Blackfly Lodge – Luxury Lodging & Excellent Flats Fishing at Black Fly Bonefish Lodge
The new Black Fly Bonefish Lodge is open for business at Schooner Bay, Abaco Island Bahamas. Black Fly Lodge officially opened this past March and enthusiastic anglers are making the trek, keen to sample the great bonefishing found on south side of Great Abaco Island. The launch of the new Black Fly Bonefish Lodge’s marks an important milestone for luxury Bahamian fishing lodges. If you are interested in bonefishing on Abaco Island and Black Fly Lodge please read on!
There is something about the allure of the Bahamas; the beauty of the azure ocean; the smell of the salty air and the soothing sound of the waves; the feel of the moisture on your face as the ocean wind swirls it around; maybe it’s just a great place to get away from it all. Perhaps, because the Bahamas are located just off the coast of Florida, but far enough away culturally and visually that there is a feeling of adventure.
For this quest I am heading to the Abacos which are a string of Bahamian islands located approximately 175 miles east of Palm Beach, Florida. The mainland is Great Abaco, the third largest island in the Bahamas.
For anglers, the main target in the Bahamas is bonefish. Shimmering silver out of water, but grey green shadows below the surface, bonefish are difficult to see in the water and provide a worthy piscine adversary.
Arrival Abaco Island
We left Florida on a United turbo-prop flight originating in Orlando, conveniently, just an hour and a half drive from my home in Homosassa/Crystal River. The sky was overcast and dark with rain when we left. The ominous thoughts of the storms in the making were discomforting. The plane climbed smoothly through the clouds and finally sunlight poured into the cabin. The captain cut back the throttle and leveled off. The interminable cloud cover below us extended to the horizon and was not a good sign.
Finally the thick layer of clouds started to break up a bit. From our vantage point, white cumulous clouds hung like lily pads over the sapphire ocean below and wispy cirrus were suspended high in the blue sky above. Our flight path took us over the vast shallow flats of Grand Bahama Island and the Little Bahama Bank.
The name “Bahamas” comes from the Spanish baja mar which means shallow sea. The cobalt blue water of the Gulf Stream gradually turns into many shades of radiant blue then a marine landscape of bright white coral sand under sparkling clear water. From the eastern edge of the Florida Straight to Great Abaco Island there is a 200 mile stretch of shallow water most of it less than twenty-feet deep.
The change in the sound of the engines signaled the beginning of our descent. A slight change of course and we were lined up for Marsh Harbor.
The Bahamas weather is generally pleasant; however, a winter or early spring cool front can create quite a breeze which obviously affects fishing quality. Summer tropical rains with their overcast conditions can make visibility a challenge and there is also the occasional hurricane. The official hurricane season is June to November, but mid-August to late September is generally the period of highest risk.
On this fine late March day the air was warm and velvety and a light breeze ruffled the palm trees. Yes this was the gorgeous weather the Bahama Islands are known for. However, the angler rarely gets perfect weather for the entire trip. I tell my clients if you get more than three good days of fishing out of six this time of the year you are lucky.
I stopped by Abaco lodge for a short visit before heading down to Black Fly Lodge as I had six happy clients lodged there and they had already spent three days fishing the Marls of Abaco. Their fishing reports were excellent with numerous catches including several big heavy bonefish. However, after reviewing the weather reports, the apprehension of the foreboding weather was in their minds as well.
The next day was different; I could paint a pretty picture of the weather and write that high in the sky a beautiful rainbow arched over the clear blue horizon and the bonefish happily danced and jumped over shimming crystal clear waters, eager to take a fly. The truth is the heavy weather we had left in Florida the day before had arrived and was making fishing life difficult, nevertheless, any seasoned angler understands, you take the weather like it comes and make the best of it. With harsh weather, fishing life is not over, just different. I will dwell upon this later.
Schooner Bay at Abaco Island
Schooner Bay is the brainchild of developer Orjan Lindroth and is located approximately 25 miles south of Marsh Harbor near the southern end of Great Abaco Island. The development enjoys a prominent location in a pristine environment overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Schooner Bay boasts the only protected harbor for twenty miles in each direction and possesses beautiful beaches for miles both north and south where you can curl your toes in the sugar white sand.
Orjan Lindroth hired a team of architects, planners and engineers to help create his dream of a walk-able traditional Bahamian village. Orjan has given great thought to this sustainable pedestrian community where a person can stroll throughout the neighborhood and everything you need is within easy reach.
