Scott prides themselves on hand building every fly rod in the U.S.A for the last 40 years. Here’s a look inside the Scott Fly Rod Company, how the company got started, the process of creating these great rods and the men and women who dedicate their lives to building them.
I watched the trailer for “Running Down the Man” and I was hooked. I like wading for bonefish. I like running for fitness. What could be better than sprinting down some beach after a large, exotic-looking roosterfish?
After a fair bit of research, I booked a trip with Grant Hartman of Baja Anglers in Los Cabos, Mexico. Out of all the guides available, he had the most experience at beach fishing for roosters. He generally does week long trips, but I nabbed him for 3 days as his prime season was winding down at the end of June.
He met me at the Cabo airport and we hopped in his pickup for the hour long drive out to Los Barriles, a small town on the East Cape of Baja – north of San Jose del Cabo on the Sea of Cortez. As we drove, Grant’s passion for roosterfish, especially on the fly and from the beach, bubbled up. He compared them to permit and maintained that even a single big one, or “grande,” in one trip was a real accomplishment
Los Barriles is a very comfortable place for tourists and visiting fishermen, with good restaurants and a variety of accommodations. A beautiful, white sand beach stretches the town’s entire length. Grant dropped me off at my condo at the Villas de Cortez. (Note: On the East Cape, booking a condo through a site like HomeAway is a great alternative to a hotel room.) “See you at 9AM tomorrow and don’t forget to wear something drab,” he said.
At 9 AM the next morning, we were in Grant’s truck again, bouncing down scenic back roads through cacti and low hills. After about 20 minutes, we pulled up at a fairly deserted beach; a couple of vacation homes were the only things around. Immediately, we started rigging up my 10 weight. Before knotting on one of his custom 10 inch long flies, Grant asked me how much backing was on my reel. “About 225 yards,” I replied confidently. “Better use this,” said Grant, and he handed me his personal reel with about 400 yards of gel-spun.
What followed was a crash course in Grant’s highly refined tactics for beach roosterfish – the approach, the cast, the retrieve, and the hook set. I’d love to describe them but I’ve been sworn to secrecy! It was all based on wading the shallow surf and spotting the fish before it spotted you. One thing I can mention is that the line of choice was a tropical Outbound Short with an intermediate head.
The preliminaries took about half an hour and then we were walking along the beach looking for roosters. After about 15 minutes, the first one showed – a dark shape I’d get quite familiar with over the next few hours, swimming parallel to the beach and maybe 60 feet out. Grant had done a great job at prepping me but I don’t think anything can really ready you for that first shot. My running line got tangled in my feet and my fly got impaled in my pant leg; there were no more chances for that fish.
Nevertheless, another fish showed minutes later and my second shot fared slightly better. The running line and the fly both steered clear of body parts but the latter was a disappointing 15 feet short of the target. I frantically stripped in line and started to run down the beach for another cast. And promptly tripped, tangled in the running line again.
A third rooster showed up and I finally managed a good cast – right across its line sight. The fly had absolutely no impact on the fish and it kept motoring down the beach. So I stripped in my line and sprinted to get ahead of it. The next cast was also shunned. More stripping and more sprinting led to a third cast… And a third refusal.
I was about 200 yards down the beach from my starting point, breathless and sweat-soaked. (Remember, this was Baja in the summer!) Mercifully, the rooster had disappeared to deeper water. Grant seemed like a speck on the horizon and I trudged toward him.
Then another fish appeared… That meant three more reps of casting, stripping, and sprinting. Now I was three hundred yards from where Grant stood. When I finally got back to him he grinned broadly, “Some good casts, bro, but I think those last three were to a milkfish…” I very quickly learned to make out the characteristic tube shapes of milkfish and ignore them.
The action was quite consistent that first day. We visited several beaches, ranging from completely pristine to somewhat populated. Sometimes we walked along the beach. Sometimes we drove. Sometimes we just waited at a likely spot. I probably had shots at upwards of a dozen roosters. They often just swam past me – no running required. But some needed a burst of speed – along with the requisite heavy breathing and perspiration – to overtake the fish and get in position. Roosterfish are not like bonefish, meandering along and rooting around here and there. Most roosterfish seem to have a pace that is unfailingly linear and brisk.
