We recently returned from a successful hosted “couples” trip to Bairs Lodge on Andros Island in the Bahamas. This was our second trip Bahamas bonefishing trip to Bairs in the last 4 years and it is one of my favorite salt water destinations in the Carribean. Andros island is home to some of the most highly regarding bonefishing flats on the planet. It is the largest island in the Bahamas but also one of the least populated. Andros can actually be thought of as North Andros, Mangrove Cay, and South Andros since several large bights in the middle of the island prevent travel from North to South. South Andros is the least populated section of the island and is home to some of the most varied waters on the entire Andros system. Bairs Lodge is one of our favorite saltwater destinations offering higher end accommodations with an amazing powder white beach in front of the lodge. There is something special about walking out of the lodge in your bare feet and right into a dolphin flats skiff!
To get to South Andros it is necessary to either charter a plane out of Ft. Lauderdale of fly from Nassau. The runway at the airport in Congotown is not lighted and requires day time arrivals so we generally fly into Nassau the day before and enjoy a nice dinner, relaxed breakfast and then head back to the airport to catch the quick 20 minute flight on Western Air to South Andros. Upon arrival the lodge staff at Bairs is waiting to transfer to the lodge (a short 20 minute drive).
The flats on South Andros are vast and diverse and offers a true marine wilderness experience. Bairs has a unique location between Deep and Little Creeks. “Creeks” are vast networks of channels and lagoons in the interior of the island. Both Deep and Little Creek offer hundreds of square miles of fishable flats within the creek networks. The creeks also offer a cooridor to the remote West side of Andros which is a labyrinth of small islands, mangrove systems and flats. Bairs is also within striking distance of the “South” region of the island which is an expansive region of hard sand flats with hundreds of small islands or “cays” (pronounced key). The diversity of fishing grounds ensures that the flats are lightly pressured. Anglers can experience poling deeper flats from skiffs or can opt to wade countless hard sand flats to stalk bones in skinny water. The interior waters within the creeks and Westside also ensure that guests have plenty of locations to find the lee side of the wind when prevailing winds change.
Although permit and tarpon are occasionally encountered Andros is a bonefishery first and foremost. It is highly regarded as one of the premier locations in the world for chances at large bonefish over 10 pounds. Because of the vast expanse of flats the fish are lightly pressured and even large bones aggressively take flies when presented properly. In addition to bonefish large barracuda can also be caught on the fly or with tube lures on spin rods. Generally a cude rod is rigged and when barracuda are encountered on the flats guests can take a shot at the larger predators. The Anrosian bonefish season begins in October and extends into early June. Its southern location produces stable fishing for most of the year. November has a reputation for producing large fish.
I generally fish 9 foot 8 and 9 weight rods on Andros due to the large flies and wind. The majority of the time we are fishing size 4 and even size 2 flies although I still bring some 6s and even 8s for skinny water or days when the wind lies down. For fly selection it is important to bring both chain eye and lead eye patterns. Size 4 is most common with 6 and 2 often used. Andros fish love tan and orange along with rubber legs. My favorite patterns include Peterson’s spawning shrimp, mantis shrimp, gotchas, rubber leg gotchas, bunny clousers, and the West side shrimp. You don’t need a huge variety of patterns as long as you cover your bases in sizes and weights. Bonefish are big on andros and not terribly leader shy although they are spooky when fishing skinny water. I prefer 12 foot leaders when the wind is moderate and 9 foot leaders when the winds are high. For tippet I never go lower than 12lb and often fish 16lb, especially near mangroves. For a cuda rod I string a 10 weight with a 20lb leader and tie in a bite tippet which is a wire tippet that can be tied. You can also pre purchase toothy critter leaders with the bite wire already tied in.
On our hosted trip we enjoyed the great company of the “CGCG” aka the “Cool Guys Core Group”; a great group of guys that became friends in orthodontics program at Baylor and have remained close since. They have been joining us in Montana for several years and this year we opted to think outside the box and bring our spouses along to sample some great flats fishing.
Day 1: Little Creek
On our first day all of our spouses joined the boys in the boats. Most of the gals didn’t fish but riding across the flats and mangrove systems in a must to see the amazing beauty of South Andros. Ann and I fished little creek with our guide Ronnie. All of the guides on Andros were born on the island including Ron who works as a professional fisherman when not guiding using a spear to harvest both fish and lobster. All of the guides at Bairs have been poling the flats for at least 10 seasons and some for over 30 years. The expertise, knowledge and skill level of Androsian guides is truly amazing and spending a day with them to witness their knowledge of the flats, bonefish and the region is worth the price of admission.
