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Hole in the Wall, and tales from the "other" side of Abaco...

sleepwalkersleepwalker Posts: 101 Deckhand
While many prefer to stick to more known haunts, for some the desire to hunt and explore more remote waters of the Bahamas drives their souls. The waters surrounding the “Other” side of Abaco may be for you!

The best part of "end of the map" trips, is the journey to get there...

The journey to Sandy Point and Hole in the Wall, with everything in between. A fishing safari from years ago, with bits and pieces of updated

I took my inaugural trip to Sandy Point and Hole in the Wall on what I remember as a May Day, over 12 years. I was invited aboard a fast moving 31 ft. Yellow Fin. The plan was to embark on a whirlwind 2-day trip that was to be filled with a hardcore run-n-gunning. I can say that we accomplished that goal despite the rather challenging weather conditions at times.

I knew only 2 of the guys on the boat, and was basically just along for the ride. The captain was a hardcore fisherman that would think nothing of a trip that would darn near kill most humans.

We took off early out of Boca, but due to the fairly strong NE wind conditions that almost caused us to abort our trip, we had to actually run south to Bimini in order to clear customs. As we were flying down wind, we were taking flight over the 4-5 ft. waves. I knew that this would be the bruising sort of trip after the captain lightly shrugged off the fact that we snapped his T-top 20 miles into the crossing due to a particularly brutal landing.

We arrived Bimini at around 9 a.m. for a “quick” customs clearing, and before long we were ripping NE over the bank toward the famed Gingerbread Grounds. The wind had settled down a bit, but the 2-3 ft. chop was still back breaking at 38+ mph.

By the time we pulled up to the Gingerbreads, the seas were down to 1-2 and the sun was starting to shine. We all took a 45-minute swim to allow our muscles to relax once again. The plan was loosely organized to meet a second boat somewhere in the NW Channel, so that we could buddy boat the rest of the way to Sandy Point and beyond.

As luck would have it, we were able to hale the other boat around noon and we gave them some coordinates, so that we could meet about a quarter of the way across the channel in route to SE Great Abaco. Our plan was to spread out, racing to the ENE in search of birds and debris that might harbor early Yellow fin Tuna, late season Wahoo, and the ever-present Dolphin fish.

As both boats were cruising across at around 30 mph in the now glass flat conditions of the NW Channel, all eyes were peeled for signs of life. The 2nd boat was running the same line, but out of sight about 5-6 miles to our east. We were starting to think that the ocean was void of life until I saw the smallest speck of a tiny black bump well off on the horizon. It took some pleading, but we turned the wheel to the left and went to investigate.

As we neared the object, I could now make out that it was a bird that appeared to be standing on the water… strange… What happened next is the stuff that fuels our dreams and makes us pay to fuel our boats.

We decided to make a pass with 2 lines in the water. On the right we had a Red and White feather, something similar to a Dolphin JR., and on the left, a Islander that was running on a wire line rig, and weighted with a lead cigar.

As we neared the bird, the view through good polarized glasses reveled that the Tern was standing in an inch of water that was lapping over the cylindrical shelf of a fully intact wooden spool used to house various types of cable. A glance over the side quickly got our hearts pounding as we could clearly see tons of bait along with a few large Dolphin patrolling the zone.

Today, I’d likely have stopped an tossed in some hooked baits in the water along with a metal jig, but back then, the captains decision was to make a pass on the troll. As soon as our lures passed within 10 feet of the object, both lines started to scream from their reels. On top a nice 25 lb. cow was dancing across the water, while the wire rig just continued to pull line off the spool. While we made short work of the Phin, it took a bit longer to see color on the Islander. When we did, it was all stripes, yielding a nice 25 lb. + Wahoo.

We quickly haled our buddy boat to allow them to come over for some action, and they arrived just as we were making our final few passes.

