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Bonefishing in Style in the Bahamas

Blackfly Lodge may be the area’s hottest new destination.

April 4, 2014
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bonefish in the Bahamas
Flats Heaven: Bonefish thrive in the shallow waters of the Bight of Abaco, and the southern end receives little pressure. File Photo

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.

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The Blackfly Lodge
First Class: The Blackfly Lodge is top-shelf, from rooms and meals to boats and guides. File Photo

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 blackflylodge.com 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.

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catching bonefish
Fly Time: Most anglers fish fly tackle for bonefish. This one fell to a shrimp imitation with numerous rubber legs. File Photo

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.

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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.

fishing the flats for bonefish
Flat Spin: Spinning tackle is also quite effective on Abaco bonefish. Light 8-pound-test rods with fast tips for throwing skimmer jigs work great. File Photo

New Territory

Kemp showed us many bays and tidal creeks; in fact, the area available to fish is seemingly endless. Our second day of fishing came with Capt. Paul Pinder; I’d never had the chance to fish with him, but I had been hearing of him for years. Pinder took us far to the north, to new territory we had not explored the day before. We set up in a huge bay, with a crescent-shaped beach that stretched out in front of us for more than a mile.

“The fish should be coming down the beach toward us soon,” Pinder said, “because the falling tide will start pushing them out of the bay.” It took a few minutes, but soon, there they came — one after the other, like a procession of silver shadows moving against the light bottom of the bay. Poppy and I took turns firing casts their way, scoring a bite every so often over the course of a little more than an hour, when the tide began to slack and the stream of fish slowed to a trickle, and then disappeared completely. It was an awesome experience, and we each released several chunky bonefish in the course of the nonstop action.

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Our third day dawned windy, with large rain clouds moving over the island from the west, and it looked as if the bonefish excursions would have to be put on hold until the weather cleared. But Kemp offered us an alternative: a chance to jump offshore off Schooner Bay to try the blue-water fishing.

bonefish caught in Bahamas using jigs
Jig It: Clint Kemp displays one of the many Abaco bonefish caught by the angler on pink or yellow skimmer jigs. File Photo

Into the Blue

Blackfly has a 31-foot Yellowfin center console in addition to its fleet of East Cape skiffs, and the Schooner Bay development team has dug a deepwater harbor on which the lodge sits, among the new homes being built with regularity. The protected basin provides a perfect base for offshore exploration, and Poppy and I jumped at the chance.

While dodging numerous rain showers, the three of us deployed a spread of ballyhoo and immediately began picking up 12- to 15-pound school dolphin, one after the other, right in front of ­Schooner Bay. We were never more than a couple of miles from the harbor entrance, and the action was steady, until one massive rain shower that could not be avoided forced us to ­curtail our dolphin fishing.

Our trip featured great ­fishing in water shallow and deep, and Blackfly’s staff was wonderfully accommodating, adding an element of friendly relaxation to an already awesome experience. “We are having fun at Blackfly and are humbled by how well the new lodge is being received by our discerning guests,” says Kemp. “It feels like we are building a family of friends who meet in this special place, and join in this ­beautiful adventure of fishing and all things Blackfly.” I couldn’t agree more. If you like chasing bonefish, permit and sometimes tarpon, this ­amazing new lodge offers a unique opportunity to do so.

offshore fishing in Bahamas
Total Package: The option of blue-water fishing adds another dimension to the Blackfly experience. File Photo
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