Fly Fishing Returns to the Bahamas! by Len Waldron
Despite the One-Two Punch of Hurricane Dorian and by Covid-19, the faith and resolve of the Bahamian people have brought tourism and most importantly, fishing, back to the the Islands.
“When I got to my house after the storm, it was gone,” said Walter Reckley, a Bahamian fishing guide and lifetime resident of McClean’s Town on the island of Grand Bahama.
His home was gone not in the sense of damaged and un-useable, but scraped to the concrete foundations with broken and twisted debris scattered about his yard. Essentials such as an oven, stove, and refrigerator were twisted pieces of metal, if they were even visible. The irreplaceable childhood photos and mementos of his six children’s youth were carried away by a storm surge estimated at as much as 20 feet carried by a king tide that submerged and churned both the natural and man-made in a cauldron of relentless, twisting violence.
Hurricane Dorian, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history, carried sustained Category 5 winds of over 185 miles per hour. The storm stalled over the some islands for more than 24 hours killing over 300 people and wreaking more than $5 billion in damages.
Bahamians on the extreme “east end” of Grand Bahama that includes the townships of High Rock, Pelican Point, McClean’s Town, and ultimately the island of Abaco, live a simple and community-oriented life.
The weather and the tides are as much a part of life as work and church on Sunday. But those that survived (nearly 131 people have never been found), their lives were stripped to zero. No option to grouse about a lack of internet, debate controversies of Covid mask requirements, or the absence of paper products—they had nothing. So they began to rebuild.
Every person physically able to help and with the assistance of multiple neighboring governments, clean water, food, medicine, temporary shelter materials, and basic tools were delivered to slow the shot clock on the desperation, disease, and death that was soon to follow. Families, communities, and islands banded together and slowly fought back. Then Covid-19 hit North America.
With few exports, the Bahamian economy is dependent upon tourism. The white sandy beaches, warm weather, and warmer people are its most valuable resource.
However, less than six months into the Dorian recovery, Covid-19 restrictions locked down travel worldwide and a return to normalcy driven by tourist revenue was pushed further out of the island’s grasp.
Back to Work
The month of March 2021 marked a turning point in the Bahamian recovery story. Human resolve and community was turning the tide against nature’s fury; and fortunately, the famous bonefish of Bahamian flats were undamaged by the storm.
“The people here are so excited just to get back to work. Most of our buildings didn’t survive and those that did required major renovation. We’ve paid all our employees seven days-a-week to simply come to the lodge and find something to do—there was so much work; whether is was simply cleaning up or basic repairs, “ said Robert Naher, the owner of the East End Lodge in McClean’s Town.
As one of the first visitors since reopening, the combination happiness and relief in the eyes of the lodge workers and guides was an expression of deep joy. While landscaping and final painting was still underway, the rooms were fresh, new, and modern. The kitchen and bar were fantastic and the guides were ready to get anglers on fish. Turns out, coming here to fish wasn’t just about a hook and a line, but being part of the survival and rebirth of a nation.
The flats didn’t disappoint. Despite damage to man-made structures and the destruction of the mangrove habitat, the bonefish were on the flats in massive schools—eating, cruising, and aggressive. Lucky for us, they were also unmolested by ham-fisted fly presentations for almost two years.
For four days, my friend and relative Kevin Markey of Merritt Island, Florida, fished in front of the skeletal backdrop of dried and wizened mangroves and stuck bone after bone in the translucent waters that ripple across the white sand flats.
The wind was mild-to-medium and despite some rust on our casting, we averaged over a dozen releases per day, as well as other sporty flats species such as mutton snapper, barracuda, mangrove snapper, and schoolmasters.
Spinner and lemons sharks swam around our ankles as we waded past by bright red and orange starfish, conch, and watched wraithlike schools of rays hover in formation as we scanned the water for signs of another bonefish school. In one location, Walter Reckley poled our skiff into a coral tidal bight, where we walked the sand into schools of mature bonefish divided into rivulets of green torpedoes. We stood in awe…and tried to drop a fly without splashing them out of the vicinity.
The Bahamas are Back…
and the Fish Never Left...
Why did we know so little about the devastation and human suffering after Dorian? I felt personally embarrassed for my ignorance of the hardship and suffering that occurred 50 miles from our shores. It seems our media saw fit to focus the latest indignities in the lead-up to our election rather than actual human problems.
Luckily, there is a fix. Turn off your news feeds, book the short flight from Florida, and get your line in the water. The Bahamas are alive and well, the guides are set, and the bonefish are ready to rip your tackle.
- written by Len Waldron
Note: Be sure to check Bahamas.com for updated changes before you depart.