…Bonefish Folley, he’s the one and only…’ sing local Bahamian kids in a well-known island song that immortalizes a
Grand Bahama fisherman. They sing about Mr.
Israel ‘Bonefish Folley’ Rolle who is a master bonefisher and has become one of this country’s most loved ambassadors.
Born on Andros, which is located one hundred and seventy five miles southeast of
Florida, in the 1920s.
The now 85-year old spent a good part of his life in Bimini learning his
craft and for the last 25 years has made West End, Grand Bahama his
home. A Cacique winner, which honours Tourism excellence, ‘Bonefish’ is
known for his true Bahamian Hospitably through genuine friendliness and
concern toward visitors.
Listed among his numerous clients are former U.S. President Richard Nixon, the late Prince Rainier of
Ernest Hemmingway, actors Robert Taylor, Lana Turner, and Curt Gowdy
and the late civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
‘Folley’ spent his
formative years in Bimini, the most northern Bahamian island, where he
acquired his fishing skills. “I used to deep-sea fish on a yacht many
years ago on the ocean [off] Bimini. I was good at what I did [even
then] and people who visited liked that and they would tell other
In addition to
fishing, Folley was also one of the original coordinators of the Bimini
fishing tournaments; and to add to his mystique he was around for the
“Bootlegging” glory days. Not to be outdone Bonefish also dabbled as a
conga drummer and played in several of the nation’s top entertainment
spots where he entertained locals and visitors in Nassau and Grand
Bahama hot spots.
Folley, who has been
bonefishing now for more than 60 years, is also a father of seven. Two
of his sons have now joined him as guides as he has been busy hosting
numerous film crews for the Ministry of Tourism, and appearing on
several television programs, including National Geographic.
Folley’s love of people continued to grow. And as his love for
fishing grew to a level that made him the number one bone-fisherman in
the Nation, he was simultaneously becoming an unofficial ambassador for
the Nation; but in particularly for the people of the
West End community. Even though he
was widely known as an experienced fisherman, it is Folley’s natural
charm that has kept the tourists coming back for more. Folley is very
fond of the years he spent working at The Jack Tar Hotel. ‘Jack Tar’ is
where Folley solidified his love for the tourists who visited the
island. And for about twenty to thirty years Folley worked at the resort
as the expert Bonefisherman who was ready to challenge any tourist in
bonefishing who was brave enough to compete against the living legend.
interaction with thousands of visitors to The Bahamas for over sixty
years has resulted in life-long friendships and repeat visits to the
destination. One such person is U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas, John
Rood, who befriended Bonefish Folley as a child, where he would travel
with his father when he came to the islands to fish.
Their friendship was
rekindled when the Rood family came to Bonefish Folley’s rescue after
his house was destroyed during Hurricane Frances in September 2004.
Rood, who was on a visit with the Prime Minister of The Bahamas on
an-after-storm island walk about, were viewing the West End wreckage,
when Rood met with Folley whose house had been completely destroyed.
Rood promised immediately to build him a new home and it was completed
in late 2005.
Folley has also
forged a close friendship with Sash Spencer, who is the founder of Old
Bahama Bay which is located on the exact same premises as the former
Jack Tar Hotel. Spencer and Folley shared the same passion for fishing
and this quickly blossomed in to a life long friendship and a high level
of professional admiration. When Folley was asked what it was about
their friendship Folley simply remarked, “Sash and I are friends. I
don’t know what it was, he just take to liken me.” Sash’s admiration for
Folley needed to be captured and what better way then to rename one of
the existing restaurants on the Resort after the living legend. In
The Dockside Grille, which overlooks the resorts 72 dock slips, was renamed
Bonefish Folley’s Bar & Grille.
Sash Spencer wouldn’t have
it any other way. Folley is a very humble man and when asked how he
feels about the restaurant’s renaming being named after him, he simply
said, “I feel alright.” The tag line for the restaurant is in keeping
with its lively theme, as well as with the man himself,
Legendary Fishing, Food & Spirits.
Bonefish, has made
many friends through out his life and has been a superb role model for
The Bahamas representing his country well. He says it also helps to
strive for excellence; “You must know how to catch the fish that is hard
to catch,” he says. “You must know how to do to catch them. I’m good at
what I do.”
- Footnote: Bahamas Journal 2005
Editor's NOTE: Messages have been coming in via our Facebook page, and we'd like to share a couple:
Keith Cooper, West End Eco Fishing Camp Association owner wrote: "Israel Rolle/Bonefish Folley was a one of a kind
fisherman...to witness his "touch" with a rod and reel is priceless...I
remember fondly a trip I took with him on his boat. We were at the
entrance to Old Bahama Bay Marina and a huge barracuda was clearly
visible off the side of the boat...if was as though he was waiting to be
caught my the master. Bonefish calmly put a ballyhoo on the hook and
dropped it overboard and within 10 seconds the fish took the line and
was hauled in the boat...my wife was screaming for her life and Moses
(Bonefish grandson) and I was laughing at her fear of the bari...it was
an incredible thing to watch. The bari was well over 20 pounds...and
that is no fish tale. We caught plenty more fish that day. My wife Linda
and I want to express our heartfelt condolences to the Rolle Family.
Rest In Peace Bonefish...we are all going to miss."
Bob Kramm, former manager of Old Bahama Bay writes, "Bonefish Folley will be missed greatly and always remembered for
his kindness, loving spirit, and wonderful sense of humor. Thanks for
the great times, Bonefish and Family!"
The Freeport News report on his death