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A Fishing-Plus Trip
All About a 10-Day
Stay on Crooked Island
Editor Note: Angling Report Editor Emeritus and Founder Don Causey says he may have fished from as many as 500 lodges, tent camps, and motherships over the years, and he still loves the experience, though he does like to mix things up a bit these days with what he calls fishing-plus trips that involve activities other than fishing and, like as not, something a bit outlandish. Read on . . .
There is nothing quite like a fishing-only trip—that is, a packaged experience devoted entirely to fishing. But there is definitely something to be said for a more loosely organized experience that mixes fishing with spouse- and/or friend-oriented activities. Such trips are getting easier to put together these days, thanks to the proliferation of vacation rental properties and the emergence of individuals who know how to create custom activity packages incorporating fishing. Witness the 11-day trip I enjoyed last month with my wife and a friend, Jerry Gibbs, longtime fishing editor of Outdoor Life. Jerry and I worked together at Outdoor Life when it was still a force in outdoor publishing, boasting a circulation of 1.7 million. Jerry also brought his wife along on the trip.
Our entire trip, including a car rental, all meals, 11 days lodging in a vacation rental property, six days of guided fishing, and airport meet-and-greet, was put together for us by Willie Gibson of Landrail Point Settlement on the northwestern end of Crooked Island. Willie has been putting trips together for visiting anglers for many years, and she is good at it. Owning her own restaurant helps, but so does knowing and having the respect of all the local guides and other service providers.
In all, the cost of the 11-day trip she put together for us ran about $4,750 per couple, not counting tips and Kaliks, the local beer. Of course, that also does not include an obligatory overnight stay in Nassau on the way in, plus the airfare to and from Crooked Island for two persons, around $800 per couple. That put our total bill from arrival in Nassau at around $5,550 per couple, or about $250 per person per day.
Mind you, moderate cost was not the overriding reason Jerry and I chose to go on a fishing-plus trip. We both wanted to involve our wives in a trip for a change, and we wanted down time together to just sit and talk, sleep late occasionally, make jokes about driving on the wrong side of the road, and get to know the local people on Crooked Island. I also wanted time on this trip to play around with an inflatable standup paddleboard loaned to me by Badfish (www.badfishsup.com). Those latter two activities turned out be major sources of pleasure and reward, by the way. More on them in a moment.
First, a word about the fishing. Crooked Island is a bit of a sleeper place to go fishing in the Bahamas, as it is one of the few spots in the Caribbean that offers a decent chance at a permit and a tarpon after you have caught your bonefish. Two advanced anglers who turned up while we were there were on their fifth trip to Crooked Island, largely because of the chance to chase species other than bonefish. The same was true of a group of British anglers who were attracted by the varied fishing, as well as the chance to stay together as a group in a vacation rental property, taking all their meals at Willie’s restaurant, where the whole mob of us got together twice a day. The din in the evenings was amazing. The appearance at the table of a few tourists cruising the Caribbean enlivened the conversation on several nights.
But back to the fishing. The five days Jerry and I fished together we had numerous opportunities at permit, some of them in the 30-pound class, all of them characteristically reluctant to take our flies. I personally caught a couple of small tarpon and (surprise!) a snook that lunged out of the bushes to take a Clouser. We, course, caught bonefish galore. On his top day, Jerry caught 11 bones. Our guides (Randy and Jeffrey) were both professionals who know how to put clients on fish. They also listened and reacted to stated personal preferences, such as lowering the panic level and the amount of instruction when spotting a fish. As for the other two days of fishing, Jerry and I separately treated our wives to a day on the flats devoted to catching whatever came along on whatever worked best, including bait. Both wives loved the day, including my own, who let me wander off alone most of the day on my new toy, a Badfisher Standup Paddleboard, while she caught a remarkable number and variety of snapper and other fish.
This is not the right place to go deeply into my experience with the Badfisher, but I will note I’m convinced that standup paddleboards have a future in flats fishing beyond what Mangrove Cay Club on Andros Island (www.mangrovecayclub.com) is using them for—namely, as platforms to access remote flats that are not readily fishable from a skiff. I gave the Badfisher a try on Crooked Island in a backcountry area reachable only on foot after a long skiff ride and then (because the bottom was soft) fishable only from a paddleboard. I took my first board-caught fish there (a small tarpon!) and had a breathtaking encounter with two permit that swam almost under my board. On another occasion, I gave the board a try on two wadable flats and struck out on bonefishing only because I was not able to react quickly enough to cast to sighted fish. With practice and with some changes in the anchoring system of the board, I am sure I can catch fish on wadable and un-wadable flats alike.
The use of inflatable paddleboards by DIY fishermen is sure to grow, I think, not just because they put you well above the water where you can see fish while also making it easier to traverse flats, but also because you can bring them along as checked baggage on trips involving plane rides. The Badfisher weighs only 42 pounds and is well under the size limitation of 62 linear inches with the pump and paddle included in the carrying case. American Eagle and BahamasAir did not even question my checking the Badfisher on my flights from Miami to Nassau and from Nassau to Spring Point.
