A devastating Cat 5 hurricane in 2019 followed by a worldwide pandemic steamrolled parts of the Bahamas. Yet despite these dire hardships, this top-notch fishing destination has rebuilt, and many locations are now open to American anglers.
Tourism tanked in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, which peaked in its intensity on Sept. 1, 2019, as many people cancelled travel plans nationwide. But some have already seen a flip side to this coin — the net result could be better fishing than before the storm.
On the Rebound
“There’s been virtually no fishing pressure,” says Sarah Showell, of the Green Turtle Club Resort & Marina. “After we rebuilt post-Dorian and before Covid, there were a few people coming in. They all had full coolers with bigger fish than we’re used to seeing. Big grouper, huge mutton snapper, even the lobsters people were diving for were bigger than usual because they hadn’t been pressured for so long.”
Joanne Feinstein, owner of AbacoBuzz.com, has experienced similar fishing off Elbow Cay and says, “It’s unbelievable how quickly everything came back, and it’s sort of a weird silver lining. First, we had the hurricane, and then Covid, and if anything good can be said, it’s that the fishing and diving are fantastic right now.”
Justin Sands, a fly-fishing guide based out of Marsh Harbor and president of the Abaco Fly Fishing Guide Association, also says that fishing is back into prime form and then some. “The hurricane did impact the mangroves on the west side,” he explains. “But once the debris in the water cleared, fishing was good, and we’ve been working with the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust to replant mangroves in some areas. At this point in time, it’s fair to say that fishing is back — the independent guides are up and running, the lodges are up and running, and we’re all ready to go fishing.”
Dorian hammered Abaco Island as a category-five storm packing sustained 185 mph winds — a tie for the strongest ever recorded — and hit Marsh Harbor with gusts recorded up to 220 mph. Storm surges of 20-plus feet flooded the islands.
The tab for the storm’s damages reportedly hit $3.4 billion (a quarter of the Bahamas GDP), and it left tens of thousands of Bahamas residents homeless in its wake. It then triggered a rebuilding effort that in many areas amounted to starting from scratch.
While Dorian proved catastrophic in some parts of the country, other areas felt fewer effects. Because the hurricane maintained a more or less east-west trajectory while passing through the area, most of the worst damage occurred to the north; the 120-plus-mile buffer between Abaco and islands like Bimini and Andros made a world of difference. In fact, while these islands were at one point under a hurricane watch, they didn’t experience hurricane-force winds (74 mph and higher).
Anglers who run their own boats across to the Bahamas should find ample infrastructure. “We’re very well positioned to regain our momentum,” says Basil Smith, executive director of the Association of Bahamas Marinas. “Boaters can expect to find all the amenities they’re accustomed to.”
In fact, in harder hit areas like Abaco, they can even expect significantly better amenities. Because the destruction was quite comprehensive, the rebuilding was too, and many marinas now have new docks, new electricity systems, new fuel docks, new weigh stations, and in some cases all of the above. “You’ll find the same familiar faces. Our people are still here,” notes Emmanuel Alexiou, owner of Abaco Beach Resort. “But now everything’s even better than it was before.”
For more details on the current storm status of top Bahamas angling destinations, we asked Bahamas authorities in September for some updates. COVID-related travel restrictions change frequently. At this writing, the Bahamian government has introduced new protocols designed to eliminate the need to quarantine. Here is the country’s source for official COVID information.
Many areas of Abaco were literally wiped off the map by Dorian. Of the 70-person official death toll, 60 were in Abaco. Marsh Harbor was flattened, with nearly every building destroyed or damaged. Over 89,000 cubic feet of debris was barged off of Man-O-War Cay. Virtually every building on Green Turtle Cay suffered severe water damage and over half of the homes were destroyed. Sixty percent of Grand Bahama Island was submerged, including the airport.
Today, many of the Abaco resorts best known as prime fishing destinations have fully reopened:
- The Green Turtle Club Resort & Marina has made all 42 of its slips operational, and the entire resort from the waterfront villas to the restaurants have been renovated and are ready for travelling anglers.
- Abaco Beach Resort has completely rebuilt its 200-slip marina, enhanced and enlarged its beach area, and all 89 rooms and suites are in prime condition.
- Treasure Cay Marina has fuel service and some slips available, though renovations there aren’t expected to be complete before later in 2021.
Popular fishing destinations on Andros largely escaped the blow and most had reopened within weeks of the storm’s passing.
Bimini also escaped the worst of Dorian, and aside from Covid glitches has been up and running since shortly after the storm passed. Bimini lies just 52 miles from Miami, Out Island Promotions Board executive director Kerry Fountain says, “and the Bahamas covers over 100,000 square miles of ocean with flats, deep sea, and reef fishing. Why you’d want to go beyond us is, well, beyond us.”
Read Next: The Bahamas Fishing Guide
Believed to be where Dorian first made landfall, Elbow Cay took a severe beating. “For 10 months it seemed like everyone was just removing debris,” says Feinstein, who is also on the board of the Restore Hopetown Foundation, a charitable organization established immediately after the hurricane hit. “Then it seemed like everyone was on a roof sawing or nailing something. In a way, it looked like a gigantic movie set.