The Good Old Day of Bahamas Bonefishing, Did I Miss Them?

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Carter Lyles

Lightning pierced the sky as another Bahamian storm blocked the sun from shining on every shade of blue you could imagine–it was the second storm of the day.

The serenity of the moment was captured by our Long Island guide, Docky, yelling with his hands cupped over his mouth: “Get back to the boat! Keep your rod tips down!” Wading back to the boat, I saw silver flashes to the left of me in about three feet of water and around twenty yards out. The smell of the salt air captured the moment as the warm, crystal clear Bahamian water swirled itself around my legs. “To the boat mon’! What are you doing?!” That last cast in fly-fishing is to me the hardest part of the experience, but I knew there was a possibility of becoming a conch fritter if I didn’t put myself in the boat as soon as possible.

Once in the boat, I met Docky who had taken out his ham sandwich that his wife had prepared him the night before. Not once did we ever get wet. The storm was split right down the middle when it met us, almost like the passing of the Red Sea by Moses. Docky and I spent an hour on the boat discussing the “good ole days,” unfortunately, something that I am too young to remember. “Thousands of bonefish mon’, every single day, just thousands…” I could tell how passionate Docky was about his bonefish fishery, because when he began talking about the “good ole days,” it was like staring at a man who had seen the other side. Long Island Bahamas holds some of the biggest bonefish in the entire world and especially in the Bahamas itself, but I just couldn’t bring myself to imagine it getting in better than this. Apparently I was wrong, it could be much, much better; however, we have disallowed this to be the case due to gillnets, resource extraction, and coastal development.

The use of gillnets to catch bonefish has increased in the Bahamas, and mostly in Long Island. Gillnetting on the flats for bonefish has had severe consequences for the fishery, dramatically decreasing the bonefish population. Unfortunately, the enforcement has been lacking substantially due to the extremely small law enforcement on the island. Chair of the Fisheries Conservation Foundation, Dr. David Philipp, stated that: “Bonefish are very susceptible to capture by netting, and removal of those fish could crush the Long Island bonefish population for years to come. This would destroy an extremely valuable industry that benefits the entire community. Everyone in those communities should act to prevent those irresponsible persons from stealing the Bahamas’ natural resources for their own purposes.” It is time for a movement and a final halt to gillnetting in the Bahamas for bonefish, and that starts with us.

Resource extraction has also proven to be a dangerous threat to the fishery, especially in Grand Bahama Island where a sand flat that holds high numbers of bonefish is being proposed as either a National Park or a potential area to begin sand drilling. Sand drilling would cause dredges up to 16 feet in depth, absolutely destroying this pearl of a bonefish fishery. Bahamas National Trust’s Executive Director, Eric Carey indicated, “The East End Communities, especially the fishermen, have made a strong case for this proposed national park. Noting the importance of Bursus Cay as to the sustainability of their fishery, and the threat that the proposed dredging represents, they have asked Bahamas National Trust to expand the original proposal, to include this important area.” This is another opportunity for the fly-fishing nation to pull together to protect what is ours and what is home to a brilliant species of fish. We cannot let this happen to such a beautiful piece of creation, just like the proposed resort development in world famous, Abaco Marls.

Bonefish and Tarpon Trust researches have recently discovered a bonefish spawning location on Abaco. According to research, this may be the only location for bonefish that call the Abaco Marls their home. The bonefish that reside in the Marls migrate each winter to this location to spawn, returning after spawning. Unfortunately there is a proposal for the development of a resort along the migration pathway and spawning location of the bonefish. If the resort proposal goes through, this would create unavoidable impacts to the bonefish fishery in the Marls.

Thankfully though, we do have options that work in our favor, many thanks to the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. Although the information from the work of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and its partners has a major impact on conservation strategy, it is still not enough. You and I, as part of the fly-fishing culture and nation, must come together to help save these fish from possible annihilation. This is our fish they’re messing with, so it’s time they picked on someone their own size. Please visit and contribute to the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust to help fund the Bahamas Initiative. Also, please take the time to write a short letter to provide your concern for the possible threats to the bonefish fishery and email a letter to the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. Together, we can make things happen.

Carter Lyles
Gink & Gasoline
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6 thoughts on “The Good Old Day of Bahamas Bonefishing, Did I Miss Them?

  1. Well written, Carter. I’ve been extremely concerned with the lack of enforcement on Long Island. Netting seems to actually be increasing in frequency and boldness – spotted in the act of netting is more frequent. Areas of Long Island that held hundreds of fish 5 years ago are virtually devoid of fish today. I can not fathom why the government is unwilling to put forth even a modest effort to apprehend the perpetrators. Several of my guide friends will soon be out of business if netting continues and the fish disappear. I spend 3 months a year walking the Long Island flats with my 8wt.

  2. Absolute tragedy to even risk harming populations of this wonderful species, not only to the sportfishing community but to the islander’s themselves.

  3. I have canceled my trip to Long Island Bahamas due to the netting. The lack of enforcement will continue to negatively effect tourism, The Bahamians need to enforce a zero tolerance netting policy for their own future. Catch and release is not a perfect pursuit with no morality, however it is much better than an “extraction industry” that is illegal and tolerated by the locals and the government. The court system needs not to accept the excuse that ” I did not know of the net ban” as an acceptable defense. The ban has been in place for a decade or more….Pete

    • Sad you are not returning to LI because of the netting. You are not alone, according to my guide friends who have have clients not coming back because of the netting. I’ve seen netters at work and a severe reduction in bonefish numbers from Galloway south to the Diamond Crystal complex. The locals all know who is doing it and the guides are furious but the government and local law enforcement seems absolutely unwilling to lift a finger.

    • Pete, Anybody got the email address for the Bahamas bureau of tourism and whoever is head of the law enforcement?? We should all be copying them our remarks of disgust at the rampant illegal netting. Jim

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