Exuma Fishing Tips: How to Catch More Fish in the Bahamas

filleting a wahoo in the Exumas

Photo: filleting a fresh caught Wahoo

We recently returned to the Exumas for a bareboat charter and had a great trip. You can read the trip report here.

One thing we did differently this time? We took our fishing seriously, and, it worked. On our first time to the Exumas we rented one set of fishing gear and bought 3 lures at the small marina store. The result? Two barracudas.

But this time, we knew where to fish, planned around weather conditions, and brought the right equipment.

The fishing in the Exumas is outstanding thanks to it’s proximity to the drop where the Exuma Banks fall off sharply to the Exuma Sound – several feet to thousands, very quickly. On part of the northern section of the Exumas, the drop is only a stones throw from some of the cays!!

You fish the drop for the prize – mahi mahi, wahoo, tuna, and other sportfish. You can even catch marlin or other billfish there – just keep in mind they are catch and release.

In addition to the drop, there are also options for catching fish on the Exuma Banks and around the many reefs that pocket the area.

With some planning, you too can have some success on your next Exumas yacht charter sailing trip.

  • Bahamas fishing regulations
  • Exuma fishing techniques
  • Where to fish in the Exumas
Wahoo caught on the drop in the Exumas sound
Wahoo caught on the drop in December

Bahamas fishing regulations

OK, first, let’s make sure you are set up to fish lawfully in the Bahamas.

Exuma Bahamas fishing license

Fishing is allowed in the Exuma Bahamas and for sailing charters, and a permit is usually not required. But, please check with your charter company to confirm.

Fishing regulations in the Exumas

Make sure to familiarize yourself with the latest fishing regulations. Here are some of the highlights to be aware of:

  • The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is a no take zone – make sure you know where it is. It is clearly marked on most charts

  • Lobster – no more than 10 at a time; the season is closed from April 1 – July 31

  • Conch – limit of 6, and they must be mature (well-formed lip)

  • No more than 18 migratory species at a time (wahoo, mahi, tuna, etc) – I applaud you if you can catch that many!

  • All billfish are catch and release

  • Other fish must not exceed 60 pounds or 20 fish (such as grouper or snapper)

  • No more than 6 rods can be used

Catching lionfish in the Exumas
Lionfish we speared along the reef you can see in the background

Exuma fishing techniques

I put together a sailboat fishing guide that covers in more details the best methods for fishing in the Exumas – trolling, bottom dropping, jigging, etc.

Start with trolling. In the Exumas, you are generally sailing for longer distances between anchorages (as compared to the British Virgin Islands). Trolling allows you to cover a lot of distance and fish whenever you are moving.

I always use two rods and start with a diving lure and a surface lure. If one type is getting more action, we might switch it out. If you’re fishing in the Exuma Banks, it might be too shallow to use diving lures, so exercise caution.

If you’re in the market for some lures these are my favorite ones that we regularly get hooked up on.

Exuma surface lures

By far, my favorite in this category is the Iland Ilander. This version has a weight in the head which keeps the lure slightly below the surface. For colors, go with blue/white, purple, and pink.

Iland Ilander lure (TackleDirect)

This is a great all-around surface lure that you can often catch mahi, tuna, and king mackerel with. Blue/white, pink, and black/purple are my favorites.

Iland Ilander Flasher Series lure (TackleDirect)

Try a couple of the flasher skirts as well - the reflective mylar helps to attract some fish species.

Exuma diving lures

I like the Rapala X-Rap Magnum and the Yozuri Bonita in 5-6 inch sizes. They will dive 10-30 feet – these are your best bet for catching wahoo.

Rapala X-Rap Magnum lure (TackleDirect)

Try these in a variety of depths from 15-40 feet. I like Hot Pink, Bonito, and the Green Mackerel colors.

Yozuri Bonita lure (TackleDirect)

This has been my most successful diving lure recently, and I caught my first wahoo with it. In 6 3/4 in size, try the Flying Fish, Red Black, and Purple Black.

