I visited the Bahamas for the first time in late 2013. This country, which is recognized as the bonefishing capital of the world, was probably the last authentic “flats” destination missing on my bucket list.
I have fished flats all over the world from all the Caribbean, Seychelles, the Maldives to the Christmas Island, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands and even unlikely exploratory trips to the Solomon Islands and remote atolls! Bahamas, however, is something else!
My unwillingness to discover the Bahamas came mostly from the fact that here, in Europe, most fly fishermen think that there are more anglers than there are bones on the Bahamian flats and that a 7 meter leader and a 6x tippet with a size-14 Crazy Charlie is the only thing that will catch any of the anorexic fish there!
My first trip allowed me to discover the North archipelago all the way to the South and to cast flies in many different places. I began in Grand Bahama and Abacco, then made my way to the middle part of Andros, only to continue to Long Island, and then finally decided to end my road/ fishing trip in Acklins and Crooked Island.
The small lodge where I stayed, is located in a wide bay on an endless beach, facing the ocean, which immediately gets you in the right mood. The 200 residents of Crooked Island are divided mainly into two or three small typical and peaceful villages.
Here, three cars on the road at the same time represent a traffic jam! From this lodge, my friends and I had the chance to fish both Crooked and Acklins, which is exceptionally interesting because each area has its own unique features.
The first day found me fishing on the Acklins’ side, around the huge channel between the two main islands. This channel is the crossing point of many predators trying to reach the flats to crunch some bones at high tide.
My guide is smiling all the time but he is not very talkative. But he is an incredible spotter and he would sometimes astonish me by pointing to fish over a hundred meters away. That was impressive!
He led his flat skiff through a mangrove maze opening, and we ended up in a bay of rare beauty, surrounded by fossilized coral hills culminating well over 6 or 7 meters high, a true postcard landscape.
The tide starts to retreat and we stop in a channel lined on both sides by large sand flats. I do not have time to jump the boat as the first school of fish comes by. During the next two hours we just wait for the dozens of bones leaving the inner lagoons to come back into deeper water.
We catch 7 or 8 bones almost without moving and a big barracuda on the way back to the flat skiff. By now, several large stingrays appear around the channel. My “permit condition” surfaces immediately and I ask my guide if he’s ever saw permit following these big flat fish.
He answers with his characteristic phlegm: ´there’s a good population of permit, but the guides don’t usually fish for them!’ My blood boiled in my veins! I tie an « Avalon fly » on, a big shrimp that works well in Cuba, and should work well here too.The cast is good, but absolutely nothing happens. This scenario repeats itself for four more times in the next hour, each time on solitary fish well over twenty pounds. I was already getting irritated, when my guide spots a « big brother » on the back of a stingray, at a distance of at least 100 meters.
This is the opportunity I was waiting for, the one all permit addicts wait for.I jump from the boat and wade the flat like a Navy Seal on duty. I stop about thirty meters from my target.
The cast is accurate and my fly lands in the middle of the big black spot formed by the stingray. I am confident, two small strips and a long one and I’ll hook my first Bahamian permit!
Seven casts and fifty strips later the crab eater still hasn’t moved a fin! I decide to ´go all in´ and put my fly on the sandy bottom just in front of this strange duo. I move the shrimp, I feel something, I set the hook, the rod bends but the permit won’t budge!
Well, I’ll spare you the laborious fight I had with the 100 lb stingray, while the permit would definitely not leave his host. This fish waited until I came as close as 5 meters until it finally decided to swim away.
It is quite likely that this fish had never been caught or cast at before. It wasn’t all bad, however. This first unsuccessful experience made me think and it kept me motivated for the following days…
Permit Channel! The next day, I explored the Crooked Island with my friend Jean-Paul. We met the guides in a huge inner lagoon that simply reeked of tarpon and snook. I quickly learnt that these species are random encounters rather than something that is specifically sought after!
The situation is the same on Crooked Island as it is on Acklins’. The guides don’t have customers that want to chase ‘palometas’, so they focus on bonefish, but trust me when I say there is a lot of potential!
