Tag Archives: saltwater

Bahamas: Wild Kingdom Style

In June last year, Dustin Carlson sent my wife, LeeAnn, and I an invitation to join him and other Fishwest customers for a week of bonefishing at Deneki’s Andros South Lodge in March 2013.  LeeAnn got real excited about the prospect of going to the Bahamas and we immediately committed.  We are both freshwater fisherpeople with saltwater experience limited to surf fishing, we really didn’t know what to expect.

With nine months to prepare, Dustin and the Fishwest staff gave us all of information, advice and guidance we needed, from tackle selection (they found an 8wt rod that Lee could throw all day and not get worn out) and casting lessons to advice on packing lists.

After much anticipation we finally arrived at the lodge and we received the warmest welcome from the Andros South staff (see the post from JC about his sage advice on international travel) Now I am not the kind of guy that likes the white table cloths, fancy furnishings and swanky cuisine, I like the simple approach with a local flair and this place really fit the bill, it exceeded our expectations.  The trip was all inclusive and cooks and staff were local residents that treat the guests like family.  The food was AWESOME, fresh spiny lobster (crawfish), fresh conch in both fritters and fried, grilled grouper that was swimming 2 hours before it hit the home made BBQ, ribs and fried chicken, fried plantains, kasava root boiled in jelly coconut milk, made to order sandwiches for lunch, and coconut macaroons made with shredded coconut that Lee just had to get the recipe for, the best beer (Kalik) that has crossed my palate in a long, long time.  The beach that was postcard perfect and not a soul on it judging from no footprints was just a few feet away from the lodge’s self serve Sack Tide Bar (a tiki hut) and the ocean that’s the most beautiful shade of blue.  The Slack Tide has an interesting piece of memorabilia, a broken poling pole, but more on that later.  We found the guides just wonderful, all of them have their personalities, and are willing to coach and help with casting and catching as long as you listen and you may have to ask for it, depending on the guide as they don’t want to intrude or be pretentious.  Each one of them expressed a genuine concern for being stewards of the environment and only take from the sea what they need, never more and they protect those bonefish like they are their kin.

We got there the day we were supposed to start fishing, on Sunday at 1030 as we were delayed over night in Florida due to weather on the island and the plane could not land (the international airport in Congo Town is very small) and the lodge staff swooped down on us and rigged everything up so we went fishing on our travel clothes and our guide, Freddie, got us on fish within an hour.  There is an old defunct Navy Sub base on an island not far from the lodge that we fished around the early part of the first day and it reaffirmed why I don’t scuba dive, we had a gianormous bull shark that looked bigger than the 17 foot skiff we were in swim past us.  Believe it or not, when I saw the shark I immediately, actually said to the guide without any thought, “We need a bigger boat!”.   Freddie said not to worry, he has seen and dealt with bigger sharks than that “small” one.

The rest of the week we fished the west side as the weather was good, just a little cool, it took an hour boat ride to get there through a tidal creek system, sometimes having to get out and push the skiffs through skinny water.  It was like being at an aquarium.  We saw hundreds of sharks, alot of stingrays, multiple species of fish, sea turtles, various types of crabs, 5 dolphins herding the bonefish on the shore to eat them.

On Monday we were fishing along in the morning, with our guide named Ellie and he said “Good ‘cuda 9 o’clock, 90 feet”.  The locals eat them so I threw a tube lure over it and the barracuda followed the lure to five feet from the boat.  Then I saw a blender, the size of a five gallon bucket, full of razor blades open up and all hell broke loose!  I looked back at Ellie who was on the poling platform and he looked like this may have been a mistake judging by the look on his face.  The barracuda tried to jump out of the water through the fight but it could only get a third of its body out of the water.  A half hour later, I got it alongside the boat so Ellie could get it unhooked as he wanted to let it go, he said it was at least 15 years old and full of eggs.  He really didn’t want to bring it in the boat but had to in order get the hook out of it.  It was five and a half feet long and at least 40 lbs, Ellie said probably 45.  Ellie said it was the biggest barracuda he had seen or landed in 18 years of guiding and they work 6 days a week, October thru June.  We got a picture of him holding it, he (I) didn’t want me to hang on to 45 pounds of real bad attitude that could take my hand, arm or head off.  That fish was the talk of the day in the bar in town and at the resort.  Other guides that saw the photo could not believe the size of the ‘cuda.

