I recently returned from a trip to Acklins Island, Bahamas for a week of DIY fly fishing. This was an area that I had heard a lot about. Miles of sand flats, seeing very little angling pressure, presents an allure for anyone searching for prime opportunities at bonefish. As one of the outer islands in the Bahamas chain, Acklins Island and its adjacent Crooked Island, are situated just east of Cuba and north of the Inaguas. The way in which Acklins and Crooked are situated, they create what is called the "Bight of Acklins." This is a large lagoon of clear/turquoise water running the entire Caribbean coastline. The Bight creates miles of shallow flats. Most flats on the Acklins side being only accessible via boat only adds to the remote aspect of the island. As of two years ago, a paved road running north/south along Acklins was created. This has given cars much easier travel. Prior to this, a very rough dirt road was the only access locals and visitors had to cover the island. However, this road does not give much access to the flats as it runs along the interior flanked by dense vegetation. So if you are going purely to explore via foot, bushwhacking is likely.
Myself and two other anglers stayed along the southern end of Acklins at Salina Point Bonefish Lodge. From here, we were able to arrange for a local fisherman to be our boat/captain and bring us out to various flats and creeks. We then negotiated the area on our own with some daily assistance from Google Earth and suggestions from our captain. There are countless creeks and flats to cover, much more than one could fish in a week. For two of the days, we did drive into two locations one of which required some hiking.
(early morning rigging)
According to one of our Fitbits, we walked on average about 8 miles a day with some days approaching 10-11 miles and with a total estimate of 48.6 miles. Because most of our walking was slow/shuffling/stalking, I think that's a little high but not far off. Only a few of the locations within the mangrove creeks were soft mud. All of the outer flats were a majority hard sand with some rocks/fossil coral building up along the shores. For this reason I felt that my Simms Zipit Bootie II's that I brought worked well. Out of curiosity/always being overprepared, I also brought along my Simms VaporTread Salts incase wading was tough. These certainly proved a better option on the day we decided to hike into our location and did provide better overall stability while wading. But, the noticeable heavier weight of the Vapor Salts made me chose to mostly wear the Zipit Booties. The other two anglers who joined me wore the Simms Intruder Saltwater boots and both really loved those. In my opinion, those would be the best option of these three. All of us agree that the addition of wading socks with any of these boots however is crucial. The amount of sand and small rocks/shells that can get into wading boots, even with neoprene gravel guards, is too much. Plus, wet wading socks really help from a comfort factor and limit blisters.
Acklins is a very remote island, especially in the southern end where we were staying and fishing. There are roughly 500 year round inhabitants. There is a small settlement, Salina Point Settlement, which lies on the southeastern side of the island. In between Salina Point and Lovely Bay, there is very little. This is what makes Acklins difficult to fish without the use of a boat. The main road, as mentioned earlier, was recently paved. It certainly helps with transportation, but it is directly in the middle of the island and runs only north/south. Some serious time and machete work to access the water would be necessary.
The first day we fished, we were brought to one of the only locations accessible via car. When we arrived it was at the last hour of the outgoing tide and we immediately saw bonefish pushing water and tailing along the edges of the mangroves. This was unfortunately short-lived as the fished seemed to quickly move out with the tide. Further, this was unfortunately the start of the wind. At around 9:30am, the wind quickly came in and stayed with sustained 25-30mph winds the entire week. With Acklins Island running essentially North/South and winds coming mostly out of the Northeast, it made it hard to find locations where visibility was enough to spot fish. White caps on flats while sight-fishing is interesting. And it never let up. We would have brief moments of reprieve for 10-15mins, but that was it. So we had to really make efforts to find leeward flats and areas which were sheltered, but this proved difficult. The wind would simply breeze right over the mangroves as very little elevation allowed for sheltered spots. Because of the wind we used our 9wts almost exclusively. I was fishing the Thomas & Thomas Exocett 9wt with the Airflo Tropical Punch for about 90% of the trip with the Rio Saltwater Leader 10ft/16lb. I changed to the 16lb leader after a large bonefish took my fly about 20 feet in front of me, did a 180, and screamed off down the flat. The 12lb leader popped. The heavier leader also helped a little to turnover in the wind.
