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BahamaCon 2017

Shrimp Training and Honky Conchin’

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It is a two-ocean kind of day. I look out the right window, early in the morning staring at the Pacific as we leave Los Angeles. Banking south and to the east, there are the Channel Islands. After a turbulent McMuffin breakfast, things veer towards an armrest fight/tray table love song sort of morning. The flight crew struggles: there are no cheese platters, no Thai chicken wraps, no meals at all, only small bags of pretzels and dry biscotti. But there is IPA on demand and it is possible through the wonders of technology, to order your friend a beer, via the in-flight touch screen. I am on IPA season 2 episode 6.

Much later, we diagonal over the Gulf of Mexico into Ft. Lauderdale Florida and Uber to the Funky Buddha Brewery and are overwhelmed with sight, sound and feel of the region’s biggest craft brewery on a Friday night. We’re content to eat and sample beverages and drip food juices down hands and face in front of projected Final Four teams. It is a wondrous contrast to the day’s air-bound shuffle. We save half of our dinners for the late game in the cheap hotel room wondering how we got here.

In the morning over the Atlantic Ocean, again out of the right windows, we watch the tops of clouds light up with the rising sun. I look to my left, at the other folks on the flight. They are all sleeping. To be above the clouds and in them and part of them, alive with the colors of a new day, how can you sleep at a time like this?

For the gazillionth time I think how lucky we are and for the fifth year in a row, that luck has transcribed into an extended stint on South Andros, Bahamas.

Things are changing here, albeit slowly, and at island pace and on island terms. There are new regulations for flyfishers and mandatory fishing licenses. And tap water is coming. Up and down the Queen’s Highway, there is a big ditch carved into the dirt and limestone ground. Construction workers wave in the mornings as we pass by. The caution tape is constantly flexing from the east wind, warning of the ditch. Stacks of blue pipe wait for their roadside burial. Plots of land are cleared and burned and new houses pop up in the space. Repairs are made on the dilapidated ones. If I had the money, I’d buy now.

Things may change, but mostly, in the Bahamas on South Andros they will always be familiar. Passing cars will honk a horn, or wave. Maybe there’s a new guide. Maybe one has left to work for a different boss, or moved to the city to be nearer family. What doesn’t change are the friendly faces. Glo in the kitchen making the tastes. Girard rinsing away the salt on the rods. Kyle and Jason keeping it all together and cool.

Daily, we put on our blue and khaki, or green and khaki uniform. Tory, Josie, Charlie, Ellie and Phillip coach, look out for fish, errant backcasts and our temper tantrums, each with their own style and levels of patience. We train our shrimp to be more shrimplike. We invent blockbuster movies titled How To Train Your Shrimp. We play keep away from the fastest bonefish and we’re very good at it. At least I am. We bubble in and out of mangrove mazes that even GPS can’t locate. We curse at circling vultures casting bonefish spooking shadows. We curse the puffy clouds and do our best to sweet talk the sun.

“You’re so pretty sun, why don’t you come back. Ditch that cloud for a while and hang with us?

It could be my prescription, it could be macular degeneration, but at some point in the day, everything becomes a bonefish. I promote myself to senior internal line manager and I am fired and rehired multiple times per day by my boat partners. I invent a job for myself, beer caddy, so cold beers are not wasted on deck.

We invent conch hashtags and band names that riff on where we are:

#crackedconchaine,

#honkeyconchin,

#nickelbagofconch

#steadyconchin

“This is a sweet deep channel.”

“You’ve got a sweet deep channel.”

“Actually that’s a good band name…Sweet Deep Channel.”

On the last day, we come across a family of dolphin, exploring the flats like us. We ponder the reasons they are here and worry that they are lost, stuck with the falling tide. I get out of the boat and walk slowly towards them, making dolphin talk. They turn, curious like us, and the dad gets the closest and I wish to him that they aren’t lost, aren’t stuck.

“What was the purpose of your trip?”

“Flyfishing, vacation.”

“What is flyfishing?”

“Fishing with a fly, no worms or bait.”

The US Customs at the Nassau Airport should know what flyfishing is. Like all fishing trips, the take-outs are the worst and re-entry back into whatever was your life before takes time. It’s like time travel, don’t rush it.

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