Chasing Ghosts
If a barracuda doesn’t bite you, Bair’s Lodge is a perfect place to target bonefish in South Andros.
By Brian Irwin

Bonefish of all sizes abound in south Andros, and Bair’s guides know where they hang out.

I was on the southern section of Andros, one of the Bahamas’ Out Islands, speaking with Leslie, a guide at Bair’s, a luxury Bahamian lodge specializing in fly fishing for bonefish. Leslie suddenly said, “Once I got 46 stitches from a barracuda bite.”

“Show me the scars!” I said, but Leslie would not oblige. “Never shown them before. So, I can’t. I once had that famous guy, Ted Williams, offer me $5,000 to show them. I passed.”

Landing the first bonefish of the trip is always a memorable experience.

Special Destination

While you often hear Andros and bonefish in the same breath, barracuda bites aren’t the type of thing you hear about every day, and fly fishers, renowned and average Joes, have been coming to Andros for a long time. But unlike the more touristy Bahamian destinations, it retains a remote, genuine feel. About 100 miles long (although broken into three sections by wide inlet-like cuts known as the bights), Andros is the largest landmass in all the Bahamas, a chain of 700 islands spread out over an area greater than the size of the Gulf of Mexico. The island didn’t have power until 1987 and remains sparsely settled. There’s still no municipal water supply, and there’s only one ATM. What you have is a wonderful place to reset your mind. And perhaps catch some bonefish, as it’s arguably the richest and healthiest bonefish fishery in this hemisphere.

For anglers at Bair’s Lodge, wade fishing beautiful, white-sand flats is often part of the plan.

While Andros’ myriad creeks and bays allow anglers to find shelter from the wind and fish on days when the weather would otherwise be prohibitive, to catch a bonefish requires an intimate knowledge of the tides, fly selection and timing, as well as, most critically, outstanding vision to spot the fish. The de rigueur default is to hire a guide with a boat designed specifically for the flats, which are expansive stretches of shallow water, often less than two feet deep. It’s here that the bones cruise for forage. In some spots, however, anglers get to jump out and stalk the fish on foot.

In Andros, the remoteness and the beauty of the surroundings definitely add to the fishing experience.

South Andros Gem

Bair’s Lodge and its expert guides were my ticket to Andros’ flats and its inhabitants. It is part of a collection of resorts and lodges owned and operated by an investment group that includes Oliver White, a famous fly angler who built and ran Abaco Lodge, lost in the cataclysmic Hurricane Dorian.

The creeks that bookend Bair’s Lodge add miles and miles of fertile flats and shorelines to every day’s likely itinerary.

Bair’s is positioned perfectly for a successful bonefishing trip. It sits on the eastern shore of south Andros, threading the needle between Deep Creek and Little Creek, a pair of thoroughfares offering outstanding, broad flats and deep channels, as well as access to Andros’ undeveloped west side, where you’ll find countless productive areas and absolutely no fishing pressure. This is backcountry angling in the truest sense. To get there, we traveled west via Little Creek. Don’t let the name mislead you, there’s nothing little about the resident bones.

At Bair’s, anglers returning from fishing are welcomed back with a chilled towel and a cold drink, soon followed by appetizers.

But Bair’s Lodge offers more than superb fishing. Each day we’d rise and have fresh fruit and omelets, then hit the water with a guide aboard one of the Maverick shallow-draft flats skiffs. We’d wade or have the guide use a push pole to quietly propel the boat across the thin liquid in search of bones. Meanwhile, shorebirds swirled, stingrays slid under and past our boat, and a sea turtle periscoped its head before vanishing. We’d fish all day, taking directives from our guide when the action was hot, and laughing and ribbing each other when no fish were in sight.

Theophilus “Tee” Flowers, one of Bair’s most experienced guides, points out an approaching fish.

During my stay, I fished with Chris Allen, an unassuming air charter service owner and former Air Force pilot. We started our three-day rotation of guides with Tee, scruffy and quiet…until a bone was spotted. Then, like all good guides, he’d bark. “Two fish. Three o’clock. Forty feet. Cast NOW! NOW!” I followed his orders exactly. “Strip line! Strip! Wait! Strip, strip! Fish on!”

In Andros, bones of three to five pounds often provide non-stop action, and there are plenty of larger fish to spice things up.

