Bonefish Blessings

Heading to The Bahamas? Plan Ahead and Don’t Worry ‘Bout a Thing!

Capt. Steve Dougherty April 2, 2013

When one fantasizes of top bonefish destinations the Florida Keys certainly come to mind for proximity and the trophy fish typically encountered. International escapes like Hawaii, Belize and the Seychelles also deserve recognition and certainly can’t be overlooked for world-class, once-in-a-lifetime encounters. All factors considered, The Bahamas shine brightest with budget friendly access, year-round consistency and sheer number of fish. Throw in the fact there are approximately 700 islands and 2,400 cays that span over 500 miles with varying habitat including tidal creeks, mangrove shorelines, ocean side flats, salt ponds and more, and it doesn’t get much better. Whether your cruise ship has a layover in Freeport for the day or you are planning a week-long sabbatical to a secluded Out Island, there are a few things you can do to increase your odds with gray ghosts roaming the crystal clear flats of The Bahamas.

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Photo: Tosh Brown

With hundreds of islands to choose from, selecting a final destination can be a real challenge and one that will be highly dependent on your ultimate goal. Is this a serious fishing trip, or a family vacation where you plan on sneaking a three-piece fly rod in your luggage? If you’re traveling with family you should check out the island chains of the Abacos and Exumas, while those looking for a more rustic experience can’t go wrong with Long Island, Acklins or Andros. Fortunately, bonefish prowl the shallows of nearly every landmass in The Bahamas.

For the angler who wants the finest Bahamas bonefish experience, there are numerous fishing specific booking agencies that expertly handle all of the logistics. All you have to do is show up and catch fish until you tire. If you are more budget conscious or enjoy the gratification and reward of figuring things out on your own, you should do some research on the Internet and contact a handful of independent guides throughout the islands. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism also features various travel packages and flight discounts at bahamas.com, so be sure to check frequently in preparation of planning a trip.

Seasonally, bonefish can be caught every day of the year in The Bahamas, but the spring and summer months provide some of the most predictable weather patterns. Having a flexible schedule is best when planning a trip and if you’re really serious try to book around neap tides. Neap tides occur after a full moon, which is when tides are the most extreme. With spring tides providing the highest highs, the fish will push deep into the mangroves, while lower low tides will keep water off the flats. In contrast, neap tides make for more consistent fishing at most locations while also providing ideal conditions for longer periods of time. Be sure to print out tide charts for your particular destination before leaving the states.

While you should definitely budget one or two guided trips, you’ll probably want to fish more than just a couple of days. You made all the effort to get to The Bahamas, so maximize the fishing time! When you get home you’ll be upset with yourself if you wasted even a single opportunity. Due to some island’s terrain and access, guided trips might be the only option, but on many islands if you do a little exploring you will be surprised with what you find. DIY bonefishing is not easy and no matter where you end up you will need to do some research to be successful on your own. While the experience of a guide is priceless and will likely lead to numerous releases, some anglers get more enjoyment of guiding themselves to a single release. Choose your accommodations based on the vicinity to nearby flats and the availability of bicycle, golf cart or kayak rentals to go explore on your own. While The Bahamas are still pristine, the growing number of travelers means you might not be alone in your quest for the one. A small flat can’t be fished effectively by multiple anglers, so if you come across someone fishing give them plenty of breathing room. Just like you they’ve likely traveled far and wide to find their own stretch of seclusion.

Once you’ve narrowed down your final destination, it’s important you prepare and pack accordingly. Even the more developed islands are rather desolate, so if you forgot something chances are you’ll be without it until you get home. Many times I’ve had traveling partners lose their luggage on even the shortest flight, so if you check a bag be sure to pack some stuff in your carry-on to get you by if your checked bag arrives a day late.

In a lot of Bahamian destinations local guides will mix it up with fishing from a boat and wading to intercept fish entering a flooding bar or shoreline. If you are exploring on your own you will spend a lot of time on your feet and sandals simply won’t suffice. A quality pair of wading boots are mandatory and will enable you to walk for miles through unforgiving territory like sharp limestone rock, acres of sand spurs, or uneven coral flats.

From the moment you hit the curb for your departure to the islands you must prepare for the worst. Having been let down and stranded many times before attempting travels by way of boat, plane and automobile, I can tell you that when traveling to the islands you must go with the flow. You will eventually get to where you are going and the fish will be waiting. Even after the travel experience from hell you may arrive to stormy skies and 20-knots of wind. You’ve made it this far, and the reality is that there’s still a great chance you will catch bonefish in the adverse conditions. Fish still feed in the rain, it’s just a matter of how bad you want to catch them.

Preparing for a trip to The Bahamas doesn’t have to be stressful, but the more you plan ahead the better off you will be. While small in stature, these fish pack a mean punch and are some of the most challenging shallow water game fish to coerce. No matter what you choose to pack or where you end up don’t forget to bring your passion for adventure!

South Andros

(Editor’s Pick)
The largest island in The Bahamas, Andros is actually divided into three large landmasses—North Andros, Mangrove Cay and South Andros. Each has its own airport and all offer their own charm. The least populated, South Andros, provides some of the most varied opportunities throughout the entire island chain. Whether you fish the intricate creeks on the east coast or small cays to the southern tip you can’t go wrong on South Andros. Here you will have the best chance of encountering the biggest bonefish throughout all of The Bahamas.

Rig It Right

Bonefish tackle remains rather consistent throughout the entire island chain, with 7 to 9-weight fly outfits, floating line and 8 to 12 lb. tapered fluorocarbon leaders fooling finicky fish. Fly selection will be determined by the depth of water, with #4 – #6 Gotchas, Charlies, Pink Puffs and other shrimp imitations working well. Light tackle spinning outfits with 6 to 12 lb. monofilament or braid will make for delicate presentations, while skimmer jigs in 1/16 – 1/8 oz. get to the bottom fast.

The Wade Factor

Fishing from a skiff enables anglers to cover greater stretches of water, but wading slows things down and really lets anglers focus and methodically work shallow flats. Bonefish have incredible senses and will scurry at the sound of heavy footsteps. Step softly and make an effort to be as stealthy as possible. It will make a big difference! Bonefish often travel in pairs or large schools, so if you encounter a fish there will likely be more in the area. If you find a fish that isn’t interested in feeding search in the direction it came from and keep your eyes peeled for additional mudding or grubbing bones in the vicinity.

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