A lot of those memories and stories involve bonefish—often big ones. But plenty of others were made away from the flats—back on the island, at Josie’s bar, at the boat launch, elsewhere. They run the gamut from humorous to absurdly frustrating to heart-meltingly touching. And the fact of the matter is that all of these stories are so rich, and real, and true because of how much Josie Sands gave of himself to clients, friends, colleagues and other denizens of South Andros.
It would be easy to say that South Andros is poorer for the loss of Joseph Sands, but to do so would be to neglect the fact that he gave so much of himself to the island and its community, to the anglers and the fish. No, South Andros was—and is—a richer, more vibrant place thanks to Joseph Sands; though he is, sadly, gone, nothing is going to change that.
Many members of The Flyfish Journal family were fortunate to fish with Josie Sands over the years. In tribute to Josie, we wanted to share a few of our own stories, as well as some memories from those who worked closely with him.
Rest in Power, Josie.
The Cool Ruler
In 1978, Gregory Issacs released an album called “The Cool Ruler.” It’s considered one of his finest recorded moments, combining razor-sharp, classic-era roots groove and Issacs’ vocals, by turns haunting, soulful and urgent. Upon its release, it was heard not just in Jamaica, but also across the Caribbean, even bleeding over to influence the developing hip-hop, punk and ska movements. Following the release of the record, Issacs was forever known as the “Cool Ruler.”
When I think about Josie Sands the title of “Cool Ruler” always jumps into my mind and memory. Born in 1958, Josie Sands was of the generation that certainly spent many hours grooving to Issacs. And while I don’t know if he adored Issacs as much as I do, I do know Sands was the Cool Ruler of the small-but-mighty fishing communities in South Andros, Bahamas.
Sands was the dean, the most respected and most famous bonefish guide on an island filled with the most skilled sight-fishing guides in the world. I often heard them refer to Sands as “Josey Wales” (a reference to both the influential Jamaican dancehall DJ and the Clint Eastwood film). Regardless, he was the cool ruler to me.
Sands was a larger-than-life figure on South Andros, and it took visiting anglers about five minutes to figure this out. He ran the area’s most popular hang-out. He seemed to be related to everyone within a 20-mile radius. He was a champion sailor. His picture was in the magazines. He did the video shoots. He called the shots, and he was not to be trifled with—on the boat, at his bar or anywhere on the island.
Sands always struck me as a quiet force—reserved, thoughtful, and deadly serious when it came to fishing. A smile from him or a “good cast” was worth its weight in gold because you knew he meant it. He was remarkably free of and resistant to bullshit, and when he did crack a joke, it was a good one.
I’ll sometimes remember Josie handing cold Kaliks over the bar at his joint. I’ll sometimes have a mind picture of him counting a fat wad of bills, pulling his skiff up to the doc or just chuckling to himself. And now I’ll always know that the cool ruler—his spirit, his determination and his excellence—will always be out on the flats of South Andros, Bahamas.
-Steve Duda, former Editor, The Flyfish Journal, Managing Editor, Patagonia Flyfish
Why You Do That?
I remember a day fishing on Josie’s boat solo several years ago: it was windy as hell and we spent some time poking around the lee of some islands off the windward side. The water was a little turbid, the fish weren’t cooperative and my cast was collapsing. I sat down on the bow to gather myself a minute.
Josie, atop the poling tower, stared at me and said, “What are you doing?”
“I’m just taking a break, man. Trying to get my shit together.”
“Well, get back up and get your shit together, now. Big un, coming in. 50 feet. 11 O’clock.”
I stood up, grasped line and scanned. A pewter torpedo moved steadily toward us as noted. I started false casting, searching, until Josie said calmly: “You cast. Now.”
I cast. The fish—a solid 8-10 lbs, biggest bone I had cast to—railed in and hoovered up my Copi Vojta-tied shrimp. I set, the fish ran, I touched the reel ever so lightly. The tippet snapped. I collapsed on the deck.
Josie just looked calmly down from the platform and shook his head: “Why you do that?”
Thank you, sir. May I have another?
Josie Sands was the real deal. An old school Caribbean waterman: lobster fishing, guiding and bringing up an entire generation of world-class guides on South Andros through Deneki’s operation there. His bar alongside the boat launch was the spiritual center of bonefishing on South Andros, with his beloved little sailboats in various levels of dry dock dotting the exterior. Josie was more than just a guide—he was an institution, and his legacy carries on through a proud community.
-Jeff Galbraith, Publisher, The Flyfish Journal, The Snowboarder’s Journal, The Ski Journal
Once in a Lifetime
I lost track long ago of the amount of “once in a lifetime” stories that came from folks that shared the boat with Josie Sands. Admittedly, I have a few of them myself. However, from my tenure on Andros I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know a different side of Joe. The side that didn’t have a push pole or tiller in his hand.
