Unlike so many places near the coastal United States, much of the Exumas appear the same today as they did back when pirates, buccaneers and privateers used them for hiding places. In fact, among 365 islands amid 140 miles of brilliant turquoise water in the Exumas alone, they enjoyed virtually an infinite number of hidden anchorages and shore-side bases.
What those brazen brigands never had a chance to enjoy is the sybaritic luxury of Sandals Resorts' newest upscale property - Royal Plantation Island on Fowl Cay.
The crew of SFTV and I got an invitation from Sandals Resorts CEO Adam Stewart to be his guest at the newest and most exclusive property, Royal Plantation, so we could tape a show about the fishing in the area. We planned to fish nearby Tongue of the Ocean for wahoo and then surrounding flats for "hundreds of shots at bonefish" every day!
We met our Watermakers Air charter flight at a small executive airport in Pompano, Florida, and flew to Congo Town on Andros Island to clear customs and immigration, then another 20 minutes on to Staniel Cay in the Exumas. David Machado, Royal Plantation's young general manager, met our flight and whisked us down the driveway to the resort's Grady-White for the 10-minute ride to Fowl Cay. I considered it a good omen that two schools of bonefish numbering more than 100 circled beneath the Grady right at the dock. Our gear all magically disappeared from the plane and apparently found its own way to our villas.
Resort staff met us at the Royal Plantation with champagne and canapés. "Your bags have been delivered to your villa. Would you like me to unpack for you?" our butler asked. Yes, that's right. Each villa has a butler to handle pretty much anything you could want.
Most of the villas qualify as mansions. I chose to stay in Starlight, the tiniest, most remote bungalow on a knoll overlooking the bay. It was intimate, incredibly comfortable and very luxurious.
Though I took advantage of none of the amenities available on-island - such as tennis, beaches, etc. - they are all there for your pleasure. Our crew stuck to fishing, eating and drinking.
A personal chef can cook meals in your villa, or you can join your fellow guests in the dining room with an open bar beforehand.
Perhaps what is so extraordinary is the level of service. I doubt there is any request they can't or won't accommodate!
What About Fishing?
You have three options in the surrounding Exumas: flats fishing, bottomfishing and offshore. We sampled two of the three. Our first day we climbed aboard Adam Stewart's new Cabo and headed out into the Tongue of the Ocean. Being the front of December, the annual wahoo migration was in full bloom. And the reef sharks were there like rats in a landfill!
This narrow but incredibly deep trench between the Bahamian islands of Andros and New Providence drops from the flats to more than 6,000 feet. About 100 miles long, this odd trough is a favorite place for the U.S. Navy to conduct submarine warfare exercises. Since you won't find much in the way of bottom structure here, the best places to find fish are around man-made objects like giant NOAA and Navy weather buoys.
Between the Tongue of the Ocean and the shallow island waters are the shelves and reefs that rim the deep. All manner of snapper, grouper, triggerfish and other bottom species abound here. It runs the length of the Exumas and so stands but a very short boat ride from Royal Plantation, or any other island for that matter.
But we came for the extraordinary bonefishery. This entire area of the Bahamas has deservedly earned a reputation as one of the finest bonefish destinations on the planet with more dedicated bonefishing resorts than any single place - much like sailfish in Guatemala, billfish in Bermuda or Venezuela and so on.
Our second and third days at Royal Plantation were occupied by Capt. Bonefish Cliff. Cliff runs a little Boston Whaler, though Machado says the resort will be gearing up with a number of upscale flats skiffs in the near future. We fished the incoming tides, as the bonefish like it when they can start moving up onto the shallow flats where more food abounds. From 3 to 6 pounds is about the average size of bonefish in the Exumas, with the occasional genetic anomaly.
Tropical shallow-water flats possess a beauty unlike anywhere else. The light and shadows, the flora and fauna, the smells wafting on the breezes and the intensity it takes to find and stalk a wily fish make it a Zen pastime. Wading the flats is great exercise too. Between casting the fly and maintaining your balance, it gives your entire body an excellent workout.
Amazingly, all kinds of baits and lures work on these fish. In fact, I'm convinced that most all fish in feeding mode will strike pretty much anything remotely edible that crosses their path.
Huge stingrays cruise these waters. If you remember to shuffle your feet as you walk, you'll never have a problem. The only other potentially dangerous denizens here put only bonefish in peril, not humans. Small lemon sharks love nothing better than a weary bonefish for one of their many daily meals. So keep a wary eye out when releasing your catch.