Modern technology has made the world a much smaller place in the past few decades, and few secret billfishing hot spots exist anymore. Real-time access to catch information has become the norm through the Internet and social media, enabling us to hear about great fishing at a given location within a few hours of the catch in many instances. In addition, boats have gotten bigger, faster, safer and more reliable, so trips to faraway destinations that once seemed exotic now somehow seem commonplace.
Not so long ago, a boat ride from Florida to Mexico constituted a multiday chug, a perilous undertaking. Now, the bigger boats steam there at speed in a single day. Access to great fishing has never been easier.
But with this increased access and a desire for exploration, perhaps we have overlooked great opportunities -closer to home. The great fishing in the Dominican Republic, now the spring and summer destination of choice for many captains and owners, keeps them coming back. But many of those same fishermen run right past -legendary billfish locations each year on their way to the D.R.
I’m referring to the Bahamas, of course, the place where our sport began in the 1930s, when adventurous anglers including Ernest Hemingway and Michael Lerner first figured out how to catch huge blue marlin and bluefin tuna off Bimini. It didn’t take long for the sport to spread through the island-nation chain, and great billfishing opportunities still exist throughout the Bahamas.
Given that fact, we thought it might be fun to look at just where those opportunities exist, right in our own proverbial backyard. If you’re interested in giving the Bahamas a try, or returning after an absence, these places should be on your list.
The Abaco chain sits at the northern end of the Bahamas, and offers well-known and proven fishing grounds that most people recognize. Many famous billfish tournaments originated here, including the Bahamas Billfish Championship (see last photo in gallery for more info) and the Bertram/Hatteras Shootout, held for many years at Walker’s Cay, and more recently at Boat Harbour Marina in Marsh Harbour. The following Abaco locations still offer easy access to great fishing.
Treasure Cay, on the northern half of Great Abaco Island, offers a world-class, deepwater marina within a huge real estate development along one of the prettiest beaches you’ll find anywhere. The fully protected marina provides 150 slips and quick ocean access through Whale Cay passage on the north end of Great Guana Cay, the barrier island immediately to the east. Treasure has become a favorite for those of us who appreciate the same amenities we’ve come to expect at home. For more information, log onto treasurecay.com.
Green Turtle Cay
This island gem lies just northeast of Treasure Cay, north of Whale Cay passage, and although Green Turtle has often been considered more of a yacht port than a fishing spot, that impression might be changing. The BBC now runs a leg of its tournament series here, and the two marinas in White Sound — Bluff House Marina and the Green Turtle Club — provide excellent dockage and a wonderful, laid-back ambience that few other places match. For more information, check out bluffhouse.com and greenturtleclub.com.
Great Guana Cay
The Baker’s Bay development on the northern end of Great Guana brought world-class boating facilities to this quiet residential island. A major real estate and golf venture, Baker’s Bay created a 158-slip marina with 12½ feet of water at low tide, a rarity in the Bahamas, where shallow water prevails. Check out bakersbayclub.com.
Farther south on Great Guana, Orchid Bay Marina represents the first such real estate venture on Great Guana, and sits in the island’s natural harbor. It provides protected dockage behind a large breakwater, and offers walking proximity to two of the Bahamas’ most popular Sunday-afternoon party spots: Nipper’s bar and the equally fun Grabber’s. To learn more about Orchid Bay, call 242-365-5175.
Marinas abound around what’s known as “the hub of Abaco.” Marsh Harbour serves as the ingress/egress point for most visitors to the Abacos; its international airport receives daily flights from many U.S. cities, and although you can dock at any of the marinas in town, virtually all fishermen headed to the area make the Abaco Beach Resort and Boat Harbour Marina their base of operations.
Founded in 1955, Boat Harbour has become a major destination for boats large and small, offering easy access to prime fishing grounds, protected dockage in 198 slips with all major services available, including a lively pool bar and a great restaurant. Downtown Marsh Harbour lies within easy walking distance for additional shopping and dining opportunities. Find out more at abacobeachresort.com.
Hopetown, at the northern end of Elbow Cay, provides an incredible diversity of dining, shopping and living options in a distinctive laid-back style. There’s nowhere else quite like it anywhere. Fishermen gather at Sea Spray Marina (seasprayresort.com) in White Sound about halfway down the island, and there’s no closer marina to the fishing action. After heading out from Sea Spray, turn south to access Tilloo Cut, or turn north and head for South Man-o-War Cut. Both provide quick access to great fishing.
Elbow Cay got its name because it sits at the pivot point where the Abacos bend from a northeasterly track farther south to a northwesterly track to the north. This “elbow” attracts lots of gamefish to the reefs off Elbow Cay, as ocean currents flow across the peaks and reef lines that jut out from the island into deep water. In truth, many boats staying at the aforementioned marinas in the Abacos make the run to these same waters off Elbow Cay each day because that’s where most billfish show up in the spread.
We should note that as of this writing, news surfaced regarding a pending sale of Walkers Cay, the northernmost inhabited island in all the Bahamas and a legendary billfishing spot. As many of you know, the one-two punch of hurricanes Frances and Jean destroyed Walkers in 2004, and it has been closed the past 10 years. Many of us who enjoyed its great fishing sincerely hope it will be open again soon.
Another interesting development has arisen on South Abaco at Schooner Bay. The Blackfly Lodge bonefish camp at Schooner Bay made waves in that world, but a full marina will come soon, providing easy big-boat access to the once-remote waters of South Abaco, including Hole in the Wall at the southernmost tip of Great Abaco, an awesome fishing spot. Learn more at schoonerbaybahamas.com.
Eleuthera offers three places with great billfish action, with differing levels of amenities and access. The first comes at the northeastern corner of Eleuthera, at Harbour Island. The original capitol of the Bahamas, Harbour Island serves as a posh enclave for many wealthy -seasonal residents, and offers a high level of refinement to anglers passing through.
