Best Bahamas Bonefish Lodges by Field & Stream's John Merwin

The Bahamas areto bonefishing what Montana is to trout. There are other good places to catchsuch fish, but each has the best of its genre—and not just in size and numbersof fish. As Montana's big sky, rugged mountains, and fertile waters all set thestandard for trout fishing, so does the experience of Bahamian bonefishingdefine the sport, from the rich pastels of the landscape to the soft accentsspoken by local guides to the white sand along shallow flats that stretch tothe horizon. It is all pure magic.

It's also closerthan you think. Bimini, the westernmost Bahamian island, is a scant 50 mileseast of Palm Beach, Florida. The rest of the island chain stretches roughly 400miles farther south and east to Great Inagua. Within that Caribbean realm aretwo Bahamas. The first and best known is driven by casino glitz and cruiseships centering around cities such as Nassau and Freeport. The best and lesserknown are the Out Islands, places where tourism is less obnoxious, where thebonefish is king, and where you can still find glistening beaches without humantracks.

THE SKINNY ONFISHING

There are twodifferences between bonefishing here and in Florida. First, many South Floridaflats are soft-bottomed and difficult to wade. Most Bahamian flats, on theother hand, are hard-bottomed and afford easy wading. Second, Florida bonefishare intensely pressured, which means wary, skittish, and fussy fish. Many areasof the Bahamas are less pressured and have stupider bonefish that are easier tocatch. Not that Bahamian fish are pushovers, but some of them can be.

The cost ofguided fishing in both areas is about $300 to $400 per day for a guide and ahigh-end bonefish skiff. The days when you could find an old-time Bahamianguide with an accent thicker than the hull on his ancient wooden skiff are justabout over. So are the old bargain rates. I do miss the old guys with whom Ifished almost 30 years ago, but the new kids are awfully good at what theydo.

Unless you're awell-traveled Bahamas veteran, there are two rules to follow. First, go to awell-established lodge. Second, use a reputable U.S. sporting-travel agency tomake your bookings. Some bonefishing operations seem to come and go with theseasons because, to many Bahamians, the lodge business looks like a deceptivelyeasy buck. You're not going to know ahead of time which owner just gotdivorced, which one just put his operation up for sale, or from which lodge themanager just left in a huff, to give a few examples of problems I'veencountered. Good sporting-travel agencies (see sidebar) keep tabs on thesethings and will steer you clear of them.

GETTING THERE

You also need toknow that air travel to, from, and within the Bahamas can be problematic. Withthe right airlines and flight schedules, travel can be an economical breeze.Unfortunately, things aren't always right. BahamasAir, the national airline,has numerous flights to and from the U.S. mainland and among the Out Islands.Their staff has always been nice, but the airline has the worst adherence toschedules I've ever encountered.

Nassau is theairline hub to the Out Islands, and dozens of flights from the United Statesarrive there daily. No matter where you're coming from, it's easier to gothrough Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach, Florida, than Miami. You canarrange private charters (economical for groups of four or more) to and fromthe Out Island of your choice from either airport. You can also fly direct viaContinental/Gulfstream (continental.com) to several Out Islands and skip thehassle of changing planes in Nassau. If you do need to connect eastward fromNassau, I've had luck with Western Air Bahamas (westernairbahamas.com) inaddition to Continental. Make sure your flight schedule conforms to your lodgebooking dates, and allow a three-hour minimum layover for connections.

CAMPS TOCONSIDER

The Out Islandbonefish camps I've visited over the years have all offered bonefishing inideal surroundings. Here's a look at five of the top lodges.

DEEP WATER CAYCLUB GRAND BAHAMA: One of the oldestBahamian bonefishing lodges, Deep Water Cay Club (DWCC) is still among thebest. It was founded in 1958 by Gil Drake Sr., with considerable help from A.J.McClane, FIELD & STREAM's late, great fishing editor who often wrote aboutbonefishing on the area's 200 square miles of flats. It was here that I took myfirst bonefish decades ago, with McClane himself in the skiff to show me theropes.

The club has itsown 4,200-foot runway and is easy to reach either by direct charter flight fromFort Lauderdale (arranged by DWCC) or by international airline to Freeport,followed by an hour's taxi drive. The fishing is excellent for bonefishaveraging 4 to 6 pounds; the camp record is a 14-pounder. The lodge is on theeastern end of Grand Bahama Island, which is bisected by a number of creeks andchannels. By moving from one side of the island to the other during a day'sfishing, it's possible to fish favorable tides all day long.

Lodging, meals,and amenities are all top-of-the-line, with the club being managed by the U.S.-based Greenbrier Resort Co. Tennis courts and sporting clays are available.Fishing packages are among the most expensive in the Bahamas. A four-night,three-and-a-half-day guided fishing session goes for $2,900 per person based ondouble occupancy. Memberships with benefits are available, but nonmembers arewelcome as well. Contact the DWCC reservation office at 912-756-7071;deepwatercay.com.

ANDROS ISLANDBONEFISH CLUB ANDROS ISLAND: About 150 milessoutheast of Miami, Andros is the largest and least inhabited island in theBahamas. It has more fishable flats than anywhere else in the Caribbean andalso has the greatest number of good lodges. The island and its flats are sovast that I've rarely seen boats from competing lodges while fishing. It istruly the epicenter of Bahamian bonefishing.

