Bahamas Outdoor Notables: Charlie Smith, fly fishing guide and creator of the Crazy Charlie fly

Dawn Adderly, the Coastal Angler Magazine-Flahama correspondent to Andros, had the opportunity interview legendary Bahamian fly fishing guide Charlie Smith. Charlie has made countless contributions to the industry over the years. He is often referred to as “The Master of Bonefish,” “The Godfather Crazy Charlie,” or just “Crazy Charlie.” In this exclusive interview, “Crazy Charlie” shares his thoughts about his fishing career, and the future of bonefishing in Andros.

Dawn: Hello Charlie, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today and sharing your thoughts directly with the readers of Coastal Angler Magazine-Flahama.

Charlie: My pleasure Dawn.

Dawn: Charlie, your contributions to the Bahamas and the fly fishing industry have been incredible. I would like you to share with our readers how you got started fishing and little about yourself.

Charlie: I was born on Grand Cay, Abaco in 1936, on the 13th of March and now I am 75 years old. I started out fishing with my father on Grand Cay at the age of 7. He taught me how to catch fish on a stick with a piece of line. Not knowing I was fly fishing at that time, I grew up with the habit of catching fish. At the age of 13, I went to Grand Bahama to work at the missile base. I was transferred to Andros and at the age of 18, I became the chef at the Lighthouse Club in Fresh Creek. During my chef days I fished, played music and cooked.

One day, Prime Minister Pindling came down to the Small Hope Bay Lodge with Prime Minister Trudeau. Dick Birch and I were very friendly. Dick told me that the PM said “I want Charlie out there to cook and serve me and Trudeau because I have a special meeting.” This was a popular story. The next day, Dick said to me, “Well Charlie, Pow! You have to take the two Prime Ministers fishing so, you have to go to the drawing board.” So I went to the drawing board and invented the Crazy Charlie Fly and I took Pindling and Trudeau fishing. Pindling caught two fish and Trudeau caught three. So, Pindling used to call me “Life.” The Prime Minister said “Life, you let him catch three and I only caught two bonefish.” I said “Isn’t that what you taught me? We have to look after our guests!” And that’s exactly how it all started.

And from there, I gave my fly to Bob Nauheim, a guy I fished. He was the owner of Fishing International in California. He asked me if I would accept the name of the fly to be Crazy Charlie. So I wrote a letter saying yes and I signed it, and that’s how the Crazy Charlie flies started.

Charlie’s Haven, in 1968, was the first bonefishing lodge built in the Bahamas that was owned by a Bahamian. And as of today, it is still standing and my son Steve is doing a terrific job of rebuilding it, along with the Bang Bang Club. The story of the bonefishing is so terrific. From that point I put a price list on bonefishing for the Bahamas and the whole world. Now, they are saying that one bonefish in the Bahamas is valued at $10,000!

Dawn: So tell me a Little bit about the bone fishing clubs. I know you set some records, right?

Charlie: Yes, I have a world record bonefish of 16 pounds 8 ounces with Charlie’s Haven, we have a 16 pound 6 ounce for the Bang
Bang Club, I have the bonefish record at Broad Shad Cay Lodge with my son Andy, and the Stafford Creek Lodge with my son
Prescott, so the family is keeping the tradition of bonefishing very, very much alive.

Dawn: At 75 years old are you still fly fishing these days?

Charlie: Everyday!

Dawn: And what is the name of that instrument that you play. Is it a banjo?

Charlie: I play the banjo. Did you see it on TV? Dawn: No, where could I find it?

Dawn: Give me the name of the movie.

Charlie: It’s called The Drift. Check it out. It is a great fly fishing movie. I play the banjo and I am a star in the movie. I am still entertaining. I’m playing at parties for all of the guests at all the lodges.

Dawn: Where else have you fished besides the Bahamas?

Charlie: I have fished in Florida. I’ve done some bonefishing and snook fishing in Florida. I caught an 11.5 pound bonefish down in Miami on some flats and I caught 11 snook one day. I have also caught a lot of dolphin and wahoo off of Miami. I haven’t gotten to any other parts of the U.S. to fish yet though.

Dawn: Can you give me some idea of the clientele who you have fished?

Charlie: I have fished Ted Williams, the famous baseball player. Do you remember the famous man that used to live in Bimini, you know, Earnest Hemingway? I know that Hemingway fished with my father and I fished his son Jack. I fished Jack Hemmingway for four years straight.

Dawn: Are there any other persons you would want to note?

Charlie: Well I used to fish Raymond Kemp from the New York Times and I fished Benny Goodman, Mario Lanza, and the president of Aluminum Foil. I could go on and on!

Dawn: Now, what is it about Charlie Smith that made you so popular and so widely known?

Charlie: Good manners, good behavior, loving to be with people no matter who they are, loving to be with people no matter what color they are–people are people. A human being is human being. I love people, I love myself and I love dealing with people, and I love to help people. Love helps me to feel like I am 20 years old, and I am 75!

Dawn: Those are some awesome qualities!

Charlie: Yes, and trust me, they will keep you alive. Trust me, with no love, nothing happening.

Dawn: Looking forward to the future, where do you see the fly fishing industry in Andros heading and most importantly, the future of young people who want to get involved in the fishing industry.

Charlie: Well, that’s what I am doing now. I am trying to turn the Bang Bang Club into a university so the young people can come and learn and study lots of different things. You can learn to fly fish, learn how fish generate, also the birds, the bees, everything. I can see the fly fishing on the second level, but I am going to take it to the third, fourth and fifth level, and I will tell you why. Shad Point (Broad Shad Cay), that’s my son Andy; Stafford Creek Lodge, that’s my son Prescott; Charlie’s Haven with Stephen; and myself at the Bang Bang Club. They are all professionals. So we include the four lodges together to make sure we can take it to level three, four and five.

Level five would be the university to teach the young people how to live, get along, fish, have fun and love each other all at the same time.

Dawn: I think that is a wonderful concept and I cannot wait to come back home to be a part of it! Charlie, what makes Andros a world class fishing destination?

Charlie: I have been all over the Bahamas. Andros has the most flats, largest flats and it has the most creeks. Fish have more place for shelter, more place to breed and there is no end to it because Andros is spread out so far—almost to Cuba, and the fish have space. They can swim from Andros to Cuba and from Cuba to Andros. It’s what makes me so happy to keep driving on because I have been all over and I see what’s going on and I know what the future holds.

Dawn: I totally agree with you on that. I believe that from the first time I came to Andros, I fell in love with Andros and I think that it is incredible. I think that we as Bahamians really need to take advantage of the opportunity given to us. Not to just make a living for ourselves, but to protect what we have for future generations.

Charlie: Exactly!

Dawn: Charlie, we sure can talk. It’s has been a long time. I haven’t seen you since that night you showed up in Stanley Creek but I am so glad to hear from you. I really am.

Charlie: Me too.

Dawn: Now, if I do happen to come to Andros on a little trip, you know I want to get more fly fishing lessons right!

Charlie: It would be a pleasure.

Dawn: Charlie, thank you so much for your time, and for sharing your story with our readers. It is so important for everyone to understand the contributions Bahamians have made to the fishing industry that is so important to the Islands of the Bahamas. See you soon Charlie…and thank you again.