- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
For most anglers, Bahamian bonefishing means whisper thin water, silent approaches and nerve-racking casts to high-strung fish with their tails breaking the surface. Definitely the norm, but for a fresh approach, try a different spin on the Bahamas’ premiere inshore species—bones on the beach.
At the end of the day, a bonefish is a bonefish: he’ll always be a nervous chap and he’ll always make a long, blistering run when hooked. That said, beaches offer the advantage of a constant sideline to help contain the fish, plus an environment in which they’re a little less spooky. In shallow backwaters, you can barely exhale without sending bones into orbit. Not that excessive noise is acceptable for the beach, but fish are noticeably more tolerant when they have instant access to the safety of deep water.
The typical Grand Bahama beach scenario finds white sandy bottoms adjacent to fertile grass beds.
One of the island nation’s best areas for such pursuits is the expansive offering of pristine beaches found along the southern shore of Grand Bahama. Stretching 96 miles in length, Grand Bahama is the third largest Bahamian island. Just 50 miles from Palm Beach, Fla., this largely undeveloped land mass offers an eclectic blend of modernized tourism flair, authentic island culture and one of the most stunning ecological experiences you’ll find anywhere in the Caribbean (see sidebar: “Island Tours.”)
Popular beaches for anglers as well as sunbathers are Xanadu, Taino, Fortune, Barbary and Gold Rock Beach. So named for its stoic limestone sentry sitting about a mile off the coast, the latter greets the mouth of Gold Rock Creek—a magnificently lush mangrove waterway where kayakers paddle through the nearby Lucayan National Park.
Coastal run-out creeks, along with larger streams like Gold Rock, combine with tidal action to carve the various troughs and sloughs. Most beach areas present a sandy bottom stretching about 50-75 yards to the grass beds. You’ll see bonefish more clearly against the sand, but also monitor the grass for fresh mud clouds created by feeding fish or the stingrays they follow. (Bonefish follow rays across the grass to pick off any crabs, shrimp or baitfish flushed out by a ray’s broad wings.)
When bonefish venture into dead-end troughs, anglers can approach them by wading
Unless bonefish are running in high visibility, right against the surf line, they appear as dark, ever-shifting masses that shatter into silver shards when disturbed. Known as the “gray ghost” for its uncanny ability to disappear before your eyes, the bonefish is less a magician than he is a master of camouflage. Essentially, the fish’s mirrorlike scales reflect its surroundings just enough for predators and anglers to lose sight of them. In a nutshell, the fish didn’t disappear, it just made a hard right turn and you didn’t see it.
Moreover, stray patches of grass often imitate bonefish pods, but only the latter moves with purpose. Nevertheless, when in doubt, make a cast. You may be pleasantly surprised when that patch of grass takes form and gobbles your bait.
Beach bonefish usually travel in groups of at least a dozen. Smaller pods and single fish (common to backwater scenarios) are rare on the beach. Bonefish occasionally venture into dead-end sloughs, where they mill about until they find the door. This is an ideal opportunity to silently slip out of the boat and into casting range. Heavy stomping sounds like thunder to bonefish, so maintain your low-profile advantage by keeping your steps light and measured.
For optimal mobility, guides run the beaches in shallow draft skiffs and switch to push poling when they reach a promising area. Stanley Glinton, head guide at North Riding Point Club on Grand Bahamas’ northeast end, prefers a pole made of hand-finished Bahamian Pine. A beautiful tool, it’s also a practical thing.
“This pole won’t snap like graphite and throw me over the bow,” he said.
For optimal stealth, guides pole anglers along the beach in shallow-draft skiffs.
Glinton and other guides specialize in fly-fishing and many tie their own area-specific patterns. Sinking tip lines with weighted shrimp and crab imitators match the bonefish diet, but Clousers seldom fail. If fly-fishing doesn’t suit you, fresh shrimp or conch fished on medium-action, 7-foot spinning rods with 6- to 8-pound monofilament and 1/0-2/0 bait hooks is the reliable standby.
