Bahamas Couples Retreat Main
Three situations really scare me when fishing far from home: thunderstorms, running aground and reading “dinner attire.”
The first two are self-evident. The third is open for interpretation and, in my case, misinterpretation. I felt extra pressure to crack the dress code because I was the only female outdoor writer on a whirlwind bonefish tour hosted by Karen Wring and Earl Miller of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation in Florida. The ministry’s goal was to showcase a few newer lodges considered to be a little more couples-friendly.
On the night we were to dine at Tiamo, a high-end boutique hotel on South Andros, I was really afraid to blow my girl cover and have people find out that, in actuality, I was just a crusty old charter boat captain. Truthfully, I felt more comfortable with the thunderstorm that chased us off the water that day than I did struggling with the yet-unknown dress code for the evening. The afternoon storm was especially sparky, but our guide, Mark Bastian, timed our escape perfectly, maximizing the fishing while delivering us relatively dry to the wraparound porch at Swains Cay Lodge. As the lightning cracked and other boats appeared through sheets of rain, my fishing partner, Paul Rouse, and I finished off a plate of conch fritters and recapped our morning.
We had just experienced a classic day of South Andros bonefishing. It had started well before dawn in Nassau, where we’d met Marvin, our private pilot for the week. After a rainy flight to South Andros with a brief “oops, wrong airport” touch-and-go, local ministry officials had picked us up and taken us to Swains Cay Lodge. While we stuffed ourselves on a typical Bahamian breakfast of fish stew and Johnny cakes, Cynthia, the lodge owner, had described the lodge’s amenities. Rouse and I had packed our boat lunches, assembled our tackle and then waded out to meet Bastian, who was already awaiting us in his skiff. It was a quick run to the first flat and the tide was perfect.
In slightly breezy conditions, Bastian strategically positioned us along creek mouths as the water dropped. Like clockwork, bones of all sizes showed easily on the clean bottom and pounced on tan No. 6 Crazy Charlies. With an 8-weight in my hand and an outstanding guide behind me, it was almost hard not to catch fish. I knew that Rouse would forever regret not casting to an Andros bonefish, so I pleaded with him to try. He reluctantly took over my rod, but this was his first-ever flats experience and he did not yet feel bone-worthy.
After a few practice casts to get comfortable with the new gear, Rouse was ready to go. Bastian was able to spot fish from a great distance and position the boat with optimal angles to the approaching fish all the while coaching Rouse on casting. Within 15 minutes Rouse was hooked up and cracking his knuckles on the whizzing handle of the reel. With video rolling, I hooted like a proud baseball mom whose kid had just put one over the fence. Proving to be a quick learner, Rouse soon hit another home run and eventually began a little trash talking, and of course Bastian and I had to chime in too. What I admired most about our guide was that he was a lot of fun to fish with and had that classic Bahamian sense of humor but still managed to remain a great ambassador for Andros. Both Rouse and I were full of questions, and Bastian intelligently answered them all until the sky turned black. Throughout the day, I asked several questions about Tiamo — the high-end lodge I had been hearing about for so long. Most of his answers included the word fancy. When I finally arrived, completed my Internet check-in and arrived in my room, his description was confirmed.
After arriving at Tiamo, I freshened up, and by 6 p.m. I was standing on the porch in my best version of fancy — a scooped summer top paired with a flowered skort, which looks like a miniskirt but has a hidden pair of shorts underneath. I was relieved to see the Tiamo attire that Miller and especially Wring had chosen. Miller wore a pressed shirt and slacks and Wring had on white cropped pants and a silky red tank matched with a scarf.
In the dining area, we were met by an elegant Frenchman named Wilfred Vincent, Tiamo’s general manager. As the sun set, he guided us through several secluded bungalows, each with its own unique interior design that would have impressed Martha Stewart
We sat down to cocktails next to the infinity pool and listened to Vincent make a presentation about the amenities of the lodge. The bar was the focal point, and above it hung an incredible contemporary chandelier that must have been a nightmare to import and install. It was gorgeous, and the multicourse meal was delicious. While some of the men in our group anxiously scanned the waterfront for fish movement, I made mental notes of the guests.
Everyone was part of a couple and some looked to be on honeymoons. All the gals seemed to be enjoying themselves and were comfortable in their surroundings. Tiamo, which means “I love you” in Italian, had a much different vibe than any other fishing lodge I had been to. Most importantly, it was completely absent of groups of noisy, half-drunk men in casting shirts monopolizing the bar.
