June 12th: “Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day” (W. Earl Hall). Well, it’s been a delightful spring on Abaco. Although the weather has been a little mixed, it’s been warm, breezy and largely storm-free. Fishing has been lively, the gardens have been ablaze with colour, the lodge mostly full, and the birders have had a wonderful time chasing passing migrants around the island.
Early April witnessed a few encounters with big tarpon and several large permit along the outer edges of the Marls. Alan Boyd from Northern Ireland perhaps came closest to boating one of these brutes when he “jumped” a five-foot tarpon. Holbrook Dorn from Texas had the chance of a grand slam of tarpon, permit and bonefish in one morning session, getting follows from all three but ultimately only boating the bone.
Some big bonefish have been taken, notably UK debutante Donald Ogilvy-Watson’s 8-pounder and Austrian Klaus Vander’s 7-pounder, with several others in the 5lb to 6.5lb range. Gordon Roberts from Texas took a monster mutton snapper off the Club beach, estimated at around 18lbs (he nobly returned it, to the chef’s horror). Marion Rainford from England maintained her reputation as the queen of mahi-mahi fishing, with four fish weighing 100lbs in total from an offshore session (these we did eat). Barracudas up to 25lbs and an occasional shark on the fly provided further diversity, but bonefish remain the backbone of the Abaco fishery.
Although there have been few massive bags of fish, many boats have had double-figure catches, including Texans Marshall McLean & Tucker Dorn, Marshall again with John Dorn, Dermod O’Brien from London, George & Linda Tucker (twice), Jim Pigott & Terry Ring (three times, with one day of 26 bones), Austin & Meg Buck, Kirk Phares & Dick Gady (twice, with one day of 21 bones), Jim Whaley & Brian Shaw, Molly Fleming & Kate Burke, Brower & Beau Moffatt, Nina Patterson & Mona Brewer, Toby Thacher & Timothy Grand, Mark Price & Eric Volp, Mark again with Timothy Grand, Dave Samuel & Gerry Duerr and Klaus & Christine Vander (twice) – all of these anglers being American except the Vanders and Club member Brian Shaw. There were very few blank sessions.
The litany of names who took their first ever bonefish included Donald Ogilvy-Watson, Charlie Dodson, Jim Whaley, Heather Post, Alicia Spenlinhauer, Sue Patterson, Gordon Grand, Charlie Steele, Tom Marino, Evan Karas, Tom Cohn, Alan Wolfe, Mike & Linda Parkowski, Courtney Dampf and West Bromwich Albion soccer manager Steve Clarke.
In recent days the Club has been crawling with avian paparazzi as part of a last push to gather photographic material for the Club’s forthcoming book on the birds of Abaco. With some lenses a big as bazookas, the team at times resembled a unit of special forces on jungle maneuvers. The results have ranged from, in my case, blurred and awful to, in the case of Tom Sheley, Lionel Levine and Keith Salvesen, absolutely spectacular. We are massively looking forward to seeing the final proofs of the book.
With just a couple more weeks before the season ends, attention is turning to October and beyond. Bookings are brisk and would-be returners are encouraged to get their requests in early. PM.
May 6th: No blog entries for a month or so. Apologies. But it’s only because April and early May tend to produce some of the busiest weeks in the Club’s calendar and it’s not always easy to find the time to reflect.
Although not necessarily the best fishing time (and this year it’s been often good but rarely spectacular), it’s the period when we fill up with large groups, which is always fun. Two different members, one Irish and one American, each had a week-long houseparty. In between we had a nearly-all-American week of regular guests, as well as an expanded group from the West Palm Beach Fishing Club, headed up by the very entertaining Brower Moffat of the Thomas & Thomas rod-making company.
Then there was the dazzling all-female group of fourteen Bonefish Bonnies from Key Largo, returning for the second time and pictured above. And now we are welcoming back a lively group of sixteen veterans from the New York Athletic Club, who will take a break from their fishing tomorrow for an island-hopping tour of the outer cays (well, OK, a sort of nautical pub crawl).
It’s odd how most European guests aim for November, February or March, presumably to avoid the worst of winter, while their transatlantic cousins tend to prefer later in the spring. There’s little to choose between the months in terms of fishing quality, although the back end of the year does seem to produce the biggest bags of fish, if not necessarily the biggest fish.
You can be lucky or unlucky in relation to weather in any month, but very rarely with more than one or two bad days in a week. This April was often pretty breezy and there were a handful of wet days as the long dry season finally came to an end. From now on we expect a bit more humidity in the atmosphere and the occasional afternoon tropical downpour (which can actually be very welcome).
But with the humidity comes a hatch of the dreaded Yellow Annas (nasty little delta-winged horsefly-types) and the occasional pulse of mosquitos after rain. While these are not usually a problem when out fishing on the flats, they can be a pain around the Club gardens in the evening, so sales of repellent and anti-itch potions are at their peak. Many guests take to the pool or the beach to hide under water. Others self-anaesthetize at the bar.
