Catching Up in Sandy Point

It is uncommon for two people to remain steadfast friends without seeing each other for over fifteen years. Yet this is exactly the case with my chum Tom and me. We met many years ago in a professional setting and immediately became friends, drawn together by our mutual interest in fly fishing and our similar philosophies of life. Though he lives in the Boston area, and I a bit further south in Myrtle Beach, we have kept in frequent contact. Some years back, I visited him and his wonderful family in Boston, where we attended a large and informative fly fishing show. He reciprocated by making the trek south to my home in South Carolina. We hired a guide and spent a frustrating day casting to highly uncooperative redfish in my home waters. We vowed to erase that failure by planning a new adventure fishing together again.

Growing families, heavy demands at work, and a host of other variables resulted in repeated cancellations of trips for redfish, bonefish, false albacore, trout, and tarpon. This pattern was repeated for more than fifteen years.  Though we spoke often by phone and emails, circumstances precluded any actual visits or fishing time together.

It was last fall when I began plotting yet another return trip to my favorite bonefishing destination- Sandy Point, which lies at the most southerly tip of Abaco Island. Here I have spent many days, rod in hand, pursuing my favorite fly rod target, the bonefish. It is a fish that provides the angler with both joy and frustration, delivering them in varying degrees of equality. Sandy Point is also blessed with a dependable population of permit, and I have become increasingly aware of its resident tarpon population over the course of the past four or five visits. Pete and Gay’s Guesthouse, operated by my old friend Stanley White, exemplifies the persona of a locally owned Bahamian lodge. It is rustic but functional and the staff and guides are hard working, friendly, and eager to do whatever it takes to create a memorable experience for the guests.

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Our luxury accommodations at Sandy Point

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Tom, Stanley, owner and manager of Pete and Gay’s Guesthouse, and some dude found wandering the Town Flat

When first I emailed Tom about joining me and five of my fishing buddies on this bonefish adventure, I did so half heartedly, suspecting that circumstances would once more preclude his participation. To my astonishment, his reply indicated that he would in fact be able to come along to Stanley’s. I was thrilled to know that at last I would be able to spend a few days fishing my favorite spot with my old friend.

We agreed that Tom would fly from Boston to Myrtle Beach, where my wife and I would retrieve him from the airport. Together, we would drive to an outlying airport, and continue the journey to Abaco. When Tom arrived, it was early June. Here in South Carolina, temperatures were solidly in the nineties, yet Tom emerged from baggage claim sporting a fleece coat. After our initial salutations, I queried him about the coat. “It was forty degrees in Boston this morning” he explained.  “Well, my friend, you can pack that jacket away now. It is ninety two degrees here, and even hotter down on Abaco.”

Most of my family was able to join us that evening for a wonderful dinner prepared by my wife Sheila, and I was pleased to be able to introduce to Tom my daughter, son in law, my unimaginably wonderful grandson Liam, as well as Sheila’s mother and stepfather. After dinner, Tom and I talked into the night and it seemed as if we had seen each other only two weeks ago, not fifteen years earlier. Early the following morning, we made the drive to Florence to catch our flight. Recent airline mergers have resulted in dropped flights and consolidation of others which have made the once UBER-convenient flights out of MYR now a two day travel adventure. So, our alternative was a one hour drive to a smaller airport. Sheila graciously agreed to chauffeur us there and retrieve me upon my return.

The trip proved uneventful other than the extensive security searches to which I was subjected. Having had both knees replaced, I always alarm the metal detectors and I have discovered that some TSA agents are more thorough, or perhaps bored, than others. I was led to a small room where I was brusquely told to “Sit down in that metal chair! Do not speak or touch ANYTHING!” Attached to one of the legs of said chair was a menacing appearing device that looked suspiciously like a cattle prod. The TSA man, meanwhile, went to fetch his superior. When they returned, I underwent a thirty minute search which, although no body cavities were penetrated, was very thorough. Once satisfied that my socks, with their hidden zippered pockets to hold my cash, were harmless, I was released to board the flight. I suppose it is the price we must pay for safe travels, but nonetheless I find it quite disconcerting.

