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Acklins Island, Bahamas
Hosted DIY Bonefishing Adventure
March 17--31, 2012

Week 1 (3/17/12 to 3/24/12)

Martin and Derrick Custodio, Tom Anderson and I arrived on Saturday morning at Acklins Island’s Spring Hill Airport.  The BahamasAir flight from Nassau had been smooth, with no complications.  Mrs. Gibson and Casey of Ivel’s Bed & Breakfast met us with a warm, hospitable Bahamian welcome.  Filled with anticipation, we eagerly loaded our luggage and made the scenic 20 minute drive to the lodge.  The vehicle provided for our stay by Ivel’s was a late model Ford Escape that proved comfortable, reliable and fuel efficient.  Arriving at Ivel’s we discovered that our lodgings in the Bonefish Suite were clean and practically brand new, with two semi-private suites separated by a fully equipped kitchenette and sitting area.  Each suite was double occupancy; included two beds, a large closet, chest of drawers and a full private bathroom.  The A/C worked great, the reverse osmosis tap water was delicious, the beds were really comfortable, and the bonefish were waiting! 

It took only a few moments to unpack, rig our fly gear, and hurry to the main lodge kitchen for a quick lunch. There we were treated to the first of many delightful culinary surprises presented by Peter, the new master chef at Ivel’s Bed & Breakfast, and Theresa Ferguson, our gracious hostess.  Our eagerness to hit the water was almost forgotten as we enjoyed a wonderful meal and had great conversation getting acquainted with our new friends.

Time flew by as we visited and lunched.  It was early afternoon before our thoughts turned once again to fly fishing.  Fortunately there is a large, very fine bonefish flat right out the front door at Ivel’s so we were able to get at it right away.  The tide was near dead low, an almost perfect opportunity to fish the incoming flow.  We split up into two man teams.  Martin and Tom started at the north end to fish in a southerly direction.  Derrick and I entered the flat at the halfway point, also moving southerly so each of us had undisturbed water to explore.  Our plan was to keep the sun and wind at our backs to make fish spotting and casting conditions more favorable.  Although we found bonefish in a variety of places, the majority were at the edges of the mangroves in boot-top high water. 

This behavior pattern manifested repeatedly throughout our stay.  Our most consistent action occurred in skinny water.  When the bonefish entered a flat from the deep water refuges after dead low tide, they seemed to prefer the boot top deep water as it advanced into the flat right up until flood tide.  We explored several creeks and deep water access points throughout the island, and our success locating “happy fish” (i.e., confidently feeding bones) was most consistent on the low, incoming tide scenario.  In most places, we did not do so well on the high - outgoing tide stage.  Sometimes it is possible to intercept bonefish as they exit the backcountry on a falling tide but, for a variety of reasons, that tactic was not significantly productive during week 1. 

This phenomenon was almost certainly affected by consistently strong winds during our first week.  In addition, the timing of the tides at various locations relative to the Datum Bay baseline was different from patterns observed in the past.  The consistently strong winds persisted most of the week.  Perhaps that was the reason for the change in tide patterns we observed.  As a result, we simply made note of the timing of the tides we actually encountered during the steady east-northeast wind cycle and planned accordingly.  For the most part, the 15 to 30 knot winds made it necessary to fish the leeward (west) side of the island.  At first glance, it may seem that our options were limited because we did not visit several promising windward flats.  However, there are so many beautiful places to fish on the leeward side that we all had a really great time.  That is one of the significant advantages of Acklins – despite strong winds, cloud trains or other unfavorable local conditions, there always is a very good alternative within easy driving distance.