I remember watching his machismo melt to butter when he gave a home to two “potcake” puppies born in the bushes behind my house at the lodge (the same two that had an affinity for eating our fly-tying materials). I remember experiencing the pride he had for his island as he explained the finer points of a Junkanoo “Rush” while watching the Bahamas Junior Junkanoo competition over, arguably, a few too many Heinekens. I remember working as a team to put a hard-of-hearing angler who was suffering from Parkinson’s disease onto a few more bonefish. And, I remember watching him give a close friend a chance at a better life by training him to be a bonefish guide.
Josie Sands will be revered as one of the finest bonefish captains the Bahamas has ever known. More importantly, however, he’ll be remembered as a father, a brother, a mentor and a friend. Thanks for everything, Josie. I hope there’s saltwater on the other side.
-Kyle Shea, former Operations Manager, Andros South Bonefish Lodge
When I Say Tip Up
I won’t deny that some of the first words he ever said to me were, “When I say tip up you put your tip up M— F—!” I’d just landed at the tiny airport late in the afternoon in a rainstorm and Copi had waited for me so we could run out for my first bonefish. We found an 8-pounder and I was playing it like a true Texas bass master, down low and from the cork, full bore. I asked him, “Does ‘tip up M— F—’ mean today or tomorrow?” To which he about fell off the tower laughing. Josie loved it when you fished hard for him, as well as when you gave it right back.
We spent quite a few days together for three years. He could chew your tail like no tomorrow, I mean really unleash it. He could also put you on the biggest bonefish of your life and teach you things you’d never forget. The last week we fished together, I had a day lined up where it would just be the two of us. I told him, “let’s just bring some good food and do what you love to do.” We went wild for some big ass ‘cudas in the morning, and then for hours we just spent the day pulled up alongside a limestone cliff throwing cut bait for snappers and laughing, sharing stories. He filled the cooler and had supper for days.
I will never fully understand why life ends. Damn, he was beautiful.
A favorite Josie quote:
After losing a big fish and saying, “that was a great fish,” Josie would always reply: “He’s still a great fish.”
-Nathaniel Riverhorse Nakadate, TFFJ Contributor and Patagonia Flyfishing Ambassador
Concentration. Communication. Relaxation.
At Andros South, stories trickle down over meals about Captain Josie, mostly in the realm of busted bonefish opportunities, beratings and big bonefish caught. And then one day, it happens: I end up on Josie’s boat.
“Those boots… they gotta go,” he says to me.
I have never taken my flats boots off for any man, but for Captain Josie I do. And so barefoot, with blue sky above, Captain Josie guides me—a guide that doesn’t particularly like to be guided—on his home turf. Similar to the other guides at Andros South, he is a fish-centric, intelligent stalker of the flats. Generous in his sharing of Bahamian culture, technique and knowledge of flats ecology. And I feel at home, mimicking his advice: launching casts into the unknown, setting into the glare of sun. Belly laughs. Tough bonefish. Philosophical conversation. Where life can be mundane and forgettable, fishing from the boat with Josie was anything but. He was, simply put, larger than life. My friend, who has been guided by him twice, refers to him as one of the Lords of Life. And so, may he rest in peace, this larger than life, Bahamian Lord of the flats.
-Cameron K. Scott, writer, guide, TFFJ contributor
The sign said “The New Ocean View Wholesale & Retail Bar,” but I always thought of it as Josie’s Place. A tiny, ramshackle storefront, it perched on the edge of the eastside Atlantic inlet into Little Creek (the South Andros equivalent of the Pearly Gates) and it’s what I remember him most for. Many will recall their days on the water with the big man—and I cherish a few of those of my own—but Josie’s contribution to the angling community, and to the people of South Andros, reached far beyond the water. If the fishing day had to end, best that it ended at Josie’s.
Josie’s Place was where anglers stepped ashore at the end of the day; where the guides quickly returned to having stowed their boats; and where a wide and diverse community of locals came to hang out in a loose and easy atmosphere. Nothing fancy. Josie tended bar like he guided; no nonsense with an undercurrent of wit.
Fresh-off-the-boat fishing stories flew, told from three—usually divergent—perspectives; the angler’s, his/her boat mate’s, and the guide’s. Josie would nod and interject when the story warranted a final analysis or bullshit needed to be called (which, of course, was often). Laughter prevailed, though it took something special to make the proprietor crack a smile. It was worth it when it happened.
Damn, I’ll miss those breakthroughs.
-Mike Sepelak, TFFJ contributor
Josie taught us love.
To love fiercely. No holds barred.
His love was supreme. It was loud, relentless and unforgiving, but it was pure.
Nothing Josie ever did was for himself.
He always looked at the bigger picture, putting the lodge, his fellow guides and the community first.
He taught us what true leadership looked like.
His legacy will live on, as steadfast and resolute as his love.
We were lucky to have been loved by him.
-Liz Fincher & Max Pushak, Operations Managers, Deneki Outdoors Andros South Bonefish Lodge