A category-5 hurricane and viral pandemic notwithstanding, restoration of the Bahamas’ internationally famed fishing destination continues.
One of the world’s most prestigious, internationally renowned fishing destinations, Walker’s Cay abruptly fell off enthusiasts’ radar in 2004. That was the year hurricanes Frances and Jean laid waste to this small island, northernmost in the Bahamas. Once a bustling center for anglers, divers and boaters coming into the islands, Walkers sat deserted, remaining abandoned and largely forgotten, for the next 14 years.
All that began to change in 2018 when Walker’s began rising, phoenix-like, from the overgrown rubble.
That’s the year that a wealthy Texan who had never forgotten visiting Walker’s as a youngster purchased the island.
Carl Allen could have easily claimed the island for his own personal and private retreat. Instead, the millionaire philanthropist immediately began making big plans to rebuild and reopen iconic Walker’s once again as one of the world’s premiere fishing, diving and boating spots.
International Focal Point
That this small island (about 100 acres) should have become an international focal point for serious anglers from all over in the late 1900s is hardly surprising. In particular, its geography is compelling. Sitting atop the Bahamas, just 100 miles from West Palm Beach, it’s a natural gateway for boaters coming to the Bahamas. A glance at a nautical chart reveals that Walker’s is completely surrounded by fishing grounds of all types: a stone’s throw north is blue water where steep reefs drop to abyssal depths, inhabited by blue marlin, sails, wahoo, tuna, mahi and other big-game pelagics. Deeper reefs atop the abyss promise cubera and mutton snapper, various groupers, jacks and African pompano and countless other species. On the inside (west, south and north) are mile after mile of flats and shallow rock patches promising bonefish, permit, tarpon and blacktip sharks.
The renown of Walker’s was enhanced further in its heyday as home to some of the world’s most prestigious big-game tournaments, such as the Bertram-Hatteras Shootout and Bahamas Billfish Championship, and by the acclaimed TV Series, the Walker’s Cay Chronicles.
Since purchasing Walker’s, Allen and his wife, Gigi, have lived at anchor just off the cay in their 164-foot yacht, overseeing the restoration/renovation of the island. Allen’s initial goal to complete that by 2020 was on track until the schedule became yet another victim to the Covid pandemic early in the year. “Despite the [inevitable] delays,” Allen says, “progress continues. We hope for a grand opening sometime in 2021 or no later than New Years Day, 2022.”
Even before the pandemic, cat-5 hurricane Dorian in 2019 had set back the restoration by a few months. “We literally dropped everything,” he says of the project, to dedicate the resources of his organization, Allen Exploration, to relief work, particularly for nearby Little Grand Cay, which had been devastated. Over two months, Allen’s people worked to resupply the island, restore power and water, and rebuild homes. The success was amazing and gratifying.
Returning to work on Walker’s, later that year, Allen points to one positive from Dorian’s hit: “It gave us benchmarks for high water,” he explains, as plans for the new Walker’s marina began to see real progress. Despite the limited availability of workers during much of 2020, by the end of year the marina was largely complete, with Poralu floating docks. The new floating dock system can handle up to a 12-foot storm surge. “We think these docks would have survived Dorian,” Allen says. With a new breakwater to the south, the new marina will accommodate up to 70 boats from smaller center consoles to 90-foot sport-fish yachts (and offer moorage for up six mega-yachts to 180 feet).
Work continues on a small marina store, new hotel with bar and restaurant, smaller cottages, and on improving a 2,500-foot runway. Allen also has plans to build something he refers to as a “bonefish lodge — a big house for up to 14 guys, on the northwest corner of the cay.”
Late in 2020, the island was scheduled to make the switch from diesel power to cleaner, quieter natural gas. Allen says the two big gas-turbine engines (each producing a megawatt) should reduce emissions by 60% and noise by 70% while costing far less than diesel. Various other facilities and procedural improvements are designed to protect the environment.
That sort of protection is never far from Allen’s thoughts. “Yes, I'm really concerned about the environment around Walker’s,” he says. “But I believe we can bring in people without damaging it.”
That includes working to increase awareness of the need for protecting Walkers Cay National Park, just north of the island.
In fact, conservation is an ongoing passion for Allen. He talks of working to implement a “12-foot rule” whereby “nothing is killed [or taken] in waters less than 12 feet deep around Walkers. We have to protect as much as we can.”
Already, Walker’s is a cleaner place. “We pulled 30 barges’ worth of debris from [the island and area around it],” he says. “We found a couple of airplanes, golf carts and much more.” But now, according to Allen, with all the trash removed and naturally occurring trees such as wandering figs and coconut palms thriving on the newly landscaped island, “It’s one of the most beautiful islands in the Bahamas.”
One mission of Walker’s Triton submarine, which can dive to 3,300 feet, is to document the movement of our trash in/through the ocean depths. “My biggest concern is microplastics,” he says, with the tiny beads of plastic now ubiquitous, and showing up inside many abyssal fishes.
Allen also uses that sub to help fulfill another passion: treasure hunting. He has made some astonishing finds in these waters in gold, silver, gems, armaments and more, with hundreds of sunken boats likely in Bahamas waters. Finds could run into the billions, and Allen has already initiated plans to work with Bahamian officials to share any such finds.
After nearly two decades of being off the grid for fishing enthusiasts, Walker’s Cay is nearly back. It’s going to be an exciting, busy and better place thanks to Carl Allen’s efforts and vision — and his commitment to responsibly share this Caribbean fishing paradise.