The remainder of the journey was routine, and soon we found ourselves standing once more on Bahamian soil. Stanley , our host, had arranged an airport pickup by Ezra, a resident of Sandy Point. The final leg of our journey to Sandy Point requires an hour’s driving time. It passed quickly as the ebullient Ezra regaled us with local tales of interest, pointing out attractions as we drove. I was especially interested in hearing his stories about Casuarina Point, as we passed Different of Abaco, a now defunct bonefish lodge. It was there that I made my first visit to Abaco some twenty four years ago. It is also where I made the acquaintance of Miss Nettie Symonnette, a colorful local personality who built the lodge and created a manmade waterway for her guide boats into the Marls. The Marls area is a massive area of mangrove islands extending along the west coast of Abaco. Here bonefish, though smallish, are quite plentiful. There is no natural access to the Marls from this part of the island, necessitating a lengthy boat run to reach the treasure chest of swimming silver that resides among the mazes of mangroves. Miss Nettie created quite a sensation when she directed a local man with a bulldozer to create a sort of canal to allow her guide boats a means of passage. Her newly dug opening to the sea immediately became known as “Nettie’s Ditch.” But, that is a tale worthy of its own post.  We shortly thereafter found ourselves in downtown Sandy Point, though our true final destination required a boat to reach. That would be for the next day. For tonight, it was time to meet our fellow travelers and anglers, then pass the evening of catching up and enjoying a few Kaliks.

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A typical sunset at Sandy Point. This photo was captured from the rooftop lounge area.

 

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My old friend Tom Guest finally made it to Sandy Point.

The following morning, we made our way to the guide boats, which were gathered into a small armada, all nosed into the sand at water’s edge in front of the lodge. Stanley had arranged for Tom and I to fish with Wally that first day, a fine choice. I have fished with Wally many, many times during past trips, and find him to be dependable and hard working. He decided to make the crossing to Moore’s Island, a rich fishery some eighteen miles away. Tom and I boarded his sturdy locally built boat and settled down for the forty five minute ride.

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Good times are even better shared with good friends. Left to right- Steve, Joe, Mike, Me, Jay, and Tom

After a pleasant journey, we arrived at Moore’s with high hopes. Tom was first up on the deck. We found fish, but unfortunately, were not able to seal the deal. We moved on and soon found a flat that was literally covered with large sharks in impossibly skinny water. As we approached for a closer inspection of these animals, it became clear that they were quite large. Even the smaller specimens were estimated at six to seven feet, and the bruisers around ten to perhaps twelve feet in length. They lazed about the flat, seemingly resting, but soon the reason they had gathered here in such numbers became clear. It was mating season, and these sharks were busily involved in procreation. I had witnessed this spectacle only once or twice in the past, but I have never seen so many sharks engaged in such a massive orgy. Wally guessed the total number of sharks at around one hundred and fifty to as many as two hundred!

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Three of the many sharks encountered at Moore’s Island

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Walks with sharks!!

I noted some movement in the short mangroves shoots near the shoreline. Several sharks were slowly swimming about the area. As I peered a bit closer, I discovered that the activity was actually a school of bonefish clustered in the super skinny water. We pondered whether they would take a fly in the midst of the enormous biomass of predators, but I decided it was worth an attempt. So, much to Tom’s horror, I carefully slipped over the gunwhale with my fly rod. I tread softly between the sharks that were now moving in the shin deep water in very close proximity to my exposed legs. I made a cast, but was rejected. A second cast was snatched by a bonefish whose hunger exceeded its fear, and off it went, boldly swimming among the massive sharks. Incredibly, I was able to bring it to hand and release it. The fish’s frantic, erratic escape attempt drew no interest from the sharks. Typically such vibrations in the water alert sharks to the presence of a wounded fish and the predation instinct results in immediate vicious attacks. Anything in the water, including human legs, becomes fair game at that point.

I glanced back at Tom, who stood with his Nikon to his eye, poised to capture the carnage, presumably to be displayed at my funeral. I did my best to suppress a chuckle and keep my game face in place.

Most people are lumpers when it comes to sharks. Any creature that remotely resembles one is immediately branded a bloodthirsty killing machine, intent on ripping to pieces any biologic object it spies in or on the water. While many , if not most, sharks are indeed predators, they serve their function at the apex of the food chain in the ocean much like their terrestrial counterparts such as big cats or bears. They are not inherently evil, or good for that matter. They simply do what has been programmed into their DNA by The Creator through millions of years of evolution.

