Man, I love motherships. For me, from the moment I step on board to the moment I disembark, a mothership seems the perfect way to go on a fishing trip. I love the churning generator and the floodlights that light up the sea at night. I love the gentle rocking of a ship at anchor, the cooling breezes and the constantly changing colors of the flats and channels. Feeling the boat tug against its anchor on a falling tide, then float unimpeded for a few moments only to swing 180 degrees to follow the ebb, gives you an intimate connection to the rhythms of the tides. I love watching the moon rise over the water as the subtle contours of land disappear into the night sky. I love seeing the sunrise almost as much as I enjoy guzzling my first beer on the aft deck as it sets. On a boat, you know exactly where the sun comes up and you know where in the western sky it will eventually set. But what I really love is what happens between sunup and sunset, and how close you are to it and how much you get to do of it... of course, that's fishing. And on this trip aboard the Sea Hunter we wasted not one speck of daylight and for someone who really loves boats, we sure didn't spend much time onboard.
This trip was a reunion of sorts, some of us had met in Kamchatka and some of us were very old friends. All of us enjoyed each other's company and we all liked to fish hard. We had been planning this trip aboard the Sea Hunter liveaboard for a very long time. We had had to delay our trip for five days due to Hurricane Paloma and had lost three of our trip members in the process. But now, five days late, we were onboard and the weather was going to hold for at least a few days.
Fish on, Jim announced with little fanfare as he quickly moved from the back gunnel to stand beside the fighting chair. We were dragging two dorado lures off the outriggers and one each out of the starboard and port stern flat lines. Now our first fish was somehow hooked on Jim's weenie little fly rod that was dragging a small Mylar popper that barely reached the prop wash.
As Jim began cranking on his fish, little did we know that this first fish would be a harbinger of great things to come. Elliot throttled back the deeply rumbling engine of the Sweet Jessie and we could see a pack of mahi mahi race out from underneath a carport-sized piece of floating seaweed to join their hooked schoolmate. As Jim got his fish nearer and nearer the boat, Chris, the first mate (and our chef), chucked chunks of ballyhoo and some disgusting mashed and minced barracuda off the stern. We had caught the ballyhoo behind the Sea Hunter yesterday on small hooks baited with conch. We had chummed the ballyhoo to the back of the Sea Hunter with leftover conch fritters and a few stale saltine crackers. Now, these ballyhoo along with the gooey 'cuda pudding was causing quite a stir off the stern of the Sweet Jessie. Soon, Dave Miller was hooked-up too. The take was beautiful and occurred only a few feet from us so we could see the whole thing. It was very cool!
Over the next hour and a half, we hooked at least 20 dorado and landed 13, mostly on fly rods, but a few were caught on light tackle with ballyhoo. Our success would seemingly have gone on forever on this calm beautiful morning if it had not been for the predicted cold front that roared in around noon to ruin all our fun. We carried on for a while, but in ever stiffening winds, we eventually turned tail and ran for home in quickly building seas. Eventually, we made it back to Jackfish Channel and our haven, the Sea Hunter. That night, all of us broke out our fleece jackets while the crew played dominoes in sweatshirts and wool hats. With a steady 20-25 knot wind wailing up Jackfish, we enjoyed mahi mahi steaks followed by cigars and port on the aft deck.
Journal Entry SSH 11/16/08
For the dedicated angler willing to forego some of the amenities of lodge living, the Sea Hunter is perfect. At 84 feet with a 30-foot beam, she sits like a rock in a stiff breeze in Jackfish Channel. Only a slight sense of motion lets you know you are on a boat. The Sea Hunter has four cabins below, each with two berths, and a massive stateroom next to the salon on the main deck. For a group of six, four anglers will get single cabins and two will have to double-up in one of the larger cabins below. Someone will get the stateroom. Other than the traditional tools of guile, guilt and gumption, we suggest groups draw straws or engage in a spirited game of rock, paper, scissors to decide who gets the stateroom.
The Sea Hunter has two skiffs, two sit-on-top kayaks and a very beamy sportfisher, the Sweet Jessie to play with. A crew of six manages the daily activities. From her anchorage on South Andros Island in Jackfish Channel, the Sea Hunter is well positioned to fish the extensive bonefish flats nearby, as well as explore further west and eventually north up the uninhabited far coast of Andros.