Orjan’s vision is to provide a simple beautiful efficient lifestyle in this small town and he is well on his way to providing it.
This report is about fishing Abaco Island and it would take great detail to fully describe the plans for this practical and livable development. Once you have visited Schooner Bay you will understand why ultimately this development will be a great out-island family and fishing destination. (We at Leisure Time Travel can help make this happen!)
Black Fly Lodge is situated prominently at Harbor Square, perched on top of a slight hill and overlooking the marina in Schooner Bay. The harbor area has been designed to be the principle gathering place for the Schooner Bay development.
This elegant two-story colonial-style plantation building was built in the form of a traditional Bahamian manor. The construction of the building adhered to demanding specifications and is solid as a rock. The whole structure sits on a massive concrete foundation (I know, as I visited the site under construction a year ago). The first floor exterior walls of the new lodge are constructed of vertical formed cast in place concrete. The second floor is poured in-place concrete and the second story exterior walls are built of 2” X 6” structural steel studs sheathed with plywood. The hip roof is covered with real wood shingles. Blackfly Lodge will be around for a long-long time!
As for aesthetics, functional wood porches and balconies on the facade and sides of the building dominate the appearance. A cement plaster finish swathes the first floor exterior walls and a light outer layer of wood siding envelops the second floor exterior walls, all painted in a subtle off-white pastel with bright white trim. Dark shutters frame the door and windows, and the soft hues of the wood shingles all combine to create a pleasing curb-site appeal.
As you step inside, the unique and intimate atmosphere will immediately put you at ease. Large windows allow ample light to flow in and a cool soft off-white pastel is the color of the interior. Fans of Vaughn Cochran art will be pleased to know that his work and logo adorn the walls throughout the Blackfly Lodge (and boats).
The lodge features a public restaurant and cozy little bar on the main floor. And. don’t worry about retaining your place at the table, Blackfly Lodge guest are first to have dinner seating, if there are any places at the table left then the general public can slip in and join the crowd. I am sure if outside guest show up at the lodge they will make interesting dinner partners.
Kitchen responsibilities are supervised under the watchful eye of master chef Devon Roker who trained at the culinary institute of Ft. Lauderdale and served in some of the best hotels in Nassau including the great kitchen of Compass Point. One word to describe chef Devon’s abilities would be “exceptional “.
Everyone generally dines together at one big table served in the Black Fly Club dining room from a set menu featuring gourmet dinners which include delicious locally caught fish, lobster, stone crab claws, aged beef, chicken and fresh vegetables from the Schooner Bay farm.
One evening developer Orjan Lindroth joined us and I was pleased to sit next to him. I asked him dozens of questions about anything from what materials the road would be paved with, how the community geothermal heat exchange system works, how the Schooner Bay hydroponic gardening was coming along, approximate build-out time of the development and a few curve balls, such as had he read Evan Cottman’s book “Out Island Doctor” which he had, and did he speak Swedish, which he does. I can tell you with absolute certainty; Orjan Lindroth is an exceptionally knowledgeable gentleman (about a lot of things).
Black Fly Lodge offers unique comfortable accommodations with eight private rooms each with a ceiling fan, private bathroom, and air conditioning. Guest accommodations are located on the second floor which is off limits to the public. There is a wrap-around verandah overlooking the picturesque Schooner Bay harbor and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Typically there is one angler to the room, however if you wish to bring your spouse there are a couple of larger rooms with bigger beds. I would suggest you book well in advance if you wish to have one of the larger rooms (feel free to give us a call and we can arrange this for you!).
In the event you want to check your email or go online, for you convenience there is free Wi-Fi access.
Boats and equipment
Anglers generally leave the Black Fly Club at about 8:00 am and normally return by 4:30 pm. Anglers are provided with a picnic lunch and their selection of drinks for the day.
The Black Fly Lodge has brand new East Cape Skiffs rigged with new light weight Evinrude e-tech 90HP engines. The skiffs have comfortable padded seats, a custom leaning bar on the casting platform, rod storage and ample dry storage lockers.
As a long-time flats skiff owner I was very impressed by the boat and motor.
This was my first ride in an East Cape Vantage skiff. The Black Fly Lodge skiffs have been customized to their specifications. The good-looking open-water 19-foot skiff has an ample beam and she is built to take on rough water. I can certainly vouch for the reasonably dry ride as my fishing partner and I were literally smashed by big seas and high winds for three solid days.
