Bahamas Season Fishing Forecast for 2022: BAHAMAS CONTINUE TO PRODUCE
By Matthew Upton
For the past 20 years ROFFS™ has been forecasting the overall ocean and fishing conditions during the spring Bahamas Fishing Season from March through early June. The hypothesis for forecasting the seasonal marlin fishing action stems from the location of the blue and often warmer water that occurs from the Cat Island – San Salvador Island area and south to southeast of these islands where it is presumed that the marlin concentrate before, during and after spawning. We have been calling this water “blue marlin water” in our analyses. From satellite data, we can identify this water based on its ocean color/chlorophyll signature and sea surface temperature (SST) characteristics. Our working hypothesis and experience have shown that the marlin and other pelagic species (such as tuna, dolphin and wahoo) are associated with this water and the more “blue marlin water” that exists in the Abaco Islands and Eleuthera Island areas early in the season, the greater the relative abundance of marlin in these areas.
We have also observed an association between the “blue marlin water” and the tuna action in the Bahamas, northward along the western side of the Gulf Stream between Jacksonville, Florida and northward towards Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. We do observe evidence that when more “blue marlin water” passes north and northwest of Abaco to the eastern side of the Gulf Stream that a certain unknown proportion of the migratory fish move to the western side of the Gulf Stream. This brings more fish to the coastal fisheries at the edges of the Gulf Stream water throughout the spring to early summer season from northeast Florida to North Carolina.
Based on our observations in the Bahamas from Eleuthera to the Abacos over the last 35 years, it appears that excellent fishing action occurs within the Bahamas areas when there is a substantial volume of the “blue marlin water” pushing over the 100-500 fathom (600-3000 feet) and shallower ledges along the eastern side of Cat Island, Eleuthera and the Abacos. Relatively favorable fishing seasons occur when this water only occurs over the 500-1000 fathom depths, but does not reach the 100-500 fathom or shallower depths. Mediocre to poor years occur when there is a lack of this water over these areas or the “blue marlin water” is way offshore. However, in these cases, short pulses of this water bring fish into these areas regardless. Unless there is a sustainable flow of the water into these regions, the catch rates remain below average to average through the season. It is also important to understand that good fishing action on a daily basis is linked to the water mass boundaries created by these currents and eddies, where they are stable for consecutive days over good bottom structure and ledges and where the water is pushing in a favorable inshore direction over good structure toward the islands. These features, that have remained favorable for multiple days, concentrate the baitfish and draw bigger fish into these areas.
The hypothesis is also based on our experience using the hourly satellite observations of the ocean conditions derived by ROFFS™ (www.roffs.com), catch reports provided by a variety of sources for the past 35 years and information derived from other sources of oceanographic data. We mainly use infrared (IR) satellite data to observe the sea surface temperature (SST) and the ocean color/chlorophyll data for indices of phytoplankton (chlorophyll), water clarity, and colorized dissolved organic material (CDOM) that are received from a variety of data sources including NASA, NOAA, Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (SNPP or JPSS) and the European Space Agency (ESA) satellites.
Background and Some Data for 2022
Although we have learned that the favorable oceanographic conditions develop from the presence or absence of the “blue marlin water” during the main Bahamas fishing season, we continue to prepare the annual forecast from data around mid-March. This allows us insight into the conditions prior to the spring season and understand the ongoing fishing success starting in March and continuing into June. We prefer to use real-time observations and have learned that evaluating the preseason conditions in March provides insight into future seasonal trends. We evaluate whether or not we are observing “normal” conditions or anomalies. We rely on real time satellite data but also consult climate models. One indication is the SST in the core of the Gulf Stream off Miami and the SST of the Bahamas “blue marlin water” east of Cat Island to east of Long Island. Because we started our forecasting studies during the first week or two of March in 2003 we have continued our time series using that same time period to directly compare each year.
The ROFFS™ 20 year (2003-2022) mean SST for the core of the Gulf Stream off Miami is 78.7°F during our standard early to mid-March measurement period. This year the SST was approximately 79.6°F in the core of the Gulf Stream off of Miami on March 16-20 (2022), which is only about 1°F warmer than during the same period as the previous year (2021) and about the same as the same period in 2020 and about 1°F warmer than the 20 year mean. While we have not been recording the SST of the Bahamas “blue marlin” water offshore of Cat Island to Long Island as long, the 15 year mean (2008 – 2022) SST for the warmer water east of Cat Island area is 77.0°F. This year the SST of the “blue marlin water” east of Cat Island/Long Island was 78.2°F during the standard early to mid-March time period a full 1.5°F warmer than last year. Although we continue to observe this variability and no real consistent trend, the presence of the slightly warmer “blue marlin water” off the southeastern Bahamas could indicate a slightly earlier or normal arrival of an abundance of marlin and various tuna species into the Bahamas region compared to last two years but within the average expected time when compared to the last 15-20 years.
