Key Largo - Paradise Island - Marsh Harbour
A Twelve Day Cruise
The OVER UNDER had gone through the first phase of a major renovation, and it was time for a good long sea trial. The OVER UNDER is a classic 54’ Bertram, probably one of the best sport-fish ever built. An engine room facelift, new marine air-conditioning throughout, all new marine head system, battery chargers, electronics upgrades, and much more had just been finished up. The plan was to leave Key Largo Saturday afternoon, troll our way across the Gulf Stream, then spend the night crossing the Bahama Bank, and be at the “Pocket” at first light for some fishing, and a shot at getting the OVER UNDER back in the Blue Marlin bite after a two year sabbatical. From there we were headed to Atlantis on Paradise Island for a couple days of R&R, then up to Marsh Harbour for a week of fishing, diving, and exploring the central Abacos. Here’s the recap of our trip.
Key Largo to Paradise Island
We shoved off around 4pm and ran out about 20 miles before putting the lines in. Accompanying me on this trip was a first class crew consisting of my wife Joy, our four year old son Justin, and our one year old son Hutch. The forecast was for 10 knots or less out of the East. Well, let’s just say, it was more like 15 or so. It had been a while since I’d been at the wheel of the OVER UNDER, and I’d forgotten, just how good a riding boat she is. My crew settled into the salon and watched some movies, never feeling the 4 footers we were running through. I was hoping to come across a weed line or some debris, but never did see anything worth stopping on. I pulled them back about 20 off, and set out a simple four line spread, running everything from the bridge. We trolled into the dark without a touch, and I reeled them in with about 10 miles to go till we gained the Bahamas Bank just south of South Riding Rock. We crossed onto the shallow Bahamas Bank, set course for the NW channel light, adjusted my speed to have us arriving at first light, and that was pretty much the end of our day. A bit disappointed that I hadn’t been able to catch Justin his first Dolphin as promised but I was thrilled that we had experienced not a single boat problem. So far, so good!
The kids and Joy slept all night and I managed to keep myself awake listening to XM Radio, drinking coffee, and enjoying the beautiful night at sea. The wind had laid down by now and the night crossing was very calm. At first light we were right where we wanted to be. I gained the deep water of the “Pocket” just as you could begin to see. I immediately set out a Blue Marlin spread, again running four rods from the bridge, along with two bridge teasers. Not 5 minutes after getting the lines set, with just enough light to see, I had a Billfish of some sort crash the left Teaser. I saw enough to know it was a billfish, but it was pretty fast, and it was barely light, so I’m not sure what it was. It didn’t hang around, and I never saw it again. This was encouraging! OU has always been a Billfish raising boat, and it seems that a couple years off, had not changed that. The Pocket was pretty much dead, unfortunately. Never saw a bird or another Billfish. About an hour into the trolling we did manage to catch Justin his first BahamasDolphin, and a bit later, we landed one of those famous Bahamian Wahoo (Barracuda). Justin was ecstatic, and that’s all that really mattered I guess.
A squall was approaching from the East, and the wind picking up, so we reeled them in and decided to run the last 25 miles to Nassau. Again, the boat ran great and after just over an hour, we were pulling into Nassau Harbor on our way to the fabulous Atlantis Marina. We arrived at 12:00, 20 hours after departing Key Largo. We had run about 2 hours and trolled the remainder. My goal had been to do this entire trip without fueling in the Bahamas. OU holds 1200 gallons, and we left with full tanks. After clearing customs and getting the boat cleaned up, we were all off to enjoy the water park, pools, slides, and aquarium. We did this for the next two days, and as one would expect, the kids had an absolute blast at Atlantis. After two days, I had fishing on the brain and was ready to move on to the next part of our journey. We had planned to explore Marsh Harbour and the Central Abacos. This was to be a scouting trip, as we had been talking about basing OVER UNDER in Marsh Harbour on a full time basis.
Paradise Island to Marsh Harbour
We pulled out of Atlantis Tuesday morning, and I began steaming towards Hole In The Wall, along the southern most point of the Abacos. This area is known to be one of the best fishing spots in the Bahamas, and this was my first opportunity to have a peak. The area is primarily known for its Tuna Fishing, so I had a tuna spread ready to deploy after we crossed the 40 miles from Nassau. Hopes were high, expectations were low, and we were just going to see what was going on. Well, there was absolutely nothing going on again. It was totally dead. Not a single bird, rip, or any signs of life. I finally threw in the towel and started trolling across the shallow bank, reeling in the lines. Well, about ¾ of the way across the bank, the cedar plug on the shotgun line goes down and starts ripping line. Hmmmm….what’s going on? I’m in 65’ of water…. Well, Justin did a good job, while Joy and Hutch cheered him on. We finally got the fish up to the transom and boated the Amberjack! How about that, an amberjack on a cedar plug.
