Grand Bahama Island is a 90-mile-long strip of low-lying land 56 miles east of Palm Beach and 85 miles northeast of Miami. For fly fishermen, it’s an easy and wonderful bonefish destination. I have spent a lot of time there in the years past.
Freeport, with a population of more than 40,000, is the Bahamas’ second-largest city. Compared to Nassau, the atmosphere is more casual and eclectic, less jammed-up and frenetic. The feel of the city is breezy and welcoming. The streets are wide, with numerous roundabouts, and are often bordered by well-manicured Bermuda grass and Australian pines. You can drive the length of the island in an hour and a half.
While Freeport, with its restaurants, bars and casinos, is the center of activity on Grand Bahama, it’s hardly all there is to the island. To the east of Freeport, vacationers (fly fishers) can enjoy a true out-Island experience. As I remember it, once you drive past the roundabout leading to Port Lucaya, you are out in the country. You’ll cross several causeways spanning miles of manmade channels, including the Grand Lucayan Waterway, before you reach Lucayan National Park.
The park is composed of pine forests with nature trails, deserted beaches and observation decks to view the world’s longest charted cavern system. The North Riding Point Club bonefish lodge is here also, at Burnside Cove. Then you have a straight shot along miles of seaweed-strewn beaches until you reach McLean’s Town. There are several comfortable lodging operations associated with bonefishing on this stretch of beach, including the Ocean Pearl Resort Club at High Rock, Bishops Bonefish Lodge (I stayed here many times), East End Lodge and Pelican Bay.
In McLean’s Town, you will find the dock used by Deepwater Cay Club to pick up guests for the short boat ride to their private island resort on an island just east of McLean’s Town. It was in this area to the east that I spent most of my time, walking the beaches with a 6 or 8 weight fly rod, in search of reachable bonefish and permit.
Heading in the opposite direction from Freeport, the west end of Grand Bahama is perched on the edge of the Little Bahama Bank, where the Straits of Florida meets the Northwest Providence Channel. A confluence of these currents that sweep in over the shallows in this area aid in creating prime habitat for bonefish, permit, tarpon and other gamefish. I didn’t spend as much time on the west part of the island, so I don’t remember it as well. Now I’m sorry I didn’t spend more time there.
With so much to do on these islands, I’m surprised that I ever came home. I don’t care to sail. I don’t spend time chasing a little white ball around a pasture. I eat and I fish and I love the people. They are fun-loving and polite. They love to laugh, kid around and always want you to feel welcome.
Whether wading alone on the flats, paddling a kayak or poling gently through the mangroves in a guided skiff, I have enjoyed many opportunities to cast to the sneaky, stealthy ghosts of the flats in Grand Bahama and the Abacos. I am very grateful that I was able to spend time in these fantastic places with fish and the wonderful Lucayans who occupy the islands.
Hurricane Dorian is long gone and out of mind for most of us. The bonefish will already be back up on the “storm changed” flats and shoals of these islands waiting for a fly. But what about the people of the catastrophically hit Bahamas? How long will it take to regain any reasonable life for them out there?
As the memory of Dorian fades away, don’t forget the people hardest hit. Think about Puerto Rico and what they are still going through after Maria two years ago. Pray, donate, or do whatever it is you feel led to do to help make a difference.
Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.