Furthermore, we continue to monitor climate variability and ocean-wide circulation and consider other indices such as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). The NAO is the dominant mode of climate and seasonal variability in the North Atlantic region ranging from central North America to Europe and much into north Asia. The NAO is a large-scale variation in atmospheric mass between the subtropical high and the polar low. The corresponding index varies from year to year, but also exhibits a tendency to remain in one phase for intervals lasting several years. The NAO is a climatic phenomenon in the North Atlantic Ocean defined as the difference of atmospheric pressure at sea level between the Icelandic low and the Azores high. Through east-west oscillation motions of the Icelandic low and the Azores high, it controls the strength and direction of westerly winds, currents, and storm tracks across the North Atlantic Ocean. It appears to be one of the most important manifestations of climate fluctuations in the North Atlantic (https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/teleconnections/nao/). This year (2022) the NAO index for January and February is significantly higher than last year (around 1.1 and 1.7) and considered higher than normal and the highest it has been in recent years during this time. Typically the NAO is more important for driving the west to east winds (westerly’s) from 30°N latitude and north. Higher NAO index values or an increase in NAO index suggests stronger wind and more cooling so we expect both the atmospheric temperature and SST to be slightly cooler on average than last year, which I am not sure is the case quite yet, but could be the trend into the spring.
The Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO) has been identified as a coherent mode of natural variability occurring in the North Atlantic Ocean with an estimated period of nearly 100+ years. It is based upon the average anomalies of sea surface temperatures (SST) in the North Atlantic basin, typically over 0°-80°N latitude. (https://climatedataguide.ucar.edu/climate-data/atlantic-multi-decadal-oscillation-amo). The unsmoothed AMO Index for January and February 2022 is approximately 0.18-0.14 which is about exactly the same as it was last year suggesting similar SST anomalies but still a positive AMO. We have learned that the current positive trend in these indices suggest a decrease in speeds of the North Atlantic Ocean Circulation is occurring. This includes a slow decrease in current speeds of the Gulf Stream system, which we have noticed over the past 5-10 years. Also, a positive AMO is usually associated with a potential increase in the number of tropical storms that mature into hurricanes because the overall North Atlantic Ocean SST is higher. This does not take into account the wind shear variability and other aspects of tropical storm genesis. For easy to understand answers to frequently asked questions about the AMO see http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/phod/amo_faq.php#faq_2.
Regarding El Niño we have yet to observe any direct relationship between El Niño – La Niña and the Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the oceanographic conditions in the Bahamas area. Currently we are still in a La Niña phase and will remain so through the next 4-5 months. We have been in a La Niña stage for the better part of two years now suggesting increased amounts of tropical storms in the North Atlantic Basin, which lines up with the current AMO readings. (https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina/enso_evolution-status-fcsts-web.pdf).
In this section we want to discuss and present the current oceanographic conditions (Figure 3 and Figure 4) and compare it to last years conditions (Figure 1 and 2). For clarification purposes Figures 1 and 3 were derived from a variety of NASA, NOAA, ESA, and JPSS satellites during the mid-March period and Figures 2 and 4 were derived from the SNPP, VIIRS, Sentinel 3, and NASA MODIS Aqua/Terra ocean color/chlorophyll imagery during relatively same mid-March time period. We also try to stay relatively consistent with our color palettes through the years to make it easier to directly compare the conditions by satellite signature.
Figure 1: This years conditions were derived from a variety of infrared sensors to get SST from NASA, NOAA, and ESA’s Sentinel 3 satellites during March 13-16, 2021 and Figure 2: Derived from the ocean color/chlorophyll imagery during March 12-16, 2021 from the ESA Sentinel 3 satellites, VIIRS sensors on SNPP satellite in combination with the Aqua and Terra sensor on the MODIS satellites provided by the University of Delaware. We consider this an image pair.
In both instances, we could not use single and same day imagery for the SST and ocean color data due to cloud cover interference, so we used a combination of imagery and the ROFFS™ cloud reduction techniques to produce these relatively cloud-free images. However, for comparison purposes we consider these images as an equal image pair for the purposes of this discussion. While these provide a visualization of the mid-March conditions, they also provide examples of how the eddy features, or lack of eddy features, and the water circulation are pulling the “blue marlin water” through the Bahamas. This is important for understanding the dynamics of the region. Both images for each year have the same arrows, eddy and “blue marlin water” labeling. The flow of the water was derived from our ROFFS™ sequential image analysis of Lagrangian coherent features where we study several days of satellite imagery to follow the signature water masses and their motion. An example of this years SST satellite infrared imagery can be found on the ROFFS™ YouTube site at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYgfO_dvtos) showing the flow of the water around the Bahamas region during the last two months, where the darker grey water represents the warmer water and white represents clouds.
