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Before you read on, I first want to remark that I fully realize that what I’m about to say next could be considered a total cliché. But damn it — there really is something to be said about washing down conch fritters with cold Kaliks while watching a Bahamian sun fall after a day of bonefishing. By and large, fly-fishermen take pleasures in simple things. We are drawn to tradition, and with any lasting tradition a foundation based on authenticity can be found. Each island in the Bahamian chain has its own unique charm, but that classic island vibe that we’ve all come to love has become harder to come by. For those who do want to cap off an outstanding fishing day with a French-inspired hors d’oeuvre platter and an aged merlot, the good news is that the Bahamas have plenty of great options. But even better — for those of us who crave that old-school ambience, the small island of Water Cay located off the east side of Grand Bahama’s horn offers that and much more.
The topic of Bahamian authenticity came up in a conversation with Angling Destinations’ Scott Heywood. Though Heywood’s job entails selling customers on particular destinations, I could tell by the way he spoke about Water Cay that this was no sales pitch. He genuinely felt that the fishery is strong, the guides exceptional, and the spot — a true Bahamian experience. Heywood went on to say that he and other Angling Destinations personnel had explored these waters and found great success in years past. The problem had always been that, despite not being far from the mainland’s coast, it was relatively hard to reach. For a time, the Water Cay Bonefish Lodge was open for business, but eventually it failed. The hurricane season of 2004 pounded the lodge and left it crippled and empty of staff, and therefore guests. However, after three years of sweat equity, the lodge opened for business once again, and Sidney Thomas became the head guide and had the early task of bringing on two more hardworking bonefish experts.
Keeping it in the family, Sidney hired his brother Ezra. Born on Abaco, both Thomas boys entered the world with an innate sense of fishing. Together, they opted to call on another Abaconian, their friend Greg Rolle, who shared this trait, to round out the guide staff of the new and improved Water Cay Bonefish Lodge.
A few weeks later, I found myself awaiting my bags in the Freeport airport. In between numbing stares at the slow-moving luggage belt, I scanned the room for a person who fit the guide profile. When I looked outside, I noticed a tall, stoutly built Bahamian fellow peering in through the glass as though he was looking for someone. The scruffy-faced man wore a sweat- and salt-stained, tan beanie that lazily sagged from the weight of the hair tendrils stuffed inside. He was, in my book, textbook Bahamian. I crossed my fingers in hope he was my ride. Finally, my rod tube came down the belt. Grabbing it must have given away who I was because the man who was curiously looking inside moments ago was now standing in front of me with an outreached hand and presenting himself as Ezra Thomas. I followed him outside, where he introduced me to Doug Jeffries and Mike Kotrick. In lieu of staying at Water Cay Lodge, Angling Destinations arranged for the three of us to use a catamaran live-aboard as a bonefishing base camp for the next week. This would enable us to be close to the fishing and also allow for mobility depending on the tides. By the time how-do-you-do’s and where-are-you-from’s were complete, Ezra had already veered the van off the paved highway, and we were bouncing down dirt roads leading us farther into the Bahamian bush.
Deep in the woods, Ezra stopped the van at an inconspicuous ramp where his brother Sidney waited to taxi us to our floating home. When we arrived on the boat, our bags had been stowed in private cabins and flip-flops retired below deck. While rigging rods and tying leaders that evening, Doug, who had fished with the Water Cay boys on numerous occasions, described the guides we’d be fishing with for the next few days. His description matched Scott Heywood’s to a tee. Extremely hardworking, driven to catch fish and, most importantly, unbelievable teachers were terms he unknowingly repeated over and over.
Morning finally arrived, and right as we were finishing up breakfast, Sidney and Ezra began pulling their skiffs away from the guide quarters, a lobster boat anchored a few hundred yards away that would be left in Greg’s hands for the day. Doug and I piled in with Ezra, and Mike went solo with Sidney. It was a short run to the first flat, and moments later the only sound in the air was the soft entry of Ezra’s push pole into the shallow water.