Upon our exit from the mangrove, huge flats appear on each side of a main channel, with blue water coming directly from the reef. We go down gently and pole the skiff on either side of this aquatic highway. We have a perfect incoming tide and within a few hours, we see about fifteen big permits between 20 and 40 lbs!
I come back to this spot three times during the trip and finally find a fly that makes the difference: The Dean Perez Velcro Crab. I used it successfully in Cuba Cayo Cruz a few months earlier, and it did its job outstandingly. I hooked four permits with this fly and landed three to redeem my honour.
The favourable permit condition subsided for some time, and this meant I could explore other areas of this huge atoll and especially its incredible outer islands. It took us around one hour on a very fast boat to reach the first of these “Cayes” overlooking the reef.
A chain of nine remote uninhabited islands extend from the tip of Long Caye towards Acklins with twenty kilometres of flats and creeks with turquoise waters. I’ve never seen a more beautiful place in the Caribbean and I was already dreaming of a small house on stilts, with iguanas, ospreys, and fish of course, as neighbours!
We start wading on the first of these outside cayes on a vast turtle grass flat. Conches, these big shells, are everywhere. Although conches are still commercially caught in the Bahamas, there is a sizeable population here.
Shortly after, I spot nervous water in several places that are concentrated on a few square meters. I immediately think about large schools of mullets having found refuge in these shallow waters to escape predators. As I got closer, however, I begin seeing fins and tails piercing the surface everywhere.
In fact, I am surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of bonefish! But then I also realize that I’m not the only one interested in these enormous “schools” of fish. Five or six lemon sharks, about one and a half meters long, and two large barracudas have materialized on the flat.
My fly lands on top of the closest group of bones. Two strips later I feel the surge and the backing starts peeling through the rod guides. Everything seems to be fine until three torpedoes launch towards my bone! Oops… Saddened, I bring back a bonefish head, with three sharks chaotically swimming around my legs!
I Declare War! I return to the flat skiff and grab a 10-weight rod with a “toothy-critter-tippet” and a big streamer. In only two hours, I chase and catch three sharks and a big barracuda. Sweet Revenge! (Evil Laugh)
Operation Trigger fish. After lunch, during low tide, I start spotting large tails piercing the surface, but they don’t look like bonefish. They are “Ocean triggers” feeding like crazy on crustaceans on the turtle grass and coral bottom on the edge of the flat.
I have been lucky enough to catch this species in Belize and in Cuba before, but only by fluke because I haven’t seen that many of them.
Right in front of me, at least ten different fish are feeding. I approach as stealthily as I can because these fish get easily spooked and they will definitely swim for deeper water if they get alerted.
I decide to try an Enrico Puglisi tan « spawning shrimp » on my 8-weight. The first trigger I cast at comes straight to the fly and shows me its beautiful tail. I try to strike him but I don’t set the hook properly. The fish, however, just turns and swim back to my fly. This time, the beast is on and it makes a nice powerful charge. I’m lucky because my shrimp is barely hanging at the corner of his toothy mouth!
That day, I land five triggers before the water gets too high to continue to chase them. These fish behave like permit and they provide very good training for the Holy Grail!
Dancing with the bones. On the last day of this trip, I decided to fish all day long wet wading.
I walked for miles inside the inland lagoons on firm bottom flats between the mangroves in search of bones. I cast for tailing fish around the roots, cruising schools on coral bottom, and big solitaries looking for easy food.
My biggest fish was around 8 lbs which is really good I think, but I am far away from the official record of the area, a staggering 17.6 lb monster caught a few years ago!
I was charmed by this remote atoll lost in the southern Bahamas, a few miles away from Cuba and the US, but almost off the radar. It is difficult to imagine such a place at a stone’s throw away from the States.
But this tropical paradise exists and I still have so many places to explore: Huge inner lagoons, many blue holes with permit and tarpon around, and a bunch of “ocean flats” hardly fished!
Crooked and Acklins still have many secrets to unveil!
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Contents ALPHONSE ISLANDTHE FLATSDISCOVERING THE ISLANDTHE EQUIPMENTST.FRANCOISBONEFISH E MILKFISHPERMIT ALPHONSE ISLAND The small plane turns low above the turquoise
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