I noticed several sharks engaged in the mating process perhaps a hundred feet away from where I stood. I flicked on my waterproof Nikon point and shoot, and slowly made my way towards them in an effort to get some underwater footage. It was a privilege to witness nature up close and personal in this way and I wanted to be able to share it with my friends who may have never had the opportunity to see it for themselves. Though the water was much too murky from all the sand being kicked up by the roiling, twisting shark bodies, I did manage a few shots from above the surface. I was especially fascinated by a behavior I observed in which one the sharks rolled onto its back and proceeded to spurt water repeatedly from its mouth. I began referring to this behavior as a “sharkgasm.” Perhaps some ichthyologist will elucidate this for me some day.

I made my way back to the boat and climbed aboard. Tom remained amazed that I had walked with sharks that day and even caught three bones while “amongst” them. I finally could no longer contain my laughter, and told Tom that the only reason I ventured into the shark den was that these were nurse sharks. Nursies, I explained are extremely docile creatures and are almost never aggressive. They do have a set of small transparent teeth that they use to crush their prey, but represent little risk to humans. “Had these been bulls, blacktips, or tigers, there is absolutely no way I would have even gotten close to the gunwhale!” All my apparent bravado was actually contrived as a way to get some dramatic photographs of me bravely wading in close proximity of ten foot sharks. I was never in any danger at all.

We explored a number of flats that first day and Tom was able to cast to more bones, but none made it the boat. That was just fine, however, as we greatly enjoyed spending the day in each other’s company in one the loveliest places on the planet, and observing the natural world together. That day reminded why I love flats fishing so very much. Despite my affection for trout fishing, I rarely have witnessed the myriad manifestations of nature, such as the mating ritual of sharks in shallow water, that I am privileged to see on the tropical flats.

Considering our experiences that first day, I have come to realize that the word “Fishing” is actually an acronym. It has taken me a mere sixty years to discern its true meaning:

F riends

I n unison

S haring

H appiness

I n

N ature with

G od

Day 2 Fishing with Mike

When I fish with Mike, I feel as though I am playing my guitar in a jam session with Eric Clapton. We may both be using the same instrument, but the outcomes are diametrically opposite! Clapton creates soul felt rhythms and riffs that flow effortlessly from his innermost subconscious directly to millions of his fans. I, on the other hand, can only make screeching disjointed noises, reminiscent of fingernails on a chalkboard. On rare occasions some sound wave freakishly emerges that might broadly fit the term musical in its tonality.  Similarly, on occasion, one of my casts somehow results in a fish being caught. For Mike, this is an expected conclusion. For me, it a cause for rejoicing.

I am always awestruck and humbled by Mike’s technical abilities. His casts are melodic yet somehow in some engineered way, his fly seems to land at the right place, at the right time, and with the right entry splash. He always knows what fly or lure those particular fish on that particular day will find appetizing. I often joke that he could catch a fish from a bath tub. That is actually not completely in jest.

Mike and I share a long standing joke with my old friend and business partner Jay about fishing for non piscine targets. This was rooted in his accidental capture of a shellfish while we fished for redfish on our home waters. We manage to keep the gag alive when he snags objects in the water such as oysters, assorted bivalves, and now mangrove bushes and trees. This jest has provided much merriment over the years.

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Jay has now added echinoderms to his already impressive fly fishing repertoire

Early in our fishing day Mike, to my astonishment, made an overly long cast and his Zara Spook sailed into a tangle of mangrove trees. I half expected him to slip off his shoes and glide weightless on the water’s surface to retrieve it. Or, perhaps, he might, Harry Potter like, point his fishing wand towards the tree to summon it from its leafy Azkaban. I was disappointed when instead Perry, another friend and guide today, pulled the boat up to the mangrove and stepped onto its branches. He scanned for limbs sufficiently strong to hold his weight, and mountain goat like, navigated those impossibly narrow wooden ledges to the spot where lay the lure. In a matter of moments, the lure had been returned to Mike’s waiting hands. Despite Mike now being exposed as a muggle, I determined that he might actually be some form of genetically blended squib and had inherited at least some magical powers.

We fished a few shallow spots back along the creek that drains a mangrove forested shallow behind the village of Sandy Point, catching a few bones as we enjoyed the beauty of the natural world that lay in such proximity to the manmade one. Only the occasional segment of telephone wire that appeared intermittently through the mangroves to our right revealed the presence of civilization.  Well, that is if you managed to tune out the sound of the odd car engine.

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Jay is not alone in his ability to hook non-piscine targets

As the tide neared its zenith, Perry moved us out of the creek, past town, and onto a coralline bottomed protuberance of electric blue and shocking day glow green waters known as Rocky Point. Located less than a mile from the lodge itself, it holds a breathtaking variety of marine creatures, including our target for today- tarpon.

