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Subscriber, Brian Green has just supplied us with this quality report from a DIY bonefishing trip to Acklins Island, where he found a trip package from Cattaraugus Creek Outfitters to be right on the money! Thanks for the report Brian.
It has been well established that Do It Yourself bonefishing is not for everyone, as it requires a considerable degree of physical fitness to walk mid-calf deep flats for eight hours, and demands some experience and sharp eyesight to spot the pesky critters. Fishing from the front of a boat with a guide to spot and advise will yield far more fish than walk and wade on your own. However, the rewards of DIY are commensurate with the challenges. You may catch only three or four fish in a day, but they’re your fish, earned with whatever skills, abilities, and luck you bring to the hunt.
If DIY appeals, then Acklins Island in the Bahamas may be the best place on earth to enjoy the challenge and the rewards. About an hour flight south of Nassau, Acklins is almost 100,000 acres of low scrubland surrounded by miles and miles of bonefish flats. Home to about 550 people who are spread along the only road in tiny settlements, the island has one gas station, one liquor store, two bars, and a dozen churches. There are fewer than ten places offering accommodation, and those range from a lodge that is quite upscale to rooms in people’s homes. There are two Bahamasair flights into the island per week on Wednesdays and Saturdays, landing at the Spring Point Airport which is fairly central. From there, the surprisingly smooth road goes north to Lovely Bay and south to Salina Point, both destinations being around half an hour of driving.
Our party of four stayed at IVel’s Bed and Breakfast about 10 minutes from the airport, a very comfortable and well-maintained establishment that could, at capacity, house about 20 people. Arriving on Saturday, we shared the accommodation with four enthusiastic botanists and one other angler until the Wednesday flight, and then we were on our own for the rest of the week.
We had booked an all-inclusive package through Vince Tobia of Cattaraugus Creek Outfitters, who has established himself as the go-to agent for DIY packages to the Bahamas and elsewhere, arranging self-catering trips to Eleuthera, Long Island, and Great Inagua that have been reported on in these pages. The package included the use of a car, three meals a day, and Tobia’s really excellent maps and instructions about where and how to hunt Acklins Bonefish and occasional Permit. The rooms were impeccably clean and well maintained, and the meals as prepared by Chef Peter (who has 14 years of experience at Nassau’s premier resorts and moonlights as one of the island’s preachers) were artistically presented and delicious. Snapper, grouper, conch, lobster, chicken, and pork were featured along with a daily soup and salad; breakfasts were American (Bahamian boiled fish and Johnny Cake on request) and sandwich lunches were provided in soft-sided coolers to take to the flats. The large screen TV in the dining room was always tuned to the Weather Channel both to remind guests of what horrors they were missing, and to ensure non-controversial conversation around the table!
In our week on the island, we fished nine different flats. All were beautiful, and most had hard sand bottoms, though we did run into some mud that made wading uncomfortable, but never terribly difficult. Our success varied as we tried to figure out the influence of the tides and battled high winds that put a chop on the surface and made sighting really difficult. Most of the fish we saw were in small groups or solo, though we were told of huge schools that sometimes can be encountered when the tide is right. The four of us averaged about three fish per day, with one notable exception: three of us encountered a large group of fish in one of the tidal creeks that serve as passageways to and from the flats during tidal flows. The fish would not leave the creek even as we began to catch them. While we quickly lost count, I estimate that the three of us landed more than 50 fish in just over two hours. It’s not an occurrence I would want to repeat, but made for a memorable one-time experience!
Two of our group hired a guide for a day, and were taken to secluded bays to the north of the island, inaccessible except by boat There they waded and spent the day happily catching bonefish up to (and including) a ten pound giant as the fish came in waves on the falling tide. Tobia had set our friends up with Fedel Johnson who operates out of Lovely Bay and accommodates a few anglers in his home (his wife Erika is reputed to be a wonderful cook). We talked with other anglers who used different guides and never heard a negative word about any of them. Indeed, anglers who had been coming to Acklins for upwards of 20 years had their favorites and would use different guides to explore different areas of the vast flats. While the guides use their boats mostly to get to remote flats and then wade, they will pole for Permit if the client wants to target the island’s other gamefish. (We did encounter Triggerfish which we were told are another great sport fish available on certain flats but we didn’t get any to eat a fly.)
This was our first trip to Acklins and was largely exploratory. On our next trip (and we will be going back), we’ll have a better idea of how the tides work, what flats we had success on, and where we’d like to continue our explorations. It will take many years of exploration to cover all the possibilities on this island. We will definitely use a guide at least once to fish the very productive areas accessible only by boat.
There is very little for a non-fishing visitor to do on Acklins. While there are some gorgeous beaches, the water is too shallow for swimming in most locations. There are ruins from the 18th century Loyalist plantations spread across the island, but they are largely unmarked and some are very remote and difficult to find. The botanists who shared IVel’s dining room with us for three days would return to the lodge exhausted from a day of bushwhacking into some of these ruins. Also unmarked are the many remnants of a thriving pre-European Lucayan culture that are gradually disappearing. In his book, DIY Bonefishing, Rod Hamilton gives Acklins his lowest rating for the non-fishing spouse.
The cost of our all-inclusive week was $1200 each for IVel’s “Bonefish Suite”, a two bedroom unit with two ensuite bathrooms and a kitchen/sitting area, including car and Tobia’s maps and notes. Flights from Nassau are with Bahamasair (around $250) and are available only Wednesday and Saturday. They leave in the morning, so visitors from the US and Canada will have to overnight in Nassau to catch the morning flight. On the return leg, most travelers can make their connections in one day.
For the die-hard DIY angler, Acklins is not to be missed. The virtually unlimited expanse of Bonefish habitat, accessible from the road and completely deserted (we never saw another angler in the entire week of exploring the flats) provide walk and wade enthusiasts with a lifetime of fishing possibilities. The availability of experienced and knowledgeable guides to get to areas unreachable from the road, and the friendly, very comfortable range of accommodations offered combine to make Acklins a dream destination.