DIY Bahamas Bonefish, with the Family

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Got 'Cha! Photo by Louis Cahill

Got ‘Cha! Photo by Louis Cahill

Perhaps the most technical feat in fly fishing is combining a fishing trip with a family vacation.

Leaving the wife or girlfriend behind, with or without a number of restless kids, while you slip away for a little fishing almost always ends in, what my brother calls “Hot tongue and cold shoulder,” no matter how delicate your presentation. It makes landing a permit look like child’s play. My last attempt, however, came off pretty well so I thought I’d share some of what made it a success.

My wife and I hade a great time in the Bahamas and you can too, but first here’s a pile of disclaimers.

1. Sharing your fishing time with family means compromising. What we’re talking about is a decidedly soft core fishing trip. I spent an average of two hours per day fishing. It worked for me but I’m confident in my ability to find and feed bonefish on my own. If you have never bonefished or are just learning you will need to tweak the strategy.

2. If you are new to bonefishing there is no replacement for the total immersion you get at a fishing lodge. It shortens your learning curve immeasurably. That said, in terms of both time and cost, it’s not in the cards for everyone.

3. I elected to fish on my own, without a guide. Lots of guys prefer to fish on their own and there’s nothing wrong with it. However, it is impossible to overstate the value of a good guide, especially when fishing waters far from home or unfamiliar species.

4. A good measure of the credit for my harmonious marriage goes to my wife. She is blessed with patience beyond belief.

About Cat Island

Checking out the Reef  Photo by Louis Cahill

Checking out the Reef Photo by Louis Cahill

I’ve done most of my Bahamas fishing on South Andros, and for quality fishing there’s no place better. On this trip I let my wife choose the destination. It seemed only fair since this would be my third trip to the Bahamas in five months. She chose Cat Island for its quiet pace, its history and its beautiful beaches. It turned out to be a great choice, not just for a vacation but for some surprisingly good fishing.

Cat Island is fifty miles long with one road running from north to south. The settlements are at either end of the island with pretty much nothing in between. There is a small airport at New Bight in the south and Arthur’s Town in the north. The locals treat them as two separate islands.

The island has a remarkably laid back lifestyle, even for the Caribbean, and nothing there is posh. If you want to play golf, gamble or shop, stay in Nassau. If you want to lie on a beach that is beautiful beyond words, meet the nicest people in the Bahamas, explore old ruins or natural caves, hear local music, eat Bahamian home cooking, drink rum and catch bonefish, Cat Island is a great choice.

You should be aware that while the folks on Cat Island will do anything in their power to make your stay enjoyable, there’s a lot that is not in their power. For instance, it’s surprisingly easy to rent a car on the island, however while we were there the entire island was out of gas. We had planned to rent a car but in the end were happier without it. The rewards of island life are not always obvious at first. My advice is to go with it. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Cat Island to anyone.

Accommodations

The Beach at Halvorson House

The Beach at Halvorson House

After consulting Trip Advisor and Google Earth we chose to stay at The Halvorson House, located in Bennett’s Harbor on the north end of the island. Listed as “best value” by trip advisor, Halvorson House offers beach bungalows for $100 per night. Google Earth revealed some promising flats very near by. It seemed a natural choice.

Matt and Sooner Halvorson, originally from Colorado, came to Cat Island on vacation and loved it so much they they decided to move their family there and spend their lives sharing it with others. Their passion for the place shows in everything they do. The Halvorson House is a family affair, with Stella (10) and Maddie (7) acting as Cat Island’s best ambassadors.

The bungalows are literally on the beach, with an unobstructed view of the sunset. There is a restaurant serving three, excellent meals a day and a well stocked honor bar. Each bungalow has a mini fridge and coffee maker and Matt will run you by the market for supplies if you feel like doing some meals for yourself. There are also some great local restaurants and bars within walking distance. Yardie’s and The Hot Spot are a must.

The Halvorsons provide snorkel gear for exploring the reefs that lie just off the beach, bikes for exploring the island, as well as kayaks and paddle boards, which were key to my fishing strategy. There is a great play room for the kids to get out of the sun and a couple of tiki huts on the beach so you can sit in the shade and stare at the turquoise bay. There are several cats, dogs, a horse and a goat, who thinks she’s a dog.

