The Traveler's Journal  
Travel Articles by David Bear
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Bahamas' Andros hooks travelers looking for sport, relaxation





Photos by David Bear,
Fisherman Christopher Collier of Lookout Mountain, Ga., prepares to cast his line while guide Flemming Riley poles the skiff toward a school of bonefish he has spotted in the shallow ocean waters off the island of Andros in the Bahamas.



ANDROS, Bahamas -- About 11 o'clock on my final night on Kamalame Cay, I turned off the light on my cottage veranda and stepped onto the empty beach.









Everything around me was pitch-dark. The gentle ripple of waves on the still warm sand was the loudest sound. Twenty miles to the east across the star-studded sky, Nassau's electric luminescence hugged the horizon like a premature dawn.

Almost on cue, a blazing piece of heaven described an arc across the sky. It fell so near, I could swear I heard a splash.

Its 2,300 square miles make Andros as large as the other 700 Bahamas islands put together, but it is mostly wilderness. For a sun-drenched destination a mere 170 Atlantic miles southeast of Miami, it offers precious little in the way of modern tourism amenities, but plenty of peace and unadulterated nature.

Divided in three sections by sea "bights," most of Andros consists of pine woods and mangrove marshes latticed by inlets and dotted with freshwater lakes worn into its limestone and coral base. It's ringed by shallow, sandy banks, and half a mile off its eastern coast is the wall of the world's third-longest barrier reef. Cross over that reef, and you're on the "Tongue of the Ocean," a mile-deep trench that separates Andros from New Providence, the island where Nassau is located.

Most of the nearly 8,000 resident Androsians inhabit humble hamlets along the island's eastern edge, linked by a two-lane road known as the Queen's Highway.

Andros sports no golf courses, theme parks or shopping centers. There's a smattering of tiny restaurants, fishing lodges, modest marinas and perhaps a dozen seaside resorts, none of which accommodate more than 50 guests. By and large, animals are its primary night life.







One of the bonefish that David Bear landed.


It was originally populated by Arawak Indians, who were wiped out by the Spanish who landed here in 1550 looking for slaves. Short on arable acreage, Andros never supported major plantations and remained largely unpopulated and unexplored, though not unexploited. Loggers stripped off native timber, first the hardwoods, mahogany and teak, and then the softwoods. In the 18th century, pirates found haven among the island's many coves and freshwater holes. In the 19th century, a considerable industry emerged harvesting and processing sea sponges, until a fungal blight in 1938 wiped them out. There's still some commercial fishing and shrimping, along with small-scale weaving of cotton batik and baskets, but Andros' primary export these days is fresh water. Thousands of gallons are shipped every day to other Bahamas islands.


That lack of development and population has left Andros with much of its natural charm intact, a relative rarity these days.


Fishing for "bones"

Underwater Andros, like the island itself, is little explored.

Inland, there's diving in its numerous blue holes, some of which lead to extensive networks of connected caves. Offshore, there's good snorkeling and scuba diving, with sunken wrecks and lots of undersea life, especially along the reef wall.

Another asset Andros offers in abundance is sport fishing, especially bonefish, and the focus for my recent weekend visit.

A novice fisherman, I had much to learn. Alba Vulpes translates as "white fox," although local fishing guides call this elusive relative of the tarpon "gray ghost." Averaging 5 to 10 pounds, these long-flanked, silver-sided, big-eyed torpedoes forage the island's expansive offshore shallows searching for mollusks and crustaceans.

The bonefish suck their prey from holes they make in the sandy bottom, often hoisting their forked tails completely out of the water in the hunt, according to Flemming Riley, my guide that first morning. That's what to watch for; mini-volcano pock-marks in the sandy bottom, and silver tails glistening in the sun.

If you're not familiar with it, bonefishing is saltwater fly casting, essentially hunting for a nearly invisible prey, armed with only a rod, spinning reel and knowledgeable guide.

In addition to piloting quick, flat-bottom skiffs with two fishermen each to places where the bonefish are likely to be, guides provide essential advice and insight, from selecting the right fly for the conditions to spotting the elusive, skittish fish. Standing on short-raised platforms on the rear of the craft, they watch for telltale signs, poling the skiff slowly in that direction and instructing where and how far to cast your line.

Of course, accomplishing that cast is another challenge. Suffice it to say I required considerable instruction in the art of stripping in the line and casting it out without hooking either a fellow fisher or some other snag, always remembering to finish with the rod's tip low to the water. Once the bait is taken, there's setting the hook and letting the fish run without losing it, the slow reeling in and letting out.

Much of this knowledge was theoretical for me.

For most of our fishing time, we took turns standing on the skiff's bow trying to keep our balance and watching for silver tails to appear on the surface or dark shadows rocketing beneath. On several occasions we got out and stalked through warm, knee-deep waters, seeking the silver tails.

A testament to the guides' skill was that by the second morning, I managed both to see some tails and cast close enough so several smaller and, I presume, less wary bonefish took my hook. After fights of a minute or more, I even reeled in three for quick pictures, before letting them off the hook, since the bonefish rule here is strictly catch and release. The biggest measured nearly a foot, puny by local bonefish standards, but more than enough to satisfy my modest fisherman's ego.

Truth said, although I found the actual fishing engrossing, just zipping around the shimmering seascapes and spending time amid the natural quiet of the low, empty cays were equally pleasurable.

Sometimes it seems to me so much of what we do for sport is simply an excuse to spend time in beautiful outdoor places.

Unfortunately, although I had the foresight to protect myself against the strong sun, I was less prepared for the steady onslaught of huge and hungry, blood-sucking horseflies. Despite being continually on alert for their attacks, I still returned with a constellation of itchy bites on my legs and ankles.

Such is paradise.

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