Located just off the coast of South Florida, Bimini is widely accessible and has a longstanding history rich with offshore heritage dating back to a time when impressive schools of giant bluefin tuna crossed the Great Bahama Bank in massive numbers. The surrounding waters are widely known as the birthplace of modern sport fishing and to this day most visit Bimini for its fabulous offshore fishing. While the island’s proximity to deep water and nearby Gulf Stream create ideal conditions for a variety of big game pursuits, Bimini’s pristine flats shouldn’t be overlooked.
Unbeknownst to most, Bimini is a world-class shallow water angling destination that has remained relatively under the radar of enthusiasts searching out the world’s ultimate flats forays. In fact, most aren’t even aware the crystalline flats of Bimini are home to five active IGFA bonefish world records including a trophy 16-pounder. It is the island’s relatively small ecosystem and nearby access to deep water that make this a prime haunt for giant bonefish, yet still very few anglers visit Bimini strictly for the flats action. While North and South Bimini are experiencing unprecedented development, the bonefish are still there and they’re still big. Most fish average five pounds, and you can expect shots at 10-pound brutes.
In addition to bonefish you will encounter barracuda, sharks, horse-eye jack and even large mangrove snapper...
When visiting Bimini I prefer the Bimini Big Game Club Resort & Marina in Alice Town as my home base. It’s been there forever and is a first class operation, but its best asset is the prime location on Bimini’s harbor. From the dock the flats action is only a 15-minute skiff ride away. My two favorite guides are Captain Fred ‘Eagle Eyes’ Rolle and Captain Tommy Sewell, either of which will pick you up right at the Big Game Club.
Like all endeavors focused on the flats, your time spent on the water will naturally be dependent upon the tides. Bonefish can be spotted foraging on the edges of shallow flats during low-incoming tides, but here there’s more than what meets the eye. The tides can vary greatly depending on what side of the island you are on and no one understands and interprets the changing conditions better than the local guides. While you can explore on your own, if you want to do it right and get shots at big fish you should definitely hire a professional.
I’ve searched tropical locales around the world for the best bonefishing and prefer a 9 weight outfit no matter where my travels take me. Bimini is no exception, and although you can get by with a 7 or 8 weight, if there’s any wind, and you really want wind, the 9 weight is much easier to cast. I use a 12-foot leader tapered down to 10 lb. fluorocarbon. You only need a few fly patterns for the flats here, so bring some gotchas and something light brown and shrimpy. Be sure to come well prepared with some flies with light bead eyes, some with regular bead eyes and some with lead eyes for penetrating deeper water. Weed guards are advised because a lot of the fishing is over turtle grass. Most fly anglers wouldn’t dare visit a foreign destination without their own fly box, and like many other locations I’ve visited you can’t always count on the guides to have a great selection of flies.
Bonefishing in Bimini is unique, but somewhat reminds me of Miami about 30 years ago. There are lots of fish and it’s not unusual to encounter schools of 100 or more fish. However, most of the big fish are singles or in small groups and presentation is very important. The biggest fish are very skittish and over the years I’ve spooked far more than I’ve caught. Every day you’ll find yourself in the classic bonefish encounter—a big fish tailing in just inches of water.
In addition to bonefish you will encounter barracuda, sharks, horse-eye jack and even large mangrove snapper in the channels and cuts, so it’s a good idea to bring along a spinning rod with some surface plugs, too. However, it’s the permit fishery that really keeps me coming back year after year. It’s hard to beat the permit fishing in the Lower Keys, but Bimini may very well do so, at least for avid fly fishermen.
Permit tackle is pretty standard and you’ll want a 10 weight rigged with either a 10 or 11 weight line and a 20 lb. fluorocarbon tippet. You need a serious line to turn over big, heavy crab flies, especially if there’s wind. However, the wind is your friend when hunting permit and ‘Eagle Eyes’ Fred loves wind. When we’re out there and it’s blowing 15 to 20 knots he’s super excited. Ask any experienced flats fishing guide and he’ll tell you the best time to fly fish for permit is when there’s a good chop on the water. Chase permit when it’s slick calm and the wary fish will spook when the fly line is still in the air.
Permit are creatures of habit and typically move up onto the flats during the higher tides and work their way out as the water level drops. If you’re extremely lucky, you’ll find a permit following a stingray. Permit often follow rays on the flats, scooping up whatever the ray spooks but doesn’t catch. At times I’ve seen as many as six permit following one ray, all of which are in an active hunting and feeding mode so chances are they will be receptive to whatever you have to offer.
I’ve had success casting a live crab or a crab fly directly on top of the ray regardless of where the permit is at the moment. They roam around a bit, but they are always close enough to the ray to race in and engulf any critters that are stirred up by the ray meandering across the bottom. If you want to catch one for sure, use the spinning rod but be sure to tell your guide that you need some crabs. There aren’t any bait shops on Bimini so the guide will have to round some up before you get there.
Fred seems to think that the tides around the full and new moons are best for permit because of the extreme water flow, but I’ve seen them on almost every trip regardless of moon phase or month. The summer months aren’t the best because the water temperatures are just too hot. There’s good fishing early in the morning and late in the afternoon, but the middle of the day is a waste of time, especially if low tide falls during the heat of the day. Anytime after the temperatures begin to cool in late September through the end of May is excellent.
Although famous for its blue water heritage, Bimini should definitely be on your short list of flats fishing escapes for its budget-friendly access, year-round consistency and sheer number of quality fish. It’s quicker and easier to get to Bimini than navigate rush hour traffic in Miami, so make the crossing and see what you’ve been missing.
Don’t Lose Sight of Whats in Front of You:
Putting tackle and technique aside, the most important tool any shallow water angler can possess is excellent vision on the flats. Catching bonefish and permit—on fly or spinning gear in The Bahamas or anywhere else—is all about seeing the fish and presenting the perfect cast before they see you, which is a nearly impossible task without a high quality pair of polarized sunglasses. For beginners, it is also important you know what you are looking for. Novices often make the mistake of searching for perfect fish shapes when it’s really mirror-like shadows and thin, sickle-like fins protruding from the surface that give away the target’s position.