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Celebrating Ansil Saunders

The legendary Bahamian fishing guide, boat builder and so much more.

Ansil Saunders motoring on the flats
Ansil Saunders on the lookout for bonefish. Zach Stovall

On a windless, cloudless day in 2005, I ventured out from the Bimini Big Game Club on the bow of a small skiff and, with my back turned to civilization, gazed across the seemingly endless beauty of the nearby Bahamian flats. From there, the guide (who went by the name Bonefish Tommy) told me to make a cast of about 40 feet. I did and hooked my first-ever bonefish. From that moment, I became mesmerized by the island of Bimini and spent the next few days diving into its history and culture. The more I started reading, and the more people I talked to, the more I kept running across a single name, Ansil Saunders.

Ansil Saunders in profile
Ansil’s family’s boat building experience extends back five generations. Zach Stovall

Saunders, now 88 years old, is a legendary fishing guide. He is best known in angling circles as the man who guided his client to the world record bonefish on the flats of Bimini in 1971. He also guided historical figures such as the former president Richard Nixon, and of course, his most famous client of all, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The funny thing is, as Saunders once mentioned in our sister publication Yachting, he didn’t even take Dr. King fishing. Rather, he took him to secluded, spiritual island places so that King could work on his Nobel Prize acceptance speech and, later, his Sanitation Workers Speech.

Ansil Saunders in a channel
Ansil Saunders steers his boat through the shallow mangrove channels where Dr. Martin Luther King was inspired to write his “I Have a Dream” speech. Zach Stovall

A new short film from Cold Collaborative explores Saunders’ relationship with Dr. King and how that inspired him to push for equality and independence in the Bahamas. The film, called “Mighty Waters” is well worth the 17-minute investment to watch.

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One thing the film touches on is how Saunders has a depth that goes well beyond being a fishing guide. Among his many talents, he is also a legendary boat builder. His 16-foot Bimini Bonefisher is beloved among flats boats aficionados. With great care and skill, he learned to build his flats skiffs by hand.

“I came from a generation of boat builders,” Saunders says. “My grandad, great grandad…they’re all boat builders.” His family’s boat building experience in Bimini extends back for five generations.

Ansil Saunders next to a boat
Ansil’s skiffs are legendary. Zach Stovall

Saunders started building his skiffs in Bayley Town out of white oak, mahogany and locally-sourced woods. He built them to handle the sometimes rough waters en route to the flats while still being able to float in five inches of water and track straight while poling along in skinny water.

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“When you try to build a bonefish boat, there are two things two keep in mind,” says Saunders. “Shallow draft and a good sea boat. It’s a combination that’s hard to put together.”

There are believed to be over 30 Saunders-built Bimini Bonefishers in existence, and if you happen to set foot aboard one, you’ll be stepping aboard a boat that made history, like the one that Saunders used to take Dr. King out to the beautiful bonefish flats of Bimini.

To see “Mighty Waters,” the film made by Cold Collaborative and sponsored by Simms, Costa Del Mar and the American Museum of Fly Fishing, visit the Simms site here: simmsfishing.com/pages/mighty-waters.

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