By Jason Tucker
I could not have been more shocked to find myself in the Bahamas than if my spaceship had crashed there.
The call came on Thursday. “Can you go to the Bahamas for a week?”
“We leave Saturday.”
I checked with my employer, girlfriend and bank account. For once in my life the answer was yes. And so it was that I was off to Bair’s Lodge in the Bahamas on my first hosted trip with Mr. Louis Cahill.
I’ve never quite understood hosted trips, or why folks pay to go on them. I don’t mean this as a criticism, but merely as an observation. I had no idea really what they are all about. I mean, why not just book a trip and go?
Because booking a trip in a far-off place can be intimidating. How do you know the fishing will be good? What do you do if you have a problem with a guide or the lodge? What if you fundamentally misunderstand the fishing and need guidance, flies, or information on the culture, or even what to pack?
There are a number of guides I know that do hosted trips to South America and other places. These guys have a clientele who like fishing with them. It’s a ready-made cocktail. The guides have gone and done the legwork, scouting the location, lodge and fishing, and can act as a liaison. Clients go and know they have someone on their team. The host can get to know the local culture and the fishing and therefore buffer your descent into the experience.
I was grateful to travel the final leg with Louis, as even the casual manner of Andros Air was foreign and disorienting. Basically, when we all showed up, we flew. The flight was brief and uneventful, but when you taxi up to the shack that serves as a terminal on Andros you are greeted by the sight of crashed plane sitting on the edge of the runway.
When we got to Bair’s Lodge after a thirty-minute taxi ride, we were met by our hosts James Hamilton and Liz Ziebarth. But after showing us our room and letting us settle the real test came, for me. Most of the other guests had already arrived and were out on the veranda enjoying cocktails and appetizers. Who were these guys? Would I, a working-class guy, fit in at all. I introduced myself nervously, quickly forgetting their names, vowing to work on it the rest of the week. The appetizers were amazing. Louis came out and did a casting presentation, then helped me tie up a couple custom leaders for bonefish.
After dinner Louis put on a ninety-minute bonefish school with slides from his vast library of images, each illustrating the point being made.
For the guys who had done this before this was a refresher course. For the other guys like me for whom this was all new, it was an avalanche of information that would take days to sort out. After that Louis showed several of us how to tie the Bimini twist.
The next day I was fortunate enough to get to fish with Louis. We were unfortunate enough to have terrible weather. We had intermittent showers and high winds, with gray clouds scudding overhead. For us fish were scarce and shots rare. We did find one fish that wanted to play, and I had the privilege of seeing Louis make the cast forty feet into a thirty-knot wind and hooking the fish. If I wondered if Louis was all talk, or really had the chops, there it was.
On the second day of fishing the weather started out much better. The gentleman I was fishing with got a couple fish before I managed to finally stick one. With multiple shots at fish in decent conditions I was able to recall some of the lessons from Louis’ seminar. But that night two more anglers came in from Michigan after being delayed by winter weather. Louis got out his projector and gave his entire presentation for the new arrivals. I sat in on it again, and after two days of fishing, a lot of it made more sense. Nuggets I had missed (like always clamping your line with a finger on your rod hand at the end of each strip, so that if a bonefish eats at the end of the strip you can set with the rod hand) came back in sharp relief.
We had a lot of tough weather that week, but everyone persevered and we all caught fish. A couple guys got barracudas and even a blacktip shark. Unfortunately on the other day that I was able to fish with Louis, the weather was so bad that by one-o’clock every boat had called it and headed back to the lodge. And even with that, a couple boats found tailing fish and success.
Louis made himself available to everyone that week.
If you wanted to fish with him all you had to do was ask. If you wanted to tie a fly he would help you. Hell, if you wanted one from his box he gave it to you. If you wanted one on one casting instruction he gave it. If you wanted to know how much to tip the guide he told you. One very windy night he busted out a rod while everyone else was enjoying a cocktail and demonstrated how to build line speed, and then walked down to the beach and made a forty foot cast directly into the forty knot wind that threated to blow the appetizers away.
Another interesting aspect of this hosted trip were the guests. Our group came from a variety of backgrounds, from working class to corporate executives, former military to doctors, from British Columbia to Connecticut. We all shared one thing in common- a passion for fly fishing and the will to persevere.
I can’t claim to be an expert on hosted trips, and I’m sure the experiences will be as varied as the hosts. Maybe you want to fish with a “celebrity”, maybe you want one on one instruction from an expert you trust, or rely on the host to put together a group of like-minded individuals. I can’t vouch for other hosted experiences, and you need to do due diligence on your part. A good host will answer all your questions and spell out in detail exactly what to expect from them. Is the trip a lark with a celebrity to a great destination? Or does it offer more in-depth instruction from a qualified person, perhaps even one on one? Is the host an informal travel agent, or will they serve as a liaison with the lodge and your guides? You need to know what you want and expect from a hosted trip and articulate that before you go.
What I can say of the Gink and Gasoline bonefish school, is that Louis did all this for us.
First-class instruction, one-on-one tutoring, practical help with flies and gear, and he was our liaison to the lodge and guides. Currently his school also offers a discount over the usual lodge rates as well. Despite it being called a school, none of the instruction was during fishing time- everyone got a full six days of fishing.
Standing on the bow on the last day of fishing, I heard the guide call out “Twelve-o’clock, forty feet.” Despite some earlier flubs, I made the cast and saw the fish just as it ate on the second strip. My fly stopped with a firm thud. The fish gave two head shakes, then streaked away in their famous hundred-yard dash. I could tell right away it was a big fish. It paused, gave a few head shakes, then took off on another run nearly as long. My fly line was a distant memory, and I started fearing for my backing. It fought doggedly back to the boat and we could see it was a very large fish. When it saw the boat, it spooked, taking me far into my backing again. Then it was a slugfest until we finally landed it. We didn’t weigh or measure it, but our guide, Ronnie Bain, said it was at least ten pounds and wanted his picture with it.
After a week of instruction and some tough fishing conditions it had all come together. I can’t wait to go back.
Jason writes the fine blog Fontinalis Rising
Jason TuckerGink & Gasoline www.ginkandgasoline.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!