Tarpon are relatively rare in the Sandy Point area, excepting their nocturnal visitation of a few brightly lit docks scattered around town. Free range tarpon are prized and rarely captured here. In my experience that now exceeds twenty years, I have been thrilled to cast flies to a few tarpon, and even to have a couple of takes and jumps, but I possess no grab and grin photos of these wonderful animals. I hoped that today would be the day, especially as I had my own resident Wizard aboard, ready to cast the appropriate tarpon incantation.

Perry poled the boat over the technicolor waters and we were treated to the sight of a variety of species as we peered into the clear waters beneath the keel. Sharks numbered prominently in the count, and we did spot the odd permit. It is widely accepted that permit hold the top spot as King, nay, Emperor for Life, of the tropical flats. In the Sandy Point area, tarpon remain by far even less populous and at least equally desirable for fervent flats fishermen such as us.

Mike produced from its under the gunwhale storage place his own Elder Wand, which was soon to prove its merit.  Attached was the Zara Spook , a lure spoken of in hushed whispers in tackle shops. The Spook is rumored to possess such concentrated powers that it is able to summon forth all manner of fish, from sharks to jack to barracuda to even the lordly tarpon. I considered Mike’s wand and noted its appearance to be banal, plebian, and common. Yet I knew of its capabilities when wielded in his magical hands.  Looks can, indeed, be very deceiving.

He surveyed the wondrous waters that lay spread in all directions. It all displayed a certain sameness, disturbed only by the pod of bottle nosed dolphin that frolicked in the stunningly blue waters at the drop off of the flat. They wheeled and danced, cavorted and snorted, entertaining both themselves and us.

The Spook launched skyward. As I traced its path, I wondered if it might reach low earth orbit before it fell, meteor like, toward the sea. A soft “PLOP” and it rested at the very limit of my visual range. I made a furtive glance toward Mike. I could have sworn that his lips were moving- nearly imperceptibly, with a slight quivering, as though he were dreaming. As I strained to see the lure, I seemed to perceive a thin fog spreading across the water. Wispy, smoke like, it slowly flattened itself against the sea’s surface.

In his hand, the Elder Wand trembled, its powers travelling down the braided line which linked it to The Spook. The rod’s innocent appearance, however, belied its mystical construction. I now realize it must be made not from cane or carbon, not fiberglass or graphite, but fashioned instead from the wood of the holly tree, at its core a feather from the mythical Phoenix.

Mike’s spell now took full hold.  The Spook began to slide seductively, in a side to side motion so attractive to fish that only a sorcerer’s hand might create it.  In a sea of sameness, a featureless layer of liquid, the tarpon found itself drawn inexplicably from its cryptic lair to the cold, inanimate, floating object of its desire. Ten million years of evolutionary survival instincts proved useless against the siren song sung by the triple gang of treble hooks attached the charmed rune now wafting on the surface.

The ocean exploded in a mass of silver anger.  Thirty pounds of shimmering scales writhed against the hooks which now held fast to its mouth and jaw. Its intense pursuit of freedom caused the tarpon’s muscles to alternately tense and relax, as if it were posing in a bodybuilding contest, while it sought some avenue of escape. Twisting, turning, whirling, fleeing, it raged against the lure, but all to no avail. Mike slowly, steadily moved the tarpon towards the boat. Soon, he held the handsome fish in his hand. But the tarpon was not yet spent. In a final display of strength and will to survive, it flung itself from Mike’s grasp, flopping to and fro about the deck. The needle like tips of those treble hooks had now become lethal weapons. As it departed Mike’s hand, it left a reminder for him- a small but bloody laceration on the ring finger pad. Somewhere in its primitive brain, I could sense a laugh. The fish was once more in control, forcing Mike, Perry, and I to do the tarpon two step- dancing away from the fish and all those terrible hooks. I suppose it is true that he who laughs last, laughs best.

The Silver King by now was depleted of its energy. Mike triumphantly raised his prize for the obligatory photo op. The camera whirred and clicked and the hooks were removed, albeit not without difficulty. The fish was revived and swam on, continuing its day. It expressed no appreciation for the fact that it had actually been the guest of honor at a party that day. It was, after all, Mike’s sixty seventh birthday, and coincidentally, his forty seventh tarpon. What a gift from the fishing gods! Happy birthday to the best angler I have ever known.