Spearfishing

To note, spearfishing with a gun is illegal in the Bahamas, but you may use a Hawaiian sling. You are also not allowed to use scuba gear. If you like free diving and snorkeling I’d highly recommend bringing one or asking your charter company if they can provide it.

On our last trip we speared several lion fish and made some excellent ceviche out of it.

This is the type of speargun we purchased and brought with us.

5' Fiberglass Hawaiian Sling (Amazon)

This one packs well for travel and has several tips to choose from

When are the fish biting in the Exumas?

You can catch barracuda and go bottom dropping year round. For the deep sea fishing, here’s when they are most active.

  • Wahoo – late fall and winter

  • Mahi – spring and early summer

  • Tuna – peak summer

Exuma Bahamas fishing map

Where to fish in the Exumas

This graphic I put together sums it up.

  • Deepwater pelagic species on the drop in the Exuma Sound

  • You’ll mostly just catch barracuda trolling in the Exuma Banks

  • Be aware of where the park boundaries are

  • Good chances to spearfish lionfish, grouper, hogfish, and snapper on the numerous reefs. You can also try some bottom dropping on these with live/dead bait

If some of your group isn’t interested in fishing, consider arranging for a charter from one of the marinas – Highbourne Cay, Compass Cay, or Staniel Cay.

Shark bait in the Exumas
We got sharked on this one near the drop

Exuma Sound fishing

The drops are where the shelf falls from a couple hundred feet, to over thousands. These areas have swift currents that upwell nutrients from deep in the ocean. In turn, this provides a habitat for huge schools of bait fish…and their predators.

In general, the drop runs from the northwest to the southeast. You can access it through numerous cuts between the cays – check the Explorer Chartbook for more details. Some are more narrow and treacherous than others, so it’s a good idea to know which ones to use when you head out for the day.

Catching sargassum
Check those lines frequently for sargassum

Also take note of the effects of wind and tide which can make passage through the cuts more challenging. I talk more about this in my Exumas cruising guide.

Also important – wind direction. Otherwise you might be in for a rough ride. Wind is more variable in the Exumas. The tradewinds blow here, but frontal passages are more frequent. Keep checking that forecast!

In general, winds are out of the east. So, trolling on you way south means you are going to have wind and waves in your teeth. We try and plan our fishing for days when we’ll be heading back north.

Each pin represents a fish where we hooked up

I like to troll over the drop in 200-600 feet of water or so. You can see in the screenshot a section of the drop and exactly where we hooked up. Another method – zig zag from around 200 feet until the depth sounder no longer registers. Then had back to 200 feet.

Wahoo, my favorite eating fish, can be found on the drop in large numbers when the water begins to cool – starting as early as November. These fish are so much fun to reel in as well – they have the reputation as the fastest fish in the ocean.

Reel them up quick though! The tax man has gotten us before.

barracuda catch on a sailboat
Barracuda caught with a pink Iland Ilander lure

Exuma Banks Fishing

While the shallow turquoise water is breathtaking to sail through, that color means it has a sandy bottom. Fish don’t like hanging out here since they don’t have any protection. Mostly, you will just find their chief predator, the barracuda and perhaps a mackerel lurking.

Still, hearing the sound of the reel alarm going off never gets old, even if there’s a barracuda on the end of the line.

As I mentioned earlier, you probably want to stick to surface lures, or anything that will swim in less than 10 feet.

Into fly fishing? The Exumas support some excellent bonefish populations in the shallows. If you want to do this it may be best to set up a tour with a local fishing charter guide.

Ship Channel Cay anchorage
We speared several fish on these small reefs you can see at our anchorage at Ship Channel Cay

Reefs

You can find shallow water reefs on the Exuma Banks side. These are great to go spearfishing since you don’t need a long breath hold to explore.

Deeper reef fishing can be found between the cays and the drop.

Another option? Stop for a lunch snorkel and fishing stop across the Yellow Banks – the shallower area you will cross that is scattered with bommies (reefs). They are easy to spot even if not marked on charts and support a lot of life. The ones we recently stopped stretched over a quarter mile.

