LAY OF THE LAND
Grand Bahama is the northern most island of the Bahamas, and just 55 miles east of Florida. It is the 4th largest island in the Bahamian chain at 90 miles long and 12 miles across at the widest point. Tourism, the mainstay of the economy is boosted by activity generated through the Grand Bahama Port Authority and the quarry. A majority of the 52,000 Grand Bahama residents live in Freeport, the 2nd most populous city in the Bahamas. Settled for centuries, and definitely upscale, it feels more casual than Nassau.
The sparsely populated outlying areas provide rustic stays with peaceful, deserted beaches on the eastern edges of the island and old world charm in The West End settlement, formerly a hideout for rumrunners during prohibition. The Spanish named the Island Gran Bajamar, meaning “Great Shallows,” for the treacherous coral reefs surrounding it, but the Lucayans called it Bahama. Pirates took advantage of Spain’s lack of attention, setting up shop to lure passing ships onto the reefs only to run aground and be plundered. Claimed by the British in 1670, piracy continued to thrive for another 50 years.
Freeport is the “downtown” of Grand Bahama, attracting visitors with its commerce, industry and resorts. Lucaya, called the Garden City, is a tourist destination centered around beaches and hotels. West End is the oldest, westernmost settlement and the capital, but has little economic importance to Grand Bahama. McLean’s Town is the easternmost settlement and a 30-minute ferry ride from Abaco. Freeport is home to the International airport, in addition to modern grocery stores, hospitals/clinics and all the services one would hope to find. Cell phone coverage and Internet are found all over the Island.
WHERE TO FISH
Grand Bahama is not my top choice for a DIY trip but is an excellent destination if you want a quick tropical get away with your family and get in a few days of fishing. Without a boat, you won’t find those classic white flats the Bahamas are known for but there are enough beaches to walk and creeks to investigate to keep anyone happy for a week.
Freeport and Port Lucaya are considered the central section of the island and either is a good place to stay, but the fishing opportunities are poor. If you want to be closer to the fishing pick a location either east or west of Freeport.
Freeport and Port Lucaya
This is the tourist section of Grand Bahama with the usual resorts and beach activities engaged in by the sun seekers. The fishing is spotty in this area but can be okay in the mornings and evenings when the swimmers and sunbathers are not around.
East of Freeport, south shore
The south shore is made up of magnificent beaches and the occasional flat. The beaches are easy to get to, with lots of access points and good fishing during the low and incoming tides. The flats are few and far between but there are miles of shoreline to walk looking for cruising bones.
East of Freeport, north shore
The north shore of Grand Bahama, east of Freeport is famous for bonefishing. All you have to do is look on Google Earth to see the miles and miles of perfect habitat. Numerous guides trailer their boats to one of the launching areas that service the north shore. Depending on the wind’s direction, the north shore can be either protected or buffeted, a major factor in deciding if this is where you want to fish for the day. The north shore is best fished using a skiff, but there are a few spots the self-guided angler can fish. If you have a kayak it opens up many more miles of shoreline and creeks. Bring along your Google Earth printouts, since the roads can be a little tricky to navigate.
West of Freeport
Taking the Queen’s Highway to The West End you will note that the road heads in a northwesterly direction, but the coasts are still referred to as the south and north shore. There are only a couple of smaller flats to fish but there are some nice beaches on the south shore.
Grand Bahama is well known for its bonefishing and it’s reputation is well deserved. There are hundreds of miles of flats and bonefish habitat surrounding Grand Bahama but you need a boat to reach most of it. There are numerous independent guides scattered throughout the island and an endless array of places to rent. When looking at maps of Grand Bahama you will note the island lies west to east, different than the typical north to south axis of Bahamian islands. As a result much of the fishing information refers to the “south” or “north” shore.
The tides vary substantially from end to end and between the north and south shores. There are tide tables available for Freeport and Settlement Point but nothing for the north shore which has at least a two-hour difference from the south shore.
The northern location of Grand Bahama means that it is susceptible to cold fronts from December through February but on the plus side the water is ideal for bonefish from May through September when water temperatures in the southern islands may be too warm.
There are some big fish on Grand Bahama so don’t be afraid to have flies that are size #2 or larger. I like the spawning shrimp style flies in size #4 like Peterson’s Spawning Shrimp or Bonefish Junk along with some large tan Clousers, Pop’s Bitters and Greg’s Flats fly. If you fish Crabbing Bay, I dumb down the fly by reducing flash, weight and size. For these spookier fish I like a size #8 – #10 unweighted Pop’s Hill Special, Pink Puff or Lefty Kreh’s Shallow H2O Fly. Tie a few with weed guards.
I don’t know of any kayak rental stores on Grand Bahama so bring your own or rent a home that has kayaks on the property. To fish the north shore properly you need a kayak.
Grand Bahama has a number of good quality independent guides located throughout the island. Most of them can be found on the Internet but here are three I can recommend:
WHERE TO STAY
Want to be where the action is? Looking for an exclusive resort experience? Maybe you prefer a cottage on the beach or an intimate bed and breakfast? Grand Bahama has something for everyone and every budget. Freeport and Port Lucaya have all of the above from high-end resorts and private villas to one and 2 bedroom condos on the water. The Internet is your best friend in this hunt, going to the usual suspects; VRBO.com and HomeAway.com for private rentals and GrandBahamasvacations.com for a list of hotels and resorts.
Below are a couple of alternatives we can recommend for outside the resort areas of Freeport and Port Lucaya.
Old Bahama Bay – located in the The West End, it combines Bahamian Resort charm and island luxury. This is an all-suite beachfront resort with 67 junior suites and 6 spacious two-bedroom suites.
Phone: 242-350-6500 (calls outside the U.S.)
888-983-6188 (for U.S. reservations)
Hideaway Bahamas – located in Bevan Town, east of Freeport, it offers a spacious 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom cottage, with a fully stocked kitchen, eating area and dining room, 50 feet from the water. There are also six condos of different configurations and a luxury home for rent.
There are two airports on the Island, Grand Bahamas International Airport located in Freeport servicing the majority of travelers and a small cargo airport in the West End. Depending on your starting point, there are a number of scheduled commercial airlines providing service to Freeport.
American Airlines from Miami: www.aa.com
Silver Airways from Ft. Lauderdale: www.gosilver.com
Delta Airlines service from Atlanta, Georgia: www.delta.com
US Airways from Charlotte, North Carolina: www.usairways.com
West Jet non-stop from Toronto, Canada: www.westjet.com
Bahamas Air from Nassau: www.bahamasair.com
Cars are the way to go on this spread out island. Rental cars are available at the Freeport International Airport with rates ranging from $50 – $100 per day. Motor scooters can be rented for about $35 per day and found in Port Lucaya and Freeport. Public buses, or jitneys as the locals call them, operate between Port Lucaya Marketplace to the downtown area, and from downtown to the outlying areas of the West End and East End.
A free government owned ferry travels daily between Sweeting’s Cay and McLean’s Town or take Pinder’s Ferry Service for travel between Crown Haven, The Abacos and McLean’s Town daily.
SPOUSAL RATING – 7
Grand Bahama gets a Spousal Rating of 7 because it offers everything a spouse or family could want on a tropical vacation. However, the DIY fishing is a little limited and you shouldn’t expect to have “killer” days.