And with that, the line would instantly draw tight and peel from the reel as the missile shaped, four-pound fish tore across the shallows, eventually tiring and coming to hand.

The sight of a tailing bonefish is certain to quicken the pulse of even the most seasoned fly angler.

Challenges and Benefits

Catching the ghost of the flats isn’t easy, but if there’s one place where you can rely on finding an abundance of fish—hungry ones—it’s south Andros, where we glided over skinny water for three days and caught many. Indeed, the high numbers of fish make the area a great training ground for those new to fly fishing in the salt. In fact, other guests at the lodge landed and released a dozen each, some hefty enough to make the most skilled angler quiver.

A long sandbar across from Bair’s Lodge keeps the surf calm, so anglers need only walk a few steps to load and board the skiffs at the beach.

We were there in February, arguably a slower time of year, especially if a cold front rolls through. Yet we found plenty of fish, and while apparently fewer than you’d find in the summer months, the bones were quite plump, many pushing 10 pounds. This seasonal shift toward fewer, but larger bones is consistent throughout the Bahamas. And in Andros, a lack of pressure means that, when you do find one of those hogs, it’s likely to eat. This certainly was our experience.

Bair’s location makes it easy for anglers to fish amazing spots, like Andros’ west side, where large bonefish and big schools like this one are common.

Along with the fishing, Bair’s has a glowing reputation for opulent cuisine, a reliable fleet of skiffs, excellent guides, and proximity to the goods. The laid-back atmosphere and the vast buffet of skinny water options are more than enough to dilute any sporadic pressure from neighboring lodges, many of which aren’t within striking distance of Andros’ wild western side, like Bair’s is.

Take the time to revive and release fish properly. In Andros, there will always be more action waiting for you.

Uninvited Guest

On my last day with Allen the fishing picked up. With a few bonefish already under our belts, we now wanted a big one. While the guide scouted adjacent water, Allen took over his role and shouted to me. “Big bone! Nine o’clock!” he said. I cast to where he advised but, honestly, I never saw the fish. Still, my line soon came as tight as piano wire and screamed from my reel as the fish ran.

Large barracuda hoping for a bonefish meal often become the target.

Then it jumped. Jumped? It wasn't a bone. It was a barracuda, and I’d hooked it on a light tippet without any wire to prevent sharp teeth from severing the frail connection. But somehow, 10 minutes later, I had the three-foot ‘cuda at my feet. Allen helped me with the fish and, just as he went to remove the hook, it popped free. The fish slowly swam away as we examined the hook. It was bent straight under the pressure of the fight.

Dinner at Bair’s Lodge means sharing fish tales and enjoying the camaraderie and fantastic food.

Last Night’s Recall

Back at Bair’s for our last night, a round of cocktails was served to us the moment we hit the beach. It was followed by a delicious dinner of cracked conch. With the lodge’s skiffs bobbing on their moorings, I dodged an ember rising from the fire pit. Just off the shore, in the shallow water, a shimmer released from the tail of a bonefish waving a farewell. And then it was gone.

The Gotcha remains a favorite bonefish fly of most Andros guides, and for good reason.

Proper Gear

A 9-foot, 8-weight rod and a selection of shrimp patterns in pink and tan, sizes #2 and #4, are just the ticket for bonefish. For permit, a 9- or 10-weight rod and crab imitations in sizes #2 and #4 are most effective. Tapered leaders, with 8- to 12-pound tippet for bones and 15- to 20-pound for permit, are strongly recommended.

Makers Air offers direct flights from Fort Lauderdale to north, central and south Andros every morning and afternoon.

Getting There

Western Air flies daily from Nassau to Congo Town in south Andros. Makers Air has daily flights from Fort Lauderdale.

Offering the perfect blend of comfort and superb angling opportunities, Bair’s Lodge is one of the top lodges in the Bahamas.

Lodging in Andros

Bair’s Lodge is a premiere, beachfront fishing lodge in south Andros, strategically located near a wide range of productive spots, many of them sheltered from the wind. Bair’s 3-day all-inclusive packages start from $3,595 pp.

Brian Irwin

Brian Irwin is a freelance writer, photographer, and family physician with credits in numerous national newspapers and magazines. He holds a certificate of travel health from the International Society of Travel Medicine, teaches for Dartmouth’s Wilderness Medicine Fellowship, and he’s a medical director for two ski patrols and a swiftwater rescue team. He lives in North Conway, New Hampshire.