Every flats angler knows about the bonefish of the Bahamas that cruise the white sand flats from Abaco and Andros to the far-flung family islands of Exuma and Mayaguana. But permit fishing can be a hit-and-miss proposition in the Bahamas — certainly, some cays and islands are home to bigger populations than others. But, the little-known stretch of reefs and cays known as the Berry Islands — home to one single fly fishing lodge — is emerging as the permit destination in the Caribbean.
Early reports of the permit fishing from the newly opened Soul Fly Lodge are jaw-dropping. Anglers are having days where, with the help of seasoned flats guides, they’re seeing dozens of permit cruising the flats, following rays and sharks and traveling from one productive feeding area to another. Of course, catching these wary predators of the flats is something entirely different, but the sheer numbers of fish are raising eyebrows among permit aficionados everywhere.
Soul Fly is more than just a permit lodge — anglers will see schools of thousands of bonefish (yes, seriously), and there’s an intriguing triggerfish fishery that has lodge managers Kyle and Kitri Schaefer seriously intrigued. And the lodge itself is uniquely Bahamian. Open. Airy. Very homey. There might not be a better place to stay — anywhere in the Caribbean — when you have flats fishing on your brain.
You might think, with permit a top-of-mind target for fly fishers, that any destination boasting the numbers of fish being reported out of Great Harbor Cay, that the Berry Islands would be crawling with lodges and guides. Frankly, given Soul Fly’s location — nestled nicely among better-known and more pressured destinations — it’s a giant mystery how this little string of tropical islands has escaped notice for so long. But with Soul Fly now booking anglers, the Berrys are a secret no more.
Chasing permit is a unique experience. For serious permit addicts, the Berry Islands and Soul Fly Lodge should be atop the list of destinations. Expert flats guides are learning more about the habits of this tough-to-fool fish in these “uncharted” waters, and every day, anglers out of Soul Fly are earning more and more success.
But some days, after getting spanked on the permit flat, a frustrated angler just needs to feel the tug. That’s where the Berry Islands bonefish come in. These fish are so prolific that it’s the norm to come across giant schools of bones moving between islands and cruising up into the mangroves to feed on incoming tides. Experienced bonefishers will love these unpressured flats, and rookies looking to pull off their first strip-strike and bring a bonefish to hand will have every opportunity when they base their angling out of Soul Fly.
But wait, as they say on TV. There’s more. The Berrys have a very cool triggerfish population that is garnering some attention. These fish can be notoriously picky, and they can just show up out of nowhere on the flats. Once hooked, all hell breaks looks. Finally … don’t forget the “other” fish of the Bahamas. Barracudas harass the bonefish schools every day, and there are rumors of baby tarpon in the backwater creeks of Great Harbor Cay.
LODGING: Soul Fly Lodge now inhabits the old Carriearl (named for each of its former owners) on Great Harbor Cay, and it’s a great home base. Ample sitting areas inside open up onto the deck and patio, and there might be nothing more refreshing than a dip in the pool after a day spent chasing flats fish under the tropical sun. Guest rooms are big and open and they, too, open out to the patio and the pool. The beach on the ocean side is just a short walk down an easy trail. If you bring some materials, there’s even a fly-tying station so you can replenish your Gotchas.
FOOD/DRINK: Kyle and Kitri didn’t skimp on anything, but this is one area where they went all out — a gourmet chef with tons of Bahamian experience concocts some of the most delectable appetizers and meals found anywhere in the Caribbean. Throw in a sizeable and fully equipped bar with cold Kalik on tap, and Soul Fly will reach every angler who visits through their appetites.
CONNECTIVITY: Internet is available in the lodge and on the patio, so checking in at home is not a problem.
Virtually a stone's throw from Great Harbor Cay's brand new airport, minutes after landing you'll find yourself lounging poolside with a cocktail while you soak in the tropical sunlight and ocean air.
Literally minutes after meeting your guide, you can be on a permit flat. But it’s the first day, and on the first day, you need to shake the rust off your saltwater cast. The guide points the nose of the boat south to a series of small islands and, when you least expect it, the boat coasts to a stop. Your guide points out the school of bonefish moving up the beach and puts you exactly where you need to be to make that first cast. Remember, keep calm and don’t trout set!
You're in the Bahamas after all. Home to bonefish that average 4-6 pounds, with shots at specimens over 10. Maybe you spent the first day plucking bones out of willing schools, making today the day to hunt ones and twos on the edges of the mangroves. Or maybe those massive schools are just too tempting, and you're headed back for a second pass. It's all up to you.
With plenty of bonefish under your belt, it's time for varsity fly fishing. Today is permit day. Mere minutes after hopping into the boat, your guide mans the polling platform, eyes glued to the water. It doesn’t take long. He spies a giant stingray moving over the eel grass and behind it, a pair of feeding permit, their sickle-shaped tails slicing through the green water. A few seconds later, you see it, too. Here’s your chance. Take a deep breath ...
Bonefish? Check. Permit? Well, that’s up to you and the permit. What's on tap for today? Back to the permit flats or the bonefish flats? Or do you want to spend a few hours pursuing lesser-targeted species like barracuda or mutton snapper? Or what about triggerfish? That’s a new one, huh? Whatever you choose, the one sure thing is you'll have stories to tell when you get back to the lodge.
Enjoy one last delicious breakfast at the lodge, maybe sneak in an early morning swim, and take in the ocean vista before hopping in the truck for the short ride to the airport where you'll catch your flight back to the states. As the little island hopper climbs into the skies, you start planning your trip back.
- Guided fishing Fully guided skiff and walk-and-wade fishing
- Lodging Modern, sophisticated accommodations at Soul Fly's boutique lodge
- Meals Delicious, chef-prepared appetizers, meals, and snacks
- Beverages Non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages from the lodge's well-appointed, festive bar
- Licenses and permits Fishing licenses for your trip are included
- Ground transfers Transfers to and from Great Harbor Cay airport
Soul Fly Lodge, on Great Harbor Cay in the Berry Islands, is reached either via a direct flight (approx. 50 minutes) from Ft. Lauderdale, FL or via a very short (approx. 12 minutes) flight from Nassau in the Bahamas.
It’s mid-January in northern Montana, and though I was duck hunting in bitter, negative temps a few days ago the thermometer hovers around 40 just now, late at night, and my world is a joyless sump of icy slush, deep mud, and about five shades of gray. Hunting is nearly over, fishing is a few months away, and skiing has gone to hell. My mood has dropped several notches below foul.
And so, what I choose to think about is the impossible blue of the fin tips of the bones I caught out of Soul Fly Lodge in September and, yet more vividly—literally burning in my visual memory— the perfect, black tails of the many permit I saw and didn’t catch.
There are a few places where you plot your return before you even board the plane home, where the guides, staff, and managers are people you would like to have a meal or tie flies with through a long Montana winter, and where the other guests are terrific, skilled, fun company. Soul Fly is one of the few I know. I’ll be back soon.