To make an exciting, and long fish story, a bit shorter… we made 7 passes that resulted in the landing of 7 Wahoo on the left, and 6 nice Dolphin on the right that went up to 35 lbs. We actually hooked 7 Phins, but things got a bit crazy on the largest one, and ended poorly when I had a miss with the gaff on my first attempt, but then touched the line on the second, causing the line to break. End result… Captain said “No more gaffing for Kent”! More on this later…

As we had never been to Sandy point before and we still had quite a distance to go, we throttled up, and bolted toward Sandy Point. Ats time had continue to tick during our spool slaughter, it was now well after 4 p.m. and the sun was starting to get a bit lower in the sky. We were about 25 miles from our destination, when we could see a black swarm off of our starboard bow. As we neared, it was like a 4 alarm fire, with everyone scrambling to get lines out. Huge tuna were crashing the surface, and to this day, I’ve never seen larger YFT’s skying it out like we did that afternoon. Easily seen, most fish were in the 70- 80 lb. range. As this was quite some time ago, the preferred tactic at the time was still to troll with long lines around a very wide circle, trying to avoid sending fish to the bottom.

I believe that we had 3 lines out, a feather on the left, a cedar plug on the right, and an Islander down below on the wire rig. We spent the next 1.5 hrs. on multiple hook ups and landing 3-4 fish between 40 and 65 lbs. During our fight, the radio chirped in with reports from the buddy boat, that they too had hooked into the YTF’s only a few miles away. We hated to leave them biting, but the unknown lay ahead and it was going to be near dark during our arrival at Sandy Point.

About 9 miles out, Sandy Point could be seen off in the distance. Like many areas in the Bahamas, great care always needs to be given when approaching the bank in route to safe harbor. You never know what small rock outcroppings will pop up unannounced. The path into Sandy Point ramped up from the deep depths, to as little as 5-6 feet just before deepening a bit at the Government dock.

An aerial view of Sandy Point from the North

We tied up to the dock as several friendly Bahamans came down to greet both boats. It was obvious that they didn’t receive many visitors via boat in those days (I can confirm that the same is true today. I’ve been back to that little town a handful of times over the last several years, and I have yet to see an offshore boat around the government dock at Sandy Point. It’s a very real and small local fishing village that moves at the speed of molasses.). In any case, we quickly agreed to shirk off the fish cleaning duties, and we proceeded to find a room at Pete and Gay’s guesthouse.

It doesn’t get more “fishing village” that this. Sandy Point, Abaco

Pete and Gay’s is a long, 2 story blue building just next to the base of the Government dock. It’s always easy to find an inexpensive room. Most of their guests come to enjoy Bone fishing trips on the flats, so we were a rarity in these parts. They have a little bar, and offer breakfast early in the a.m.

Just because… sometimes you get thirsty in the Islands!

We pounded more than our fair share of beers and rum that evening, but we knew that we wanted to be up early, and in route to the famed “Hole in the Wall”. The weather on this trip was unpredictable and continually changing. The latest report indicated that more squally conditions were coming, so we were expecting a water war in the morning.

The New, and Now Famous Floating Bar of Sandy Point

Floating Bar of Sandy Point

Up early in the a.m., we loaded the boat, and headed toward the end of Sandy Point’s long fuel dock. It’s obvious that this place has large tides, and rollers that come to the dock at times. As it was low tide, we nearly need a ladder to reach the deck of the dock. We topped of the tanks, fired the Yamahas, and raced offshore into a stiff 15-18 from the ESE.

The lonely fuel dock of Sandy Point

Sandy Point to Hole in the Wall

The seas had risen over the evening and were in the 5-7 ft. range. The Capt. bee-lined to the edge and steered mainly into the wind, in a SE direction toward the tip of Abaco. I had bundled up in my foul weather gear, and opted to lay on the deck, wedged between the center council and the gunnel. I used a life jacket to cushion my head when we would free fall from the peaks of the 7 footers into the cement hard and flat troughs. At one point I sincerely thought about putting on a dive mask and snorkel given the green water flushing the decks. We had 2 lines deployed, and when the group ran into some birds that were working spotted weeds along the current line, the energy level peaked, causing me to get to my feet. As I rose to the level of the gunnel, and looked south toward the deep NW Channel waters, I was surprised to see how large the swells had become, with some topping 8+ ft. I perched on the edge watching the baits, when my heart skipped a beat due to what could only be perceived as a giant, and menacing sea monster surfacing only 10 ft. from the boat. The leviathan was traveling roughly the same speed and direction as our small craft.

A massive whale as large as our boat rose from below the wavy surface. Had I not been looking, it would have disappeared just as quickly, and would have gone undetected. Wow! It was crazy to think how much life must exist just under the surface of these waters.