From there, I put the Blue Marlin spread back out, kicked the speed up to 10 knots and set course for Marsh Harbour. We all settled in for the afternoon, and enjoyed the ride. Seas were calm and winds light. We never did see a Blue Marlin, or much of anything for that matter until we intercepted the edge around Little Harbour. We finally saw some skip jacks, and worked the area for a while, but another thunderstorm was blocking the entrance to Little Harbour, so we decided to keep on going and make Marsh. We ran the last 15 miles, navigated the Southern Man-O-War channel and pulled into Conch Inn & Marina about 4:30pm. Another “eventless” trip under our belt, with the boat and crew all doing quite well. Conch Inn was to be our base of operation for the next week as we explored everything that this part of the Bahamas had to offer. We were scheduled to meet up with Ken Fickett from Mirage Manufacturing. Mirage has a fleet of trawlers in Marsh Harbour available for charter, and Ken was to be our “guide” for the week. It had been a long day and we walked down the street to a local burger joint, grabbed some food and called it a day.
A Week in Marsh Harbour
Marsh Harbour Day 1: Fishing & Diving…getting the feel for the edge and reef
We left around 11am and headed out to the reef. We went out the North Man-O-War channel, turned south and pulled grouper plugs over the beautiful reef that lies just outside the breakers in 15-40’ of water. We finally picked a good looking spot and set the anchor. We all jumped in the water to check out the reef and found it to be very impressive. Lots of live coral, great structure, and plenty of fish life. We probably snorkeled for about an hour and a half, then decided to head a bit offshore and check out the edge. We put out some lines, just in case, but it was clear that things were pretty dead everywhere in the Bahamas, and I didn’t really expect to catch anything. The edge was reasonably close, maybe a half mile offshore of where we had been diving in 30’. We trolled south to the first large point, then headed straight off to the deeper water to see if maybe we might find a late season Blue Marlin. After a couple hours of this, we trolled back inshore through South Man-O-War cut and called it a day. We cooked in that night and rested up for Day 2.
Marsh Harbour Day 2: We got a bit of an earlier start today and decided to stick to the reef and pretty much abandon the offshore fishing, as it just wasn’t happening right now anywhere in the Bahamas. We picked our way inside the reef, just South of Man-O-War channel and dove on some really nice heads in 5-10 feet of water. There was a bit of current in here, but it was manageable. Then we went to the outside of the reef and anchored back up in 20’ and dove for an hour or so here in the deeper water. Again, great fish life, structure and coral. Once we’d had our fill of diving, I put us in about 40’ and set the hook again. I set out a chum bag and by the time I was back up in the bridge, I could see the Yellowtails swarming 20 feet behind the boat. We proceeded to have a ball, catching all the Yellowtail Snapper we wanted, and playing around with a bunch of Spanish mackerel. We’d had another great day on the water and headed in to get cleaned up. Dinner that night was on the waterfront in Marsh Harbour at Snappas. Live Music, great setting and casual food was just what the doctor ordered for the kids.
Marsh Harbour Day 3: We had been planning on meeting up with my good friend Ken Fickett, President of Mirage Manufacturing Inc. He was due to arrive later this afternoon, so we went over and commandeered his cool little custom 21’ run about. We ran around the Harbour a bit, testing out this hot little set-up of a boat, and tied it up next to Over Under. Ken was a bit late, so we killed most of the day cleaning up the boat, attending to some maintenance, and the kids swam in the pool at Conch Inn. Ken arrived later that afternoon, and we jumped into his 21 and high tailed it over to Hope Town and killed the rest of the day having drinks, checking out some shops, while the kids played on the beach.
Marsh Harbour Day 4: It was now Saturday and Pete’s Pub was holding their annual “Naked Dinghy Race”…a sight to be seen. So, we had to see it. We jumped in Ken’s 21 again and buzzed down to Little Harbour and spent a wonderful day on the beach at Pete’s Pub. Entertainment for all, for sure. The kids had a blast, adults had even more fun! There’s a lot of great snorkeling and lobstering in this area, and we noted a couple spots to hit later in the week!
