For live and premium content, sign up for our email newsletter and we'll send reports directly to your inbox
Talk about lucky! Out of a horde of interested Online Extra subscribers, I got the nod recently to go on this newsletter’s latest FREE fishing trip – namely, a do-it-yourself bonefishing excursion to Acklins Island in the Bahamas. My longtime fishing buddy, Dan Camp- bell, decided to come along as a paying guest. I’ve been an avid bonefisherman for over 20 years, have heard many good things about the fishing around Acklins and Crooked Islands, and I was excited.
Acklins Island is on the southern-most end of the Bahamas Islands chain, closer to the Turks and Caicos than to Nassau. It is about 90 miles long and only three or four miles wide at its widest point. Chesters Highway Inn, where the trip was based, is on the northern end of the island, about an hour drive from the airport at Spring Hill.
Acklins Island (Pop. 450) is blessed with miles of productive, wadeable flats. Obviously, you don’t come here for night life or other non-fishing amenities – there aren’t any. What you come here for is the chance to really get away from it all and fish miles of peaceful flats without seeing another person.
This is billed as budget-priced, self-guided fishing, and that is exactly what it is: It’s a no-frills deal, and it is priced accordingly. When you book this trip through Catta- raugus Creek Outfitters, Vince Tobia sends you a folder with very useful information about getting to, staying on and fishing at Acklins. Included in the folder are several annotated maps and satellite photos of the island pointing out good fishing spots (more on these later). Before the trip, Vince will readily discuss the photos and maps with you by phone or e-mail. The pre-trip briefing is designed to provide all the local knowledge you need to be ready to fish immediately upon arrival at Chesters. Talking to him, you sense that Tobia truly wants you to have a good experience.
The 1½-hour flights to Acklins from Nassau all leave in the morning, which means you have to overnight in Nassau. The trip home, fortunately, can be made in one day. There are flights on Monday with Pineapple Air and Wednesday and Saturday flights on Bahamas Air; round trip on both airlines is around $400. As Vince recommended, we overnighted in Nassau at The Orange Hill Beach Inn, five minutes from the airport. This is the unofficial Acklins staging point. There were four other Acklins-bound anglers there that night. I would recommend it as no-frills, clean and convenient. There are several restaurants within walking distance.
At Spring Hill Airport on Acklins, we were greeted by Arnett Chisholm, who runs Chesters with her husband, Julius. You immediately sense that Arnett is willing to go the extra mile to make your stay comfortable and pleasant. She uses the drive to give you the history and layout of the island and to familiarize you with the routine at the lodge. Since she also does the cooking, this is a great time to discuss food preferences. However, since she is a wonderful cook, I would recommend letting her surprise you each day with island fare. You will not be disappointed. Especially tasty were the conch fritter appetizers each afternoon, the steamed grouper and the corned beef hash and grits for breakfast (Yes, I’m a southern boy, so the grits made me feel at home.)
Chesters is a small, simple place with room for six anglers. It would be perfect for a party of six friends. Each unit has a sitting room and separate bedroom with private bath. All of the units are air conditioned and very comfortable. Arnett and Julius are a wonderful couple and gracious hosts. I left feeling that I had made new friends. The lodge is only four years old and sits directly across the street from a beautiful flat. So we were fishing almost immediately upon our arrival around 11:00 am – but only after taking a few minutes to have some of Arnett’s special lobster chowder. We caught several fish on that flat both that day and on subsequent days.
We were in Acklins the last week in February, not the most reliable time of the year weather-wise. As is so often the case in the Bahamas in winter, we hit a really windy spell and two cold fronts. Four of the five days we fished the wind blew in the 20- to 25-knot range with 90 percent cloud cover and some rain. This made conditions extremely difficult for fly fishing on the flats. Therefore, I don’t think our results in terms of fish caught are an indication of what is normal. We caught a few fish every day but one. That day was so windy and rainy we gave up after a couple of hours of wading the flats.
Despite the bad conditions, you could see how much potential the area has. There were bonefish feeding on every flat we visited. We also spooked quite a few that I’m sure we would have had shots at had there been some sun. I even caught a couple while blind casting out of frustration over the wind and lack of sun. That is a sure indication that there are lots of fish around!