Having guided tarpon anglers at Homosassa for many years, I know how to pole a boat. I jumped up on the poling platform one day and poled along a nice flat for perhaps twenty-minutes (I have already noted the wind was howling). The skiff tracked true and in amazingly skinny water for a boat of this size. One word to describe the new East Cape Vantage technical skiff would be “extraordinary”.
I have normally used Mercury motors on my boats, although I have owned Johnson, Yamaha and Suzuki motors in the past, so I have some experience with outboard motors. I was immediately surprised how quiet the Evinrude e-tech 90HP outboard was. While visiting various Caribbean fishing lodges, I usually bring along a pair of ear muffs to deaden the sound of the Yahama 2-strokes found at many of these places. This is not the case with the Evinrude e-tech. The Evinrude motor is quiet and it is powerful. Paired with East Cape Vantage, you have a high-performance skiff.
As far as the shallow water angler is concerned, the Bahama Islands have long been known for the seaside charm, white sandy beaches, aquamarine water, and one of the best areas in the world to stalk bonefish.
The main target on Abaco Island is also bonefish. There are some permit to be found in certain areas, an occasional tarpon, sharks, barracuda and variety snappers. Off-shore fishing is also available at Black Fly Lodge. The lodge has purchased a 31′ Yellowfin for off-shore fishing and can accommodate up to 4 anglers. You can check the rates for offshore fishing here.
Captain Clint Kemp, co-owner of Black Fly Lodge, is very involved in conservation and the health of the fishery and insists on catch-and release fishing using barbless hooks.
The flats, creeks and bays surrounding south Abaco Island offer some of the finest light tackle fishing found anywhere. The great majority of the fishing is from boats, but there are ample opportunities for wading.
The fishing is divided into six different fishing zones, each area a little different. During a week’s time you will probably visit all of six of the fishing zones. The Schooner Bay ramp is the closest and is less than a half of a mile from the lodge. The remaining boat launch points are just 10-20 minutes away from the Black Fly Bonefish Club with the exception of Cross Harbour which is approximately 30 minutes away (but worth the trip!).
You can read more about the fishing zones in our previous 2012 Black Fly Lodge post found here.
The first morning, my friend John Stout and I polished off a hearty Black Fly Lodge breakfast at 7:00 am and met our guide Derek a half an hour later. The East Cape skiff was attached to the truck and ready to go. Captain Derek had the storage hatches open ready to store our gear. We stashed our equipment, jumped in the truck and continued on to the boat ramp.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this report, the weather was less than optimal. The early morning overcast leaden sky projected a menacing look as we boarded our waiting boat.
We quickly left the dock. Captain Derek swung our skiff into the shallow Schooner Bay channel and we headed west in search of those elusive grey ghosts. The morning run was cool and the scenery was spectacular. The reflection of light on the water as our skiff carved a smooth path across the skinny mangrove studded flat was awesome. For me, this never gets old.
At the end of the Schooner Bay channel, Captain Derek tried to bring us around a point to the north so we could investigate the southern end of the Marls. The squally breeze of the north wind was just too harsh to make the crossing, even for the seaworthy boat we were riding in.
Just to give you an idea of the wind, we had a Fly Line Tamer, which is a device to store your fly line and keep the line from blowing overboard. The Fly Line Tamer is a cylindrical unit about 36″ High x 12″ wide with a weighted non-skid bottom and an open top which allows you to cast quickly without worrying about your line getting tangled. While my fishing partner John Stout was on the bow a gust of wind came along and blew the Fly Line Tamer into the water. As John hoisted the Fly Line Tamer back into the boat I suggested that he just leave the remaining five inches of water in the can as it would help hold it down.
Captain Derek knows what he is doing and took us south to an area where we could fish the lee side of the shore with some relief from the wind. With the morning sun behind us and a somewhat smoother surface it was easy to spot a fish at a distance.
John Stout was on the bow; with a faint shoulder tap to get his attention, I pointed ahead.
A few hundred feet in front of the skiff translucent tails were happily wiggling. Aside from the muffled crunch of our push pole we were in stealth mode.
Turtle grass and sea fans wobbled in the current. Suddenly, a pair of grey ghosts materialized on our port side within casting distance.
The fly landed on the fish’s nose. The water exploded before I could contort my face into a wince. We turned to each other and shrugged simultaneously. Oh well, on to the next fish. We traveled too far to be foiled easily.
A bonefish is a solid bundle of pure instincts and it does not take much to spook them, but we can and do outfox them.
