“So what do you think, David? High or low?” asked Oliver White, Abaco Lodge fishing manager. I looked behind me and waited for a response from our guide, David Tate. With his eyes intently fixed on the expansive flat in front of him, the reserved Bahamian replied, “Tings be looking good — I bet low.” White, now staring down at his watch, answered, “Starting now!”
With a hunch the two weren’t referring to the tide, I asked what they meant by high or low. White explained that guides and clients sometimes play this game in the Marls of Abaco. Betting high means that 90 seconds or more will pass between your last and next shot at a bonefish. Betting low means it will be less than 90 seconds before you have another chance.
By the time White was finished with his 30-second explanation of how to play High Low, we both heard Tate telling us he had a pod of bonefish in his cross hairs 60 feet away at 2 o’clock from the bow. White quickly turned, made a cast in front of the small group of fish, crouched down, stripped twice and came tight to a silvery bone.
If playing this game in other bonefish destinations, betting men would likely put their money on high most of the time. However, White and Tate proved over and over again that if you’re fishing the Marls of Abaco, guessing low is actually the safer gamble.
Lucayans were the original occupants of Abaco. In the late 1700s, Loyalists escaping the American Revolution made places like Cherokee Sound, Elbow Cay and Carleton Point their home. The residents of the Abacos mostly made their living either as boatbuilders or farmers. As the world’s clock ticked on, many foreigners began recognizing the natural beauty of the island, and it wasn’t long before towns like Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay were regularly unloading small planes full of travelers seeking an exotic vacation. Once bonefishing’s popularity spread from Andros, fly-anglers began accompanying the tourists on these small planes. Though much of Abaco has changed since those early days of exploration, the types of travelers the island sees have not.
Once your toes land on Abaco sand, you’d be hard-pressed to find a person there who isn’t ready for a little R&R, a cold Kalik and perhaps a little bonefishing. As I stepped outside of the Marsh Harbour airport into the warm sun, I noticed my unmistakable shuttle service — an old tan single-cab pickup truck with a German shepherd standing in the bed and a bright blue Hell’s Bay skiff in tow. In the cab were White and Tate.
After hellos and nice to meet yous, White asked, “You ready to fish?” Twenty minutes later, the skiff was splashed; the guide, gear and German shepherd were loaded; and we were on our way to the flats.
As we fished that afternoon, White asked what exactly I was hoping to do during my stay. My goal for the trip was simple — catch as many bones as possible and hopefully land a couple of big ones. White smiled and said that we could do just that, or if I was up for it, we could explore a little and try to capitalize on other options available around the island. I was puzzled — I always thought of Abaco as a one-trick pony as far as fly-fishing was concerned. I figured the game plan would be simply to fish the Marls every day and cast to tailing bonefish. But always up for something new, I asked White what other options there were. As he stood on the bow waiting for his next opportunity, he enlightened me. The quality of fishing in the Marls is so good that anglers and guides often use it as a sure bet, but anglers willing to roll the dice and leave the Marls can potentially catch permit, tarpon, sharks and even dolphin. Right as White finished educating me about the diversity of Abaco, Tate, who had been silently poling along the flat, called out: “Point your rod left, more left — right there!” As White made his delivery, he said, “Add fishing for mutton snapper on the flats to that list of diversity.” I’ve heard claims like this before, but I would soon find that Abaco truly is a land of fly-fishing opportunity.