When it comes to well-known fishing sites, the Bahamas suffers no shortage. But Walker’s Cay transcends merely “well-known”: For anglers in the U.S. and beyond, its name has conferred a legendary, near-mythical status.
A number of considerations account for this, among them Walker’s:
- location (its proximity to the U.S., barely over 100 miles from West Palm Beach and for many the first entry point into the islands);
- fishing opportunities (varied and productive, with blue water close by, surrounded by unspoiled reefs and a myriad of tiny islands encircled by bonefish-rich flats); and
- history (for decades, Walker’s was the most popular destination in the Abacos and arguably the Bahamas, developing a world-famous reputation in part as the base of world-class tournaments such as the Bertram-Hatteras ShootOut).
So it’s no stretch to say that among American anglers who fish the islands, Walker’s is a revered place. Take a look at comments in forums and social media (including, notably, a Walker’s Cay Facebook page started by, quite literally, a fan). Example: “They say you can never go home again, but I wish we could go back ... and have one more trip to Walker’s.”
Here’s another comment from one of the thousands of Walker’s fans:
“One of my very first memories of the Bahamas was coming to Walker’s when I was 12.”
That particular comment is from the only man in the world who can say to those who similarly love Walker’s: You can go home again — Walker’s Cay is coming back as a renowned destination for sport fishing.
This is because that man, Carl Allen, happens to own Walker’s. On May 20th of this year, he signed on the dotted line, acquiring Walker’s Cay.
As word leaked out, speculation on the internet and social media about what this might mean ran rampant. One worrisome scenario suggested the new owner could be a wealthy eccentric who will keep the island for and to himself.
Allen is wealthy — as you might suspect, by your standards and mine, incredibly so — but the millionaire and philanthropist from Texas is by no stretch an eccentric.
I can say that, since I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of days with Allen and his wife, Gigi, on their 164-foot super yacht, named after his spouse (for whom it was a recent birthday gift), anchored at Walker’s. Allen comes across as a regular guy, witty and gracious.
He also comes across as a guy with a vision — that of restoring Walker’s to its former glory, vis-à-vis a campaign he calls “Walker’s Reborn 2020.”
That’s the year Carl and Gigi hope to have the island restored and then some, with a wealth of improvements completed, including a new marina, and when he hopes to begin putting on four major, annual tournaments, starting with a white marlin event in April or May of 2020.
Allen recalls fondly the heyday of great tournaments once based in Walkers, certainly including the prestigious Bertram-Hatteras Shootouts.
And even though an event schedule is far from settled, Allen enthusiastically says at this point he would love to see a blue marlin tournament in early summer, a fall wahoo tourney and a winter event TBD but possibly for yellowfin and dolphin.
“I’ve been working with Skip Smith,” Allen says, referencing one of the Florida’s most experienced tournament captains and organizers, in Palm Beach. “Our marina will [be designed to] accommodate tournament vessels.”
It will also accommodate larger vessels: Allen plans to have 65 slips that will accept anything from center consoles to 90-foot sport-fishers, as well as moorage for six yachts to 180 feet. Large boats should enjoy 14 feet beneath their hulls at low tide. “There’s a channel there already,” he says. “It’s just a matter of cleaning it out.” And replacing anchored pilings will be floating docks, which Allen plans to build to handle a storm surge of up to 10 to 12 feet.
How Walker’s was almost entirely demolished in 2004 including a hotel and the marina, after being clobbered by two hurricanes (Frances and Jean), is in the background of Allen’s plans, which will allow for future storms. Since then — until now — the island has been deserted and abandoned.
Over decades prior to the hurricanes’ devastation, Walker’s had developed a considerable history particularly during Robert Abplanalp’s ownership since 1968. The inventor of the aerosol valve used in spray cans developed the island as a destination for sport fishing. It also proved a haven for many celebrities, including Abplanalp’s good friend, Richard Nixon.