John and I both scored a fish as the morning progressed and we decided to call it a day just after noon and headed in. Back at the lodge, backgammon was the game of choice on this afternoon.
Our second day was again windy with the addition of heavy thunderstorms. Near our boat ramp we investigated a small mangrove estuary where small tarpon were known to live. We did find a dozen or so baby poon’s and a few bones as well, but could not entice them to the fly. The thunderstorms unleashed several bolts of lightning to close for comfort and we headed back to the ramp and to a shelter for a while. After the squall cleared we tried the flats again, but the storms returned and we decided we had enough of the foul weather by lunchtime.
The stakes were raised that afternoon on the backgammon board. Given that you could not fish-out your excess energy on the bonefish you could direct it on your fellow backgammon players.
One the third day the morning was fresh. The clouds parted and the sun burst through giving us some much needed visibility. There was still a stiff breeze from the northeast but the water cleared and the tide was right. We headed down to the south end of the island to an area called Cross Harbour where permit are known to frequent. John and I were on a mission and focused on permit all day. It was a couple of hours before we spied a pair a small permit. John made a nice cast but the fish did not seem to notice. On the second cast John did have a nice follow but the permit turned off near the boat. We found a large school of bonefish mulling around but passed on them.
After lunch Captain Derek brought us to the mouth of a lagoon where the tide was near the bottom but still flowing out at a steady pace. There were some smaller bones around but we did not fool with them. Captain Derek knew permit were occasionally found of this spot and it was not long before we had our shots. There were no permit caught on this day but we had set our eyes on the fish and that in itself was exciting.
We came, we saw, but we did not triumph over the wily bonefish or neurotic permit. However, we did have a good time.
I would consider this an average winter/spring week in the Bahamas. Sometimes you will get balmy weather for weeks at a time, but this time of the year cold fronts affect the Caribbean. The angler rarely gets perfect weather for the entire trip. I tell my clients if you get more than three good days of fishing out of six this time of the year you are lucky. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I had six happy clients lodged at Abaco Lodge and they had three good days fishing the Marls of Abaco before the front approached. I am sure the anglers that replaced us after the front had good fishing as well.
Last year, during a trip in March 2012 the weather was more cooperative and we did quite well. You can read our previous 2012 Black Fly Lodge post here.
The lodge has a small fly shop with a good selection of local fly patterns and some technical clothing should you have the need or just want to stock up. And for you avid fly tyers, the vice is on the table and tying materials are within easy reach for your fly-tying enjoyment.
Before dawn on departure day I had my only chance during my brief visit to catch a glimpse of the rising sun. I walked down to the kitchen and poured myself a fresh cup of coffee and went back up and settled into a nice rattan chair.
The sound of halyards clanged against the mast on the couple of boats in the harbor below. As my eyes adjusted to the early morning light I noticed the tide was just coming in. The setting made me think of the hundreds of mornings I have spent in the pre-dawn darkness at Homosassa waiting for the first tarpon to roll.
A cool ocean breeze with the smell of fresh salty air was coming in from the east which bade well for the incoming anglers. In the distance you could hear crashing sound of the surf pummeling against the beach. Seagulls slowly started their morning cacophony of cries.
The whole experience, both on land and on water is exceptional at Black Fly Lodge. The staff at the lodge and the guides make a genuine effort to take good care of you.
You will be rewarded with excellent flats fishing for bonefish and an occasionally permit. The area has hundreds of flats, many which offer protection from north winds.
True taste of the Abaco out island fishing experience; great fishing, fantastic guides, handsome accommodations and beautiful scenery make Black Fly the perfect combination for your next fishing trip or family vacation.
It does not take long for your senses to adjust to the solitude and the vast open spaces of the Bahamas. The sky so blue and ever clear, layers of clouds moving different speeds, and the crystalline waters carve a backdrop unlike any you have seen. If you have been there then you know already, if you haven’t been, then go now! Just remember, Edward Johnston told you so……….Book now for the rest of this year and/or reserve your spot at the new Lodge in 2014. Call us now at 800-771-2202 or 352-795-3474.
Visit our main Blackfly Lodge page here.
Read our 2012 Blackfly Lodge report here.
More photographs can be view here
Leisure Time Travel – Your best and most knowledgeable choice for fishing the Caribbean
531 N. Citrus Ave.
Crystal River, Florida 34428
All Photographs by Edward R. Johnston
Copyright © 2013 Edward R. Johnston & Leisure Time Travel, Inc. 1996-2013