big thing Dawes has going for him is access to some very remote and highly coveted bonefish flats that have seen little pressure to date. The flats on the northern coast of Grand Bahama stretch all the way from Water Cay to North Riding Point. Until recently, when Dawes helped open some roads, the entire coast was virtually unreachable. Having fished there myself recently, I can tell you from experience the fish are very big…and dumb. If Dawes has his way, the fish here will stay that way, too, as he plans to keep pressure in this entire area down to five boats.
Another thing Dawes has going for him is location. His lodge, which should be completed in May, is going up on a remote and stunningly beautiful, three mile beach about 20 minutes out of Freeport. The detached oceanside villas and clubhouse will have a remote, wilderness feel and yet be close enough for non anglers to shop and play tennis or golf during the day and/or go casino hopping by night. There is a distinct need in the Bahamas for just such a bonefish place that has these side attractions.
At this writing, Dawes is already hosting bonefish anglers, but he is doing so out of a rented townhouse in Freeport. As he will when his lodge is finished, he is trailering his anglers on a daily basis out to one of three launch sites. The commute now is a hefty 45 minutes or more, but that will drop to 20 to 30 minutes once the lodge is finished.
One Angling Report subscriber has already checked in with a report on these townhouse based trips, and he gives them a thumbs up. The subscriber is William Boyle, and he fished with Dawes this past month, booking agent Angler Adventures (*). He speaks glowingly of the "…untouched wilderness flats, unsophisticated fish and superb food." He rates the overall experience "excellent" and gives his guide, Stanley, "excellent" ratings for his knowledge and "good" ratings for his ability to communicate and overall personality. He gives the cost of the November 9 to 13 trip as $1,525 and highly recommends it.
Interestingly, Dawes plans to price his trips even higher than Deep Water Cay when his lodge is finished. His literature makes much of amenities such as "…fine cuisine…. designer linens, luxurious monogrammed towels nd special full sized English lavender bar soap for the bath." Clearly, he is going for the same clientele he served while at Deep Water Cay.
Is there room for two upper crust lodges in the northern Bahamas? Almost certainly there is. In fact, if there was not so much tension crackling between these two operators, they would likely not be linked in this report. However, the tension is there and promises to remain for some time. Our advice is to forget the tension and focus on the bottomline situation, which is a win win outcome for the travelling angler. Barring something unforeseen, such as a labor stoppage or legal conflict, we anglers simply have two great lodges on Grand Bahama to choose from now. Who knows, perhaps they will be moved to try to outdo one another in service and amenities! Stay tuned for updates…. Don Causey.