For Floridians, particularly in the southeast reaches of the Sunshine State, fishing in The Bahamas is a unique treat that seems too good to be true. However, the reality is that just a short venture across the Gulf Stream puts you in a whole new world with opportunities. There’s always something to catch in Bahamian waters, regardless of what month of the year it is. Winter wahoo comprise an iconic fishery, while marlin, tuna and dolphin usually take the cake in the spring and summer, not to mention the year-round presence of bonefish. With so many fisheries to be enjoyed, the legendary archipelago’s outstanding bottom fishery somehow goes largely untapped by visiting anglers, and many of the fish roaming the expansive Bahamian reef system have likely never seen a slow pitch jig before.
We get it – when you think of The Bahamas, slow pitch jigging is probably not the first thing you think of. That said, when you go to the islands, you need to be prepared with a multitude of tackle and gear. Given this publication’s love for slow pitch jigging, we certainly recommend your expansive arsenals include at least one or two jigging outfits for whenever the opportunity to drop a metal presents itself. To take it a step further, those who are avid jigging enthusiasts can certainly fill the fish box across the Gulf Stream with nothing but slow pitch gear. Regardless of your approach or itinerary, it’s another trick you should have up your sleeve.
When you consider just how many anglers cross from Florida to The Bahamas to fish every year, it’s perplexing how small a percentage of them intend on slow pitch jigging in the islands. What makes us scratch our heads even more is that fishing in The Bahamas is synonymous with a world-class bottom bite and slow pitch jigging has become a proven method in catching a massive variety of both demersal and pelagic predators. So, why is it that this technique is so underutilized in Bahamian waters? We have a few theories.
First, we reckon that the Bahamian locals, who know their home waters than anybody else, simply haven’t fallen within the expansive reach of slow pitch jigging. This is understandable, as it took quite a while for slow pitch jigging to catch on here in the United States. Furthermore, many of the native anglers, who have relied on the same fish-catching methods for generations, don’t have a need for expensive gear to do what they already do so well. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Now, to venture a guess for anglers visiting from Florida by boat, the lack of willingness to give slow pitch jigging a try is even more perplexing. Many of these captains and crews will do whatever it takes PH to gain an advantage over the fish and maximize their catch. Yet, slow pitch jigging doesn’t seem to be one of those advantages in their eyes, despite its proven effectiveness in waters worldwide, including throughout the Bahamian archipelago. We can understand the skepticism here, as it can be almost humorous to see anglers chasing giant grouper, snapper and more on what looks like tackle built for soaking worms in a pond.
Whatever the reasons may be, we’re here to put the skepticism to rest and open people’s minds to slow pitch jigging in general; but, more specifically, we want to unleash the effectiveness of this tactic in waters teeming with game fish and slow pitch potential. We can’t guarantee you that it’ll out-fish traditional methods like trolling, deep dropping or soaking bait on a vibrant reef. But, anyone who’s tried slow pitch jigging knows just how exhilarating a good bite can be, and it’s never a bad idea to switch things up and step off the beaten path.
For those reading this who’ve been convinced to give it a shot, there’s a lot you need to know and consider. Like any other fishery in the islands, successful slow pitch jigging requires a refined approach. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as finding an area that looks promising and dropping a jig. However, when your plan comes together and you hit the right areas the right way, the rewards can be incredible by way of full fishboxes and heart-pounding moments you won’t soon forget.
Let’s start with the shallow stuff. The nearshore waters around the islands of The Bahamas are teeming with life, largely thanks to a vibrant reef system that’s easily accessible from virtually any Bahamian port of call. Anglers have caught plenty of trophy fish over the years in waters as shallow as 20 feet, but unless you’re micro jigging, we recommend starting a little deeper than that. Another quick note on micro jigging – while it’ll certainly get bites over the region’s shallow reefs, the ultra-light tackle required for this type of approach simply won’t stand up to many of the snapper and grouper in the area. Instead, starting in 80 to 100 feet with heavier jigs and tackle is advised.
