As we poled around the corner of a creek, we came upon a triangular sand flat surrounded by two channels that ran out to the sea. As the skiff eased along, Art Blank spotted some tailing bonefish 50 feet away in the "3 o'clock" position. Simultaneously, I spotted some huge bar jacks slowly swimming away from us in the "12 o'clock" position. After checking with the guide about the hardness of the flat, Art slipped overboard into 2 feet of water to stalk the bonefish. I climbed the bow of the boat as the guide pushed the skiff harder in pursuit of the bar jacks.
When the distance seemed right, I fired my yellow Spro bucktail alongside an orange bottom patch right in front of the jacks. One of the fish swerved towards the lure and then spooked towards the ocean. Disappointed, I slowly reeled in until I realized that the orange patch was rising up from the bottom towards my lure. Moments later, the patch transformed into about twenty large mutton snappers-all in pursuit of my baby Spro! I slowed the bucktail, twitched it twice, and my rod doubled over as one of the big snappers inhaled my artificial. After a seesaw battle of 20 minutes, I slowly eased a 15-pound mutton snapper alongside the skiff. In the midst of this light tackle triumph, I mentioned that I never had a shallow water experience like this one. The guide looked up, smiled, and said, "Welcome to Deadman's Cay, mon."
Deadman's Cay lies inside Long Island's "fertile crescent." Located in the island's west central region, this area boasts one of the Bahama's richest and most intricate angling ecosystems. This tapestry runs from shallow shorelines to the outside flats and drop-off and is composed of vast flats, salt ponds, islands, creeks, channels, and fish-filled blue holes.
Fishing the inshore waters of Deadman's Cay conjures up comparisons with the Lazy Susan, which often graces dining tables: this delightful device — if you don't know it — is a circular spinning serving item composed of many segments of different foods. Rather than chance a long reach across the table, you spin the Susan for the dish you want. This is the kind of fishing you'll find at this destination: varied, plentiful, pleasing and close-at-hand.
I'd chosen to fish with well-known Bahamian guide Samuel Knowles. His reputation was stellar and the talks we'd had setting up the trip indicated how proficient and considerate he was. His well-run fishing operation is called Samuel Knowles Bonefish Adventures. In addition to Sam, it features guides Frank and Jerry Cartwright, as well as partner Wayde Smith. Wayde handles the lodging of anglers at their facility, Smith-Wells Lodge. Sam's claim that "we'd probably never see another boat all day" turned out to be delightfully true, and backed up my belief that Long Island provides an unpressured, truly Out Island experience.
The day for the trip arrived. My photographer, Art Blank and I made excellent connections from Miami to Deadman's Cay through Nassau: all the flights were on time and were seamlessly run. When we landed at Deadman's Cay, Wayde Smith was there at the airport waiting for us. He helped us load our bags and rod tubes into his van and off we went. Within 10 minutes, we arrived at Smith-Wells.
We settled into our room, which had a full range of amenities, including air conditioning and private bathrooms. The refrigerator was full of breakfast and lunch foods including cold cuts, bread, cheese, fruit, rum cake and lots of ice-cold Kalik — this created quite a comfortable setting.
We took a quick tour of the grounds before dusk. Sam's 16-foot Rahming bonefish skiff lay at the water's edge no more than a hundred feet from our room. The fact that Smith-Wells Lodge has Deadman's Cay Sound as its backyard is a distinct advantage, something we were to find out the very next morning. As the sun set over Long Island, a top local cook delivered our dinner of fried conch, Cole slaw, and pinto beans.
Sleep followed quickly and dawn came in no time at all.
At 7:30 a.m., we'd finished breakfast. I saw Sam preparing his skiff and this jumped started us out of the door with armfuls of spinning rods, plug rods, tackle, cameras, lures and shrimp. Sam loaded the skiff carefully, and fired up his engine. It took 30 seconds to ease through the channel, and Sam had his skiff up on plane ten seconds later.
We'd been traveling perhaps thirty seconds when the skiff slowed down and the engine cut out. I turned to Sam to see what engine trouble was occurring, and I found him mounting the pushpole tower getting ready to pole. He told us to look astern and we saw a patch of nervous water about fifty yards wide. Moments later, tails and fins popped up out of it and we knew we were being poled towards a huge school of bonefish barely a minute from the Lodge! Moments later, both Art and I were hooked up to running bonefish that made the drags of our reels sing sounds of battle.
For the first two hours, we were able to stay with the school of bonefish by watching for tails and wakes. After that, the wind came up and the sky clouded over. Although our first concern was that the fish would stop feeding, we were pleased to see that they started mudding. Oftentimes, the muds would be a hundred yards long! We switched to rubber jigs on plug and spin gear, and the action remained non-stop throughout the day. Most of the bonefish ranged in size from three to five pounds, with six pounds being the largest size. The first day of fishing would result in sixty of the over hundred bonefish releases we would achieve over the next three days.
