The second half of our November hosted trip lead us to Abaco Lodge on Abaco island. Fly fishing for bonefish is legendary across the Bahamas and Abaco has some of the world’s richest bonefishing grounds. The lodge is located on the world famous “Marls” which is an expansive flats system with over 400 square miles of flats and small islands that are infested with bonefish. This would be our second trip to Abaco in the last few years and we were looking forward to exploring some other fisheries on the island that we had heard about in addition to some time in the Marls.
The Bahamas are best known for prolific opportunities to pursue bonefish on the fly. Bonefish are protected and must be released anywhere they are caught in the island nation. The Marls were recently named as a National marine park to help protect the unique ecosystem. In addition to bonefishing Abaco is also home to world class shark and barracuda fishing on a fly rod. The permit fishery is also gaining some notoriety. Permit are not as common as prolific as Central American flats like Belize but Bahamian permit can be huge. The ocean side flats at Abaco are home to some huge permit.
Abaco Lodge offers first class service, high end loaner equipment, and a dock with a fleet of Hells Bay skiffs ready to hit the water. The lodge has 10 guest rooms with King beds. Rooms are single occupancy at no extra costs at Abaco which is a nice perk. Abaco is also easily accessed from the US with direct flights from Miami on United and American into Marsh Harbour and a new route coming soon from Delta from Atlanta. The lodge is managed by the husband and wife team of Anne and Ken Perkinson who are amazing hosts. After the short shuttle from the lodge we were quickly greeted by both Anne and Ken who were waiting with a cold local rum punch upon arrival. Since we arrived in the early afternoon it was a pleasure to have some time to enjoy the beautiful outdoor grounds on the site. There is a small swimming pool overlooking the Marls along with a massive covered deck with numerous chairs for relaxing and enjoying the scenery. The full bar inside is fully stocked and we enjoyed few hours soaking in the pool, sipping on cold rum punch and watching a spectacular sunset. After a few days of great fishing at Bairs Lodge on Andros Island it was a great pleasue to slow things down and reset to “island time”.
Day 1: Fishing the Southern Marls
On our arrival day Ken had pulled me aside and asked if Ann and I would mind trailering the boat to see some new waters. Since we already had a great feel for the flats in front of the lodge we were excited to see some other fisheries on the island. Ken had arranged for us to fish with Dana on the far southern end of the Marls. Dana is the only female guide in the Bahamas and relatively young in her mid 20s. Her father is a seasoned guiding veteran on the island and she grew up fishing the Southern Marls and it was quickly apparent she knew her stuff. Dana explained that bonefish on Abaco spawn in the open ocean off of the Southern tip of the island and that with the new moon fish would be moving in groups to head south.
We started the morning by heading into a small lagoon inside of a large Cay. According to Dana this particular lagoon was a holding location for large groups of bones as they moved south. True to her word within 5 minutes we saw a large group of 50 mature bonefish moving quickly down the shoreline. Dana had us rig with lead eyed flies that would sink quickly. These fish were moving extremely fast unlike bonefish that are in a feeding pattern. It was critical to make a quick cast and for the fly to sink aggressively to have a shot at these fish.
Ann took the front of the skiff to start the morning and landed a nice 3.5 lb. bonefish on her first cast. As soon as we released it Dana pointed out another band of nervous water approaching. The action was incredible all morning. Rarely did we go more than 5 minutes without another group of bones moving by. The fish were all mature and of spawning age and averaged between 3-6 pounds - great size bonefish! We lost track of how many we landed - every fish ran us into our backing. Eventually we had to leave the lagoon as the tide was running out. In the afternoon the action slowed down just a bit but we still had great shots at large fish and rarely went more than 20 minutes between fish. To top the day off Dana dropped me off on a long shallow sand flat where I was able to wade to some resident bones that were tailing. Great day!
Day 2: The Marls near the Lodge
On our second day we fished with Trevor as our guide. Ann and I fished with Trevor on our last trip to Abaco three seasons prior and really enjoyed his relaxed but focused guiding style. The Marls near the lodge are infested with bonefish. Flats extend for miles in every direction in a vast labyrinth of channels, flats and small islands. To start the day we enjoyed a few hours of high quality site casting to tailing bones in skinny water working there way along the edge of the mangroves - always my favorite style of fishing. As the tide and wind came up we moved into slightly deeper water. Ann did most of the fishing on day 2 and had action all afternoon casting to small groups and a few larger schools.