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Happy Birthday to the best fisherman I have ever known- his present was a tarpon, the 47th of his illustrious career

I next mounted the casting platform, where I was entrusted with use of the Elder Wand. Despite being a couple of years younger chronologically than Mike, but many, many years younger in fishcraft, I lifted the wand, and letting the mystical Spook slip skyward. Its touchdown lay considerable closer than Mike’s castings, and my crude movement of the lure were surely the object of the fish’s ridicule. Yet, after a few shaky presentations, the water about the offering exploded into a localized rain shower. The smallish spinning reel instantly began rotating at the speed of blur. Line disappeared off the reel faster than a snowball on the surface of the sun. Alarmed, Mike implored Perry to crank the motor and take pursuit.  The little Yamaha sputtered to life as I became a mere spectator, powerless to have any influence on whatever form of marine life had fallen under the spell of Mike’s lure. Soon, we were straight up and down over the creature. I peered into the water and saw the line trailing off under a ledge of coral on the sea floor. Unable to force any movement, I had an epiphany. I released all the pressure and waited. In a matter of seconds, the fish emerged. But, it now had caught its breath and was ready for a second sprint. I tightened the drag a bit and held on tight. The fish raced across the water, but with less enthusiasm this time. It soon spent its energy and I brought it to the boat.

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This Jack Crevalle was quite a fighter

I held in my hand now a nice specimen of a jack crevalle. Far less glamorous than its lovely cousin, the permit, it is a hard punching fighter, well worthy of the angler’s attention. It resides in the same neighborhoods as the tarpon, but can also be found in some abundance in my home waters of South Carolina. The jack crevalle has certainly moved up on my target list after this close encounter of the very best type.

The day came to a close, and Perry pointed the prow towards Stanley’s, and the Kaliks and fellowship that awaited us there. It was time to celebrate both birthday and tarpon.

Day Three- Fishing with Jay

Jay and I have practiced orthopedic surgery together for more than twenty five years. During this time we have known the stress of standing with gloved hands and masked faces over bodies torn asunder by accidents, felt the joy of relieving the suffering of those afflicted with painful joint conditions, and seen the rapturous faces of parents whose children whose birth deformities have been corrected by our hands. (As an aside, the word orthopedic literally means “straight child”). We have even known the gutwrenching anxiety of sitting together in a courtroom, as our professional capabilities were being attacked in a frivolous lawsuit.

But we have also shared many positive life experiences outside our professional time together. We have participated in a number of athletic activities, such as the notorious bicycle torture ride known as the Assault on Mt, Mitchell- twelve hours and one hundred and two miles terminating at the peak of the highest mountain in the United States east of the Mississippi. We have shared the casting platforms of innumerable guide boats as we sought out that gleaming sliver of silver called the bonefish. Those days have created some of my favorite memories, memories that will substitute for the actual experience when I reach that point in life when my body is no longer able to stand on that bow, see those magnificent tails wafting in the tropical sun, or lay out that fifty foot cast to some of God’s most wonderful inventions.

The day was a typical day on the water with Jay, replete with his criticisms, offered with great relish, of everything from my casting to my physique, even my choice of clothing and the flies I had chosen for use that day. I was, in fact, offering to the bones a fly of my own design that I had crafted from my own hair. After a few months of growth, an exceedingly slow process for me, a plastic bag made the trip to the barber with me. Trimmings were collected and brought home to my tying bench. After constructing the fly, I reflected on an appropriate name for it. As my granddaughter has selected from her own imagination a moniker for me, I decided to use that. From thin air, she had concocted the name P-Paw and I, of course, loved it instantly. Thus the fly made of my own now silvery hair was christened the “P-Paw Fly.”

We happened upon a nice school of fish early in the day, and casts of the P-Paw fly resulted in nearly instantaneous hookups. I have not yet decided if I am more pleased by the success of the P-Paw, or the immediate cessation of disparaging remarks about it prompted by the hookups.

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The P-Paw fly at work

Jay caught a number of bones and I enjoyed watching as he played the fish to the boat. He caught one memorable specimen that sported a couple of large gashes, evidence of a recent attack by some toothy predator, likely a hungry barracuda. “Look!” said Jay excitedly “I just caught a twelve pound bonefish!” Puzzled, I remarked that a more accurate weight might be three pounds. “Yeah, but if you include the missing pieces taken by the cuda, it would easily weight twelve pounds, maybe thirteen!” Perry, our friend and guide, and I had a hearty laugh over that one. “Perry” I said “We need to find some shade right away. It looks like Jay has had a heat stroke!”

