Flying over the Bahamas is a mesmerizing event. The waters surrounding the archipelago are a breathtaking blend of blue-green hues that delineate crystalline flats, azure middle grounds, and cobalt depths. The colorful montage is filled with endless possibilities for the flyfisher. Sailfish, marlin, dolphin, and other pelagics roam the dark ocean currents, while snapper and amberjack inhabit waters closer to shore; but, it’s the seemingly endless bonefishing shallows that intrigue me the most. They conjure up visions of torpedo-shaped bonefish gliding with the ebb and flow of tides across the sand, mud, and seagrass bottoms. That’s why I always opt for a window seat whenever one is available; so I can keep my face anxiously pressed against the pane and dream of gray ghosts cruising the transparent waters.
When it comes to classic shallow-water fly-fishing for bonefish, the Bahamas are hard to beat. The fish are plentiful throughout the island chain and the average size is relatively large in comparison to other hot spots. In fact, the fishing is so good that quite often the biggest dilemma an angler faces is in choosing which island to visit. Although anglers most often arrange to fish with knowledgeable local guides at one of the island nation’s many excellent bonefishing lodges, there are also ample opportunities for budget-minded individuals who are willing to do some investigating on their own.
One Bahamas location that offers many uniquely different options for bonefishing enthusiasts is the small village of Deadmans Cay situated near the center of Long Island. In addition to the locale’s many excellent guides, Deadmans also offers a less expensive kayak option as well as an outstanding opportunity for a do-it-yourself trip.
Flyfishers have a choice of fishing ocean-side or backcountry flats. The biggest fish are normally found in the shallows directly adjacent to the ocean, but to access those areas around Deadmans Cay requires hiring a guide with a skiff. Fishing conditions on the ocean flats are best between the last half of the flood tide and first half of the ebb. Wind always seems to be a factor in any saltwater environment, but, around Deadmans Cay, flyfishers have the option of casting in the comparatively protected waters of the backcountry when conditions are especially blustery next to the ocean.
Backcountry flats consist of an expansive series of large “ponds” that were formerly used to mine salt by the Diamond Crystal Salt Company. They are connected to one another via a maze of dredge canals. The area can be accessed from a kayak or by boat. A nearby rental house is just a short hike away as well. Wading anglers will find a firm sand bottom throughout much of the backcountry with occasional areas of soft mud. By far, the largest numbers of fish congregate in the backcountry between the last half of the incoming and first half of the outgoing tides when the water is sufficiently deep for the fish to navigate the extremely shallow flats. If you prefer to fish for tailing bones, the backcountry is hard to beat, especially in late spring and early summer.
My favorite rod types for bonefishing are the Xi3 and One series; usually an 8-weight model, although I occasionally go to a 6- or 7-weight for smaller flies and when wind is less of a factor. The reel should hold at least 150 yards of Dacron backing plus a specialized bonefish line (such as Rio’s Bonefish Taper) to allow for the bonefish’s long, line-sizzling runs. Ten- and 12- pound test tapered bonefish-style leaders that are between 10 and 12 feet long will provide excellent performance. I keep my selection of flies fairly simple; using Gotchas and Puffs in sizes 4 and 6 at least 90% of the time.
Anyone choosing to wade should carry plenty of water or a sports liquid to avoid dehydration in the tropical heat. Sun block and amber-colored polarized sunglasses are other necessities. A pair of flats boots are a good idea, too. I carry all loose gear, including a small camera, flies, extra leaders, tippet material, etc., in a waterproof Typhoon waist pack.
A speedy presentation is required for bonefishing; three or fewer false casts. Don’t be afraid to lead a cruising bonefish by 12 or more feet. They move deceptively fast and flyfishers commonly spook fish by placing the fly too close. Once the fly lands in the water, short strips that skip the fly along the bottom most often get a bonefish’s attention.
On the other hand, a closer presentation is usually necessary when a bonefish is tailing. After the fly settles on the water, I often let it lay on the bottom until the fish stops feeding. Then I begin stripping the fly at a very slow and steady rate until the fish sees the fly. Then I speed-up the retrieve using short, quick strips.
Ever dream of staying on a deserted tropical island adjacent to great do-it-yourself fly-fishing? Those who either don’t have deep pockets or prefer to go it alone will be hard-pressed to find a better base to operate from than Little Deadmans Cay which is situated is the middle of the area’s best bonefishing. There is only one house on the private 9 ½ acre island. Although it’s certainly not fancy by any definition, the comfortable 3 bedroom home is available for rent and comes with basic amenities including a fully-equipped kitchen and a small 13’ skiff for travelling short distances. All you need to provide is food and drink which can be purchased at a local grocery on the main island and then shuttled to the house with the skiff. Solar and wind energy provide power to the house, so it’s pretty much “lights-out” when the sun goes down, but the location has a terrific up-side: the bonefishing is excellent. You can literally cast to bonefish along the private beach or wade the expansive flats adjacent to the island. Contact William Delancy in the Bahamas at 242-362-1224 for rental information.
Although the term “first class” is largely overused, it is an appropriate description for Long Island Bonefishing Lodge (formerly Lazy Hour Bonefishing Lodge). Fishing accommodations simply don’t get any better than Pinky’s place. “Pinky” is owner Nevin Knowles, an outstanding chef and avid flyfisher. His lodge offers beautiful waterfront cabins and relatively new 16’ bonefish skiffs operated by very knowledgeable local guides. As an alternative, he can also provide less expensive kayak trips for flyfishers who like a more hands-on approach to bonefishing. Regardless of which option you choose, every day of fishing ends in the spacious dining room/bar where guests can view a beautiful sunset while savoring their favorite drink and enjoying Pinky’s outstanding cuisine. To book a trip, visit the lodge’s website at www.longislandbondfishinglodge.com.
If your stay around Deadmans Cay is a lengthy one and you’d like an occasional diversion from fishing (although I can’t imagine why), stop by Max’s Conch Bar and Grille for a cold Kalik and some of their famous conch salad and conch fritters. An abundance of clear water offers outstanding opportunities for skin and scuba diving. Most visitors also make a visit to Deans Blue Hole; the world’s deepest at 663 feet.
Travelling is increasingly problematic. Sometimes the headache in getting to a destination outweighs the rewards after your arrival. Soaring costs, escalating red tape, growing political/social concerns, and expanding regulations are just some of the difficulties. The Bahamas, and Deadmans Cay in particular, offer a friendly atmosphere that is close to home for most U.S. citizens. What’s more, the fly-fishing for bonefish can’t be beat. So next time you’re jonesing for fly-fishing fix, hop a plane headed for Deadmans Cay. And remember to grab a window seat.
For more from our friend and Sage ambassador Jon Cave, please visit www.jonbcaveflyfishing.com