Bahamas Boneyard

Here in the Marls, a 300-square-mile expanse of tropical flats off the west coast of the Bahamas’ Great Abaco Island, the fish must’ve sensed that it could run forever. I let the reel whir until the line slackened slightly, then I cranked like mad to haul it back. Even then, we saw almost no fish. Last Cast The next morning I stepped onto the dock to find that the water was clearer but the wind just as strong. The next pod we located offered easier casting with a tailing wind, and two long strips after I laid down my Coyote Ugly, I felt the tug of a hooked bone. Ashron Williams, a third-generation bonefishing guide who was born and raised on Abaco Island, poled us through the Marls’ watery crannies. Once the fish finally nosed toward my line, all it took was one long strip to spark a chase. The lead fish was a giant—8 or 9 pounds, Williams estimated—and feeding hard. I unleashed my fly, made two false casts, and dropped the fly right where I wanted, about a foot beyond the fish’s nose. “With the really big bones,” Williams said, “you’ve got to lead them more than you think.” I lost that trophy.
fly rods
A selection of fly rods are available for anglers to cast from the dock at Abaco Lodge.

s the bonefish bulleted away with my line, my heartbeat seemed to lurch into fast-forward. Here in the Marls, a 300-square-mile expanse of tropical flats off the west coast of the Bahamas’ Great Abaco Island, the fish must’ve sensed that it could run forever. I let the reel whir until the line slackened slightly, then I cranked like mad to haul it back.

The fight went back and forth like this for two marvelous minutes before my rig suddenly slackened altogether. Looking at a straight rod, I realized I’d lost my fish. I felt cheated enough to howl.

“Nothin’ you coulda done about that,” said Travis Sands, who was poling me around the shallows beyond Abaco Lodge. Living in Colorado, I’ve lost my fair share of trout for reasons both obvious and inscrutable, and I know that breakoffs are just part of the game. But apparently, I’d hoped angling’s laws might work differently down here in the Bahamas. And we’d seen so few fish that day that I worried I might’ve flubbed my only chance to bring a bonefish to the boat.

Grey Ghost Paradise

This was my first trip to the Bahamas, and I expected warm temperatures—or at least sunshine and those blue-opal waters found nowhere else. But as luck would have it, the same weather system that was dumping January’s “bomb cyclone” on the mid-Atlantic coast was also roiling the water here at Abaco Lodge, situated on the labyrinth of mangroves and mud flats known as the Marls.

bonefish Abaco Lodge Bahamas
Bonefish are a bucket-list target for fly anglers who love the challenge of sight-fishing.

These vast swaths of shallow water hold huge numbers of bonefish, which helped earn this area its National Park designation in 2015. Marls fish, on average, aren’t huge—5 pounds ranks as big—but they are plentiful. In May and June, Sands tells me, the fish are so thick that you can’t wade without kicking them.

That’s what prompted Oliver White to establish Abaco Lodge in 2009. A globetrotting angler and adventurer, White has scouted fisheries from French Polynesia to Guyana, and he knows an uncorrupted gem when he sees one. So, when he stumbled upon a ramshackle waterfront property on the west coast of Abaco Island, on the Marls’ very doorstep, he rounded up some investors and turned the dilapidated former hotel into an 11-room fishing lodge and dock.

The lodge lounge is comfy (its sofas are flanked by an open bar and a big-screen TV) and the décor is sleek but relaxed: The small waterfront yard includes both a fire pit and a black stone swimming pool. But direct access to the flats is the lodge’s standout feature. Instead of having to trailer a boat to the put-in (as most Abaco Island anglers do), guests at Abaco Lodge roll from coffee to dock—and in the afternoon, from dock to Kalik lager—with a 15-second commute.

Fishing from the dock wasn’t an option when I arrived, though. Whipping winds, grey skies, and cold, murky water sent the bonefish fleeing to warmer depths. But as Sands and I set out on his flats skiff on the first of three days, he seemed cavalier about the unfavorable conditions. “We’ll find some,” he assured me. He beamed even brighter when I selected a dun-colored Coyote Ugly shrimp fly that Drew Chicone had sent me for this trip. (The author of the book series Top Saltwater Flies, Chicone has taught fishing workshops from Abaco Lodge and knows what works on the Marls.)

With the wind consistently…

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