The morning produced high sun with few clouds and thus great visibility. Successful bonefishing is often dependent on sunny skies which makes spotting fish exponentially easier. The winds were high due to a tropical depression making its way across the atlantic so we opted for the 9 weight and the protection of the lagoon systems in the center of the island. In the morning Ronnie and I wading several flats along the edge of the lagoon system during the low tide. Low tide is preferred when fishing these waters since the fish are forced out of the mangrove systems and are more accessible. Generally guides prefer falling, low tide and the early rise on most flats. Luckily the tidal difference is 3 hours from one side of the island to the other and the guides follow the changing tides to maximize time on the water and thus be at the “right place at the right time”. We had good morning activity that extended into the early afternoon. In the later afternoon clouds built up resulting in less than ideal visibility. We still spotted fish but generally too late as the tide was up and we were polling deeper flats with fish spooking before we had much time to make a cast.
Back at the lodge the rest of the crew reported great results with several of the guys hooking up on their first bonefish on the fly. Mark Dake had the hot hand fishing with guide Leslie landing 14 bones - a spectacular day on Andros!
Day 2: “South”
On our second day we fished with Leslie. Leslie has been guiding at Bairs for 27 years and knows the Androsian flats system like the back of his hand. We expressed a desire to do some wade fishing and the tides were right to head south. Since the ocean side had some bigger swells we scooted into Little Creek and cut across the island to the West Side and entered the southern flats via protected waters. The flats in the South are some of my favorite in the world. Hard sand flats extend in every direction as far as the eye can see and are broken up by countless small cays. Bonefish are relatively easy to spot over the white sand background, especially big fish. After making the long 45 minute run from the lodge we cut the engine and Ann, Leslie and I started walking a large flat on the edge of a small cay. Within 5 minutes Leslie pointed out a huge 8-9lb single bonefish that was actively feeding in skinny water just inches deep. The fish was tailing aggressively, often with its entire back out of the shallow water. Ann and Leslie followed the fish that was slowly moving away. After about 20 minutes the big bone moved into a small inlet on the island. Leslie was very patient and waited until the fish turned and started moving back to have Ann make her cast. She made some great casts but the fish never saw the fly and turned back into the inlet. When fish are in such skinny water it can be tough - cast to close and they quickly spook - cast to far away and they can’t find the fly. The cone of vision for a fish in such shallow water is significantly limited and the fly literally has to be under their nose to find it. Eventually the fish headed my way and of course I was too aggressive and spooked it on the first cast.
Later in the morning we waded several other amazing sand flats with great action on singles and small schools - all nice sized bonefish in the 3-5lb class. The sun stayed high and we had spectacular visibility, often spotting fish 100 yards out. The turquoise waters, colbalt skies and white sand beaches are truly breathtaking, especially in combination with the glorious lack of humanity.
In the afternoon the tides came up in the Southern flats so we moved back into the creek system. Clouds moved in which produced some tougher conditions although and action slowed down. Day 2 was one of our least productive days in terms of “catching” landing only 3 bones but the quality of the morning action with incredible site casting to big fish wading shallow flats produced our most memorable day of the trip.
Day 3: West Side
On our final day of fishing Ann and I teamed up with Chris, Ronnies brother, to visit the remote West side of the island. This remote area offers endless flats and great chances for shots at big lightly pressured bonefish. The run to the West side is always spectacular, and on this day it was even more pronounced with some big rain clouds adding to the dramatic scenery. The heavy clouds quickly moved on and we enjoyed excellent sunny skies for the majority of our final day.
We started the morning by polling several long mangrove banks. Generally Chris would find a flat that paralleled the wind and would poll in the direction of the wind allowing the casts to be made with the wind to approaching fish. Some flats were losing visibility from the strong winds that were stirring up sediments from the wave action and Chris would quickly pull the plug and move to a new flat in lee of the wind producing excellent fishing conditions. With the great visibility and Chris’s excellent knowledge of putting us onto the right flats we were quickly into fish. Ann fished most of the morning and had multiple hookups landing several nice fish. We spent the late morning polling the skiff into some shallow mangrove areas to target tailing fish. This is strategy generally results in fewer connections but the excitement level is unmatched and both Ann and I love the excitement of hunting single bones in the skinny water.
In the afternoon Chris dropped me off on a few flats and I waded on my own while he polled her down long beaches. The great action continued and I managed to finish the day with 4 big 5 pound bones on my final flat - a magnificent hard sand bottom that extended far into the lagoon. When the skiff returned to pick me up Ann was beaming - a large pod of curious bottlenose dolphins had approached and followed the boat for several minutes to put a cap on an amazing day.
Trip Wrap Up
Three days is never enough time to fully explore all that Andros has to offer but our group made the most of the trip. Luckily we had three solid days of fishing with plenty of sunshine and good visibility producing plenty of shots at large bonefish. For many in the group it was the first time saltwater fly fishing and everyone successfully caught multiple fish throughout the trip. The ladies were also able to take some off days from the boats to hike into blue holes, visit the local bar by the bridge, and learned to make teas from one of the resident Androsians. After leaving the lodge Ann and I continued on to Abaco Island and Abaco Lodge to extend our trip for a few more days of bonefishing (read our Abaco Lodge 2015 trip report).