Captain Colton Cunningham is a frequent visitor to the islands and an avid slow pitch jigger. Equipped with experience in both Bahamian fisheries and the effectiveness of jigging in the region, he weighed in on the topic
“In the summer months, particularly around full moons, I like to target big mutton snapper in 150 to 250 feet of water where I often find fish scattered in the sand surrounding structure. This is where they typically spawn. Make note of where you’re marking and finding fish and make sure every drift you set up is precise. When I’m not specifically looking for mutton, I like to seek out areas of hard bottom that stay consistent in depth for a long distance. Steep drop-offs that go abruptly from 40 to 600 feet can be very fishy, but they are difficult to jig,” Capt. Colton explained.
As far as tackle is concerned, many of the jigging outfits we use around the Sunshine State will suffice across the Gulf Stream, but it’s still important to make your decisions regarding tackle on a case-by-case basis, depending on a few different factors. These include depth, current, type of structure below and target species. As far as current goes, it’s usually not too swift and allows jiggers to lighten up on jig weights while going a little heavier on main line. For example, just off Florida’s southeast coast where the Gulf Stream runs very close to shore, the current is usually a challenge and warrants heavy, stream-lined jigs and thin diameter braided line. In The Bahamas where the current is more manageable (and many of the bottom fish are much bigger), stepping up from 20 to 40 lb. test braided line is not a bad idea for the shallower areas. Furthermore, it allows anglers to put more heat on hooked fish to more effectively keep them away from structure and the abundant and aggressive Bahamian shark population.
Your leader is another component you’ll need to consider. While many of Florida’s fisheries warrant a stealthier approach because of wary predators, jigging in The Bahamas presents different challenges. You don’t want to go too heavy, as trophy mutton snapper, blackfin tuna and grouper, even Bahamian ones, may not strike if they detect the leader. However, the amount of structure present usually warrants no less than 50 lb. fluorocarbon leader, though sometimes beefing things up to 80 or 100 lb. test is needed.
In deeper water, we recommend an approach that includes more finesse than power. While many of the deep-water species in the area like queen snapper, yelloweye snapper and mystic grouper hang out around abrupt contours in the bottom that yield large structure, you can typically get away with lighter line and leader. This may be a surprising change from traditional deep dropping that warrants rigs comprised of 100 to 200 lb. monofilament but, believe us, jigging here with light tackle works. 60 lb. fluorocarbon is a good place to start, though 20 to 30 lb. braided main line is recommended here.
Fishing these depths that span 600 to sometimes more than 1,000 feet require reels with larger line capacity than many jiggers aren’t typically used to in shallower water. Deeper water also means heavier jigs, which warrants higher power rods to impart the proper action on the jig. Speak – ing of the jig, using a large, single assist hook at each end of the jig is far more effective here than dual assist hooks used in shallower water. Single assist hooks are much less likely to foul on the drop and large hooks are more effective at keeping these large, deep-water predators but – toned up on the long ride to the surface.
Familiar with deeper jigging, too, Capt. Colton added, “In deeper water, look for any sort of structure that you would typically fish using traditional deep-drop tackle. I find that while I don’t get as many bites on the jig, the fish I do catch are usually of greater quality. Heavy, yet small pro-file jigs work well in these deeper areas for yelloweye and black snapper, while larger jigs are more effective when larger grouper and queen snapper are present.”
Bottom fish are the main targets when jigging, but the Bahamian archipelago is home to numerous pelagic game fish that will also readily strike a jig. Blackfin and yellowfin tuna, wahoo, cobia, mackerel and various jack species are just a few of the potential pelagic catches you’ll encounter. If toothy critters are making short work of your terminal tackle, don’t be afraid to bump up to heavy monofilament leader and wire assist hooks
We won’t claim slow pitch jigging is the best way to fish The Bahamas, but it’s definitely another tool you should have at the ready. Not only is it an effective way to target a variety of both bottom fish and pelagic predators, it’s also an incredibly fun change of pace to traditional methods. Next time you’re in the islands, give it a shot!