Exhilarating Exumas

Bonefish Bliss in the Southern Bahamas

Capt. Steve Dougherty November 19, 2008

The Bahamian Archipelago has long been renowned as a world-class angling destination, and its close proximity to Florida makes it an ideal location for anglers in search of red-hot bonefishing. The “gray-ghosts” of the flats as they are commonly referred to, are notorious for being extremely wary. Hooking one can be a real challenge, landing one is another story altogether. However, in Great Exuma anglers have a real possibility of 30-plus shots in a single morning. With world-class wading flats and huge schools of cooperative bonefish, we decided to plan our visit in late August, the best time of the year to connect with a trophy bonefish over 10-pounds.

Fishing the Flats

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Photo: Capt. Steve Dougherty

I’ve had the privilege of visiting numerous Bahamian Islands from Walkers Cay south to San Salvador and I can honestly say that Great Exuma is one of the most pristine and beautiful pieces of tropical angling paradise I have ever stepped foot on. White-sand flats and icy-blue iridescent waters surround a multitude of cays and mangrove islands. According to our guides many of the flats surrounding Exuma have never even been fished.

According to Garth, they stopped counting after 30 releases…after only four-hours on the water!

I was invited to join Florida Sport Fishing’s Bahamas Field Reporter Captain Chris Agardy and his family on a weeklong bonefishing excursion in Great Exuma. Growing up in the same neighborhood and attending school together since we were kids, over the years Captain Chris, his brother Peter and I, have had great success touring the islands in search of monster marlin, wicked wahoo, bruiser tuna and slammer dolphin. It was late August and we were once again headed to the Bahamas, however, this time we were in search of bonefish bliss. Although Tropical Storm Fay threw a wrench in our plans, we eventually departed Miami on a quick flight to Georgetown, Great Exuma. While there were plenty of activities for the non-anglers in our party, including a world-class Greg Norman golf course, pristine snorkeling reefs teeming with life and a five-star spa at the Four Seasons, make no mistake, we were here to fish.

With an early morning start, we headed to downtown Georgetown for a quick breakfast at Club Peace & Plenty. We met our guides after breakfast and followed them to their skiffs in Rolle Town. Garth Thomas fishes a Boston Whaler, while Stevie Ferguson and Reno Rolle fish custom Exuma-built Skinny-Water Skiffs. With our large crew of anglers, we split up in the three skiffs with two anglers per skiff. Peter and I hopped in the boat with Reno Rolle and wished everyone good luck. Reno is a native Exumian, he knows these waters as well as anyone. On this day, we were blessed with clear skies and light winds. Perfect conditions for stalking wary ghosts in shallow-water. We made a quick run around the oceanside cays to the south-side of the island. The first area we targeted was a broad flat with numerous muds giving away the presence of a large school of feeding bones. Peter made a few casts and briefly hooked into one fish before it spit the fly. Due to the incoming tide, the fish in this area were moving across the flat at a rapid pace, and Reno suggested we search for a spot that would offer more favorable conditions. Our next stop was at a shallow mangrove flat and as Reno jumped onto the poling platform, it was apparent that we found Exuma Gold, or Exuma Silver in this case. Scanning the crystal-clear waters, scattered bonefish filled the flat for as far as the eye could see. Reno made sure that our drags were tightened down so we could keep the fast-paced bones from breaking us off on the unforgiving mangrove chutes. Peter and I traded off fish until the lemon sharks and barracuda pushed the bones deeper into the mangroves. We could have kept casting to this school, but the bones were so deep in the reeds that it would have been virtually impossible to keep them from breaking us off. Reno suggested we move-on to search for another school and while it was hard to leave such a large group of fish, Reno was the expert. We relocated to a flat that was closer to the mainland but the numerous holes in the soft substrate revealed that we were too late. The tide beat us and the bonefish had already grazed through the area.

Reno is an amazing guide, and his enthusiasm makes fishing with him a truly memorable experience. Every time we hooked up, we could hear Reno giggling on the poling platform. I can’t imagine how many bonefish Reno has helped clients land, yet every time he hears the drag sing it seems like it’s his very first time.

When we met back at the dock, we were anxious to see how everyone else did. Chris’s dad fished with Garth Thompson and claimed that this was the best bonefishing experience of his life. According to Garth, they stopped counting after 30 releases. Quite an amazing accomplishment after only four-hours on the water!