The array of flats in this area is staggering. This is good because anglers can begin their day almost at dawn and continue pursuing bonefish until the sun drops into the Tongue of the Ocean in the western sky that evening. For us, that meant almost ten hours of bonefishing each day. That's fishing, not traveling to and from the flats, but fishing. So here is the math for all you diehards who just can't seem to get enough:
We fished for one week, that meant five full days plus a half-day on our departure day. (We left the Sea Hunter at 2:00 PM to spend the night at Kemp's Bay as we had a 7:30 AM flight from South Andros to Nassau the next morning). So... back to the math:
We fished 55 hours in five and a half days. Now if you fished from a lodge and we are not suggesting that you don't (remember the amenities etc.), you would spend at least an hour each day getting to this south end and then have to turn around and go back again in the evening. Say you leave the lodge at 8:00 AM and get back at 5:00 PM, that's eight hours per day less two hours travel time. That means you would spend six hours fishing each day. In six days, that's 36 hours total fished. So, the math comes out to 36 hours fished at the lodge versus 55 hours fished from the Sea Hunter. That extra 19 hours equals two or three extra days you get on the flats! And you are practically guaranteed to fish the best tides in a ten-hour day. Lots of hours and the best tides, this is a prescription for success. Everyone in our group commented on the length of our fishing days when they weren't commenting on the stability of the Sea Hunter!
After a quick no-nonsense breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast, we pulled away from the Sea Hunter at 6:45 AM and were wading towards shore ten minutes later. We were anxious to hit the low tide. Within minutes of reaching shore, I was casting to a big tailer. In the saturated dawn light, the tail looked beautiful and huge. Unfortunately, I blew the opportunity and only nicked his lip due to an overanxious strip-strike. This tailer blasted out of the skinny water and spooked another fish in the process. I left the beat to Jim and Danny who had waded in from another sand bar. From where I stood, I could see a small creek a few hundred yards away and decided to muck through the mangroves and check it out. After a few strenuous minutes, I reached the channel. I paused at its edge.
This flat was now barely covered with water, but the tide was now coming in. I decided to calm down and look before dashing into the water. I told myself to just relax. I gave myself the advice I have given aspiring bonefishermen hundreds of times: calm down, then look and listen before acting. This flat looked perfect. A slight wind scuffed its surface except where long, thin, calm slicks stretched on for many paces. I looked intently as I watched for any telltale signs of activity. Sometimes you just get that feeling and I sure had it now. I knew I had to wait. I knew they were near and before I took another step, a slight disturbance pulled at my left periphery. I swung my head to look and it wasn't long before one, then two, then three tails popped up in the long slick closest to me. As if by magic, I could now see tails in each wind slick that ran parallel to the shore all the way to the other bank! Did bonefish seek out wind slicks? Could they feel a breeze on their tail and if they had a choice, choose not to be fanned as they tailed? Were there tails in the scuffed water that I could not see? Did they feel safer in the slicks with no wind to interfere with their senses? Should I stop these musings and go catch a fish?
Hell yes! I threw my fly into a backcast and fed out some line. I dropped the fly six feet from the tail and let the swift tidal current sweep my lightly weighted fly towards where the first tail had just disappeared. After a second or two, I stripped and a tail popped up. The tail quivered and closed in on my fly. Soon my line was rooster-tailing across the flat and all was well in my world. I reeled this bonefish in quickly, took a few photos and then sent him on his way. He scooted off strongly with only a small wake betraying his presence. It's always nice to get that first fish of the day.
Many flats and many fish later, it was suddenly noon. Where had our morning gone? The tide was now almost full and water sloshed up into the green on the mangroves. We motored around for a while checking a few high water holding spots. Danny hooked a few big fish from one spot, but got tooled in the mangroves. The high water was making it tough and by 1:00 PM, the full moon was doing its best to get us to stop fishing for a while. We motored five minutes back to the Sea Hunter for cheeseburgers and beer. This was like golf. Play 12 holes, and then stop at the concession stand for a snack before playing on. Thirty minutes later, we were back in the skiffs and motoring to another flat on the now falling tide. Here, we spent the rest of the day chasing tails on an immense sandbar. At times, I could see tails everywhere, but it was never easy in the low afternoon light. I released my last fish as the sun set and immediately began wading back to the skiff. Dawn to dusk, now that's the way to bonefish.
Journal Entry SSH 11/17/08
OK, so what is the downside to the Sea Hunter? I thought long and hard about this and tried to think of every negative I could think of. Here is my list of why you should not go on this trip:
Reason # 1
It is at least one and maybe two hours from Kemp's Bay (where you meet your pick-up) to the Sea Hunter's anchorage in Jackfish Channel. If it is rough, this ride can be bumpy and arduous. If you get seasick, it can be simply awful. This ride is the price of admission and definitely something to consider. If it is relatively calm, the trip is no problem. Plan for the worst and then you will not be disappointed. Take your Dramamine an hour before you get to Kemp's Bay.
