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February 26, 2007

Bahamas Grand Central

Chub Cay's new resort/marina makes it easier than ever to reach some of the islands' hottest fishing.

Planning a trip to fish Chub Cay isn't easy. At least, if fishing's your primary objective, when it comes to getting gear ready, be warned: Even though tackle prep is a labor of love for most anglers, you're in for a big chore. That's because if it swims in the tropical western Atlantic, you're likely to find it around Chub.

Case in point: During just two and a half days of fishing out of Chub Cay Marina in October with the Fonseco brothers - Jose "Chopper" and Nelson, of Miami - we caught species including yellow- fin tuna (drifting live baits on top), a 60-pound misty grouper (deep-dropping in 1,200 feet) and bonefish into the double digits.  And we did it all within a half-hour or so from the marina.

Fact is, Chub is one of those rare spots that somehow manages to be simultaneously not too close to any place else, yet certainly not out of reach either. Its location, at the southern end of the Berry Islands, east of Bimini, puts it only 14 miles northeast of Nicholl's Town at the top of Andros Island, 35 miles northwest of Nassau, 86 miles southwest of Marsh Harbour, 76 miles southeast of Freeport and about 130 miles east/southeast of Miami. Best of all, it's in the middle of great flats and reef habitat, as well as pelagic-game-fish migratory routes.

While the great fishing around Chub hasn't exactly been a secret, many anglers have bypassed the area to head for better-known destinations in the islands. But with the development of the quarter-of-a-billion-dollar Chub Cay Club, that's about to change. Getting here has never been easier, whether you choose to fly into the new 5,000-foot runway or boat over to the generous new marina (that opened last June). Either way, Chub is a Bahamas port of entry, with customs officials waiting to check in visitors.

Yellowfin Bonus on Day One
The bros said they'd heard of some tuna being taken, so our first morning, right in the marina, we sabikied up various goggle-eyes, pilchards and small jacks (and even one bonefish!) until we had a fair assortment in the big belowdecks livewell. Nelson headed the boat toward the closest of several U.S. Navy buoys off the upper west side of Andros. Anticipation ran high, especially after Chopper recalled one morning here during prime time for yellowfin, four months earlier, when three anglers landed 15 tuna to 60 pounds and averaging 40, all on live pilchards.

In fact, that was a pretty good Chub Cay day all around, since Nelson, fishing nearby on another boat, ended up releasing a blue marlin estimated at 500 pounds (the size that would consider those 40-pound tuna an ideal entree, no doubt). Chub has long been known as one of the Bahamas' better marlin spots.

Such activity with migratory big-game pelagics is hardly surprising, since Chub sits atop the great Tongue of the Ocean. The 6,000-foot-deep trench snakes east and then southward between Andros and Nassau. Just off the islands and shallows that rim the tongue, the bottom tumbles away quickly. That means short runs indeed before lines out for serious trolling or live-baiting.

The tuna proved considerably less numerous this time out, but they were there. Even at the wrong time of year, we picked up a couple of fair-size yellowfin that morning. On our companion boat, Cortez and company also caught tuna.

But - perhaps because they were scattered - the fish proved pretty fussy and not particularly interested in pilchards. Goggle-eyes, it seemed, were the key. In general, Chopper and Nelson agree, no bait is as effective overall as those small scads.

But any sort of live bait is better than none - that is, in this area, any live bait is better than trolling. "It's just really hard to troll and catch yellowfin out here," Chopper says. "These tuna are usually very spooky. For example, there was a guy out here trolling when we caught those 15 tuna last summer. He didn't catch a single one."

Along with tuna in the spring, look for dolphin. Nelson says he has run into some big numbers of fish just offshore that, at 25 to 40 pounds, can hardly be considered schoolies.

But winter is wahoo time. The Bahamas Wahoo Championship recognizes the area's good 'hoo action, since Chub is one of the legs of the annual multi-destination tourney. Chopper advises trolling at a zippy 12 to 15 knots. On the one hand, big wahoo like it that way, and on the other hand, barracuda don't. 'Cudas here will eat you alive if you pull wahoo gear much slower than that, Chopper advises. He adds this tip for wahoo: Fish the outgoing tide. Then, currents sweep over the vast Grand Bahama Bank (Chub lies at the edge of this), and wahoo patrol the waters on the deep side for prey moving off the bank in the tide.

Drifting Reef Slopes - Few Dull Moments
The following day, instead of heading south toward Andros, the Fonsecos pointed the bow north. They zeroed in on some numbers in their GPS from past trips, on which drifting reef slopes in 80 to 200 feet with live baits had put bends in rods and smiles on faces.

If there's one word to describe the species likely to be encountered by those dropping baits and jigging over these reefs, it would have to be "varied." Case in point, right off the bat, Nelson's pilchard turned into a real surprise, one that - even on 80-pound braided line - made him work to bring it up: a hefty black jack. Though not truly a rare species in the world's tropical oceans, Caranx lugubris are not really common anywhere. Chopper followed that up with an almaco jack that grabbed a ProFishCo. red-and-white metal jig worked with braided line on a heavy spinning outfit. Another surprise, at least for me: a fair abundance of cero mackerel. After the first cutoff, I put a light bite leader in front of my Gotcha lure and connected with several cero that morning.

