For two small islands of only 1,600 people, Bimini boasts an impressive number of world-class anglers, writers and statesmen who have either visited or lived on this tiny Bahamian outpost just 50 miles from the Florida coast. Anglers such as Zane Grey, Martin Luther King and my grandfather Ernest Hemingway have long enjoyed the islands' reputation for some of the best fishing on the planet.
Grey was so enthusiastic about Bimini, he called it “a sport fisherman's dream come true.” Trolling the waters between Key Largo and Bimini, he helped to introduce the well-heeled of the Roaring Twenties to the challenges of catching marlin and sailfish. His books and many world records also played a part in enticing my grandfather to the Keys and eventually to Bimini.
For Ernest, the sheer power and speed of the billfish and the bluefin tuna that were found right off the coast of the north island were irresistible. But hooking them was only part of the battle. His biggest problem (and no small part of the inspiration for his novella The Old Man and the Sea) was getting what he'd caught on board before they were “apple-cored” by mako sharks.
The swift and unforgiving makos feasted on many of his potential trophies and convinced him that it wasn’t enough to reel in the fish; you had to aggressively pursue it. He was one of the first to use the technique of putting the boat into full reverse to get his catch out of the water as soon as possible.
But as much as he loved the island and its fishing, Ernest didn't come back after the summer of 1937. The Spanish Civil War was in full swing and after covering the fall of Madrid to the Fascists he moved to Cuba.
My father, on the other hand, continued to visit Bimini, and in the 1960s and ’70s my parents would often bring me over on the Grumman Goose seaplanes that Chalk’s Airlines flew out of Miami. The tarmac for these planes was – and still is – the same one that you see at the end of the Jonathan Demme film “The Silence of the Lambs.” These days, however, there's only one airline that will take you there on a seaplane, Tropic Ocean Airways.