Gear Up for the Bahamas
by John Duncan, Telluride Angler
The Bahamas was my first serious saltwater destination and remains my all-time favorite. As I was finishing this gear guide, Farbank released “Running Shallow,” a tribute to the remarkable bonefishing and guiding legacy of Andros Island. Enjoy.
The Essentials: Gear for 6 days of fishing
9′ 8-weight + 9′ 9-weight
(3rd rod 9′ 11-weight)
Minimum 2 reels, one each with a WF8F and WF9F line, plus tarpon reel if appropriate
Classic floating saltwater tapers for all flats species.
Leaders & Tippet
10′ 12lbs and 16lbs bonefish leaders with 12lbs and 16lbs saltwater fluoro tippet. Bring wire for barracuda.
3 dozen bonefish flies in sizes #4-8 with a mix of eye weights.
Simms Flats Booties
2 pair mandatory. One copper or brown for high light and one amber (yellow) for low light
Long pants, long sleeve shirts, brimmed hat, rain jacket, sun gloves, sun Buff
In-Depth Equipment Recommendations
Overview: Many of the best lodges in the Bahamas fish for nothing but bonefish. Some, however, especially on Andros, Long Island and Acklins, offer outstanding tarpon and permit fishing. This may or may not be advertised specifically, so ask whether tarpon and permit are available at your destination. Anything short of a clear “yes” probably means “no,” but if you are encouraged to bring tarpon and permit gear, strongly consider doing so. When pressed, most lodges are very clear about the opportunities for these species.
Backup equipment is not optional. Every angler must have a backup rod and reel at his or her disposal, but not necessarily a duplicate of the primary outfit. Everyone needs an 8-weight in the Bahamas. A 7 or 9-weight may serve as the backup to your 8-weight while offering the opportunity to fish either lighter or heavier according to conditions through your trip. Optimally, every angler brings a backup rod and reel. At minimum, angling pairs should have at least one backup bonefish rod and reel between them.
Line weights for bonefish: Fishing 7-weights for bonefish has become popular, but a 9-weight is a more useful and reliable compliment to your 8-weight in all months of the year except perhaps June and July, when the wind lays down. A 7-weight is a luxury, but a 9-weight can save your trip under windy conditions. As compared with both the Yucatan and Christmas Island, Bahamas bonefish are larger and the angler consistently battles more wind. Also, guided anglers commonly fish from skiffs in the Bahamas. This is a tremendous way to see and catch more fish, but the angler frequently casts upwind as fish enter the visual radar from odd angles. The wading angler sees fewer fish, but generally walks the flat in a direction that favors both light and wind as much as possible. So, for most trips to the Bahamas, bring a 7-weight only if you already have an 8 and 9-weight onboard.
Wade fishing: the wading angler will almost certainly be carrying a bonefish rod. Tarpon are virtually never encountered on foot in the Bahamas and permit shots are rare enough to make carrying a second rod a needless encumbrance.
Fishing from a skiff: whereas I never carry two rods when wading, I almost never step onto a skiff in the Bahamas without both a bonefish and permit rod rigged. On Andros, I generally rig a tarpon rod, too. On many occasions I have quietly laid down my 8-weight, picked up the 11-weight, stripped out as quickly as possible and made a successful shot at a tarpon that suddenly appeared on the fringe of a deep water flat.
2 bonefish rods: 9’ 8wt & 9′ 9wt (or any two rods in the 7-9 weight category)
9’ 10-weight (for permit. Ask your lodge whether permit fishing is available, especially on Andros, Long Island, Acklins and Crooked Island)
9’ 11-weight (for Andros and other islands that have resident tarpon. Ask your lodge. Andros has a significant population of adult tarpon. These are 11-weight fish all day).
I have had more problems with my reels than my fly rods over the last 30 years of saltwater fishing. Rods don’t have a lot of moving parts, but reels sure do. Salt and sand can reduce an expensive reel to a soggy pile of mush. Rinse your reels every evening in clean water. Pull them apart and soak in a basin of freshwater to tease sand particles from the internal mechanisms of your reel.
Each of my fly rods has a designated reel. The reason is simple. When fishing from a skiff in the Bahamas, I usually have three rods rigged up, or sometimes even 4 or 5. I use spare spools for steelhead fishing, but almost never in the Bahamas. Many anglers will find that 2 fly rods and 2 reels are completely sufficient, but it is critical to have at least two of each because if either your rod or reel goes down, you could be out of business.