Three marinas serve Harbour Island: Valentines Yacht Club (valentinesresort.com), the Romora Bay Club (romorabay.com) and Harbour Island Marina (harbourislandmarina.com). All three enable you to get quickly to the area’s fabled fishing grounds, including James Point, Shallow Ground and Dutch Bars. Harbour Island maintains a reputation as a yellowfin tuna spot — but where you find tuna, you’ll likely find blue marlin.
Two marinas sit on the southwest coast of Eleuthera itself, Cape Eleuthera (capeeleuthera.com) and Davis Harbour. Davis Harbour enjoyed its heyday in the 1960s and ’70s through its affiliation with the ritzy Cotton Bay Club, an exclusive real estate development built on Eleuthera by Pan American Airways founder Juan Trippe.
Likewise, Cape Eleuthera prospered in the 1980s but fell on hard times in the decades that followed. Now, though, it has been resurrected as a top-shelf destination with all the modern amenities. Both marinas offer proximity to the rich waters of Exuma Sound, and also to the area known as “the Bridge” — a ridge of shallow reef running from the southern tip of Eleuthera eastward to the northern tip of Cat Island, past Little San Salvador. Extremely deep water lies just north of the Bridge, and as tide flows across those reefs into that deep water, large predators line up to feed. The Bridge offers absolutely fantastic fishing in the right conditions.
Although other marinas exist in the Berrys, serious offshore fishing in that part of the world means Chub Cay. Situated on Frazer’s Hog Cay at the southern end of the chain, Chub lies next to “the Pocket” at the northern end of Tongue of the Ocean. The extreme deep water of the Pocket runs right up to a vertical wall of reef at Northwest Channel, 14 miles west of Chub. The dominant southeast winds blow bait into that corner, where it drops precipitously from about 80 feet of water to 6,000 feet, and when it’s right, white and blue marlin, sailfish, wahoo, and dolphin stack up in there.
Like many places in the Bahamas, Chub went through a painful period of financial receivership, but recent new ownership changes show great promise, and construction has resumed on the clubhouse and much of the infrastructure. Learn more at chubcay.com.
All sport fishing around Cat Island (not to be confused with Cat Cay, south of Bimini) happens out of the Hawks Nest Resort (hawks-nest.com)
at the southwestern point of Cat Island. The Hawks Nest Marina has just 28 slips, but this uniquely beautiful island presents a charm unlike any other, and the waters offshore teem with life. Like many Bahamian fishing spots, you can fish all day out of Hawks Nest without ever getting the boat on plane. Head out the creek entrance over the drop-off, drop your riggers and start fishing.
Of course, making short runs pays huge dividends too because the southern shoreline of Cat has tremendous spots where billfish and tunas lurk. These include the Tartar Bank, Devil’s Point and Columbus Point to the southeast. In addition to awesome billfish action every summer, Cat Island sees some of the best winter wahoo action found anywhere, with lots of fish over 100 pounds.
Only about 50 miles east of Cat Island, San Salvador earned a reputation as the winter wahoo spot, but it really offers much more. Two large seamounts north of the island hold wahoo in winter, and large schools of yellowfin tuna all summer, and once again, where you find yellowfin, you find blue marlin. These seamounts make great places to start, but the southern end of San Salvador also holds fish off Sandy Point at the extreme southwest corner of the island. On my most recent trip there, we caught a small blue marlin while trolling within 50 yards of the beach at this point.
Only one marina exists on San Salvador, the Riding Rock Resort and Marina (ridingrock.com). This marina had a reputation as a place with a terrible surge, but that situation has diminished since the marina expanded some years ago. The staff at Riding Rock, and the San Salvador natives in general, provides a special atmosphere that many traveling fishermen find irresistible.
The funky elegance of Rum Cay defies easy description. Owner Bobby Little literally dug Sumner Point Marina out of the rock at the southern shore of Rum, and the marina has experienced a wild ride at times, with ownership changes, closings and openings of both the restaurant and the marina itself, and periodic fuel shortages. But things have reportedly gotten back on track — a good thing because this might be the best place in all of the Bahamas to catch a blue marlin.
Fingers of reef jut into deep water southeast of the marina and around the corner to the northeast, and like San Salvador, Rum sits squarely on the migration route for pelagic species moving from the Caribbean through the Bahamas to the U.S. It offers amazing marlin action around huge schools of tuna, but call ahead about the -availability of services before you go (242-331-2823).
Clarence Town, on the southeastern shore of Long Island, offers the southernmost marine services in the Bahama Islands. Flying Fish Marina (flyfingfishmarina.com) lets you get close to some truly underutilized and remote fishing grounds, including the Diana Bank south of Long Island, Crooked Island to the southeast, and Samana Cay to the east. These places offer no amenities for boats (although a Crooked Island marina has been rumored for some time), but overnight anchor-out excursions with Flying Fish as a base put some spectacular fishing grounds within reach of many boats, large or small.
I should mention Bimini in this list, because even though it has fallen from favor with many hard-core billfishermen, the fish still swim by there, and the island experienced a resurgence in recent years with the refurbishing of the Big Game Club. Bimini’s admirable resiliency keeps it coming back, so give it a try if you haven’t been there in awhile. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Last But Not Least
Grand Bahama has a reputation as a great tuna spot but you don’t often think of it as a billfish place. Yet, it’s close by, has great marinas at Lucaya and Old Bahama Bay, and offers an easy trip. Could it be that great fishing exists right under our collective nose? There’s only one way to find out.
No matter where you go, make plans to give the islands of the Bahamas a shot in the near future. You might be missing (or running past) some of the best fishing on the planet if you don’t.