On The Fly Saltwater
By Polly Dean
Photos by Jimmy Jacobs
When speaking of the “bones” of Mangrove Cay one’s first thoughts probably are of the island’s world-class bonefishing – and with good reason.
But after visiting this Out Island of the Bahamas, I discovered the bones of Mangrove Cay can carry a completely different meaning as well. To me, the bones of this island are the locals that make this tropical fishing destination so much more than just a place to catch a bounty of bonefish.
The true backbone to Mangrove Cay and the surrounding islands of Andros, are the people, its history, and their culture. The population of Mangrove Cay is small, at well under 1,000 people. They are polite and friendly, but also resilient and resourceful, with most making their living from the water.
The members of the close-knit community of Mangrove Cay are hospitable and enjoy meeting people from other places. They have a strong sense of family with an emphasis on education. They also enjoy good food and fun, which is evident by the number of festivals they hold in their local park.
Sponging has played a major role in the economy since the 1800s. By harvesting sponge without destroying the roots of these living organisms, they allow this important resource to replenish itself. Sponging continues to play a key role in their economy today. Along with centuries of commercial fishing and diving for spiney lobster, the residents are equipped with a keen knowledge of their local waters. It seems only natural that with these well-developed skills, they are extremely adept at knowing where to find the bonefish.
Randy Thompson is one such guide who grew up on the water gathering lobsters. From Moxie Town, he is a youngster compared to many of the guides in the area, but has 14 years of guiding experience under his belt. Randy had been mentored by the head guide of a popular fishing lodge in the area, “to learn the logistics of guiding and how to find the fishy flats,” he said. As to why he guides fly fishermen, “I had seen bones caught on spinning gear and hand lines. The first time I saw a bonefish caught on a fly rod, I thought they were really exciting fish when taken that way.”
Randy Thompson on the poling platform.
An island within an island, Mangrove Cay (pronounced key), is situated between North and South Andros Islands, the largest of the Bahama’s more than 700 islands. Being surrounded by water, most notably the North, Middle and South Bights, anglers won’t have any trouble finding favorable conditions in which to locate fish. Wind and weather are rarely an issue when one has the option of fishing on any side of Mangrove Cay or among the myriad of uninhabited cays on its west side.
Known as the “bonefish capital of the world,” Andros and Mangrove Cay are home to some of the largest bonefish in the world, with some reaching double digits in size. In addition to the big ones, bonefish in the 3- to 5-pound range are plentiful in the bights and on the hard sand flats on the eastside. Regular shots at 6- to 10-pounders are not uncommon.
Randy first took us on the Middle Bight, on the northern edge of Mangrove Cay. “We have a lot of playground out here,” he says with a smile. The wind is blowing out of the east about 15 miles per hour, but here, it’s as calm as I’ve seen anywhere. Randy has us tucked in on sandy flats among the many smaller islands.
Conditions are very similar here on the Middle Bight, as compared to the previous day when we fished the South Bight. My fishing partner and I were now more adjusted to seeing the fish and enticing them to eat. After making our cast, we were practiced at allowing the to sink a few seconds before making our long, slow strips. Some fish darted away as we raised to cast – we learned to make fewer or no false casts. But the fish were often forgiving and if they sped away, it was usually only for a short distance, and many times allowed us to entice them a second or even third time.
I also learned from our first day that “fish ahead at 11:00” did not necessarily mean “a” bonefish was spotted at that position on the clock. Sometimes fish ahead meant a herd of bones were headed my way.
Randy and the author with one of her bonefish.
It doesn’t take more than a few minutes before Randy spots the first of many bonefish of the day. This morning, the fish we found tended to be feeding closer along the shore and edges of mangroves. In fact, one hooked bonefish made the usual searing run, bringing me to my backing, only to head straight for a single mangrove seedling close to shore, running between two of its roots. My only chance at boating the fish, was with Randy hopping out of the vessel to gently take hold of the line and guide it back through the branches of the rooted plant.
The day continued with several bonefish being caught and released. We enjoyed our day with Randy and when he told us that he liked meeting people and the hospitality part of his job, it was easy to believe. The guides of Mangrove Cay have a reputation for being the best in the business and from our experience and reports from fellow anglers it seemed to be true.
Swain’s Cay Lodge
Our headquarters for the week was Swain’s Cay Lodge located on the eastern side of Mangrove Cay. At low tide anglers can wade just off the beach of the lodge toward a small island where bonefish frequent the white sand flats. During the different phases of the tide it is fairly easy to pinpoint the channels that the fish are likely to use to enter or leave the flats. During our brief time of wading the area we saw several fish, and managed to land and take a few photos of one before having to head to shore. For full report on Swain’s Cay Lodge click this link.