Fishing in Abaco
While vacationing at the Clifford Sawyer House vacation rental, visitors to Abaco will find a diverse palette of fishing opportunities. From dropping a relaxing handline off your dock to battling giant blue marlin offshore, just about everyone can find a way to enjoy the local fishing experience. This article was written by people just like you who enjoy visiting the area and want to share their fishing tactics. I use the term "fisherman" in a gender-neutral sense; many ladies enjoy fishing, my wife Bunny regularly out fishes me. We encourage men, women, kids, whoever, to get out there and go fishing!
There are three great references that will be of value to everyone who comes to Abaco to fish. Former Florida Sportsman Magazine editor Vic Dunaway's classic book Baits, Rigs, and Tackle is a great primer for everything that has to do with fishing hardware, from knots to lines to leaders to, well, you name it. Another great Florida Sportsman book is Sport Fish of Florida. This 256-page full color book describes many of the fish we find in Abaco; it will help you identify as well as fish for most of the local critters. And make sure you have a copy of Steve Dodge's Cruising Guide to Abaco Bahamas 200X , it's your best source for charts, maps, tides, and boat rental info.
If you have a little boating skill you can really enhance your fishing experience by renting a boat while you're in Abaco.
Bait can be tricky to find, you often have to make due with what you can scrounge. Conch makes great bait, it's tasty and durable. You can use a small hook or tiny jigs to catch small fish that you can then filet for bait. Many of us start off fishing with jigs and never get around to using bait. Ballyhoo are difficult to find; you can ask around the docks at Boat Harbour, they can sometimes point you in the right direction. Many people have great luck trolling lures, including feathers and spoons.
whatever tackle you can manage to carry; it's usually more expensive
in Abaco, and there's less variety. We have had good luck finding
tackle at B&D Marine in Marsh Harbour and the Ship's Store
at Lighthouse Marina in Hopetown. It's very difficult to find
Traveling with Fishing Gear
If you are planning on visiting Abaco in your own boat and you like to fish, bring as much tackle as you can manage. If you want to troll for big game, give some serious thought to 80-pound class tackle. There are big marlin and even an occasional bluefin tuna that can make short work out of a standard 50-pound rig. If you're targeting smaller game such as dolphin, sails, wahoo, and smaller tuna, 30-pound class tackle is great; you can also use it to troll the reef for grouper and snapper.
We like to reef fish with 12- and 20-pound spinning rigs. 20-pound is great for fatter grouper, 12-pound is usually enough muscle for yellowtail, triggerfish, and smaller grouper. A 6- or 8-pound rig can be pressed into service for bonefish, smaller inshore fish, or schoolie dolphin. Bring an extra spool of line for each class, a couple of knives, pliers, gloves, gaffs, a net, the works.
Make sure you apply for a fishing permit when you clear customs, it's included in the $100 entry fee. If you are flying, then be creative. Many of us have made rod carriers out of 4-inch PVC pipe. Cut it to the desired length, glue threaded ends with screw tops to each end of the pipe, glue a little sponge to the inside of each end to protect rod butts and tips, fashion a strap handle, and you're in business. Similar products are available at many tackle shops as well as online. Softside tackle bags and other specialty luggage items can be found online at sources such as Finest Kind and Murray Brothers. Make sure to bring a small cooler so you can take back some filets. Bring as much tackle as you can get away with, and don't forget things like rags, sunscreen, a good hat, polarized sunglasses, a sturdy knife, pliers, sinkers, jigs, and hooks. And very important: check with the airlines to make sure they'll let you board with rod carriers, coolers, and tackle boxes.
Retired 737 pilot Gary Moline sits on his dock in Ft. Lauderdale and concocts elaborate tactics when it comes to flying with fishing gear:
"When I fly to Abaco, I bring four rods in my home made PVC rod holder. I put two rods together with the rod butt slightly overlapping the other rod's tip and then rubber band them together. This will ensure that as they shift inside the carrier the rod tips are protected. I bring a 54-quart Igloo cooler with me and check it as luggage. In it, I'll pack a small bucket, a soft sided tackle box, reels, small bait board, two-piece boat hook, small gaff (these last three items were custom cut to fit inside this particular Igloo), Zip-loc baggies, plastic wrap, filet knife, sharpening stone, several fish towels, and two dock lines. On the other side of the cooler I'll pack my frozen bait. This usually consists of 2 1-lb boxes of squid and one or two dozen ballyhoo.
If you don't live near the ocean and can't get to a good bait shop, then look for boxes of frozen squid or calamari in your local grocery store, it's the same stuff and it's excellent bait. Wrapped tightly in 2 sheets of newspaper, the bait will remain frozen for about 24 hours. I'll pack any other frozen foods in with the bait and then cover the entire area of frozen items with more newspaper. To keep things from shifting around inside, I'll place beach towels, swim trunks, etc., over the top of all the items in order to keep it all tightly packed before closing the lid. I'll then run three layers of continuous duct tape around the middle of the Igloo covering the latch. The remainder of the roll of duct tape then goes into our nylon utility/dive bag for easy access and the return trip. The Igloo usually gets the final packing with the frozen items about 15 minutes before leaving the house."
