Visit your local newsstand or bookstore and thumb through the pages of the current saltwater sport fishing publications. You’ll likely be floored by the visual overload of frontier fishing destinations claiming to be the next blue water Holy Grail. While intriguing they are, it is an unfortunate fact that most of us won’t ever have the opportunity to visit these fantasy destinations. As Floridians we’re lucky. One thing we have in our favor is a prime location with easy access to the amazing island archipelago of the nearby Bahamas. Lets face it, the action won’t rival a full moon bite in St. Thomas, but for quality shots at billfish and a wide assortment of secondary opponents, The Bahamas can’t be beat.
Both white marlin (left) and blue marlin (right) lead the way when it comes to Bahamian billfish action.
While highly dependent on several factors—most notably water temperature, wind direction and prevailing currents—prime blue marlin season in the islands typically spans from April through August. While summertime is the right time, blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish can be taken both earlier and later in the season. If you were forced to pick one week to target billfish, then plan a trip for the week after the full moon in June. While the following hot-spots will place you in prime territory, don’t think for one second you won’t stumble upon enthralling action elsewhere. Pretty much any stretch of clean, deep, nutrient-rich blue water can produce a strike on any given day. It’s also critical you’re not under the impression that these waters are only patrolled by small statured billfish. Blues topping the 600-pound mark regularly take top honors at Bahamas Billfish Championship events.
Without a doubt the most legendary angling destination in all of The Bahamas, this island retreat has been a longstanding producer of quality big game action. From the heydays of prohibition rum runners to Ernest Hemingway and Pilar, Bimini’s logistics are what make it one of the most-visited destinations in the entire island chain. But it’s not just the close proximity to South Florida that keeps anglers coming back for more. Just out front, the nutrient-rich Gulf Stream has a proven marlin track record. Fertile feeding grounds stretch from Great Isaac south to Cat Cay, with a mixed spread of Mold Craft chuggers and Ilander/horse ballyhoo combos proving their worth in salt. Although the introduction of luxurious resorts and technologically advanced sport fishing vessels with incredible range have enabled anglers to target the furthest stretches of The Bahamas, don’t discount Hemingway’s Islands In The Stream for quality big game action.
While legends claim home to Atlantis and the Fountain of Youth, Bimini’s lore is also home to a crown that no other Bahamian destination can claim. During the 1979 Bahamas Billfish Championship, angler Sam Jennings landed a whopping 1,060.5-pound blue marlin that would award Bimini the title of the only island in The Bahamas to weigh a grander. Another great facet of Bimini is that you’re in the neighborhood of additional hot-spots that are more off the beaten path. From Bimini it is an approximate 70-mile run across the Great Bahama Bank to Northwest Channel Light—the entrance to the Tongue of the Ocean and the next go-to on our list of Bahamian billfish destinations.
2. Chub Cay
Within the billfishing community Chub Cay is highly regarded as one of the ultimate angling destinations in all of The Bahamas. After shutting down in the summer of 2005, Chub Cay Marina is once again open for business. If you’ve had the pleasure of visiting Chub in the past, then you’ll be glad to hear that the days of low water pressure and routine power outages are a thing of the past. Situated on the Tongue of the Ocean with close proximity to the world famous Pocket, it is the unique bathymetric features that make this area so promising. Because the opening of the Tongue is so narrow, ripping currents flow here and result in extreme upwellings with fertile deep water rushing off the Great Bahama Bank. The near vertical edges feature depths that plummet to hundreds of fathoms. One particular area that’s routinely scoured by billfishing’s elite is the aforementioned Pocket. Bordered by Morgan’s Bluff at the northeast tip of Andros and the Northwest Channel Light on the eastern edge of the Great Bahama Bank, this prolific stretch of aggressive bottom topography offers the ultimate in billfish-holding structure. East-southeast winds really turn on the bite, but with a west wind silt from the bank will cloud the water and make for less than ideal conditions. Target 500 to 1,500-foot depths with a mix of both natural and artificial offerings. Horse ballyhoo and rigged mullet work well, as do smaller plungers and cupped faced trolling lures. Another area worthy of consideration is the stretch from Morgan’s Bluff south to The Joulters. While aggressive bottom is crucial to your success, more common signs of activity such as working birds and bait concentrations shouldn’t be overlooked.
