Tag Archives: Andros South

Paging Mr. Deneki

Like many of you out there, I’ve indulged the fantasy of owning a remote and bad-ass fishing lodge. The reality is I am not properly wired for anything remotely related to service. But Andrew Bennett is, and he owns the Deneki Lodges on Andros, The Kanektok, and the Dean.

Mr. Deneki on the flats. (Photo by Tim Rajeff courtesy of Deneki.)

I was fortunate enough to be invited down to Andros South for the first FIBFest back in the day. Andrew struck me as a bright, easy-going guy who could laugh at himself but at the same time had his shit together. These type of people can be disconcerting, especially when they are younger than you. I threw a few questions at him, just to find out what it’s like to run your dream business.

 

So why did you want to own a fishing lodge operation?

I grew up in Alaska and always spent a ton of time outside. After college I spent 9 years working for a great software company…but I got the small business bug pretty bad, and I also missed being outside more, and I also really love fishing. I remember thinking to myself “why should I work 50 weeks a year so I can do what I really want to do for 2 weeks a year”.

Putting together a group of fishing lodges seemed like a neat way to build a new kind of business and apply some of what I learned in my previous life – but in an industry where I was much more personally passionate about the product.

You’re Ivy League; shouldn’t you be launching a tech start-up or bundling subprime mortgages?

Do you know how many of those guys spend all of their time wishing they were on a river or on a flat or hanging out at a tiki hut on a beach? No I don’t spend most of my time in any of those places…but I spend a lot, and working on business issues is a lot easier for me when the business is all about fishing.

The irony of being a guide is that you’re on the water all the time but never fishing. Does that hold true for lodge owners?

Let me start by saying that I know how incredibly lucky I am to have spent so much time on the water as part of this business. Hanging out with our super high quality team and spending time with interesting guests is a ton of fun. And I really truly love the fishing at all of our lodges – they’re amazing places.

That being said, it does get difficult to turn off the ‘business brain’ when I’m at our lodges. No matter how much fun I’m having, I’m constantly thinking about how we can do things better.

So no, I actually do get to fish quite a lot, and I’m really lucky that way – even if it’s not quite the same as just fishing with friends without a care in the world.

What does Deneki mean? And is it pronounced Den-eh-ki or Den-EEK-i?

Duh-NEE-kee. Deneki is an Athabascan Indian word that means ‘moose’ or ‘little moose’. A popular children’s book in Fairbanks where I grew up was ‘Deneki, An Alaskan Moose’, by William Berry. When my brother and I were quite young – he was 6 and I was 4, I think – we got our first dog, a Springer Spaniel. My brother had just read the book – he suggested and we all agreed to name our dog Deneki. That’s the story!

 I’m guessing behind the scenes there’s a fair amount of stress, putting out fires, and solving logic puzzles. I mean, these are often peoples’ dream trips, and a blown starter motor on an outboard could ruin somebody’s day. How much is involved to make it seem seamless to the guest?

It is absolutely incredible how much goes on behind the scenes, and like I said I am incredibly lucky to have a solid, experienced team that handles the vast majority of it. Our job is to make sure all that stuff is invisible to our guests so it doesn’t get talked about much – but yes, the average guest has no idea what’s involved.

In Alaska we have a full-time employee who does nothing other than run freight and fuel to our camp. In BC everything comes in via helicopter or float plane (or barge if it’s really big). On Andros we pay 57% import duty to bring in vehicles.

Our team rebuilds motors, learns foreign tax codes, literally fights actual fires, plants gardens, aims satellite dishes…the list goes on and on. And that stuff is all in addition to normal daily logistics, guest management, customer service, and…oh yeah…fishing.

Why Andros and the Kanektok?

And the Dean! [editor’s note: we stupidly forgot the third one] Very simple – first and foremost, start with the best fishery possible. That’s just the most important part of the formula. We are 100% focused on delivering high quality fishing trips, and for that you need the highest quality fishing. If you want Alaskan salmon and trout, you want the Kanektok and the Arolik. If you want bonefish, you want South Andros Island. If you want steelhead, you want the Dean.