your room has a freezer you can bring some filets (follow the
proper regulations that govern the amount that you are allowed
to bring home) back with you by packing them into the Igloo where
you had packed your frozen bait. This is why I bring Zip-locs
and plastic wrap. If your room does not have a freezer, ask at
the front desk if they can arrange to find a place to keep things
frozen until departure day. After the fish are cleaned I will
pull out about 18in of wrap, stack up enough filets for a meal,
and wrap them tightly with the plastic wrap. This keeps any air
out. I then place the wrapped filets into a Zip-loc and put them
into the freezer. We have enjoyed Abaco fish up to a year later
by freezing them this way. Just pull out enough for dinner; let
them thaw during the day (never use a microwave!) and enjoy that
Fishing in the Sea of Abaco
Eight-year-old Brandy Stufflebeam has been coming to Abaco every summer for, well, her entire life. Her family rents a cottage on Lubber's, and Brandy has learned how to catch dock snapper: "You have to be so quiet and careful, these fish are very nervous. Some are real big, but they're the hardest to catch, they just sit back and watch while the little fish get curious. When my brother is cleaning fish he puts lots of little pieces in a plastic bowl. I take these to the end of the dock after supper, just when the sun is going down. I got a spinning rod for Christmas, and I have a little tackle box with hooks and stuff. I can tie the line to a hook. I use a little tiny hook, and I put a piece of bait on it that hides the hook. Then I drop maybe five or six pieces of cut fish into the water along with my bait; I just let it slowly drop to the bottom.
of fish come over to sniff it, they even take a little bite, but
if I pull on the line too soon they swim away. You have to time
it just right if you're going to catch one. My brother Kyle says
most of the fish I catch are mangrove snapper; they have a black
stripe that runs down across their eyes. I do pretty good with
little ones; every so often I hook a big fish, but they usually
break my line on the dock piles. My favorite is when I catch one
that is big enough to filet, I've gotten to eat three fish I caught!"
We should all be as good at catching dock snapper as Brandy is, I gave up trying long ago. More than a few Abaco visitors have been seduced into spending hours trying to catch the sometimes sizable "mango" snapper that hang out under many of the area's docks. Brandy has the essentials: very light tackle, a little chum, and a lot of patience. Brandy's eleven-year-old brother Chuckie is "all boy"; he stalks small barracuda on the grassy shallows around Lubber's:
"I like to get up real early, like before everyone else, that's when the fish are feeding. I wade out into the water and just stand for a few minutes until I see a splash. That's usually a cuda chasing bait. I use small diving plugs like Rebels and Bombers, I cast toward where I think the cuda will be. I wait for a few seconds, then I twitch the lure while I slowly wind in, I try to fool the cuda into thinking this is a little wounded fish. They're so stupid, they always fall for it. When they hit, they make a nice run, it's a real fun fight. When I get the fish in I stick the rod butt in my swim trunks, I have a little pliers that I unhook the fish with, then I put him back in the water so I can catch him again. Some days I catch three or four before breakfast."
Casting topwater plugs on the flats can be great entertainment, especially if you can get off the beaten path. All kinds of critters hang out on the flats, and many of them will take a skillfully presented plug. If you are bonefishing and not having much luck, you may want to switch tactics and have a little fun. Or simply try wading out into the shallows in a quiet area; you'll often do well in the mornings or early evening. Lisa Stufflebeam is a "fishing mom":
"When John had his heart attack a few years ago, I vowed the kids and I would continue to boat and fish the way we did before he passed away. We still come to Abaco every year, rent a cottage and a boat, and most days we do at least a little fishing. Kyle (age 15) has been great with the other kids, he's got them tying knots and rigging, just like John taught him. I've been around boats all my life, so I have no trouble running an outboard around the Sea of Abaco and even occasionally out into the ocean." "We like to anchor inshore of the ocean passes, particularly at Tilloo Cut and just north of North Pelican Cay. When the tide's moving we fish the bottom with cut bait, I'm amazed at what we catch. Sometimes the boys will cast right up against the rocks, they find jacks, cudas, even grouper. There are places within the Sea of Abaco where there is relatively deep water right next to a rocky shore, such as the east side of Matt Lowe's Cay. Conch makes great bait, it's durable so the bait snatchers can't steal it, and the fish love it. We also filet some of the small grunts we catch and use that for bait; make sure you leave the skin on and hook through it, that makes for another durable bait."
"Sometimes on a windless day when you can really see the bottom we cruise along at idle speed looking for rocks, ledges, or small corals. We've caught all kinds of fish in places people usually run over; the spots are there, you just have to look for them. Last year Kyle brought a handheld GPS, so now we are collecting "secret spots". After we fish for a while and it's hot, we'll find a beach and anchor up; we swim for a while, maybe do a little snorkeling, cool off. I can't think of a better way to spend a day with kids!"
Surf Fishing Surf fishing is popular along the US Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. You don't hear much about surf fishing in the Bahamas, but there are a few enthusiasts. Ralph Moore from Delaware has had some success: "We moved to Abaco about a year ago from Delaware. One of my favorite hobbies there was surf fishing, so I have experimented here on TC beach. You don't hear much about beach fishing because it is usually not nearly as productive as other methods. Anyway, I have been moderately successful, given the small amount of time spent. Last October we found Spanish mackerel could be caught with a small silver (Hopkins) lure. About one hour after sunrise seems best. Just wait for them to show chasing small bait, then cast and reel like mad. Eating those things fresh caught for breakfast is a real treat."