Unfortunately, on our second day we were plagued with stiff-winds and heavy downpours. Far from the best sight-fishing conditions by any means, but Garth was still able to put us on quality numbers. On this day, Captain Chris, Peter and myself were fishing together and we only ventured 200-yards from the dock before Garth spotted a mud worth investigating. We jumped out of the skiff and quietly stalked the school on foot. A shallow sandbar divided the flat we were fishing and as we approached the school they scurried to the deeper edge. We loaded back into the skiff and Garth poled us within casting distance.

It’s absolutely amazing how well Garth can read the water. With a stiff breeze putting a serious chop on the surface he still hooked us up. “Cast to 9 o’clock mon” as he pointed with his push-pole. I looked to where he was pointing and couldn’t see a single fish. Nevertheless, I made a quick roll cast and on my second strip I felt a hard jab. I looked back at Garth with a big grin. After a blistering initial run, I brought the three-pound bonefish to the boat for release. With rain continuing to pelt us in the face, Captain Chris readied his six-weight and #6 Gotcha. Garth poled us around the backside of the same flat as the full moon incoming tide was quickly flooding the shallow bar. With Garth’s insight and intuition, he instructed Chris to make a cast about 50-feet off the bow. Chris made a quick strip. “What, no strike?” Garth was dumbfounded! “Bring in your fly so I can check the eyes,” he said. After a quick adjustment, Chris shot out another cast. Seconds later, the fight was on! By the way the fish was fighting, we could tell it was going to be one of the largest bones of the trip, maybe even that trophy 10-pounder’ we were after. After an initial run that burned 200-yards of line off the reel, Garth spotted a large ‘cuda stalking Chris’s fish. Unfortunately, the hungry barra’ got the best of Chris’s potential trophy.

Peter was up next and on his initial cast and first strip, he was hooked up! The three of us traded off fish and evened up the score until the wind and rain became unbearable. We concluded that this was definitely the most enjoyable day fishing in the rain any of use had ever experienced.

If you truly want to experience world-class bonefishing in a pristine destination, look no further than Great Exuma. The locals are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people I have ever met. This was an experience I will cherish for a long time and I am truly grateful for the wonderful opportunity.

A look back at Exuma…
The Exumas have a very diverse history, which is quite different from many of the other Bahamian Islands. The Lucayan Indians were the first inhabitants of the Exumas as they fled from the Lesser Antilles to escape the wrath of the Carib Indians who were cannibals and savage warriors. The Lucayans were an extremely peaceful tribe and enjoyed farming and pottery making. In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed in nearby San Salvador and enslaved the Lucayans. Coupled with the introduction of harmful diseases, the entire population was wiped out within 25-years. Not much later, pirates used the Exumas for safe harborage while British loyalists grew cotton in the island’s thin soil. The Exumas were also home to rum-runners during the Civil War and Prohibition Era and more recently, drug-runners in nearby Norman’s Cay during the 70s. Today, the Exuma’s main income is derived from tourism, however, compared to the other islands in the Bahamian Archipelago, the 365 cays of Exuma are relatively untouched.

Recommended Tackle

  • Six to nine-weight fly rod with large arbor reel (200+ yards 20lb. backing)
  • Floating lines with 10ft. tapered 8 – 16lb. bonefish leader
  • Crazy Charlies, Gotchas, Clousers (#4, #6) in combinations of pink, tan, gold, olive and white
  • Seven-foot graphite spinning rod matched with quality spinning reel spooled with no less than 200-yards of 6-12lb. monofilament or braid
  • 12 to 20lb. fluorocarbon leader
  • 1/8 and 1/4 oz. HookUp Lures in combinations of tan, white and pink
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • Long billed hat
  • Sunscreen

Contact Data

Exuma Bonefish Guides Association
www.ExumaBonefish.com
239.223.8748

Club Peace & Plenty
www.PeaceandPlenty.com
800.525.2210

Four Seasons Resort
www.FourSeasons.com
242.336.6800

Travel Info
American Airlines offers a daily non-stop flight from Miami (MIA) to Georgetown (GGT). The flight is approximately 1-hour and 30-minutes and a valid U.S. Passport is required for both entry and exit into Great Exuma and the United States.

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