Marsh Harbour Day 5: Sunday’s are “Nippers Days”! Nippers is the famous beach bar on Guana Cay. This is one of those “must do” things, so we figured we had to go. Again, we buzzed over in the 21 and set up shop for the afternoon on the terrace overlooking the pool bar and beach. The kids immediately headed down to play on the beach and the adults ordered up some “Nippers”, their famous rum punch drink. The place was hopping, and about as much fun as any beach bar I’ve been to. We stayed there pretty much all afternoon, then got back in the Mirage 21 and ran the eight or so miles back to Marsh Harbour, getting back just before dark.
Marsh Harbour Day 6: We spent the morning shopping in town, doing laundry and tidying up the boat. We all headed over to the Abaco Beach Resort (Boat Harbor) for lunch and ended up killing the whole afternoon at the pool bar. This is a very nice resort with a huge marina, great beach, and a very cool pool bar. It was only a short walk from downtown Marsh and the Conch Inn where we were staying.
Marsh Harbour Day 7: We got invited to come spend the afternoon at the new Bakers Bay Club & Marina facility. This was an invitation we couldn’t pass up, so we all piled back into the skiff, and blasted off for Guana Cay again. We made a quick stop at Man-O-War Cay, to visit the Albury Sail Shop, and take a stroll past Albury Boat Works. After that we headed to Guana and hooked up with an old friend of mine, Geoffrey Jones, who hosted us for a wonderful afternoon at Bakers. Geoff gave us the full tour of the facility, including the 18 Hole Golf Course that is under construction and the magnificent marina facility that is opening in November. From what we gather, this will be the nicest and largest marina facility in the Bahamas, and we plan on spending a lot of time here!
Marsh Harbour Day 8: Last Day
Well, it was time to be on our way, but our schedule didn’t require us to leave until about 5:00pm. We planned the departure so we would once again be at Hole In The Wall around dusk. I was going to give that spot one more try for those Yellowfin that often hang out there. We decided to motor back down towards Little Harbour and spend the better part of the day Lobstering and Diving for Grouper. Ken ran his 21 and I ran the OVER UNDER. I found a good spot to anchor OU and we ran around in the 21 all day, spearing lobster and grouper. To end the trip, we took some of the catch back to the OU and grilled up a late afternoon dinner of Lobster and Grouper Fingers! The Ficketts said good bye, jumped in their skiff and headed back to Marsh, and it was time for us to start our journey back to Key Largo.
Marsh Harbour to Key Largo
We pulled out of the cut around 5:00pm and headed for Hole In The Wall. We arrived, just as I planned about 45 minutes before dark. I put some lines out, hoping for the best, but again, not really expecting much. We weren’t disappointed when, again, we saw absolutely nothing except a beautiful ocean and sunset. We continued to the west at 10 knots for the remainder of the night, arriving at South Riding Rock, just before daylight. With 60 miles to go, I pushed the throttles up and we steamed the final 3 hours, arriving back in Key Largo before lunch.
Fishing in August in the Bahamas is really about Blue Marlin. We weren’t really serious about our fishing on this trip and honestly never really gave it a shot, other than our time spent in the Pocket near Chub Cay. The bottom fishing proved to be productive and there is no doubt that the bottom is productive on a year round basis. The tuna and dolphin had clearly moved on, probably tailing off in early July I would surmise. I saw a few sport fish boats trolling the deeper canyons off of Marsh. So, I suspect there were a few Billfish being caught. The reefs and diving were second to none and if you put in your time, there were plenty of lobster and grouper around. Even more importantly, we found that Marsh provided a host of fun activities ashore, and is clearly the top cruising spot in the Bahamas, in my opinion. Guana Cay, Hope Town, Little Harbour, Man-O-War Cay, Green Turtle Cay and Treasure Cay are all within 20 miles of Marsh, and easily reachable on a day trip. There is also ferry service available to many of these islands. To be honest, I still haven’t put fuel in the OVER UNDER, but from the way she’s sitting, I suspect we burned about 800 gallons over the two week trip. We never did have to take on fuel in the Bahamas. We plan to be back in Marsh Harbour with the OVER UNDER full time starting in November, and I fully expect the fishing to be turning on with the wahoo bite rolling into high gear by the time Thanksgiving is behind us. From my limited experience fishing in the Bahamas in the fall, things are typically quite good as the water cools and you can catch just about everything in November and early December. Tuna, Billfish and Dolphin should all be available, along with great bottom fishing.
Abacos Photo Gallery – See all our Pictures of the Trip
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Trey Rhyne – Over Under Adventures Corp.