"Another success was fishing with shrimp just to see what would show up. Well, a bonefish came along one day, just before low tide. We also got a porgy. Another time, I think I hooked into a shark, but I could not turn it with the light tackle I used. The calm waters on TC beach allow one to use lighter tackle than we normally used up north; that makes for more fun when something comes along. And, when fishing from the beach, one can sit in a chair, watch the birds, listen to the surf, and suck on a Kalik or two. So don't count out surf or beach fishing; it may not be very productive but it's very relaxing and cheap!"
Reef Fishing Reef fishing may be the most rewarding and enjoyable type of fishing available to the Abaco visitor. With a little insight and practice, the fisherman is often rewarded with a busy few hours and some tasty filets for the table. Couple that with the fact that Abaco is virtually surrounded by productive reefs, and you have a great fishing opportunity that is unavailable to US visitors who live north of Cape Canaveral. If you're heading out to the reef in a small boat, have a good weather forecast under your belt. The best way to get this is to listen to Cruiser's Net on VHF 68 every morning at 8:15. In the prevailing SE wind, the ocean sides of Guana, MOW, and Green Turtle tend to be a little more subdued than the offshore reefs of Elbow, Tilloo, and Lynyard. Pay attention to the wind, study your chart, try to get in the lee of one of the cays so you don't get knocked around.
If you were blessed by a particularly calm, windless day, the ocean was flat calm, and the water utterly transparent, you could study the underwater topography as you slowly paddled a surfboard from the shoreline out toward the open sea. First you would find shallow, sandy bottom, some rocks, maybe some small corals. As the water deepened, you'd find coral heads growing to within a foot or two of the surface. Finally you'd reach the main barrier reef, a dense wall of coral that rises almost to the surface (some areas actually uncover at low tide). Then the water would gradually get deeper, the heads bigger, until you get to 40-50 feet; here the heads generally come up to within 15-25 feet of the surface.
The heads give way as the bottom drops from 50 to about 100 feet, then it gets substantially deeper. All of those heads are condos which are densely populated by the entire food chain, from tiny tropicals on up through grunts, porgies, yellowtails, groupers, triggerfish, barracudas, bigger snappers, cero mackerels, even sharks. It's a fisherman's paradise, and there are lots of ways to approach it.
I'm a great fan of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid), especially when it comes to fishing. If you want to fish on the reef, and you want to go "bare bones," try this strategy: find an area where there are lots of coral heads. We frequently fish off the south end of Lynyard, off Hopetown Reef, and the areas off Nippers and MOW settlement. Work your way into the clear area outside the reef and heads in about 50-60 feet of water. If you don't have a sounder, take a look at the bottom: if you can still see big heads, you're too shallow. In deeper water you'll see mottled colors on the bottom, but you won't see heads. If all else fails, put on a mask for a moment and take a look.
Once we're in position we like to drift. If you want to target a specific section of reef or a patch, anchor well upcurrent and allow your baits to drift back to the edge of the patch. Don't anchor directly over it, you'll get a lot of cutoffs and you might lose your anchor. For this type of fishing we use 12-pound spinning tackle with no leader. I like to fish with a 3/8 oz white, yellow, of chartreuse jig. Bunny prefers to fish with cut bait on a 1/0 or #1 hook; she slides an egg sinker onto her line before tying it directly to the hook, making the so-called "knocker" rig. If the current is stiff, you may want to use more weight. Bunny waits until I catch a small fish or two, then we filet these and use them for bait. As the boat drifts, I like to cast upcurrent and bounce the jig along the bottom. The action is what drives grouper and triggers mad, so don't be bashful, keep that jig moving. Bunny throws her cut bait upstream as well, tightens up her line as the boat comes up, then gently lets a little out as we drift. When the hit comes, try to get the fish up away from the bottom as quickly as you can.
You can apply some pretty good pressure with 12-pound, and it's still light enough to make catching 2-3 pound fish fun. Jigs seem to do better on grouper, yellowtail like cut bait.
When you fish without a leader, you get more hits; there's also a greater danger of line wear and cutoffs. Each time you pull up, check the end of your line for fray; if there's any wear, cut and re-tie. You don't want to lose that fat grouper at boatside. Another implication of going leaderless is the need for a net; even a small fish can flinch and cut the thin line while you're lifting him out of the water. Have some gloves and a rag ready so you can get him off the hook and into the cooler without tearing up your hands.
We carry a stiff 20-pound spin rig for bigger grouper. I use a 4/0 hook tied to about 8 feet of 50-pound mono leader. I thread a 2-oz egg onto my line, and connect the leader with a barrel swivel. For this application I use a Shimano Baitrunner spinning reel; it has two independently adjustable drag settings, and the light one has a clicker. I lock down the heavy drag and set the light drag to just enough tension to allow us to slowly drag a fishead along the bottom while we drift.
We stick this in a rodholder and work our lighter rigs. When the clicker goes off, you have to grab that rod and crank hard (this automatically shifts the reel into heavy drag); that big grouper will want to run for cover, and you have to horse him up quickly. We've had good luck with nice grouper using this technique. Some folks find this a little nerve-wracking because you have to be able to instantly stop what you're doing and grab the rod, but this usually gets us our biggest fish of the day. Obviously, you can't do this when you're drifting over foul bottom, you have to be out past the heads.
