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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.

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