The island of Grand Bahama, much like its sister island of Bimini to the south, truly is the gateway to the Bahamas. And while many use it as a launching point for the other islands throughout the Bahamas, it also offers a diversity of fisheries that shouldn’t be overlooked. Troll for wahoo off West End, head south from Lucaya for yellowfin tuna and marlin, or head all the way east for some truly world-class bonefishing. Hurricane Matthew struck in October of 2016 and left a path of destruction, especially to those areas in the west. But just as the Bahamas always does, it bounces back quickly and just in time for the spring and summer fishing seasons to kick off.
The goal of our trip: Tour the island of Grand Bahama from the west all the way to the east to explore the different fisheries. I began to put the plan in motion weeks before, hoping we’d get lucky with the winter weather and called up my friend Capt. Skipper Gentry to see if it would be doable aboard his 43-foot Viking Carolina Gentleman. He was game and we began to discuss the different logistics for each leg of the trip as we started to set up our different stops: West End, Port Lucaya and Deep Water Cay all the way to the east. We were excited to get back to Grand Bahama to see many of the familiar faces and to take advantage of the incredible fisheries while we supported those on the island that continue to rebuild after Hurricane Matthew.
I was set to cross to West End with Marlin photographer Austin Coit and Capt. Skipper Gentry but a cold front accelerated down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States faster than we expected, and Gentry had to head over to West End two days early on his own to make sure the boat was there for the rest of our trip. So instead of taking the boat, we booked a flight the next day and were in Freeport 24 minutes after taking off from the airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was a short and beautiful flight as I watched the dark blue ocean of the Gulf Stream transition to the gorgeous turquoise water of the Bahamas as we descended. It was good to be back.
After a quick van ride to Old Bahama Bay in West End, we headed out to the docks to meet Capt. Skipper Gentry and his Carolina Gentleman to begin game-planning for the next couple days of fishing. The crew from Salt Water Sportsman was set to fly in the following day, so we took the opportunity to explore some of West End and taste some of the local flavors.
The first stop was Shebo’s Conch Stand, just minutes from Old Bahama Bay. It was one of the places that the taxi driver pointed out on our way to the marina, and I’m glad we went back to try it because it’s a staple that’s been in the same place for over 40 years.
Shebo’s house special is a pickled conch and lobster salad. It was unlike anything I had ever tasted throughout the Bahamas (I love conch salad) and had an incredible combination of sweet and spicy that stuck with you for a couple of seconds. I tried my best, but they wouldn’t divulge their secret recipe.
We called it an early night and headed out early the next morning to do a little high-speed trolling to see if there were any wahoo around. As we departed I looked back and reflected on how good it felt to be back fishing off West End.
We targeted the wahoo off West End by trolling a combination of wahoo lures from Fathom Offshore as well as some of the new 777 lures from Red Eye Lures. Reports leading up to our trip were pretty consistent, the fishing was inconsistent and it could really be hit or miss. We hoped we were there for when it was a hit, rather than a miss. The depths drop quickly off West End and we put the lines in the water just as we left Old Bahama Bay as we worked our way north to Memory Rock.
We fished until lunch with only one short strike before we headed back to the marina to meet up with Glenn Law, editor-in-chief of Salt Water Sportsman, for some cracked conch and a couple beers before fishing again in the afternoon.
A small row of stores and a pool bar sit next to where the beachside restaurant once stood next to the pool. The storm destroyed the restaurant area, but the small shack serves incredible cracked conch and ice-cold beers.
The wind was kicking but it was still quite warm outside for February. We enjoyed several Sands, the official beer of Grand Bahama, as we talked about the days ahead.
If you see cracked conch on the menu in the Bahamas, do yourself a favor and try it.
The beautiful pool at Old Bahama Bay is perfect for the family to enjoy if they don’t want to come fishing with you offshore.
There are also plenty of beach activities for the family to enjoy, including beach volleyball, kayaking or windsurfing.
The tide had just turned, so we headed back offshore to see if we could entice a wahoo. We split our time between high-speed trolling and slow trolling using a combination of Moldcraft and Black Bart lures. We trolled a four lures when high-speed trolling: two Fathom lanterns on the longs with 24-ounce trolling weights in front of them and two Red Eye 777 lures staggered on the flat lines. Capt. Skipper Gentry trolled at 14 knots as we worked the edge to the northwest of West End. The depths quickly drop from 100 feet up on the reef to 400 feet and even deeper as you swing out wide. There were flying fish everywhere but the wahoo bite seemed to be nonexistent. We pulled back and put out a couple smaller lures and a ballyhoo Ilander combination in hopes of luring in a mahimahi or a billfish.
Unfortunately, we headed back to the marina empty handed but the beers were cold and the dinner at the Dockside Bar & Grill right there overlooking the marina was one of the best meals I have ever had. If they have the grouper grilled cheese on the menu, order it without hesitation. It’s incredible.
As the sun set on Old Bahama Bay, we were eager to see what the next day had in store for us as we would begin working our way towards Port Lucaya.