While South Florida is home to excellent offshore fishing, those seeking marlin will often look to the east and the islands of the Abacos, located in the northern Bahamas. When the conditions are right, the action can be very good for all kinds of offshore species, but for now let’s take a closer look at the marlin fishing, Abaco-style.
Located about 165 miles east of Palm Beach, Florida, Great Abaco is the third-largest island in the Bahamas. It’s home to Marsh Harbour, the third-largest city in the Bahamas and the largest naturally protected deepwater harbor in the Abacos chain. To the north, Treasure Cay is another epicenter for sport fishing in the region (it’s not a separate island but is located on Great Abaco). Off the eastern side of Great Abaco is a string of much smaller cays that stretch from roughly north to south like a delicate string of pearls; at the northern end is Walker’s Cay, once a legendary sport-fishing destination that’s now relegated to the pages of history — for now, at least — and Elbow Cay anchors the southern portion.
While excellent marlin fishing is available anywhere along the eastern Abacos, a local favorite is the area just off the lighthouse on Elbow Cay (N 26.32, W 76.52). Capt. Bill Diamond has been fishing the area for the past 12 years and says he likes to put the lines in the water just off the edge, starting in about 600 feet of water east of the light.
“That area tends to hold bait and fish,” he says, “and especially if there’s an outgoing tide and a nice color change, it’s a good place to start. I’ll usually work the edge to a spot called the Thumbprint (N 26.37, W 76.51), and then we’ll wander offshore to places like the Bridge and the Mushroom (N 26.37, W 76.45).” He’ll target birds under tuna or look for current, structure and bait holding deep. Most of the bills will be blue marlin, but don’t be surprised to see more than a few white marlin in the spread earlier in the year, especially for boats pulling natural dredges and light tackle.
And while most Bahamian blue marlin average 500 pounds or less, there are a few sea monsters roaming around. In 2011, during the Treasure Cay leg of the Bahamas Billfish Championship, the team on Double Dog bested a 1,119-pound blue to set a new record for the islands.
“When we saw the fish in the spread, we couldn’t believe our eyes,” says Double Dog owner Don McKinney of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “We scrambled to clear the light tackle and get the 80s in position, just in time for the giant blue to crash the left short.” Bahamas native and Man-o-War Cay resident David Albury fought the fish for several hours, and the team struggled for two additional hours to finally boat the massive blue marlin.
Giant bluefin tuna will occasionally make a surprise appearance off the Abacos. On May 9, 2003, while fishing the Walkers Cay leg of the Bahamas Billfish Championship, Frank Rodriguez and the team on Fa-La-Me had an experience that not many (if any) team has ever had: They hooked and fought three 1,000-pound bluefins, all at the same time. Rodriguez caught the first one in about an hour, with the team finally wrestling the beast aboard in another hour, while the other two fish remained hooked. They were able to release the second tuna and broke off the third. The fish weighed 1,058 pounds and is the largest ever caught in the Bahamas.
The marlin action can start as early as April and it usually stretches through the summer, although the best fishing is historically in May and early June for blues.
White marlin usually push through earlier in the season and are mixed with some of the larger blues of the year. The fishing for mahimahi can be excellent throughout the summer as well.
Getting There: Air Service
The Leonard M. Thompson International Airport (MHH) serves Marsh Harbour and the surrounding areas with commuter flights from many major cities in Florida and the Bahamas, while Treasure Cay Airport (TCB) provides service from Fort Lauderdale. Flights are generally about one hour in length. Travelers should check with their airline in advance, though, because most have strict weight limitations on luggage due to the smaller size of the aircraft.
For those interested in a private charter, Air Flight Charters operates five twin-engine aircraft with seven- and nine-seat configurations, flying throughout the Bahamas from Fort Lauderdale. Passengers avoid security lines and can customize their travel schedules and destinations, making this an attractive option for larger groups.
By Boat: Marinas
For those arriving by boat, there are a number of high-quality marinas liberally sprinkled throughout the Abacos. Marsh Harbour Marina at the Abaco Beach Resort is one of the hot spots for visiting boaters, and with 200 slips for vessels to 200 feet in length, it’s the largest in the Abacos. Marsh Harbour Marina is home to a number of high-profile tournaments as well, including the ultraprestigious Custom Shootout.
