For the seasoned angler who has cut his piscatorial teeth on the remote cays and islands in the Bahamas, flying into Freeport on Grand Bahama Island can be a vexing moment. If you didn't know better, your expectations could plummet, dashed by all the homes, partially built mini-marts, and cruise ship you were gliding over. All this hustle and bustle could be seen as a bad sign for any fishermen on the island. All this activity could mean a loss off habitat and more impact on what habitat exists all translating to what really matters to fishermen... fewer bonefish. But read on...
Because of all this "civilization" surrounding Freeport, some anglers have skipped Grand Bahama and focused their efforts on Andros, Abaco and the more remote out-islands to the south. But we suggest you keep an open mind. Take a moment and read further before you determine whether you should give this area a chance on your next angling vacation.
First of all, Grand Bahama Island is huge. Ninety-seven miles long and between seven and seventeen miles wide, Grand Bahama takes its place between Andros and Abaco in size. Most importantly, all the resorts and real estate developments are on the south side of the island leaving the vast north shore, made up of mangrove swashes and saltwater creeks, a vast, virtually untouched, wilderness... and it's chock-a-block full of bonefish!
If you look at a map of the island, you'll notice a thickening at the island's waist creating a horn that projects north into the Bahama Bank. East of that horn lies an area that is difficult to reach. Over the years, we have explored this area extensively and experienced great success. For those who have been following our fishing reports over the past few years, you will remember there was a failed attempt to establish a bonefish lodge in this remote area on Water Cay. Just as this lodge was poised for success, a horrible hurricane season hit the island in the fall of 2004. That fall, three consecutive hurricanes swept over this fledgling lodge, battering it repeatedly and essentially ending the dream. However, after three long years of work, which involved a lot elbow grease and a considerable investment of capital, the Water Cay Bonefish Lodge has been renovated and repaired including the installation of a brand new reverse osmosis water filtration system that takes the abundant local sea water and purifies it to bottled water standards.
We have always known this area held a spectacular habitat and now that the lodge is not only repaired, but vastly improved, we thought it high time to reintroduce this area to our clients. We are thrilled to report that the lodge is now up and running. We have secured the services of a crackerjack guide team, installed a brand new kitchen and redecorated all the rooms.
When you are on Water Cay, it is surprising how remote the lodge feels even with the bright lights of Freeport glowing faintly just over the horizon. If you didn't know better, you'd think you were somewhere deep in the Bight of Acklins or on the west side of Andros. And surprisingly, even though Grand Bahama Island has three other bonefish lodges, this north central habitat is rarely visited because these lodges do not need to travel this far to find good fishing. As a result, you do not see many guide boats plying the waters near Water Cay. Certainly some guides from Freeport do fish, at times, near Water Cay, but the area is still lightly pressured.
Water Cay Bonefish Lodge has hired master Bahamian guide Sidney Thomas to run the fishing program. Sidney has a tremendous bonefish pedigree. At 44 years of age, he has worked for all the best lodges on Grand Bahama either as their head guide or as a key bonefish guide. Devoted and hard working, Sidney is the "real deal" when it comes to guiding. Fishing is in Sidney's blood and having guided some of the biggest names in the sport on a regular basis, he has honed his craft to a samurai's fine edge. Relying on his vast experience, Sidney has assembled a guide staff (including Ezra Thomas and Greg Rolle) that reflects his exacting standards.
Armed with a remarkable sense of direction and eyes like an osprey, Sidney and his fellow guides fish the labyrinth of habitat near the lodge. In many ways, it's similar to the Marls of Abaco or the west side of Andros. Deep cuts, perfect flats and rocky bottomed bays seem to hold an endless supply of bonefish. It is not unusual to spend a few hours poling an area (while casting to many schools of fish) and then pop out around a corner and see the lodge! The complexity of the bays, creeks and flats that surround the lodge can be quite deceiving.
The winter months are the times for big fish, but as the water temps stabilize in late March, the school fish show up in massive numbers and the big trophy fish mix with the schools. This integration lasts until late fall when the big fish once again go out on their own as they are able to tolerate the colder water temps. For the angler, this means Water Cay has it all, both big fish and school-sized fish. Permit show up consistently near the northern cays as soon as the winter winds calm and the water temps climb.
In order to maintain the productivity of this vast habitat, Water Cay Bonefish Lodge will accommodate only six anglers a week. Anglers will fish out of high-end, ultra shallow draft Beavertail technical skiffs. A boat's draft is an important issue in this area. These 5" draft, Beavertail skiffs allow Water Cay guides to reach areas other skiffs simply cannot. If you have never spent a day hunting silvertails out of one of these 18-foot gems, you are in for a treat!
We should mention that the major rap we have heard about Grand Bahama Island in the past is that it is a boat fishery only. This is not because there are not great wadeable flats on the island, but because most of the guides traditionally did not wade. Bonefishing from a boat was just the way it was done on the island. Well, we're going to change that at Water Cay. Anglers will be encouraged to wade and these new Beavertail skiffs will allow anglers to be picked up in very shallow water at the end of a wading beat. But when the flats are soft or if a guest would like to only fish out of a boat, these high-tech 495 lb. boats are able to silently approach tailing fish in 6 inches of water! Better yet, when it's time to leave, the hydraulic jack plate on the boat allows the guide to get up on plane in depths as skinny as 11 to 14 inches. These features translate into more actual fishing time during your guide day, which is always a plus!
Back at the lodge, our Bahamian cook specializes in traditional out-island fare. Visiting anglers will be served from an eclectic menu including “feel good-comfort food", as well as some interesting local favorites. Typical "American" breakfasts will be served. Lunches will consist of sandwiches, plenty of drinks and water and a few other goodies packed in coolers. Lunches will be taken between casts while on the flats.
The lodge's three guest rooms are tastefully appointed and reflect the natural colors of the Bahamas' waters, reefs and fish. All the guest rooms have high quality air-conditioners, comfy twin-sized beds, ceiling fans and a beautiful view of the local flats. A small deck in front of the lodge offers an inviting location to swap fishing stories and sip a cold Kalik as the sun sets over another great day. All the water for the lodge is produced and filtered by an extensive reverse osmosis system allowing guests to have purified water right from their bathroom taps.
The main lodge has a phone line and a large flat screen satellite TV. A stocked "cash" bar with beer, most of your favorite spirits and basic red and white wine, when available, awaits you at the end of each angling day. This sort of unpretentious attitude with a focus always on “fishing first” rounds out the kind of service and attention you can expect while fishing at Water Cay.
Water Cay Bonefish Lodge offers superb angling opportunities while still being close to the Bahamas' second largest city. And with Freeport being so easy to reach (with many daily non-stop flights into Freeport from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta & Charlotte), it doesn't involve great hardship to reach some spectacular angling opportunities. Great unpressured fishing, a superb guide staff, a comfortable, well-appointed lodge and good solid food all makes Water Cay Bonefish Lodge a great choice for your next adventure.