Reefs in the Yellow Banks
Here's where we anchored to check out this reef on the Yellow Banks crossing | Source: Google Maps

If you want to check one out, drop the anchor in ~15 feet of water. This is best done during a slack tide otherwise you’ll be fighting a current if you go spearfishing.

Prefer to stay dry? Use a spinning reel setup to cast your lure over the reefs.

Sailing to Anegada: How to Navigate to and Visit the Sunken Island

Anchorage in Anegada at Setting Point

Anegada is my favorite destination during a British Virgin Islands yacht charter. Secluded north shore beaches, fresh spiny lobster dinners on the beach, and the best snorkeling in the Caribbean are top reasons to go.

However, many charterers avoid the two hour offshore sail – it can seem intimidating, especially if you are a novice bareboat charter skipper. Shallow water, reefs, and careful navigation require extra care.

We visited Anegada 10 years ago on our first ever bareboat charter, and so can you.

Once dubbed the forbidden island since it was off limits to charter boats, it now has a well-marked channel thanks to the charting efforts of Walker Magnum.

I love the Anegada vibe, but be careful – it’s addicting. Part of the appeal is that it’s not an accessible destination. There are a several boutique hotels, but other than the couple hundred residents, the only visitors come by sea.

That leaves you an enormous tropical paradise to explore and discover in relative solitude – that’s my kind of place!

Here’s how work Anegada into your BVI sailing trip and what to expect:

dancing in Anegada
Visiting Anegada will make you want to dance like this!
Anegada overview map

One of the reasons the BVI is such a great destination for beginners is that navigation is generally easy – mountainous islands allow for line of sight travel and depths drop off quickly from shore.

That’s not the case for Anegada.

Unlike the other volcanic islands of the British Virgin Islands, Anegada was formed from coral and limestone. It’s quite flat you and you won’t see the tops of the whispering pines until you are couple miles out.

Turquoise clouds on the way to Anegada
You can often see the reflection of the shallow turquoise water in the clouds on your way to Anegada

I like leaving from North Sound in Virgin Gorda for two reasons. First: it’s the shortest jumping off point, allowing you to make the most of your first day in Anegada.

The second is that with the prevailing tradewinds from NE – SE (depending on the time of year), it allows for a better point of sail. You should be on anywhere from a beam reach to a broad reach. You can read up more about BVI weather and marine conditions here.

If winds are over 20+ knots, you may want to re-arrange your itinerary and wait for a better weather window. It could make for an uncomfortable passage.

The Cruising Guide recommends a course of 008 degrees magnetic from North Sound. In general, you want to land west of the channel entrance to give yourself room to drop sails and avoid some dangerous coral.

The Two Sisters coral formation near Anegada
Two Sisters coral formation | Source: Navionics | Not to be used for navigation

There is a coral formation named the Two Sisters that has claimed several charter boats over the years from ill-advised skippers that tried to cut the turn too closely. Give it a wide berth, stay in the marked channel, and you will be fine.

Due to leeway and a ~1 knot current, expect to be set farther to the west of your course. You might have to make some adjustments.

You might see several other boats approaching Anegada – use caution about following them. Some might disregard channel markers or use local knowledge to take a short-cut.

Keep following the channel markers to the anchorage and mooring field on the left.

Looking for coral heads on the way to Anegada
Make sure you post a bow watch (or two) to look for coral heads on your approach to Anegada

Once inside the anchorage at Setting Point, go slowly. It can feel tight, especially if it’s crowded. Watch your charts, but there is room at the back of the mooring field to turn around and approach the ball of your choice. Winds are usually from the east, so a U-turn is often necessary.

Depths can sometimes get shallow towards the back of the anchorage. Use caution, especially if you are in a monohull.

There are plenty of first come first serve mooring balls and ~10 Boaty Ball reserved moorings. You can familiarize yourself with their reservation program here. If you’d prefer to anchor, there’s plenty of room.

Anegada Setting Point anchorage and mooring field
The mooring field at Setting Point Anegada

What to do in Anegada

I think Anegada is best enjoyed over 2 days. However, if you only have time for one night during a week-long trip, it is 100% still worth going. You can either skip the reef tour, or have a single action-packed day: morning tour and north shore beach exploring in the afternoon.