The next few days we took advantage of a boat and captain to bring us out to various locations. After some adjusting to the conditions, we were able to find some spots which produced bursts of bonefish activity. To be fair, Acklins' flats and mangroves are some of the fishiest spots I've seen, but our fishing didn't seem to matchup. Aside from the difficult wind that made spotting fish extremely difficult, I believe we also timed our trip coincidentally during their (full moon) spawning period. While on our trip I was in communication with Steven Lombardo who is a fisheries ecologist and works with the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. He and a crew had also been down at Acklins a week prior to our visit. Acklins is a known bonefish nursery, but their spawning behavior is relatively unknown. Steven also saw few bonefish along the flats we were fishing, but saw congregations of them on the distant outer flats which we simply could not access efficiently in our 12' Boston Whaler. So we likely had bad luck with the timing and weather. Otherwise, it is widely known that Acklins produces some of the best flats fishing in the world for big bonefish.
*An interesting side note: we ran into a group of anglers who visited neighboring Crooked Island the same week. They were fully guided and also saw little bonefish activity.*
(photo by: Mitch Powers)
The fish we did find were extremely healthy and very willing to take a well placed fly. With the little angling pressure these fish see, as long as you didn't spook them, they would essentially take any shrimp offering we supplied. But what was additionally interesting is that flies which were brighter colored, especially with orange, seemed to attract their attention even more...beyond just the basic orange patch of a spawning shrimp pattern. The triggerfish were also viable on almost every location we visited. Some where along the outer flats and others inside lagoons and mangroves. True to their nature, it was hard to get them to take the fly or get a good hook set on them, but I was lucky enough to land one. Slow strips bumping the fly along the bottom and allowing them to try and pin it down into the sand is the tactic. A very powerful fish that gives you a tired arm after the fight.
(photo by: Mitch Powers)
As the week progressed we were able to pick up some fish here and there. Some incredible shots and takes by barracuda and sharks also kept things interesting. One of the anglers who came was set on trying to land one of these, but found that not all wire tippet is the same. He was trying a new wire coated braided tippet (not fully wire) and unfortunately lost some nice fish with almost immediate break offs. After switching to full wire tippet, as luck would have it, no other eats took place.
We also had an interesting experience watching barracuda and sharks chasing a small school of bonefish. We later dubbed this area "shark alley." No matter how many times we crossed it, we always ran into something "interesting." One afternoon while crossing this creek which ran in between two separate ocean flats, we found ourselves in almost ankle deep water literally in the middle of multiple barracuda and sharks who were trying to chase down bonefish. It was all very visual because of the depth of the water. This was at the last drop of the tide, so the remaining fish that had been up the creek to feed, were now on their way out. At one point one of black tips apparently thought my wading booties were a bonefish. The shark turned and from about 40ft away charged directly at me. It took a quick kick and stab of my fly rod to turn him away. Nothing like a little mid-day adrenaline boost!
(maybe this fly change will do it...)
Acklins Island certainly has some of the best bonefish habitat in the world. Endless sand flats that stretch for miles which are fed by healthy mangrove lagoons and creeks create some world class fishing. Doing this type of trip DIY can certainly present some challenges, especially if done in the southern area of Acklins. For this area does not present a lot of access unless you have a boat. Our timing certainly was not spot on, but we had a blast exploring this unique area! I am excited to return and learn more about this special and healthy area. I will also find that big bonefish that snapped my tippet! I WILL find you!
Written by: Josh Thelin
Photos by: Josh Thelin (other than were noted)
If you have any questions about fishing this area, please contact me! -- firstname.lastname@example.org