For decades the islands of the Bahamas have attracted anglers like a magnet to sample the bounty of gamefish that roam its waters. For inshore action some of the best bonefishing in the world can be found throughout the Bahamas, where fly fishing fanatics and bait-fishing anglers alike savor the miles of pristine water in pursuit of the fabled gray ghost of the flats. These flats span for miles in protected backwaters and on the ocean side as well where miles of white sand, marl and turtle grass provide cover for forage species such as shrimp and crabs bonefish target. On the edges of the mangrove shoreline found along many of the Bahamas islands water depths can range from a few inches to a few feet. Once hooked it can often be challenge to keep these speedsters out of the mangroves and other impediments, where they can easily break off in an instant.
The bonefishing in the Bahamas is exceptional and it's not uncommon to see schools of upward of a hundred of fish when conditions are right. Though most of the bonefish caught range between 3 and 6 pounds, fish of 8 pounds or more are possible. The Bahamas also hold a population of permit and tarpon from early spring through fall and while not as popular a target species as bonefish in these islands, each have their following and are equally exciting to catch. Other species to be found along the flats include barracuda, jacks and several species of sharks.
Miles of sandy bottom strewn with turtle grass, loggerhead sponge and conch create the perfect habitat for the bonefish where they blend in to the bottom and it takes a keen-eyed guide to spot them. We recently spent a day plying the beautiful gin-clear waters of the flats around the Bimini Big Game Club, and our guide kept us tight on several bonefish from four to 7 pounds. While the 25-knot wind was not conducive to fly fishing, we did have good luck casting fresh shrimp with sixpound spinning gear to bonefish schools ranging from hundreds of fish to small schools of three or four. The drag-searing runs each fish provided as it shot across the flat after feeling the hook was truly an amazing experience. The best analogy one could use to describe it is to imagine catching a bonito in two feet of water. The speed of a bonefish is incredible, and they don't slow down until they're in the net!
Like most guides in the Bahamas our guide had eyes of a hawk and often spotted the fish before we did. A wide-brim hat and polarized eyewear are a must to help reduce glare off the water. Locating tailing fish as they root crabs and shrimp and other forage out of the bottom is easy as their tail breaking the surface of a glass-calm flat is a flag that signals fish here! Spotting fish under the surface can be trying for the novice though you'd be surprised how fast one can learn to differentiate bonefish from other species.
If you've never fished the flats you'll quickly understand why these fish are so spooky. The peace and tranquility that surrounds you translates to the bonefish as well, and it takes little more than a raindrop hitting the water to spook these weary fish. Precision casting is critical, and we found out the hard way, as several times as casts within five feet of the school quickly scattered the fish like spilled marbles across a tile floor. If you're planning a trip, hone your casting skills ahead of time because you'll need to be able to cast at specific distances to be successful.
Bonefish are available all year round with winter, spring and fall offering the best shot at them on the flats. The heat of summer pushes the fish to cooler, deeper water, and although they can still be caught, it's a lot harder to sight cast to the fish because they're harder to see. Permit can be found here as well, though we didn't see any during our day on the flats. Sharks to well over 100 pounds and some big barracuda can fill the voids in between bites from the gray ghost, and tangling with either on light spinning gear will test your skill as these toothy brutes make drag-searing runs in the skinny water.
While our trip included a stay at the beautiful Bimini Big Game Club (biggameclubbimini.com, 800-867-4764), several other participating Marinalife resorts and marinas offer exceptional accommodations and have access to some of the best bonefish guides in the Bahamas. Once you're bitten by the bonefish bug, you'll need a yearly visit to cure the fever!
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