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Jay’s bonefish had a close encounter of the unpleasant type prior to being caught. He had now escaped twice when Jay released him.

We motored to our next spot, and anchored in the outflow of a medium sized creek. There we waited for the falling tide to bring with it the schools of bones that were almost certainly feeding among the mangroves further up the creek, too shallow to reach. Perry decided that we would have lunch as we waited. Jay and I noted the smell of gas as we munched on our sandwiches and turned to see the cowl off the motor, lying across the stern. Perry was hard at work on the motor. We had noticed that the engine did not seem to be performing as well as normal, and thought we had detected the distinct odor of gasoline while we were underway. “I checked the tank and we have used twice as much gas as I usually do on this run,” Perry informed us. “Might be a problem with the fuel pump.” He removed the pump, a diaphragm type, and carefully inspected it. “AHA!” he said. “There is a hole in the diaphragm.” He held the faulty part up so I could see the damage for myself. Sure enough, a small defect was present. “So that is why we smell gas. Fuel is leaking through and causing the engine to run rough.’ he explained.  “What do we do now?” I wondered aloud. Perry rummaged through the storage compartment in the console and soon produced an old vinyl tool pouch. “We’ll just have to make a new one” Perry explained. “One small problem though” he added. “I do not have a knife.”  As luck would have it, I had elected to bring my Abel pliers and knife combo with me on this trip. I had it on a trip to the Florida Keys a few weeks earlier, but when I experienced an unfortunate incident involving fishing line and a prop, I discovered the knife’s cutting surface had the approximate sharpness of a large marble. Once back at home, I made a trip to my local Gander Mountain store where I purchased an electric sharpener. I had spent considerable time insuring that the knife would be ready for any cutting task that might be required on this trip. I confidently handed the black handled serrated knife to Perry, smiling smugly at my level of preparedness.

Perry’s capable hands traced the damaged diaphragm onto the vinyl tool pouch bag with the now keen edge of my knife. In minutes, he held a duplicate of the flawed part.

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Perry’s Ingenuity saved the day for us.

He expertly reassembled the pump using the makeshift diaphragm. Holding his breath, he turned the engine over. It immediately sprang to life, running as smoothly as the proverbial top. Our fishing day was now salvaged, due to Perry’s resourcefulness and a freshly sharpened knife.

I just have to admire the ingenuity required to solve problems on the spot, with limited materials with which to work, be it a new fuel pump diaphragm, or if I may say, as modestly as possible, a P-Paw fly built from an increasingly rare ingredient- my own hair.

Day 4- Fishing with Joe.

Like many folks, I have met a number of people through mutual friends. I have been privileged to make the acquaintance of some interesting and knowledgeable people over the years in this manner. I have learned much from them, making me a better fisherman and in some way, a better person.

Joe Bibbo is one such friend. An environmental engineer by profession, Joe is a serious outdoorsman and sportsman. I have been fortunate enough to have spent a number of pleasant days fishing with him. His methodical approach, a product, I suppose, of his engineering background has demonstrated to me the importance of patience and a steady sure method. Ever the anxious one, I often launch off wildly in pursuit of my quarry. This technique, though sometimes successful, is apt to result in missed fish and disasters on a much larger scale.

Joe and I came upon a nice school of happy bonefish, feeding busily adjacent to and within, the mangrove studded shoreline of a small cay. I felt my heart rate rise exponentially as I saw the fish lollygagging about, searching for an easy snack. Despite a bonefishing career spanning two decades now, I continue to get giddy headed when confronted by contented, hungry fish. I noted a small tremor in the fingers of my casting hand, even though Joe was up on the casting deck.