I’ve never left the Bahamas wishing I had brought a sinking line. Bonefish, permit and tarpon floating lines from Scientific Anglers and Rio are ideal for the Bahamas. Many DIY anglers find the opportunity to fish offshore for all kinds of pelagic species. Heavy rods and sinking lines may be the ticket in these situations, but on the flats, we fish floaters.
Bring one floating line for each reel, plus one extra bonefish line.
Rio 10’ 12 lbs Bonefish Leader
Rio 10’ 16 lbs Saltwater Leader
Tarpon leader with 60 lbs shock tippet
Rio 16 lbs fluoro tippet
Rio 12 lbs fluoro tippet
Barracuda wire: 20 lbs Rio Powerflex Wirebite Tippet
I generally fish mono leaders with fluoro tippet. Fluoro is more stealthy and abrasion-resistant, but there is no particular reason to fish a full fluoro leader for bonefish. One spool of bonefish tippet lasts forever. You might use 10’ of tippet in a week of fishing. My standard bonefish leader for the Bahamas is a 9 or 10’ 16lbs mono leader with 3 feet of fluoro tippet. A straight 9 or 10’ 12lbs leader is completely sufficient for uneducated fish and when fishing larger flies. Follow your guide’s advice when rigging for the day.
Barracuda tip: Tie a needlefish fly onto an 8” section of knottable wire. In the other end of the wire, tie a clinch knot, but don’t tighten it. Keep this handy. If a barracuda appears, simply slip the open loop of the clinch knot over the hook point of your bonefish fly, pull it tight and catch that ‘cuda. Then, slip the wire leader off of your bonefish fly and go back to what you were doing.
~Hatch or Abel saltwater pliers are a luxury. Then again, this whole sport is a luxury. It’s a pleasure to use fine equipment in special situations.
~Salt proof anodized aluminum nippers.
~Fishing butt bag – waterproof is nice, but many waterproof lumbar packs lack water bottle holders. The Fishpond Encampment pack is just about the right size.
Boat bag (optional, but useful for carry-on luggage, in your lodge room and in the boat) – Fishpond Cutbank (larger) or Fishpond Castaway (smaller). Patagonia and Simms make excellent boat bags, too.
Fishpond Dakota rod/reel case – carries 8 rods and reels. I simply never travel without it.
2 pair of polarized sunglasses, one for high sun and the other for low light. I prefer a brown or dark copper lens mid-day and amber (yellow) early and late. Take both every day. You’ll use one for running in the boat and the other for fishing.
As much as any other bonefishing destination, Bahamas flats have a great range of depth. The wading angler frequently fishes less than 1 foot of water, but from the skiff, you might fish all day on flats that are 2-4 feet deep, where many of the largest bones are caught. Throughout much of the Bahamas, flats are hard sand or mud rather than the turtle grass found throughout the Florida Keys and Caribbean. Flies tied with white, tan, pink and pearlescent materials are most favored. When wading, I almost always fish a size #6 or #8 with light chain or plastic eyes. I find myself tying my flies thinner and thinner as fishing pressure wizens the bonefish. When fishing deeper water from a skiff for potentially large fish, your guide will almost certainly want a size #2-4 pattern with lead dumbbell eyes (yellow or red). Weed guards are generally unnecessary in the Bahamas, unless specifically advised by your lodge.
Permit, Tarpon and Barracuda Flies
Bring a few mantis shrimp and crab patterns for permit, as well as representative Tarpon Toads or Cockroach flies for tarpon and the aforementioned needlefish for barracuda.
Shorts, fast drying
Long fishing pants (critical on Andros and the Berry Islands)
Long sleeve fishing shirts (3)
Broad brimmed hat, up-downer or long-billed ball cap
Lightweight rain jacket
Cheap gym socks to wear under flats booties
Sungloves with stripping guards (Simms)
Buff sun mask
Notes on apparel
After fishing each day, step into the shower with your longsleeve flats wear, then hang it outside to dry in the wind overnight. Rinsing in freshwater each evening allows the angler to fish for weeks with only one pair of pants and 1-3 shirts.
On Andros, “doctor fly” horseflies require the angler to wear long pants from April – September. Curiously, these mannerless creatures only snack on the lower half of one’s body. The hotter the weather, the more doctor flies will be present. Bring at least one pair of fishing pants that errs on the heavy side. The “doctor” will drill right through thinner nylon materials.