In the last few years, the world has grown profoundly more interrelated and accessible due in no small measure to the social networking web sites. During that span, I refocused my ancillary energies that accompany my writing from blogging to Facebook. My contacts in the fishing world grew larger at an exponential rate that was never possible before that.
One of my quickest and earliest Facebook friendships was with Captain Benry Smith of Fresh Creek, Andros Island in the Bahamas. My curiosity about the possibility of Benry having a pedigreed "Androsian" name was justified — he is one of the sons of famed Charlie Smith, creator of the Crazy Charlie fly. The Bahamas have a wonderfully noble tradition of entire families devoting their lives to sport fishing these islands from generation to generation — Pinder, Sawyer, Cartwright, Knowles, so many others, and of course, the Smiths.
I'd fished the flats of Andros many times, and I knew that its vast size and maze of intricate shallow water creeks, bights, sounds and shorelines rendered it never "surrender-able" to being entirely "fished through". When you fish Andros, there's always some place new. When the inevitable talks began about my fishing with Benry, he offered plans for fishing different parts of the "island" (really three) each new day, I was still drawn to trying out his home waters at Fresh Creek. There were many reasons. My research on Google Earth revealed the understatement of calling this fishery a "creek". It is rather a vast inland series of "lakes", channels and shorelines best described as a "huge enticing expanse." Secondly, since I planned to visit in late spring, there would be a chance of strong onshore winds, which normally disrupts the east coast of Andros where most of the lodges were, including Hank's Place in Fresh Creek where we might be staying. I loved the idea of smooth run to a flats backcountry that was mere minutes to the west while offering a bounty of sheltered poling shorelines! Lastly, I've never been a proponent of long skiff rides to faraway flats that are matched with action by fishing grounds closer to the dock — shorter rides means more fishing time.
A glimpse into the future threw photographer Art Blank into the equation for a three-day trip in late spring, 2010. And, yes, the winds were 25 mph out of the northeast the entire time, rendering long trips to the fabled Joulters and "West Side" difficult and problematic at best. Our poled fishing started no more than three minutes from the dock after we breakfasted on some scrumptious egg sandwiches Benry generously provided each morning. But the best thing about Benry's guided adventure was that we were never out of sighted bonefish for a period of over ten minutes.
Getting it Together
As I've said before and will repeat endlessly, the backbone of all effective angling travel is research and planning, and the Fresh Creek story with was no exception. It soon became clear to me that an itinerary which included a direct one-hour flight from Fort Lauderdale to Andros Town, 5-minute drive from airport to lodgings, and a three- minute run from the lodging's dock to the first flat was the most rapid conversion from embarkation to fishing that I would experience to date. And it was a feature I knew that would interest any traveling shallow water angler.
I locked in late spring dates that would take Art and I through a neap tide period, which would feature moderate tidal levels. My research and talks with Benry included reassuring data about Benry's vessel, a strong 18-foot Action Craft matched with a large Yamaha engine that was sure to take the lumps and bumps of windy open waters with ease.
Though the Smiths of Andros are known for their fly fishing expertise, Benry also fishes light tackle anglers. He also makes a practice of trailering his boat all over the northern sections of Andros to access the very best flats fishing as well as avoiding adverse wind conditions.
Benry told me that the Fresh Creek fishery is a poled experience, typical of highly varied but often soft inside flats. I knew that though I'd bring my flats booties on chance, I'd certainly be wearing some well-cushioned, sole-friendly sneaker style deck shoes. When Benry also advised me that most of the fish would be spotted cruising in pods, I was sure to bring lots of Backbone jigs, 1/0 Gamakatsu Siwash hooks, BB-size split shot for wind and depth of the water column and some "backup" bags of fresh-frozen shrimp from Florida. Since Art and I might be sharing the bow, I planned to bring two 9-foot/8-pound test steelhead spinners and one 7-foot/6-pound light duty spinner. All the rods were two-piece and would accompany us stored in rod tubes onboard the 19- passenger Beechcraft run by Continental/Gulfstream.
I in fact decided to stay at Hank's Place, which boasted all the features we needed. We booked the room called "Dog House"— honest! The room had air-conditioning, satellite TV, and I was promised a "fridge full" of Kaliks, Diet Cokes, bottled waters and goodies — I was set! The room was attached to the main building, which had a restaurant as well as open-air bar over the water. Benry told us we could take our dinner either inside or outside. We'd also be looking forward to entrees, which included steamed chicken, fried conch, and grouper fingers accompanied by rice, beans, and baked macaroni. Hearty Bahamian dinners with cold libations have always topped off the day just right for me after along day on the flats.
Our plans tightened up and the time for waiting was over. Interestingly, Art and I had a good flight to Andros with fair skies but strong northeast winds. I was glad our plans had a tidy but huge backcountry habitat up our sleeve that would be relatively unaffected by strong onshore winds.
Benry was waiting for us at the airport and whisked us to our room within minutes. Our non-fishing afternoon and evening passed quickly, a merciful event for two anglers who often watched the clock all night long until the skiff was under our feet! The next morning was bright but breezy and we were underway in his Action Craft by 8 a.m. As expected, we slowed down and idled over to a flat no more than three minutes from the dock. Benry immediately spotted some bonefish pushing towards us in the low light. He told Art and I to cast to the 1 o'clock position and we were both hooked up within seconds.
And the ongoing action was the standard mojo-tempo for the next three days. The blue skies gave us great visibility and the strong winds created the kind of scuff on the water's surface, which calmed the bone's nerves and permitted closer casts with shrimp and jigs. Our fish ranged in size from three to 6 pounds, which was slightly than other Bahamian destinations like the Marls of Abaco. My tally for three days was thirty-three bonefish released, with Art releasing about the same number of fish.
The highlight of the three days was my successfully casting to a huge barracuda that Benry was able to get up to in all that wind. I had rigged a tube lure on my light spinner and had it at the ready. I made a perfect cast about fifty feet out and slightly to the side of that log of a monster. I quickly raced it across the surface and the 'cuda struck the lure in a huge explosion of water. I set the hook a few times to be sure and after almost an hour of long runs, jumps, and surges; we had the fish alongside for weighing, pictures, and releasing. I was pleased that the fish was over 40 pounds, which was my biggest career flats 'cuda on artificial.
Because of the high winds, we never got to fish the mouth of Fresh Creek inlet, but Benry insisted that we had to return to cast at the big bar jacks and cero mackerel that could be taken there when it was calm. And, returning to Benry and his Fresh Creek paradise was something that a future, which smiled, would not doubt have in store for us.