Joe, for his part, calmly and deliberately stripped his fly line into a neat pile as he peered at the parade of silver sided speedsters drifting before us. He next drew back his rod and delivered a beautiful, cast which entered the water with a barely perceptible splash and within easy eyesight of the pack of bonefish. One dashed away from the school rushing the fly in an effort to grab it ahead of his chums. The bone was successful. Joe made a perfect strip strike and was rewarded by a smallish bonefish ripping line off his reel. Unfortunately, the proximity of the mangroves that had attracted the fish initially now offered the fish an escape route. All that was necessary to gain its freedom was for the bone to swim around the tangled roots and snap the ten pound leader. Into the mangroves went the bonefish. Joe, remaining totally nonplussed, calmly slipped over the gunwhale and, taking care to not put excessive pressure on the fish, walked serenely into the thicket of mangrove branches. Then he ceased walking, peering intently at the fly line as it entered the maze of branches and limbs. I could almost see his analytical mind calculating angles and vectors as he visualized the path taken by the line and the fish. Once his intracranial computer had done its work, he methodically separated line from limb, slowly and deliberately, until after a few minutes, he held in his hand a gleaming, wriggling mass of bonefish flesh. Had it been my fish, I would have tried the brute force approach of yanking the line, and the fish would have slipped easily away. Lesson learned!

Perry poled the boat across a number of flats, most of which held satisfying numbers of bonefish. We passed an enjoyable morning together reveling in God’s creation and casting our flies to sometimes willing, but often indifferent, bonefish. We were treated to the sight of large schools of barracudas, all of whom seemed to be in the throes of lockjaw, as well as sharks. These predators roamed the deeper waters along the edge of what I have come to call Permit Point, so named for the relative abundance of these persnickety fish found there.

The drop off along the eastern side of the flat is sand bottomed and offers spectacular visibility.  As I scanned the water I was, as always, dumbfounded by the variety and abundance of life in this salty environment. A mirror like reflection suddenly seized my attention, and I spun towards it, seeking its source. What I saw ratcheted my pulse up instantly. A school of perhaps fifteen good size permit were working directly towards in the boat. Instinctively, my arm began the casting motion, a crab fly already affixed to the tippet. The fly arced across the cloudless sky and entered the water some ten feet from the fish. I allowed the fly to sink and then added just a subtle small tug in an effort to simulate a fleeing crab. A nice sized permit darted from the school, making a beeline toward the fly. The lead eyes of the crab fly pulled it towards the bottom. My heart missed its next beat as I watched in anticipation. Taking a permit on fly, as I have said many times, is to flats fly fishing what a hole in one is to golf- a nearly freakish occurrence. At the very last possible nanosecond, the fish veered away, its disproportionately large eyes having spotted some defect in my fly that disclosed it as a fake. The permit joined its brethren and they swam past us. My hopes dashed, I comforted myself with some comment about how the rarity of the catch makes permit fishing an exercise in frustration. Perry cranked up and we headed to our final destination of the day and the trip- Rocky Point.

There is a spot along the beach south of the village of Sandy Point lying about a mile from Pete and Gay’s Guesthouse where large outcroppings of coral cover the sandy shore. The rock structure juts out into the sea forming a roughly triangular structure. The submerged portion of rock extends perhaps a quarter of a mile or so seaward. Its bottom topography is irregular, frequently punctuated by overhanging ledges and deep holes, creating ideal environments for a variety of fish species.  The deep water surrounding it features white sand bottoms that the brilliant rays of the sun cause to emit phosphorescent neon hues of blue, green, and topaz. Villagers refer to this are as Rocky Point. I think of it as Jardin de Rey- the garden of the King., as it is a fine example of the Creator’s stunning artwork. It is, to me, a sort of Garden of Eden, so much life teems in its waters. It is here that my friend caught a tarpon, and here that we encountered permit, horse eye jacks, and massive yellow jacks. The chrome flashes from huge masses of large shad, complimented by the royal blue color of hundreds of impressively large tangs enthralled me as I watched them going about their fishy business. Other, more sinister creatures also roam these waters. Impressive numbers of sharks prowl here. Bulls, blacktips, lemons, and other apex predators perform the task nature assigned them here. Soon we would become eyewitnesses to these magnificent creatures’ handiwork.

Joe let slip a cast to a sizable fish that Perry had spotted. He was unsure exactly what it might be, but ventured a guess that it was a jack. Joe’s fly no sooner was wet than the fish attacked it with considerable gusto. His reel whirred itself into a blur of motion as the fish sped away hoping to free itself. Suddenly the water exploded into a billion drops of liquid blueness. It churned and boiled like an overheated pot of stew. The Man in the Brown Suit had made his arrival known. A large shark, likely a blacktip, intercepted the fleeing fish and ripped it to shreds, along with Joe’s fly. Suddenly, the water was once more calm. The shark had enjoyed the dinner Joe had prepared for him, and now was wiping his mouth clean with the clear blue water rather than a napkin. He inconsiderately swam away without so much as leaving Joe a tip.

