Bimini's Giant Bonefish
Bimini's Giant Bonefish
Affordable, close, amazing
- By: Greg Thomas
- Photography by: Greg Thomas
I don’t think Hemingway really cared about a quiet place to write when he spent consecutive years on Bimini, back in 1935 and 1936, although he did pen To Have and Have Not during that time. Instead, I think he moved to Bimini for the same reason the rest of us would—for an excuse to do nothing but fish.
I formed that opinion over four short days in February 2013, when I joined writer Chris Santella, and editors Kirk Deeter (Trout Magazine) and Chuck Smock (Cabela’s Outfitter Journal), and tested a lodging and fishing operation called Bimini Sands Resort.
Bimini Sands rests just 55 miles from Miami, but it might as well be 5,000 miles away when comparing the laid-back and modest island to blingsville. Bimini is not luxe, that’s for sure, which is part of the reason why I immediately fell in love with it. Not that I should have been surprised. Deeter arrived two days prior to my visit to scuba-dive. When I shook his hand at the resort he looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re not going to believe what’s here.”
What was there were the biggest bonefish I’ve ever seen. I’m not a worldly bonefish traveler, but I have chased them in the Keys and Belize, and on other Bahamian islands, and these were an entirely different fish. For instance, during our first full day at the Sands, Santella and I climbed onto a flats skiff with local guide Eagle Eye Fred, while Deeter and Smock teamed up with another well known guide, Bonefish Ebbie. Literally, in five minutes we were poling across a giant, rectangular flat that divides North Bimini Island from South Bimini Island and it wasn’t long before we were throwing at bones. After Santella and I each landed four-pound bonefish Eagle Eye said, “Big bone, right there, back out of the water, tailing.”
Santella stepped to the bow and launched a half-dozen casts at that fish, which was practically beaching itself, its nose buried in the mud, the upper half of its body completely out of the water. Unfortunately, one of Santella’s casts nearly whacked the fish on the head and it departed quickly, leaving a big wake and a broken dream behind. After a few seconds of silence Santella chuckled and said, “Well, I messed that up.”
No worries. After landing a couple more bones and blowing a couple more shots at six- to seven-pounders—yes, six- to seven-pounders—we raced through a cut in the north island and arrived on an outside flat swarming with bonefish. These weren’t the giants we’d found on the inside flat, but schoolboys running in a pack of 30 that seemed too nervous to give us any solid shots. We cast repeatedly at the fish but they just weren’t in the taking mood, and they finally disappeared in the mangroves.
Soon we headed back to the inside flat and as we were running I said, “Any permit around here?” Eagle Eye cut the engine and said, “Right here, on this deeper flat, on the right stage of the tide, they always here. Keep your eyes open.”
The permit never showed, but more big tailing bones did. Unfortunately, Santella and I were still working out our kinks when the fishing ended and we hit the resort.
The following day we climbed aboard a larger boat and headed to the bluewater fishing grounds, which begin just a couple hundred yards in front of the Sands, and trolled for wahoo and whatever else might bite. We also dropped lighter lines to the bottom and caught a variety of snapper and other reef fish. When we hit the dock late that afternoon we offloaded three big wahoo, all in the 25- to 35-pound range. They were delivered quickly to the Bimini Twist restaurant and sushi bar, which rests just a couple miles away from the Sands, reachable over dirt road by the island’s preferred vehicle, the golf cart. We enjoyed a great meal of wahoo, octopus and conch, and then returned to the resort and turned in, ready for our final day on the water.
The following morning we manned a small skiff and headed to the flats on our own, where we wade-fished and stalked numerous tailing bones, just across the channel from Alice Town, the north island’s only settlement and, again, just five minutes from the Sands. Santella hooked and landed a solid bone, but I failed miserably, blowing one great opportunity after the next, including a shot at a fish that might have weighed eight pounds. An hour later, when a big lemon shark slowly swam across the flat, its dorsal carving the surface, I turned to Santella and said, “We should probably go.”
Next up was a flat on the southeast side of South Bimini, where Santella, Deeter and I talked Smock into dropping us off for a two-mile wadefish. We didn’t find many fish on that flat, but the ones we saw were big. I continued pulling flies away from good fish, but Deeter, who has plenty of bonefish experience under his belt, put the metal into a good one and then hung on, hoping his fish wouldn’t peel all the backing from his reel. A few minutes later he and Santella were admiring a seven-pounder.
That evening we took in a couple of rum drinks at Mackey’s Sand Bar before Deeter and Smock headed back to their condo. Santella and I decided to take one more crack at South Bimini’s bonefish. Shortly after, we found a place to access a beach and had just started wading a flat when Santella spotted a half-dozen fish headed our way. I couldn’t pick them out, so he cast and a moment later all his line was headed for the deep Atlantic. A few minutes later he brought a nice four- or five-pound bonefish to hand and then gently released it over the white sand.
Santella said, “It’s pretty amazing to have a drink and then just wade out on a flat, at some random spot, and find bonefish right there.” I agreed, but was becoming less surprised each time we did so—on the first night of our trip I’d jumped in at an access, spotted a tailing bone in the mangroves, and five minutes later had that five-pounder at my feet.
Probably there are other places that offer this style of bonefishing, with equally large fish wound into the equation, but maybe I’m wrong. I can say this: Bimini is a special place for the bonefisherman, even 80 years after Hemingway “discovered” it, and it changed me a little. Now, whenever I hear the phrase, “When I die I want to go to heaven,” my train of thought stops and I say to myself, “I don’t want to die and go anywhere. I want to keep living for a long time and move to Bimini.”
Bonefish Packages at Bimini Sands
In 2013, Bimini Sands started a fly-fishing program that provides anglers lodging, fully guided fly-fishing (plus all the gear and flies), three full meals a day, plus free drinks (yes, that means cocktails) at the resort and at Mackey’s Sand Bar, all for as little as $430 a day, with a minimum three-night stay. Anglers can fly to Bimini from a variety of locations, including Miami and Fort Lauderdale. From Fort Lauderdale, Bimini is a short 20- to 25-minute flight.
For reservations contact Bimini Sands at [email protected]; call 800-737-1007; visit their Web site at www.biminisands.com