The end of the day came around 4 PM, due to the lack of a high sun for spotting fish. I had experienced nothing but refusals, but a couple of them were spectacular…
One “grande” – that Grant estimated at fifty pounds – broke from its flight path and closed the distance to my fly in an instant. I stripped frantically, desperately trying to move the fly, move as fast as possible. The rooster tracked the fly perfectly, always an inch or two behind it. When the leader was a couple feet from entering the guides, all I could see was the mouth of the roosterfish trailing my fly. It looked enormous, like it could swallow my fist whole. I was on my knees in the shallow surf, trying to stay invisible to the fish. As the leader entered the guides, the fish abruptly swam off. I was almost shaking with excitement and didn’t even try for a second shot.
Not too long after, a rooster of about 25 pounds peeled off towards the fly and followed it from about three feet back, staying deep enough so that all I could see was a dark shape. When the leader was almost in the guides, it accelerated towards the fly and its spiky dorsal fin, or comb, broke the surface.
To me, the comb is what gives a roosterfish rock star status. When I saw it bristling out of the water, I braced myself for a hit and thought, “Strip strike… Strip strike.” And then the fish vanished, leaving me with no more than a permanent image of its comb in my brain.
The second day of fishing dawned much like the first. The sun was bright, perfect for sight fishing. But the wind was howling, making the water on the turbid side. Grant said it would be a tough day and he was right. We tried most of the same beaches but saw absolutely nothing. Grant even tried teasing some from the deeper water out of a fly rod’s range. He used a nine foot spin rod to bomb a hookless surface plug about the same distance as most golfers hit a five iron. Then danced it back into shore. My job was to throw the fly in behind the plug when it came into range. Regardless, nothing showed itself.
Finally, about an hour before quitting time, we staked out a spot where a couple near shore troughs ran towards each other and met on a shallow bar. A roosterfish swam out of one trough and onto the bar, close enough for an easy cast. Unfortunately, it ignored my fly and quickly made its way towards the blue water. This happened twice more, in quite rapid succession, before we called it a day. I had been quite discouraged but the flurry of action gave me a shot of optimism for the next day.
My third and final day looked pretty hopeful. Grant took me on an isolated highway through the mountains and the sun shone brightly. Although the road was paved, it was still very much an adventure. We stopped to help three young locals with a flat. “Never pass anybody in need in the desert,” said Grant. Their spare wasn’t the proper size, so Grant gave them his aerosol tire sealer and inflator.
A little further up the road, sections of roadside pavement were missing. The only thing taking their place was a steep drop down a cliff. After about an hour, the “highway” transformed into a rocky track through scrub and cacti. I was glad Grant drove a 4X4. Eventually, we steered off the rocks and headed down a sandy path toward the ocean. After about 100 yards of this, we emerged onto a very isolated beach. It was rockier than those we fished the last couple of days. As well, the hills seemed to be crowding it into the ocean. Although there was one beach house off in the distance, I got the impression that we had somehow left civilization far behind.
Geographically, it seemed like an ideal place, but meteorologically, things had gone down hill. It was completely overcast and the wind was howling. The water was choppy and dirty; sight casting was impossible. To be honest, back casting was also impossible. The wind had a fierce tendency to blow my fly into the back of my head with every forward cast. The only thing I could do was lay the fly line down behind me on the beach and launch it without a backcast. (You have probably heard of water-loading a forward cast. … This was beach-loading.)
Nonethless, Grant had me blind casting and working my way down the beach.
And then I got bit! Strip strike! Rats, I missed it… Then another hit and another miss on the same retrieve. With the next cast, 18 inches of silver torpedo rocketed half a rod length out of the chop. “Ladyfish!” yelled Grant. I grinned. It sure felt good to have a fish attached to the line.
And so went the day. The ladyfish action was incredibly entertaining and almost non-stop. Every so often we lost contact with the school; however, with a bit of moving around, we always found it again. I have now seen why ladyfish are sometimes called a poor man’s tarpon; they are amazing leapers. They are not big but they certainly are fun. Grant cut back the 10 inch roosterfish fly to a ladyfish-friendly 4 inches. “Careful,” he warned, “Roosters like to snack on ladyfish and that fly is still big enough to tempt a rooster.”
The certainty of a jumping ladyfish and the possibility of a hulking rooster kept me busy all day. The wind and the clouds never disappeared but they did not bother me in the slightest. As we drove back to town at the end of the day, I thought about the last three days. I had not caught a roosterfish but the trip was still a success in my mind. I had seen a rooster’s comb bristle at my feet and also caught a bunch of ladyfish. For me, both were firsts…
The trip still was not quite over. The next day was spent snorkeling at Cabo Pulmo, a marine preserve south of Los Barriles. The tropical fish below the water and the stark headlands above the water were both beautiful. Even though I didn’t bring a fishing rod, I have to admit that I kept glancing around, looking for the dark shape of roosterfish gliding alongside the beach…
I previously lived 15 minutes away from a trout paradise known as the Platte river in Wyoming. Then I found myself married and moving back to Iowa where my wife and I both grew up. It only made sense since both of our families are here. Obviously the trout fishing is not as lucrative, but the hawkeye state has some great areas to fish.