On Tuesday we fished with Sparkles, a guide who has a passion for big bonefish and seeing his anglers catch them.  He wanted Lee to show him what she could do with a fly rod, so she threw a cast for distance, he then told her to cast to a small mangrove so she nailed it first cast.  He then did not question her abilities the rest of the trip.  Most of the fish we missed, we couldn’t see but Sparkles could, so we were blind casting at his direction.  Later in the day, we were motoring out of a mangrove creek when Sparkles pointed in front of us and shut the motor down and got the pole out.  He was pointing to a land point that was a convergence between two creeks and there was a great commotion going on in the water against the bank.  Three adult and two juvenile porpoises were knocking schools of bonefish against the bank and swimming almost out of the water to get them.  He poled us to the point as the dolphins went up the other creek and we watched them feed, breech and frolic in the water.  They are loud when they click and sing, we could hear them in the boat.  Sparkles said that they knock the bonefish against the bank to knock the scales off them so they cannot swim then they gorge on the fish.

On Wednesday, between me and Lee we caught over 25 bonefish, all thanks to Ellie and his keen sense of fish habits and eyesight that would make a hawk jealous.   He took a great deal of pride in our accomplishments that day. Most other days it was between 15-20 bonefish with too many blown casts, mostly because of the wind, but we had some good coaching and mentoring from all of the guides.

On Thursday Lee and I fished with apart with friends from the fly shop, she with Dustin, I with J.C.  Dustin is a superior photographer and wanted pictures of Lee to post on his fly shop website.  And he got some good ones during the week.  In the afternoon, Lee caught a bonefish and was bringing it in when a good sized lemon shark decided to try and eat it.  As Dustin reached over the edge to get the fish for Lee, the shark circled around the boat, came underneath it to get the bonefish.  Lee kept telling Dustin “get your hands out of the water!”  When the shark came out from under the boat, the guide, Charlie, jumped down from the poling platform cursing the shark and hit the shark in the head with the pole and scared it away.  Back to the pole at the Slack Tide, if you YouTube “Hammerhead Hammers Boat”, you will see an incident like what happened to Lee and Dustin.  The guide in the video is Sparkles.   When I was with J.C., he got his first barracuda that our guide, Norman gave a headache too.  JC gave me a lesson in casting unintentionally and showed me that he can sing too.  We caught numerous barracuda over the week and I lost count of how many we hooked.

On Friday it was slow for bonefish because of a cold front, but great for barracuda, we got into schools of them and Lee caught her first one, a nice 3 footer that fed the locals.  But we did catch identical bonefish on two different islands within an hour of each other and have good video of it, both of the bonefish were 26” long and just over 10lbs, which are considered trophies.  I hooked mine first and thought it was big, and when Ellie got excited, I knew it was a good one.  He was jumping around the boat to get a tape measure and the scales to weigh it.  There was a shark that Ellie thought might take it and it got a little intense playing the fish away from the shark.  Lee caught hers when we moved to another island and again Ellie got real excited grabbing the scales and tape.  He was surprised that it was within 1 oz of the one I caught earlier and gave Lee accolades for her angling skills.  He took us over to Leaf Key and I swear we were so far out that I thought I saw Florida.  That’s where we got into a school of barracuda and had a heyday casting and catching them.

Saturday we traveled home, a close to a trip of a lifetime that LeeAnn referred to as “Bahamas Wild Kingdom style”.  This is a trip that I would recommend to anyone, the lodge was clean, comfortable, and with a staff that displayed hospitality unrivaled anywhere we have ever been.    There were fishermen while we were there brought their wives who didn’t fish, but based on our conversations with them, they thoroughly enjoyed relaxing on the beach and shopping in town while their husbands were on the boats.