In addition to targeting bones I also had a shark rod rigged just in case. Sharks have poor vision so you need to put the fly right on their nose. Both lemon and black tipped sharks are a great sport fish on a fly rod. I was using a 10 weight with a 20 lb bite tippet RIO tiable wire. For flies large red and white bucktails and poppers are preferred. Although I didn’t get a hookup I did have 2 medium lemons bullrush the fly before turning away. It is quite a rush to have a 4 foot shark motoring behind your fly!
Back at the lodge most of the other guests also had a good day. Anthony had headed to Snake Key on the ocean side and had landed a big six pounder and was beaming. We were excited to hit the ocean side on our final day after Anthony’s report.
Day 3: Ocean Side Flats
On our final day we were excited to team up with Tom to try the ocean side flats of Abaco. Tom was born in the Bahamas but has also lived in the states on and off over the years. He lives on a small island off of Abaco and drives his boat in each day to work. The Ocean side flats are known for large bonefish. Tom’s largest fish the season prior was a massive 15lb bone! The scoop on the Ocean side flats is that there are much lower fish counts and the fish can be smart. Getting skunked is a possibility but the potential for large fish had us very excited. The scenery is truly spectacular with a network of sand flats interlaced with small islands, mangroves, and limestone outcrops. The marine life was equally amazing with large sharks patrolling the flats, countless green sea turtles and massive bright orange and red starfish.
The tide was high but dropping when we started the morning so Tom motored and eventually polled us deep into a mangrove backwater. He indicated that as the tide dropped bones should be moving back out to deeper flats and we would try to intercept them. True to his word within 5 minutes of stopping two big bones in the 6lb class came gliding across the shallow sand flats. After a well placed cast one of the big bones moved on the fly but failed to take it. These fish were definitely pickier than the aggressive fish in the marls. I lengthened my leader and dropped to a smaller size 8 gotcha. As the morning progressed I had a few more shots at large bones and managed to hook a few. My landing rates were mixed with a few breaking off in mangroves, some quick releases and a few to the hand. These were all big mature bonefish and were all either singles, pairs or in small schools of 3-5 fish. Most of the fish were in the 5-8 lb range. The quality and size of the fish combined with the dramatic backdrop was phenomenal. The ocean side flats are definitely not a numbers game destination but I was very impressed with the size of the fish and the quality of the site casting opportunities.
As the tide continued to drop we moved out of the backwater lagoons and to the deeper flats now that fish had returned from the mangroves due to the falling tide. In addition to the bonefish rig we also had a 9 weight rigged with a crab for permit as well as the 10 weight shark rod. I only had a few shots at sharks with mixed interest. We didn’t see any permit but Tom indicated that they occasionally see some huge permit over 30lbs on the ocean side. The bahamas are not known for permit but the size can be outstanding so it is wise to set up a permit rod in advance when fishing the ocean side flats. For the bones on the ocean side I went with a long 15 foot leader in the morning and dropped it to 12 feet in the afternoon. I matched smaller flies (size 8 mostly) with 12 pound test. The big fish were definitely spooky so the longer leader and more delicate presentation of the smaller flies helped.
Shortly after lunch Tom indicated that we were going to work a flat that he had seen some very large fish in the past two seasons. The fish weren’t always on this particular flat but when they were they were generally monsters. True to his word we spotted a pair of huge double digit bones within minutes. Unfortunately the light was marginal and we didn’t spot them until they were fairly close to the boat and they spooked on the first cast. A few minutes later another monster travelling as a single came into range. This time I was able to shoot a long cast with a good lead on the bone. The fish maintained his course and I stripped the fly as he approached. He quickly moved on the fly and I grabbed it. After a strip set he was on but just for a few seconds until the hook pulled out. It was a monster - at least 8 pounds and maybe more! A few more minutes passed and two more big fish in the 8 lb. class came motoring up the flats. I was able to get another good cast off and the lead fish grabbed the fly and took off for Cuba. The speed of a large bonefish is unbelievable and within a fraction of a second the big bone was ripping through the coils of line on the deck. As I glanced down I noticed I had stepped in a loop of line on the deck just as it was going tight. There was no time to react and instantly the big bone broke off as the line caught on my foot. What a great day to wrap up a great trip! By the end of the day we only had 4 bones to the hand but they were all large and we had seen several monsters and even had a few on the line. Truly a special day I will not forget for years to come.
Abaco Lodge is a first class program with outstanding service. For those seeking lots of action and numerous shots at bonefish it is tough to beat. I was very impressed with some of the other locations on the island including the big bones of the ocean side flats. There are still great dates left for the 2016 season for those interested in finding refuge from the cold so let us know if you have questions about Bahamian bonefishing.