Every time I see the big shoulders of a single bonefish cruising a flat it does something to me. Time slows down. Things get quiet. Somehow, some way, I’ve done something right. All of the cab rides, commercial flights, close connections, scary puddle jumpers, and lost baggage have paid off. I’ve put myself at the right place at the right time and have managed to intersect with a magnificent fish. And I’m grateful for it – every single time.
At that point, it is just the fish and I meeting on a desolate flat somewhere in the Caribbean. All I have to do is to make the shot.
Welcome to Andros Island… A.K.A… ‘the Big Yard’.
The West Side of South Andros Island has a reputation among hardcore bonefish junkies for one thing: big fish. Usually, these fish are stalked from the deck of a flats skiff. Other times, you can stalk them quietly by foot. The larger schools of smaller bonefish seem to flutter across the mud and coral expanses that surround the island. The big fish – sometimes exceeding ten pounds - typically move as singles or doubles. They cruise the shallow waters like heavyweight prizefighters with slow precision foraging for shrimp and crabs. In short, they act like they own the place.
Andros is the largest of the 26 inhabited islands in the Bahamas. When you add up all the land, it is actually greater than all of the 700+ islands in the Bahamas combined. Although it is the largest of the islands, much of it is uninhabited, which as a general rule, is great from a fishing perspective. The equation looks like this: massive fishery + fewer people + less fishing pressure = amazing fly fishing opportunities.
Andros is actually a chain of three smaller islands that are interconnected with creeks and smaller cays. They are generally referred to as North, Middle, and South Andros. Andros is located just 30 miles west of the more densely populated island of Nassau and the north end of the island is only 138 miles from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
"Andros Island is a completely unique fishery,” said Jim Klug, Director of Operations at Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures. “It basically has its' own weather system. They call it the ‘Big Yard’ for a reason - the flats are absolutely endless."
"North Andros is the gateway to the Joulters - an unbelievable set of cays and flats and there is nothing up there,” said Klug. “There is very little pressure, big fish and you have a chance to see permit."
When you are fishing the flats, staying off the radar and away from the rest of the world is a great approach and strategy.
"The coolest thing about Andros Island is that it is one of the least developed islands in the Bahamas,” said Klug. “You don't go to Andros for the casinos or the big fancy hotels or the glitz. You go there for the fishing - end of story."
“The Bights of Andros Island, in the middles section, allow guides to pole deeper water and arguably put clients on some of the biggest bonefish on the island, but they are still scanning the shallows around the mangroves for typical schooling sized fish," said Ian Davis, also with Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures.
As with most flats fisheries, tides play a big role.
“The tides can be difficult to understand if you are new to Andros,” said Davis. “It's sometimes hard to know when fish are coming in and when they are going out of this massive and complex flats system. The Bahamian Guides who grew up in the Bights have the tides dialed in and can find feeding fish almost all day long with minimal running in the boats. This is because they have the ability to fish optimal tides throughout the day."
Our boat and the bonefish that I was after intersected on the edge of a nameless flat on the West Side and it seemed like we were a million miles from anything resembling civilization. Ellie, our guide, made the call in a way that was cool and collected.
“Fish. Coming in. Ten Thirty. Sixty feet,” he said. His Bahamian accent was crisp and clear. His cadence was matter of fact.
Bonefish (Albula vulpes) are pervasive around most of the Bahamian Islands and Cays, but Andros Island has earned the reputation as the undisputed big-bonefish-capital of the world. Behaviorally, bonefish inhabit the inshore waters of much of the Caribbean Ocean. It is only when they move to the shallow flats that they become a pinnacle game fish to be hunted and stalked using sight fishing techniques with a fly rod.
Even for seasoned anglers, seeing “the take” and the first blistering run of a bonefish is an apex experience. After that, they’ll run the distance of a football field or more at speeds that can bloody your knuckles if your hand gets in the way of your screaming reel.
There is another element to add to the equation that makes these fisheries unique. The Bahamas is one of the few Caribbean nations that have outlawed the netting of bonefish and the sale of bonefish in open markets.
“Buying and selling bonefish and using nets to catch them in large numbers is illegal. Individuals can be fined up to $3,000 and/or spend a year in jail for selling and netting bonefish,” said Jared Dillet, of the Department of Marine Resources, a member of the National Coastal Awareness Subcommittee on Overfishing in a public relations push to reinforce the conservation effort across the country.
These new regulations seem to be having a positive effect on the fishery – at least around South Andros Island where I first fished 10 years ago. On my most recent trip this past March I saw more fish - and more bigger fish - and the guides I spoke to all seemed to think this regulation change has something to do with it.
Hopefully ‘the Big Yard’ continues to feel these positive effects – further enabling anglers and bonefish to intersect.
Will Rice is the Director of Marketing for Trouts Fly Fishing, in Denver, Colorado. troutsflyfishing.com. He is a freelance journalist and a contributing editor at The Drake. He has written for the Denver Post, Salt Water Fly Fishing, FlyFish Journal, Pulp Fly, and Fly Rod & Reel, and is a regular contributor to Angling Trade Magazine.
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WORDS OF WISDOM FROM A PRO. Andros Island is not the easiest fishery for do-It-yourself exploration – especially if you are short on time.
Because of the remote nature of the island (lack of boat rentals, expansiveness, etc.) hiring a guide service is the recommended route if you have never been to Andros Before. Here are three recommendations:
North Andros Island: northandrosflyfishing.com
Middle Andros/The Bights: swainscaylodge.com
South Andros: Andros South Lodge - deneki.com/androssouth/
To work with a full service booking agency: yellowdogflyfishing.com
If you do want to give Do-It-Yourself fly fishing a shot, here is a recommendation from Ian Davis: "If you do want to check out a lodge where you can do some fishing on your own, Mount Pleasant Lodge has some pretty good options."
Mount Pleasant Lodge: mtpleasantfish.com