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Where To Take a First Saltwater Trip

by Philip Monahan

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Question: I have the time and money for just one trip this year, and I’ve decided to try saltwater fly fishing for the first time. Where should I go?

Greg A., New York, NY

Bahamas Fly Fishing

Blair Howard photo

Answer: As far as I’m concerned, this one’s a no-brainer: go to the Bahamas for bonefish. There are several reasons these Atlantic islands are the best place to start your saltwater angling career.

  1. Bahamians speak English and are very accustomed to hosting Americans. This is not to suggest that destinations in Central or South America aren’t as welcoming—most are—but if you’re on your very first International fly-fishing trip, it will help if there’s no communication gap between you and your guide. The Bahamas are only 50 miles off the coast of Florida, so traveling to the islands is extremely easy. The less travel-related stress, the more you can focus on fishing.
  2. Bonefish should be your first saltwater fish. Casting for bones offers everything that makes saltwater angling so exciting. You’re casting to fish you can see, you have to make a pretty good presentation, you can watch the fish eat (or not), and once hooked they make reel-screaming runs. There are bigger species, such as tarpon, and more difficult species, such as permit, but bonefish are more forgiving for beginning anglers.
  3. Bahamian bonefish are plentiful and stupid. Unlike the well-educated bonefish in the Keys, Bahamian bones are not nearly as finicky or wary. You won’t need to cast 90 feet to catch a bonefish in the Bahamas, and if things get really tough, you can usually find schools of “mudding” fish that are eager to put a bend in your rod. If you’re starting on a long fascination with saltwater species, it’s good to start on a successful trip.
  4. Sight-fishing is a blast, and no other combination of species and destination offers you so many shots at fish.
  5. While you’re chasing bones, you can also get shots at barracuda, permit, or even tarpon.
  6. The Bahamas offers every kind of lodge. There are dozens of bonefish lodges in the Bahamas, and they range wildly in amenities, location, and available water. Want to be close to civilization or way out in the boonies? Want to be surrounded by lots of other anglers or have a more intimate experience? Are you looking for huge numbers of fish or just really big ones? Do a little bit of research, and you can find an operation that fits your needs, your skill level, and your budget.

Given all this, don’t forget to do your homework to make sure you get exactly what you’re looking for. Check out my previous column on booking a fly-fishing trip for planning tips.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at You can email your fly fishing questions to us at
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  • Mike Conner

    Phil, Why does everyone recommend bonefishing as the first course for the first-time saltwater fly fisher? The reasons listed to choose the Bahamas for a first-time BONEFISHING trip are all valid, but Greg from NY inquired about a first-time trip to saltwater. There are so many excellent choices right here in the states, that do not require the skills needed for even those “dumb” Bahamas bones, that I would need three pages to list them.

    Plenty of freshwater fly fishers have gone to the islands and done miserably due to inability to cast well, particularly when the wind blows. I know, I have seen their long faces at the lodges at night many a time!

    I say, go redfishing in Louisiana, pretty darn easy reds, Seatrout, big, black drum, and more flyrod species just outside the marsh that a fly fisher of modest skill level will catch.

    • Great point, Mike.

      • erparf

        Marshall, you and I are on the same page.

  • Matagorda

    Another good international warmwater salt fishing destination is San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) Belize. There are great fishing lodges and plenty of excellent free lance guides that can be booked with the help of a hotel concierge. Bonefish everywhere….seriously everywhere. You will get lots of shots at big schools of bones and opportunities at other gamefish too. Essentially the same as anywhere in the Bahamas. They speak English in Belize, Ambergris Caye is safe, friendly and very reasonably priced. Not as close to NY as the Bahamas though. Since you are living in NY, you might consider booking a trip or two with a saltwater flyfishing guide somewhere on the NE Coast first (stripers, blues, etc…) Get out on the water in windy conditions closer to home and improve your saltwater skills in casting and presentation from the bow of a skiff before you haul yourself to another country to fish. If you only have time/budget for one of them…it isnt so bad to work out the kinks in tropical paradise. Good luck wherever you go

  • Bill C.

    Have to disagree and i think Phil’s suggestion was right on. I’ve been fishing the flats on and off since the late 70’s and my experience is much closer to Mr Monahan’s than the bravado expressed in most bonefishing articles of ’80 ft casts into gale winds to finicky fish’ . I also redfish and its a great time as well but there is something , an “american sportsman” ( I’m dating myself here) moment if you will , about a screaming bonefish into the horizon across a beautiful sandy flat . If you do your homework, choose the right time of year, the wind is manageable and you’ll find bonefish are nothing like that cunning spring creek brown trout that only wants a #19 crippled dun. Phil is right, I love em but they lean a little stupid most of the time and I find that trout fisherman have the most trouble not with the casting, but the hook up. Learn to strip strike and do the opposite of that Orvis Logo and you’re good to go.

  • Steve

    Since he’s from NY he can fish off the south shore for strikers or bluefish or go to Cape Cod and fish the flats or the beaches. The money that he saves can be spent on some top notch equipment.

  • erparf

    Louisiana Reds in the marsh are even closer, perhaps even easier and New Orleans can be as much fun as the Bahamas.

  • Capt Gordon

    Phil, I am a anything but a first time saltwater angler and have been blown out in the Bahamas too many times. There’s just no place to hide out there. Redfish are good too but you have to be spot on with your accuracy. Bluefish is the one that will get your rod bent more often than not. They are fairly easy to find around inlets on falling tide from New Jersey to Florida at the right time of year and boy will they bite just about anything..

  • Pingback: Your first trip in the salt | Bonefish on the Brain()

  • Doug

    Before making this decision I think it is important to consider a couple issues.
    1. Casting ability. For most salt water fishing you’ll be using an 8wt (sometimes down to a 7wt if the wind is down, up to a 9 or 10 if you’re throwing bigger flies, poppers or the wind comes up). Distance significantly improves your chances and catching. Sure you can catch a bonefish or a red drum with nothing but the leader out of the rod tip, but over the course of a day or two, you’ll kick yourself if you can’t double haul and land a fly with decent accuracy at least 60 – 70 ft. And wind is pretty much a permanent partner fishing the salt. So be honest, assess your ability accurately before making the leap. If you can’t double haul, throw 60 – 70 ft accurately, and handle the wind, practice first and then make the jump.
    2. Gear. As mentioned above, typically larger gear is needed than most fresh water fishing. Plus, the gear is usually designed to resist damage from salt and sand. Drags on reels are typically more robust – although you can palm a reel for most salt water fish up to around 30lbs. But you need the backing capacity. If you don’t have that gear, check out borrowing some from friends or your local shop. Don’t buy any until you decide you want to doo more salt water fishing.
    3. Cost. As mentioned, some salt water locations require international flights, staying at lodges or local hotels, hiring guides, tips, beer money, etc. Fishing US waters helps reduce those costs a little. I wouldn’t empty your bank account until you sample salt water fishing a little.
    4. Weather preference. I find one thing that most attracts me to salt water fishing is I can do it in a pair of shorts, t-shirt and barefoot. I like warm weather. But as noted there is some excellent salt water fly fishing opportunities in cooler locations, too, but they require more gear and clothing.
    5. Wading vs fishing from a boat. Some salt water locations and types of fish mandate fishing from a boat. Some offer excellent wading options. If you prefer one over the other throw that into your decision.