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Travel to Turks

"Fishing" for a Great Place to Vacation

By Hideaways President Mike Thiel

I love a trip that has a mission. Of course, all our travels have an objective—to report back to you, our members, on a destination, its attractions, and its finest accommodations. But some trips have a parallel and usually more personal purpose that adds to their appeal. In this case it was fishing, one of my passions, and I was headed to the Turks & Caicos, specifically to The Meridian ClubTHC, to check out what the islands and the resort had to offer in this and other realms.


It had been awhile since I'd visited the Caribbean, and this was my first visit ever to the Turks & Caicos. As the plane banked for a landing on Provo, the island group's main tourist destination, I was once again impressed by how beautiful these waters are with their multiple hues of cobalt, azure, turquoise, and beige. Yes, beige! There was lots of beige below, vast expanses of it extending out and around Provo. It signified lots of shallow sandy flats, the kind of places where bonefish hang out, and that quintessential saltwater fly-fishing trophy was my main quarry on this trip.

The taxi driver drove me to Provo's spiffy Blue Haven Marina, where The Meridian Club's private boat was awaiting. I have to say, my appetite had been building on the morning-long flight down, and now all I could think of was the taste of cracked conch, the islands' version of fried calamari. I love conch and I was starved, but as much as anything, munching on this delicacy would really signify having "arrived" in the islands. Luckily, there was a bar/restaurant at the marina and (yes!) they could and did whip up an order of the golden delight "to go," while The Meridian Club's boat crew patiently waited for me. About 15 minutes, a half-pound of conch, and a Turk's Head beer later, we were pulling into the harbor of Pine Cay, where I was greeted by a smiling staff member and whisked off down a sandy path in a golf cart.

One of the first things I learned on arrival is that the island operates on a different time than the rest of the Turks & Caicos—an hour ahead of Provo! No, it's not that a significant meridian passes between it and Provo, just that when you have your own private island, you can dictate the rules, including the time. Pine Cay and The Meridian Club choose to be on Daylight Savings Time year-round, so residents and guests can enjoy the great outdoors to the max.

I actually found it curious that the clocks were ahead of local time, because if ever there was a place where time stands still, this is it. I mean that in a good way. Where else can you go to a post-sunset "drive-in" movie (by golf cart—there are no cars on the island), munch on popcorn, and sip wine while watching an "oldie-but-goodie," screening next to the island's private landing strip? There are no TVs or telephones at the resort, or even A/C for that matter. Yes, there is Wi-Fi, but only in the clubhouse and around the pool.


The Sand Dollar Cottage

Hob-Nobbing with the Locals

Unlike so many places that include the word "club" in their name, this island resort really lives up to the designation. It's an enclave of just 30-some private homes—nice beach houses, not over-the-top mansions—tucked well off the sand into shrubby niches, all connected by a network of paths cut through the thick scrub of this undulating but flat island. The hotel itself, a nice but informal clubhouse, and several low-lying cottages housing just 13 suites are owned and managed by the homeowners' association. Like the homes, the suites are informal, spacious, and comfortable, with indoor sitting areas, screened porches, outside patios, and al-fresco showers under the shade of palms and tamarisk trees that whisper in the constant trade winds.

That clubhouse, with its pool, attractive terrace, and shady palapas, is the social heart of the island, a place where guests and homeowners meet and have afternoon tea, evening cocktails, and dinner, maybe followed by some darts or board games. Because of its rather isolated island setting, the resort includes all meals in its rates—a generous breakfast, buffet lunch, afternoon tea, and five-course dinner. Anything from the bar, however, is on you.

Social hour and dinner at The Meridian Club are at a set time, signaled by the ringing of an ancient bronze bell outside the clubhouse. Cocktail hour is for meeting guests and owners while exchanging informal banter about the day's activities. "Bang Bang," the club's gregarious bartender, mixes up a mean piña colada and can be counted on for island lore and some good one-liners.

After cocktails, it's on to a gourmet dinner beautifully served in the casually elegant downstairs dining room. Executive Chef Shane, who was lured here from Aspen by the island lifestyle, turns out highly creative and beautifully presented small-portion dinner delights. Sarah, the pastry chef, is the genius behind the resort's delicious desserts and breakfast goodies.

The Meridian Club fronts on one of the most gorgeous stretches of pristine, reef-protected beach you can imagine, about two miles of talc sand backed by low dunes covered in sea grape and sea oats. The beach slides gently into tranquil turquoise waters which are the perfect temperature for swimming. And it's fantastic for beach combing, turning up all sorts of treasures—dried sea fans and sponges from the ocean floor, broken off by the last passing storm, plus shells, sand dollars (The Meridian Club's very appropriate logo), and other flotsam. Best of all, during my four-day stay on the island, I never saw more than four people on the beach at the same time, and often I had it completely to myself. Not many resorts can boast that level of privacy on such a fabulous stretch of beach.


Let the Fishing Begin!

My plan, in addition to generally enjoying this wonderful environment, was to sample the various types of fishing the resort offers. Pine Cay, and for that matter all the Caicos Islands, are bordered on the north by an extended reef which protects its pristine beaches. That reef, where you can see waves breaking, is only about a mile or two offshore. So within a very short run of the resort's docks, you can be into great snorkeling (expeditions are offered daily), reef and deep-sea to the north, and flats fishing to the south.

Around the reef, you can bottom fish for jacks, snapper, grouper, and other delectable and relatively easy-to-catch prey. Fishing here makes for an ideal family outing or introduction to the sport for the neophyte. Just outside the reef, the Caribbean plunges to depths greater than 6,000 feet. This is where the big pelagics, the so-called sport fish, are to be found. We're talking about dorado (mah-mahi), tuna (three varieties), marlin (both blue and white), and perhaps the most prevalent sport fish of the Caicos, the lightning-fast wahoo.

