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March 27, 2013

The Story Behind the Crazy Charlie

A not-so-fancy masterpiece.

 

Don't forget to click through images in the gallery above.

Look inside the box of any bonefisherman anywhere in the world and, if you don’t find a Crazy Charlie inside, you will at least see the inside foam pierced with row upon row of patterns that stem from what many consider to be the most well-known bonefish fly of all time. When Charlie Smith (better known as Crazy Charlie) created the Nasty Charlie (later dubbed the Crazy Charlie), he had no idea what he was onto — he was simply nervous about two high-profile guests he was to fish with the following day.

Around 1950, Charlie became the head chef at the Lighthouse Club, located at the port of Fresh Creek on Andros, a hot spot for big-spending celebrities such as the members of the Rat Pack, George Bush Sr. and Ted Williams, to name a few. In those early days, Charlie frequently heard grumbling complaints from the guests about the bonefish guides. When club founder Dick Birch caught wind that his chef had talents other than preparing fish stews and frying conch fritters, he saw an opportunity that would aid in customer satisfaction and, therefore, his bottom line.

As Charlie puts it: “When he found out that I know about fishing, he would send me out to make sure the guest would get happy and would have a good day fishing. That’s how I began cheffing, playing music and fishing.” 

Charlie became quite the entertainer in many respects, and his reputation as the local bonefish guru was on the rise. At one point, he even caught an 18½-pound fish right off the Lighthouse Club beach. These were different times, and because Charlie was a “colored” Bahamian, what would have been a record catch was not accepted and was instead relegated to be the main course that fed 25 guests that night.

When news about the trophy catch got out, Charlie’s reputation skyrocketed to the point where it was his knowledge of bonefishing that attracted the majority of big-name public figures, such as Bahamian Prime Minister Lynden Pindling and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, to the club. For such highly esteemed guests, Birch wanted the best chef on the island to cook for them, so naturally he called on Charlie. When Charlie arrived, Birch surprised him by saying, “You are always bragging about fishing, so now you have two prime ministers to fish. I hope you can go to the drawing board and do something to make sure they catch some bonefish.”

Charlie realized then that his reputation (and perhaps his job) was on the line and admitted recently he was nervous. He spent the remainder of the evening experimenting with fly patterns. By 2:30 in the morning, Charlie felt he had a winning combination, a fly that was essentially nothing more than a hook, lead eyes and a chicken feather. The next day, Pindling caught two bones and Trudeau managed three. When they got back, Charlie showed the men the fly he invented just for them. Pindling told Charlie, you better start inventing more because it worked for us and it will work for someone else. Pindling was indeed correct.