From Walker’s Cay down and around to Hole In The Wall, the Abaco island chain consists of a 120-mile stretch of promising blue water. It’s no secret why this cluster of cayes hosts several marlin tournaments every year. Marsh Harbour is the epicenter of the action, with close proximity to Guana Cay, Hope Town, Man-O-War Cay, Green Turtle Cay and Treasure Cay. Those in search of drag-melting strikes typically head northeast from Marsh to target the depths of the Great Abaco Canyon and Little Abaco Canyon. To the east, another area worthy of consideration is Jurassic Park. Further south off Tiloo Cay you will find the Hope Town Pocket and Wonderlands. If you plan on heading to the Abacos’ it would be a wise decision to purchase a bathymetric chart that clearly portrays the deep features that stretch north and south of Marsh. Combine massive underwater pinnacles with the presence of weedlines and flying fish, and you’ve got a recipe for success. Although a quality stretch of deep water structures exist only a few minutes from Walker’s, since the resort and marina were closed after being hit by Hurricane Frances and Jeanne in 2004, not many venture this far off the beaten path.
At the extreme southern tip of Great Abaco you will find Hole In The Wall. This is true marlin country and most often targeted by crews making the run from the Abacos to Eleuthera—the next stop on our quest for the one.
While the waters surrounding Eleuthera are famous for harboring massive schools of yellowfin tuna, educated anglers are well aware of the larger predators that lurk below. From the grand getaway of Harbour Island there are a handful of favorable venues within close reach. Dutch Bar, Shallow Ground, The Pinnacle and James Point are just a few such locales. While all of these hunting grounds provide quality ledges with aggressive bottom contours, none rival the action offered by James Point. Clean, blue water with wind blowing against the current will create ideal conditions. Further to the south The Bridge is an underwater ledge that connects Eleuthera’s southern tip to Little San Salvador. A new player in the game, Cape Eleuthera’s Powell Pointe Marina, was introduced to the BBC in May 2009 with a 703-pound blue marlin. In addition, 50 billfish were released during the three-day event. To say Cape Eleuthera’s inaugural event was a success is a vast understatement. While a bathymetric chart and firm understanding of your marine electronics will help point you in the right direction, circling frigates should always take precedence.
5. Cat Island—Rum Cay
When you head south past Eleuthera fuel becomes a hot commodity, yet it’s the same unpressured waters and undeveloped islands that keep anglers coming back for more. With an over 300-mile run from South Florida you won’t be hitting these waters on a long weekend, but when you do get the chance to head south you’ll soon realize what all the hype is about. At Cat Island most of the action takes place off Columbus and Devil’s Point. These windswept points provide steep drop-offs, ledges and immense rips. Nearby Rum Cay also offers incredible billfish action, although often overshadowed by the world-class wahoo fishing. The southeast and northeast point of Rum are the two best producers. As fierce currents hit these points deep water upwellings force copious amounts of baitfish to the surface. The northeast point is approximately 10-miles from Sumner Point—the only marina on the island—and trolling between these two points is the typical strategy. Down this far south it’s not uncommon to hear of billfish being caught each and every month of the year.
Get in the Game
When it comes to tackle for Bahamas blue marlin, 80-pound outfits loaded with 100lb. test are standard, although 30 and 50lb. tackle will make for a sporty fight when white marlin and sailfish step up to the plate. Single-hooked horse ballyhoo, Spanish mackerel and mullet round out the top naturals, with double-hook stiff rigs increasing the hookup ratio when trolling fakes. While artificials are effective when covering ground is essential, billfish are more likely to come back on a natural bait for a second, third or even fourth attempt. A trolling speed of 7 to 9-knots is typical, but you must vary your approach depending on the prevalent sea state. Remember that if you troll too slow you will lose the fish’s interest, while moving too fast will result in missed hookups. Focus your efforts when and where they count most, and keep in mind that under less than ideal conditions even the most promising bottom structure may be devoid of life. Last but not least dredge teasers will greatly increase your on the water appeal. Billfish can’t seem to get enough of them.