2015 ANDROS ISLAND “BIG YARD” BONEFISH CLASSIC
Field Report: Ian Davis
Yellow Dog’s Ian Davis reports in from the Redbone fishing tournament at Swain’s Cay Lodge in the Bahamas: As the anglers arrived to Swain’s Cay Lodge for the first Redbone@Large Andros Island “Big Yard” Bonefish Classic the skies darkened alluding to a drastic weather change. Light winds and bright blue skies gave away to clouds, rain, and high pressure, which pushed temps down into the low 50s. These were record low temps for Andros, rare for late February, and certainly not conducive to flats fishing. As the two-person teams gathered around the skiffs each morning they looked more like they were getting ready for a backcountry snow mobile trip, instead of bonefishing in paradise. Even the Montana boys were bundled up with hoods cinched so tightly that all you saw were their sunglasses, and pink noses.
Fortunately, the group was in one of finest location in the Bahamas to battle the brutal conditions. Andros Island is known as the “Big Yard”, because it is the largest of the Bahamian islands and encompassed by flats. Then add three massive inland bights, which bisect the island thus connecting the east and west coasts. This allows the guides to fish anglers in optimal tides throughout the days and be protected from high winds. The stage was set for a new Redbone event. The teams and their guides were going to be tested due to the weather.
Now, this crew of long time Redbone friends could have fun in a frozen ice chest. They have been fishing “To Catch a Cure” events together for over a decade. Swain’s Cay Lodge provided a comfortable setting for the long weekend, there was a flat in front of the lodge, and a tarpon pond in the back which kept the anglers busy after the guided days. The bar was well-stocked, ring toss and ping pong was in full force, and there were no bugs on the lodge’s beach (because they all froze to death). Cal Collier Jr. on the first night welcomed the anglers and guides, and laid out the rules and regulations for the three days of competition. Points were earned for bonefish over 18”, the total numbers of fish released unharmed, and more points were awarded for larger fish. Fish were kept in the water and measured with the Redbone@Large floating tape measures.
Each morning the boats ran west to catch the incoming tide, and then in the afternoon they flipped back east to fish another rising tide, which is the true value of the bights of Andros. In fact on the first day, Matt Benson had two thirds of a grand slam by catching a nice bonefish during the guided day, and then he landed a baby tarpon in the lodge’s pond. The mornings were tough because the bones were in a state of shock from cold water and high pressure, but as the day proceeded a few boats got into some nice fish. The guides knew where to position the anglers to maximize visibility and the wind direction.
Day two brought similar conditions in the morning, but the afternoon brought a few glimpses of the sun. In a brief two hour window of good light two 29” large ocean bones were landed in the south bight. Bo Sellers caught his double-digit fish with Captain Mark Bastian right at the mouth of Lisbon Creek (with-in sight of the boat ramp) on a secret Keys fly. Ian Davis caught his with Captain Marvin Miller an hour later on the opposite shoreline of the bight with an Enrico Puglisi spawning shrimp #2. Imagine if the teams had had more sun! The big fish were out and feeding despite the cold water. After fishing an early dinner was served at the lodge, the group headed into Moxey Town to the world famous Greene’s Conch Shack for live music, a town party, and for some ultra-fresh conch salad. Many comments were made about this being “the best bar I have ever been to” from the Redbone crew. Ornald “Shine” Greene and his family know how to entertain a group of anglers looking for a good time.
On day three the sun was out for most of the day, thus allowing the anglers to get more shots at fish and to thaw out. This ended up being the best day for fish numbers on the scoreboard. John DiCola and Matt Benson made the most of the improved conditions with a solid fish numbers day. After one more conch session at the Greene’s conch stand it was time for the final night of festivities and awards dinner.
We were honored to have three representatives from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Fisheries for the final night. They welcomed the anglers and guides, and expressed their appreciation for holding a Redbone@Large event in the Bahamas. Swain’s Cay Lodge laid out a delicious buffet, mixed up some goombay punch, and had a big surprise for the visiting anglers; which was a traditional Bahamian junkanoo parade. This was the cultural highlight of the trip of the trip. When challenged by tough fishing nothing lifts a group of hardcore anglers like a colorful beach parade. The awards were presented to the winners by the Ministry of Tourism representatives and Cal Collier Jr.. Swain’s Cay Lodge hired a reggae band (with Ian Davis from Yellow Dog on the harmonica) and they rocked into the night. Of course the weather broke and temps warmed up into the mid-80s on the departure day.
The real heroes of the event were the Swain’s Cay Lodge guide staff. They poled hard through piercing winds, and fought for brief moments of visibility by hugged the lee shorelines. They definitely rose to the occasion and were true professionals. Over the three frigid days an impressive 66 bonefish over eighteen inches were landed by the 11 teams. This is why Andros is truly deserving of its reputation as “The Bonefish Capital of the World”. True Flies clothing company, Hatch Reels, Winston Fly Rods, Patagonia, Simms Fishing Products, and Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures were the sponsors of the event, which ensured that the gift bags were well-stocked, and the final night’s auction was a success. This event raised nearly $20,000 for cystic fibrosis research. On behalf of all families battling CF, thank you to all the participants and sponsors. The 2016 Andros Island “Big Yard’ Bonefish Classic will be held February 16 – 21, 2016. For more information please contact ian [at] yellowdogflyfishing [dot] com%20″>ian [at] yellowdogflyfishing [dot] com or susan [at] rebone [dot] org.
Thanks and congratulations to all the winners!
*Team Grand Champions: John DiCola and Matt Benson (low team angler 1,200 – last fish caught at 2:16pm)
*Runner-up Team Grand Champions: Justin Rea and Bo Sellers (low team angler 1,200 – last fish caught at 2:20pm)
Grand Champion Angler: Bo Sellers (6 fish, 1,800 points)
Runner up Grand Champion Angler: Paul Dixon (6 fish, 1,600 points)
Most Bonefish: John DiCola (7)
Largest Bonefish: Tie – Bo Sellers (29”) and Ian Davis (29”). Bo Sellers wins on time. Both 10 pounders caught on the 53-degree day.
Greg Fay and Ian Davis also had low angler score of 1,200, but their last fish came at 3:05.
There were 66 fish 18 inches and above released during the tournament!
For More information on the Rebone “To Catch The Cure” to benefit cystic fibrosis head over to their site here: http://www.redbone.org/