We were both amazed and amused by the display of the brutality of the natural world. It truly is a cruel world, but it is as the Creator intended. We had just seen an example of the underwater version of The Circle of Life.

I ascended the casting platform, now armed with a baitcasting rod and a monstrous eight inch long lure originally designed for peacock bass fishing in the Amazon. Sporting three sets of 8-0 treble hooks, it is a fearsome weapon, looking like it should be trolled offshore for giant blue marlin. I have found it to be attractive to the big barracuda found at Rocky Point and indeed all around the Sandy Point area. For reasons I do not understand, the cudas have ceased to pursue the old standby tube lures. This appears to be true in the Bahamas as well as Florida. It is as though the Barracuda Times published an article warning the barracuda populace about this piece of human treachery. In any case, I hoped to cast my Woodchopper, despite the perils involved in launching something that could have been used in the Inquisition, to any barracuda we encountered on the flats.

Not seeing any cudas or other likely targets, I began a series of blind casts, ripping the Green Monster across the surface of the water. It really does create a remarkable disturbance as the fore and aft propellers churn up the water. I let it pause periodically, as though I were bass fishing. Then, out of nowhere, a gigantic flash of silver nearly blinded me, so bright was the reflection off the fish’s silver sides. A huge SPLOOSH, and my lure was gone. The fish peeled line off my reel at a frightening rate as it headed for Havana, lure in mouth. “What the heck is it?” I asked Perry. “I’m not sure” he replied. “Maybe a really big horse eye” was his reply.  The fish by now had very nearly emptied my reel of all two hundred yards of its braided line when, BAM! The line went completely slack. “Damn” I thought. “I really wanted to see what this was.”  A disturbance in the water close to the exposed rocks on the shore caught our attention. My fish, like Joe’s, had been snatched by another large shark. But this time, a few of the shark’s friends had shown up, uninvited, to share his meal. The water was whipped to a frenzy of fish remains, blood, and whirling shark fins and snouts as what seemed to be three or four of these predators locked in combat over the tasty morsel of jack. Suddenly the waters once again calmed without providing any clue as to the identity of the victor. “Anyone care to go for a refreshing swim?” I inquired. “No way” was the simultaneous response of my companions.

By now, it was seven PM, well past the usual four o’clock time when we return to the lodge. “I guess we should get back to Stanley’s” I suggested to Perry. “You remember how they worried when we were late last year” I remarked. Perry reluctantly stowed his push pole, turned the ignition key, and we made for home port. As we ran the short distance back to Sandy Point, a song spontaneously popped into my head.

ROCKY POINT ( sung to the tune of Rocky Top)

Wish that I was on ole Rocky Point

Down in the Caribbean sea

Ain’t no time clock to punch on Rocky Point

Ain’t no fishing license fee

Once I caught a tarpon at Rocky Point

Silver and shiny and fat

Runnin’ and jumpin like he smoked a joint

I still dream about that

Rocky Point you’ll always be

The best fishing spot to me

Good ole Rocky Point

Rocky Point in the sea, Rocky Point in the sea

( apologies to Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. I simply could not resist!)

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About castingawayblog

I am a retired orthopedic surgeon with fly fishing in my bones! Living in coastal South Carolina, saltwater fly fishing is my passion, though I also love to use the long rod in freshwater. I have been known to use conventional gear as well.
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4 Responses to Catching Up in Sandy Point

  1. Michael Barnett says:

    Another great blog, James. I do like your writing, and of course I always enjoy fishing with you, my friend. If only I were half the fisherman you say I am, I would be very happy! Michael

  2. I made an effort to not overstate your abilities, Mike, but found that doing so is would be nearly impossible. Who, other than a sorcerer, can cast into a broad expanse of water and watch as a tarpon materializes from liquid nothingness? You ARE the best! I doubt even Lefty, on his best day, could pull that one off. Your friend Louis would have to prove himself to convince me that anyone is more talented than you. Seriously. I have learned much from you over the years and continue to do so now.

  3. Holly Massey says:

    I absolutely love this article!!! I was hoping to hear something soon and have anxiously consumed every word. James, please don’t stop! Love, Holly

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. Jay Preslar says:

    James,

    Wonderful writing!! I thoroughly enjoyed the post!

    However, I am MORE than a little MIFFED that you did not mention my Starfish was an IGEA (International Game Echinoderm Association) World record!! Jealousy is an awful thing!!

    Jay

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