Week 1 was really enjoyable.  We fished several of the “old favorite” flats that have been good in previous years and delightedly explored some new one too.  Martin caught his very first bonefish on a fly rod, a feat he worked hard to achieve despite initial discouraging setbacks.  Derrick consistently proved himself to be an eagle-eyed, enthusiastic and enormously competent bonefisherman.  Tom Anderson deserves a lion’s share of the credit for making Week 1 so successful.  Tom is a very modest person, whose thoughtful perceptions and long experience in the world of bonefishing really made a positive difference for us.  Simple things such as the sage advice to always “keep the sun at your back” or his uncanny ability to diagnose the geography of a flat he’d never seen before and consistently “read” the characteristics that led to finding fish were immeasurably helpful.  No small part of the wonderful success was also due to the wonderful camaraderie that we developed from the outset. 

Another aspect of our adventure turned out quite well.  We hired guides during the middle of the week.  Jacob Beneby and Elvis Roule took us to flats inaccessible by automobile.  The local knowledge and expertise of these two excellent guides resulted in great experiences for each of us.  For future DIY trips, it would be a very good idea to plan for at least one such outing each week.  It is a good change of pace; especially helpful to learn how and where to find bonefish, to see them better, to learn and observe their local behavior patterns, and of course catch a few in the process.  These guides were terrific.

Saturday arrived too soon.  I had very mixed feelings as we drove to the airport.  In one short week we not only shared the eat/sleep/fish passion hunting bonefish, but also intelligent conversation and a rare simpatico.  It was difficult to say goodbye to my newfound friends.

Week 2 (3/24/12 to 3/31/12)

Saturday morning’s BahamasAir flight arrived on time.  As the guys from Week 1 prepared to board the plane, Don Siegel and Al Lovas crossed the runway to begin their Week 2 adventures.  After introductions, sorting and loading baggage, we were off to Ivel’s Bed & Breakfast in short order.  Meanwhile, Casey drove up to the Lovely Bay ferry dock to pick up Steve Marsh, who had spent the previous week with the CCO group on Crooked Island.

During a fine lunch, we discussed our fishing options for the afternoon.  Steve is a veteran of the Acklins Island fishing scene, and suggested we fish right in front of Ivel’s.  We repeated essentially the same approach as the first week.  The tide was ebbing as we entered the water.  Although it seemed that there were fewer bonefish evident on the north end of the flat, Steve got into two on a small Chico’s Bonefish Special.  Unfortunately Al, who also worked the north end of the flat, was unable to locate any bonefish.  Don and I discovered singles and a good sized school in the mangroves, where the deep mud made wading a strenuous challenge.  Don also spotted an enormous ray mudding with 3 really big bonefish feeding in the mud.  Fishing with no weedguard, the fly got stuck on the bottom.  Although we failed to hook up, it was a thrill to watch the behavior of the mudding fish.  In short, the Ivel’s flat was only modestly productive when compared to other flats on Acklins Island but was very convenient due to its proximity to the lodge.

We experienced fair west winds for the next few days.  This allowed us to explore several flats on the north and east side of the island that been unfishable during the previous week’s heavy winds.  Timing our arrivals to take advantage of tide and sun positions made it much easier to locate fish.  It was great to get into unpressured bonefish, happily and aggressively feeding as they cruised the flats.  We returned to a few places that had fished well the first week, and it seemed that the fish were more alert and spooky than the ones that had not been recently hunted.  Small Gotchas, Chico’s Bonefish Special, small crab patterns and mantis shrimp patterns worked well.  For savage amusement, we got into several big barracuda with five inch chartreuse over white EP flies and crimson tarpon style bunny flies. The EP fly also scored on Nassau Grouper and jacks. 

Based on unanimous choice, we went out during the middle of the week with guides.  Once again, it was a very good experience.  This was completely optional, but each of us had a really good time – so much so that two of the group opted for a second day with Jacob Beneby.  That, too, was extraordinary.  It was remarkable how consistently the bonefish seemed to swim into the tidal current in various places, and how far away the guides could spot them coming toward us.  We saw hundreds of bonefish.

All in all, two great weeks spent exploring and hunting bonefish on beautiful Acklins Island!

Trip Host--Jim Dowd