With the nearest isles only 50 miles from Florida, it is no secret that the Islands of the Bahama are an angler’s dream destination. But even with this chain of islands so near, many anglers don’t realize how welcoming and accessible they are.
On The Fly Saltwater
By Polly Dean
Photos by Jimmy Jacobs
With more than 100,000 square miles of sea surrounding the chain of 700 islands known as the Bahamas, it is no wonder that just about any type of saltwater flats fishing is available.
Home to some of the finest bonefish habitat in the world, this is what draws a number of fishermen to these islands. Gin-clear water combined with miles and miles of white hard-bottom flats offer sight-fisherman unending opportunity for pursuing the “gray ghosts” of the flats. Throwing in the elusive permit, along with tarpon, snook and cobia makes the mix even better.
The primary draw for flats anglers is bonefish, known for their line-shearing runs. But with barracuda and permit sharing the flats, anglers have a variety of options. This type of sight-fishing in shallow water is ideal for fly-fishermen.
Booking a guide is the best option for a successful fishing trip. Bahamian guides are known for being the best in the business, with many becoming favorites with U.S. anglers who return time after time to fish with their preferred guide.
Members of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism have coordinated efforts with lodge-owners, businesses and guides throughout the entire chain of islands to better welcome fly fishers and their families, providing a top-notch experience for all. Campaigns such as Go Fish Bahamas and MyOutIslands.com help to unite, educate and work with lodge owners in attracting more visitors from the U.S. and beyond. Local business owners learn that the impact from any lodge, whether it is theirs or a competitor’s, affects the entire community in a positive way.
Cheryl Bastian is one such native Bahamian and lodge owner who understands and promotes these principles through her active involvement with the Out Islands organization and Ministry of Tourism. If you’ve been to any major fly-fishing shows in the Eastern United States, you’ve probably met Ms. Bastian behind the table at the Bahamas Islands booth. An ambassador for the Out Islands and a keen business-woman, you may even learn that she owns and manages Swain’s Cay Lodge, a popular fishing resort on Mangrove Cay. Bastian is usually busy promoting Bahamian destinations as a whole.
Fully understanding the importance of tourism to her native islands, Bastian joins forces with persons such as Tarran Simms who was brought onboard by the Minister of Tourism to work with the Fly Fishing Economic Empowerment Program. Enthused about the project, Simms brings to the program a background in Small Island Sustainability, while also having degrees in Tourism and Hospitality Management, and Climate Change.
“The program was created for several reasons,” Simms said. “One, to produce more guides, because we saw there was a big demand for them. Through the program we develop a sustainable curriculum for our fly fishing guides, so as the industry grows, we can stay sustainable with it. The program teaches how to properly handle the fish, how to establish a fishing business, and about the biology of the flats. This gives more value to their guiding product.” The guide program was piloted on Andros Island with 22 guides in the school this year. “Our hope is that all guides will be trained and certified so that our flats will be protected for generations to come,” Simms added..
Importance of Fly Fishermen
“When you look at fly fishing in the Bahamas it is a tourism sector that is predominately run by Bahamians for Bahamians. And when you look at our economy, a lot of Bahamians have made their living off of fly fishing,” Simms said.
The purchasing power and economic impact of fly fishermen to the islands is great. Accounting for only 4 percent of all arrivals into the Bahamas, fly fishermen provide 12 percent of overall expenditures, with a contribution of $273 million a year.
Compared to other type of tourists, fly fishermen often have greater discretionary income to spend on the islands while leaving a smaller footprint. Fly fishermen have the least negative impact on fragile environments. The economic and ecological sustainability of this sector of tourism is recognized by the Bahamian government and promoted throughout the islands to local businesses and lodge-owners.
Even as recent as just a few years, the cost of traveling to the Bahamas had been expensive and getting around in the country a little confusing, especially if wanting to visit the lesser known islands. These deterring factors have been recognized and the Bahamian Ministry of Tourism has come a long way in addressing the problem. Today the most difficult aspect of visiting the Bahamas is deciding where to go.
Travelers have multiple options for direct flights to several locations in the Bahamas. Those are provided from around the U.S. southeast to both Nassau and Freeport. But there are also direct connections to some Out Islands from Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville and Orlando in Florida. Flying out of Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Makers Air is a great option for getting to the Bahamas, as well as traveling within the chain of isles.
If considering an island destination that requires an additional shuttle to reach, do not be deterred. There are numerous services out of Nassau and Freeport that will fit your itinerary and budget. If a particular island catches your eye, hopping on that additional puddle-jumper is easy and part of the fun. Again, the Bahamas Tourism Department wants you to visit all of their unique islands and lodges, and provides incentives to do so. Depending on a few variables such as the length of your stay (usually four or more nights), it is likely that you will see offers discounted or free shuttles to be included.
If you have not fished in the Bahamas in the last few years, you may not realize that “personal angler licenses” are now required for fishermen 12 years and older. Licenses are reasonably priced at $15 for the day, $20 for a week, $30 for one month or $60 for a year. All of these also have a 12 percent VAT tax added on. These permits are for “flats fishing” in up to 6 feet of water for bonefish, tarpon, cobia, snook or permit.
One of the most important changes made lately is that these licenses are now available online and can be purchased prior to arrival in the islands. Check out the site for purchasing them.
The bottom line is, the Islands of the Bahamas are a wonderland for fly fishers and it has gotten a lot easier to access that fishing,