This does not mean I think paddleboards are for DIY anglers only. Quite the contrary. I think paddleboards such as the Badfisher will realize their greatest use when guides begin to get comfortable with the idea of booked clients using them as aids to wade fishing, not as a threat to their business. After all, how do you get to a good flat that hasn’t been over-waded by DIY anglers unless a guide takes you there and sets you up for a downwind float? Paddleboards, in case you have not tried one, are not good for traveling long distances or for paddling against the wind. Currently, most guides have no problem allowing a client to spend part of his day wade fishing, and I think most will come around to allowing them to do that “wading” with a paddleboard. Importantly, most flats are not really wadable on foot anyway because they are either too soft, too deep, or so full of holes and hills you spend most of your time stumbling around, making too much noise to see anything at all.
Guides who worry about paddleboards putting them out of business need to be aware that most of their clients are not going to catch many fish on their own. Yes, they will catch more with a paddleboard than they will on foot, but the difficulty of spotting fish and then casting to them from a moving board are going to send most of them scurrying back to the boat after a while, eager to have fish pointed out to them again. The desire clients have to go wade fishing, I think, with or without a paddleboard, is not rooted in their desire to get out of the boat and do some rough walking around; it’s grounded in a desire to restore a connection between their own efforts and the landing of a fish. The root problem, in my view, is a sort of helicopter-parenting of the client that takes place in many flats skiffs as guides over-instruct and over-direct their clients, even those with years of experience and a desire to feel more in control. The really smart guides, I think, size up their clients like good retail salespeople who sense just the right distance to maintain from their customers as they shop. The hunger that flats client have for more control over the fishing experience was made apparent to me many years ago when a fellow lodge client who shall remain nameless could simply not stop crowing with pride about a fish he caught on his own while his guide was attending to a problem with his outboard engine. It was not the biggest fish of the day; it was the fish he caught and felt a powerful connection to. This hunger on the part of flats clients for more connection is real, in my view. The knowledgeable guide who realizes this and subtly modifies his behavior accordingly is sure to win a following.
Paddleboarding and philosophy aside, the other things we all enjoyed about our recent trip was the access we had to the local people and the sense of place we all came away with. None of us is going to soon forget the blizzard of small yellow butterflies that erupted one afternoon as we lounged under a gazebo overlooking the ocean. It was unlike anything I have ever seen in this hemisphere, and we noticed it, I’m sure, because we were on a fishing-plus trip with lots of down time.
This is not by any means to suggest that Landrail Point Settlement is a beautiful spot. The wreckage and debris from Hurricane Joaquin is still much in evidence almost everywhere, and its impact on the residents is still very much in their memory. The vacation rental property where we stayed still had a hole in the ceiling leading to an attic where more than a dozen people, at the height of the storm, huddled in terror as the water crept higher and higher. At one point, they were on the verge of chopping a hole in the roof to keep from drowning. The road in front of the property where we stayed was covered in 12 feet of flowing water at one point, we were told.
When the storm subsided, the island had been cut in two by the storm. Residents wanting to check on friends and family had to wade through chest-deep water. Thankfully, no one died in the storm, we were told, but the situation afterward was dire. Relief, when it came, was not from the United States, by the way, but from Britain, which sent in a helicopter to airlift the injured and bring in supplies. The other nation that responded was China, which helped refloat large shipping vessels. Apparently, we did nothing at all for Crooked Island while spending $40 billion on Puerto Rico, making everyone there unhappy in the process. Go figure.
At this writing, Pittstown Point Lodge on Crooked Island (bookable through most major agents) in being renovated and expanded by the addition of a marina capable of handling offshore boats. If you want to fish Crooked Island from a traditional lodge, this is your place, though it currently looks and feels a bit like what it is, a major construction site. Enjoy!—Don Causey.
Postscript: If you want to arrange a trip through Willie Gibson you can reach her at 242-478-1016. E-mail: [email protected]. Willie says she can arrange to have any kind of foodstuffs delivered ahead of time by mail boat if you want to do your own cooking and don’t want to rely on what is available in local stores. Food supplies, including fresh vegetables and some fruits, were in good supply during our stay on Crooked Island, but it is anyone’s guess if that will be the case when you arrive. One thorny issue I have not been able to sort out is the lack of insurance on the rental cars available on Crooked Island. I am still looking into this matter and will report back on what I find out. Major international car rental firms that offer insurance operate on Nassau, but not on the Out Islands where they are needed most. The concern here centers on the fact that you have to drive on the left side of the road in the Bahamas, which is problematic for US drivers. Also, many of the roads on Crooked Island and other Out Islands do not have shoulders. In places, the drop-off is sharp and deep enough to cause a loss of control. Add the occasional presence of large construction vehicles on Out Island roads and you have a recipe for trouble. Vince Tobia of Cattarragus Creek Outfitters (http://www.ccoflyfishing.com/diybonefishinghomepage.html), who has rented hundreds of cars over the years to DIY fishing clients in the Bahamas, tells us there are insurance options on Eleuthera, but he has not found any service elsewhere in the Out Islands. To date, he says, he has never had a client get involved in an accident, and he thinks the likelihood is low because of light traffic in the Out Islands. Personally, I am not comfortable with the risk of driving an uninsured automobile. More details on this as I get them. Let me know if you can shed additional light on the issue. Write: [email protected].