It’s not everyday you get a chance to fish with a “fishing legend” of any kind, much less someone like Stu Apte. I say that because Stu is a really nice guy and a gentleman.
Also along on this trip was Stu’s wife Jeanine who, according to Stu, is the light of his life. These two people belong together, that’s for sure.
Stu and I had been working on fishing together for quite some time but our schedules, mostly his, were always pretty tight and we just couldn’t make it happen. Finally, the seas parted and we had dates that worked.
Fortunately, another scheduling snafu became a blessing when my good friend Mike Conner was able to get away from his hectic freelance writing schedule to join the group. Mike was the former editor of Shallow Water Angler and writer for just about anybody that had anything important to say about fishing. If you look back in any magazine that you still have a copy of, you will probably find Mike’s name. So here’s our group…Stu and Jeanine, Mike Conner, my wife Jean and myself. A pretty good group of fisherman in my opinion.
Jean and I took a flight with our friends at Airgate Aviation out of Daytona Beach. They are a fairly new airline to the Bahamas, replacing (thank God) the old Vintage airline that was never pleasant to fly not to mention wondering if they were organized enough to stay in business…which they weren’t. Anyway, Airgate is very well run, they keep their daily schedule and are even thinking of increasing the number of daily flights. The planes are beautiful and perfectly maintained and they service Marsh Harbor and Treasure Cay. So now we have two airlines servicing the N.E. Florida area to Abaco, Airgate out of Daytona and Craig Air out of Jacksonville.
We arrived on the early flight to Marsh Harbor and we were greeted by friend and General Manager Clint Kemp. Clint has been promising to take me to his secret flat since we’ve met but for some reason, we never had time to go there. I can tell you this about his secret flat…I know why it’s a secret! You would never find this spot in a million years if you had to do it on your own, but it would be worth it believe me. OK, we have 3 hours to fish before we have to be back at the airport and we have to go to Jamie’s Place (my favorite Marsh Harbor restaurant) for lunch. We’re done with lunch and Clint has to blindfold us to take us to the flat (just kidding).
We rig up, get our boots on, pick our fly and hit the water. We walk about 50 feet and here comes the first fish, then another, and another…the fish are leaving the flat on the outgoing tide and they’re feeding along the way. Clint nails one, then Jean gets one and looses it. I do the same. Damn, I wanted to break my record for catching a bonefish within 3 hours of landing…not going to happen it looks like.
We pick up Stu and Jeanine from the 4pm American Airlines flight and head down to the lodge, thinking of how good Clint’s famous Mojitos are going to taste. After an incredible dinner of conch chowder and conch fritters we pack it in after the usual long traveling day.
Saturday morning gives us a taste of what we’re going to have to fish in the remainder of the trip….wind of at least 15 knots and mostly cloudy. Well, that never stopped us professionals from giving it all we had. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough! I think the master (Stu) got a couple of fish that first day plus a quick nap in between fish…how does he do that? Jean and I got skunked but we got lots of practice casting in the wind. Mike arrived mid-day, so he was at the lodge to greet us when we got back. We settled in for dinner and spent the evening sitting around comparing flies and strategy for tomorrow.
Sunday, was a little nicer with less cloud cover and what seemed like less wind. It might have been a case of wishful thinking! The fishing was much better for everyone on this day with Stu leading the pack again. Mike caught several nice ones, I caught a couple and Jean got her first bonefish right at the end of the day. On the way back to the lodge we decided to check out one of our favorite bonefish spots…”the road flat”. Paul on the previous day said that he had seen several fish on the road flat and I thought we should give it shot. We pulled off the side of the road and sure enough, there were the fish. We got the rods out quickly trying to keep an eye on the fish and not loose them in the setting sun. Stu got a shot off but the fish ignored it. Mike moved down the road a bit and found a big guy working along the mangroves. Mike waded out and finally put the feathers in front of the fish and had one on. This guy didn’t want to come in but Mike finally convinced him it was the right thing to do. What a way to end the day. BUT, the real highlight of the day was that it was Jeanine Apte’s birthday. Clint made one of his special dinners with an incredible chocolate dessert and of course a few adult beverages to top off the evening.
Monday was our last day to fish and it was our most productive day out of the trip. We worked the inside bays early in the tide where Stu pulled one out of the mangroves. As the tide came in we moved to the outside edges south of our boat ramp creek and found several singles and a school or two that were interested in eating. At lunch we switched boats so that I was fishing with Stu and Jean and Mike were fishing together. Immediately both boats found fish. In fact Stu and I got into a school of probably several hundred fish holding in a depression on the flat. They were easy to spot because of the flashing and discolored water. I threw first using a “King of Abaco” and got hooked up right away. Stu came up behind me and fired off a Puglisi spawning shrimp which they liked just as well. Are you kidding…a double header on bonefish…that’s us! The day continued with multiple hook-ups on both boats and we got some good photos for Mike’s article for Fly Rod & Reel Magazine. On our last pass heading back to the dock, we fished the shoreline south of Sandy Point looking for anything that swims, like maybe a permit or possibly a tarpon. There up on the sandy shoreline was a dark circle moving in our same direction. OK, this was going to be easy! Then from the beach we see two yellow labs bounding into the ocean heading in our direction. No way they’re going to come out to us, but yes here they come. So from behind the boat two furryheads are tracking behind us thinking who knows what but still coming our way. Thinking that we may be going too fast to catch (like a car) they head into the beach….right through the school of bonefish! As it turned out, the fish eventually settled down and we got our shots. We caught several once we changed flies and went to the standard pink charlie, the “go to fly” when over white sand in the Bahamas.
Our departure day was calm and bright….of course! Oh well, we had a great time celebrating Jeanine’s birthday, drinking Clint’s now famous mojitos and warming up for Stu’s 80th the following week. But before we all left, I had a project I have been thinking about for years. After finishing Lefty’s portrait a few years back, I had wanted to do a portrait of someone else that was a legendary figure in the fishing world….this was my opportunity. In preparation for this trip, I found a photo of Stu that I transfered on to a canvas in the form of a line drawing. My plan was to have everyone take a turn painting on the painting and then sign the piece. We would get as much done as we could and I would finish the rest in my studio. I would donate the finished painting to the charity of Stu’s choice and we would produce a poster of the painting so that Stu could have a piece to sign and donate to future charities and events. I was hoping that we would have begun the painting on the first night of the trip but those darned mojitos kept getting in the way. We spent the morning painting and signing the canvas, Mike recorded us painting and we left the lodge ready for our next adventure.
Coming home is coming home! It’s great to get home but I sure miss that blue-green crystal clear water, fresh conch and the national drink of Cuba. Fortunately, I’ll be going back soon. Mike’s article will be coming out soon (I’ll let you know via Twitter and Facebook) and we’ll start tying flies for our next trip.