Abaco Lodge has top quality accommodations, incredible food, a perfect, unspoiled location on the Marls of Great Abaco Island and world class fly-fishing for bonefish, all combined in an ideal tropical setting. If you are interested in bonefishing at Abaco Bonefish Lodge – read on!
We quickly ascended eastward from Orlando. Our pilot leveled out the jet-prop at cruising altitude and pulled the prop rpm back for a nice ride. Soon we are on the Florida coastline just north of West Palm Beach. The vastness of the deep blue Atlantic was before us. Seemingly tiny looking ocean going freighters are plying the high sea between their ports leaving white foam trails in their wake.
Fifteen minutes later we are above the west end of Grand Bahama Island. The little Bahama Bank and miles of expansive flats, creeks and mangroves cays are clearly discernible. I have been there many times, searching for that elusive grey ghost, but not on this trip.
I had not finished the drink the stewardess provided when we start descending over the east end of Grand Bahama Island. Mores Island is visible in the distance and the coast of Abaco is perceptible on the horizon. We come in low over the vast Marls of Abaco, props are at max and the gear is down on our way into Marsh Harbour International. A short screech of the tires and a fine smooth landing; we are at our bonefishing destination.
I make several trips to the Bahamas each year to visit the various fishing lodges as it is just so simple to travel to many of the Bahamian Islands from my home near Homosassa Florida.
Traveling to the northern Bahamian island of Great Abaco is no exception. There are many commercial airlines that fly daily from Florida, starting in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami, directly to Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco. And fortunate for some anglers, I included, Orlando Florida currently has a direct flight to Marsh Harbor as well
I have mentioned the ease of traveling to the northern Bahamas in previous post: It just isn’t necessary to go to the other side of the world to have great fishing. You can take a direct flight from the east coast to Florida, then a quick jump over to Marsh Harbor. That’s it right there. There is no need for a charter flight, no need to spend the night in Nassau, Miami or anywhere.
Oliver White is patiently waiting just outside the exit door at Marsh Harbour International Airport. After a quick greeting we are on our way in Oliver’s pick-up truck. His constant companion, Bono, a rather large German shepherd is in the back.
Oliver White, a pleasant young man, is a talented entrepreneur, well-traveled angler and a gracious host. Right now he is running one of the nicest small luxury bonefishing lodges in the Bahamas.
Abaco Lodge opened in 2009 has been nearly full during the October to June time of year ever since and there is a good reason why. The accommodations, cuisine and fishing operation create quite honestly, an all-inclusive bonefishing vacation spot at its finest.
The lodge is only ten-minute drive from the airport and is situated on a picturesque site overlooking the “Marls of Abaco” on the western side of Great Abaco Island. The Marls have long been known by well-traveled bone fisherman as one of the most exceptional and productive fisheries in the Bahamas. The vast area encompasses literally hundreds of square miles of prolific bonefish flats, creeks and mangroves cays negotiable only by shallow draft skiffs. The angling pressure is light and spread across a great expanse and as result; the bonefish are not as wary as those found where the fishing pressure is much higher.
Oliver pulls his truck off the pavement and right up the rocky driveway to the lodge. Bono jumps out of the back and ambles away to a nice shady spot with a good vantage point of the property.
The understated elegance of the place is obvious. You enter the main lodge through a large open-air well-appointed lanai which radiates simple elegance. The central gathering area has window walls taking in the full view of the Marls, exposed wood ceilings, and a unique reclaimed wood floor with a pickled sanded finish which together set the theme for this unique fishing lodge.
After a quick orientation, Oliver grabbed my gear and showed me my room which is only a few steps from the main lodge.
Each angler has their own private single-occupancy room. The ten top quality rooms are stylish and simply decorated in a minimalist fashion with a Queen Anne bed frame with comfortable mattresses covered in fine linens, end tables with lamps, sitting bench, and writing table. All the rooms have ceiling fans, mini-split air-conditioners, and private baths with plenty of hot water. Eight of the quest rooms have balconies overlooking the water.