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 I had been tying flies for months prior to going on this trip and one of goals I had set was to catch fish on every style of fly that I had tied.  That goal was met within the first day and a half and I am already starting to tie for our next visit.  In case any of you go, I am taking orders for custom flies.

Traveling Guidelines 101

Bahamas Customs - South Andros IslandI find myself reflecting on my first international fly fishing adventure. One of my biggest concerns going in was the safe transportation of my gear to my destination. My experiences traveling around the US and internationally playing hockey have taught me to expect the worst with any checked luggage. Countless times (if….and a big if at that) I had received my hockey gear upon arrival, only to find sticks broken, helmets cracked and even things completely gone. These same fears translated to the treatment of my precious saltwater gear while traveling to South Andros in the Bahamas.

Upon doing some research I found the TSA to be more than fair when it comes to the allowance of Fly Fishing Gear. The TSA states that Fly Rods are permitted as carry-on baggage.  Ultimately the airlines state that rods must be taken in a padded case or tube and must meet size requirements for checked items. In a nutshell all airlines allow the transportation of fly rods however I would not recommend trying to carry on a two piece rod. I have a feeling that wouldn’t end well. That is what four piece rods are for anyway. If you plan on carrying multiple rods I would suggest duct taping the tubes together or buying a multi rod case to avoid any confusion with gate agents regarding multiple personal items.

The biggest surprise in all of this was the TSA stance on what they consider “Tackle Equipment”. They suggest that Expensive reels or fragile tackle (aka flies) should be packed into your carry-on bag.

Congotown International AirportThe 2nd tip that was brought to my attention was to dress in something that you would find yourself fishing in. In the case of tropical flats fishing a lightweight long sleeve shirt and a pair of lightweight pants are not only comfortable and easy to travel in but if you get into a bind, and your luggage is lost, you have clothes designed to protect you from the elements.

Finally when traveling through the airport it was brought to my attention that when going through security you should print out a copy of these guidelines to take with you through these checkpoints because all TSA agents may not be 100% on all the rules and regulations.  For more information please be sure to visit the TSA Link Here   (Thanks for the tip Jake)

Overall these rules are probably still more like guidelines for TSA & Airport security personnel to determine so prepare to be flexible, especially when it comes to the transportation of flies in carry-on bags. If these people tell you that you may not bring those items on the plane that is probably the end of the discussion. I personally would not suggest arguing with TSA or security agents. One of two things will happen at that point.  Option one is you going back to your airline’s customer service desk and ask them to recall your checked bag. The second option is that you just leave your flies with the TSA and they go off into the TSA abyss. Either way both of these options will have a negative outcome.

Wherever your fly fishing adventures may take you please do not allow getting to your destination to be aAll Gear Arrived Safely....and worked well! hindrance on your trip.  Wherever your adventures take you please have a great time, travel safely, and most importantly… Enjoy the experience & Tight Lines!

Bonefish Ain’t No Brook Trout

It is never a comfortable feeling to be totally new at something while surrounded by those who already know the score.  To be the only newbie is much like the dream where you wear your pajamas to school.  It feels like every eye is on you and you have to act as if you are in complete control when inside you are just praying that you don’t look as foolish as you feel.

That would sum up my trip to the Bahamas in a nutshell.  Almost everything I knew about fly fishing was put into question.  I am a trout guy.  I fish trout streams.  And here I stood on a sand flat, in the middle of the Bahamas looking for bonefish.

Our hosts for the trip was Long Island Bonefishing Lodge, and they do something called DIY bonefishing.  They load you up on a boat, take you out to the flats, hand you a radio to communicate and then they leave.  It is then up to you.  That didn’t seem like such a good idea for me…at first.  To catch a bonefish, you first have to SEE a bonefish.  If you have never done this before, let me try to explain.  A bonefish is so shiny and clean that they are a mirror of the bottom which means that when you are looking for them, you might think you see sand when in truth you are looking at the fish.  What you have to look for are shadows, tails, unusual movement.  And all of this is going on while you try to move as quietly as possible while also dealing with a wind that at times pushes you around.

