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April 03, 2014

Bonefishing in Style

Blackfly Lodge may be the Bahamas’ hottest new destination.

Bonefish lodges in the Bahamas seem to come and go with some regularity. One particular area gets hot when a new lodge opens, as many of the flats fishermen of the world line up to take advantage of new opportunities. But after a while, you hear less and less about a camp, maybe due to anglers seeking new horizons, or maybe due to the inherent difficulties of running a complex ­organization in a developing country.

That’s why it’s refreshing to come across an operation like the Blackfly Lodge on Great Abaco. Blackfly got its start as a collaboration between Clint Kemp, a native Bahamian fishing guide, and Vaughn Cochran, a noted marine artist and former Florida Keys fishing guide who has extensive experience managing fishing operations in remote regions. Kemp and Cochran hooked up with a Bahamian real-estate development team that was building a new settlement in south Abaco at Schooner Bay, between Cherokee Sound and Sandy Point.

To round out the team, they brought in Canadian businessman Dave Byler to create an incredibly ­impressive organization unlike any other I’ve come across, and I’ve seen quite a few of them. “From the boats to the beds, we set out to create a space where our guests would be comfortable and enjoy the spirit of what has been created here,” Kemp says. “The great fishing is a gift from God; we joined in and added Blackfly.” After my first visit to the lodge, it seemed abundantly clear that this outfit will be around for a long time.

Impressive Digs

After a short flight to Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco, the club’s van picked us up for the ride south to the lodge. Now, the word “lodge” can mean a great many things to different people, but in this case, it doesn’t do the accommodations justice. The new building housing Blackfly sits squarely in the center of the growing Schooner Bay development, and the simple yet elegant rooms are surpassed only by the gourmet cuisine that the staff is justifiably proud of. This is not your ordinary bonefishing experience: Everything is first class.

Our first day on the water, we fished with Kemp aboard his purple East Cape Vantage skiff, trailered from the lodge to a ramp only about a mile down the highway. Its location toward the southern end of Abaco gives the Blackfly fleet easy access to an incredible amount of shallow water in the Bight of Abaco, on the west side of the island. In fact, the fleet has six distinct “zones” of fishing in which it operates (see for maps of the zones). 

The waters they fish lie south of the famed Marls area west of Marsh Harbour, and due to its somewhat remote location, you’re unlikely to see a non-Blackfly skiff all day. On calm days, the skiffs even make the trek west with some regularity to Mores Island, located on the western edge of the Bight of Abaco, where the bonefish and permit fishing can be extraordinary. Bonefish up to 12 pounds, permit and a considerable number of large tarpon all call these waters home.

Vast Flats

Our trip began with some wind, but heading north or south along the west coast of Abaco offers countless potential places where bonefish might be found, as we discovered. Kemp ran us north a few miles and pulled in behind a nameless barrier island, where he mounted the poling tower and began scouting for signs of fish. After a short time, we saw first a single fish, then a pair, and then they came at us in waves of two to four at a time. It seemed that bonefish swam everywhere.

My wife, Poppy, scored first, landing a hefty bone caught with a spinning rod armed with a pink skimmer jig.

Her first fish weighed about 6 pounds, above average by the standards of many Bahamian bonefish destinations. Most of the anglers who travel to Blackfly will throw flies for the bonefish, but I can attest firsthand to their willingness to eat jigs, in case you’re not a fly-caster. Poppy caught bonefish on several different jigs of varying colors during our visit.

My turn came next: I was throwing an 8-weight G.Loomis fly rod with a locally tied fly, which resembled a brownish crustacean with rubber legs, similar to the famed Bonefish Bitters fly but without the epoxy head. I am by no measure an accomplished fly-fisherman, but the sheer numbers of fish allowed me to score easily.