The island of Abaco stands as one of the most productive bonefish fisheries in The Bahamas and the Western Hemisphere. A short flight from Nassau, this inviting island offers stunning tropical views, welcoming locals, and all the amenities you might desire.
Yellow Dog considers Abaco a fantastic option for committed anglers, couples, and families looking to enjoy The Bahamas. Crystalline flats, tailing bonefish, and ice-cold Kaliks are a few reasons we love Abaco, in no specific order.
Geography of Abaco
Located east of Grand Bahama, Abaco comprises Little Abaco in the north and Great Abaco in the south. Dozens of cays along the eastern side make up a series of barrier islands and are a destination for anglers and boaters alike. Mangroves, white-sand beaches, and endless views of opaline water are a mainstay across all of Abaco’s cays.
Walker’s Cay, the northernmost of the Abaco cays, is the inspiration behind the famed television series Walker’s Cay Chronicles with legendary angler Flip Pallot. Long considered a bonefisher’s paradise, the island’s geography was greatly impacted by a hurricane in 2004.
Spanish Cay, Man-O-War Cay, Great Guana Cay, and Green Turtle Cay are a few of the more popular inhabited cays of Abaco, each with its own personality and allure.
Marsh Harbour, located roughly at the center of Abaco, is the third largest city in The Bahamas. A focal point for both tourists and anglers, Marsh Harbour offers easy access to both Treasure Cay in the north and the numerous settlements to the south.
The western portion of Abaco is home to one of the most prolific bonefisheries in The Bahamas: The Marls. Three hundred square miles of winding mangrove cays, expansive flats, and uninhabited islets make up some of the most pristine bonefishing habitats in The Bahamas. A short skiff ride from the mainland of Great Abaco, The Marls are easily accessible and should be on every angler’s bucket list.
The small settlements of Cherokee, Casuarina, and Sandy Point in the south of Great Abaco are all a must-see, with quiet, isolated beaches and challenging home flats.
Fly Fishing Abaco
Cooper’s Town, Cherokee Sound, Casuarina, and Sandy Point all offer fantastic hard-bottomed flats for the wading angler. Wise bonefish mean anglers should make delicate presentations, limit false casts, and set the hook with a smooth hook set. The fish on these flats are far trickier than their counterparts in The Marls due to fishing pressure over the years. Fish can range from two to ten pounds, with the average fish weighing between three and five pounds. Fishing in these areas is tidal dependent, so anglers should do their research before venturing out on the flats.
Spotting bonefish takes a trained eye, and working with a lodge operation will ensure anglers more success. The “Ghost of the Flats” is specially camouflaged to reflect the habitat around it, whether turtle grass, white sand, or coral bottoms. With time on the water and a good guide, anglers can quickly improve their spotting abilities.
The Marls is one of the finest bonefishing destinations in all of The Bahamas. The fish are abundant, cooperative, and offer an array of angling scenarios. Tailing fish, cruising singles, and schools in the hundreds are all common. Letting your guide know your skill level, expectations, and preferences will help ensure you target the scenario best suited for you.
Primarily soft bottom, fishing is done from a skiff in The Marls, allowing anglers to cover a lot of ground. In addition, your guide can change locations to ensure you are always fishing as the tide moves in or out. As the tide fills in, bonefish follow prey into the mangroves and seek refuge from predators such as barracuda and sharks. Finding these fish isn’t difficult, but good luck landing one! Fishing with a guide means a short run to find shallower water and more accessible fish.
Safely navigating The Marls requires a high level of experience and local knowledge. An angler’s first venture into this area will feel like stepping into the past, offering absolute solitude only occasionally interrupted by an Anhinga rustling in the mangroves or a barracuda crashing bait. It is common to leave the mainland and not see another angler for the entirety of the day.
While permit and tarpon are less common in Abaco than in Andros and Grand Bahama, they are found occasionally. With The Marls close to deeper water, it isn’t uncommon to find permit cruising the flats, working the deeper channels, or buddied up with a mudding ray. While not the primary reason to visit, the permit in Abaco can be quite large. If an angler is looking to complete a slam after catching a bonefish and permit, the numerous blue holes around Abaco are their best bet during the warmer months.