For the second day of fishing, we asked Sam to take us to some shallow water fishing that would give us as much variety as possible. Sam told us we'd be headed for the outside flats, channels, and cuts that abutted the open ocean. Since we were sampling this area in June, our good timing would allow us to have shots at bigger reef fish that wandered inshore in early summer.
These outside flats featured concentrations and combinations of fish we would not have thought possible. Our first contact began in a creek flat drop-off where we saw a huge school of mangrove snappers, mojarra and bonefish swimming together. It was a tossup which of the species would grab our shrimp and splitshot offerings. Further down the creek, we cast at surface-swimming bar jacks and horseye jacks with yellow jigs that produced fish to 8 pounds. This excitement lasted the better part of the day, and peaked when we rounded another bend that featured the mutton snapper that began this story. It was another day of non-stop action that left Art, Sam and I deeply gratified.
The third day was windy and a bit rainy, which discouraged a trip back to the outside flats. We were hankering for more variety and told Sam. He responded that he had a blue hole barely a mile from the Lodge that would give us the excitement and adventure we seemed to want. The one thing he insisted on was bringing some pilchards that would be the preferred bait in this area.
The blue hole lay at the convergence of two channels that dropped to twenty feet deep. One of the channels had a hard rock wall on one side that went straight down, while the rest of the boundaries were deeply dropping grassflats. As we staked uptide of the channel juncture, a big school of tarpon rolled in front of us. We immediately cast baits and lures, but were unable to interest the silver kings as houndfish-some as big as 4 feet long-inhaled every offering. These strange fish fought like baby sailfish. After we caught about a dozen, we tired of this action and asked Sam to reposition the skiff.
He cranked up the engine and idled close to the rock wall. After he let out the anchor line, the skiff came tight just a short cast from the rocks. He rigged up two spinning rods that had "8/30" microbraid lines and put a small sinker above a 2/0 hook on a 3-foot, 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. He then baited us up with pilchards. As soon as the baits hit bottom, there were immediate strikes. Art and I fought the fish on maximum drag settings to avoid cutoffs. We both won that brief battle as I boated a nice Nassau grouper and Art boated a big mangrove snapper. After an hour of more nonstop action with jacks, snappers, and groupers, we were out of bait. I was happy to call it a day and look back on some incredible fishing.
The Lodge Operation
Smith-Wells Lodge is designed to provide housing and thorough servicing to six anglers maximum — this keeps the quality of the fishing very high because of the low number of rods fishing the area on any given day.
The rooms are furnished in the simple local taste that traveling anglers enjoy, yet each room has features that fulfills a full range of needs. This includes air conditioning, cable TV, telephones, microwave ovens, and a fully stocked refrigerator. The layout of the room has a sitting area, kitchenette, and two separate bedrooms with large ceiling fans.
The meals at Smith-Wells are formatted for guest preparation of breakfast and snacks. Besides the aforementioned foods, the refrigerators are also stuffed with eggs, ham, bacon, frozen waffles, milk and plenty of cereals. Sam will take your lunch order and have it tucked away in the ice chest as your board his skiff for the next day's fishing. As stated before, Sam and Wayde have a local expert cook deliver dinners. During our stay, Art and I dined on grouper, conch, steak, and chicken entrees, which are generally served with the customary local accompaniments of rice, beans, and Cole slaw. One evening, Sam surprised us with a pre-dinner snack of fried mutton snapper cheek fillets that were delicious! We often topped off our meals with a big slice of Nassau rum cake and an ice-cold Kalik.
The mission of Samuel Knowles Bonefish Adventures is to offer year-round flats and inshore fishing that is prolific, fished by expert guides capable of catering to all levels of angling skill — from beginners to experts. Wayde Smith was proud to point out that they even have a wheelchair angler that comes to fish the inshore waters with them. Sam and his guides have a policy of not leaving fish action: safety, not the wristwatch, often determines when they head back to the dock.
Because Deadman's Cay offers such a rich diverse habitat, Sam can offer inshore anglers action during most any kind of weather. Towards that end, the Lodge is open from August through June, with a little vacation time for the guides in July. There are basically three zones Sam and his guides fish- these are the inside flats (which are behind the Lodge), the transitional flats and channels (which are 15 minutes away), and the outside flats (which are another 20 minutes away). Again, in this wide swath of habitat, you'll find bonefish, barracuda, sharks, tarpon, permit, mutton snapper, mangrove snapper, huge grunts, yellowtails, enormous houndfish, groupers, and many species of jacks.
All three guides have the same Rahming bonefish skiffs with 85 hp Yamaha outboards. These skiffs handle the full range of shallow flats to open wavy waters with ease.