With so many big-game fishing locales dotting the planet, the blue marlin destination list is long. For sport-fishing operations willing to take the journey with anglers looking to bag their first granders, without a doubt, Bermuda should be somewhere near the top of that list.
This beautiful, peaceful island is nestled in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean roughly 600 miles from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the closest point of North America, essentially placing this subtropical paradise in the middle of nowhere. Relatively small in overall size at only about 21 miles long and roughly a mile wide, Bermuda is an archipelago made up of approximately 181 islands, islets and rocks—the seven largest connected by various bridges and causeways, making up the majority of the inhabited area.
Bermuda is a self-governing, British overseas territory, and because of its international finance industry, has one of the highest per capita income levels in the world. Home to a relatively small number of full-time residents—around 65,000—the island boasts a healthy tourism rate, hosting well over 500,000 visitors annually. The large and easily-accessible international airport supporting this high influx of travelers is located in the original capital city of St. George’s, and the island also hosts more than 150 cruise ship visits each year in three of the main ports: Royal Naval Dockyard, the current capital city of Hamilton, or in St. George’s—which is reserved for the smaller ships.
The preparations involved in taking a trip of this distance are comprehensive at best, and paying close attention to the weather will make or break your plans, so proper preparation prevents … well, you know the rest.
What to Bring
Depending on where in the United States you embark, Bermuda is quite reachable with your vessel on its own bottom. I have personally made the trip on four separate occasions, most recently aboard the 70-foot American Custom Yacht, Que Mas, with Capt. Robert Helms, who has made the crossing nine times. Blank Check‘s Capt. Danny Hearn and Capt. Kyle Liane, skipper of Bree, also are very familiar with this transatlantic journey: Each has more than 10 crossings under his belt, and knows exactly what the trip entails.
Provisioning for an extended stay in Bermuda is mostly based on personal preference and experience. The Blank Check team has narrowed their provisioning over the years: “Bermuda has absolutely anything you want, from fine meats to marine parts, but it does come with a price,” Hearn says. To imply Bermuda is inexpensive is like saying your beater boat truck is a new, tricked-out Silverado 2500. But then again, it’s all relative, right? Liane says his crew likes to pre-prepare meals for the crossing and load the freezers with plenty of meat for dock cooking, but Bermuda has great grocery stores for fresh produce and perishables. As far as stocking bait, that depends on individual fishing strategy.
We carry mackerel for bridge teasers, pitch baits and the occasional swim bait, some small to medium ballyhoo for white marlin, and plenty of mullet for our dredges.
Liane also stocks heavily on mackerel and small ballyhoo for white marlin pitch baits, but prefers to use a lure for pitching to the larger blues.
Before you start loading the boat for bear, you need to be sure all ships systems are in working order. Captains planning trips across the pond will usually include yard visits well before departure. Spare parts for various mechanical systems should be ordered ahead of time; digital charts should be loaded in your plotters, and paper charts carried for any unforeseen electronic issues which would require backup dead reckoning.
Both Hearn and Liane advise that all systems are go before committing to a trip that could find you days without another boat or landmass in sight.
Hiring a reputable weather-routing and forecasting service should be a serious consideration when planning a trip of this caliber, not only to determine your best window for departure, but also to keep you abreast of weather changes during your crossing to and from the United States. You don’t want to be 300 miles from anywhere and drive into a storm that could have been avoided. Weather services not only provide accurate forecasts but also offer you timely updates, which illuminate risks and keep you making confident decisions. All captains have some weather knowledge, but having a professional meteorologist who is versed in global weather patterns at your disposal gives you another level of insurance.
Obviously, fuel calculation plays a major part in the trip. Hearn has done it many different ways over the years, pointing out that most boats carry fuel containers of some type on deck. Last year, Que Mas carried a pair of 200-gallon bladders and it cut our trip time immensely. Once we determined our final leg, we were able to run, saving almost 10 hours of travel time.
The Bree team usually departs from Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas, Liane says, which offers them a good spot to fuel up and get in one last cracked-conch dinner. He used to carry extra fuel also, but the new 86-foot Merritt holds enough to make the trip without bladders. How long the trip will take depends on how much fuel you hold and what speed you can make based on that load.
Never underestimate your fuel-distance calculations: Liane recommends you check and recheck your numbers before leaving; the departure port also makes a huge difference in your travel time frame and fuel burn.
With Marsh Harbour being approximately 730 nautical miles from Bermuda, it typically takes around 52 hours from port to port. Hearn also has departed from the Bahamas—and from Beaufort, North Carolina, which is only about 610 nautical miles, or Oregon Inlet, North Carolina, which is slightly less at 585 nautical miles.
I keep a trip log as the travel time ticks down—noting the lat/long position, compass heading, rate of speed, fuel burn, distance to destination and time every hour, just in case the electronics fail; dead reckoning will always be your fallback. Routine engine-room checks are equally crucial.
Once you’ve arrived, you will need to head directly to St. George’s on the north end for customs, immigration, health clearance and a fishing permit from H.M. Customs and Department of Border Control. Checking in is a formality in all foreign ports of call and is relatively quick and painless in Bermuda. After clearing, most visiting sport boats will head to Hamilton, where the major transient marinas are located.
Where to Stay
There are a number of choices for mooring in Bermuda, and PW’s Waterfront Marina is a favorite, along with the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, Royal Hamilton Dinghy Club and the new Hamilton Princess Marina.
The marina at the Hamilton Princess is a beautiful, recently renovated state-of-the-art, 60-slip facility that can accommodate vessels from 30 to 500 feet. Known as the Grand Dame of Bermuda, the hotel was originally opened in 1885 and overlooks Hamilton Harbour.
