Eleuthera Byways: Edwin’s Fishlake

Eleuthera Byways: Edwin’s Fishlake

First pub­lished in The Eleuther­an, Sep­tem­ber 2008; Edwin’s Tur­tle Lake Marine Pre­serve, with a fine new dock and the bot­tle shack restored, opened in Decem­ber 2014, where kayaks and canoes can now be rented.

Three miles south of Governor’s Har­bour, on the right side at the S-bends as the road plunges toward Pal­met­to Point, is a large salt­wa­ter lake. Passers­by who stop to inves­ti­gate will find the remains of a curi­ous shed built of mor­tar and beer bot­tles, the amber, green and clear glass sort­ed by colour, bot­toms fac­ing out. A few yards away, obscured by bush and weath­ered by the years, is a wood­en sign whose words are just legible:

fishlakeEdwin Fish­ing Lake

Estab­lished March 10th 1954

The First Fish­lake of the Bahamas

Over 20,000 fish of 32 vari­eties have

been placed in this lake.

fishlakesign1Enjoy­able enter­tain­ment for

tourists and sportsmen

Fish­ing 9AM-5PM

Edwin Bur­rows, Founder

fishlakehut1

The curi­ous will won­der: who was Edwin Bur­rows? Why did he estab­lish the first (only?) “Fish­lake of the Bahamas”? What hap­pened in this place and when? The answers, like most Eleuthera sto­ries, are more com­pli­cat­ed than peo­ple might expect.

Res­i­dents of a cer­tain age tell spooky sto­ries of the Fish­lake. Some have encoun­tered a ghost­ly woman hitch­hik­er with a bun­dle on her head and/or a bag in her hand; dri­vers have giv­en her a lift, only to find a few miles lat­er that no one is there. The spec­tral appari­tion has also been spot­ted head­less, ris­ing out of the mist on moon­lit nights!

A fish­er­man known to Arring­ton McCardy of Hatch­et Bay told of a mid­night crab­bing trip when “some­thing real­ly big came out of the water….I didn’t waste time investigating—I ran. I went there a few more nights with the sweat rolling off me. After awhile I wouldn’t go back.”

Eleuthera’s ver­sion of the Loch Ness Mon­ster? Prob­a­bly not, says Shirley Bur­rows, Edwin’s daugh­ter, of Governor’s Har­bour. “Most of the peo­ple who saw these things were from my Daddy’s time, when there were few­er elec­tric lights and high pow­ered search lamps…”

edwinburrowsEdwin Bur­rows, who passed on in 1982, was a farmer and fish­er­man who raised twelve chil­dren in Governor’s Har­bour. Inge­nious and ambi­tious, he con­stant­ly sought new ways to sup­port his large fam­i­ly. “My father was the first on the island who ‘doped’ pineap­ples, apply­ing a spray that induced them to pro­duce fruit the year round,” Shirley recalls. “In those days, when most of the tourists were clus­tered around Governor’s Har­bour instead of spread out in devel­op­ments, the mar­ket for pineap­ples was best in the tourist sea­son rather than in the late spring and sum­mer when they nor­mal­ly matured.

“Dad­dy also observed that every­body else was grow­ing toma­toes to sell to French Leave Resort. So he grew let­tuce, broc­coli and sprouts, and had the mar­ket to himself.”

Edwin also ran a club on Cupid’s Cay, built with his unique com­bi­na­tion of beer bot­tles and mor­tar; the rem­nants of a wall are still there, but you have to look sharp to see it.

Notic­ing that vis­it­ing fish­er­men were some­times unable to get out on the ocean, either for lack of boats or high seas, Edwin Bur­rows decid­ed to stock the placid lake with ocean game species and invite the pub­lic. He caught the fish by line, with traps or with a net. He also made a beach for tur­tles to lay eggs. Today the tur­tle pop­u­la­tion is thriv­ing. (Maybe that’s what comes out of the water on dark nights.)

Bur­rows Fish­lake is tidal, with an under­wa­ter open­ing to the Atlantic, but like most such pools has high min­er­al and salt con­cen­tra­tions. This makes for inter­est­ing anomalies.

“Ocean fish grow big­ger in the lake than the ocean,” Shirley con­tin­ues, “but some devel­op odd­ly. Caribbean grunts are usu­al­ly soft-skinned and ten­der; in the lake they would grow huge, but much tougher—they actu­al­ly turn up at the ends in the fry­ing pan!”

There are still big fish in the lake. Sid­ney Bur­rows of Governor’s Har­bour says that a Caribbean lob­ster with an eight-pound tail was caught there, and he once hooked a 600-pound tur­tle on a long line, that could not be land­ed. A div­er saw a 150-pound jew fish, and Sid­ney trapped 50-pound groupers, but the meat was too tough. He final­ly gave up on the pond because “every­thing in it is too big.”

Edwin’s Fish­lake it is not much used today, though the Bur­rows fam­i­ly has recent­ly restored Edwin’s shack and built a nice jet­ty where you can rent kayaks.  The ghost­ly leg­ends per­sist, though, so if you’re inclined to be super­sti­tious, or fright­ened by things that go bump in the night, you might just want to post­pone any mid­night reconnoitering.

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