Dreams have a way of nudging themselves into reality, only if one truly believes and follows up on them. The Bahamas have been on my radar for many years, but always out of reach for one excuse or another. Not anymore. A chance meeting at Jackson Hot Springs with Craig and Lia Jones of Great Divide Outfitters two months ago began turning this dream into action with the invitation of a lifetime. Planning a month with clients in Andros Island, Bahamas, Craig and Lia selflessly extended an extra bed due to a cancellation, if I could just figure out how to get there. Three days of contemplation, my main man Chris Rockhold and I pulled the trigger on what has now become an experience of a lifetime: fly fishing Andros.
Based out of Fresh Creek on the Eastern shores of the Island, our fishing journey began the moment we arrived, wading flats within the protective confines of Fresh Creek. Not a creek by our Montana standards, this water is tidal and expansive, covering tens of square miles of flats heading inland deep into the island. Bonefish live here year round and stay inland even at the lowest tides, making for consistent targets anytime of day at any tide. On clear days, one can spot these ghosts of the flats from safe casting distances, say 60-70 feet. When the clouds come, good luck. You can damn near step on a ten pound fish and the only indication is an explosive wake screaming off like a blown bull elk in the timber.
Oceanside flats are more affected by tides and wind, but the expansiveness is mind boggling when the tide is low and wadeable. Chris and I toured the Andros backcountry several times, wandering off for miles upon miles of ankle to knee deep flats filled with bones, Carribean lobsters, starfish, conchs, sharks, and barracudas. Pack plenty of water and a little grub, keep a close eye on the tide so you don’t get stranded, and let your legs take you to the horizon. Always keep your eyes peeled for nervous water and those ghostly tails, often in water barely covering your ankles. Every fish demands a different cast: lead them by a few feet if they’re moving, drop it on their head if they are tailing, always a slow long strip when they’re on your bug, and plenty of backing to absorb their mind bending runs.
When Big Al LeFore says he has a tarpon connection, listen carefully. Al is a long time friend and mentor of mine living half time in Andros, and knows a good guide when he sees one. There is a man named Tommy Kee, and I could dedicate an entire blog just to this guy, probably will. Chris and I packed 7 rods to Andros, two of them 12 and 10 weight Thomas and Thomas’s with Bauer MX6’s holding the lines, and really didn’t know if we’d have the chance to use them. Tommy gave us that chance and has forever branded memories into our minds, changing fly fishing forever as I know it. Tarpon.
Tarpon are found mostly on the remote west side of Andros, and very few guides know their routines, habits, and locations. Tommy Kee has these behemoths wired, knowing their affinity’s of tide, feeding patterns, and behavior. After motoring for over an hour and well over 20 miles of expansive ocean, we slipped into areas bulging with tarpon, permit, and countless bonefish. Poling us stealthily into the falling tide, Tommy began blowing our minds with his ability to spot and identify fish from obscene distances. Once we were all on point with the fish we had targeted, the game began with getting within the right distance and angle to make the shot. With patience and excellent coaching strip for strip, Tommy instructed us to a pin point of what to do to make the eat happen. Strip, stop, long strip, bump it, bump it, long strip, loooong, hit em! hit em!
Words cannot explain the excitement and fervor of when a tarpon is interested in your bug, almost like a bugling bull elk coming close to a bowhunter, fire from his nostrils and eyes keen on your locale. My legs shake thinking of my fish as he steadily approached my fly, peeling off from a daisy chain of three fish to come closer, closer, bump it, loooong strip, loooooooong!!, hit em!, HIT EM!!!! And then all hell breaks loose! Jumps unexplainable in power and speed, blistering runs with head thrashing jumps at 100 yards, then right back at you as you try to catch up on him, threatening to jump right into your boat. Fifteen teeth gritting minutes later, if you’ve survived, and this eighty pound minnow is at your feet in the shallows, gulping air on the surface and planning another head thrash, your eighty pound shock tipped mangled from his sharp gill plates….
After tarpon, I’m not real sure what comes next in this life of fly fishing. I’m sure there is much more out there, but I think I don’t need to look much farther for a while. After so many years in the north country with trout as my staple and steelhead as my adventure, this warm climate with backing burning fish and variety as far as the imagination allows is something to admire. I never realized the potential of the salt, and how conducive to fly fishing the ocean actually is. I guess I just thought of a big lake with lethargic fish sitting on structure, when in reality it is a vibrant flowing expanse of water and life, holding fish deep and hidden as well as shallow and visually target-able. All of them powerful beyond belief, and as challenging as anything found in the fresh flowing rivers of Montana.