Finally, all around the south side of Pine Cay are deep channels and extensive flats that are home to bonefish and tarpon. The Turks & Caicos have lots of bonefish, considered by most saltwater fisherman to be top of the heap when it comes to light-tackle sport fishing. In most places, the pursuit of bonefish is strictly catch-and-release, letting them live to grow and fight another day. However, Turks & Caicos locals have developed a taste for bonefish over the years, and many of the islanders I chatted up about bonefish were very forthcoming about their admiration for the fish's culinary qualities, despite its extreme boniness, as its name implies. In fact, many folks offered up various techniques for dealing with the bones as well as recipes for bonefish preparation.

My first full day at The Meridian Club, I went out on their spiffy flats boat with JR, the club's fishing guide and a fellow who has been around enough to know where the fish are, or should be. Conditions that day, unfortunately, were far from perfect—windy, and the tides weren't ideal, either. We put in lots of miles cruising around beautiful deserted islands and fishing various prospective spots, but we never really got a chance to land the fly of choice for bonefish, a "Crazy Charlie," in front of one.

JR did prove to me that there were lots of bones around. He brought along an ultra-light spinning rod and, blind-casting into deeper water with a lead-headed rubber jig, produced plenty of one-pound fish. When I tired of fly casting, I switched to the spinning rod myself and caught a few of the little speedsters which, on a light rod, gave a good fight. But on the whole, it was one of those days that fishermen proclaim, "That's why they call it 'fishing' and not 'catching'!"

The next day, accompanied by Terry Smith and Ron Griffith, both avid fishermen and long-time homeowners on the island, we headed offshore in the Meridian Club's 25-foot Boston Whaler to try our hand at trolling for big game. We were open to whatever took our lures, but I was hoping we could get into some mahi-mahi, not just because they fight hard and taste good, but because they're a schooling fish, and a hooked one usually brings plenty of its buddies alongside the boat, where I was planning to toss them a delectable fly to try catching one on a fly rod.

We searched high and low for weed lines and other flotsam which typically attract game fish, but to no avail. Again, the day was windy and rather rough. We did get a distant sighting of a humpback whale, which was exciting, but no fish action—until we turned for home. About the time that our concentration was waning—the time when all fish seem to strike while trolling—one of the reels started screeching, accompanied by a loud snap. As we looked back in the wake, we saw a good-sized bill fish, probably a white marlin, take two jumps as I scrambled to grab the rod. However, there was no tension on the rod when I grabbed it, and no fish. That loud snap had been the outrigger breaking in half, which no doubt gave the fish the opportunity to throw our hook.

Awhile later, another reel started screaming. Terry handed me the rod, and for about 10 to 15 seconds I had a good fight on my hands. And then . . . I wasn't sure. There was still something on the line, but it sure wasn't fighting much. When I reeled in, I could see why. The nice 20-plus-pound wahoo I had had on the line had been chomped in half by a shark.

So we didn't go home empty-handed. My new philosophy—half a wahoo is better than none at all! Chef Shane served it up that night in delicate little rounds wrapped in seaweed, barely seared, and served with wasabi. Delicious!


Beautifully Prepared Wahoo

On My Own

My last day on Pine Cay, I decided to try bonefishing again, but this time with a DIY approach. Here's where The Meridian Club stands out in my estimation. Both to the south of the island and across from its marina are extensive wade-able flats. To enjoy the fishing at either costs you nothing. All you have to do is borrow a golf cart or have one of the staff deliver you to the destination and arrange for a pick-up. Capt. Allen Ray ferried me across the channel to the flats and passed on some helpful hints for how to fish it. I'd barely stepped a few yards into the water when I practically stepped on a couple of big bonefish that zoomed off, startled. I decided a deer-stalking approach was called for here; take a few steps, scan the waters in front of you, repeat.

It wasn't long before I saw a couple of big bones—at least five-pounders—tailing about 50 yards to windward of me. I estimated their direction and moved slowly to cut them off. I have to admit to having a bad case of buck, or in this case bonefish, fever, with my heart racing. When the fish were 50 feet to windward of me, I cast—five feet in front and five feet over them. They ignored the fly I played just in front of them. I repeated. This time, the biggest one turned on my fly, chased it . . . and took it! The line came tight and I felt him twitch a few times, but he didn't explode as I expected. The line simply went limp. I stood there in disbelief.

I reeled in, trying to figure out what happened. My leader didn't break—the fish hadn't tested it enough for that to have been the problem. And no, he didn't just spit the fly out. He'd been well hooked. Instead, the entire leader, fly and all, were gone. In my preparation for that afternoon's fishing, I had tied on a new leader and apparently the "Perfection Loop" I tied to join leader to line was anything but perfect. There was no one and nothing to blame but myself for that "one that got away" fish story.

That afternoon of solitary fishing was perhaps the most exciting of all. There's just something primal about the DIY approach-stalking, sight-fishing for bones. Just you against them. And The Meridian Club offers easy access to vast expanses of flats that are fishable without a guide. I saw plenty of fish and had other chances, but ultimately, I ran out of time and daylight.

While fishing was my prime motivation for this trip, as so often happens, I came back with much more than fish stories. I discovered another of those all-too-rare places that fits me like a glove, with memories of gorgeous beaches, welcoming people, and a style of vacationing that's increasingly difficult to find. I didn't call our company Hideaways International for nothing! I love places that exude personality, offer camaraderie, and provide relaxed, unassuming luxury—especially when they do all that while offering seclusion from the fast-paced world around us. And The Meridian Club, a true hideaway, does exactly that.



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