In addition, barracuda and sharks are common on the flats, meaning anglers should be prepared with a tube fly or a streamer pattern attached to a wire tippet. Mutton snapper, one of the most prized fish in all of The Bahamas and beyond, can sometimes be found cruising the flats and will readily take a well-presented fly.
How to get there
Most travel to Abaco is through Nassau International Airport, however, there are some direct flights to Marsh Harbour from Charlotte, Atlanta, and Miami. Treasure Cay and Marsh Harbour offer regular flights to the other Bahamian islands and ferry services for easy transport between islands. Little Abaco in the north and Sandy Point in the south have regular ferry services.
Located along the banks of The Marls, Abaco Lodge established itself as one of the premier bonefishing and lodge operations in The Bahamas. With unprecedented access to eager and willing bonefish, the lodge quickly became a favorite amongst anglers for its accessibility, amenities, and stellar fishing. However, in 2019, the eye of Hurricane Dorian passed over the lodge, laying waste to what so many had worked to rebuild. Shortly thereafter, a global pandemic stalled any plans to rebuild.
In late 2022, the lodge announced it would be operational again, rebuilding from the ground up to provide an even better fishing and lodging experience over three years later. The lodge is accepting its first clients back in early 2023, eager to show new guests and remind returning anglers why Abaco is one of the finest locations in the Western Hemisphere for saltwater fly fishing.
gear and flies for Abaco
The most common setup for bonefishing is a 9-foot, 8-weight with a floating line. At times, during windy conditions, a 9-weight is useful, while a 7-weight would suffice on calmer days.
For permit, a 9-foot, 9-weight with floating line is ideal, while a 10-weight would provide a good balance for resident tarpon and the larger migratory fish. A floating and intermediate line is ideal for tarpon fishing.
Jeff Currier offers some great tips for setting up your bonefish leaders, depending on the scenario and conditions.
Flies for Bonefish: Bonefish flies should primarily have bead-chain eyes, with a few heavier and unweighted flies available depending on water depth.
- Gotcha (4-8)
- Gotcha Legs (4-8)
- Crazy Charlie (4-8)
- Mantis Shrimp (4-6)
- Spawning Shrimp (4-6)
- Squimp (2-6)
- Tarpon Toad (1/0-1)
- Black Death (2/0-1)
- Clouser (2/0-1/0)
Flies for Permit: Crab and shrimp patterns in various sink rates are key, with small, medium, and heavy lead eyes. Some examples are:
- Strong-Arm Merkin (1-2)
- Raghead (2-6)
- Danger Muffin (2-4)
- Merkin (2-4)
Dorian: On September 1st, 2019, a category five hurricane, Dorian, landed on the island of Abaco and Grand Bahama. The hurricane was the strongest in recorded history in The Bahamas and decimated long-established homes, businesses, and the Bahamian landscape. The pine forests of Abaco were flattened, hundreds of homes destroyed, and towns like Marsh Harbour devastated. In the years since, Abaconians have slowly rebuilt what was lost–with the exception of the many lives lost. The combined damage and loss of revenue is well into the billions and means your trip will offer fantastic fishing and benefit the people of Abaco on their path toward recovery.
The Marls: Hands down one of the best places to target bonefish in The Bahamas and beyond. Few places can compare, with the exception of nearby Andros. Bonefish are abundant in Mexico, Belize, and Cuba, but few locations offer so many vast angling opportunities, isolation and low pressure, and the number of healthy bonefish as The Marls.
Non-Angling Options: Abaco is a fantastic location for traveling families or a couple looking to enjoy Bahamian paradise. With abundant amenities, a highway stretching across the entirety of the island, and easy access from Nassau and the United States, Abaco is a great option. Diving, sailing, and snorkeling are all abundant next to one of the largest reefs in the Western Hemisphere. Marsh Harbour, Treasure Cay, and Cherokee are all within a short driving distance of fishing The Marls.
If you’re looking for a reason to book a trip to The Bahamas, then you should consider Abaco. Give us a call at Yellow Dog to discuss your options and remove the burden of planning a vacation at no extra charge to you!
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