As luck would have it, after about hapless trolling to the corner the seas once again receded to revel calm waters. Upon rounding the SE tip of Great Abaco, we could see The Hole in the Wall. Back then The Hole in the Wall really was a giant whole oval hole in the rock wall just below the lighthouse. You could actually peer through the hole to see waters extending northward into the Atlantic. Now days, recent storms have reduced the Hole in the Wall to nothing more than a large gap. It’s still impressive to see as I recently flew Southward along the edge of Great Abaco toward Great Harbor Cay in the northern Berry Islands. It’s a rather intimidating place in the ocean, and not meant for the ill prepared.

Not from this trip, but these are they type of Dog's that surely roam the rocky waters of the famed Hole in the Wall

We trolled the extremely deep waters just a mile off the tip of the wall for about an hour. We had several fish come tight while we were essentially blind trolling, but almost immediately, we were “sharked” time after time. We quickly tired of seeing lost lure after lost lure, and switched to try some deep dropping.

This was my first experience being on a boat deep drop fishing. We didn’t really have any spots, and the current was moving in a rather unpredictable manner. We found good bottom on the sounder and sent a rig full baited with cubes of an earlier caught barracuda toward the bottom in around 900 ft. The Captain did was seemed to be an admirable job of maneuvering the board to keep the line pointed straight to the bottom. One bounce on the bottom, followed by a quick flick of the button brought the weight to around a foot or 2 off the bottom. With in seconds, I saw the telltale bump, bump, bump of the rod tip. These twitches were followed by several more. We hit the send button, rocketing the unseen treasure toward sunlight.

All I can say was wow! On or first drop, we brought up a stinger of Golden Tile fish, with what at the time seemed less effort than picking up pescado at Garcia’s. We put in a few more drops, and departed the deep waters for a closer look at The Hole in the Wall.

Hole in the wall close up from the north

Unlike today, the crew that I was with on this trip was primarily just interested in fishing; therefore I never got a chance to spear the Hole on that trip. I was going crazy looking at the remoteness of the area, combined with what I would later find out to be some of the best spearing anywhere.

Just under that surface of the waters on the South side of the wall lives and area of large boulders in about 20-30 feet of water. The rocks come to within 15 ft. of the surface and lay over a sand bottom that is surrounded by turtle grasses on the perimeter. A trip I took many years later allowed my crew to spend hours exploring the small beach near Hole in the Wall, and hunting the depths of its waters.

Massive Hog Fish and Muttons cruise the area of bottom where the sand and sea fans kiss the turtle grass flats. We collected several memorable fish that day. The most impressive ones that we saw were hovering above and around the large boulders, and under the bottom crevasses that the boulders created against the sand floor. There are several areas large enough to swim through. Huge Black Grouper yielded brief opportunities, yet our spears never connected.

We managed to calm a few 18+ inch mangrove snapper during that dive, yet several truck size Cuberra snappers in the 60 lb. + range luckily (for both of us) eluded our spears. It was a great day that saw only a handful of reef sharks. As an aside, I have talked to many locals over the years that live in an around Rock Sound and Sandy Point. Most of these guys avoid the area like the plague, scared away by what they described as monstrous sharks that come in from the 2000 ft. plus waters that are only a stones throw away from the Hole in the Wall. One look at these waters and I don’t doubt their stories.

Hole in the wall from land- side

After tidying up the boat and stowing the electric reel, we raced off in a SW direction crossing the NW Channel, toward the northern tip of the Berry Islands. While hunting for birds, in the distance we could see several small specs that would be cruise ships moored off of Great Struip Cay.

Pete and Gay’s from the base of the Government Dock
Tons of coral heads along the southern side of Great Abaco

We managed to pick off a few small Dolphin, and started working our way up the middle of the channel toward home. It was around 1 p.m., and large thunderheads loomed to the West. Our buddy boat had departed for home early in the a.m., not opting for the beat down that we took in route to Hole in the Wall.

While it’s always a bummer heading back, we still had about 140 miles of great water between us and our port, so despite the impending ran and clouds, we were still there to run and gun!

