Winsome Walker's Cay

by Larry Larsen

Interested In Deep Sea Angling Or Bottom Fishing?

Few places in the Bahamas offer more variety of fishing charters than the productive waters found off Walker's Cay. From deep sea, to bonefishing, to bottom fishing, this tiny island offers it all. Located on the third largest reef in the world, Walker's Cay is separated from Florida's Gold Coast by only the Gulf Stream.

Our nine-passenger plane flew over several miles of fish-laden flats and shallow reefs before pointing its nose at the 2,500-foot runway, which seemed to dominate the remote spit of land. The beautiful waters beneath the aircraft during the 30-minute commute from Freeport accelerated the anticipation for us. My wife, Lilliam, and I were both looking forward to sampling the salty fare.

Air view of Walker's Cay and its small airstrip; harbor to north.

Our approach revealed the deep blue waters just north of the island, for which Walker's derives much of its fame. Most of the action takes place on or just off the Bahama Banks between Matanilla Shoal, 12 miles west of Walker's Cay, to Stranger's Cay 20 miles to the east.

Captain Billy Black has built quite a reputation for Walker's billfish. His well equipped 50-foot Hatteras, called "Duchess," is the kingpin of the island's charter fleet. When not at berth, the boat and its captain are searching for the blue and white marlin, which are responsible for much of the angling attention in that part of the world.

We met Captain Black at the marina and joined him aboard the "Duchess" for the short ride to the offshore fishing grounds five miles away. The wind was calm, but the seas were dirty due to strong southerly winds that had prevailed during the week. The captain analyzed the seven baits which we were trolling and made adjustments to stagger the various sized lures properly on the wakes, 50 to 200 feet behind the cruiser.

It was not an ideal time for finding marlin. Black is, however, considered one of the top marlin anglers in the world and has caught them under similar circumstances. The bearded 40-year-old captain has over 300 blue marlin to his credit and several billfish records.

Winds out of the west or north will usually offer clean waters, while winds from a southern or eastern direction will make the mid-depth areas dirty. The numerous channels around Walker's allow the predator to move in close to feast, but only if the water is relatively clear. 

We took turns sitting in the fighting chair or relaxing in the large salon. An extensive video library of Black's past marlin conquests made the time pass quickly. On the bridge, Jimmy Buffet and other popular soft rock music kept us entertained.

An hour or so into our charter trip, a blue marlin suddenly hit a trolled lure and the reels screamed. Captain Black yelled, grabbed the rod, turned on his pre-aimed video camera and headed for the deck. The marlin of over 200 pounds was doing a wild dance on the ocean's surface. The madness was short-lived, however. The marlin performed its acrobatics for a couple of minutes, and then the encounter was over when he broke off. We all were winners, though, with the memories of the experience. 

The phrase "relaxed little island" couldn't be more appropriate for Walker's Cay, northernmost angling outpost in the Abaco, Bahamas. The 100-acre tropical 'oasis' has modern conveniences but no phones, televisions or other similar distractions. The main attraction here is not for the tourist, but for the visiting angler.

The area is renowned for its billfish trolling and its flats bonefishing, but many other opportunities exist. In fact, in the pristine waters at the so-called "Top of the Bahamas," virtually any saltwater angler can find his favorite species in an accommodating mood. Bottom dwellers in the numerous coral reefs are seemingly unlimited in number and size, and the miles of productive flats also abound with the powerful permit. Trolling mid-depths for tuna, dolphin, Wahoo and kingfish is exciting.

Our trip to Walker's naturally included a half day of bottom fishing on board one of their 23-foot Mako charters. Captain Andy Hield, from nearby Grand Cay, is a 20-year veteran of guide trips off the island. We anchored in 18 feet of water almost within shouting distance of the island's southwest point when the hungry reef dwellers appeared. Saltwater perch and squid pieces were being nibbled on before Hield had even introduced the chum.

A feisty strawberry grouper was the beginning of two hours of continuous action. The four dozen bottom inhabitants that we brought into the boat kept us busy. A six pound brown grouper on light spinning gear was the prize catch. Often we each had fish on, and most of them were respectable in size and fight.

The bottom varied only a few feet in the three or four spots that we tried. Living coral and rock outcropping are abundant at most depths, making bottom fishing off Walker's excellent year 'round. A cold front can turn the beautiful, gin-clear waters milky, and then angling opportunities move deeper where bigger fish exist.

The radio "chatter" about catches, reports of "fish on," etc., is standard routine around the island. Captain Black asked Hield about our fishing success over the CB while noting his significant catch of the day: a Yellowfin tuna. He predicted his client's fish, landed after a 30-minute fight, would weigh around 150 pounds.

Our fishing was action packed that morning, but not nearly as much as one day a few years ago on Andy's 1/4 Lion charter. Over 350 pounds of yellowtail and red snapper were brought aboard his boat. The 23-foot open fisherman is but one of Walker's charters. Other Makos and sportfishing cruisers, including a 45 and 50-foot Hatteras, round out the fleet.

A nice 200 pound blue Marlin.
PHOTO: Larry Larsen

The fleet was all in and the crowd had gathered at dockside later that day for the official weigh-in of Black's tuna. The new Walker's record tipped the scales at exactly 150 pounds! Proof of other CB 'chatter' lay on the dock: big Wahoo, a couple of 50-pound Yellowfin tuna, some giant dolphin and a 200-pound blue marlin as well as kingfish, grouper, dolphin, amberjack, barracuda and a small black-tip shark. That's not a bad half-day catch for three or four sportfishing boats. Although fishing can be good year 'round, most large fish are caught in the spring. Walker's Hotel and Marina often schedules their big tournaments at this time of the year, signaling the beginning of angling action.

Many guests enjoy activities other than fishing, and we were no exception. We took time out from our angling adventures to sample the dive sites. Walker's Cay is blessed with an abundance of beautiful coral reefs, just different enough to offer a seemingly endless variety of marine life and underwater experiences. Most of the island's dozen 'noted' dive sites are within a short boat trip, 10 to 20 minutes.

We carried much of our scuba gear to Walker's, but did rent tanks, backpacks and weight belts at their fully equipped dive shop. Nick's Reef, with thousands of fish and a maze of caves and caverns, is a 35-foot dive just 15 minutes from the marina. Broad Bottom is a shallower reef in 10 to 20 feet of water with numerous caverns and tunnels cut through the coral.

Our trip to the island, so convenient to U.S. visitors, was too short. Without a lot of 'distractions' one may think that time sits still. But not so! Even without a TV, car or phone, we just didn't have time to do everything we wanted or needed to do on Walker's.