Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Andros Islands: An Overview
By James Hamilton

If you’re in the market for a truly remote flats-fishing experience, Andros, Bahamas is a solid choice. This trio of islands, which oftentimes is called, simply, Andros Island, includes North Andros, Mangrove Cay, and South Andros. A series of channels or bights—including North Bight, Middle Bight, and South Bight—separate the three islands in that order from north to south. As a singular region, Andros stretches over 100 miles north to south and encompasses over 2,300 square miles, which means these three islands would be the fifth largest island in the Caribbean by landmass if measured as one. North Andros occupies the number six spot on that list, while South Andros comes in at number nine.

While North and South Andros are the two largest islands in the Bahamas, they are scarcely populated. With less than 7,500 inhabitants spread throughout. Andros has a population density equivalent to Alaska. For reference, Montana is almost seven times more densely populated than Andros. These numbers are relevant, not for boring a reader with statistics, but in order to paint a picture of true Caribbean wilderness. A trip to Andros is a trip to the Bahamian outback, a journey in time that reveals what the northern Caribbean region looked like before development and population growth through the 19th and 20th centuries. If you’re curious about the Florida Keys and Everglades and what they may have looked like over 100 years ago, your best bet is to book a trip to one of these islands. The fishery is so vast that a guide and angler can run a boat over 40 miles in a day without seeing another soul on the water. This level of extreme underdevelopment is a boon to the fishery and is responsible for Andros’ reputation as being one of the best bonefish destinations on earth.

It’s no surprise that this distinction made Andros a popular destination for several generations of traveling saltwater anglers. Despite the fishery’s reputation and vast network of creeks, flats, and backcountry there is a serious lack of written history on Andros. The pursuit of bonefish has been a staple of the Androsian economy since the 1950s when traveling anglers first began visiting the region. The first fly-fishing lodge in the area was built by “Crazy” Charlie Smith in 1968 at Behring Point on the North Bight. “Bonefish Charlie” is sometimes called the “godfather of the flats.” For good reason—he established the first dedicated fly-fishing lodge on Andros, and his progeny continue to carry his torch, still guiding in Andros today. One cannot tell the story of fishing on Andros without mentioning Charlie, the man behind perhaps the most productive bonefish fly in history, the Charlie.

Each island has its relatively unique modus operandi: North is the “busiest”; Mangrove Cay is the chilled-out island town; South is the “country.” One thing remains consistent—abundant angling opportunity, and chances at the bonefish of a lifetime, throughout.

North Andros

North Andros is the most developed district in Andros. The community is growing, vibrant, and rich in fishing culture. The area boasts an accredited network of independent guides and world-class lodges offering all the amenities needed for a memorable destination trip. With so many different options, knowing the key players in the area takes your trip from memorable to truly unforgettable. North Andros waters are more consistently within proximity of deeper waters, which sets the stage for a rewarding, but sometimes difficult opportunity. Trophy-sized bonefish prefer this access, so fishing flats near them increases your odds of landing a giant. With this opportunity comes a need for tidal tact. If you hit the flats on the wrong tide, your dream bonefish will be staged in waters far too deep for fly access.

Mangrove Cay

Mangrove Cay is calm, quaint, and intimately natural. This district is very underdeveloped and offers a great, family friendly environment to get in touch with the pulse of Andros culture. A day on Mangrove Cay can be spent fishing without another angler in sight, and wrap up with the possibility of running into Jimmy Buffet at the local Wharf bar. The naive bonefish on this Cay give up-and-coming anglers a little more room for error. While the area offers lots of fish in the three-to five-pound class, there have been some giants landed at local hot spots, like Big Wood Cay and Moxey Creek. Which locally sourced, fresh seafood meal is waiting for you when you get off the water is dependent on the season you visit. A plate of fresh conch or spiny lobster, and a cold Gully Wash, Sands Light, or Kalik, is a perfect way to celebrate a successful day on the flats.

South Andros

South Andros has been steadily gaining attention. These waters have no shortage of bonefish and great flats to fish. The pristine beaches and skinny waters offer an abundance of walk-and-wade opportunity for anglers seeking to test their primal pursuit skills. This fishery is home to a ton of large schools that can be effectively targeted if approached on the right tides. These waters are also a preferred location for pre-spawn aggregations, which build before transitioning into the spawn during full moons. These schools, with anywhere from 500 to over 2,000 fish, shift to protected, deep water points to procreate before settling out and dispersing back onto the flats in the days and weeks following this activity.

Each island offers anglers a truly unique cultural vibe and abundant opportunity to chase flats species, ranging from bonefish, tarpon, permit, and barracuda, to various jacks and snapper. Fly fishing Andros is best done between the months of September and June, as the mid-summer water temperatures on the flats is too hot to hold much life.

            Fall is the storm season, which brings its own set of pros and cons. Anglers get plenty of shots at bonefish, and resident tarpon are more commonly caught this time of year, but the weather can be iffy. Fall is the one time of year that anglers must truly consider the chance that they may have multiple days of fishing canceled due to hurricanes and tropical storms. Admittedly there is not much to do on these islands on days like this, but the local watering holes are always worth checking out. Chances are, even if they appear to be closed, a phone call can get the doors open for your group—just ask your host. Bonefish can be found in large schools this time of year, and the fish are generally happy with the post-summer cool down.

The end of the storm season brings Bahamian “winter.” Winter lasts from December to mid-February and is the best time to target trophy-sized bones. For whatever reason, larger mature bones tend to travel together in ones, twos, and threes during these months. What this season offers in the way of large fish, it lacks in pleasant weather and “numbers” days. Temperatures can drop to the mid-50s in the evenings and mornings, and there are days when sunlight is scarce, making sight fishing near impossible. Doom and gloom notwithstanding, if you’re after a 10-pound bonefish and aren’t afraid of failure, this is the time to travel to Andros.

            Ahh, spring in the Bahamas. Does bonefishing get any better? Ample sunshine, happy, plentiful bonefish, and the occasional shot at a big one. The days are longer, the lodges are fully into the swing of things, the guides have a season’s worth of knowledge under their belts. In addition, this is one of the best times to look for permit. If you expect to catch one you’re on a cursed journey, but this timeframe gives you a decent shot at seeing some of those wily “dinner plates.”

Getting to the islands and getting around once you’ve arrived can be daunting. The simplest way to get to Andros is booking a flight to Nassau on an international carrier and then flying on the Bahamian airline Western Air from Nassau to San Andros airport on North Andros; Clarence A. Bain Airport in Mangrove Cay; or Congotown Airport on South Andros. Travelers also book charters or island-hopping shuttle flights from various private airports on the Florida coast.

            Once you’re on the islands, getting around and finding good fishing is all a question of approach. If you stay at one of the many lodges, your travel to and from the local airport is coordinated, and you’ll be fishing from their skiffs every day.

Ultimately, beginning and hard-core bonefishers can’t go wrong visiting Andros. There’s truly no flats fishing equally as remote on this side of the planet. If you plan things right, you could make 10 trips and never fish the same flat. Know that real adventure waits, no matter which island you choose to fish.

Photography by

Ken Hardwick

Kyle Schaefer

James Hamilton