On the next drift, one of the surface lines went off. Its zippy runs, not quite up to wahoo speed, had us thinking kingfish. Another surprise awaited us when it jumped, flashing peacock colors. It had taken much longer than dolphin usually take before going airborne. Just after that, a nice yellowtail snapper grabbed a Gotcha lure well up off the bottom, and we caught a few small grouper. Chopper boated a keeper red grouper that hit a lead-head.

We continued to pick up fish, but decided to look for something a little bigger - a little deeper. Out came the Krystal Fishing electric rig. And off went the Contender to some other spots in the Fonseco little book of numbers, the first in about 650 feet. There we caught several lovely silk snapper (pinkish-red with striking yellow eyes), but these were small. Apparently, some bigger fish were around though: In the other boat, we learned later, while their electric was winching up some small fish - likely more silks - suddenly the reel began lagging, laboring to make headway. The tug of war that ensued was short-lived. What the boys in the boat got back was their circle hook - straightened out! (No matter, since ultimately, the trio ended up with a full fish box that afternoon.)

Meanwhile, I suggested trying a bit deeper water, perhaps for a wreckfish or some pomfret. Off we went to a spot that Chopper had logged in the year before. This time the slight hump off the bottom rose to about 1,200 feet. Fortunately, currents were moderate, and we were able to get our squid-baited circle hooks to bottom. They weren't down there long before the broomstick rod in the holder bounced faster than an Enron pension check. Even though denied the excitement of going up against the heavy fish the old-fashioned way, we were pretty excited as it grudgingly came up. Despite some tense moments requiring Nelson to reset a breaker, eventually up popped an eye-popping popeyed 60-pound misty grouper, with striking barred patterns on its upper sides that faded quickly once it was boated.

Double-Digit Bones on Transparent Flats 
That evening, over another memorable dinner in the club's restaurant that included cracked conch and lobster tail with wine, Chub Cay Club manager Deron Webb didn't do much to lower our already pretty high expectations for fishing on our last morning. My fishing buddy, Jackie, and I were scheduled to join bonefish guide David Lightbourne in his Silver King 16 powered by a 70 hp Yamaha for a few hours, just enough to get a taste of the bonefish action. "I'm convinced that we have some of the best bonefishing in the island," Webb told us. "We see schools of thousands of fish on the flats!"

I can tell you right off that we did not see such schools on the morning we fished the extensive Berry Island flats north of Chub. However, we did see good numbers of bones in singles, doubles and small schools in the shockingly clear and totally empty flats perhaps 10 miles north of the club. And we caught bonefish up to at least 10 pounds - and blew some good shots at others at least that large, even though, Lightbourne says, we weren't really fishing the big-fish time. That, he explains, is in the cooler winter months.

Lightbourne should know, having guided anglers on Bahamas flats for nearly 45 years. While much of that's been on Chub, the guide has plenty of experience fishing other areas, and he's convinced Chub Cay has some of the very best, most productive flats in the Bahamas within reach. Nor does that mean strictly bonefish: Permit can take center stage at times, also sometimes in large schools.

Lightbourne is one of several guides working out of Chub. (The exact number of guides available at any time can vary somewhat.) We caught most of our bones on nothing more than fresh bait-shrimp fished on a light leader with no weight (and light line: The biggest fish nearly emptied the spool of 6-pound braid on my small spinner before I could stop its first, 200-yard, turbocharged run over the shallows). Lightbourne assured us that fly-rodders also generally do very well indeed with these big Chub bones.

 


Planning a Trip to Fish Chub Cay

• When to go: Anytime - Chub is truly a year-round destination. If you're targeting trophy fish of particular species, such as blue marlin or double-digit bones, certain months are optimal.  Of course, from July through October - hurricane season - it's a good idea to keep an eye on not just Bahamas-area weather, but the entire Caribbean.

• How to get there: You can boat over from Miami or Fort Lauderdale in a few hours at most, if conditions crossing the Stream are favorable, or fly over in about 45 minutes to an hour. Boaters should keep in mind both their craft's size, seaworthiness and speed in making such a trip. The Strait can go from complacent to cantankerous in a hurry; top-shelf boats like the new Contenders we ran, with plenty of power to take advantage of nice conditions, make the crossing easier, quicker and safer. Either way, since Chub is an official port of entry, you won't need to plan on any interim stops to clear customs. Make sure your passport is handy and, if boating in, you have all necessary documentation.

• What to bring: Tackle will depend on your plans (fishing with a guide or charter versus on a private boat) and objectives/target species. If you want the "full experience" of Chub's great variety, well ... you might want to re-read the first paragraph of this article. Then bring as much gear as you can reasonably take!

• What to expect: For the next year or two at least, you'll see the resort remains a work in progress, but is still well into the full-service stage, with accommodations, dockage, fuel/water (the club has its own desalination plant), bait and so on.

• Contact information: Chub Cay Club - Start with the club's website if you can: www.chubcay.com. All information you'd need is there, including online reservations. By phone, for general information, 877-234-CHUB or 954-764-4994, fax 242-764-4944; for villa and/or slip reservations, 242-325-1490.

Gold Aviation Services, Fort Lauderdale - www.goldaviation.com; 800-763-0060 or 954-359-9919.

The Bahamas - www.bahamas.com.