My wife knew nothing of fly fishing until we got married. After a few outings with our fishing crew and a couple of backpacking trips out west, we finally convinced her to give it a shot. It didn’t take long and she was asking tons of questions. She was hooked like a driftless brown taking a juicy hopper in September.
We started her off with the basics, putting a rod and reel together, stringing a rod, the difference between fly line, leader and tippet. She found it interesting how much their is to know before a fly even hits the water.
We even spent time on the tailgate at home practicing knots with string just to make it easier to learn. Through the spring and summer she has fished in Wyoming, Colorado and Iowa. She is now proficient at reading water and has an understanding where the fish tend to hang out. She is quickly learning and the different ways to cast and mend her line to get that fly where she wants it. After our last trip to northeast Iowa, her favorite two fly combo is now the hopper dropper. It is fun to watch her progress in her knowledge and skills. I find it as exciting as she does when she hooks up, and share in her frustration and laughter when she misses.
After a great day on the stream we find ourselves back on the tailgate talking about the day and enjoying our favorite craft beer. She always has one last question, “when do we get to go again?”
Editors Note: Bristol Bay Alaska is one of the most pristine wild places on this planet. As an angler and an outdoor enthusiast I hope to see this area remain unchanged for a long time to come. Organizations like Trout Unlimited are doing all they can in order to prevent this mining project from ever taking place. Its up to us to let our voice be heard in order to protect this region for future generations. Take action by clicking HERE. -JC
The legal term used to describe it was mineral rights.
The way it played out was like this. A family would have a few acres in East Tennessee or Southeastern Kentucky with maybe one dwelling and a barn. A representative for a coal company would show up and offer hard cash if the owner would sign over the mineral rights to his property. In the poverty ridden condition that most of my ancestors lived, a city dude offering a couple of hundred dollars in cash for what might or might not be under the ground seemed like a no brainer. A no brainer until a group from the company showed up and told these folks they had to leave because they had come to claim not what was on their property, but what was under their property.
Mines bored deep cavernous holes in the hillside to extract the black gold that would become a defining element of my regions contribution to the industrial revolution. With impunity these companies worked round the clock to pull ton after ton of coal from the land. Many of these families stayed on in mining camps where they toiled six and sometimes seven days a week raping the land they used to own.
One of the resounding effects the mines had on the region was not in what they pulled from underneath the land; it was the runoff of poisons that they polluted into the streams that flowed from the high country. Streams that once were a water source and a provider of food ran orange and red; literally everything within them died. Children were born with defects which were in part generated by mothers who were exposed to a myriad of caustics that invaded their bodies and in turn the bodies of their children as toxic levels of selenium, mercury, and arsenic seeped into the water table.
The financial boon filled the pockets of many, but a very small percentage of them actually lived in the area. Workers were paid in scrip, which were just tin tokens from which to buy from the company store which inflated the prices thereby increasing their profits as well.
It took decades for this to be turned around, and in the area in which I grew up; its effects remain on a pilfered landscape, and a few streams which have yet to recover. And it is quite possible that they will never recover. Sometimes, the impact of industry on a landscape is too great a price to pay; it is too large a burden to risk.
When the subject of the pebble mine in Alaska began to surface, I felt connected. From an environmental standpoint, I saw here in Tennessee (albeit on a much smaller scale) what could happen there and was angered to the point of action. Sometimes, and perhaps it could be argued most of the time, the best development or industrial progress is none at all. There comes a time when we must evaluate financial gain against the strong backdrop of what would be lost. In most cases what would be lost, is lost forever and triggers a chain of events that will impact much more than the particular region.
Bristol Bay is a massive area that is primarily wild untouched country. This area has been home to native Alaskan Tribes for millennia and is considered to be the largest fishery for sockeye salmon on the planet. Hundreds upon hundreds of miles in streams participate in the watershed through the Nushagak and Kvivhak rivers, and smaller streams such as the Napotoli and Stuyhok.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency began a study on the area and how a pebble mine might impact it from an ecological and environmental perspective. This was of utmost importance to the Alaskan native tribes who have entire cultures built around the lifecycle of the salmon that call the bay home. The study intended to evaluate the development and mining of this area be its impact while in operation (which was estimated to be between twenty and one hundred years), and the recovery and maintenance of the area after the mine had closed.