Every year is different, and this year is no exception. When looking at Figure 3 and 4 we noticed a few obvious features and trends that are different from previous years. First off, as evident in the ocean color/chlorophyll image (Figure 4), there is a lot of “blue marlin water” southeast of Abaco, east of Eleuthera and east of Cat Island, however, the main pulse of this water has just started to be pushed into the northern to northwest Abaco areas and is just starting to reach the eastern Gulf Stream area, which is different from the previous two years. This lack of large abundance of “blue marlin water” already interacting with the Gulf Stream indicates that there is likely less of the main marlin and tuna population in northern Bahamas region and perhaps a later than normal arrival of the majority of these species further north along the coast of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. In fact, we have not had many reports of yellowfin tuna at all around the Bahamas just yet. The other main observation is the distinct separation of cooler, blended blue (74°F – 75°F) water to the northwest of Abaco and the warmer darker blue (77°F – 78°F) water east to southeast of Abaco.
We believe the main cause for these different conditions are two main eddy systems. One is the counter-clockwise rotating eddy centered in the very northern Bahamas area (near 78°00’W & 29°00’N) that is pulling large amounts of mixed Gulf Stream water to the east then the number of different eddies northeast of the Abaco Islands pulling the northern cooler water south then back west. The other main eddy is the larger counter-clockwise rotating eddy centered northeast of Eleuthera near 75°50’W & 25°55’N. This eddy is the main eddy to keep track of as it progresses the next few weeks. It is currently the main feature that is pulling up the warmer and darker “blue marlin water” from the southeast Bahamas northward then westward into the northern Abaco Islands. In fact, right now this eddy is providing very favorable conditions as the “blue marlin water” warmer water is being pushed directly into the Mushroom and Jurassic Park and Great Abaco Canyon south into Little Abaco Canyon and south into the Wonderland area for GOOD fishing action in those areas. However, the southern part of this large eddy is pulling water in an unfavorable offshore direction over central Eleuthera to northern Cat Island area where conditions may not be as good until the eddy moves farther north or offshore. The good news is the location of the western edges of this eddy is allowing some of this mixed “blue marlin water” to push west toward the Berry Islands and New Providence Island for favorable fishing. Similarly, both of these main eddies in this area are creating strong distinguishable water mass boundaries that are currently good for fishing and bait concentration.
If this main counter clockwise eddy northeast of Eleuthera remains relatively stable and does not vary much in location over the next few weeks to month it will continue to push favorable “blue marlin water” directly toward the northern Bahamas and northwest into the Gulf Stream making conditions very favorable and improving over the northern Bahamas. In fact, the overall flow of “blue marlin water” already appears to be very favorable for marlin action east of Cat Island to northeast of Eleuthera and east to northeast of Abaco. HOWEVER, what to keep an eye on is the overall clockwise rotation and the number of eddies northeast of Great Abaco Canyon, if this stays stable, it could pull the “blue marlin water” more north and northeast of the Bahamas and the main pulse of this water would not go northwest toward the Gulf Stream. This could distribute more of the population of fish away from the eastern coast of the United States temporarily until the weather warms in the north.
Furthermore, there is another counter clockwise rotating eddy and pulses of “blue marlin water” coming up from the southeast, east of Long Island and east of Rum Cay pushing northward that is likely to continue to improve the conditions in the southeast Bahamas and eventually change the conditions in the eastern and northern Bahamas over the course of the next month or two.
Figure 3: This years conditions were derived from a variety of infrared sensors to get SST from NASA, NOAA, and ESA’s Sentinel 3 satellites during March 16-20, 2022 and Figure 4: Derived from the ocean color/chlorophyll imagery during March 16-20, 2022 from the ESA Sentinel 3 satellites, VIIRS sensors on SNPP satellite in combination with the Aqua and Terra sensor on the MODIS satellites provided by the University of Delaware and University of Wisconsin. We consider this an image pair.
Even though the overall SST is warmer than the last couple of years it is still within the standard deviation of the 15-20 year mean. Therefore, we think the more important factor of the arrival of the larger populations of tunas and marlin this year is the distribution of the darker “blue marlin water” in and where it will move to in the next few weeks. We see evidence of pathways of this more productive water toward Berry Islands from the east and into Exuma Sound from south of Cat Island, which is a good sign for the interior Bahamas Islands. If the wind and water is pushing into the Pocket south and southwest of Chub Cay, it can produce very good fishing action for the upcoming tournaments and fun fishing. Further west we continue to observe the traditional counter-clockwise rotating eddy centered in the Northwest Providence Channel over the Tuna Canyon area, this eddy pulls in Gulf Stream water and interacts with the Island banks and provides good conditions for tuna, dolphin, wahoo and even marlin in this area. Farther north, north of Walker’s Cay and the Abaco Islands there are lots of eddies and dynamics going on right now and we expect the conditions to continue to improve as the northern eddies move and develop and the water warms. The conditions that are closer to the Gulf Stream tend to change more rapidly and not stay in one position too long.
