Monday, February 28, 2011

02.28.11 Put Bimini Big Game Club on your "Bucket List" !

Bimini Big Game Club 

Sunset from North Bimini Island

     Alrighty. After a few days home and jumping back into the real world here's a little recap on my trip to the Bimini Big Game Club (BBGC), a Guy Harvey Outpost. First let me orient you to where I was. The BBGC is located in Alice Town, North Bimini, the Bahamas, which is 48 nautical miles from Ft. Lauderdale. You can get there by boat or plane. For travelers from the United States there are commercial flights that run out of Ft. Lauderdale International Airport and charter flights from Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport. If you live close enough you would drive to one those airports, or if you're coming from a distance you would fly down and pick up a connecting flight. My trip included a 2-1/2 hour flight from Newark to Ft. Lauderdale International, then a quick drive to Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport, then the really quick 20 minute flight to South Bimini. There is also regular service out of St. Augustine, Nassau, Freeport, and Marsh Harbour. Price and schedule may dictate which way you travel to Bimini.      
Leaving Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport

Now, second, why I was down there. I was invited along with several fishing writers, editors and photographers to spend a few days down at the newly renovated and recently (2010) re-opened BBGC. The club has been in existence since the 1930's and had seen it's share of good and bad days, years, and decades. It was purchased a few years ago by investors who spent upwards of 5 million dollars bringing the place up to where it is today. Included in the group of  investors, advisers, and managers is world renowned artist, conservationist, diver, and scientist, Guy Harvey. The BBGC is the first Guy Harvey Outpost, and the resort includes backcountry fishing for species such as bonefish and permit, part of Bonefish Bimini, ran by artist and fly fisherman Vaughn Cochran. It also boasts world class diving, and is teamed up with Neil Watson to present Dive Bimini. And lastly, it is a world class big game fishery with anglers docking their own boats or chartering boats from the resort for species such as sailfish, marlin, tuna and wahoo. In addition to seeing the BBGC, we were also down there to join in the celebration of the 40th anniversary when angler Jerry Lavenstein and Bimini bonefish guide Ansil Saunders caught a world record 16 pound bonefish on a 12 pound line, a record that still stands today. The festivities included a dinner and presentation of a plaque from the I.G.F.A. and a parade down the main street in North Bimini, Kings Highway. And, of course, we were also down there to try our luck fishing for bonefish and permit in what the organizers termed, the Bonefish Invitational Writers Challenge. 

February 25, 1971- Angler Jerry Lavenstein and guide Ansil Saunders with a World Record bonefish

Bimini bonefish guide Ansil Saunders today at 79

So why put the BBGC on your bucket list?

      Imagine being one of maybe a dozen fly fishing anglers that are fishing the flats around Bimini on any given day. Imagine water so turquoise and clear that you can sight cast to fish over a hundred feet away. Imagine a comfortable room, a bar and restaurant to relax at after a long day of fishing, diving, or just exploring. Imagine that in addition to lounge chairs, hammocks, a pool, and sandy white beaches only a few hundred feet away. And there's more. Add to that a nice walk down the main street known as Kings Highway to visit the local shops, bakery, and sights of this Bahamian Island. It is an island rich in history. Ernest Hemingway called this island for home for several years in the 1930's. He lived at the Compleat Angler, a hotel just down the street from the BBGC that burned down in 2006, and wrote sections of his 1937 novel, To Have and Have Not. It is rumored that the Lost City of Atlantis was located in the vicinity of North Bimini after an underwater rock formation was discovered off the coast in 1968. It is referred to as Bimini Road or the Bimini Wall. Legend also says Bimini is the home to the Fountain of Youth. It was during Ponce de Leon's search of Bimini Island and the Fountain of Youth that he discovered Florida. Other famous visitors include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

The fishing 

Bimini bonefish guide- Bonefish Tommy and photographer Pat Ford leave the marina

Bimini bonefish guide- Bonefish Ebbie

     The waters around Bimini are home to incredible big game fishing. Boat owners can dock at one of 70 slips at the BBGC Marina. There is also an off shore charter for hire service available. But our group was invited down to get a taste of the world class bonefish and permit fishing. I was able to spend some
time with Vaughn Cochran, a former flats guide, world renowned artist, and owner of Black Fly

Artist and fly fisherman Vaughn Cochran

Outfitters out of Florida. He is overseeing the backcountry operations for the Guy Harvey Outpost known as Bonefish Bimini. Currently there are four guides on the island that fish for bonefish and permit on the flats. They are, Bonefish Tommy, Bonefish Ebbie, Eagle Eye Fred, and Ansil Saunders. I had the opportunity to fish with Ebbie, and was joined by Florida outdoor writer Jim Sutton. After a quick ride we were on "the outside" and were searching for bonefish and permit along the beach. Jim was using spinning gear and crabs and caught several fish quickly, including a small bonefish. We had a steady wind which made it tough to see the fish and tougher for Ebbie to pole the boat. I had a few shots at some average sized bonefish, one that showed interest at 70 feet and stayed on it/ off it all the way to the boat. Refusal after refusal, left, right, left, right, and then it blew out. That was the highlight of my day. It was really cool to try and change the speed of my strip to entice a strike. We continued our search and saw plenty of blacktip and lemon sharks. We also looked for and saw plenty of rays, which is a good sign because permit ride their back collecting whatever the ray kicks up. We eventually shifted inside and found some fish feeding in about four feet of water. Ebbie was looking for clouds of mud that pinpointed the location of grazing bones. I made a few blind casts and hooked into one and soon he was gone and I was deep into my backing. We netted the fish, took a measurement of 22-1/4 inches, a quick pic, and then back into the water. Jim picked up another so our boat had three fish on the day.