Personally, I have yet to visit Alaska, but from a distant perspective, to negatively impact a location where nearly half of the sockeye salmon in the world congregate with numbers going well above thirty million fish moving inshore to spawn is beyond a bad idea, it is criminal. If you also take into account the other fish species that live there (lake trout, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, grayling, pike), the sheer numbers of fish that would be effected staggers even the broadest of imaginations. Try to wrap your mind around 200,000 rainbow trout in one watershed!
The long term economic impact would be catastrophic as entire communities who, through commercial fishing and tourism, find their subsistence would find themselves with a dwindling fish population and a constantly growing demand as well as the ever upward costs of living. There are families who have been in an economic relationship with Bristol Bay for hundreds of years. To fish its waters for sustenance and financial gain is all they know. To remove or reduce it would be to (in effect) kill entire villages.
The E.P.A. assessment states that up to 94 miles of streams would be completely lost because of their location in relation to the mine footprint. 94 miles! Can you imagine how many fish would just vanish forever?
The E.P.A. report goes on to state that reduced food resources would result in the death of many streams outside the footprint due to the loss of organic material, a reduction in winter fish habitat and by nature of design, reduce or remove vital spawning areas.
The blow that would be dealt to creatures such as the storied brown bear, or the bald eagle would also be irreparable. A reduction in food, a reduction in habitat, and once again a reduction in the local economy and way of life.
When do we say enough? When do we finally realize that once a fragile thread like Bristol Bay is severed, it is highly likely that it will not be mendable? When do we stand and say that not only is it a bad idea for the wildlife, it is a bad idea for the people? When do we stop and take a position that does not approve in any shape, form, or fashion the potential health risks involved in a huge mining operation? When do we finally realize that clean water impacts every person on this planet, and that wild places need to remain wild places?
Hopefully, that time is now.
(Warning: Cute kid fishing pics contained herein.)
The dream: Alaskan fly-out lodge. The problem: Dream exceeding budget. The solution: A cruise ship.
Seems highly unlikely, right? Swapping a cruise ship for a floatplane. But it works… Even though a cruise ship won’t immerse you in Alaska’s remotest fishing, it will get you places a road won’t go. And the scenery may be even more spectacular. Better yet, the whole family can come along for about the same price.
With that in mind, my daughter Kerri and I hopped on the Norwegian Sun, a cruise ship traveling from Vancouver up the Inside Passage into Alaskan waters. The first port of call was Ketchikan, where we took in a lumberjack show. No fishing was on the agenda but the town’s main drag was a salmon river. The downtown shops overlooked glides and riffles instead of concrete and traffic. Handrails ran alongside the wooden sidewalks; if you leaned over the rail, you could see pink salmon running upstream. The whole place was a great, big fly-fishing appetizer.
The next stop was Juneau. Kerri stayed on board at the ship’s daycare. With all the activities they had planned, she wouldn’t miss me one bit. I hiked off the boat and down the street to the local fly shop, where I met up with Luke Woodruff, my guide for the day. About an hour, Luke anchored his boat where a small stream poured into the salt. We were relatively close to Juneau but could have been anywhere along Alaska’s wild coastline.
We waded the beach, sharing the water with hordes of pink salmon. They were very eager; my rod was almost constantly bent by a four or five pound pink. Although pink salmon, or humpies, register lower than cohos or kings on the desirability scale, the fun factor of any 4 or 5 pound salmonid should not be overlooked!
For a change of pace, Luke suggested hiking up the stream and trying for some cutthroats. Five minutes down the path, a mother brown bear and her cub ambled into view, about 50 yards away. We looked at each other and reversed direction without a word. Our pace was definitely brisk on the way back to the beach. A few furtive, over-the-shoulder glances confirmed that the bears were not following. Although Luke carried a 12 gauge shotgun with slugs, I was quite relieved that he never even took it off his shoulder.
The next stop for the cruise ship was Skagway; both Kerri and I headed off the boat. But this time for the mountains instead of a salmon river. Some rock climbing – guided and beginner friendly – was on the agenda. After Skagway, the ship headed up the Tracy Arm for some serious scenic fiord cruising and iceberg spotting.
