A Bahamian DIY Adventure

Bonefish are so plentiful around the islands of the Bahamas, that many fly anglers choose to combine do-it-yourself fishing with a day or more of guided trips.

On The Fly Saltwater

October 2021

By Polly Dean

Photos by Jimmy Jacobs

Anglers, especially fly fishermen targeting bonefish have discovered how welcoming and easy it is to visit the lesser known Out Islands of the Bahamas. Mangrove Cay, tucked in between North and South Andros Islands, is one of those locations. Being on an island located within other islands, I quickly learned that this unique geographic feature enables fishermen options for avoiding the wind, a nemesis of saltwater fly anglers.

Swain’s Cay is a lodge located on the eastern edge of Mangrove Cay. They cater to fly fishermen, offering comfortable accommodations and mouth-watering Bahamian cuisine. They have access to reliable fishing guides that know the local waters and where and how to catch bonefish, often referred to the grey ghosts of the flats.

Native Bahamian Cheryl Bastian is the proprietor of Swain’s Cay. A savvy business-woman with a warm, friendly staff, she knows how to make guests feel welcome, while enjoying what the Bahamian islands have to offer for a truly authentic getaway. Located on the beach, Swain’s Cay Reefside Restaurant and Bar is the place to unwind, tell fish stories and enjoy true Bahamian hospitality after a day on the water. Cheryl may even have some island music, cocktails and dancing in the sand for immersing visitors in the festive atmosphere.

The author watching the channels for cruising bones.

No matter how many times I’ve fished for a species, I generally find it helpful, if not necessary for success, to book a local guide for the first day or two. I learn what the fish are feeding on at the time of my visit and am often reminded or even learn a new technique that will greatly increase my chance of success. Of course, fine tuning my selection of flies can mean the difference between enticing a bonefish, or it turning away for some other morsal. If I’m going to spend the money and take the time to travel to a destination, I’m going to do what I can to increase my chances of hooking up.

The pattern, color and size of fly to use is almost always information that anglers seek, but I’ve learned through failed trips, that it can be another factor that often makes the difference in a hook-up or not. One example of a this, is that I found myself wading for bonefish on another island in the Bahamas. I was even seeing fish, but had failed to hook into any. I discovered after booking a guide on another trip to the same location that I simply, but importantly, had not allowed my fly to sink before stripping it. The fish was never seeing my fly!

All this said, and though Swain’s Cay does have access to the best guides in the region, it is most rewarding to find success by venturing out on my own, and using my recent experience as a resource. There isn’t much better than enticing a bonefish to eat on my own and then enjoying the searing run that follows. I savor spotting, enticing, then raising my rod high for the excitement to follow as the reel screams, and finally bringing the fish to hand to release for a new fight another time. That is the ultimate satisfaction for me.

Polly Dean with a Swain’s Cay bonefish.

Just off the beach of Swain’s Cay Resort, it is quite wadeable at low tide. Kayaks are available if desired for easier access when the tide is higher. There is a small island, actually a string of smaller rock isles, a short distance away. Bonefish are frequently seen in that vicinity on the white sand flats surrounding the islands or within the gaps between them. It is easy to spot the channels where fish are most likely to enter and leave the flats.

During our short time wading this area, these likely channels did turn out to be the routes used by bonefish and where my fishing partner and I found success in sighting and hooking into fish. When spotting a bonefish, the best technique is to calculate the direction and speed they are moving, and to drop the fly a few feet ahead in its path. You want your strips to move the fly away from your target. Pullin a fly toward it is unrealistic, because forage doesn’t chase predators! Try to avoid shuffling or moving your feet, and keeping casting motions, or false-casting minimal so as to not spook these wary fish. Try flies with smaller and lighter eyes if the bonefish tend to spook when your fly hits the water.

High tide made spotting the bonefish much tougher.

During the various stages of the tide, it was still obvious where the access channels were, but the wading is more of a challenge at higher levels. It’s also more difficult to spot the fish. We did find that the DIY wade-fishing at Swain’s Cay was more feasible at low tide.

For details and rates, visit the resort’s website. Swain’s Cay is well suited for planning individual, couples or even group trips.