The Bahamas, comprising a collection of islands in the Caribbean, is a country viewed by most as an exotic vacation destination. However, for anglers in Florida, this archipelago located just across the Gulf Stream is seen a little differently. Rather than booking an expensive plane ticket and breaking the bank on lodging at a high-end resort, certain members of the fishing community head to the islands for nothing other than to target the vast variety of game fish species roaming these nearby waters. And with the capabilities of today’s go-fast center consoles, many visitors choose to visit the islands and return stateside all in the same day.
While day trips to The Bahamas are incredibly enjoyable and certainly give visitors access to incredible fishing, there are a few things to keep in mind when enjoying a day on Bahamian waters. Though you’ll be departing and returning to your home port in the same day, these trips require a great deal of planning and execution, and there are a few moving parts to consider before pointing your bow to the islands.
First of all, I have to stress the importance of following local laws, rules and regulations. Once you cross into Bahamian waters, you’re in their world, and it’s critical we respect the fact that we are visitors here. This means a few things, and while I always encourage respect for the environment wherever you fish, it’s even more important here. Of course, this means you should, under no circumstances, dump any trash into the water and care for the resources like they were your own, but it goes beyond that. Though you may only be on a day trip and most of your crew might not even touch dry land while you’re there, you must understand that you’re in a foreign country – one with pristine waters and epic fisheries – so treat it as such.
More to the point, anyone who goes to The Bahamas for any sort of fishing (besides billfishing which should always be catch and release anyway) is there to harvest fish. And, by the way, harvesting billfish is strictly prohibited, unless you’re fishing an approved tournament that has obtained that privilege. Many of the other game fish we target over there are some of the most delicious fish in the world, and most anglers are there to keep a few for dinner. However, before your arrival in The Bahamas, you need to be aware of all Bahamian rules and regulations as they pertain to harvesting fish. This includes minimum size limits, open and closed seasons, legal gear and more. For example, many visitors enjoy spearfishing here, but speargun use is prohibited in Bahamian waters. Hawaiian slings and pole spears are legal, though.
Regarding catch limits, there are very clear rules set forth by the Bahamian government that must be followed with no exceptions. However, some confusion arises when traveling back to Florida with fish caught in The Bahamas. When in doubt, always follow the more restrictive of the two regulations. In other words, if regulations in Florida for a certain species are more restrictive than in The Bahamas, you don’t want to get caught with more than you’re allowed. Conversely, if you’re vessel is inspected in The Bahamas and you’re following Florida regulations, they may be different than the local rules. In The Bahamas, anglers are allowed 18 pelagic fish (any combination of wahoo, tuna kingfish and dolphin), 10 spiny lobster (open to harvest Aug. 1 through March 31), 6 conch and 20 demersal fish or 60 pounds of demersal fish such as snapper and grouper, whichever is fewer. Remember, these rules apply to each boat, not each angler. Keep in mind, too, that these are the rules and regulations as of press date, but they are subject to change. Stay up to date at bahamas.gov.bs.
Another incredibly important aspect of traveling to The Bahamas for a one-day fishing trip is clearing customs. Although you won’t be spending time on any of the islands, you still need to clear. Certain anglers think they are above the law and choose to fish without clearing, but, if caught, the consequences are severe. My advice is don’t even think about it. Upon your arrival, you’ll need to go straight to a customs and immigration office, so before your departure from Florida, know where you’re going and make sure they’ll be open when you get there.
While you’re waiting to clear customs, you’re required to fly a yellow quarantine flag until you’re approved. Once you’re cleared, you must replace the yellow flag with a Bahamian courtesy flag. When you clear customs, you must also obtain a fishing permit, which can be done online before your trip. You can also visit besw.gov.bs ahead of your trip to make the customs and fishing permit process much easier once you arrive. Once you’re there, be sure to verify with your customs official that you possess all the proper documentation and permits before you begin fishing.
Now that the legal requirements are out of the way, we can focus on maximizing your day trip to the islands. Like I said, while it’s just a day trip, it requires a great deal of preparation. You’ll have to plan ahead and bring everything you might need with you because if Plan A doesn’t work, you better be ready for Plan B and Plan C. For example, in the coming months many anglers will be taking advantage of calm weather windows to head to The Bahamas and troll for wahoo. But success in this fishery hinges on certain conditions like tide and time of day. Therefore, when the wahoo bite slows down, you’ll need to be ready to switch gears. This means bringing plenty of gear for spearfishing, deep dropping, reef fishing and more. Your approach should be multifaceted.
Furthermore, it’s important you bring a spare for everything you need. This pertains not only to fishing tackle, but also outboard parts, fuses, fittings and more. You don’t want to get stuck in the islands right before you turn around to head home. You should also consider bringing enough food and water for more than just a day. Not only is it important to stay nourished on such an exhausting trip, but it’s also vital you prepare for anything. If rough weather keeps you stranded over there for an extra 24 hours, you need to be ready. However, do your best to pick a weather window that yields smooth sailing for multiple days. You don’t want to test Mother Nature and the timing on forecasts can be questionable, at best.
When you decide to return home, make sure you do so with plenty of time. It can be tempting to fish until the last minute when the fishing is as good as it is in The Bahamas, but you need to ensure safe passage home. Additionally, make sure you plan around your vessel’s fuel consumption and if you need to fill up while your there, make sure you do so. If you might have just enough fuel to get home, err on the side of caution and add a few gallons to make sure you get home without a hitch.
Day tips to The Bahamas are becoming much more popular these days as more boaters possess the means to get to the islands and back home on the same day. However, just because there isn’t an extended stay involved doesn’t mean you should overlook proper planning. Leave nothing to chance and keep safety at the forefront. Planning and preparing for a trip like this can be hard work, but if you do it right, the results are incredible.