Fishing legend, Israel ‘Bonefish Folley’ Rolle passes at age 91

We’re sad to report that The Bahamas Weekly reported this week that fishing legend Israel “Bonefish Folley’ Rolle passed away peacefully in his sleep on April 2nd, 2012 in his home in West End, Grand Bahama.

Our co-publisher Gary had the honor of interviewing Mr. Rolle last summer for the magazine’s Bahamas Notable feature through his son Bonefish Tommy Folley Rolle. A recap of the interview follows. The complete Bahamas Notable interview can be read here.

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 master bonefisher who became a living legend.

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

Bonefish, was a superb role model for The Bahamas representing his country well. When asked why he thought he became the fishing legend that he did, his response: “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.”

When asked what he would 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.”

‘Bonefish Folley’ Rolle was indeed very real, and he is a legend who will be greatly missed.