The final port of call was Wrangell – another chance to fish! This time Kerri joined me and guide Marlin Benedict had his jetboat waiting just down the pier. We headed up the silty lower reaches of the Stikine River to a deep pool in a clearwater tributary.
Once again, the pink salmon were thick. We could see schools swimming by underneath the boat. Often, the take was visual and I watched a humpy inhale my streamer.
Kerri – who was nine at the time – used a spinning rod and the pinks kept it under strain. Marlin enthusiastically netted Kerri’s fish and that process intrigued her immensely. To be honest, after four or five salmon, she actually convinced Marlin to use the rod and let her control the net. In the spirit of true customer service, with perhaps just a hint of sheepishness, Marlin hooked fish after fish, and let Kerri net them.
On the trip back downriver, Marlin revealed another facet of his repertoire. He allowed the boat to drift slowly downstream and we looked for the hulking shapes of king salmon amongst the pods of pinks. It was a unique and unexpected opportunity for sight fishing watching for big, dark outlines and making a cast.
With time running out, I actually connected with a king. Kerri cheered, the reel buzzed, and my backing made a rare but welcome appearance. There were a couple tense moments involving some tree branches but eventually about 15 pounds of chinook were brought on board for a quick photo.
After that, it was full throttle all the way back to the Norwegian Sun. There were no more stops scheduled so we enjoyed the ship’s amenities for a full day and a couple evenings all the way back to Vancouver.
Being a full size cruise ship, there were a lot of amenities – far more than most fishing lodges. Come to think of it, a cruise ship actually makes a pretty good Alaskan fishing lodge…
An angler stands on his favorite river, swelled bank to bank with cold, turbid, fast moving, dangerous mid June runoff, and mutters, “When is there going to be some fishable water? Curses foiled again.”
Have no fear high country lakes are here! The fish are looking up, hungry and cruise the shallows. Dead insects, formerly encrusted in ice, drift in the melted film and those alive are responding to the spring warmth. Grab your rod and get up there.
We picked three lakes above 9000’ elevation in northwest Colorado near the town of Steamboat Springs with roads close by, Steamboat, Pearl and Dumont. A short walk around drifted snow banks and we were fishing. The aspens were sucking up the snow melt and sprouting soft, tender, green leaves. Glacier lilies burst from the edge of snow banks with yellow flowers. The mountains were alive again and soothed the soul.
At Steamboat Lake the rainbows and cutthroats hit size 8 black woolly buggers with hints of purple mixed in. A float tube was helpful to fish towards the shallow shore but cold. The possibility of hypothermia crossed our minds. Dress in layers because the skies can change from sunny to snowy quickly. While we fished, the Pleistocene era sand hill cranes soared above us uttering their strange, haunting prehistoric cries. The ancestors of this 2 million year old species, with a six foot wingspan, began migrating through North America at the end of the last Ice Age and make the lake marshes here their summer home.
Pearl Lake is only a few miles away. We aimed our casts to evening rises as the sun reflected the mountains in the cool, blue water. It was frustrating because I kept missing strikes at my Griffiths gnat dry fly. In desperation, I downsized twice and finally, with a size 18, I got a hook up. The fish darted deep, pulling my line from side to side and eventually tiring ended up in my net. It was an arctic grayling which have smaller mouths and they apparently couldn’t get their jaws around my larger flies. One of my fishing buddies said, “I never thought grayling would take a dry fly.” Typically they live deep in the lake, but in the spring move to the shallows to spawn and then disappear again.
Dumont Lake lays near the continent divide on Rabbit Ears Pass by U. S. Highway 40. We left a paved road, busy with traffic, to the serenity of a mountain lake. During the summer the lake and campground generally crawls with anglers and campers. During our spring trip we had it all to ourselves. A couple years ago the lake was drained, the brook trout removed, the dam repaired, re-filled with melted snow creeks and stocked with Hofer-Colorado River strain, whirling disease resistant, rainbow trout. The rich organic material encouraged quick growth and we encountered fat, feisty, fish. Aquatic worms were abundant. Small size 14 hooks wrapped with red floss and ribbed with copper wire worked well. Occasionally, the trout would take a larger San Juan worm or green Copper John midges too.
As always, it took a little experimentation to figure out what the fish wanted and each lake provided forage that was different, but the fish were hungry after a long winter beneath the ice. A local fly shop can offer tips to solve the riddle.
A high mountain lake awakes and waits for you. Don’t despair, get up there.