To back up our ocean observations, there is nothing more valuable as client feedback and reliable fishing reports. With that said, we have heard of blue marlin and dolphin being caught north of Walkers, north of Matanilla Shoals near the corner and on the eastern side of the Gulf Stream the past month. The majority of the better action has been northeast Eleuthera, east Abaco Islands with blue marlin, sailfish, wahoo and lots of dolphin. Out of the Chub Cay and Berry Islands area, dolphin and a few sailfish and blue marlin have been caught the past month or so. East of Cat Island, we have had reports of plenty of dolphin (earlier than normal), a few blue marlin and decent wahoo action over the past week with pretty “blue marlin water” not too far offshore, which lines up with our ocean conditions and analysis.
As the water warms in the coming weeks we again anticipate that a substantially higher amount of marlin, tuna and other species will continue to be moved closer to the Bahamas Islands especially in the northern Islands. These present conditions are normal to above average and quality pre-season conditions in many areas, which is promising. ROFFS™ will be monitoring these and other conditions that develop over the next several weeks and months as we do in other areas.
Seasonal Concluding Thoughts
Based on what we have been observing in March thus far, we would like to divide the Bahamas areas in two sections.
- In the areas north to northeast of Walkers and Abaco, the present ocean conditions suggest a lower amount of “blue marlin water” and slightly cooler water than the past few years. So in this location the majority of the marlin, tuna, and dolphin action may just be starting to heat up and might start off slower than the last couple of years, but should pick up very quickly. We already have seen an increase in “blue marlin water” push into this area over the past couple of days and almost interacting with the Gulf Stream, which is a good sign.
- In the south to southeast Bahamas areas, there is an abundance of darker “blue marlin” water already in the area with warmer water than the previous two years. This means that in this area the good fishing conditions are already on schedule and the main distribution of fish could be a bit earlier than normal years and already in the area, as evidence from the large number of mahi. More specifically the conditions look really good where the water is pushing in a favorable inshore direction over the eastern Abaco good bottom areas from the Great Abaco Canyon south to the Hole in the Wall. However, the area over eastern Eleuthera to northern Cat Island looks a bit less favorable as there are good amounts of “blue marlin water” but it is pulling offshore. Further south, the area in Exuma Sound easts of Cat Island and Long Island looks favorable and right on track for a good marlin season.
We will continue monitoring these ocean conditions within the Bahamas region as the season progresses. We have already had good reports of blue marlin, few white marlins, wahoo, sailfish and plenty of dolphin action. Reports suggest more influx of dolphin earlier than the past few years and more sailfish action that previous years, but less tuna action so far. We can only hope more tuna will show up soon. As these main eddy features and currents progress the areas of better fishing conditions will change and it depends on where the currents and eddies are pushing over good structure and toward the coast. Overall, it is shaping up to be another GOOD Bahamas fishing season this spring.
In conclusion, it is important to note that good fishing action on a daily basis is strongly linked to local, short-term (24-48 hours) current conditions that concentrate the fish once the preferred habitat of the fish are in a particular region. When the water masses and boundaries of these conditions are stable and favorable, i.e., continuously pushing over good bottom topography and structure then they concentrate the baitfish and larger fish can be found foraging. This means that the fishing action on any given day is controlled by hourly to daily and relatively small-scale (1-10 mile) movements of the currents and their water mass boundaries. Our experience indicates that to reliably forecast specific concentrations of fish on a daily basis, one must evaluate the ocean conditions on these scales. Relatively small subtle changes in the currents and their boundaries often have dramatic effects on the distribution and concentration of fish. Contact ROFFS™ for these daily detailed fishing forecasting analyses and get the inside track to where the better conditions are tomorrow. We highly recommend when the weather permits, you prepare now for the spring Bahamas fishing season and other fun fishing action as the good fishing conditions in the Bahamas region has already started and will continue to improve over the next month.
Stay safe and tuned in to ROFFS™ on our web site www.roffs.com or on Facebook/Instagram @roffsfishing for the next few weeks for additional discussions related to marlin, tunas, mahi, wahoo, and sailfish and the oceanographic conditions and seasonal fishing forecasting off the United States east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico area.
Safe and Successful Fishing from ROFFS™