Here’s how I would plan out my two days.

Double rainbow in Anegada

First day: sail to Anegada and go beach exploring

Get an early start from North Sound. If you leave by 8:00 and have some decent wind, you’ll be tied off to a mooring ball by 10/10:30. If it’s your first time, you can even watch/follow other sailboats as they head through the channel.

The first thing you need to do is make dinner reservations – browse through the menu and have your crew’s order ready to go. You can reach them on the VHF or do it in person.

You really can’t go wrong with any of restaurants – Potter’s, Lobster Trap, Wonky Dog, Anegada Reef Hotel, etc. Lobster, of course is the specialty, but most also offer fresh caught fish. They’ll cook it all up for you right there on the beach.

Pack a bag for a full day – water, towels, sunscreen, snorkel gear etc. You can tie off your dinghy at Potter’s dock.

The dock and beach bar at Potter's by the Sea | We usually tie our dinghy off here

If you like donuts, go find Kenny – he has a cafe at Setting Point and does them up right.

Rather than coordinate taxi pick up and drop-offs all day, get a rental vehicle. There are plenty of options, and we’ve never coordinated in advance. If you’re visiting in the busier season, this might be a good idea, however. You can also call them on your way to the anchorage. Cell phone service exists along the route.

Don’t rent the scooters unless you want to risk ending your vacation early. Many tourists have gotten in accidents – inexperienced drivers, sand/gravel on the roads, and rum don’t mix well.

If you have 8 people, rent 2 mokes (4 passengers each). You’ll have a blast exploring the north shore beaches in these open air vehicles. Check out Amazing Rentals for the mokes.

Dean Wheatley and Lauren Creque offer jeep rentals.

We’ve also previously rented a pickup truck with bench seating in the back that works just as well.

Mokes parked at Cow Wreck Beach
Mokes parked at Cow Wreck Beach - they are a fun way to explore the island

North shore beaches of Anegada

The speed limit is 30mph – driving around Anegada is a lot of fun! You don’t need a map. Head east and start exploring. Getting lost is part of the fun.

I would start with Flash of Beauty which lays claim to the best snorkeling spot. On your way, you can stop at the Flamingo pond overlook for a peak at the pink birds if they aren’t out feeding.

Flamingo Pond overlook Anegada
Flamingo Pond overlook
Anegada flamingos
Anegada flamingos | Source: the Moorings

After a morning snorkel grab a bite at Flash of Beauty or next door at Big Bamboo on Loblolly Bay. Monica at Flash of Beauty makes a mean roti and she can pour you an eye opener if that’s your thing.

In the afternoon, work your way back west along the north shore. You can drop by the Anegada Beach Club (try the lobster pizza or their famous BLLT), a popular glamping resort with a pool. If you want to visit another time, they run a free shuttle from the Lobster Trap.

Exploring the beaches in Anegada
Exploring the north shore of Anegada - go get lost!
Lagoon and beach at Cow Wreck
Lagoon style swimming is waiting for you at Cow Wreck Beach
TIPSY by Ann at Cow Wreck Beach - not a bad place for a sundowner: Source - TIPSY's

I would park myself for the afternoon at TIPSY’s for a rum drink or two, and some swimming. Cow Wreck Beach is more of a lagoon with shallow turquoise water and beautiful white sand. Rinse and repeat.

Get cleaned up back at the boat, put on your finest resort wear, grab a sundowner, and enjoy your lobster dinner on the beach – one of the highlights of a stop in Anegada.

Horseshoe Reef tour
Getting ready to snorkel offshore on the Horshoe Reef

Second day: explore Horseshoe Reef

A couple weeks before your trip, you’ll want to reserve a Horseshoe Reef tour with Kelly or Sherwin. I’ve used Kelly in the past, but I’ve heard Sherwin is great too.

They’ll pick you up right from your yacht sometime mid-morning. You’re going to be in the sun for awhile, so again, pack accordingly (I’ve heard some of the boats now have canopies). Long sleeve cover ups are a good idea.