Just make sure the bait remains threaded over the hook’s shank. If it bunches around the bend, you’ll get an awkward spin that impairs casting. Pinch off the shrimp’s tail and run the hook into the soft flesh. Slide the shrimp along the hook and bring the point out midway through the tail. For a more secure fit and better castability in windy conditions, insert the hook about a quarter inch into the tail, bring the point out, turn the hook inward and reinsert the point into the tail. Thus arranged, the bait becomes weedless—a big help when casting to fish in the grass.
Biggest key for casting is to always respect a bonefish’s personal space. With bait, Glinton says it’s best to drop the offering 30 feet or so in front of a moving school and hop it a few times just before the fish arrive. Cast too close and the noise will spook your quarry. For stationary, or “milling” fish, he advises casting across the school and gently easing the bait into their midst. Flies are less intrusive, so you can aim closer to the fish, but avoid dragging the larger line across the bones or they’re history.
Round bucktail jigs with yellow or white skirts also work well, as do jigs with a flattened, slightly concave head designed to skim the bottom like a crab scurrying for cover. Short hops with more of a scooting retrieve usually draw bonefish attention. Jigs can be a noisy presentation, so lead the school and work the lure as the fish approach.
Take time to thoroughly revive a tired fish before release.
“Jigs will work if you throw them 60 feet in front of the fish and let them come to it,” Glinton said. “But if you throw 20 feet in front of them, they’ll jump all the way back to Freeport (the inland capital of Grand Bahama).”
Whatever you throw, passing fish often bump into your line and that feels a lot like nibbling. But when a bonefish locates chow, feeding competition necessitates a quick gobble, so you’ll know when it’s showtime. Keep the rod tip high and let the fish run, but stay alert, as a hooked bone will find any rock, shell or sea fan in the neighborhood.
Bahamian bonefishing is good year-around, but beach fishing is even more applicable in the winter months because the fish are closer to deep, warm water, as opposed to the backwater shallows, which are prone to greater temperature fluctuations. Basically, the fish can just lay in the deep grass beds in 10- to 15-foot depths during the night and move up to feed near the beach as the rising sun warms the surf. Fish have to eat—anglers just have to find the scenario that works for them.
A couple of considerations for beach fishing:
• Close proximity to sunbathers and folks strolling the shore means a lot of attention for anglers fighting fish. After the hookup, noise matters little; before the hookup, stealth rules. Innocent as it may be, someone wading out to ask you what you’re looking at will scatter the fish you’ve spent 20 minutes stalking. You’ll be wise to avoid busy beaches and keep a nonchalant posture with no pointing.
• Bonefish will fight to exhaustion, so spend plenty of time reviving your catch prior to release. Support the fish under its tail and head as you move it back and forth to flush oxygen-rich water over its gills. Bahamian beaches attract sharks and barracuda, which prey on weakened bonefish. Give your fish a fighting chance and maybe you’ll see it again on your next beach trip. That is, until it disappears before your eyes.
Sidebar: “Island Tours”
Complement Grand Bahama fishing trips with a look at some of the island’s stunning natural facets. Kayak Nature Tours, Ltd. offers hiking, biking and kayak ecotours through magnificent areas such as Lucayan National Park, Rand Memorial Nature Center and Peterson Cay (the Bahamas’ smallest national park). Knowledgeable tour guides will share island history ranging from ancient Lucayan Indian culture to contemporary developments, while pointing out native flora and fauna. In a day trip you’ll see bay marigolds, dancing lady orchids and West Indian cedars, as well as the curious curl-tailed lizard and various bird life (including 18 of the 28 species endemic to the Bahamas). For shopping, dining and entertainment, visit Freeport’s International Bazaar and Port Lucaya.
Located about 50 miles east of Palm Beach, Grand Bahama is a Bahamian port of entry, so once you clear customs and immigration, you can travel throughout the rest of the island chain. American Eagle, Continental and Gulfstream access Freeport International Airport from West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. For Grand Bahama information, visit www.grand-bahama.com.