Five Days in the Berry Islands
The Berry Islands hold great historic intrigue owing to their past as a drug transshipment Mecca and a playground for the rich and famous to live out their fantasies. Nevertheless, it’s the championship sport fishing and island tranquility (with their many secluded beaches) that attract leisure boaters.
On a five-day journey with two travel days and three fishing days, you can cover a lot of territory and catch a lot of fish in the Berry Islands. Here is a sample itinerary to spark the imagination.
Day 1: Arrival
Don’t miss a good day of trolling while cruising to the Berry Islands. Stop in Bimini to clear customs and immigration and secure your cruising permit. With permit in hand, take your time and cruise to Great Harbour Cay Marina. Let your lines out as you cross Little Bahama Bank. Troll for yellowtail, bluestripe, jack, barracuda, and mackerel, or along the ocean edge for tuna, wahoo, and dolphinfish (mahi-mahi).
Whether you arrive in time for lunch or dinner, request a complimentary pickup from Carriearl (pronounced Carry-Earl) Boutique Hotel, which is a cozy and casual resort with only four rooms. The restaurant and cocktail lounge is just over a mile away from the marina and a social hub for hotel guests and boaters staying on the island and cruising in the area.
Their signature appetizer is a “tasty tingum,” a shared plate of lobster, shrimp tempura, calamari, cracked conch, and other samplers. On the international dinner menu, you’ll find conch and lobster meals, both Bahamian classics, and a few elevated downhome favorites like crab and dough. There is a British stamp on the Barefoot Chef’s bangers and mash, a sausage entrée, and a French signature on the restaurant’s Coquilles St. Jacques, a beautifully plated appetizer with scallops and mashed potatoes.
Two minutes away from Carriearl, across the fairway of an unused golf hole and down a walkway of palm trees, a five-mile-long, deserted, white sand beach beckons. At the southern end, Shark Creek is a mangrove nursery ideal for kayaking, and Shelling Beach grows spectacularly at low tide, conjoining the offshore Hawk’s Nest Island.
Day 2: Bonefishing
The Berry Islands have a reputation for very large schools of bonefish. After spending more than nine years visiting Great Harbour Cay, Skip Whitman from North Carolina says the quantity of bonefish still amazes him.
“I have seen schools of two thousand bonefish where you cannot see the bottom. I’ve bone-fished in about seven or eight places between Florida and The Bahamas, and I have never, ever fished a place that has as many bonefish as the Berry Islands,” says Whitman, who loves the thrill of the hunt when bonefishing.
With over 30 islands and cays in the Berrys, bonefishing flats are located across the mini-archipelago. “Lord have mercy. A friend of mine caught about six bonefish in three days and it was his first time,” adds Whitman. “He caught all of these on a fly rod, not with live bait. For someone who has never done it before [and] to be successful on the first trip, that is wonderful. I think he saw ten thousand bonefish in the three days!”
Day 3: Deep Sea Fishing
From Great Harbour Cay, a centrally positioned island, take your pick of these top three deep-sea fishing areas highly recommended by Marina Manager Steve Johnson of Great Harbour Cay Marina: Tuna Canyon near Freeport, Grand Bahama is 40 miles northwest; Hole in the Wall near south Abaco is 40 miles to the northeast; and 20 miles south is the Pocket, a deepwater crossing marked by the northwest channel marker.
There is also a deep drop-off that runs 80 miles from Little Stirrup Cay to Bimini. There’s active fishing for wahoo along the edge, particularly during peak wahoo season between October and February. The banks’ side of this edge is also known as the Ginger Bread Grounds. For a change of pace, fishermen can also test their luck crawfishing.
Deep-sea anglers in the Berrys usually bring their own boat, so the day’s catch is often cooked fresh aboard; however, there are local chefs and caterers who can prepare meals, which local hotels and marinas can facilitate.
Day 4: Bottom Fishing
The water in the Berry Islands is so clear you can navigate by sight out on the boat, and you can locate schools of fish by sight when bottom fishing. “Sometimes in eighty feet of water, you can see the fish with your bare eyes,” says Percy Darville, a seasoned local fishing guide.
On a good day, Darville starts fishing around 30-40 feet and ends up around 90 feet where he’s more likely to catch large groupers and mutton snappers. Sandy bottom is no good for fishing, he mentions, and the smaller the reefs, the better, as they gather more fish than the large reefs. In all of his years fishing in the Berrys, Darville says he’s never been skunked while bottom fishing.
Day 5: Departure
Boaters do not typically hang around long on departure day, although they might troll their way out of Bahamian territory as they head back toward South Florida.
- Two full-service marinas are well suited for cruisers: Great Harbour Cay Marina in the north and Chub Cay Resort and Marina in the south. They both serve as ports of entry and fuel stations. Great Harbour sees a lot of Bahama 41 open fishing boats or 40-foot Ventures in their marina. In Chub Cay, you’ll also see large sport fisherman yachts such as Viking and others.
- There are hundreds of miles of flats, so hire a local guide and head to one of the many uninhabited islands where the bonefish are less stressed and riper for the picking.
- Chartering in the Berrys? From Nassau, daily flights are morning and afternoon on Le Air’s 19-seater. From Fort Lauderdale, Tropic Ocean Airways offers direct flights every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday.
- The fish bite better at night according to local fishing guide Percy Darville. When he goes bottom fishing for himself, he usually goes out at night.
By Noelle Nicolls, Southern Boating June 2018
Photos Courtesy of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Dockwa