Bones on a Budget.
I spent a few years messing around with the fly rod when I was younger, mainly casting Bett's poppers at bass and bream in the lily pads – nothing too serious.
My real addiction to the fly rod came about 12 years ago when my wife purchased an 8wt fly rod for me. I doubt she knew what she was getting into... Because I’ve been ruined ever since.
Completely enthralled with my new pastime, I soaked up as much information as possible, much of it fueled by saltwater fly fishing magazines.
Although our local Carolina species got some love in those magazines, most of the articles were dedicated to the magnificent three: Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish.
They were the glamour species, and they were etched in at the top of my bucket list.
I’ve been lucky enough to scratch the Silver King off the list a few years ago.
Permit, well… I’ve seen them, cast to a few, and I’m sure I'll eventually catch one and it will be complete dumb luck.
Bonefish, on the other hand, seemed like more of an attainable goal – I just needed to get to them.
Authors Note: At the time of my first trip to the Bahamas, bonefishing in the Florida Keys had been very poor for several years. Guides and Biologists have differing opinions on why the bonefish disappeared. Unfortunately, the Keys were not an option at that time due to the lack of bonefish. Since then, there has been a very promising recovery to the South Florida Bonefishery. This year has been exceptional, and I personally had a fantastic experience fishing them on foot this month. If this trend continues, the Keys will again be a fantastic option for bonefish on your own.
I realized that to really have a great bonefish experience, I needed to get to the bonefish capital of the world… The Bahamas.
Fast forward several years and I finally decided that there were no more excuses – it was time to scratch the Bonefish/Bahamas goal off of the list. I spent a lot of time researching a DIY vacation for my wife and me in the Bahamas.
After a lot of thought, I settled on doing a trip to Grand Bahama Island.
My goal was to get the best experience possible for the lowest price – two things that don’t often go hand in hand. I started pricing flights to the Bahamas from North Carolina and looked into driving to Fort Lauderdale, Florida and taking a hopper flight over.
Ultimately, I came across a ferry service that runs people from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport Grand Bahama at a really good price.
We rented an apartment off of VRBO and reserved a rental car on the Island. Once everything was set, I jumped into researching DIY bonefishing opportunities and looked into fishing with a local guide for a day.
This trip to the Bahamas helped me realize how attainable it was, even though I had put it off for many years because I thought it was out of my price range.
We returned the following year and now the Bahamas has made it to the top of my list for DIY fishing vacations.
I’m learning more each time I visit, but I’d like to share a few thoughts with anyone who has considered scratching it off their bucket list.
1. Google before you go.
Try to do as much research as possible before you go.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend months thinking about your upcoming trip, so you might as well use that time to gain as much info as you can.
Put a Bahamas folder on your computer and drop in any articles, forum links and maps worth saving.
The first decision to make is where you want to go on your DIY trip. There are 700 islands in the Bahamas with 30 of them being inhabited. Each of these islands is unique, so do your research and figure out which one works best for you.
Some are well inhabited with plenty of restaurants and shopping if you want to bring your family. Some are very isolated with only few locals and even less tourists. Some are known for miles of flats covered with bonefish and some are known for swimming beaches and casinos. Some are easy to fly straight into and some require a little more work to access.
All of my trips have been to Grand Bahama Island.
You can easily fly from most airports, or take a ferry from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport. Grand Bahama has a nice mixture of shops and restaurants along with some good DIY fishing spots, so you can keep your family entertained and still slip away to chase bonefish on foot.
Once you’ve chosen your DIY location, you should put some time in researching fishing spots. I’ve spent hours upon hours searching Google, and using the search function on fishing forums to get hints on where people have had luck on their trips. Don’t be afraid to send a private message or two and ask forum members if they’ll throw you a bone and help you with some locations.
One of the first websites you’ll come across is run by a DIY Bonefish expert named Rod Hamilton. If you like the info he shares on his website, you should really consider purchasing his book, "Do It Yourself Bonefishing", as it is packed with DIY spots for most of the Bahamian Islands.
Google Earth is your friend. Look around the beach areas for shallow wadeable flats. I’ve had good luck finding schools of bonefish along sandy beaches and flats on an incoming tide.
Don’t overlook silty mangrove flats, some of my best tailing bonefish were found around mangrove flats on either side of low tide.
Speaking of tides, go ahead and get a copy of the tides for the island you will be visiting. Keep in mind that the tides can vary greatly from spot to spot around the island. Save it to your phone or print out your tide info, along with maps, beach names, street names, etc.
You can forget using your data plan in the Bahamas unless you want a big bill when you get home, so no Googling locations and maps while wading the flats.
2. Pack light, pack right.
Make sure you pack all the essentials and a few backups. I don’t know of any fly shops in the Bahamas, so a broken piece of gear can mean disaster when you are on vacation in another country.
Bring a pair of bonefish rods, either 7 or 8wts and a reel for each rod. My personal preference are medium fast or fast action 9ft 4pc rods with large arbor reels with sealed drags. I’d also recommend carrying a bigger rod, maybe a 10wt, to play with the numerous sharks and barracuda you will see on the flats. Don’t be a bonefish snob, you know you secretly want to catch a big ‘cuda or shark too.
Invest in a large multi-rod hard tube that can hold 3-4 rods, so that you don’t have to be hassled with carrying 4 separate rod tubes through the airport.
Make sure you have a backup floating line and some extra leaders and leader tying material.
My current favorite line for everything from tailing redfish to bonefish to tarpon is the Scientific Anglers Mastery Grand Slam series of line. It can handle everything from close shots at reds with big bulky flies to long accurate shots at bonefish with small shrimp patterns. I usually take a spool of 30lb, 25lb, 20lb, 16lb and 12lb mono, along with fluorocarbon in 30lb, 16lb and 12lb.
I’ve had success tying my leaders about 12ft long with 12lb fluorocarbon tippet. If I’m fishing around coral or rocks, or I’m getting broke off, I’ll bump up to 16lb fluorocarbon.
A decent pair of pliers/cutters is also essential.
Carry a good pair of polarized sunglasses in brown, copper, or rose, and I’d really recommend having a backup pair as well. There are a variety of fantastic glasses out there, and I’ve tried several, but I’m a full-on believer in the quality of Smith Optics. My current pair of “can’t live without” shades for sight fishing are the Smith Guide’s Choice frames with the Chromapop Ignitor lenses.
A waist pack or sling pack is useful to stuff all of your gear and a couple frozen Gatorades/waters in.
Bring a good pair of neoprene wading boots even if you only plan on wading sandy areas. I’ve gotten several years out of my Simms neoprene flats boots. Bring a good pair of neoprene wading boots even if you only plan on wading sandy areas. I’ve gotten several years out of my Simms neoprene flats boots. The Bahamas may have white sandy beaches, but they are still islands made of rock when it comes down to it. Some of the places I’ve waded, especially the silty bottoms around mangroves are full of sharp rocks. I always carry a second pair of shoes just in case.
If you’ve never been to the tropics, trust me when I say that the sun is harsh, protect yourself accordingly. Bring your t-shirts, board shorts and flip flops but make sure you pack some clothing that offers a little more protection too. My bag is packed with baseball caps, breathable long pants, buffs, and several long sleeve performance fishing shirts from the great folks at Marsh Wear Clothing.
Fly selection is very important, enough so, that I’ll dedicate a separate section to it.
Part two of this post will cover flies, locating fish, and feeding fish...
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