The Treasure Cay Resort Marina is a full-service 150-slip facility that is one of the nicest in the Bahamas. It’s centrally located within Treasure Cay Resort, which offers several restaurants and bars plus lodging and some really beautiful beaches. On Elbow Cay, there are two excellent options: Sea Spray Resort and Marina and Hope Town Inn and Marina. Both have protected facilities and shoreside lodging options.
The Green Turtle Club Marina on Green Turtle Cay has 40 slips and a newly dredged channel, plus access to the historic Loyalist settlement of New Plymouth, while the Leeward Yacht Club has 24 slips and is also within walking distance of New Plymouth.
Eating and Drinking
Drinking and dining goes together like peas and rice in the Abacos, with white-tablecloth resort restaurants and quaint hole-in-the-wall pubs located throughout the islands. Menus vary, but you’ll almost always find plenty of fresh seafood like fish, conch and lobster. For more than 20 years, Nipper’s Beach Bar on Great Guana Cay has been an Abacos institution. Renowned for its strong drinks (watch out for the Nipper Juice) and the Sunday afternoon pig roast, as well as its beautiful beachfront location, it’s one stop that’s not to be missed. Just down the road is another party spot: Grabber’s, with its signature rum drink, the Guana Grabber. Have more than two and navigating home might be a challenge.
On Lubbers Quarters is Cracker P’s, famous for its full-moon parties. This famed watering hole is just 5 miles by water from Marsh Harbour, 4 miles from Hope Town and a mile from Elbow Cay. Order up a Goombay Smash or Bahama Mama and feel the relaxation set in. On Wednesdays, head for the Jib Room at Marsh Harbour Marina for great barbecue ribs on the grill, while Thursdays are reserved for pizza night at the Tipsy Seagull at Treasure Cay Resort. Both are popular events with locals and visitors alike, and usually feature live entertainment, dancing and plenty of strong drinks. And if you find yourself in Little Harbor, be sure to stop by Pete’s Pub. Owner, artist and chef Peter Johnston operates a foundry on-site, producing beautiful bronze works of art as well as dishing out some of the best food and drinks in the islands.
Conch (pronounced conk) is enjoyed throughout the Bahamas. It’s often served as cracked conch, with the white meat sliced and then pounded thin and deep-fried, or prepared as conch salad, chowder or fritters, all with plenty of local peppers and spices. Conch has a slightly chewy texture and delicate flavor that’s unforgettably Bahamian. Wash it down with a cold Sands or Kalik Gold beer, the local brews of the islands.
It’s no surprise that the Abacos are home to some of the world’s finest tournaments. The adrenaline rush of hooking a potential winner is unbeatable, with intense head-to-head competition and amazing dockside camaraderie. Here are just a few of the many tournaments on the roster for 2017.
SeaSpray Abaco Challenge, February 9 to 11, 2017 SeaSpray Resort Marina, Elbow Cay
White Marlin Roundup, April 19 to 22, 2017 Abaco Beach Resort and Marsh Harbour Marina, Great Abaco
Custom Shootout, May 3 to 6, 2017 Abaco Beach Resort and Marsh Harbour Marina, Great Abaco
The Shootout: Production vs. Custom, May 17 to 20, 2017 Abaco Beach Resort and Marsh Harbour Marina, Great Abaco
Abaco Beach Blue Marlin Tournament, May 31 to June 3, 2017 Abaco Beach Resort and Marsh Harbour Marina, Great Abaco
Other Things to Do
While offshore fishing is the star, inshore and especially flats-fishing is some of the best around. Bahamian bonefish are both plentiful and wary, so releasing a few — especially on fly — can be a real challenge.
The reefs hold snapper, hogfish and grouper; spearfishing enthusiasts are limited to pole spears and freediving in Bahamian waters though, and sharks can sometimes be problematic. The snorkeling and diving is off the charts, with numerous reefs and wrecks to explore.
Golfers can hit the Abaco Club for 18 holes of true seaside links-style golf in the number-one course in the Bahamas. Treasure Cay Golf Club is another option for a course that’s both challenging and beautiful.
For outstanding marlin fishing action that’s close to home, in an environment that’s one of the most laid-back and unique in the world, check out the Abacos. Mon, soon come!
The Bahamas Official Website: bahamas.com
Abaco Beach Resort, Marsh Harbour: abacobeachresort.com
Abaco Diamond Series tournaments and Custom Boat Shootout: skipstournaments.com
Treasure Cay Beach Resort: treasurecay.com
Air Flight Charters: airflightcharters.com