A hard line exists between the conventional world of fishing and that of fly-fishing. What aspect of our game scratches the separating line in the sand? We could all give our own philosophical and enlightening response, and chances are that each would differ greatly. But one thing all of us would agree upon is that fly-fishing lends itself to sight-fishing more so than any other style of the sport. And when it comes to bonefishing, it just doesn’t get any better — it defines our obsession. After having stalked a solitary bonefish, made a perfect cast and witnessed the body language of the fish react favorably to our buggy offering, we might wonder how in the world this game fish could ever be deceived any other way. Can it be done using conventional methods? Of course — but speaking for all of us who embrace the brotherhood of fly-fishing, I ask the following question: Why would you want to catch them any other way?
The challenge and rewards of sight-fishing for bonefish with fly tackle increase greatly once you step outside the boat and pursue them on foot. Wading for bonefish provides every textbook fly-fishing scenario imaginable. Virtually every bonefishing destination offers wading opportunities, but there’s one Bahamian island in particular that’s home to a true mom-and-pop lodge that specifically caters to those who want to experience bonefishing in its purist form — Acklins Island, home of Grey’s Point Bonefish Inn.
Years ago, I joined up with Angler Adventures’ Doug Schlink on the legendary tarpon flats of Homosassa, Florida. The two of us hit it off immediately and enjoyed several great days on the water jumping huge fish, losing big fish and getting weak in the knees at the sight of even behemoth fish. Since that first meeting, we made several attempts to fish together again, but none of them ever came to fruition. This year, he and I vowed to choose a destination, ink it in on the calendar and just go — no ifs, ands or buts. After discussing several options, Schlink suggested Acklins and relayed what his partner, Chip Bates, had to say about the island itself and Grey’s Point Bonefish Inn. Schlink told me that Bates is a bona fide wading junkie and that, when he feels a jones, he goes to Acklins to get his fix.
Schlink and I arrived at Orange Hill Beach Inn in Nassau, where we’d overnight before an early-morning flight the following morning to Acklins for three days of fishing the flats. As we reacquainted and reminisced over the great tarpon fishing we’d had so many years ago, the conversation steered toward the Williamson family and how Grey’s Point came to be.
In the late ’60s, the Rev. Newton Williamson Sr. and his late wife, Ivadell, noticed tents pitched on a sandy beach near their home in Pinefield on the island of Acklins. Newton and Ivadell learned that these tents belonged to travelers who by and large trekked from the United States and were in pursuit of bonefish. Newton and Ivadell answered the knock of opportunity by offering meager but authentic hospitality in the only way they knew how — Bahamian style. They built a small guesthouse on a plot of land overlooking the flats and enjoyed great success right off the bat. News of the fantastic bonefishing spread, as did the authentic Bahamian hospitality that has become a key aspect of their business to this day. It wasn’t long before the couple realized that they needed to expand and that additional help was needed. Newton’s youngest son, Garron, had taken an interest in fishing at a very young age, and because he already knew the flats of Acklins like the back of his hand, it only seemed natural for him to join his parents as the head guide of their operation. Garron also brought his wife, Lavonda, on to assist Ivadell in housekeeping and kitchen tasks. The additional help yielded fantastic results, and the small family staff expanded the facility into the Grey’s Point Bonefish Inn of today.
When we arrived at the lodge, Lavonda and Garron welcomed us warmly. In an instant Doug and I felt completely at home.
Garron wasted no time whatsoever — as soon as we dropped our bags in our room, he led us outside to the deck and pointed out various areas right in front of the lodge that he wanted us to fish on our own that afternoon via his canoe. Regretfully, Garron told us that he wouldn’t be able to join us for the afternoon session or the next day (Sunday). Like his father, Garron is a man of the Lord, and he was giving a sermon at his church, Joshua Kingdom Ministries, but he assured us that his friend and partner O’Neil Williams would be able to have us on fish all day — something in his voice told us he was quite sincere.
Schlink and I did as we were told, and in a matter of minutes we were stepping out of the canoe onto a white-sand flat within sight of the lodge. Straightaway, Doug and I both saw reflections of the late afternoon sun glistening against the tail of a bonefish. Since Angler Adventures arranged the trip, I offered up the first shot to Doug. He stripped out about 60 feet of line, made a stealthy approach and delicately presented his fly. The fish refused but didn’t bolt, so Doug water-hauled and made another shot. Through the viewfinder of my camera I became excited as I noticed his line hand extending far beyond that of a feeding strip, which told me that the fish ate and he and I were in for something very special in the coming days.
In the morning, Newton transported us to the ramp, where our guide, O’Neil, waited. Doug and I piled in the boat and were quickly on plane heading to our first spot. The sky was blue and winds were light. O’Neil stood by Doug’s left side, and I trailed behind with the camera. Just as Garron had told us the previous day, O’Neil had us in fish almost right away, but because the water was ankle-deep at best, our targets were extra spooky. After several refusals, Doug and I came to the realization that we were going to have to go old school and lengthen our leaders, scale down our tippets and use weightless flies. With the correct recipe, our hookup ratio increased. By the end of the day, we managed to land a few solid fish and were both more confident for the next day — for we now knew that, in the skinny of water of Acklins, stealth in all things was necessary.