At the end of the day, if the fishing isn’t the best, it doesn’t matter how friendly the staff is, how good the food is, or how nice the lodge is. We sell fishing trips.

Bonefish Perspectives

SECOND PERSON

You come on the scene three days into it, and walk into the Slack Tide at Andros South and immediately someone drops a line at your expense. Ball busting travels. Then you wake up in the morning and you’re on the flats, stepping quietly, and trying to figure out how the hell the guide walking next to you is looking at the same water but seeing entirely different things.

Your line is floating behind you and you’re creeping forward hoping you get it done. The guide stops and points and you don’t see anything but you lay down the line and strip, and you feel the tension as the line starts clearing but it catches on the reel handle and that’s it. Mistakes are not abided.

People compare bonefish to false albacore but they are similar only in their backing runs. Chasing albies is hyperactive and a little bit demolition derby. Bonefishing seems to work best when you slow down your heartrate and make the moment small. Easier said than done.

You start seeing the fish and you race. Thinking about what is 50 feet and are you making too many false casts and the next thing you know you’ve left it short and the fish keep swimming. You pick up your line and shoot it and you overthrow and watch the water explode with spooked fish.

You keep walking, wondering if you’re ever going to get this right when your guide stops and points and you finally see what he sees and he asks, Can you make the cast? I can try, you whisper and before you can overthink it your line has landed and you watch a fish make a move to your fly. You raise the tip and the line comes tight and starts ripping out of your hand and the reel reverses. Then everything else that happened before doesn’t matter. Except for the comedy at your expense. You’ll have to think of a way to repay that sumbitch back at the lodge.

THIRD PERSON

Norman noticed the dark clouds forming behind and started the long wade back to get the skiff. He said to keep moving forward until he returned to pick us up. Gracie spotted a ray gliding ahead, fanning its wings and kicking up marl. “There could be bones trailing behind that,” he said.

Gracie had taped his fingertips because of the line cuts accrued in the days prior but unfazed he talked across the flats about data encryption but then suddenly stopped, and the only sound echoing across the water came from his reel. That ray swam right by him and he made the cast, picking up the lead fish of four about two feet behind the barbed tail.

Watching other people stalk bonefish is just as interesting….

The tide is barely over our ankles on the flats and Smithhammer is rolling through a set of off-color guide jokes. After walking a distance over several football fields, Ellie notices separate sets of tails working in opposite directions. He points Smithhammer, who doesn’t need the same help, off to the fish on the right.

Ellie walks and walks, then stands patiently, then points at the disturbed water about a hundred feet forward. The sound of a reversing reel interrupts him and he turns his head back to witness Smithhammer holding his rod over his head to keep the tension on one of those other tailers.  “He’s done it,” Ellie says, and then turns to move closer for a shot at our rooting fish.

FIRST PERSON

I’m in the dining room trying to hold down some cereal in a digestive system unsettled by last night’s beverages, and from losing straight up cash to Gracie at the card table. I’ve played Texas Hold Em five times in my life and never sober, so it always needs to be re-explained. Never won, go figure.

The van is just outside and it’s time to leave. I get a window seat on the Western Air flight to Nassau. The prop plane pulls off the runway in Congo Town and that’s it, mang, time’s up.

I didn’t count my fish but I can replay every take in my head and, jesus, it’s about time I took a day off to go striper fishing.

This One’s For Bjorn

If there’s any blogger that should be a part of FIB Fest, it’s the guy who names his blog Bonefish on the Brain.

Bjorn couldn’t join the crew because real life got in the way, but last week he tied a handful of flies and sent them my way. The idea being that if he couldn’t be here, at least his flies could help a brother out.

Caught all my fish today on flies from Bjorn’s vise, with Michael Gracie as witness.