You can use the same techniques inside the reef in shallower water, but you'll probably get more cutoffs as there is usually more coral. Fishing opposite the passages between cays can be very good, especially on an outgoing tide. You'll see boats anchored off Whale Cay, Manjack Channel, both South and North MOW passes, as well as Tilloo Cut and North Bar, and many of them do very well. One more word about the tide: if you aren't catching fish, take a look at the current. If you're at slack or flood tide and there's no movement, chances are the fish won't bite. You have two options: you can move and try to find some current, or you can have lunch and wait an hour. Sometimes that's all it takes to heat up the action.
catch our best fish trolling just outside the reef. The best area
for this is in about 45-50' off of MOW, Fowl, Scotland, and Guana
Cays. We pull oversize diving plugs such as Mann's Stretch 35s
over the heads that come up to about 25 feet. We use 30-pound
standup trolling rods with the drag set at about 20 pounds. We
run two lines, one about 75 feet back, another at about 125. Turn
the clicker on, set you rigs in rodholders, and wind your way
through the heads at about 4 knots. Keep your eyes open and avoid
the occasional shallow head, these plugs can easily dive to 20
feet. Grouper and mutton snapper love 'em, as do jacks and reef
cudas. Have a fighting belt ready, get your angler cranking as
soon as you get the hit, have the "off" man bring in
the other rig.
Banner Thomas has been fishing the reefs for several years:
"One of my favorite places to troll for yellowtail and grouper is inside the reef at Spanish or Powell. Try yellow or white jigs with pork rinds (learned this from some old timers on GT) and work the inside heads for great results. We've gotten as many as 50 yellowtail in just a couple hours. Another good way to catch yellowtail is live baiting with pilchards. Drift the cut between Spanish and Powell, staying to the northwest area for best results.
The pilchards can easily be obtained with a cast net on the inside of Whale Cay or the several channels between TC and MH." Bill Johnson points out that fishing gets tough in the hotter months, but reef and bottom fishing can remain active: "Even though we have our own boat, we schedule a half-day with local fisherman Robert Lowe, usually on the first day of our trip. I learn from Robert, and his catch also improves our chance for fresh fish the rest of the week. The fishing is tough during the hot months of July and August. Bottom fishing is about the only option. Last year we had the best luck with live bait we caught inshore on small rigs, then we moved out to 80-100 feet. We still had to chum to get bites, but the live minnows did the trick. Even though we had several cutoffs and broke a rod, we landed some large grouper." "One day last July we were trying to anchor to bottom fish about 3 miles SE of Tilloo cut, but the wind and the tide were working against each other. We decided to drift instead. We used a big barracuda from the previous day to chum in 200'.
On cut bait, a small wahoo was our first catch, then we watched a beautiful yellowfin tuna grab a line, it wound up weighing 75lbs. We thought we were in for a big day, but then the sharks showed up and hit all three of our lines."
"Last May, in a 30-kt east wind, we found relatively quiet water on the lee side of MOW. Anchored in the deep channel SW of the inlet on the incoming tide, we caught several very nice mangrove snappers on cut bait. This salvaged our trip in otherwise unfishable conditions."
Gary Moline fishes what he calls "patch reefs:" "In the shallower waters of Abaco, both in Abaco Sound and just off the beaches of the various cays, are small individual reefs that we call "patch" reefs. They are usually found in about 8-20' of water; they can be as small as a bedroom or as large as a football field. The entire area just off the beach at MOW (but still inside the outer ocean reef) is littered with dozens of these patch reefs. For starters, refer to the excellent charts for shallow water fishing in Abaco Sound (as well as nice snorkel spots) that can be found near the back of your copy of Dodge's Cruising Guide to Abaco, Bahamas 200X. The more detailed individual area charts in the Dodge Guide will also make note of "scattered coral heads" or "patch reefs".
This will give you an indication of where to start looking for
an area to fish; they also make great spots to snorkel!"
"Pull up to the patch reefs and anchor upcurrent or upwind
from them. You'll want to have the patch about 30-40 feet behind
the boat. Don't hesitate to re-anchor if your first attempt was
off the mark. NEVER anchor on the reef! Cast your bait right to
the edge of the reef, but again, not on top of it. The bigger
fish all swim around the perimeter of the patch reefs. You can
expect to catch snappers (of several species), grunts, triggerfish,
groupers, barracudas, margates, and more from these areas My personal
record is a 12 lb mutton snapper on a cheap 10-lb spinning rod
near MOW. Eating barracuda is not recommended, but the others
mentioned are all delicious!"
"Remember the cooler that you brought on your trip? Now it gets used as a regular cooler for drinks, lunch, ice, etc. You can use it for fish or can use the boat's own built-in fish box. Keep your catch cool with the ice from you cooler. If your room has a freezer, you can make your own block ice by freezing water in pans, bowls, etc., as block ice will last much longer than ice cubes."