Each year I have the opportunity to spend several days chasing Coho with my parents in the Strait of Juan de Fuca adjacent to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. While the primary purpose of this annual trip is to keep salmon on my grill the rest of the year, a few years ago we began to pursue another species as well. It is a well known fact that real men arise at the crack of ten, sometimes the Coho are only feeding closer to dawn. When this happens you had better be up and underway when running lights are required. Pre-dawn marina departures of vessels of all shapes and sizes contributes to the charm of small fishing towns and Sekiu is no exception. If the bite is early and the typical limit on Coho is two fish per angler per day, you may very well find yourself back at the dock before breakfast. The Olympic Peninsula is full of things to do once the salmon are caught, filleted out, vacuum sealed, and frozen. One could venture out to Cape Flattery, the most Northwest point in the continental United States. Visit the crystal blue water of Lake Crescent, or just hike around in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Once these things are done, as most anglers are apt to do, it usually returns to some kind of fishing.
Near Neah Bay there are hours of entertainment to be had catching strong fighting and great tasting fish. Using an ultralight spinning rod and a small plastic tail jig a person can burn an entire day catching Black Sea Bass near the kelp beds. These fish typically range from 2-4 pounds, put up a great fight, and are simply a blast to catch. The catch limit is pretty high (check the regulations if you go) and they taste great. We would position the boat near the kelp bed and allow the boat to drift with the wind and/or tide along side of the bed casting into the channels between the branches of the kelp. These fish tend to school so when you catch one, there are sure to be more. Anyone that has spent a couple of hours filleting out a mess of crappie knows that it takes about the same amount of time to clean a small fish as it does a larger fish so it is definitely worthwhile to put the smaller fish back to grow up a bit and keep the larger fish. However, if you want to take it to the next level, you can keep a few smaller bass to be used as live bait for Ling Cod, a bottom dwelling beast from another age. Ling is a great eating fish and they fight really hard as well.
One year as I was packing for this trip, it occurred to me how much fun it might be to catch black bass on a fly rod. My four piece five weight was summarily tossed into my bag along with a couple of Clouser minnows. When we arrived at the kelp beds I went forward to fish off the bow since fly casting from the rear of a Grady White would preclude anyone else being able to fish. Being on the bow, I was higher than I was in the stern and could clearly see deeper into the water. This also allowed me to more accurately place my fly between the branches of the kelp and see its descent into the darkness below. I was using a sinking line to get the relatively weightless fly into the fishes realm. No sooner had the fly dropped below the first kelp petals than a strong two pound bass darted from the cover of the kelp and took the fly with an aggressiveness that shocked me. I set the hook and the fight was on. Since I am unaware of a method to quantify laughter, suffice it to say that I laughed a lot while catching these fish.
After a good fight the fish tired and I was able to bring it closer to the boat. The smaller fish I was able to hoist from the water using the line, but the bigger fish presented a problem. Since I was balancing on the bow of the boat and the net was at the stern, I had to lead the larger fish along side of the boat to be netted by Captain Jeff. I soon found that the deeper my fly went, the bigger the fish that ate it. Several times while the fly was sinking, a smaller bass would dart out from the kelp and follow the fly only to be chased off by a much larger fish from the depths below. It is a good day when fish are literally fighting over your fly. This type of fishing allows for one of the things that makes fly fishing so great, the ability to see the fish take your fly. Allowing this revelation to sink in, I decided to fish with streamers more often on my home waters.
While all four of us were catching fish, the fly rod was consistently taking the larger fish. Hooking and landing a four pound Black Sea bass on a five weight fly rod makes an impression on one’s soul and brings a smile to my face even years later.
From the title, you can probably guess that this article is about fly fishing in Cuba. Cuba is an amazing place and its fly fishing is definitely one of the reasons why.
To be honest I only fished two days in Cuba. And one of those days wasn’t even a good one. Nevertheless, from what I saw, I would recommend fishing in Cuba to anyone…
A quick web search will reveal that most Cuban flats fishing are controlled by an Italian outfit named Avalon. Any monopoly has drawbacks but in this case I think it has been very healthy in preserving the fishery and the environment.
Avalon has fishing operations throughout Cuba, including Cayo Largo, a beautiful island south of the mainland with a handful of all–inclusive resorts. So when my girlfriend Deb and I booked into one of these resorts, it took about 5 minutes for me to send an email off to Avalon. I was hoping to book a day trip and chase some bonefish.
Here’s one of the drawbacks to a monopoly… “Not possible,” they replied. “We only do full weeks. Contact us closer to the date of your trip and we’ll see what we can do.”