The guides – Donnie, Ishi, Joe, Robin, Tony, Darren and Dana – have all been working flat out, and always with great good humour. John, the new head chef, and his team has been excelling in the kitchen, consistently producing cracking canapés, a scrumptious array of salads, disgracefully wicked desserts and some of the best fish dishes I have ever tasted. It’s been a particularly good spring for mahi-mahi, my favourite eating fish.
Sandy, the manager, is in top gear, ensuring that everything runs smoothly – or, when it doesn’t, that it’s quickly fixed. He is a particular master of all things mechanical, never happier than when disassembling the coffee machine to unblock a pipe, fixing the tractor hydraulics or repairing glitches with the outboards. And all while keeping everyone organized for their daily routines.
Although there are several more busy weeks to come before we close down in early July, I promise to make the time to report all the fishing highlights of recent weeks, including close encounters with giant tarpon, plenty of permit and notable catches from the wonderfully consistent bonefish population of the Abaco Marls. PM
“It was a windy day at Cross Harbour in South Abaco and hubby (Christopher Jarman) caught his usual high quota of bonefish, being the skilled enthusiast that he is. At the opposite end of the spectrum, unskilled and fishless, I finally determined to find out what this fishy business was all about.
“We waded through the mangroves in the afternoon, which was a trek in itself, and I managed to have Tony, our guide, to myself. The man was heroic in his patience as I hooked various of his body parts several times. Miraculously, towards the end of the day, Tony talked me through a cast and I managed to shoot, strip, strike and hook a 4-pounder. The backing shot off the reel faster than Concorde.
“I reeled. The fish ran again. But it was only when Tony said that a shark was circling my bonefish that my reeling pace quickened sharply and the fish came into sight. The shrieks of delight could be heard at the Delphi Club, twenty miles away. And Tony’s beaming face matched my own.
“That night, sitting at the head of the table in the special chair, I understood something of the thrill of it all. But I fear my experience could be summed up with one word - flukey!”
Lorna Jarman from London, March 2013
April 3rd: The past few weeks have seen a large number of guests catch their first ever bonefish. Pride of place goes to the UK’s Olympic gold-medallist rower Anna Watkins, who nailed one of the best fish of the spring, a bone of over six pounds, on her first day out. Our renewed attempts to persuade Anna to abandon her mathematics PhD in favour of guiding have again proved fruitless.
Other successful UK first timers included Lorna Jarman, Eira Drysdale, Mary Nicholson, Sarah Hammond, Jamie Peddle, David Nickson, Oli Watkins and Graham Menzies. From the USA, Roger Aksamit, Gordon Roberts, Tom and Janet Berry, Donna Mashburn and Alan Wolfe all lost their neophyte status – in Alan’s case with a whole lot of fish taken on his own fly patterns.
The weather has been mixed, with frequent strong breezes, some cloudy periods and occasional days when temperatures dropped into the mid-60s. But guests have fished on regardless and among those to record double-figure catches were old stalwarts Christopher Jarman, Vaughan Ruckley, Bob Shaunessy and Craig Bacher, as well as father and son team Bob & Geoff Hadden. Some new guests also scored well, including Ted & Glenda Fowler, John Sikich, Marshall Miller and John Dorn.
Guests have had a few shots at big permit and some very nice barracuda have been boated (to the delight of the guides for whom these are the number one eating fish).
Terence Coyle, a bagpipe-playing New Yorker, lost a very decent bone when his line separated from his backing. Half an hour later, a half a mile further on, his boat partner Vaughan Ruckley was casting to a good bone when he suddenly noticed a fly line trailing to the side of the fish. He aborted his own cast, grabbed the flyline and played the fish by hand while Ishi the guide hurriedly reattached the backing. No sooner was everything rethreaded and tied than the fish took off on another almighty run before finally succumbing to Terence’s wailing. Songs were sung and hornpipes played that night.
April 1st: On what is believed to be only the second occasion in recorded history, an Atlantic salmon has been taken in Bahamian waters. The fish was caught by a Club guest while fishing the deeper channels off Cherokee Sound. The astonished angler, Simon Semple from New Brunswick, boated the eight-pounder after a ten minute battle. Appropriately, the fish took a Delphi Diva fly.
His guide did not even recognize the species, but Simon, an experienced salmon angler, knew it at once. He kept the fish for scientific analysis and it is now hoped to discover its river of origin through DNA testing at the Bahamian National Trust’s laboratory in Nassau. It did not have the battered and inferior physiology of a fish farm escapee.
The fish, which was a little slim. is believed to have been carried down the east coast of the USA by the Gulf Stream and may have been suffering from the disorienting Cruris Tractum syndrome. The only previous record of a salmon travelling so far south was in 1936 when local fisherman Roberto Sawyer-Cummin took one in a net while fishing for snappers off Grand Bahama.