The great thing about the Bahamas is that on suggesting a fishing trip to one’s better half (providing of course that ‘she’ is invited) you stand a very good chance of receiving clearance to go. Not that tropical bribery is or should be a necessary prerequisite for a fishing trip, but it undeniably has a greater chance of approval than a trip to the weather-beaten tundra of the Kola Peninsula. Beckoned by the thought of some winter sun and with the first fall of snow haemorrhaging UK airports and motorways a WhereWiseMenFish couples team departed to the Bahamas to test out the reputedly superb Bonefishing on South Andros whilst staying at the exceptionally comfortable and refurbished Tiamo resort followed by a short foray to Bairs, a fishing lodge so well established it is almost part of the Bahamian architecture.
At this point I should mention the few reservations I had with this wonderful trip. The Bahamas is the self-named ‘capital’ of Bonefishing. These superb sporting fish are mesmerisingly beautiful with shimmering iridescent silver flanks; challenging yet ready takers of a well-presented fly and with an unstoppable first run they are excellent sport. I however have been brought up as more of a salmon than trout fisherman which from a saltwater / freshwater perspective bonefish are more closely compared to. In short I am ‘sizist’. When it comes to fish I prefer significant body mass over a purist’s ‘take’. I was concerned that as we would be focused on bonefish over the much larger Tarpon or pernickety Permit I would, dare I say it, be bored!
Standing in my favour was the fact that the Bahamas and specifically South Andros has a reputation for producing some really good-sized double digit Bonefish. I should stress, specifically for the benefit of those whose piscatorial aspirations are also sizist in nature, that from a power to weight ratio Bonefish are very powerful fish. A 5lb Bone will leave you with blisters and a smoking reel in a way that a fresh-water fish could only aspire to achieve. A 10lb fish on hook up will strip line with enough speed and duration to burn holes in gloves!
Tiamo Resort was our first destination and as a fishing lodge with a focus on couples it has few equals. Although Tiamo has been on the Bahamas radar for sometime it underwent an extensive upgrade in 2009. Accommodation is in a series of delightful cabins which are set back and secluded amongst the undergrowth just a short stone’s throw from the white sand beach, personal sun-loungers and emerald coloured sea. An elegant ocean-facing swimming pool is on decking in front of the ‘Great Room’ with bar and creative cocktail waitresses whilst the main dining area is on a lower level where we were served what can only be summed up as some of the best food our party of four had experienced. Tiamo manages to cross the non-fisher / fisher divide effortlessly.
Tiamo relies on a pool of local guides headed up by ‘Marvellous’ Marvin. If there were any concerns about using ‘rent-a-guides’ these were quickly dispelled as between Marvin, Shine and Alvin who looked after us over the week they all proved to be equally experienced and capable and as importantly, affable, a key attribute for anyone on a fishing ‘Holiday’!!
The flats fishing at Tiamo is primarily centred around the South Bight, a large channel that runs from East to West intersecting South from Middle Andros. Most of the fishing is from skiffs although a 5 min walk along the beach will position you on a good flat that at times was awash with Bones. We had days that were excellent, others where we could see fish at every turn but which proved difficult to deceive and one day where the wind blew and the rain poured. With such vast expanses of water at their disposal the guides had no hesitation in going mobile which entails burning gas and chasing the good light on cloudy days.
Alongside the Bonefishing there are places where you can find Tarpon in permanent residence although they seemed to be immune to most flies that were presented in their direction. Small, medium and large Barracuda are liberally scattered around the flats and having a 9-10 wt fly rod rigged with a wire trace and a suitable fly should be a prerequisite. As often as not they are oblivious to anything presented to them, but when they are on the look out they will launch at a fly with frightening speed. If you are bored and do not mind losing a fly or five a casual cast with a Bonefish fly can yield an interesting tussle. Various blue holes are scattered around the bight and these as well as the deeper channels are great places to see what you can dredge up with a plug or some bait. On one such day a very substantial shark chomped his way through 2 ½ Barracuda, several wire traces and the biggest hooks that were available at short notice from Farlows in London!
Our follow on Bahamas lodge inspection was to Bairs Lodge, situated further south on the eastern coastline of South Andros. To the west and south of Bairs Lodge South Andros disintegrates into a fiendish maze of channels and flats with innumerable waterways and inland lagoons. The scope of the water available to fish is enormous and to the untrained eye quite bewildering. Bairs Lodge is operated by Nervous Waters who have a trademark standard of high quality fishing lodges with good accommodation and service. Bairs lodge does not disappoint. To try and benchmark the lodge on a comfort scale, it sits in-between the well-run but very focused Andros South fishing lodge and the upper end luxury afforded by Tiamo. Whilst Tiamo is more focused on couples, Bairs is a perfect lodge for a pair of fishing buddies who want a mixture of good quality lodging and the excellent fishing that is universally on offer at South Andros.
To revert back to my original concerns about being over Bonefished I can categorically say that by day seven my appetite was not just whetted but ravenous for more. To land a large Bonefish will require much more than a well-presented fly. A 10lb Bonefish is wise with age and requires from the angler the ability to really anticipate and understand its feeding techniques. Presentation that will fool a 7lb fish may be dismissed without hesitation by a double. The relatively strong and surprisingly cool winds of the previous week subsided and our final 2 days were close to perfect. One could see with enough clarity to pick out the larger fish amongst the shoals and really target the big-uns. If a smaller fish took the fly it would be given no quarter and unceremoniously hauled out of the way.
Could I break the 10lb mark? - not a chance although the opportunities did present themselves. Along the way we tangled with Sharks, had fantastic fun with Barracuda, watched dolphins play in front of the bows of the skiffs and saw a Tarpon so big there were concerns over the boat being flipped. The Bahamas may be where the whole Bonefishing thing really took off but if there are any doubts that it now trails behind even more far-flung and exotic destination’s take a trip to South Andros and lap up some of the Bahamian charm.
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Ask most anglers about saltwater fly-fishing, and chances are, they’ll start talking about bonefish. These sleek, silvery speedsters are the quintessential saltwater quarry, and the fish that got the whole thing started back in 1924, when Holmes Allen caught the first bonefish on fly. I’ve got a bit of an admission ...