In addition to the flat right at Chesters, which we fully explored by using the Lodge’s bikes, we were very impressed with the look of several others on that end of the island. The appropriately named Lovely Bay is easily reached by bike and has more flats than one could possibly fish in a day. This area reputedly has some larger fish, too. Cove point, a longer bike ride, also looked very promising. We visited both of those on one of the worst weather days, so while our results were not stellar, I would not hesitate to recommend trying them based on what we saw and heard from others. Other areas we liked were Snug Corner, Delectable Bay and Pinefield Point, all reached in one of the vehicles the lodge rents for $100/day. Additionally, the area around Atwood Harbor looked promising even though we did not get to fish it due to wind direction. It would be a perfect spot to get dropped off with a couple of kayaks for exploring. The strong winds discouraged us from using the kayaks.
On two days we got Julius to hook us up with guides in hopes of finding some fishable lee-side flats. The flats we went to were just as windy as the others; however, the guides were most accommodating, pleasant and eager to find fish. They had a great ability to see fish. One, Terrence, was more knowledgeable than the others, especially with regard to the needs of fly fishermen. We saw numerous large schools on two of those flats, and Dan caught several from one school before they spooked. I was fortunate to catch a really nice fish in the six-pound-plus range. In reality, the two cold fronts that moved through had chased most of the fish from the flats, and there was nothing anyone can do about that.
The guides used their boats as transportation to distant flats and seemed to be more comfortable wading. However, Terrence did pole in a very pleasant mangrove area for an hour or so in response to our request. I got some great shots there with three or four refusals – again, not the guide’s fault. If you want a break from wading, be sure you make that clear up front. The guides are $400/day, which is a bargain. Their boats are adequate, but don’t expect state-of-the-art flats skiffs – this is the Bahamas Out Islands, after all. Terrence’s brother, Elvis, is reputedly the most experienced guide in the area and he does have a nice-looking flats rig.
The key questions about a new place are: Would you go back, and would you recommend it? To the first I would give an unequivocal and enthusiastic “yes!” In fact, I’m sure I will return to Acklins at a better time of year weather-wise. I would recommend this trip to anyone who has enough experience to enjoy do-it-yourself fishing and who is not looking for a full-service fishing lodge. Driving around a desolate island on bad roads looking for places to hike into some of the flats is not every- one’s idea of a good time. But for someone who is just slightly adventurous like me, it is a hoot. As my buddy Dan said one day as we were biking, fly rods in hand, to a flat we wanted to try: “I could be twelve years old!” He and I have fished together since we were that old, so his comment really resonated. However, as I biked back to the lodge that afternoon in a heavy rain, I thought about some other anglers I know who would not be happy campers. This is fishing on the cheap and on-your-own (unless you get guides every day). That is how the trip is advertised and priced: $1,499/week/person, double occupancy, for lodging, food and on-your-own access to great fishing.
All considered, despite the lousy weather, this was a great trip. The flats are deserted and beautiful, the Chisholms are gracious hosts, and the peace and quiet is priceless. I am sure, with good weather, a competent fly fisherman could enjoy eight- or ten-fish days. – Don McLaurin.
(Postscript: McLaurin enjoyed the trip, but he did come away with a list of things he thought could be improved. He sent them to us privately with no idea of including them in his report. However, we think the list provides would-be visitors additional insight into the trip, so here goes:
“Both the Chisholms and Vince made it clear they wanted my feedback so they could provide a better experience in the future. Here are some things I noted. While the information packet Vince sent is useful, it could be greatly upgraded with just a little effort. The maps were faded, with some details gone from being copied over and over. The fishing areas are circled in red with relevant notes scribbled on the maps. Clearer copies with more extensive notes on a separate sheet about how to find, reach and fish each flat would be a huge improvement. GPS coordinates of important locations would be much appreciated, too, along with exact distances from the lodge. The satellite photos included in the folder are a good resource but they would be even better if they were laminated and cross referenced to the maps. This would be easy to do. In fact, an angler who was there before us left some laminated satellite photos that we used extensively. As for things around the lodge, I think there should be a better place to wash down and store equipment. Baskets and some sort of rod holders on the bikes would be nice. Also, I think the lodge should consider providing drop-off and pick-up service at various flats each day a la Christmas Island.)