By Pat Ford

If you’re looking for a place with miles of pristine flats, crystal waters, hard sand bottoms, sheltered out-of-the wind coves and where you can fish a different area every day and never see another flats skiff, the Crooked & Acklins Trophy Lodge has to be right at the top of your list.  Situated 240 miles southeast of Nassau (and less that 100 kilometers from Cuba’s coast), these amazing Out Islands compose a chevron shaped Atoll of some 230 square miles with only around 350 inhabitants. The heart of the Atoll is an enormous lagoon known as the Bight of Acklins.  The two islands are literally separated by a channel and the combination provides some 50,000 acres of fishable flats for bonefish, permit, triggerfish, barracuda, mutton snapper, sharks and even, on occasion, tarpon.  There is no industry, few stores, no fly shop, very few tourists; but the flats are literally as natural as when they were first discovered.  It was the magic of these islands that led Herle Harmon and Jean-Paul Tissieres to create Crooked & Acklins Trophy Lodge.

The Lodge is located on a remote beach at Winding Bay, Major’s Cay on Crooked Island.  It is not fancy by Nassau standards but for Crooked, it’s a palace that even has Wi-Fi in the rooms.  Breakfasts and dinners are served buffet style in the main lodge and boat lunches are delivered as you embark each morning on the 10-15 minute drive to whichever launching ramp you have selected for the day’s fishing.  The lodge dispatches no more than five boats a day, with two anglers per skiff.  While the lodge owns several state-of-the-art skiffs, they hire native guides each day.  These guides have grown up fishing their home waters and they know exactly where the fish will be on which tides…there are no rookie guides!

I was fortunate to Visit Crooked&Acklins with Bonefish Tarpon Trust Chairman, Harold Brewer and his wife Mona at the same time that Jean-Paul was taking a busman’s holiday and actually fishing his own lodge.  We flew from Miami to Nassau where we stayed overnight because there are only two flights a week to Crooked Island – Saturday and Wednesday – on Bahamas Air.  The Saturday morning flight leaves pretty much whenever it feels like it, but gets you to the lodge in time to settle in and do a little land-captain style fishing before dinner.  When we arrived, there was an Australian couple that were just beginning their second week of fishing.  They had been driven down the beach and were fishing their way back along the surf.  The other option was to fish a land-locked lake that reportedly had a resident school of permit, we chose the lake and I managed to hook and land a small permit on a fly before it was time to return for dinner….a permit on fly in the first hour is a pretty good start.

The plan each day is to fish a totally new area.  There are literally bonefish everywhere that can range from massive schools to double-digit singles.  Tackle is pretty standard – an 8 or 9 weight fly rod, 12’ leader tapered down to 12 lb test and your favorite bonefish fly.  My personal selection is the Puglese spawning shrimp.  I have  several sizes, some with bead and some with lead eyes, depending on water depth, and a weed guard is always a plus.  It’s really the only fly I use these days, especially because permit and mutton snappers will jump on it too.  This doesn’t mean that I don’t bring dozens of flies with me.  I just always seem to have a spawning shrimp on the line when I’m catching bones.

The permit fishing is simply as good as it gets, almost anywhere.  If you’re after permit, avoid the full moons in April and May, if possible, because for several days the permit leave the flats to spawn, which decreases the number of shots you’ll get.  My standard permit system is a 10 weight with possibly a 11weight line and a long leader tapered down to 20 lb fluorocarbon.  Again, I have one fly for permit…the Dale Perez Velcro Crab.  It is especially effective when permit are following rays, which they do a lot at Crooked/Acklins.  A permit following a ray is feeding which means he will be in ‘jack’ mode as opposed to ‘permit’ mode.  No one likes permit in ‘permit mode’, they don’t care who you are, how well you can cast or what fly you use…they are not going to bite…period!  Look for them on rays and it’s a whole different ball game.  The Crooked/Acklins permit range up to 40 lbs and it’s not unusual to have multiple shots on a daily basis.  Our Aussie friends caught 4 the week before we arrived.

Whether you’re chasing permit or bonefish, there is always a chance to get a shot at a mutton snapper on the flats, which is a real thrill; but during my stay, I became fascinated with chasing triggerfish.  When we sat down to dinner that first night the Aussies described catching a dozen triggers on fly in the surf as they walked along the beach to the lodge from their drop-off point.  This report didn’t get me too excited because triggers weren’t permit, muttons or bonefish.  Well a few days and a few dozen bonefish later, I had my first shot at a tailing triggerfish.  I managed to place the fly close enough to get the trigger’s attention, but the wind and tide were pushing us away from the fish so the fly was moving at warp speed.  Nevertheless, the trigger hit it several times and even turned on it’s side to chase it thru 4” of water.  I never did hook that trigger but it sure got my attention.  I had a few more shots over the next few days but they are as fussy as permit, spooky as hell and I just couldn’t get the hook set in their tiny beak-like mouths.  I even spent some time checking out the surf without success.  When I return to Crooked & Acklins I may very well concentrate on the triggerfish!

There are some tarpon spots at Crooked but it’s a hit or miss operation.  They find them on some of the points and in the channels where they can be caught on fly while chumming with live pilchards.  I think what impressed me the most was the versatility of the guides.  They all could throw cast nets and had no hesitation at chumming the coral heads and channels with pilchards when conditions were right.  The were also more than happy to let you throw a spinning rod if fly fishing was too much of a challenge.  The bonefish hit ‘wiggle jigs” with gusto and the barracuda jumped on tube lures.  At one point chumming with pilchards raise some cubera snapper along with the usual jacks and mangrove snapper.  There are lots of big barracuda on the flats and I found that a baitfish style fly worked better that the needlefish flies that I usually threw at cuda.  A 20 lb+ cuda on a fly on the flats is a spectacular experience and there are lots of them.  In addition, I was surprised by the sharks, which ranged from 20 to over 100 lbs.  They could appear at any time and would eagerly eat the same baitfish pattern I used for cuda, without the use of any chum.  Put the fly in front of a shark and you would be hooked up immediately.  Always keep a 10 weight rigged with some wire.

The week went by all too fast.  All the permit I saw suffered from ‘blown cast syndrome’ or were in permit mode.  We caught a few small tarpon but most of our searching for poons was in vain.  I didn’t put a dent it the numerous possibilities that were presented on those endless flats during the week we were there, which is why I have to go back.  We were also there on the full moon in early May and I think the spawn affected our fishing for permit and muttons.  Fortunately there was plenty of everything else to keep us on point.

If there was a glitch in the trip it was the flights from Nassau to Crooked and back.  Bahamas Air doesn’t keep a very tight schedule.  My return flight was scheduled for around 9 am and kept getting pushed back during the weeks before the trip until I had to reschedule my return trip. Then the 9am flight was reinstated a few days before we left.  When the day of departure finally arrived, the 9am flight took off at 1pm.  I suggest leaving plenty of time for ‘delays’ between your trip out of Crooked and your flight out of Nassau….after all, you’re taking a trip back it time a little aviation unreliability is a small price to pay.