Written By: Daniel Zazworsky on behalf of Abaco Lodge
Great Abaco Island, a 90-mile long sliver of sand perched on a shallow shelf directly West of Grand Bahama, abounds with fishable water. Nearly every shoreline on the island holds bonefish at some point during the tide, which can be a bit overwhelming for anglers who haven’t yet established a routine here. Generally speaking, Abaco has two main fishing zones to choose from: the Marls and the ocean side. Each has its own unique populations of bonefish, and each presents a different set of challenges for visiting anglers.
The legendary Abaco Marls is an expansive 300-square-mile area of shallow flats and backwater lagoons dotted by mangroves on the island’s west side. The bottom is mostly soft mud, so this area is really only accessible via a skiff and a skilled guide. Anglers exploring the Marls are likely to encounter large groups of “schoolie” bonefish (local legends recount schools stretching all the way to the horizon), although bigger bones do make an appearance from time to time. If you’re a “numbers” angler, this is the zone for you.
Bonefish congregate in The Marls largely because the extremely shallow waters provide welcome protection against larger predators, such as sharks and dolphins, who won’t usually pursue the bones into water less than a foot deep. As the tide begins to rise, then, the bones will be eagerly awaiting the opportunity to push up onto the flats into the skinniest water possible. If you’re there early in the rising cycle, try to position yourself near the transition from deeper water to the edge of the flat, and wait for signs of movement as the fish push toward shallower water with the tide. If it’s closer to high tide, you should be scanning for signs of movement all the way up in the shallowest margins near the shore.
The Ocean Side
The ocean side of Abaco is wide open and frequently windy, dotted by hard sand bottoms and coral flats that make it much more wadable by DIY anglers. The bonefish on the ocean side are larger and more solitary, typically cruising and feeding as singles or in pairs rather than in schools. These fish tend to be spookier and pickier than their westside counterparts, and shots at them will be fewer and farther between. Therefore, this zone is best suited to more experienced anglers.
The best approach to fishing the ocean side is to find a mangrove creek you can access during the later part of the outgoing tide, and follow it eastward to the mouth. Arriving while the tide is low but still outgoing has two advantages: first, the lower water levels make it easier to spot bonefish activity, and two, these creek mouths are likely ambush points to find bonefish looking for crabs, shrimp, and small baitfish swept up in the outflow. As the tide bottoms out, the bonefish will often move off the flats and toward deeper channels or drop-offs farther from shore, so be sure to keep an eye on these transition areas as you proceed, ready to set up an ambush if the opportunity presents itself. As the water gets shallower, bones can become more skittish, so it’s especially important to be stealthy and make accurate casts in this scenario.
Daniel Zazworsky is an editor for Nervous Waters, operator of Abaco Lodge in Grand Abaco, The Bahamas.