It’s a fun ~30 minute speedboat ride out to the reef. He’ll set you up on a drift snorkel and you can also help him look for lobster. While it’s illegal for visitors to take lobster, Kelly and Sherwin are able to when they are in season. They can also hook you up with conch.

The reef is really beautiful, and we’ve even seen nurse sharks and eagle rays.

After the snorkel, you’ll stop by the famous conch mounds on your way back. Make sure to hop in the water and get your picture taken.

If you want more peace and quiet, consider moving your catamaran around the corner to Pomato Point. It’s well protected and Sid’s Restaurant gets rave reviews. You may also want to cook up the fresh lobster you picked up during your tour.

Anegada lobster
Lobster's from Kelly that we picked up during the tour
Fresh grilled Anegada spiny lobster
Fresh grilled Anegada spiny lobster on our charter catamaran - what more could you ask for?

Planning to go back to the north shore beaches? Grabbing the free shuttle to the Anegada Beach Club is a good idea too.

Another idea? Just beach bar hop the establishments at Setting Point.

Sunset at Setting Point in Anegada
Isolated squalls make for a beautiful sunset in the mooring field

Other Anegada Activities

Fishing

The North Drop is only about an hour’s sail to the north where you have excellent chances of catching mahi mahi, tuna, and wahoo. Check out my BVI fishing guide where I talk more about it.

If you are serious about fishing the drop, consider doing this on the morning you plan to leave. This route offers mostly downwind sailing where you can zig zag and troll over the drop for 25+ miles. It’s a long day on the water, so make sure your crew is up for it and weather conditions are settled.

You can also hit Kingfish Banks for some bottom dropping closer to Jost Van Dyke.

If you are into fly fishing, Anegada offers some of the best bonefishing there is. Arrange for a tour with one of the local operators several weeks in advance.

North drop fishing route
Possible fishing route hitting the North Drop and Kingfish Banks

Kite boarding

Tommy Gaunt offers kite boarding lessons and rentals on the north shore at the Anegada Beach Club. I’m not a kiteboarder, but I might give a lesson a shot the next time I visit.

Rock iguanas

If you are a nature lover, you might want to check out the Anegada Rock Iguana Headstart Facility. These iguanas are only found only on the island and are currently critically endangered. The Headstart Facility protects the young iguanas from their cat predators.

Enjoy this one? Check out my other posts about British Virgin Islands here!

Catamaran Cast Adrift from BVI Mooring & Wrecks: What can we Learn?

Lagoon 46 Panema with significant damage in the BVIs

Photo source: Yacht Catatonic

It’s not uncommon to hear of groundings or anchor dragging from bareboat charter skippers in the BVIs, or elsewhere. Reports about these events seem to happen all too frequently. I recently started documenting them at Groundings of BVI to help bring some awareness and hopefully, to help educate.

Inexperience, sailing in red-lined areas, ignoring of navigational aids, and lack of preparation for adverse marine conditions are often the culprits.

A recent incident from April 2022 in the British Virgin Islands, however, caught my interest given the strange circumstances.

Drift of catamaran from Cooper Island to Dead Chest Island
The catamaran drifted ~2.8nm on wind and current to the rocks at Dead Chest Island | Source: Boating App

So what happened?

First off, I gathered this information from reports on social media. I’ll continue to update this post as any additional facts arise. I’ll be clear about any opinions or assumptions I make. I did reach out to Boaty Ball myself.

It was reported that several charter boats woke up to witness a Sunsail catamaran, a Lagoon 46, on the rocks at Dead Chest Island near Peter Island. Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR) was on the scene. Apparently no one was aboard.

