Back­yard Bill­fish


Power & Motor Yacht - - SPORTFISHING -

With the pro­lif­er­a­tion of big­ger, faster sportfishing boats, once-dis­tant wa­ters now feel much closer to home. For ex­am­ple, in the 1970s, most off­shore fish­er­men con­sid­ered a 50-footer to be a big boat. And if a boat that size cruised at 23 knots, that seemed pretty quick. Those num­bers seem like a dis­tant mem­ory these days as 70and 80-foot­ers have be­come com­mon­place and cruise be­tween 30 and 40 knots. Such in­no­va­tions have rad­i­cally al­tered the blue­wa­ter fish­ing ge­og­ra­phy, mak­ing wa­ters that used to feel dis­tant seem much closer to home.

Of course, many of the older boats made the trip to St. Thomas in the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands back in the day any­way, but it was a long, hard slog most of the time. Those same boats of­ten went on to fish Venezuela later in the fall, un­til that coun­try de­scended into po­lit­i­cal chaos.

Mod­ern hulls, and en­gines have made these runs easy. The de­vel­op­ment of world-class mari­nas in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic has opened up a new world of ex­cit­ing bill­fish­ing and many of us are go­ing there to ex­plore them in our own boats. But by do­ing so, we may be pass­ing up some ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­ni­ties much closer to home, in wa­ters that tra­di­tion­ally served as home base for lots of great tour­na­ments and some out­stand­ing fish­ing. I’m talk­ing about the Ba­hamas, that daz­zling chain of is­lands 50 miles east of Florida at its clos­est point.

Many great places to en­counter mar­lin and sail­fish ex­ist within the Ba­hamas chain, but among those, the Abaco Is­lands stand out for its great ac­tion and wide va­ri­ety of species that call it home.

The Aba­cos pro­vide the in­fra­struc­ture that makes vis­it­ing there a plea­sure, with mod­ern air­ports, well-stocked gro­cery stores, great restau­rants, and world-class ac­com­mo­da­tions. And all of this sits more or less in our back­yard.

Sev­eral Abaco des­ti­na­tions serve off­shore fish­er­men with such dis­tinc­tion, the most prom­i­nent be­ing the town of Marsh Har­bour, lo­cated on Great Abaco Is­land and known far and wide as the “Hub of Abaco.” Marsh is the third largest city in the Ba­hamas and has all the ameni­ties you could want, and a busy in­ter­na­tional air­port into which one can fly from many dif­fer­ent Amer­i­can cities.

Then there are the Out Is­lands: El­bow Cay, Man-O-War Cay, Great Guana Cay, and Green Tur­tle Cay. Each of the bar­rier is­lands has its own per­son­al­ity, and de­pend­ing on your per­sonal pref­er­ence, you can surely find a spot that suits you best.

Hopetown, on El­bow, reigns as the most pop­u­lar in the eyes of vis­i­tors, and the best fish­ing in the Aba­cos can of­ten be found off Hopetown’s fa­mous red-and-white-striped light­house.

This el­bow cre­ates lots of up­wellings, as cur­rent and tide flow around the siz­able reef sys­tem to the east, at­tract­ing preda­tors like bill­fish, wa­hoo, tu­nas, and dol­phin. And the truth is, no mat­ter where a spring bill­fish tour­na­ment is based in the Aba­cos, most cap­tains run to that reef sys­tem east of Hopetown to fish. That’s where the smart money gets bet.

But other ar­eas of the Aba­cos hold fish, too, and so it of­ten comes down to choos­ing which is­land to use as your base. For me, that choice presents it­self most of the time as Green Tur­tle Cay. Green Tur­tle of­fers a de­cid­edly more laid-back at­mos­phere than El­bow Cay, as it sits at the north­ern end of the more in­hab­ited of the cen­tral Abaco out is­lands, but it still has plenty to of­fer in terms of mari­nas, restau­rants, and lodg­ing.

My crew and I re­cently trav­eled to Green Tur­tle to film an

episode of An­glers Jour­nal TV, and I was re­minded yet again why this place is so spe­cial. My buddy Matt Bridge­wa­ter of Gem Prod­ucts came to fish with me, to put his new car­bon-fiber out­rig­gers to the test pulling dredges in search of bill­fish.

The Aba­cos have tra­di­tion­ally been thought of as a blue mar­lin des­ti­na­tion, but dredge fish­ing changed that per­cep­tion, as it has through­out the bill­fish­ing world. When crews be­gan pulling dredges rigged with dozens of bal­ly­hoo or mul­let in their wakes and scaled down the size of their nat­u­ral baits, they sud­denly dis­cov­ered a vi­brant white mar­lin fish­ery off the Aba­cos.

In the old days, crews would toss out four lures on heavy tackle and troll around all day, and you ei­ther raised a blue or you didn’t. They didn’t see a lot of whites be­cause they weren’t at­tracted to lures, but they were cer­tainly there all the same. When these same crews started pulling smaller bal­ly­hoo be­hind dredges, the whites lit up and chewed, chang­ing the com­plex­ion of the en­tire Abaco fish­ery.

The white mar­lin fish­ery had been red-hot in the weeks be­fore Bridge­wa­ter and I showed up, and we ea­gerly headed off­shore to put the dredge to the test. We weren’t par­tic­u­lar about which species of bill­fish we raised. We made the 20-nau­ti­cal-mile run south to the reef of El­bow the first day and found good dol­phin ac­tion, but we didn’t raise a bill­fish. Matt’s son Ja­cob caught one (his first) on our cam­era boat though, so col­lec­tively we felt the crew had scored big.

Our turn came later in the week when a large dark shape rose be­hind the daisy chain po­si­tioned over the dredge, and a chunky blue mar­lin crashed the flat-lined naked bal­ly­hoo bait just be­hind it. Bridge­wa­ter dropped back to the fish and hooked him solidly; the fight was on!

The blue, which we es­ti­mated at be­tween 350 and 400 pounds, took a lot of line at first, but we fol­lowed him at an an­gle and af­ter about 45 min­utes, mate Bubba Keith took the leader in hand for an of­fi­cial re­lease. We were elated to say the least, and when we re­turned to the Green Tur­tle Club, Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Michael How­ell grilled our mahi-mahi filets on his Big Green Egg, cre­at­ing one of the best dol­phin din­ners I’ve ever had.

It doesn’t get much bet­ter than that. The next time you’re con­sid­er­ing a bill­fish trip aboard your own boat, don’t over­look the Aba­cos and Green Tur­tle Cay. You may just dis­cover that one of the most sat­is­fy­ing bill­fish trips around has been sit­ting right un­der your nose the whole time.

Clear wa­ter and a blue mar­lin makes for a col­or­ful com­bi­na­tion.

It’s what lies be­neath the wa­ter that makes the Ba­hamas spe­cial.

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