The Mars Bay Bonefish Lodge on Andros Island is south of other fishing lodges, saving anglers and their Bahamian guides 10 miles of rough water and a trip around “The Point,” where several boats have capsized. Andros Island is known as the “Bonefish Capital of the World,” with hundreds of pristine flats, many fish and few anglers.
The lodge had been recently renovated. Of strategic importance, the central hallway leads directly into the local bar, where strangers like me, if they cloak themselves in the quiet harmony of the room, may gain insights into Bahamian spiritual beliefs. Conversations during fishing centered on wind, tides and fish; occasionally women and liquor. Personal topics like religion or superstitions are taboo.
Mars Bay guides are known for their ability to put an angler in the ideal depth of water to find tailing fish, all day, a difficult feat requiring local knowledge of the complex relationships between tides, currents and the everchanging wind.
My favorite guide was Wilfred Andrews, who had the ability to take me to flat after flat where we found tailing fish, the most exciting way to pursue bonefish. I fished with Wilfred for years, several weeks a year. We caught many fish together.
I’m 80 years old, and my memory is not what it once was, but I am confident that most of the details in the story I am about to tell occurred just as I put them down on paper. The day in question did not begin fortuitously. Bonefish are always moving, but they will hold in a current they sense is flowing fast enough to bring their prey to them. That morning we could not find one, moving or holding still.
After heading southwest through Jackfish Channel in Wilfred’s locally made Dolphin spinoff, we fished three flats that were either too shallow or too deep. We saw no tailing fish. We saw no cruising schools, let alone large singles; not even a lemon shark, and if the sharks are not there, there are no bonefish, either.
I tried to restrain my irritation but blurted, “Wilfred, what the hell is wrong with you?”
He fired back: “It’s not me! Something is off this morning. Tides late, currents running slow, no sharks, no muds. I don’t know what, but something is wrong. We need to do something different.”
He suggested going to the ocean side of a cay, Water Cay, we had fished a few days before and found nothing.
“What about the ocean side of that cay?” I asked, pointing to a slip of land directly east of us and not nearly as far away as Water Cay. “Why can’t we go right there?”
Without another word, Wilfred cranked up and ran south for a few miles before turning back north. It was only a couple of miles, but our route seemed three times longer. Strange, but I had said enough and did not ask questions. I am frequently questioning to the extent of being intrusive, and in retrospect, I had been again.
I recognized the flat west of the cay as we approached. We had waded it earlier but seen nothing. I looked at Wilfred, the obvious question evident in my expression. He motioned for me to wait. We headed to the beach just south of the midpoint of the cay, from which the land stretched north and south, domed by a uniquely high ridge.
We beached the boat, and to my bemusement, Wilfred carried the anchor as far up on the beach as the rope would reach and retied both knots, fixing one end to the anchor chain and the other to the bow cleat, without explanation.
Still silent, but with a peremptory wave at me to speed it up, he started up the beach toward the north and I began gathering my gear. After what could not have been more than one or two minutes, I looked up. Wilfred was gone.
Disappeared! He had simply vanished!
I hurried after him and was surprised when his footprints immediately led into a high-walled, narrow cut that effectively camouflaged a cleft in the ridge and a fast-running stream. Almost all South Andros cays are flat, no more than 3 to 4 feet above mean high water, and none I know have channels or creeks running through a 30-foot-high ridge. Here I was confronted with a sheer wall, rising at a steep angle, covered with many palms and a few pines, shrubs and vines. The cay did not appear to be very wide.
After a few yards the channel took a 90-degree turn. Beyond the turn the creek was punctuated every few yards by deep pools. Each was host to several bonefish, holding their heads toward the sea, facing the current. I had never seen anything like it before or since.
I immediately hooked a monster. Wilfred reappeared as I released a fine 7-pounder. “Come on,” he yelled to me. “We do not have time to waste here!”
I caught up with him where the creek met the ocean on a wide, hard shale beach. An acre-size flat extended another 40 yards east and more than a hundred yards north to south.
I could see where the serpentine path of the channel made its way toward the ocean and disappeared beneath breaking waves. Wilfred looked at me. “Wade out there to knee-deep water and watch the channel,” he said. “As the tide rises, come in with it. You have maybe two hours, but when the tide changes we will have to leave quickly. Big schools are already coming in.”
And come they did.
