Fly Fishing Berry Islands for a Grand Slam Shot

// Words and Photos by Travis Sands

Last updated on January 10th, 2024.

My captain’s experience began fishing in my hometown, on South Andros, the very Southern tip of the Bahamas.

From a young age on, I was able to gain core experience that is crucial for any guide out there who wants his clients to be successful. Most of all, how to read the tides, and to learn the habits of various species of fish like permit, bonefish or tarpon. 

I’ve also had the opportunity of fishing in the Abacos (a set of islands in the Northern range of the Bahamas) for a number of years. This is where I really honed my skills as a fly fishing guide and the idea of founding my own guiding business in the future first came to my mind. 

Throughout my years in the Abacos I was lucky enough to meet and fish with some of the industry’s legends: Lefty Kreh, Flip Pallot, and Chico Fernandez to just mention a few. All offered wisdom as well as pro tips on casting and becoming a better guide. I was able to travel to various fishing shows and star in a TV show on fishing.

My office when out with clients - Fly fishing Berry Islands 2021.
My office when out with clients – Fly fishing Berry Islands 2021.

Remembering my first “Grand Slam”

During all those years I had many memorable fishing adventures. Yet, my greatest accomplishment as well as most memorable experience was my first grand slam! 

It was another day in sunny Abacos, and from the moment I saw the water, I knew the tide was just right. I quickly spotted a school of rays and sure enough two massive permits were tagging along. I got into position on my skiff and the second cast already proved successful. One of the two fish had taken the fly!

Drag and pull, reel down, pull up and repeat! Tight lines, blood, sweat and tears, the fight lasted for about 25 minutes until the permit finally gave in. When I finally got it close to the boat and grabbed its tail, I knew I had caught a massive permit. The scale tipped at just 20lbs – a marvellous fish.   

Release of a big permit - Fly Fishing Berry Islands 2021
Release of a big permit – Fly Fishing Berry Islands 2021

With the adrenaline still pumping, I motored off to scout out tarpons. It was one of those days when everything seemed to come together. No more than 80 feet from the boat I was able to spot a tarpon that was cruising around. The first cast missed the direction of the fish, but with the second one I managed to land the fly only a few feet away from where I had anticipated it would swim. When I saw it inhale the fly, I set the hook and off he went.  After a few runs, I was able to guide the fish towards the boat and land it. Again the scale read 20lbs. 

A tarpon from around the Berry Islands, Bahamas

At this point I was beyond stoked because catching a bonefish had been the least of our worries. The fish to complete the Grand Slam (bonefish, permit and tarpon on the same day) was no stunner – a small bonefish of about 2lbs – but a bonefish, that was all that mattered. My client of the day, Bob Crosgriff, and I were so excited. From what we knew it was the first grand slam in Abaco, maybe even a first in the entire Bahamas. Full speed ahead to the lodge, we cheered, we laughed, we even screamed…  the celebration went on for three days.

A Place for World Record Permit

Permit, tarpon, and bonefish were often my main targets. I studied each one of those species in detail to learn which fly was best for which one and which area they would frequent at what time. I applied this knowledge wherever I was going when out guiding fly fishermen and women from around the globe. Crooked Island on the very southern range of the Bahamas, turned out to be another cool spot for fishing. 

Finally, in August 2021, I was able to be a part of the opening of a new fishing lodge on the Berry Islands, a group of small islands Northwest of Nassau, called Soul Fly Lodge. Fishing in the Berry Islands for me is a dream come true, I’ve always wanted to fish this area. The permit fishing here is extraordinary, you also have the occasional school of bonefish.

For many years a good fishing buddy of mine would tell stories of the Berry Islands. He would relish on how great primitive fishing is, how easy it would be to catch a world record permit. Geographically, the Berry Islands are the ideal locations for big fish to feed because of the various channels that run throughout the islands. 

Channels running through islands of the Bahamas

Exceeding my Fishing Expectations

Since I started fishing this part of the Bahamas in the summer of ‘21,  the fishing here has exceeded my expectations. The permit population is what really sets this place apart. Strong currents move through the Berry Islands and the channels running through the sand bars provide excellent opportunities to hide and an easy escape for permits when feeding on the flats. 

Permits, being the weary natured fish that they are, are always looking for an easy route into deeper water channels. My approach always depends on where the current is going. Another critical component is the structure of the bottom in a specific location. Is the bottom dominated by grass or sand? Are there rocks, sand or mud?

A bonefish over grassy bottom
A bonefish over grassy bottom

My go-to tactic for hunting for bonefish is finishing your cast at eye level. The reason for that is my conviction that when your cast goes below your eye level all the energy of the fly is going to hit the water. The bonefish are weary and easily spooked in such a case. Finishing your cast above eye level usually results in an inaccurate cast that can go anywhere. But when you finish at eye level, the cast goes straight forward and all the energy will result in a precise cast where the fly will land softly on the water. 

A mutton snapper caught on the fly
A mutton snapper caught on the fly

Slow Strips Lead to Success

After the fly enters the water I love to make long slow strips to my back pocket keeping that line nice and tight and free of slack. I never apply the short jerk strips used by many fly fishermen and women. I have found that they spook bonefish quite often.

My choice of fly for skinny water is also a bit off the beaten track: I’m always using bead chains if the water reaches about a foot or two. I’m matching the bottom with my fly, my primitive fishing tactics are not so simple. 

For me, a permit is a bit like a beautiful girl sitting at the bar. She knows she’s beautiful. The key to success is persistence. You just got to stay at it, try to make her laugh, buy her drinks, do magic tricks, and you never give up. Even though she didn’t laugh at some of your jokes you just have to keep trying to get her attention. It’s the same with permits. That’s the beauty of the game!

A bonefish in shallow water – fly fishing Berry Islands 2021

If you are interested in fishing the Berry Islands get in touch with the guys at Soul Fly Lodge