Bonefishing Bonefish range throughout the Bahamas, and can be found in Abaco. Unlike many of the other types of fishing, finding and catching bonefish can be very difficult. Most seasoned veterans recommend visitors hire a guide. One reason for this is that the best bonefishing in Abaco is found in an area call The Marls, which is on the SW or "back" side of Great Abaco Island. Local guides can drive you across the island and have access to the endless flats that would otherwise baffle a novice. For those who insist on the "do-it-yourself" approach, we recommend the area west of Little Harbour around the periphery of the Bight of Old Robinson.
There are numerous flats and creeks that can hold bonefish. You'll need to be careful with your boat when you're cruising this area, don't damage your prop or lower unit. As the tide is rising the fish should be working their way up onto the flats; as the tide falls, you may find them coming out of the creeks or near their mouths, waiting in ambush. The area between Manjack and Crab Cay may be similarly productive. Try 6-pound spinning tackle with small jigs, quarter-ounce of you can get away with it. "Wiggle jigs" and other flat jigs work well; cast them ahead and in front of you r target, and work the lure across their path. Carry a rag and pliers so you can gently unhook your fish and get him back in the water.
Texan Willy Landham is a flyfishing fanatic, and he often comes to Abaco to chase the elusive "gray ghost." It just so happens that he's on the flats right now; let's keep our voices down and follow him out:
morning, May 29, 9:15 AM, east side of Abaco. My fishing buddy
and I had been slowly wading our way through an unbelievable stretch
of flats. The bottom had recently been cratered like the surface
of the moon by feeding bonefish... but where were they now? A
line of clouds had been teasing us for the past half-hour, revealing
and then obscuring the sun as we scanned for that shadow or glint
of silver that would betray the presence of our intended target.
I looked up... just one more small cloud then we would have clear
skies for a good long while. I watched the line of sunlight move
towards us as the cloud drifted by. Once again the shallow flats
burst alive with color and vibrancy as the sunlight washed through
the area like an incoming tide. And then suddenly... two shadows
moving towards me! I signaled my buddy and he stopped dead in
his tracks. I started my false cast... quickly working out the
eight-weight line that was carrying the fly I hoped would fool
one of the bones. My heart was pounding and sweat beaded on my
brow as I unleashed the cast. The fly settled to the bottom and
both fish charged it immediately each trying to beat the other
to the prize! I barely had time to pull the slack out of my line
as I made the first strip... the line went taunt! The fish felt
the sting of the hook and took off like a lightning bolt. 100
yards of backing were gone in a second! My buddy gave a loud whoop
and pumped his fist in celebration but it was all I could do to
hang on. The drag on the reel finally slowed the bone and made
him turn. We had spotted a few sharks earlier and I took a quick
look around... so far so good. I put a good deal of pressure on
the fish to get him coming back to me but he would have none of
it. Another 50 yards of backing went to the bonefish. But once
again the reel's drag system took some fight out him and I had
him coming my way. Finally I eased the fish to my side and I had
him! I removed the number two Peterson's from his mouth and briefly
held him up for my buddy's approval. I set the bone back in the
water and moved him back and forth to get the water moving past
his gills. A couple minutes later the fish pulled away from my
grip and slowly faded from view as he disappeared back into the
flats." "This account is but one of many great experiences
my buddies and I have had over the past six years of fly-fishing
for bonefish in Abaco. I've been fly-fishing for 26 years and
have caught a variety of fish. But none makes my heart pound and
my pulse race like bonefish! It is a combination of both hunting
and fishing. You stalk the mangrove flats, looking for shadows,
a glint of reflected sunlight, "nervous" water, or the
best of all tailing fish. It is a very visual experience. On a
sunny day you are able to see the fish clearly from a pretty fair
distance and it could be a single fish or a pod of over a hundred.
Many times you can see your fly sitting on the bottom after you've
set down the cast in front of the fish. When the fish are almost
to the fly you give it a short strip Sometimes the fish will aggressively
charge and grab the fly immediately. Other times you have to tease
them by giving the fly a few short strips... pause... a few more
strips... pause... and all the while you're watching the fish
to see if he takes it. And when he does and you feel the line
load up... it is an incredible rush. For me, getting him to eat
that fly and listening to the reel sing as the fish makes that
first lightning run is 90% of the fun."
"We've learned a few things over the years (some of it the hard way) and hopefully the information we've picked up will help to get others off to a good start. I make no pretext as to being an expert... I defer to the likes of Lefty Kreh, Flip Pallot, and Dick Brown. Heck, if I knew as much as these guys you'd be seeing me on ESPN... "Willy Landham's Abaco Chronicles brought to you by Kalik and Kalik Gold... the beer of the Bahamas". Hey, I like the sound of that! What follows are some of the things that I consider to be the basics... just enough to get you headed in the right direction."
"Rod, reel, and line... we use 9-foot 8-weight rods loaded with 200 yards of 25-lb backing and WF-8-F fly line. I like Scientific Anglers "Bonefish Taper" fly line. Leaders are tapered, 9 or 10 feet in length with a 10-lb tippet section. I also carry a spool of tippet (10-lb test) with me to lengthen the leader if necessary. I like tip-flex type rods that are relatively stiff throughout their length. Large arbor reels are nice but expensive... Try to get the best that you can afford."
