There he is!” — a simple yet exhilarating phrase — was called down from the bridge of Glory Days with surprising regularity. Blue marlin, white marlin, hatchet marlin, yellowfin tuna, dolphin and the ever-present giant barracuda paraded through our spread in a steady stream. We were fishing off the surreal, uninhabited and virtually untouched Samana Cay, in the far southeastern Bahamas.
Approximately 65 miles south of San Salvador and about the same distance southeast of Clarence Town, Long Island, Samana Cay hosts a handful of Acklins Island residents who visit the island to harvest the cascarilla bark that grows in abundance there — other than that, it’s uninhabited. Cascarilla bark is not known to most, unless you are a very well-educated martini drinker. It is an essential ingredient in the brewing of vermouth as well as Campari liqueur. Although San Salvador was originally considered Christopher Columbus’ first stop in the New World, a five-year study conducted by Joseph Judge from National Geographic concluded in 1986 that Samana Cay was actually his first landing place.
While there might not be much of a reason to step ashore on Samana Cay, the pelagic fishery surrounding the island is second to none I’ve ever seen in the Bahamas. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit this fantastic fishery over the past few years with several different operations. I fished here the first time with Capt. Mike Dykes aboard Genesis from Ocean Reef, and we had such a good trip that I made sure that we returned this year aboard Glory Days, a 61-foot Viking from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I wasn’t certain that we’d be able to relive the great fishing we had on the first trip, but it turned out to be nothing short of incredible!
Plan for Multiple Days
Our group, comprised of Capt. Ray Peterson, boat owner John Crudele, and his wife, Betsy, and daughter Julie, managed to squeeze into two weather windows that allowed for multiple day trips to Samana Cay. The boat was based out of Flying Fish Marina in Clarence Town, Long Island, and each night we tucked into a picturesque anchorage in Acklins Island called Attwood Harbor. The vast, calm bay is complemented by a depth of more than 8 feet throughout most of the harbor, making it the perfect anchorage for almost any sport boat. There is one anchorage available in Samana Cay, but it is not for the faint of heart. Propeller Cut, located on the south side of the island, is a very small and winding inlet that opens into a fairly good-size bay, but getting in and out takes the right conditions and some crafty boat handling.
On the first morning, we discussed where to begin our assault on this picture-perfect piece of rock and water. The electric purple water and hard current we found about a half mile off the edge in the southeast corner signaled a prime starting point. Almost instantly, we were rewarded with a couple of aggressive bites; unfortunately, they were not any of our targeted species. Samana Cay’s world-class barracuda fishery rivals that of any in the world. About 80 percent of these pesky, rig-clipping rascals are fully grown too — in the 40- to 60-pound range — and we caught them by the dozen each day. Shortly after our first chupacabra encounter, we caught a roughly 50-pound wahoo, and the action never slowed for the rest of the visit.
By the end of our first day’s fishing, Julie Crudele released her own personal grand slam and the first ever recorded by the Glory Days team. Our second day left nothing on the table either. After a fairly slow start chasing tuna birds with not much to show for it, we decided to change tactics. Since we all hail from the Keys and south Florida, we came prepared with a livewell full of frisky goggle-eyes. After successfully feeding a good amount of our live bait to barracudas, sharks and blackfin tuna a few miles off the edge, we got back to trolling.
Then the boss made what became a memorable statement: “Everybody be on their game. We’re gonna hook a big blue marlin any minute.” Just 40 seconds later, a surprised yell came from the bridge, and I looked up to see a small submarine in the 500- to 550-pound range slowly paddling behind my dink bait on the right long. The fish inhaled the little ballyhoo, but after a 10-minute fight, she managed to slip the hook. The day wasn’t over — not by a long shot. We caught another whitey and went 2 for 2 on blue marlin, one of which swam all the way up into 30 feet of water on the reef before we got a tag in and let her go.
The end of our first two-day Samana Cay trip proved to be a success, and the whole team wanted more. With plans to eventually return, we spent another night in Attwood Harbor and reluctantly headed back to Flying Fish Marina the next morning.
Couldn’t Stay Away
Back out in front of Long Island, a full, hard day’s fishing with only one dorado to show for our effort took the wind right out of our sails. It was a far cry from seeing a half-dozen blue and white marlin bites each day! That slow day was all the convincing we needed to head back to Samana Cay for another multiday bender.
The next morning, we pulled the anchor around 6:15 a.m. to get over to Samana Cay and found a swarm of white marlin feeding offshore of the island. Unfortunately, you can’t trust whitey, and things weren’t going our way. We deployed the spread around 9 a.m., but after a serious whirlwind of multiple bites, we found ourselves at a dismal 1 for 8 on whites by 11:30. It didn’t get any better.
Around 4 p.m. Capt. Peterson came up on the bridge. “We need to scratch this baitfishing and put our lure spread out right away,” he said. “I just got a premonition that we’re gonna catch another blue one on a lure.” As Peterson worked on changing out the right short, we heard that sound that we all love when lure fishing: Snap! Ziiinnnnng! The rigger came down, and we had her on, just like that.
Since we only had two lures in the water, we were clear and going back on the fish in no time at all. Angler Betsy Crudele did a great job keeping up with me as I pushed old Glory Days pretty hard in reverse. After a great aerial performance and a 30-minute fight, the 350-pound blue came alongside for the release. It was a great finish to what initially had looked like an insurmountable morning disaster.
Our final full day at Samana Cay offered up the slowest billfish bite we experienced throughout the entire trip — and yet we still went 1 for 2 on blues and 2 for 2 on whites. It didn’t hurt that every one of those bites came after an angry dredge or teaser bite that we managed to switch off to a pitch bait. As a bonus, a decent body of mahi moved in and managed to find us three or four times, helping to break up the time in between billfish bites.
After another successful day, we called it quits a little earlier than usual and headed back to base for debriefing and a few cocktails. Following a delicious surf-and-turf dinner on the hook, we agreed that we should run back to Samana Cay for a few hours of fishing before heading to San Salvador in the afternoon. As we rode down the south side of the island at the end of our Samana Cay adventure, there was already a palpable sense of anticipation for our return. I have been fortunate enough to fish in some phenomenal places, and I’ve never seen a bite in the Bahamas as good as Samana Cay’s was this year. I can’t wait to get back.
There are multiple options for getting to Samana Cay; your best bet is to depart from either Riding Rock Marina in San Salvador or Flying Fish Marina in Long Island. Both locations offer a marina with fuel, a restaurant and laundry services on site. For those who choose not to take the boat all the way to these remote islands, both of these two starting points also host an airport. San Salvador has a much larger airstrip and can offer you a more flexible commercial flight schedule. If you happen to have your own airplane, there is a very small airstrip in the Acklins that can accommodate a small personal aircraft, such as a King Air. If you intend to stay on the anchor, I recommend Attwood Harbor. There are other anchorages available in the Acklins, including Majors Cay a bit farther to the north.