I had previously devoured the Avalon website and really wanted to experience their fishery so it was an agonizing wait. Finally, a few weeks before we departed, I begged and pleaded with the Avalon representative and managed to book two day trips. I won’t mention the price – that’s another drawback of a monopoly!
Our very first night in Cuba was in Havana. It was actually New Year’s Eve and we saw a grand Cuban tradition – hurling a bucket of water into the street from the front door. Luckily, we saw it from a distance…
The flight from Havana to Cayo Largo was on board a big dual-prop plane that looked like it dated from the 1960’s. It was terribly noisy but it still gave us a good view of the immense flats that spread out from Cayo Largo. The landing – on a modern airstrip – was surprisingly smooth.
Cayo Largo is an idyllic Carribbean island with only a handful of resorts. A white sand beach? Scenic, rocky coastline? Palm trees? Scub pines? Starfish in pristine water? You can take your pick and with a little effort, you won’t have to share with anyone.
On our first day of fishing, we taxied to the Avalon fishing center and were met by the fishing director and three guides. Yup, our guide and two others. It was a bit like a NASCAR pit stop; we had five outfits with us, and they had them all completely rigged in about 2 minutes. Another minute passed and we were in a state-of-the art skiff, planing towards the flats. I had in my hands a fly box that the fishing director gave me; it held a dozen proven local patterns.
I have to admit, however, our first day fishing was not too remarkable. Deb is not a fan of long boat rides so we fished the closest spots to the dock – a few large flats that were fairly deep and often held permit. However, a cold front had blown through a couple days before. Unlucky for us, the temperatures were still down and the winds were still up.
I think I spotted three fish that day; most of the time the guide was directing my casts across wave-rippled water. Regardless, he was excellent, with eagle eyes and a very patient manner. By the time we pulled up to the dock, both Deb and I had landed a couple bonefish.
We spent the next couple days exploring the island and sampling the excellent mojitos at the resort. When the cold front had thoroughly passed – and the winds lay down – I showed up for a second day of fishing. Deb had elected to spend the day at the resort.
I was paired with a different guide – although his patient, professional demeanor was very much the same as the first. Our plan, he said, would be to fish along a string of small cays that stretched outward from one end of Cayo Largo.
The first spot we pulled up to held an immense school of bonefish. They circled away from us and then towards us. I had absolutely no problem spotting them. It was about as easy as it gets in flats fishing – cast your fly about ten feet in front of the wriggling, cruising mass. Wait ‘til it gets close… A couple strips… Watch five or six fish peel after your fly… Fish on!
With my reel buzzing, the guide would pole like crazy away from the school. We’d land the fish. And then repeat. These were solid 4 pounders. Every one of them went well into the backing. I’d wish I could say that after five fish I was ready for more of a challenge but to be honest – it my personal bonefish paradise. Lots of good-sized, eager, easy-to-see fish!
Nevertheless, the guide didn’t want to educate too many fish and he suggested we push on. And so it went for the rest of the day – from one tiny little cay with a gorgeous flat to the next… It was perhaps the most perfect day of bonefishing I’ve ever experienced. There were no more huge schools, but plenty of singles and doubles and small groups. The water was gin clear, perfectly calm, and never more than knee deep. The bottom was a magical white sand that didn’t hide fish very well. I landed 10 or 11 bonefish that day with a couple going 5 or 6 pounds. I could have landed more but the guide talked me into so many other things…
Like checking out a tiny cut through some mangroves for tarpon. They were in there – four or five good-sized juveniles! They finned lazily, wickedly obvious in the clear water. And just kept on finning lazily as my fly swam past. After a few casts, they melted back into the mangroves.
I also chugged a popper across a couple deep channels for barracuda. One showed himself but turned away. In disdain? I really think that barracuda are way smarter than most anglers think.
The guide even had me tossing a jig on a spinning rod into a couple more channels. He wanted me to sample some of the snapper fishing. Success! A four or five pound mutton snapper grabbed the jig and pulled like only snapper can.
Actually, that mutton snapper was quite an inspiration. Because shortly thereafter, we were about a mile offshore, and my tarpon rod was rigged with a sinking line. I was working a Clouser down among the patch reefs. To no avail, unfortunately. But just the anticipation of a big snapper on a fly rod made it worthwhile.
Before we headed back in, we checked out a couple deeper flats for permit. Truth be known, Cayo Largo actually has quite a reputation for permit. Maybe it’s a good thing that none showed themselves that day; I was riding a bit of an adrenaline high after all the action and a permit might have pushed me over the edge.