"Flies... we use mostly number fours but there are a couple patterns that we tie using number twos. We tie our own flies. It is a TON cheaper! Flies sell for anywhere from $1.50 to $6.00 for bonefish patterns... I can tie them for less than a quarter apiece. Tying also gives you control to alter the size, weight, construction, color, etc to better match the local conditions. On the other hand it also is very time consuming and requires you to elop the skills and techniques to tie as well as investing in the equipment and materials. Whether you're interested in tying or not, a good book is Bonefish Fly Patterns by Dick Brown. It is a compilation of 150 different patterns used around the world. It was our Bible when we started out. This book contains large color pictures of the patterns as well as information on materials, tying tips, the prey that it imitates, how and where to use it, and much more (as they say). If you don't want to tie your flies then they can be purchased from Orvis, Dan Bailey's, The Fly Shop, etc. Just do a web search on these names to find their sites. Just about any shrimp or crab pattern works. Colors range over the spectrum and include pink, pearl, tan, brown, orange, gold, amber, and yellow. Most of the flies we use are weighted with bead chain. Lead eyes tend to create more of a fish-spooking splat when they land on calm water but are necessary if you're fishing in a bit deeper area. Some of the patterns that you may want to consider are Gotcha, Goldeneye, Squimp, Slamaroo, Brewer's Amber, Bird's Bonefish, Del's Merkin, Peterson's Spawning Shrimp, and Flats Fodder. Just about all of these flies are in Dick Brown's book. If you can't find these exact patterns then get something that's pretty close in the colors that I listed... it's not that critical. Making a good presentation is a zillion times more important than fly selection! Also, get a nice little fly box that will fit in a shirt pocket and hold a couple dozen flies."
"Clothes... I like the Guidewear line of fishing clothes that Cabela's sells. It's good quality stuff and isn't as expensive as Orvis, Columbia, Ex Oficio, and the other name brands. I wear long sleeve shirts and the long pants that convert to shorts by unzipping the legs. Get a hat where the underside of the brim is a dark color (less glare). I finally purchased some nice wading boots (the NRS River Boot by NRS). I'd been wearing cheap wading booties for the past several years and I hated them. Get something with a good sturdy sole and arch support. Sun gloves are pretty nice but not necessary. A good pair of POLARIZED sunglasses is a MUST! If you can't see the fish then you can't catch them. Amber is a good lens color for flats fishing but one of our guides swears by rose/vermilion. It's worth spending a little extra money on some good glasses. It's also a good idea to bring along some rain gear."
stuff... clippers for cutting line (unless you like using your
teeth), extra leaders, a spare spool of line, a few small tools
(for emergency reel repairs), disposable waterproof camera, sunscreen
(very important), an extra rod is nice, small hook sharpening
stone (very handy), soft-sided ice chest (easy to pack), and Zip-lock
bags to put stuff in to keep them dry (like a wallet). There's
a bunch of other stuff you could bring along too. It's mostly
a matter of personal preferences but I tend to try to go as light
Casting and Basic Technique
"Casting and basic technique... There are many saltwater fly-fishing shows on television. Watch a few of these to get a little idea of the basics... pay attention to how these guys rig up to be prepared for when they spot a fish. You have to be quick, quiet, and accurate when casting. Learning a technique known as the "double-haul" is an absolute MUST! It will allow you to cast further with less effort, and when you get good at it you'll be able to punch a pretty good cast into a stiff wind. For more information on the double-haul go to http://www.flyshop.com/skills/12-97double/. I can't emphasize enough the importance of practicing before you get to Abaco. You really don't want to spend valuable time learning how to cast while you could be catching fish."
"Wading... It is possible to catch fish without the aid of a guide. However, if this is your first trip to Abaco or your first attempt at catching bonefish... I wouldn't recommend it. Your time will be better spent with a guide. It is much easier fishing from the deck of a flats boat, you will benefit from the guide's vast knowledge, and you will catch a LOT more fish. If you are still intent on striking out on your own then you will be relegated to wading. There are no flats boats for rent in Abaco.
You will need to get one of the standard rental boats to run up and down the sound in order to find areas to wade. Anchor in deep enough water to keep from stranding yourself at low tide and then walk to the flats. Most of the flats that I have waded are grass with some patches of sand. The footing is OK at best...and there are some areas where you'll sink up to your knees. Be mindful of the fact that you can walk a long way back into the twisting and turning mangrove channels. However far that you walk in... you'll have that far to walk back out to the boat. This seems obvious but the walking can be arduous at times so don't get exhausted and then leave yourself with a long walk back.
There are three factors that you will need to balance while you are wading... 1) sun, 2) wind, and 3) tide. 1) In order to see well the sun needs to be behind you. 2) It's tough to cast directly into the wind. 3) The fish will generally be moving with the tide (but not always). You also need to consider the mud that you stir up while wading because any fish that swims into your mud line will be spooked. And finally, YOU MUST BE QUIET!!! These fish are very easily spooked so step carefully and keep your voice down if you have to talk... believe me, they can hear you!"
"Guided trips.. On the west side of Abaco is an area called The Marls. It is mile after mile of seemingly endless mangrove flats that are loaded with eager bonefish. This area is generally not wade-able and since flats boats are not rented you will need a guide. You'd need a guide anyway just to keep from getting lost out there and besides... poling a boat around is hard work! This is THE way to catch bonefish. On a good day you will literally see hundreds and hundreds and have lots of shots at them. The guides will help you every step of the way.
