Tuna Fishing in the Northern Bahamas

July 2, 2018


As told by Capt. Charley Bartholomay, a 25-year pro tournament fishing captain and Yacht Broker at Sovereign Marine in Stuart, FL.



Spring weather conditions weren’t what you might have expected in the Bahamian chain this year. Fair skies and gentle seas were instead replaced by winds, squalls, and sporty sea conditions. Thankfully, the weather broke in early summer, and that’s when the offshore action explodes – particularly for the fast center consoles that can run and gun this vast archipelago with a craft perfectly suited for the hunt of blue water game.





A good plotter and, of course, a radar to track birds. These tools of the hunt, combined with a Regulator – a high speed, sea-keeping rocket – will keep you ahead of the game for the most important tactic...covering ground. The juices are really flowing this time of year, and although you welcome the dolphin attacks and the occasional marlin bites, the priority of the hunt is summed up in one word – TUNA! Find the tuna and chances are good that all the other players aren’t far away.


There are 700 islands, 2,000 cays, and rock structures distributed over 100,000 square miles of crystal blue ocean. This means you need a seriously fast boat to cover ground. Regulators and other high speed performing open boats have become the state of the art platform for tuna hunting. They have the unmatched ability to target more sites and fishing areas in a day, often covering hundreds of miles – even more than much larger sportfishing vessels!


Fortunately, tuna consistently prefer certain zones. We’re going to concentrate on the areas surrounding the northern Little Bahama Bank. Migrating fish will always be a possibility to the east and west, while schools might be moving up the edge or farther out to sea in much deeper water. There are two primary areas where the tuna prefer to school during the spring and early summer months. The first is the north side of the Bank from Walkers Cay west to the corner of Matanilla Light. The second is the south side of the Bank from the Sea of Abaco west to where the Northwest Providence Channel curves around West Grand Bahama to blend with the Gulf Stream.


To the north of the Little Bahama Bank, key in on the deeper ocean break that offers a drop in water temperature. This could be anywhere from six to 20 miles north of the drop-off. In recent years 79’00’00 degrees longitude has proven to be an excellent starting point. This area consistently produces a good edge, a temperature break, and good weedlines. Dolphin are plentiful here and they do attract the larger marlin. But if the bird traffic isn’t heavy, it might be better to start working north and east for the tuna. We’re talking yellowfin here – but it should be noted that skipjack and smaller juvenile blackfin (or a mix of both) tend to be found closer to the east and west of the Bank.


Other primary tuna grounds are the deep mountain ranges and peaks south of the Bank all along the middle of the Northwest Providence Channel. From Freeport & Lucaya, a heading of 135-180 degrees and 23-30 miles out will put you on some of the best water for this range. More often than not, large dolphin will be mixed in here as well.




“The birds tell the story,” Melville once wrote – and with regard to feeding tuna, he was certainly on point! Shearwaters flying low and fast between the waves, storm petrels (i.e. tuna ducks) floating in a group on the water’s surface, frigate birds circling high in the sky. If this is what you’re observing, the bite is more than likely not going off. But when those little tuna ducks start sticking their heads under the surface to eye what is going on down there…get ready! When they all lift their heads and initiate a group takeoff, or when the frigate birds begin to descend, the bite is on!


Never plow through circling bird activity. Stay to the periphery, be patient, and avoid chumming or “chunking” – especially in the down time when the birds are merely sitting on the water. Believe me…there are many sharks already swimming with the tuna – and time is on the sharks’ side. Stealth and aggressive drag heat to quickly get your fish in will work in your favor. In this particular environment, ditch the live baits and the kites. Pull your Ballyhoo rig six pack, a cedar plug, and even a deep line. If you’re working the edge of the bird activity, you will be rewarded.



In recent years, more marinas with rooms are opening up for the open boat fisherman, and they offer all of the same amenities as some of the older, larger facilities. On the western side of the Bank, Blue Marlin Cove is an excellent destination for a long weekend. To the east, Marsh Harbour and Hope Town at Elbow Cay have seen numerous new operations that cater to smaller open boats with simple, but comfortable, rooms.