The RBYC was first established in November of 1844 and is one of the oldest yacht clubs in the Western Hemisphere, housing some of the finest pieces of Atlantic maritime history. From old trophies and ship models to photographs and paintings, a walk through the club—which is on Front Street, also overlooking Hamilton Harbour—immediately sends you back to the 19th century when Queen Victoria’s Consort, Prince Albert—the club’s Royal Patron—gave his consent to call the club indeed, Royal.
And while all the marinas are top-notch, PW’s has the only big-boat fuel dock in Hamilton Harbour. Wherever you choose to make a home for the next six weeks, be sure to keep all your travel necessities such as tents, freezers, rigging tables, grills and spare wheels in a neat and orderly fashion. Bermuda’s beauty and class welcomes visitors, but only if we keep the mess to a minimum and leave it as beautiful as we found it.
For those who prefer to stay on land, the Rosewood Bermuda, located at Tucker’s Point, is a British-colonial-styled sanctuary where opulence is the norm; palm-lined pools, a golf course designed by Robert Rulewich, and a lavish spa are just a few of the amenities.
The historical Rosedon Hotel brings country-estate living and Old-World charm together for a boutique stay just minutes from Front Street. Completed in 1906, the property was built as the private home of E.J. Thompson and is named after his son, Robert Rosedon Thompson.
After all the hard work of preparing for the trip, successfully making the voyage, and setting up camp, it’s time to get after it. Being one of the world’s best spots to catch huge blues, Bermuda has recorded nine victories on the Blue Marlin World Cup board—second only to Kona, with 10. The most recent fish that surpassed the 1,000-pound mark was taken aboard Capt. Bull Tolson’s Sea Toy on July 17, 2018, and weighed in at 1,011 pounds.
One thing that all teams fishing Bermuda have in common is that they all must be ready for a legitimate sea monster. With many granders weighed—and many more released—you have to be ready, because nine times out of 10, Big Mama is going to show her face as soon as you bite into your sandwich. There are a few different preferred fishing methods shared by locals and visitors alike, and all of them can be productive.
Aboard Bree, Liane says they typically fish four to five lures on tag lines with at least two or three pitch baits ready to go. But on Blank Check, Hearn says they don’t fish tag lines because they like to fish a variety of baits and/or lures, depending on what the conditions are. And on Que Mas, we typically fish two long rigger lures on tag lines and two short rigger lures connected to the clip with a Dacron hanger, two bridge teasers and two dredges or cockpit teasers, with an occasional bait on the flat line thrown in the mix, always keeping a few pitch baits rigged and ready for anything.
Capt. Cory Gillespie, currently of the Palm Beach, Florida-based 60-foot Spencer, Lai Day, has fished five of his last eight seasons in Bermuda and says his team has modified the way it fishes to take advantage of the smaller blues that frequent the Land of Giants.
Bermuda Longtail in Flight
Starting with standard 130-pound-class tackle, he likes to use the larger hook lures as teasers. When a smaller blue marlin or a white shows up behind one, the team will then pitch the appropriate-sized tackle to the fish.
Gillespie says this method has really increased the hookup percentage, while still allowing the use of 130s for big fish. Four different programs, four different methods, and they all work well.
With most Bermuda tournament points being accumulated by release numbers and fish weighed, every bite counts, and all of these teams have experienced great success: Que Mas and Bree are both former Triple Crown winners; Gillespie has made it to the podium with finishes in the top three numerous times; and Blank Check has won the World Cup as well as multiple Bermuda tournament events. “Bermuda has been really good to us,” Hearn says.
Learn more about the Bermuda Triple Crown tournament series.
While Bermuda does have a very fishable steep edge, its waters are also home to two very large underwater mountains, known as the Challenger and Argus Banks. These two create upwellings that are the perfect habitat for just about all pelagic species. Blue marlin of all sizes can be found at either bank, as well as whites, tuna and typically a great concentration of wahoo.
Que Mas spends lots of time at Argus working the up-current side of the bank. With an average 3- to 4-foot tide change, Helms has a couple of small spots at each bank to concentrate on when the tide switches directions. As good as the banks can be, there are numerous alternative prime spots all over the drop-off surrounding the island. And just like every other place in the world, the conditions dictate very much where the bite will be.
Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, Bermuda, Atlantic Ocean, Central America
An Adventurer’s Paradise
Because of the short season, most crews do as much fishing as possible while in town. However, Bermuda has so much more to offer than just insane marlin bites.
There are nine world-class golf courses, and the diving and snorkeling are phenomenal. The living reefs surrounding the islands and the quantity of shipwrecks make underwater exploration prospects almost limitless.
Royal Navy Dockyard Bermuda
The shallow-water hogfishing on the flats of Bermuda is an unbelievable experience. I’ve never seen another place where you can throw the fly rod to a monster hogfish tailing on a flat.
You also can go subterranean and take an underground crystal cave tour and explore the historic and well-preserved Fort St. Catherine, where Bermuda’s original settlers came ashore in the early 1600s after hitting one of the reefs with their ship, Sea Venture. Take a sunset sailboat tour, or go rock climbing and cliff jumping directly into the lagoon-like waters of Clarence Cove at Admiralty House Park near Spanish Point.
Hamilton, Burmuda. Crystal caves is one of Bermuda’s must see natural wonders.
And on top of all of these activities, if there’s one thing that I recommend to everyone, that is to embrace the locals. There are so many great Bermudians that are there to help you with anything you need: They will hang out with you, invite you to a raft-up or a cookout, or just become a new friend. They’re good-natured people that you will develop lasting relationships with and look forward to seeing year after year.
As Hearn says, “A Bermudian does not see life as a glass that is half-full or half-empty—he simply asks where the ice is, and tops it off with Goslings.”