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If that’s not enough to keep you busy, Matt and Sooner will arrange just about anything else you can think up. Sight-seeing tours, a local captain to take you off shore fishing or a trip to the local karaoke bar. Some Canadians we met there wanted to see sea turtles and Matt hooked them up with a local captain who knew just where to take them. Another guest caught a boat load of snapper and wanted to cook them for all of the guest to enjoy. They were delicious.

Maybe the best part of our trip were the folks we met there at the Halvorson House. I think we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses with everyone. The atmosphere is just friendly. It’s one of those places where you can not remain a stranger.

The Fishing

Cat Island does not boast much in the way of ocean flats. Surrounded by deep water and sandy beaches, the bonefishing is in the tidal creeks. Orange Creek and Alligator Creek are two of the better known creeks in the north but all the creeks hold fish. I focused on a creek system nearer the resort and was not disappointed. Matt has some “secret spots” and I have agreed not to publish their specific location but he has promised to share them with our readers, so if you go mention Gink and Gasoline.

There are a few local guides and Matt has a skiff and will take you out but I opted for the full DIY experience, making my plan from my Google Earth research and accessing the flats by kayak. During our trip, the high tide came around 5:00 in the afternoon so I spent the mornings on the beach or exploring with my wife and after lunch, paddled about a mile to my chosen flats.

Arriving on a low tide, I was pleased to find a school of bonefish riding out the low tide in some deep holes far in the back of the creek. These fish were spooky as hell and hard to feed but each day I managed to land a few while I waited for the incoming tide to bring a push of fish. As it did, I moved out into the main channel and, tying my kayak to a mangrove, waded the western edge where the afternoon light gave me its best visibility.

Fish numbers were better than I expected and most of the fish traveled in small schools of twenty or less but I did see several schools of over a hundred fish. I saw, and broke off, a few large fish but most of what I caught were in in the three or four pound class. Enough fish to show you your backing. In my two-hour window I averaged six fish landed for ten hookups each day. Not bad for two hours of fishing and that’s the up side of fishing small creeks. There are only so many places for fish to hide. I should point out that for my two hours of fishing I paddled another hour and a half round trip. I set out for the flats about 2:00 and made it back in time for a shower before dinner.

The flats on Cat Island are an easy wade. The bottom is firm, clean sand with no coral. You can wade barefoot if you like but I never do. I’ve heard horror stories about rusty jagged metal hiding just under the sand. I fished an eight weight with a twelve foot leader and large arbor reel. All the flies I used were light tan with orange or pink hot spots in size 4 or 6. I carried a small pack with two spools of tippet, pliers and a fly box and that’s it. You can’t imagine how nice that was, not having twenty pounds of cameras along.

Orange Creek is reachable by car or bike and I hear it fishes well. Kathy and I rode the bikes up to check it out and it looks like great water. The road runs along it so it’s very accessible. It takes about an hour to hour and a half to get there on the one-speed cruiser. And I think that would be a fun way to do it. I didn’t try kayaking to Alligator Creek. It requires traversing some open water so it’s best left for the more experienced kayakers or accessed by boat. I’ve also heard there is some really good water in the south as well. Maybe I’ll try that on the next trip. I heard stories, as one always does, of permit on the Atlantic side of the island but from the descriptions I feel like they were likely pompano and I didn’t want to waste a day finding out.

Orange Creek

Orange Creek

Travel and Budget

Many travelers are not aware of the “Two Fly Free” program that Bahamas tourism is now offering. When you stay four nights or more with a resort in the program they refund the cost of your flight from Nassau to the island. Halvorson House is in the program and it saved us a whopping $340. All things accounted for, the trip cost a little over $1000 for the two of us. We’re pretty frugal travelers and we live in Atlanta, GA and flights to Nassau are cheap but that’s still pretty damn good. The “Two Fly Free” program has been extended through mid December of 2013 so there’s still plenty of time to take advantage of it.

What Have I Forgotten?

If you’re a complete virgin here are a few things to think about.

Don’t drink the tap water. Bottled water is available everywhere.

Wear sun screen, long sleeves and pants, a buff, hat and maybe sun gloves. It’s not Florida.

There’s no exchange rate. Bahamian dollars and American dollars are interchangeable. You don’t need to change money.

Everyone in the Bahamas works for tips. Do the right thing.

They drive on the left. That will be important if you rent a car.

There are plenty of options for vegetarians.

You will need a passport.

The Bahamian airlines that service the smaller islands are often very late for no reason. Give yourself an extra three hours to change planes in Nassau.