Reason # 2
All bonefishing is done while wading. There is no being poled around the flats with eagle-eyed guides pointing out the fish while you discuss the state of the world with your buddy. The Sea Hunter has two guides that definitely know what they are doing, but since there will usually be six anglers on board that means four will at any given point be without the services of a guide. They will essentially be on their own. Anglers therefore must be self-sufficient. By that I mean must be able to find and see fish and revel in the opportunity to do so. Anglers who hit the flats and love to wander off to do their own thing are perfect for this trip. Individuals who feel they need the traditional services of a guide should give us a call before booking this trip.
Reason # 3
Meals aboard the Sea Hunter are delicious and plentiful with an emphasis on seafood. We had mahi mahi, wahoo, grouper and mutton snapper. All were caught locally; most were caught by us. If you like food that sticks to your ribs, great. If you need gourmet dining and beyond-buffet presentation, again think hard before booking the Sea Hunter.
Except for the master stateroom, cabins are not spacious by landlubber criteria. They are typical for a boat and offer plenty of space for folks used to boat living. There are two hot showers in the full bathroom facilities for the four cabins below deck and one full bath with shower off the master stateroom. There is no Internet or satellite TV. There is plenty of music and movies (including old westerns like Roy Rogers and Lonesome Dove or as Elliot McKinney, the first mate calls them, "shooting behind rocks" movies.
Reason # 5
Each group gets a bluewater day during the course of their week and it takes a full day to do it properly. It takes over an hour to get to the Tongue of the Ocean. You should pick your day based on weather and not whim. On our trip, we had a perfect morning followed by a rough afternoon as a front moved through. Seasickness, churning seas and a lengthy boat ride should encourage anyone to be sure they want to do this before committing one of their precious bonefishing days to a day chasing wahoo, dorado and tuna. Remember, one man's heaven is another man's hell. Also, it is good to remember the same applies (but to a lesser degree) with patch reef fishing. For the patch reefs, you still need relatively good weather and although quite accessible from Jackfish Channel, it is still done in deeper, more exposed water and may, under certain weather conditions, be difficult (or at least uncomfortable), to do. But luckily, bonefishing is always right there offering a more tranquil option.
After a great morning of bonefishing, we motored to a blue hole for something to do at high tide. Danny snorkeled the perimeter and located some schools of mutton snapper. The Bahamians wouldn't snorkel in the blue hole. They thought there were too many sharks about and blue holes are definitely spooky places to snorkel. After Danny climbed back onboard, we fished mostly live bait into the hole. Danny caught a very nice mutton snapper (that would be made into fingers for the cocktail hour that evening). I hooked a spinner shark that made a great run across the blue hole before cutting through my 40lb. wire tippet. We hooked the same nurse shark five times and never did land "Melvin". He was probably 5-6 feet and provided much hooting and hollering when he was on. In the process, I perfected the "chuck and duck" cast with my fly rod and a chunk of 'cuda for bait. This technique basically entailed stacking my fly line at my feet and swinging the bait in a wide arc to use centrifugal force to pull my line out. Very delicate stuff here and certainly not fly-rodding, but I got pretty good at it. Since it would ruin my reputation, please don't tell anyone!
Danny was smart enough to be using spinning tackle and he managed to hook a big spinner that made a series of very impressive leaps across the blue hole. True to form, the spinner spun and elicited oohs and ahhs from the peanut gallery that now included Dave and Steve who pulled up alongside to say "hi".
Eventually the spinner came unbuttoned and the two skiffs soon went their separate ways. We were all anxious to fish the falling tide and we only had a few hours left until dark.
Journal Entry SSH 11/15/08
OK, so that's all the reasons I can think of to NOT do the Sea Hunter. The reasons to do the trip are best seen in the accompanying photos. We all thought this to be the perfect bonefish trip with a great bluewater day thrown in, as well as some other eclectic angling opportunities to keep things interesting. We thought the crew was great, the food delicious, the accommodations more than adequate and the boat the best pure fishing machine we had ever been able to book for our clients. We will ALL be back! To Dave Miller, Danny Sheldon, Steve Peskoe and Jim Dean thanks for a GREAT trip! To Brian, Larry and Jeff who didn't make it, we missed you!
Written by Scott Heywood