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Down but not out, not by a long shot

I recently took a fly fishing vacation to Grand Bahama. The fishing was great.

The travel to and from deserves a column on the nightmare of travel at the end of COVID-19.

The trip, arranged by Yellowdog Flyfishing, took me and three other fly fishermen to East End Lodge. I had been there twice before, and at the end of my second trip I was looking forward to trip number three. However, Hurricane Dorian in 2019 put a delay in those plans. Then, just as the Bahamas were coming out of the horrific devastation of the hurricane, COVID-19 arrived. It was a one-two punch that less resilient folks would not have come back from.

When Dorian ripped across Grand Bahama it literally flattened everything. Most of the structures were blown away. All the Australian Pine Trees were stripped bare of any foliage, and the mangroves, having spent several days under salt water, are now dead. Truly, it looked like an atom bomb had gone off. The Bahamian Government did what it could to help rebuild. However, they don’t have the resources the U.S. has. So, money to rebuild was slow, if not unavailable. There was little insurance money, so service clubs from abroad and other private donations were the only funds available. As the hurricane moved on, so did most of the jobs of a tourist-based economy. Then, just as some of the fly fishing lodges were beginning to reopen, COVID put an end to all tourism. With no tourists, in or out, many took this down time to start rebuilding. It wasn’t mass building, still isn’t, but one structure at a time.

While the government did everything it knew how to do to get COVID stopped and come up with a plan to get the tourist industry restarted, it has been painfully slow. In case you don’t realize it, fly fishing in the Bahamas is for tourists. And this tourist wanted to return as soon as possible. We had to be patient, and that has now paid off. The Bahamas are open for business.

Similar to other lodges, the owners, staff and any other volunteer they could round up worked to rebuild the East End Lodge. The accommodations are brand new and comfortable, the food is great and the guides are back on their poling platforms. As the saying goes, “There is light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not a freight train.”

After all the destruction and sickness, the fly fishing is still great. With a two-year layoff, the bonefish have grown bigger than before. The barracuda are still cruising in the shallows, and I saw more sharks than I have ever seen. Some of the sharks were very large and didn’t hesitate to chase a bonefish at the end of your line. One morning, I watched a shark attack a hooked bonefish and give my partner a two-second thrill of playing a shark. I told him having the shark eat his bonefish was tantamount to fishing with live bait, therefore, the shark didn’t count as a caught fish. It also meant my fish count was higher than his. But who counts when you’re having a great time.

In addition to bonefish, and the shark that didn’t count, using the guides spinning rod, we caught several large barracuda. The barracuda were landed and went home with our guide for dinner. Fishing was done from flats boats and wading the sand flats. If given the choice, I’d rather wade the flats and cast at tailing bonefish. You won’t catch as many fish, but watching a school of fish turn toward a well-presented fly is great fun. Of course, if you don’t make a good presentation, watching the bonefish scatter like a covey of quail can be frustrating. However, it’s still fun.

So if you’re headed for the Bahamas, go with an open mind. There is still lots of rebuilding to be done. Your guide, or hospitality employee, may have to take an unscheduled day off to handle some part of rebuilding their home. Also, at the end of your vacation, a little extra in your gratuity will truly be appreciated.

I’ve already made my reservation for next year. If you’re looking for a great bonefish experience, I suggest you give the Bahamas a try. You won’t be sorry.

Reach Don Oliver at durango.fishing@gmail.com