Bring cash. Some places take cards but not all.

Do not turn on your cell phone other than in airplane mode! The bill will fund a small space mission. If you must have a cell phone you can buy prepaid phones at the airport.

The Bahamian people are the nicest people you will ever meet. Most are deeply religious, proud of their home and genuinely happy to see you there. Treat them and their island with respect.

With a good plan and some open discussion about expectation you can have a great family vacation that involves catching a few bonefish. What’s better, you can do it on a budget. However you should be warned, bonefishing is highly addictive. Don’t blame me when you find yourself out on the street with nothing but an eight weight.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
www.ginkandgasoline.com
hookups@ginkandgasoline.com
 
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30 thoughts on “DIY Bahamas Bonefish, with the Family

  1. Thanks for the trip report Louis! I’ve been thinking of a DIY trip for a while now (ever since my first bonefishing trip) and I’m definitely going to be on a budget. I’ve looked at Cat Island and even Mayaguana as options, so this really helps.

  2. Really enjoy the post. My wife and I are going to Belize in a few months and that will be my first time saltwater fishing. Although I’ll do two full days of guided fishing, I have no doubt I’ll want to do some fishing on my own too. Anyway, it’s such a challenge to balance everything!

  3. If a guy wanted to book a full day guided trip on Cat Island, is this possible? Is so do you recommend anyone you came across?

  4. Nice trip report Louis. Cat Island is indeed a wonderful place for both the family and DIY bonefishing. Matt and Sooner have a beautiful life in a gorgeous setting with a lot to offer to those seeking a Bahamian get away.

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  6. Nice article and pretty accurate throughout most of the Bhams for DiYers. I’d add that credit cards almost always get hit with a 3-5% surcharge (it’s the greedy bankers, folks, not the Bahamians). So just bring cash. Hear, hear! for Bahamian hospitality,particularly on the out islands.

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  10. Not sure if you will see this 2 years later but…GREAT review of Cat Island! My husband and I just returned from a trip to Bennett’s Harbour last month and you’ve described it, and the island to a T. We are not fishermen, but we took advantage of 8 wonderful days of ‘doing nothing’ because we could. We stayed in Sea Star Cottage (2 houses from the dock\harbour) which was also about $100 night. We saw sea turtles by the light of the full moon, had dinner with Yardie on a Sunday night when all other places were closed (we are pretty sure the wonderful meal she served us was what she also made for her family for dinner—baked grouper- and we definitely ate in her family room with her!). We bought fresh lobster and grouper from a nearby fisherman (and preacher) as well as fresh veggies from the truck of the guy who comes by on Saturdays (the teacher/veggie man…and preacher). And anything else we needed was taken care of by our cottage’s caretaker (and preacher). Cat Island is a wonderful place to go if you are happy with seclusion (saw no more than 2 people on the beach each day); isolation and the joy of being away!

  11. Great report. I’m currently stuck in Nassua with wife and no kids getting the cold shoulder every time I mention some fly fishing DIY style. I’m so bored of the hotel and shopping. The wind has been blowing 25-35 mph day and night since we arrived and the water is dirty and cloudy. Sounds like I need to get to south side of the island and find some protected water but might loose the relationship.

    • You know, you can fly to just about any of the out islands for about $150 round trip. The flights usually leave Nassau about 8:00am and return around 3:00pm. You could do a nice DIY day anywhere you like.

  12. Does anyone have any info about Halvorson House ? I’ve been trying to contact them but they appear to be out of business, can anyone comment ? Thanks.

  13. Great article Louis! Heading to South Andros in a couple of weeks and am hoping for some good DIY fishing in Big Creek. Let me know if you have any recommendations for DIY fishing in Kemp’s Bay, which is where i’ll be staying. Thanks for the info!

    • South Andros is a very difficult place for DIY fishing. There aren’t really any flats in Kemps Bay. My advice would be to go to Josie Sand’s bar at Little Creek and find a guide to take you out. It will be well worth it.

  14. Headed to Cat island in December 2018, staying at Rollezz Villas Beach Resort, which is centrally located. Any recent updates on fishing or anything else?

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  16. Hi there,
    How was your experience with Rollezz Villas Beach Resort?
    We are thinking of heading to Cat island for R&R and diy Fly fishing and looking at a couple of places. This was one them.
    Thanks!

  17. Pingback: Sunday Classic / Cat Island Bones | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying | Fly Fishing Blog

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