Rupert Leadon'sAndros Island Bonefish Club (AIBC) is a classic, hardcore, yet comfortablebone- fishing lodge, which he opened in 1988. Located at the northeast cornerof the North Bight, AIBC has access to both sides of the island. It's an easyboat run to the vast and underfished flats on the remote west side.

I fished withseveral young guides here a couple of years ago, all of whom were excellent.It's no accident that many had Leadon as a last name; old Rupert can be calledthe modern father of Andros' bonefishing in more ways than one. His knowledgeof bonefishing is encyclopedic. Get him telling stories in the lodge's barafter dinner, and it will be a highlight of your trip.

Fishing packagesare moderately priced. A typical four-night, three-day guided fishing sessionruns $1,640 based on double occupancy. Most anglers reach AIBC by flying toNassau and then taking Western Air Bahamas for a 15-minute hop over to AndrosTown, where the lodge arranges for taxi transport. AIBC is widely representedby sporting- travel agents.

MANGROVE CAYCLUB ANDROS ISLAND: Located near theeastern end of Andros' Middle Bight, the newly renovated Mangrove Cay Cluboffers guided fishing access to the South and Middle Bights as well as Andros'legendary west side. Shackleton International is a new partner here, one thatinvests heavily in deluxe sporting resorts worldwide. Visiting anglers are thusassured of top-notch food, lodging, guides, and equipment, albeit with pricesto match.

One of the thingsthat makes Andros' bonefishing so appealing is the daily option of choosingbetween large numbers of smaller bones or small numbers of big ones. Some flatshold huge schools of 3- to 5-pounders that are often caught easily. Other,usually deeper flats will show bones appearing as singles or in twos or threesthat will weigh from 6 to as much as 15 pounds. This is the place for trophies.Just tell your guide what you'd like to fish for when you start off in themorning. If you're gunning for big bonefish, be sure to carry tan-over-whiteClouser Deep Minnow flies that will sink fast enough to reach down on deeperflats.

Reach the lodgeby connecting through Nassau to the Mangrove Cay Airport via Western AirBahamas. A four-night, three-day fishing package costs $2,260 per person basedon double occupancy. Mangrove Cay Club is covered by several sporting-travelagents, or see shackletoninternational.com/mcc.

PETE & GAYGUEST HOUSE ABACO: When lodge ownerStanley White met me at the Marsh Harbour, Abaco, airport, he had a couple ofcold Kaliks (Bahamian beer) in hand. I knew immediately I was in the rightplace. Abaco is a collection of closely knit islands in the eastern Bahamasabout 200 miles from Florida. White's Pete & Gay Guest House (named afterhis parents) is at Sandy Point on Abaco's southern end. This little fishingvillage is unsullied by tourism, and the lodge is reminiscent of the oldBahamas.

When I was therelast February, an intense cold front and unrelenting high winds prohibited boatrides to more productive outlying cays or even to the fabled Marls region about45 minutes north. Despite this, F&S colleague Nate Matthews and I managedplenty of bones on flats that were close to the lodge.

White'sguesthouse offers basic, motel-like accommodations. Everything is clean, thefood is good, and the bar is well stocked. Fishing packages are a bargain, withfour nights and three days of guided fishing going for $1,460 based on doubleoccupancy. Continental/Gulfstream flies to and from Marsh Harbour via Nassau.Contact Angler Adventures, 800-628-1447; angleradventures.com.

GREY'S POINTBONEFISH INN ACKLINS ISLAND: For another sliceof the real Bahamas, check out Acklins Island, 225 miles east and south ofNassau. This is in the island chain's southern reaches, which means it's lessaffected by cold fronts than islands farther north and west.

Your connectingflight to Acklins (BahamasAir from Nassau) will almost certainly be late.Telephone service is erratic, and rental cars are anybody's guess. These areall good reasons to go, because spotty services mean limited tourism and alandscape that's still relatively pristine. A short boat ride from Grey's PointInn at the island's northeastern corner can put you on either the easternocean-side flats, noted for big bonefish, or on the western bay-side flats thatare more extensive.

The lodge isBahamian-owned by Newton Williamson, a former commercial fisherman, and run byhis son, Garon, and daughter-in-law, Lavanda. It takes up to eight anglers on aSaturday to Saturday schedule. The cost is $2,650 per person, double occupancy,which isn't bad considering the remoteness of the location. Of all the lodgesI've mentioned, this one is a real sleeper. Check with Angler Adventures fordetails, or see greyspointbonefishinn.com.

TRAVEL AGENCIES

Among the many sporting-travel agencies I'm familiarwith, Angler Adventures in Connecticut has the greatest variety of Bahamianbonefishing options (800-628-1447; angleradventures.com). Others worth checkinginclude the Fly Shop (800-669-3474; flyfishingtravel.com) and FishingInternational (800-950-4242; fishinginternational.com), both in California,along with Pennsylvania-based Frontiers Travel (800-245-1950;frontierstravel.com).