While Walker’s has earned fame for its blue-water and reef fishing, the inshore opportunities are, not surprisingly, outstanding. There’s history here, too, particularly thanks to Flip Pallot’s long-running, popular TV series, The Walker’s Cay Chronicles, which showed the great opportunities to fly-cast to bonefish, permit, tarpon, sharks and more.
During my brief visit to Walker’s, I happened to fish out of what was, until recently, Flip Pallot’s Hell's Bay skiff. Allen explained to me how it came to be there. After dark, on a calm evening last' summer, Pallot and a companion ran it over to Walker’s, across the Gulf Stream, from the coast of Florida. (They did have a support boat, a larger center console, but as it turned out, needed little support.) Allen suggested to Pallot that he return by some more comfortable means, offering to buy Pallot’s Hells Bay then and there, which he really could use, anyway. And so he did just that.
While, as one would expect, the bonefishing is superb on the flats surrounding Walker’s, the prospect of too much pressure on these accessible shallows once the island is truly up and running and attracting anglers again from all over troubles Allen. One salvation might be the number of small islands and rocky patches that extend from northwest of Walker’s southeast to Grand Cay — with names like Sit Down Cay, Little Walkers, Gully Rocks, Tom Brown’s Cay, Seal Cay, Conchshell Cay and others. All of these offer more flats, barely fished, where skinny-water stalkers can find “some amazing schools of aggressive bonefish,” Allen points out, including some monsters (he cites one he caught sight of, initially thinking it was a barracuda). And then there is Sal Cay to the south. Allen has already enjoyed some “incredible” sight-casting for tarpon in the clear waters.
For Allen, Walker’s will also serve as a base of operations for Allen Exploration. Ever since a visit decades ago to the museum of famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher in Key West, Allen has been hooked on hunting for artifacts (and history) buried under the ocean floor.
Allen is fiercely determined to use his resources — which include a Triton submarine on his 180-foot Damen support vessel — that can dive to 3,300 feet with a pilot and two passengers sitting under a large acrylic dome — to investigate and document the movement of trash in the ocean. “My biggest concern: microplastics,” he says, noting how pervasive these ubiquitous, tiny beads of plastic have become. “We find them now in [deepwater] golden tilefish. Microplastics could dwarf concerns such as Mercury.”
But such interests and activities don’t shift Allen’s focus far from his ongoing efforts to restore Walker’s. And the Bahamian government is all about that. In 2014, according to a report in The Abaconian, Khaalis Rolle, minister of state for investments, said, “I believe [restoration of Walker’s Cay] would be great for the Bahamas if it does happen. ... in it’s heyday, [Walker’s] was the most popular boating spot in the Bahamas... a boater’s paradise and contributed a lot of economic activity.”
That economic activity is never far from Allen’s thoughts. “I envision this rebuild as a partnership with Bahamians to create jobs — good-paying and secure jobs, strengthen families and develop a lasting economic driver for future generations.”
It’s Allen’s intention to have the island restored to its former glory in 2020. That, he says, will mean fuel, water and electricity for boaters; a liquid natural gas plant to replace unsightly, polluting, noisy power by diesel; a “giant desalinization plant” that will take water from below a shelf, 80 feet below the surface, and not the ocean surrounding the island; villas; a new customs office; charter and guide boats; and more.
Watch for a full feature in Sport Fishing magazine closer to the island’s re-opening that in photos and text will describe the island in its new iteration and the great fishing opportunities in blue water, over the reefs and on the flats.
In some respects, I found the best news to be not what the new owner of Walker’s Cay is doing, but what he is not doing. Carl Allen is not clearing off the island, surrounding it with cement seawalls and covering it with a luxury high-rise hotel. “I’m not in it for the money,” he says. “Look, I already hit my home run.” For that, anglers from all over who visited and fished Walker’s in its heyday, as I did, say thank you.
For all those anglers who have considered Walker’s a destination of the past, stand by: Very soon, you can go “home” again.