When it came time to leave Tiamo, admittedly I was a little sad, but it was a beautiful slick-calm evening to travel by boat with new friends. All the phosphorescent sea creatures lit up in our wake. We were jolted away from our Tiamo afterglow as hull met sand. The boat was high and dry, and the captain dispatched a less glamorous flat-bottom boat to get us back to our van, which was located just a few hundred yards away.
Back at Swains Cay, despite being exhausted, I could not sleep. My mind was crunching everything I had experienced in the past 24 hours. I had survived my three least favorite situations in one day. At the same time, Miller and Wring had done a great job of presenting the extremes of available amenities on Andros. My first Bahamas bonefish experience was at the Andros Island Bonefish Club almost 20 years ago, so I wanted to compare the two trips before my memories were fogged by new island experiences.
My first Bahamas trip was like winning the lottery. I was a guest of Lefty Kreh at the Andros Island Bonefish Club. For an entire week, I was poled around by the legendary Capts. Rupert and Dennis Leadon while Kreh cracked jokes.
The Bahamas has changed drastically since my first experience. It is still a world-class flats-fishing destination, but it’s not just for hard-core eat, sleep and fish anglers. The best changes benefit couples, families, the adventurous and the budget-conscious.
The focus of our trip was to visit spots that were more couples-friendly. On Andros, Tiamo and Swains Cay represented the extremes. Tiamo was fabulous and, yes, expensive. On the flip side, Swains Cay was comfortable and accessible to the community and had Wi-Fi. I would be happy there for a week, but it is not a spot for a “high maintenance” gal. We did not visit Stella Maris Resort on Andros, but it has a great reputation for pampering the women. We did, however, make a stop at the Grand Isle Resort on Exuma, which was the stop that blew my mind the most. Staying there was fabulous and way beyond my budget; it was also a long drive from the flats. With just a few hours left before heading home, Wring and Miller surprised us with an English breakfast at the quirky new CarriEarl Boutique Hotel on the Berry Islands. This was a definite couples spot, with a quiet romantic feel.
While the Grand Isle Resort completely blew me away, I have to say my favorite place that we visited was Green Turtle Club and Marina on Abaco. This marina and hotel was not a swanky or exclusive retreat, which is why I liked it. It was easy to walk or to jump into a golf cart and cruise the welcoming community. All my fishing, diving and sailing girlfriends who have visited Green Turtle absolutely love it. It’s awfully tough to not like Abaco in general — no matter if you are a man or a woman.
It was really gratifying to finally make it back to the Bahamas and find it better than what I fondly remembered. I kept searching for the isolated, windblown feeling that I recollected so strongly, but never found it. Instead, Wring and Miller exposed me to an incredible diversity in accommodations and island character, which is one of the most charming aspects of the islands. They also made me think about what makes a good trip beyond the flats.
The Bahamas has embraced 21st-century technology. All the lodges and many guides have websites or Facebook pages. Bahamas tourism has taken a few pages out of the Disney World playbook. Promoters offer several excellent trip-planning websites organized by island, interest and price. These sites are worth visiting regularly because they run specials on in-country air travel and also showcase participating lodge discounts that can be worth hundreds of dollars to savvy travelers. Best of all, many of these specials are directly targeted to fly-anglers.
If planning a trip online or taking advantage of specials seems too daunting, then you should definitely consider a fly-fishing travel service. Instead of driving these services out of business, the Internet has helped them provide better planning tools for clients. They can communicate easily with lodges — even remote ones. While travel within the Bahamas has become so much easier than just a few years ago, it can still be confusing. The better travel services will do the planning for you.
The travel services can help clients get creative with itineraries because they are within the country. There are many weekly and daily flights to the smaller outlying islands called “family islands.” With good planning, anglers can hit several islands on one trip and take advantage of the unique character of individual island fisheries.
When budgeting time away from family, you can catch an early-morning flight from hub islands like Nassau or Freeport for a one-day bonefish trip and be back with the family in time for dinner.
Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation in Florida
• Earl Miller: [email protected]
• Karen Wring: [email protected]
• Grand Isle Resort, Exuma
• Green Turtle Club and Marina, Abaco
• Stella Maris Resort, Andros
• Swains Cay Lodge, Andros
• Tiamo, Andros
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