Friday, December 4, 2015

Eleuthera was beautiful, friendly, but the fishing left much to be desired

A small Bahamian bonefish swims off after being released. The bone hit a Veverka's Mantis Shrimp.

My recent trip to Eleuthera in the Bahamas was actually a birthday present from my wife in 2014.

Kathy knows one of my passions is to fly fish for bonefish. And since there aren't many spots nearby to try, she allowed me to pick where I wanted to go.
Pawpaw Bay was beautiful, but not many fish.

I could have opted for a spartan bonefish camp on a sparsely populated island, but since I wanted her to accompany me I needed to pick a spot that would have some creature comforts for her and at least a few tourist-type things to do.

Last March after I had spoken to the Naples Backcountry Fly Fishers, the club president, Ed Tamson, handed me a copy of Rod Hamilton's Do It Yourself Bonefishing. The book covered most of the known bonefishing spots around the world.

After a quick read, I picked Eleuthera. One of the reasons is Hamilton gave it a seven (on a scale of 10) spousal rating.

That rating turned out to be true.

The fishing wasn't so hot. However, I chalk that up to strong wind (40-to 50 mph) during our stay, a strong high-pressure system and a full moon.

Still, I was able to catch a few bonefish.

High wind made fishing difficult. 
Because of the wind, all of the flats on the east side of the island were not fishable.
So, that limited my choices to the west side.

We stayed at the Sky Beach Club near Governor's Harbour in the central part of the island. I chose to fish spots south of our location.

Day 1 primarily was a scouting mission to determine where I'd spend my time. I visited Tarpum Bay, Winding Bay, Ten Bay, Savannah Sound North, South Palmetto Bay and Pawpaw Bay. The tide was high and I didn't spot any fish.

Because there was a decent tide the next morning, I decided to start at Ten Bay, a beautiful beach located just a few miles south of Governor's Harbour.  I had about 90 minutes to fish before the tide got too high. I didn't see anything for the first hour, but saw four or five tailing fish to the north. By the time I walked to the area, they were gone.

Pawpaw Bay was next. It's beauty far exceeded the fishing.

I found a few tailing bonefish at beautiful Ten Bay Beach.
I stopped at South Palmetto Bay and figured I was at another beautiful but fishless location. How wrong I was. I found a large school (I estimated it at 200 bonefish) two minutes into my visit. My first cast was a little off-target, but my second resulted in a hookup as soon as my fly hit the water. I landed a feisty small Bahamian bonefish.

After a few photos, I revived the fish and released it.

The school was nowhere to be found. The fish had moved off and I never found them again.

The next morning (our final day there), I decided to begin at Ten Bay again. The tide was a little better and figured I'd camp out in the area where I'd seen the tailing bonefish the morning prior.

No luck. Didn't see a single tailer this time.

After 90 minutes, I headed north to South Palmetto Bay. Didn't find any fish at first, but saw a school sitting on a grass patch. I waded to within a cast and hooked up quickly. The fish was a little larger than the day prior, but not much.
The bungalow at the Sky Beach Club at Governor's Harbour.

Veverka's Mantis Shrimp worked again.

I hit Pawpaw Bay on the way back to the bungalow, but didn't see any fish.

I talked with a guide on the island and was told I'd picked a poor time.

"The wind, high pressure and full moon are killing things," he said.

Eleuthera is the birth place of the Bahamas. The island is 100 miles long and little more than a mile wide at its widest point.

I didn't get a chance to fish the south end, but I'm willing to bet that's where some of the best bonefishing takes place. The flats there are a little more remote and probably don't get fished often.

I considered hiring a guide on Sunday (we were there Thursday through Monday), but the conditions made it easy to decide not to. Many of the better spots are on the east side of the island. Casting in 40-50 mph wind wouldn't be fun. And I can't imagine a ride in a flats skiff in that breeze!

I scoped out a large flat in Governor's Harbor that, according to Hamilton, has plenty of fish that have seen every fly known to man. However, I didn't see the first fish. I would have shown them a few flies if I had.

If you want to get away from it all, Eleuthera is the place. Make sure to get your fast-food fix before you arrive. There are no McDonalds, Burger Kings or Wendy's on the island. In fact, restaurants aren't plentiful. What few are there are also very pricey.

We had very good meals at the Rainbow Inn (highly recommended), 1648 and Tippy's.

The Sky Beach Club was perfect. It was located on the side of a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the island's east side.  Our bungalow was clean, modern and was air conditioned. It featured free WiFi and Direct TV.

Just a stone's throw out of the front door was a beautiful pool overlooking the Atlantic and a hot tub.
On Saturday, we drove north to the Glass Window Bridge where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Bight of Exuma. The color contrast of the two bodies of water is astonishing.

You can tell when you're nearing the bridge on a windy day because your windshield starts getting pelted by saltwater when you're a mile away.  When we visited, the eastern shoreline was being blasted by 15- to 20-foot waves.

It was breathtaking.

We then drove to the south end of the island. However, our trip was cut short by torrential rain.

The Queen's Highway (the island's main artery) was unlined and full of potholes. Driving on the left side of the road was pretty easy during the day, but night driving on the narrow asphalt was nerve-wracking.

We flew in and out of the North Eleuthera International Airport. We would have been better off flying into the Governor's Harbour International Airport. However, we changed our choice of room after we booked out flight. The 50-mile drive to the airport wasn't too bad.

If you're headed to Eleuthera to fish, make sure you have everything you need. There are no fly shops on the island.

For this trip, I took two rods (7 and 8 weight), two reels filled with floating line and a bunch of flies and leaders. I also carried a sling pack with pliers, lens cleaners, tippet, nail knot took, super glue and gloves.

I took an extra pair of polarized sunglasses, but (fortunately) didn't have to use them.

I wore flats boots while wading.

To get around, we rented a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee with 196,000 miles on it. It did the job. Gas on the island, however, is quite expensive, going for $4.49 a gallon. Over four days, we spent $120 on gas.

Earlier, I wrote that I picked Eleuthera after reading Hamilton's description. I read where he caught 20 bonefish in about an hour at a spot near a creek. After going back to the book, I realized (too late) that Hamilton didn't reveal the location of the spot. I found that very disappointing since his book was for do-it-yourselfers like myself.

That particular passage was what swayed me. After re-reading, I didn't have the same opinion about Eleuthera. In fact, Hamilton wrote, "Ten years ago the self-guided fishing on Eleuthera was terrific. The great fishing, combined with the beautiful beaches, quality rentals, and the ease of getting around, made it an ideal location for fishermen and non-fishing partners alike. Today, it is still a beautiful place to go, but the fishing has become significantly more difficult."

I'm glad we visited Eleuthera. We had a good time, caught a few fish and enjoyed ourselves. The scenery was awesome, hospitality wonderful and people very friendly. Our trip went off without a hitch.

We spent a few days in Grand Cayman a few years back and experienced better bonefish action. I would have been better off returning to Grand Cayman, not considered a bonefish destination by many.

Next time, I'll try Belize, Mexico or another Bahamian island.

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