Oliver’s good friend, Captain Clint Kemp, likes to say “You can’t control the fishing, but you certainly can control the food”. Oliver makes sure of that; simply, the food is incredible here.
A fully stocked bar featuring premium selections of liquor, red and white wine, domestic beer, juices, sodas and other appropriate mixers and garnishes is open for your pleasure.
After an exceptional diner washed down with fine Argentinean wine, Oliver, the other lodge guests and I gathered around a fire pit overlooking the Marls and watched a beautiful sunset on the endless Bahamian horizon.
The next morning I woke from a very comfortable bed eager to explore a day on the flats. And I say explore as it would take you months just to be acquainted with this place. The smell of coffee made from freshly ground beans permeates the main lodge. After a made to order breakfast I grab my gear and head for the boat dock, which is less than twenty-five steps from the main lodge.
Oliver is at the dockside with his companion Bono surveying the scene.
Neatly tied to the floating dock are a fleet of “hard core” Hells Bay Waterman skiffs with 50 HP outboard engines. And before you wonder about the horsepower, I can assure you it is more than sufficient. These light boats run shallow, pole with little hull slap and will get you into the skinniest places possible. The boats are equipped with padded seats with backrests, bow mounted leaning bars and coolers to ensure your time on the flats is as comfy as it is enjoyable.
I asked Oliver about the tides: “The tides in the marls are tricky. As you get further in the tide is almost negligible. All that really matters for us on this side is the wind as it literally overpowers the tide. If it’s blowing from the west we get incoming water all day”.
I was surprised to learn, Marty Sawyer, one of Abaco’s legendary guides and I would share a fine sunny day together. I first became acquainted with Marty back in 1993 while he was a guide for Nettie Symonette at the “Great Abaco Bonefishing Club”, then renamed the “Nettie’s Heritage Club” and now disbanded. Back in those days, all of Nettie’s guides came from the English Loyalist town of Cherokee Sound which is about twenty-two miles south of Marsh harbor.
The Bahama Islands are primarily known for their bonefishing, and Abaco is no different. There are the occasional shots at permit, tarpon, barracuda, jacks, and sharks. Most of the fishing in the Marls, with its soft, muddy flats is by boat.
Marty is extremely familiar these waters; he grew up commercial fishing for lobster and conch, knows the area like the back of his hand.
Marty shut down just a few minutes from the lodge and within a short time we were in bonefish. The fishing was steady all day and I’m not sure how many bonefish we caught as I just didn’t keep track, but there were a lot of them in the 4-6 pound range.
There were a couple of remarkable incidents for which I shall mention:
We were probably a good 30 minutes west of the lodge and poling along a mangrove island, with several adjacent islands semi-enclosing a large pool of water of maybe 40 acres. There were two deeper main green-blue channels entering and exiting the lagoon. We noticed a massive push of water across the deeper part of the flats. I said to Marty I thought they were dolphin, not the fish, the mammal. Marty said “no, those fish are huge permit”. Now, I know a thing or two about permit as I have caught more than a hundred on a fly, but I never saw anything like that.
Marty, quickly pushed us into the path of the stampeding permit. I always have a permit rod rigged ready and my first cast was right on the money, but it didn’t draw a strike. One more casts and another refusal. The permit were on a mission and would not be enticed by a crustacean imitations, however, as always I was thankful to have had genuine shot. That’s permit fishing.
A couple of hours later, Marty dropped an anchor in a small cove by an interesting rock abutment covered with indigenous small trees and shrubs. While enjoying our picnic lunch in this beautiful spot I noticed a small tarpon causally swim by and proceed to a small mangrove nook at the end of the little bay where we were located. You just never know what you will see out there. I can tell you, on a previous trip, just north of where we were that day; I hooked several small tarpon in the 20-30 pound range and landed one.
Oliver is waiting for us at the dock. “Well, how did you do” Oliver asked. I replied “It was an OK day, we caught a few”, however, the Cheshire grins on Marty’s and my face gave it away. Oliver knows better, it is a rare day when you stalked the beautiful flats of the Marls of Great Abaco without catching plenty of bonefish.