Garron wanted us to get an extra-early start the following morning in an effort to beat the heat.
The first thing I noticed about Garron was that he was completely different from what I’d gathered about him upon our arrival. On land, Garron was jovial and all smiles. On the water, however, he didn’t look at us when we spoke to him and he answered. When Doug and I joked with each other, he paid us no mind. On the water, Garron was in the zone, and nothing was going to remove him from it. This is what I admired and respected most about him. Flat after flat, Garron amazed me with both his determination and his fish-spotting abilities. He truly was in touch with the waters of his home island. Garron had us on singles, doubles and schools of fish in water that almost didn’t cover our feet. It was challenging, and Doug and I realized that, if an angler did not adopt Garron’s focus, he would not be successful. That being said, there was not much chit-chat, which I welcomed. We fished out the rest of the afternoon and did well catching and releasing healthy-size bonefish until, finally, the day was done. I found amusement in how fast Garron’s character hyperswitched from extremely focussed back to carefree. While walking back to the skiff, Garron joked and recounted almost every fish that was caught, lost or didn’t want to play ball. As soon as we reached his skiff he laughed and said, “If we don’t head back now, Lavonda might make me sleep outside. If it wasn’t for her, I’d be out here until dark. She doesn’t like when I’m late for dinner.” I believed half of that statement. I have no doubt that Garron would have stayed out and been perfectly content walking back to the skiff in pitch-black darkness. Lavonda, on the other hand, was just too sweet and genuine to make anybody sleep outside. Her attention to detail, warmth and awesome cooking will make you want to return every bit as much as the prospect of catching a double-digit bonefish on foot.
In the morning Garron was back in fish mode, and once we were on the flats, he spoke only to call fish and coach us on our presentations. Doug and I had been blessed with flawless weather in the previous days, but this day, our last, was about as perfect as perfect can get. Though it was not said, we knew Garron was going to make the most of it. He was on a mission. No time was wasted. As soon as the boat stopped, Garron was in the water, and though he never told us to hurry up, Doug and I knew we had to. Just like the day before and the day before that, fish were present on every flat. Our catch ratio was going up by the minute, it seemed, and because of that, the day was shaping up to be one I’d consider of epic proportion. Shortly after noon, we reached a flat that was the biggest one I’ve ever seen, and Garron explained (as we walked, of course) just how far it extended. He told us that we’d fish this area for the remainder of the day. Doug and I would split up and Garron would take turns providing his guiding insight. The sun was falling fast, as was the tide, when Doug said that he was going to slowly fish his way back to the skiff.
He could only assume that Garron and I would be just behind him. We went our separate ways and, soon enough, Doug was out of sight, but Garron and I continued moving in the opposite direction catching fish after fish after fish until a couple of hours had passed. With Garron’s aid, I landed a couple of above-average fish that we estimated at the 6-pound mark. Though my confidence was high at this point, my knees began to wobble when my eyes focused in on a fish Garron called out, an obvious double-digit bonefish backing in 6 inches of water. Nervously, I crouched down and began making false casts to the unsuspecting trophy bonefish. My first shot was too short, so I picked up and shot a little bit more line out, and the tiny, weightless Gotcha landed about 4 inches in front of the snout of the food-seeking fish.
As soon as it saw the fly, it lunged at its next meal. Though it happened in an instant, the anticipation of catching a fish like this in such a situation got the better of me, and I committed the ultimate sin for saltwater anglers — I trout-set it. Yep — I completely farmed it — in the worst kind of way. As the fish rooster-tailed for deeper water, for the first time on the water Garron broke down into laughter, but it wasn’t to scorn me. It was because that fish was every bit as much his as it was mine. Even though the rod wasn’t in his hands, he felt my nerves and knew as well as I did that, when you blow a shot like that, all you can do is laugh. He and I shared a few moments laughing but pushed on catching bonefish until the sun was halfway down the horizon.
I’ve often heard people refer to bonefishing as a religious experience. After this trip, I now fully understand what they mean, and that has nothing to do with the fact that most of my time on the flats of Acklins was spent with a preacher. It has everything to do with the fact that I experienced something sacred. As with most fisheries on our planet, Acklins is unique. It’s a special place that offers peace, serenity, comfort if you embrace it and solitude if you want it. I for one can’t imagine my life without fly-fishing; however, fly-fishing is by no means for everybody — and that’s fine by me. But if you choose this lifestyle and live it to the fullest, you automatically have a bond with those who believe. I try to live my life by the motto “To each his own.” I would never blame those who don’t understand my choice, nor would I ever hold it against them. I ask you to reflect on this common bond we fly-anglers share the next time you find yourself in casting range of a bonefish tailing against the wind on a completely vacant, sandy flat with your feet planted in the sand.