Bahamas Outdoor Notables: ‘Bonefish Folley’ Rolle–Master Bahamas Bonefisher

Master Bahamas Bonefisher Bonefish Folley. Photo courtesy of The Bahamas Weekly.

‘Bonefish Folley’ was born 91 years ago in Nicholl’s Town, Andros, as Israel Rolle, and taken to Bimini when he was a baby. During the U.S. prohibition and rum running days in the 1920s, ships from Nassau would come to Bimini to sell liquor to U.S. citizens who came over from the U.S. to run rum to Florida. Israel hung around one of the Nassau based

ships and its owner, Carl Folley, who often took Israel to school. Soon islanders were calling Israel, Folley as he in a manner of speaking, became Carl Folley’s adopted son. Young Folley turned to fishing after school as “something to do.” This pastime evolved into a way to make money and eventually led to friendships with renowned fishing experts who shared their knowledge and techniques with him.

In addition to being a fishing guide, music played a role in Bonefish Folley’s life. He left Bimini while playing the drums in a band—‘The Bimini Serenades’— which used to play often at the old Jack Tar Hotel in West End, Grand Bahama. In West End, Bonefish Folley found good flats, but no bonefish guides. He stayed in West End and his customers in Bimini began traveling to West End to fish with him.

Folley’s love for fishing grew to a level making him the number one bonefisherman in The Bahamas. His clients claim his natural charm kept them coming back for more. Bonefish Folley spent several decades working at Jack Tar Hotel as the expert Bonefisherman who became a living legend.

Bonefish Folley is a Cacique winner, a father of seven, and has become one of The Bahamas’ most loved ambassadors. Notable former clients include U.S. President Nixon, the late Prince Rainier of Monaco, writer Ernest Hemmingway, actors Robert Taylor, Lana Turner, and Curt Gowdy, and the late civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The answers to the following series of questions were facilitated by Bonefish Tommy Folley Rolle, Bonefish Folley’s son, one of two of his son’s who joined their father in the fishing guide arena.

Who was your fishing mentor? American fisherman [Capt.] Tommy Gifford was a great influence. He was a renowned angler and in some circles considered to be the best in the world. The Cass Brothers were mentors as well.

How dramatically has equipment and technique changed? Every year Tommy Gifford and the Cass brothers brought back new equipment and techniques, which they shared with me, when they returned to the Bahamas from the U.S.

Why do you think you became the fishing legend that you did? I treated my customers nicely, with respect and took them to places where they would catch fish. My business practices were honest and if fishing was slow, I’d extend the fishing time to ensure my customers felt they were receiving value from their time with me.

What do you feel are the benefits of exposing young children to fishing? Fishing helps them interact with others, teaches patience, instills good sportsmanship, and it could produce an enjoyable livelihood.

What would you tell young people today about lessons learned from experiences on the sea that relate to the real world? Cut to the chase and just be real. In today’s fast-paced world, the most important thing is just to be real.

For anglers fishing for bonefish, what are the five (5) things that are a “must take” with you? (1) Protective clothing; (2) sunscreen; (3) a hat; (4) polarized sunglasses; (5) a camera to capture the fun.