It was as completely different an experience as the bonefish holding in the pools. Except for sockeye runs in Alaska, which are a different thing altogether, I have never seen numbers of moving fish so prolonged and prodigious. I could cast into the columns and catch many, many fish, but that is too easy and negates the challenge to cast to the larger fish, frequently found toward the front of a group, or the largest fish, usually traveling as a single.
I released uncounted numbers of fish over 8 pounds. One spectacular beauty topped at least 12 — my largest bonefish ever in the Bahamas.
By the time the tide reached its crest and the fish stopped running, I had fished hard for two hours. Several large fish ran back to the ocean, making two or even three successive runs, taking out more than 100 yards of line with each run and requiring long, testing minutes to bring to hand and release.
Walking back to the boat, I was aware of being tired, a little dazed by the intensity of the preceding two hours, but deeply elated. I could not help but ask questions:
“Has this cay got a name?”
“Why have you never brought me here?”
“Can’t come here often. Every now and then, OK. This run only happens at special times, special circumstances.”
“Why is that? What circumstances?”
“Sorry. I can’t talk about that. It’s an ancient place. Sacred to old Carib Indians. Now strong juju. Come too often, spirits recognize you. Long ago bad things happened here. Bad things happen now.”
“Motor won’t start. Beached boats drift away. Anchored boats come loose. Few years ago, two men came here to shark fish at night. Only one came back. He was never the same. Couldn’t talk about it. Didn’t talk much at all. Wife said he had nightmares. Talked in his sleep about Indians slaughtering Indians. Cooking them. Eating them. Bad things.”
“Oh, come on, Wilfred!”
He looked at me for a long, searching moment. “I’m sorry. I’ve said too much. I cannot talk about that. Maybe wrong to bring you here. Sorry.”
As we exited the cleft, Wilfred paused. I looked at him, chagrined that my rudeness had caused him pain. “Wilfred,” I asked, “if all that is true, and I do believe you, why did you bring me?”
Again, there was a lengthy silence. With obvious reluctance, he said, “Because you doubted me. Because you insisted. I’m sorry. You are a great fisherman, but you can be a tough man to deal with.”
Humbled, all I could say was, “Thank you, Wilfred. Thank you. It was the best day I have ever had.”
The boat was where we had left it, and the return to Mars Bay was uneventful.
Many times during the years, reflecting on this emotional day of conquests and conflicts, I surmised that due to my rudeness and Wilfred’s reticence, it is understandable that neither he nor I felt talkative during the ride home. The single most remarkable fishing experience of a lifetime conflicted strongly with the chilling force of Wilfred’s belief in the presence of powerful and malignant native gods.
I had read about the barbarity of the Spanish, as well as the violent wars involving slaughter for sport and cannibalism between the Lucayans and the Caribs in Sarah Riley’s Homeward Bound: A History of the Bahama Islands to 1850, but my knowledge stopped there. I knew nothing about the Caribs’ gods beyond feeling a very real apprehension that they might not welcome my further interest.
Although I continued to fish with Wilfred for years, we never returned to what I began to think of as Lost Creek Cay. Nor would he talk about it. In what turned out to be our last conversation — Wilfred has since passed — I was trying to express my appreciation for his guiding over the years, and said how brave I thought he had been that special day. He had replied, “No, it was one of the most foolish things I have ever done,” and walked away. The bravery/foolishness paradox has haunted me ever since.
In the last few years, I have fished the southern tip of Andros Island in both spring and fall with upward of 10 different guides from four different lodges, seeking one who would cooperate with my quest. I have questioned every one of them about the real name and location of Lost Creek Cay.
They have denied knowing or ever hearing about such a place, or having any idea where it could possibly be.
When close by a cay I thought might be it, I say, “Let’s go look over there.” Which they usually do, and when they do, I am always mistaken.
Some of these men I consider to be my good and trusted friends. I cannot ignore the thought that they may be doing their best to protect me.
Today, I am studying an area south of Jackfish Channel on Google Earth. Zooming in, I find what must be Lost Creek Cay.
The creek, with its sharp turn, and the topography of the ridge are unmistakable. I trace my finger along the narrow entrance and the 90-degree turn through the ridge that, unless you were directly lined up and within a few yards, you could not tell was there.
I am determined to have another afternoon on Lost Creek Cay. I know where it is. I believe I have figured out the “special circumstances” and the tides. If I cannot find a guide to take me, I will go alone.