Back at the dock, in the comfort of the Avalon fishing center’s couch, I had a couple beers and a slice of pizza and gradually came down. If you ever decide to come to Cuba, bring a lot of gear. It seems the possibilities are endless…
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Here are a few additional notes if you every make it to Cuba…
It might be a tad inflexible, but Avalon runs a first class operation. They rotate anglers through well-defined zones to spread out the pressure. Both guides and boats are top notch.
A day or two in Havana is mandatory! Catch a jazz club, stroll the Malecon, admire the architecture, get a cab ride from a ’55 Chevy (or maybe a bicycle) – it’s gritty and grand at the same time.
The countryside near Vinales – about an hour from Havana – is incredibly exotic. Lush green farms with red soil are butted up against huge domes of vegetation and limestone.
Did I mention the great fishing?
**Editors Note: Being that Dale hails from Canada, It is very easy for him to be able to travel to Cuba for excellent adventures like this one. On the other hand us Americans are not so lucky…
As many of you know here at Fishwest we strive to be considered the “World’s Local Fly Shop”. This means that each day the staff here (myself included) come to work ready to serve the customer and provide the best experience in the fly fishing industry. Why am i saying this you ask?
Because its always nice to receive messages like this one from Sam in West Virginia:
“I received my pack today. This is so awesome. I want to thank everyone at Fishwest for keeping my fishing trip on schedule. I was worried that I wouldn’t receive the pack and I leave for my Steelhead trip in the morning. But It was just delivered to my home and I couldn’t be happier. I want to give a special thanks to Lacey…. I couldn’t have asked for a better Customer Support Person. You helped me with my return and got my new pack out the door in time for me to keep my scheduled fly fishing trip. ”
All you fly fishers out there are the reason that we do this. This photo made our day! Thank you for your continued support!
The Mothers Day caddis hatch on Arkansas River in Colorado is famous. Slowly the hatch creeps up steam in late April and early May dictated by the magical water temperature of 54 degrees Fahrenheit. A little extra snow melt cools the water and postpones the movement of cocooned caddis pupa squirming to the surface to shed their shucks and lifting airborne. But don’t worry; with 2 decades of water quality and structure improvement, the 102 miles of the Gold Medal freestone river from the Pueblo Reservoir to Leadville has a plethora of spring hatching bugs. Blue-wing-olives, caddis, golden stones, smaller dark stoneflies and midges now populate the waterway plus Colorado Parks and Wildlife recently introduced salmonflies which seem to like the Ark.
Dark (purple, brown or black) BWO nymphs size 20 to 26 and bright (chartreuse, orange or red) midge larva, also size 20-26, are always in the water column, moving up or down and deciding if the time is right to surface and hatch. The improvement of water quality on the river that endured a century and a half of mineral mining byproducts has changed the trout from smaller, short lived browns to a mixture of healthy rainbows and browns enjoying a longer life and growing to sixteen inches or more.
Until you see rising fish, Czech or high stick nymphing are the best techniques. Fishing with a long line and an indicator has limitations and works only in certain areas. Use a heavy attractor pattern like a golden stone, smaller dark stone or San Juan worm as the lead fly and a BWO nymph or midge larva pattern 12 to 18 inches lower. Methodically fish and try to reach all the parts of deep tail-outs below riffles, seams and deeper holding water. During the middle of a May day the trout will key into the specific hatch, either caddis, midges or BWOs. A dry fly as an indicator with the emerger of the same insect as the dropper is a good method. The sub-surface tends to be where the action occurs with so much competition with naturals on the surface. Dead drift with long leaders, good knots and fine (6x or 7x) tippets to weary trout.
The tailwater below Pueblo Reservoir is open to angling year round. The spring runoff captured from Arkansas River flows out of the dam at a fairly consistent temperature and generally close to gin clear. When high, discolored water surges through the freestone river section; this is the place to be. Public fishing is available for nearly all the water that meanders through the City of Pueblo. Anglers must pay a small fee in some areas. Colorado Parks and Wildlife have built structures for a decade, studied fish populations and created a first class fishery. The same techniques and fly patterns apply here as the mountainous head waters. The big difference is the city resides at a 5000 foot elevation and frequently has 50 degree air temperatures in January and February. Fly fishers feeling the effect of winter cabin fever, but hesitant to angle in cold weather will find they don’t have to wait for Mothers Day to catch big trout.