                                                                                                      Jim Sutton photo


     A few notes on bonefishing from an angler who never did. It is very weather dependent. Maybe even a little more so then other fishing that I am used to. Yes stripers prefer cloudy overcast days, but you can still get them when conditions aren't spot on. When fly fishing and sight casting for bones on the flats you'd like a nice calm day with a lots of sun. Tides and the locations of the fish go hand in hand, and it's easy to get stuck in a place if you don't pay attention to where you are and when. Sun protection. I thought I was protected, until I realized I was standing on the bow of the boat all day and didn't protect the back of my legs. Bad, very bad. It now hurts to bend my legs in a chair or to sit on the toilet. And then there's always the cast. It needs to be quick and accurate. Excessive false casting will spook the fish. It's load, maybe one low profile false cast and shoot. And oh yeah, 80 feet is a good cast ! Make sure you have what you need before you leave home. I didn't bring any fly fishing gear down with me. I was bogged down with camera gear. I figured there would be a fly shop on-site where I could rent a fly rod, or my guide would have I one I could borrow. I was surprised when I arrived that there wasn't a full service fly/ tackle shop on the property. There is a small selection of flies and tackle available in the Outpost Outfitter, which is mostly a Guy Harvey shirt and souvenior shop. I am sure in the future they will open a shop there. A place where an angler can pick up fly line, leader and tippet material, and flies, and a place where an angler can browse and talk fishing with whoever is manning the shop. 

The Accommodations and Amenities 

Bimini Big Game Club room

     I spoke with some of the writers who had stayed here before the new group took ownership and made improvements. They say it's beyond a world of difference. My room was on the second floor overlooking the pool. It had two queen beds and a balcony with chairs and a table. The bathroom were clean and comfortable. Best of all the air conditioning cooled my sun burnt skin down after the long day on the water. The rooms, like much throughout the resort, is chock full of Guy Harvey artwork. It is everywhere, and on everything. I was lucky to have a Vaughn Cochran piece of art on one of the walls in my room. The bar is located poolside and is covered with televisions in each corner. It was funny but I got into watching Dr. Phil while talking about the days fishing, until I realized I was watching Dr. Phil while talking about the days fishing. I then tuned it out of my mind. The restaurant is located on the second floor overlooking the marina with seating both in and outside.  The food was good and the staff very friendly and polite. It was very busy the night we were up there and the staff was challenged with


the rush. That meant more Kaliks, the local Bahamian beer, while we waited. The property is big enough to take a leisurely stroll around the marina and pool and cottage area. There are wall mounts of Guy Harvey artwork and informational placards to read that go with almost all of them. If you want to take an early morning jog or need to walk off last nights dinner the gates to the BBGC open onto Kings Highway. A quick walk up the hill will bring you to the beautiful sandy white beaches we are used to seeing in brochures on the Bahamas. A right or left will take you for a mile or so to the end of North Bimini on one end and the Bimini Bay Resort on the other. When you get back the palm trees create great cover for the hammocks that hang from them. It is truly a place where you could drift off into a nap while trying to finish the last chapters of your favorite book.


Now we have to talk business, how much will it cost

Pat Ford casts with guide Eagle Eyes Fred on the pole

     Those bucket list dreams do sometimes cost some money. And this dream does have some costs attached to it. I was told that the BBGC is currently working on putting bonefish packages together. Here is a simulated breakdown of what it might cost two anglers traveling from here in New Jersey,

- round trip airfare from Newark to Ft Lauderdale               400.00  x 2  =          800.00
- round trip airfare FTL to Bimini                                          220.00  x 2  =          440.00
- lodging 4 nights/5 days   (2 Queen beds)                         225.00  x 4 =        1,000.00   
- guided fishing 600.00 per day (three days)                      600.00  x 3  =        1,800.00   
- food/drink 100.00 per day per person                              200.00  x 5 =         1,000.00
- gear/flies/clothes/ ect for trip 200.00 per person              200.00  x 2 =            400.00
- tips (guides,staff,ect)                                                        175.00  x 2 =            350.00                                                   

Per person for four night/five days w three days guided bonefishing-         $ 2,895.00

It was a pleasure to meet the fine owners, managers, and staff at the Bimini Big Game Club. I think this destination is great for a wide range of travelers. From the single angler, or one in a couple who fishes, to a small group of anglers looking for a trip of a lifetime. This is a place where you can dive, fish, explore, and relax and feel like you are truly a world away, yet only a short 17 minute flight from Florida.

 For more information and to book a trip go to

Bimini Big Game Club Marina