Cat Cay's Surprising Inshore Angling
by Jimmy Jacobs
Jimmy Jacobs is an outdoor writer and editor with Game and Fish magazines in Marietta Georgia. He also authored Fly Fishing the South Atlantic Coast for the Countryman Press of Woodstock, Vermont. After a recent visit to our island, Jimmy wrote the following article for the Cat Cayer.
Before ever setting foot on Cat Cay, the angling history of the island had been impressed upon me. The island was renowned for producing giant bluefin tuna and marlin in past decades, while wahoo, sailfish and white marlin still produce siren calls for bluewater fisherman. The big-game pursuits of S. Kip Farrington and Ernest Hemmingway off the shores of the cay in the 1930's are the stuff of legends and were only added to by original Cat Cay Club member Fred Crawford in later years.
When the opportunity arose to actually visit this tropical destination, a little research uncovered another unexpected angling legacy. It was while Willard "Al" Rockwell was rebuilding Cat Cay after it was devastated by Hurricane Betsy in 1965 that Field & Stream Magazine editors Jack Samson and A.J. McClane discovered the bonefish flats that spread between North and South Cat Cay. In the ensuing years, both men waxed poetic about stalking these wary fish in crystalline water over sand or grass shallows.
Now, during the first week of April, I was standing on the shore with fly rod in hand staring out at those flats. Beside me were Jimmy Harris, owner of Unicoi Outfitters, a fly-fishing shop and guide services in the North Georgia mountains, and Polly Dean, daughter of general manager, Bill Watkins. We were about to embark into historic waters with all the optimism that accompanies the beginning of any angling venture.
The shore we were perched on was actually the No. 5 fairway of Windsor Downs golf course. If you manage to spray your approach shot to the left of the green, your ball will land on a bonafide bonefish flat! Looking out from the shore, the bottom of the darker water near the beach is covered with grass and is a favorite feeding ground for bonefish. Here they root around in the sand for crabs, shrimp, and aquatic worms. Unfortunately, the "gray ghosts of the flats" are very difficult to see in that environment, unless they are nose down to the bottom. Then the tips of their tails protrude from the water, giving away their location.
Actually, we soon discovered that the easiest way to find the bonefish is to intercept them on their way to the grass. A couple hundred yards out from the shore there is a band of white sand that wraps around between the North and South Cat Cay. As the tide rises, bonefish approach the flats from between the islands, using white sand as a travel avenue. The best tactic is to wade out out to the far side of the white sand at low tide. You cross a slight depression in the sand that is about 12 to 15 inches deeper than the surrounding water. This is the channel the bonefish use. At high tide it is only waist deep at most and on the ebb is only about a foot to 18 inches deep.
Position yourself on the ocean side of the little channel just as the tide is turning to rising. Watch for the bonefish, most of which are in the 4 to 6 pound size range, to approach from between the islands. Each day we were on the flats, however, we caught caught glimpses of trophy sized fish that would top 10 pounds. As they cruise along, dropping a bait, lure or fly in their path often attracts a strike. Once hooked, these fish take off like a runaway freight train, easily stripping 150 yards of line from your reel! Another surprisingly good near-shore fishing hotspot on the cay is located on the beach behind the swimming pool!