I dropped my gear, grabbed a beer from the bar and found a nice spot to relax by the pool overlooking the vast expanse of the Marls. What a great place and what a great experience we had today.
Tomorrow I will fish with Captain David Tate. Abaco Lodge rotates its guides every day so you enjoy a variety of different fishing experiences. Every guide has his favorite spots. It will be hard to match today encounters, but hey, we’re fishing the Marls and you just never know how the day will unfold.
Activities and Things to Do
Taking a non-angler on a fishing trip may seem to be a fairly reckless move. However, fear not, you are safe here.
Some people are under the impression that Abaco Island is out of the way and there is nothing other than fishing and boating to do there. Quite to the contrary, if you are looking for genuine natural outdoor experiences there are a lot of things to do.
Tourists can embrace the relaxed culture and feel like locals. Abaco Lodge is only 10 minutes away from Marsh Harbour, which has many shops, restaurants and marinas.
So here are some easy things to do: Relax, read a book and recharge at Abaco Lodge’s refreshing pool with the convenience of being close to your room. Go shopping and have lunch in Marsh Harbour. Rent a bicycle, a scooter or a car and explore Abaco, but whatever mean of transportation you choose, don’t forget that Bahamians maintain the British custom of driving on the left hand side of the road!
Bird Watching – Bring your binoculars and enjoy the outstanding variety of birds to be found on Great Abaco and the surrounding islands. The Abaco Islands are rich with bird life and several areas have been set aside as preserves. The interior of the island is lush with Bahamian pine trees and here you will find the habitat of the Abaco parrot
Day trips for the more adventuresome: My family and I have vacationed in the Abaco Islands for more than thirty years and have enjoyed all the activities listed below.
Beaches – The Abaco’s have some of the finest beaches in the world, most of them completely deserted. Go to one of the rental boat companies in Marsh Harbour and captain yourself across. While you’re there, grab your snorkel gear and explore the pristine world class elkhorn and staghorn reefs just off the Beaches or scuba and discover the many offshore wrecks and caverns.
Take the ferry from Marsh Harbour and spend the day Nippers Beach Bar & Grill on Great Guana Cay. Nipper’s is open 364 days a year. Stop by for the music and fun, mix with the locals, tourists and cruisers. Everyone’s here but there’s plenty of space to chill at Nipper’s, too.
Ride a 20 minute ferry from Marsh Harbour and spend the day at Hope on beautiful Elbow Cay. Rent a cart and explore the island. There are lots of things to do to keep you busy. Be sure to visit the famous red and white striped Elbow Reef Lighthouse; probably the most recognizable landmark in Abaco.
Take the ferry from Marsh Harbour and spend the day at Man-O-War Cay. Watch how the English Loyalist descendants still build boats by hand, walk around town, take a stroll on the beach or rent a golf cart and explore. Man-O-War is less touristy than the other islands. Do you enjoy snorkeling? Visit Fowl Cay underwater park – A national underwater sea park.
Take the ferry from Treasure Cay and spend the day at the Green Turtle Club on Green Turtle Cay. Visit the historic settlement of New Plymouth, a quiet 18th century village by the sea, with its museums, garden, shops, restaurants and pastel-painted clapboard homes that remind one of a turn-of-the-century village of the New England coast.
Location and Getting There: The Abacos are a 130 mile crescent shaped string of Bahamian islands located approximately 200 miles east of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and 75 miles northeast of Nassau Bahamas. With nearly 50 square miles of landmass, Abaco is the second largest island in the Bahamas.
Abaco Island has direct flights from Florida to Marsh Harbour. It is also possible to fly via Nassau; however a direct flight from Florida is by far the easiest. For current flight information click here.
For Rates at Abaco Lodge click here.
To return to the Abaco Lodge main page click here
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Leisure Time Travel – Your best and most knowledgeable choice for fishing the Caribbean
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531 N. Citrus Ave. Crystal River, Florida 34428
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All Photographs by Edward R. Johnston, except photo of Oliver white by Adam Barker and green bonefish by Brian Grossebacher
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