They will put you on fish, position the boat to give you the best shot, help you spot the fish, and will pass on lots of good tips that will make you a better fisherman. Generally, you will bring along your own food and drinks but there will be an ice chest for you to use in the boat. Some guides will have equipment that you can use but it's best to check when you make reservations. Good guides book up fast so make your reservations early... don't wait until you get to Abaco. When you make your reservations make sure that you understand all of the arrangements... how much the trip will cost, when and where the guide will pick you up, how long the day will last, and what all will be provided.
If, for some reason, you cannot keep your appointment, then contact the guide as soon as possible. Not doing so is rude and I can assure you that the guide will remember your name if you ever call him again. I have only been on guided trips to the Marls so I'm not familiar with any other areas like Green Turtle Cay, Sandy Point, or Cherokee Sound. I have fished with 3 different guides... Justin Sands, Christopher Pinder, and Buddy Pinder. All of these guys are GREAT and I highly recommend them. Justin is Abaco's 2001 bonefish champion and can be reached at (242) 367-3526. I can't begin to tell you how many fish that I've caught with Buddy and Christopher. Contact them at (242) 366-2163. Above all... be safe and have fun!"
Tim Sciullo fishes for bones with both fly and spinning tackle. He has a more casual approach: "This may get the fishing purists a little off kilter, but don't be embarrassed to bring a spinning rod rigged for bonefishing. The reasons are many; here are the reasons I will bring mine: If you are a beginner flyfisherman, chances are you will spend a lot of money and get no fish. The fish spook too easily and nothing scares them away like a crab fly actually flying. So if you are missing a lot of fish, bring out the spinner and salvage your day.
On those windy days, you may spot a lot of fish, but can't get your fly to them; the spinning rod will. You pay no matter what, so you may as well catch something. Bring live bait just in case the wind is too much so you can troll along; something will hit it.
You don't have to pre-book your fishing days in advance. There are a lot of older retired guys who would me more than happy to make a few bucks on a moment's notice. There are always guides available, just ask around.
If fishing with two people, the guy in the front of the boat usually is the only one fishing. For us spinning rod guys, just cast off behind the boat in the expected course of the fish if they spook.
Finally, you can never bring enough flies.
North Carolinian Fred Bonner, a fisheries biologist and an International Game Fish Association Representative, is another flyfishing enthusiast: "I'd pursued bonefish on the legendary flats behind Great Abaco for a combined period of two months over the years and had not taken a single bonefish. I'd seen them feeding in a classic manner with their tails sticking out of the water and I'd had them within easy fly casting distance on many occasions; but to actually catch one, I just couldn't do it.
Since I'm not the consummate fly-rodder like Lefty Kreh or Harry Hall, this winter I decided to swallow my angling pride and hire a guide in Abaco to teach me the ins and outs of bonefishing. It was some of the best money I've ever spent." "Buddy Pinder is a native of Marsh Harbor. He grew up in a commercial fishing family and learned every nook and cranny of the vast area of flats called "The Marls" on the SW side of Great Abaco. He's made his living from the waters around the island and it was only natural that he became an expert sportfishing guide.
This American tourist had money to spend and guiding the "sports" to the fish was something that Buddy Pinder does well. I've fished with lots of fishing guides over the years but I've never had one who worked quite so hard for his money as Buddy did. After having used his services for a day I can personally attest to the fact this guy is worth every penny that he charges for a guided day on the bonefish flats of the Bahamas."
"If I'd have been running that little skiff the morning we ventured out into The Marls I'd have torn the 40 horse outboard all to pieces on the shallow coral rocks of the bottom. This is a huge area and most of it is only inches deep. On a low tide such as the winds gave us that morning, it was even more shallow than usual, but Pinder took his boat over the flats with nary a problem. It took us about 30 minutes at top speed to reach the remote section of The Marls where he knew the bonefish would be."
"The weather this past Christmas was unusual. It was cold (for the Bahamas) and the winds blew with near gale force. Flyfishing for bonefish is a lot different than casting a little popping bug at bream on the waters of Carolina, and in a gale force wind it was a real challenge. In spite of the fact that I had a box full of bonefish flies that I'd copied from the books that I'd read on the art of bonefishing with a fly rod, Pinder didn't like my selection. He handed me one of the flies that he'd used with success over the years and said, "Try this, it'll catch more fish than your flies."
"Once we arrived at the section of The Marls that Pinder had selected that day, his work really began. Out came a 16-foot fiberglass pole that he uses to literally push the skiff across this "skinny water". With winds that were blowing to 25 knots, Pinder had his work cut out for him. Not only did he push the boat to within casting distance of the bonefish; he did it with stealth that kept the fish from spooking.
Luckily the sun was out for most of the day and this helped him to spot the bonefish for us. The winds caused lots of ripples on the water and, to our unskilled eyes, the fish were but ghosts on the flats. Pinder would say to the fisherman in the casting platform in the bow 'There's a fish 40 feet out at one o'clock, cast to it.' In many cases we couldn't see the fish and had to cast blind as per his directions. Sometimes he laid the push-pole on our shoulder and pointed it like a rifle barrel at the fish to show us where the it was."
