Walker’s Cay on the Rebound. An update on this northern Bahamas hot spot
By Sam White/ Marlin Magazine / May 28, 2019
Despite being only about 100 acres in size, Walker’s Cay in the northern Bahamas is one of those iconic sport-fishing destinations that punches well above its weight class. The mere mention of Walker’s brings back fond memories of tournaments such as the Bertram-Hatteras Shootout and the Bahamas Billfish Championship, while others flash back to the glory days of huge blue marlin—some landed, others lost—just a few miles north of the island’s small marina, perched on the edge of the Little Bahama Bank.
Walker’s Cay is about 50 miles northeast of West End, Grand Bahama, and a little more than 100 miles from West Palm Beach, Florida. A lack of natural fresh water kept Walker’s uninhabited for hundreds of years until Florida businessman Buzz Shonnard leased the land from the Bahamian government in 1935, after which he built a small hotel, a 75-slip marina and an airstrip.
With his connections to the American sport-fishing crowd back home in Palm Beach, Shonnard promoted Walker’s Cay as a top destination for the then-burgeoning sport of marlin fishing. After World War II, Bahamas fishing tourism continued to grow; one of the seasonal visitors was another prominent American businessman named Robert Abplanalp, inventor of the plastic aerosol valve for spray cans. In 1968, Abplanalp purchased the lease for Walker’s Cay and continued the island’s development, while also cautiously eyeing the impact on conservation in the waters surrounding it.
Walker’s Cay lies 53 miles to the northeast of West End, Grand Bahama, in the northern Bahamas. Its surface is only about 100 acre. The island sits on the edge of the Little Bahama Bank, the bank containing shallow, green-colored water, averaging about 10-feet in depth. However, on the north side of Walker’s Cay, the water drops off sharply into deep blue ocean depths. The closest island is Grand Cay.
Over the next three decades, Walker’s became the hub for sport fishing in the northern Bahamas. Aside from the well-known tournaments, nearly every fishing club in Florida held events there, both inshore and offshore. The angling action was simply phenomenal, from bonefish on the flats to the inshore wrecks and reefs and the offshore drops and humps, where the marlin were thick.
But the glory days never seem to last. Abplanalp died in 2003 at 81; the following year, hurricanes Frances and Jeanne mauled the low-lying Bahamian island, destroying the hotel and severely damaging the marina. Neither were rebuilt, and—aside from a few transient boaters—the island remained essentially deserted for the next 15 years.