“Most people go a lifetime without catching a fish like that,” Capt. Mike Russell told me aboard the Chubasca III.
It surprised me, the rush of pride I felt there afloat on the 6,000-foot deep waters outside Nassau Harbour, mugging for the camera with the 20-pound mahi-mahi I had just reeled in. A Facebook moment to be sure.
I had, up to that same moment, considered the sport of fishing, to paraphrase Mark Twain’s golfing analogy, as a good boat ride spoiled. The next day, after pulling in four bonefish and a small Nassau grouper off the sand flats in the Bahamas’ Out Islands, I started to “get” the whole attraction. IN DEEP WATER
The early summer morning was crisp and a little choppy as we pulled from the docks aboard the 48-foot Chubasco III, whose name means a violent summer squall. Or so Capt. Mike Russell, a seventh generation Bahamian, told me.
His boat holds up to eight anglers, and he, along with his son, Dave, know just how to get to where the fish are and to get them on and off the lines.
So, yes, I admit: They made catching my first mahi-mahi, aka dolphinfish, as easy as logistically possible.
Dave loaded four heavy rods holding 80-pound test line with lures, at first. Two of the rods were strung through outriggers to avoid entanglements.
The boat held one large reeling throne and two smaller ones outfitted with rod holders. I sat in a smaller chair when I reeled in my first catch of the day — a skip jack tuna about 3 pounds heavy and a decent fighter. Our fishing party caught about six of those and a couple of blackfin tuna.
Into deeper water about 15 miles out, we trolled the weed line with ballyhoo bait and pretty soon a dolphinfish hit a line. Dave pointed me to the big chair and off I was, reeling like crazy.
And then not, because the crank refused to move no matter how hard I strained. Then it gave a little, and I continued this battle of strength for what seemed like a half-hour, but probably was more like five minutes.
Then Dave had her off the hook — a shimmering, iridescent golden beauty that looked at once medieval and elegant.
Into the cooler she went as I tried to control the quaking in my weary arms. She later turned a neon blue color, but the greenish-gold hue returned after a while, and it was picture-taking time.
One of the guys caught the next smaller cow, as they call the females, then a lady caught one a few pounds up on mine, and someone else reeled in a bull. Just as suddenly as they started striking, they stopped.
The Chubasco Charters crew will arrange to have your fish cleaned and even frozen to take home with you, but we asked only for one of the mahis and one of the blackfin tuna for dinner that night. We were exhausted but glowing after eight hours under the Bahamian sun atop inky blue waters.
The Russells recommend Montagu Gardens in Nassau to have fish prepared, but most places will do it if you ask. We had plans to eat that night at Goldie’s in Arawak Cay, a collection of colorful seafood shacks and stands that represent the Fish Fry tradition of the Bahamas’ Out Islands.
Because Bahamian cuisine tends to be heavy on the frying, we specified none of that for our fine filets. We asked for the tuna seared rare, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen. I was right: They did it Bahamian style, stewed with tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and plantains. Despite the overcooking, it smacked of the islands with good flavor.
The mahi arrived to our table as ordered — nicely blackened and seriously fresh-tasting with slices of lime and melted butter. Bowls full of peas ’n’ rice and fried plantains made it a Bahamian feast for the books.ON THE FLATS
All my career writing about the Bahamas, I have heard how difficult it is to get a bonefish on the line.
Once again, it pays to hire a charter guide. I buddied with a fishing writer to head out of Stella Maris with Capt. Maurice Rahming at the north end of secluded, old-Bahamian Long Island.
Summer is best for bonefishing, the captain told us. But as we pulled into beach- and rock-rimmed Calabash Bay, I could not have cared less about casting for bonefish. All I wanted to do was gape at and shoot pictures of the way the shallow waters changed shades of jewel-tone green according to shifting clouds and white sand or rocky bottom.
But bonefishing is serious business in the Out Islands, so as soon as Capt. Maurice spotted what he called “smokes” — cloudy waters where bonefish were feeding and stirring things up — we were casting off the boat’s stern.
Cast, jig, reel, repeat. That went on for about 15 minutes before I felt my line tug and heard the zing that would become music to my ears.
Bonefish like to run with a hooked shrimp, and this one had me circling the boat, reeling when I could, letting it run when it felt like it, and finally pulling in about a 2 1/2-pounder. I followed that with a couple of three-pounders within 15 minutes. That was fun! So, what’s so difficult about catching a bonefish?!
Not all that much when you have a guide like Capt. Maurice, possessing some sort of super-vision to detect these phantom “smokes.”
I learned from the fishing writer that the more difficult style of bonefishing involves sight-fishing, fly tackle and getting into the water. We, however, used the easier spooling method from the 18-foot Fly Craft boat.
We moved out of the bay into the skinny, skinny waters of Cape Santa Maria Beach, where the white sand bottom seemed to make the water disappear altogether, as though we were floating above it. The clouds lined up above the treetops like marshmallows on a skewer toasting in the warm Bahamian sun.
The famed fishing waters in Glinton’s Sound yielded zero, and we moved around to another spot. Green turtles poked their noses at us, sting rays skimmed across the bottom and a small shark wiggled past our boat. With all that action, who cares if the fish are biting?
Well, evidently the fishing writer and the captain do, and so we moved on.
I caught my fourth and final bonefish before heading to old-island-style Stella Maris Resort for a rum punch party, conch fritters, a steak and fish barbecue, and tales of catching fish — a conversation in which I could now actually join, expert that I’d become in two short days.