September 13, 2019
By Ross Purnell
Harley Sands has been a bonefish guide on South Andros for 26 years, which means he’s helped hundreds, if not thousands, of people fulfill their tropical fishing dreams.
He’s been there for newlyweds, for golden anniversaries, for people catching their first bonefish, and for old salts catching what might be their last double-digit bonefish. He’s been there when brothers have reunited, when business deals have been struck, and when parents have taken their children on their first exotic fishing trips. Every day at work is a happy one for Harley Sands. That’s why his son Travis also wanted to be a bonefish guide, and is now one of the top guides at Abaco Lodge.
Most of Harley’s days are filled with jokes and laughter, but not all of them. On May 1, 2019, Harley was guiding guests from Bair’s Lodge, and while he was gone his home caught fire and everything he owned, including his vehicle and his skiff, was completely destroyed. No one was injured, but Harley’s family lost everything.
And this is where the fly-fishing community showed its true colors. Oliver White, a Fly Fisherman columnist and owner of both Bair’s Lodge and Abaco Lodge, set up a GoFundMe page to help Harley Sands recoup some of his losses. (Insurance in the Bahamas is impossibly expensive, and not many people have it.)
White set a goal of raising $15,000 to get the Sands family back on its feet, and kickstarted the effort with a $5,000 donation from Bair’s Lodge. To White’s surprise, Deneki Outdoors (a competitor who owns South Andros Lodge next door) quickly donated $1,000, and within two weeks, fishermen across the world donated to the cause, raising more than $25,000.
“I didn’t expect we’d even make our goal, and to exceed it that quickly was very surprising,” White said. “A lot of former guests, along with some people who have never even been to the Bahamas, pitched in to get Harley back on his feet. The response has really been overwhelming, it just shows that the friendships you make out there on the water are meaningful, and as fly fishers we look after each other.”
Fly fishers have too often been stereotyped as solitary and selfish—it’s true we sometimes conceal our secret flies and fishing spots—but this is a shining example of how the fly fishing community sticks together in times of need. Whether it’s rebuilding after a hurricane, joining forces for a river cleanup, or lobbying for improved river regulations, we are above all a community that cares.