GOLD STRIKE: Dolphin, from small schoolies to large adults, ride the edge of the Gulf Stream, near the island. Troll lures rigged with ballyhoo to cash in.
BETTER LIVE: In Bimini, nothing opens Pandora’s box like live bait. Drop a live pilchard, goggle-eye, pinfish or yellowtail to the bottom, and just hang on.
SLIDIN’ BY: A sliding sinker rig with a long 20-foot fluorocarbon leader is often the key to catching wary mutton snapper.
Marlin fishing put Bimini on the map. Until June 2011, when a 1,119-pound blue was captured off Treasure Cay, it was the only place in the Bahamas that yielded a grander, a 1,060.5-pound fish taken in 1979. Late spring into summer offers prime trolling for dolphin and blue marlin, which remains one of my passions. But as the months play on and these fish migrate through, numerous other players coax us across the Stream. Downtime is rare here, provided you know where to focus your efforts.
The vast, yet shallow bank behind Bimini is scattered with the remnants of ill-fated prop planes and boats. Locate such a find, and they are often loaded with mangrove snapper, barracuda and — on some of the better pieces — both permit and cobia.
Last season, Harry Vernon III and I went wreck-hopping off Bimini. Having procured a couple dozen live crabs before we crossed, our goal was to catch a permit. Many times we’ve seen these prestigious game fish perusing the deeper sections of flats, rocky shorelines and even some wrecks. As luck would have it, we found them at our first stop. In less than 90 minutes, we caught and released eight permit upward of 25 pounds.
When fishing for permit around the wrecks, please do it responsibly and release them. Avoid light tackle because these fish will surely break off in the structure. Better to use stout gear so they’re still relatively green when brought alongside the boat, which bodes well for their survival. Keep a live crab, the ideal bait, ready to pitch at fish that you discover circling the perimeter; soak one on the bottom near any structure for deep-rooting fish.
Bimini yellowtails are plentiful, often big, and available year-round. While one of the most consistent fisheries, yellowtails can become one of the most challenging. For starters, locate solid reef structure, with the best zones for larger fish between 60 and 80 feet. Atlantic side wrecks also draw big yellowtail. Then it’s all about the current: Moving water stimulates feeding, whereas slack water kills the bite.
Predator fish pose a big challenge too, with sharks, amberjack and horse-eye jacks often crashing a good yellowtail party. When chum-lining a silverside, a tiny piece of bonito, ballyhoo or squid, tie a No. 2 circle hook straight to an outfit spooled with 12 or 20-pound mono. Small yellow jigs tipped with a silverside or piece of bait and free-lined in the chum slick work well, especially in a moderate current.
When the ’tails are up, remember these two crucial items: To fool yellowtail into taking a bait, flip it into the chum slick, point the rod tip to the water and strip off line. As long as the bait drifts at the same rate as the chum particles, it should get picked off. Upon hookup, do not pump and wind. Instead, rapidly reel the fish in a straight line. Along with the erratic fight, pump and wind makes yellowtail easy prey for sharks or amberjacks. Wound straight in, the fish appears to be swimming to the surface with no handicap.
Anchoring and chumming sets up a lot of other opportunities, especially when using live pilchards caught locally or brought from South Florida. Send a live bait to bottom on a mutton rig, a three-way swivel joining the fishing line to a 20-foot leader of 50-pound-test fluorocarbon and a 4/0 circle hook, with the third eye carrying the weight on a foot of lighter mono, which breaks first if you snag bottom. You’ll score mutton snapper, grouper, amberjack and horse-eye jack with this, whereas a live goggle-eye, live yellowtail or live cero mackerel floated well back in the chum slick under a balloon attracts big king mackerel.
When dropping live baits, stay with stout tackle because big black grouper live on these reefs. Our “light” bottom outfits for pilchards are conventional reels filled with 50-pound braid with 50-pound-test fluorocarbon leaders. Our “heavy” outfit, used for dropping a big live bait, (live goggle-eye or yellowtail) is a larger conventional reel spooled with 80- to 100-pound braid, an 8-foot, 130-pound fluorocarbon leader and a 3x strong 9/0 circle hook. An egg sinker heavy enough to hold bottom rides on the fishing line, stopped only by the swivel connecting the line to the leader.
For live-baiting kings, we use a conventional reel filled with 20-pound mono followed with a 20-foot wind-on leader of 30-pound fluorocarbon and a dual-hook stinger rig fabricated from 2 feet of 50-pound titanium wire, joined to the fishing line with a small barrel swivel. Choose 5/0 to 6/0 in-line circle hooks based on bait size.
The beauty of dropping anything live to the bottom along Bimini’s reefs is that you just don’t know what exactly is going to take the bait. But one thing is certain: Whatever does will pin you tight against the gunwales and have you winding for all you’re worth. Yes, this is the Bimini we know and love.
My favorite place to stay is Bimini Sands in South Bimini. This well-kept facility offers floating dockage, fuel, ice and two restaurants. Clearing customs is easy; Bimini Sands shuttles you to the airport, where you clear, and then they take you back to the marina. Bonefishing and offshore charters can be arranged; on site, Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center serves those who’d rather have their fun underwater. Watson also conducts shark dives.
It is imperative to bring all the necessary fishing gear and chum because little can be procured once in Bimini. I order all of my chum and bottom baits through Baitmasters of South Florida.