We ran the 1-3 ft. seas at around 30 mph, heading toward Tuna Canyon. As it was near the middle of the day, birds were sparse, but our eyes were peeled. At an area approximately 35 miles ENE of Great Isaacs Light House when ran into a small flock of 10-15 birds. They were working over some small fish that were busting the surface. They were moving fast, so we assumed that we were in chase of Tuna. Way back with the Cedar, and down with the wire, we took a wide arc that was planned perfectly. Like we had hoped, our lines intersected the path of the birds, and before we knew it, it was FISH ON! We kept it going for 7+ seconds in hopes of a double up, but it wasn’t in the cards.

Thinking back, I remember that we didn’t have anything but a small T-bar to support the base of the 80 wides that we had been trolling. My buddy Andy picks up the rod and went to work. As I remember, we clearly set the drag better to kill us, than to wear out the fish. Andy is a very fit guy, but after about 25 minutes of a hefty fight (we went WAY too light on the drag), he was huffing and puffing pretty well. He had to sit on the edge of the bolster, and prop his feet up on the gunnel. He had no harness, and this fight was all his. The captain kept the boat in good position, and soon enough, Andy was locked into a classic up and down fight that we’d all dream about.

Continuing my gaffing probation from the previous day (what seemed to be a month ago), I was pretty much staying out of the way and keeping an eye on the line. The thunder started to clap, and a light rain dusted the deck. This was welcome, as the heat had become a bit choking. A fresh breeze rolled in and the seas quickly ramped to 2-4. Now 40 minutes into the fight, Andy’s back was essentially seized, but we all remained focused on what appeared to be the fish of the trip.

Finally, we saw color! Indeed it was a very large YFT about 40 ft. below the boat. Today, my experience says that this is the time to worry. A large fish struggling in the NW channel for over 40 minutes sends a dinner bell of vibrations across vast amounts of water, and attracts toothy critters that would gladly “half” this trophy.

A few times, Andy nearly got to the wind on leader, only to find the fish inspired to take another run against the inadvertent light drag. Finally, the fish locked into the telltale counter clockwise circles that usually spell the end. Andy got a few wraps on the long wind on leader and got the fish just close enough for the swivel to break the surface of the water only 4 feet from the boat. Just then we noticed that the snap swivel was now open, and the fish started to pull again! We cautiously released the leader and lightened the drag ever so slightly. It was imperative that we allow no slack that would let the short leader slip off the snap swivel, while at the same time not applying too much pressure to allow the metal to bend open…. But we still had to get the darn fish to the boat!

Now Andy was more in the mode of “coaxing” the fish to the boat, rather than fighting it. This added another 10 minutes to a battle that was essentially done. Finally, it looked like we would get a shot with the gaff. The captain, with large gaff in hand waited at the stern of the boat for the fish to circle close enough to take a shot. Once, twice, he made attempts, but due to the light drag and snap swivel problem the fish kicked off.

We had a small tuna door open in at the stern. The waves would wash up and in to the back of the boat from time to time. The fish circled close enough and the captain struck, but had poor placement and ended with a glancing blow. Fortunately, the fish was on top of the water and wash up, and partially onto the small platform next to the outboards. Andy grabbed the leader to slide the fish fully into the boat, but the fish went crazy and finally managed to dislodge the hook from its jaw. Instant Heartbreak!

As the fish through itself into the air, and back to freedom, I saw my opportunity. Having the small dolphin gaff in hand, I dove to the back of the boat and landed with my chest squarely on top of the port cowling. I swiped the gaff toward the exhausted and disoriented tuna, and managed to connect in the last meaty portion of the tail just as it was making its final kick that would have sent it to the depths.

Right on cue, the crew grabbed my ankles and pulled me back into the boat with the Tuna sliding through the door! The trip was saved, and I got an early reprieve from my gaffing promotion!

In all our crew traveled over 400 miles in one, massive and adventure filled trip! We fished several placed in a 2-day trip that people would plan for years. What did we learn? It’s not just about the destination, but rather the trip to the destination that counts. Just do it!

I’ve been back to Sandy Point and Hole in the Wall several time since that first trip. Sometimes by boat, and sometime by private plane, landing on the vacant strip just east of town. These waters are prolific and offer some of the most untouched diving and fishing in the Bahamas.

The trip. Over 400 miles of fishy times.

Fire up your computer, launch Google earth, and pick a spot! You just might be surprised at what you find!

Good Winds!




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