Charlie Smith - Lord of the Flies
Celebrated fly-fishing guide, Charlie Smith, casts a spell from The Bahamas.
Words by Laura Collacott. Photography by www.grossenbacherphoto.com
For years, legendary fly-fishing guide Charlie Smith has been helping the prosperous and the powerful escape the day-to-day pressures of their lives from his Bahamian island of Andros, which is both his home and one of the world’s premier bonefishing destinations. With plenty of shallow saltwater flats between islands offering a groaning smorgasbord of goodies for a bonefish, a popular target for sports fishermen, anglers flock from around the world to take advantage of these fertile fishing grounds.
Wiley creatures, bonefish are known for lightning fast flights and particular eating habits. It is not easy to catch a bonefish and Crazy Charlie (as he is known) should know. He has been stalking them with impressive success since he was just six years old.
Born on Grand Cay, Abaco in 1936, Charlie learnt to fish because at that time "people only fished and farmed. I enjoyed all fishing but hardly nobody was bonefishing so I went into it.”
By aged 10 he was taking clients on off-shore and game fishing trips and he knows the local waters and marine life like the back of his hand. He practically guarantees his clients a catch: "If you go in the boat with me, you’re gonna catch fish.” It is a boast backed up by fact. The lucky can even land a ‘double digit bone’, the name given to trophy fish above 10lb.
A professional guide since 1960, Charlie spent stints as a heavy equipment operator, yacht captain, professional chef (for a lengthy 25 years) and musician, but it was to fishing that Charlie always returned. He proudly recounts to anyone who will listen that he was the first Bahamian to establish his own fishing lodge – Charlie’s Haven. Today the Bang Bang Club on Pot Cay, his second lodge, is famous among presidents, prime ministers and passionate anglers for its world-class flycasting and will soon host a prestigious university aimed at teaching students about tourism and conservation.
Revolutionising the industry with a legendary fly that bears his sobriquet, you would be hard pressed to find a fisherman anywhere across the globe without a 'Crazy Charlie' in their bait box. What started as a bundle of thread, wire, beads and chicken feathers to serve in the absence of crab bait is now sold around the world, even if Charlie still fashions his own.
Now 77 years of age, the ever confident and charismatic Charlie, who pioneered saltwater fly-fishing in the Caribbean, showing celebrities from George Bush Senior and the Rat Pack to Jack Hemingway the sweetest spots to land a catch, has since handed the baton to his son, Prescott Smith, owner of Andros island based Stafford Creek Lodge.
The fly-fishing fever does not end there though. Many of his children work in the industry, either as lodge owners or behind the scenes, unable to unhook from the exhilarating sport.
A thrill no longer limited to the upper echelons, "Originally it was a sport for Kings and Royalty,” Charlie notes, "but now all folks are enjoying the sport." And it is clear to see why. "One time I was fishing an angler from Martinique and we hooked a tarpon in Loggerhead Creek on the West coast of Andros," Charlie recalls. "All of a sudden the 80-plus pound tarpon leaped out of the water onto the bank, only to find a 16-foot hammerhead shark put half of his body out of the water on the bank, grab the tarpon, drag it back into the water and eat in two bites."
And with that Charlie takes his leave, "Da flats are callin'."
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