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When the Mountaintop Met the Mangroves

Keeping the Faith With Ansil Saunders

“It happened right there—just off that mangrove island,” Ansil Saunders says.  He points to the spot where in 1971 his client, Jerry Lavenstein, a now-deceased sportsman from Virginia Beach, VA, caught a 16-pound bonefish on eight-pound test on a live shrimp. That fish was an all-tackle world record, one that still stands.

Saunders is a lanky man with chiseled forearms and a clear complexion that is anachronistic given he’s been poling a boat under the blazing sun for decades. He has lived on Bimini of the Bahamas for his entire life and retired from guiding last year at the age of 83. Saunders is a fifth-generation Biminian. He started fishing at 18 years old and within 15 years, in 1966, he had converted his religion to fly—which says a lot, as he is a devout man. Even today, he regularly attends church on the sleepy but rapidly developing island of North Bimini.

Saunders is a walking history book, having experienced not only that magical day, but also many harder ones during the United States’ Civil Rights Movement. Segregation was also alive and well on Bimini. A small chain of  just two islands, Bimini holds a series of mangrove patches that thrive in the bight between the tiny north and south islands. It’s only 50 miles east of Miami, but is a world away in character…


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