View of the mooring field at Cooper Island | Source: Cooper Island Beach Club

Here’s what I think happened:

  • The crew of the Lagoon 46 picked up a First Come First Serve (FCFS) Boaty Ball mooring, and paid for it ashore at Cooper Island Beach Club (if you aren’t familiar with Boaty Ball – you can read more about the mooring reservation system here)

  • They enjoyed themselves at CIBC 

  • When the crew took their dinghy back to their catamaran around 11:00pm, it was gone

  • They went back ashore, reported it stolen, and had to spend the night at Cooper Island

  • It’s unclear how the search effort was organized, but the cat was discovered around 2am with a large port side hull breach

  • Given marine conditions, it likely took 1-2 hours for the cat to drift before grounding

Recovery efforts of the Lagoon 46 | Source: Claus G.

What can we learn from this incident?

Can you imagine returning to your catamaran to discover it missing? I cannot. So what can we learn from this terrible incident? These are my takeaways:

  • This was a Boatyball mooring, which are supposed to be regularly maintained by Moor Seacure, so I suspect negligence from the captain

  • I checked with Boatyball, and they reported that Cooper Island management inspected the mooring ball and there was nothing wrong with it

    • Perhaps the crew only ran one line through the pennant eye – heavy wind and swell could have caused chafe and sawing through of the line: mooring balls should always be secured with 2 separate lines through the eye to prevent this situation

    • Or, maybe they need more practice with cleat hitches

    • I also read that it’s possible they used the anchor bridle to try and secure to the mooring ball – if so and they just used the snubber hook through the pennant eye, that easily could have cast the catamaran adrift. That isn’t a secure connection at all

  • As always, properly inspect all mooring balls for damage – there are current reports the BVI National Park Service (NPS) balls are in a bad state of disrepair

  • Be careful about leaving your yacht unattended at night – if this happened during the day, it’s probable another boat would have noticed and rendered assistance

  • If you need a refresher on how to properly pick up and secure to a mooring ball, check out this video from Sailing Virgins

Here’s another good example of how to pick one up and tie it off correctly. Team of 4 – one person for each line tied back to the port and starboard deck cleats. One person to pick up the mooring ball. And the last person to point at the ball so the skipper can stay on station.

Pirate's Lair Warderick Wells Exumas
Deadman's Bay with Dead Chest Island in the background

How can you get comfortable leaving your vessel unattended?

This goes without saying for the prudent skipper, but the bottom line is that you need to make sure the vessel is properly secured. Use proper anchoring techniques or secure correctly to the mooring ball. Arrive early enough to dive the anchor or inspect the condition of the mooring ball.

Be aware of potential weather conditions that could change the situation adversely.

I think it’s unreasonable on a trip to the BVIs, in an approved mooring field, to have to leave a crew watch aboard. So at some point, your vessel will be unattended.

I haven’t though much about that in the past, especially when we are on a well-maintained ball that we’ve inspected – such as at Cooper Island. When we do anchor, we don’t venture far and often maintain eyesight visibility.

So can you keep an eye on your yacht while you are enjoying dinner ashore or crawling through the Baths on Virgin Gorda?

An anchor alarm won’t help you, since that uses your phone’s GPS and you take that with you. It is a great tool to use when sleeping, however. Many recommend Anchor Pro, as do I.

There is another way I thought of after this incident – check it out.

Staniel Cay Anchorage
Anchored in the Exumas | We went ashore here for dinner and stayed after dark, but could maintain a watchful eye on our cat

Keeping watch using satellite positions

I recently went on a backcountry trip in the Grand Canyon – the Rim to Rim to Rim run. We used a Garmin inReach to allow our friends and family to track our position during the run. They loved it! You can share the link with anyone. Here’s how it works:

  • The inReach (or other similar devices) ping’s satellites every 10 minutes and transmits that position data to your phone

  • All you need is cellular or wifi on your phone

  • The inReach costs ~$350 and you can pay month to month $15 for the access

  • There is a more expensive plan that will ping every 2 minutes

  • While you are ashore, you can check the position of your yacht every so often to make sure it’s still where it is supposed to be

  • If the captain of the Sunsail cat had done this, they could have seen the boat adrift and organized a recovery before it grounded on Dead Chest Island

So will I add a Garmin inReach to my toolkit for my next trip? Yes! I think it’s an easy way to gain some peace and mind. Oh, and I already own the inReach😎, so it’s a cheap addition.