"Over time my daughter and myself began to see these elusive fish and cast to something that we could see cruising by in mere inches of water. It was a challenge to say the least. My 19-year-old daughter had chosen to fish with light spinning gear and Pinder had tipped her bucktail with a section of shrimp. Jenny had to learn the art of casting a relatively light and tender bait against or across a stiff wind and hit with some degree of accuracy in front of the cruising bonefish. These fish root along in the bottom of the shallow water in search of small snails, clams, shrimp or most anything they can dig from the soft bottom."
"Pinder put us on the fish time and time again, and by the end of the day we'd boated and released numerous bonefish that had set our reels to screeching. We'd heard about these blistering runs a bonefish makes and, believe me, the rumors are true. You need plenty of line and fly line backing because the first run of a bonefish is something to behold."
Trolling for offshore pelagics in Abaco is essentially the same as it is in any other tropical location. My personal feeling is that anglers should decide whether they are going to fish for big game such as marlin or big tuna, or smaller fish such as dolphin or wahoo. If you're going after big game I strongly suggest 80-pound class tackle, or even 130.
There are big fish out there; we've heard stories of an 80-wide being stripped by "something the size of a Volkswagen" in less than ten minutes. If you're going to pull big lures with 12/0 hooks, have the heavy artillery ready. Dolphin, sails, wahoo, and smaller tuna can be fished on 30- or 50-pound tackle. Obviously you can go lighter, but 30 seems to be the best compromise. Natural baits are difficult to find, it's a good idea to bring whatever you think you are going to use.
We've done very well trolling 6- or 8-inch flathead lures with scissor-rigged 5/0 hooks. I crimp the lure and hooks onto about two feet of 80-pound cable, then tie it to ten feet of 50-pound mono with an Albright knot. We run two on the riggers and two flatlines; pull them as fast as it takes to get them smoking. I like a bigger lure ten feet behind a bird just aft of the spread on a 50-pound rig. This acts to raise fish, and they also seem to fade to it when they miss the short lures or get finicky. We always keep three spinning rods with blank hooks ready to throw at trailing dolphin; always have a little cut bait ready when the dolphin frenzy starts.
you want to play hardball I suggest you exit the Sea of Abaco
through South MOW Channel and head east for maybe two miles. Depending
on the weather and what you're up for, you then have a few options.
There is a sharp drop-off about five miles east of the Hopetown
lighthouse, and the shelf there forms a gentle curve. You'll often
find rips and weeds in this general area, so it makes for good
fishing. There is a seamount fifteen or so miles to the NNE; its
center is at roughly 26-38.00N/076-42.00W. You can run in that
direction; when you start seeing indicators such as rips and birds,
start fishing. Don't wait until to get to that exact location,
it's simply a general guide. Farther NNE is the Abaco Canyon;
its apex is at roughly 26-15.66N/077-03.15W, and it opens to the
Banner Thomas trolls closer to shore:
"The area we fish the most is between Guana and Man O War. I like to work the 2200' line along Guana. We have also had very good luck working the rips in close between Scotland and MOW. Another favorite is the table top that is about 25 nm out of Green Turtle. Most of the time we pull plastics in order to cover as much water as possible. We have also had very good success live baiting with small blacken (6-12lb). They can usually be caught of the tip of Guana in the late afternoon. Rig one up and put one engine in gear and it is amazing how the marlin are attracted." Russ Waddill of Sorrento, Florida, has targeted wahoo successfully for several years: "I have fished the Abacos several times for Wahoo.
In the winter we high speed troll for wahoo along the outside of Abaco from Hopetown south to Hole in the Wall. In the Abaco leg of this year's Bahamas Wahoo Championship we finished 3rd overall aboard the 34' Commitment. I might add we were the only "working class" folks in the tournament; no professional captain or mate. At any rate we fish large Islander lures behind big trolling weights that are attached to about 30 feet of 300-lb shock leader. Pink and black seem to be the most popular colors. We use Shimano 50-pound 2-speed or Penn 50 two-speed reels spooled with 80-lb test line. We normally troll at 14 to 17 knots and get good results; don't be surprised if dolphin hit them as well.
Miami's Jaime Ramon trolls from his 38' Noontide and has these suggestions for sailboaters: "Many great fish have been caught on lures or naturals that were casually trolled by a sailing vessel in the open sea or running down the Abaco coastline. The 5-7 knot speed of most sailboats is perfect for trolling. Trolling a feather or a spoon with a wire leader from a sturdy 30-pound rig fished from a well-secured rodholder can get you dolphin, tuna, cero mackerel, and other tasty fish. We carry a selection of freshly frozen ballyhoo and assorted jigs and always have a spin rod ready topside (20-lb) for the schools of dolphin. About 9 hrs with lines in the water, you are bound to catch something! It's a good idea to carry a 6-foot gaff if you're going to try this. If you are heading eastbound across the Stream and you get a keeper fish, consider filleting it and putting it with your provisions before you reach Bahamian waters." Bahamas Fishing Regulations The Bahamas Fisheries Regulations comprise a document of surprisingly substantial size.
We are planning on periodically updating this information; if you have something you would like to contribute, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
luck and tight lines from Abaco! Ralph L. Bundy, MD 2002
©2002, Ralph L Bundy