So there I stood on the flat.  My nearest fishing buddy was maybe five hundred yards away.  I looked out at the water and the shimmer from the relentless sun, staring into the flat wondering if I will ever see anything at all.  The whole flat looked empty.  This is the first battle you have to face in that the place itself is so foreign to a trout angler.  No riffles, no plunge pools, no risers.  Maddening!

Then I see something that looks different, just a flash of a shape.  I think it is a fish but I cannot really tell because every time I try to lock in on it, the shape vanishes.  Then I see a tail jut up out of the water and I see the fish.  It isn’t an easy spot.  You actually are looking for a part of a fish.  Then I spot another…and another.  Maybe five or six bones are feeding thirty feet from me at maybe ten o’clock.  The wind is whipping across my left shoulder.

I feed out twelve good strips of line and make a cast.  The aforementioned wind grabs my fly line and pushes it to my right, well out of the path of the fish.  I strip in some line and try again; only this time I move my cast to compensate for the breeze.  This time I get it close.  Not spot on…but close.

Then as the fish move in my direction I begin stripping in line.  Feeling the take I set the hook and feel pretty good about the fact that I didn’t trout set.  Hook up.  I feel the frantic shake and raise my rod.  As soon as the rod is in the air, I look down at my reel.  In seconds, I am already into the backing and the spool is generating some serious RPMs.  Then…nothing.

I start to reel the line in thinking that I have lost the fish when it runs again.  More backing races out the rod tip.  I reel.  It runs.  I reel.  It runs.  Then finally, the fish tires and is close enough to grab.  I pull the bone out of the water and it is maybe two feet long and solid muscle.  This fish is built for speed.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had drawn a crowd.  Setting the fish free, I get high fives and hand shakes.  I am now part of the club.  The club of the adrenaline fueled sport of bonefishing with a fly rod. And I still have no idea what I am doing.

A mountain trout angler. Out of my place. Out of my element.  Using a rod that is more than double the rod I usually use. And I am having a ball.

Geofish

Get Your Popcorn Ready: Geofish Volume 1 Mexico Review

Authors Note: I am going to do my best impression of the late Roger Ebert here but by no means am I a film critic. After many years anticipating this movie release, here are my thoughts:

This is the type of adventure that I could find myself contemplating doing with my buddies. Going beyond the contemplation stage is probably out of the question for me at this point. The movie follows four friends, Jay Johnson, Chris Owens, Thad Robinson and Brian Jill (Formerly of AEG Media) as they attempt an 8,000 mile journey from the friendly confines of the Pacific Northwest to the tip of South America. Leg one sees the crew venture off into mainland Mexico.

The trip itself starts off as an adventure with the acquisition of a 1996 Ford F250 off of good ole reliable Craigslist.  They picked up this truck from a Utah dairy farmer who delivered it to them on a trailer. Red flag? Not for these guys, just a minor speed bump.  Running off of a limited budget these guys needed a more economical way of traveling. Knowing that gas prices would be the biggest determent the film budget these guys decided to convert their glorious F250 into a veggie oil powered home away from home. With the extreme generosity of Joel Woolf of Veg Powered systems who helped to do a complete overhaul of their F250 they were finally able to start their adventure.

Overcoming obstacles is a reoccurring theme throughout the movie. From spewing vegetable oil on the streets of Mexico to getting robbed at knifepoint at a Wal-Mart, these guys become good “amigos” with the Policia during their travels. The best part is that even after all these events they still soldier on, and with good reason.

The fishing sequences within this movie can be accurately described in one word. EPIC! First off is Marlin fishing 101. This isn’t your fancy marlin fishing that you see with a giant deep sea yacht and a full crew teasing in fish. The reality is that these guys are motoring around off the coast in a tiny panga with an outboard motor with a “guide” that doesn’t speak a lick of English searching for these leviathan creatures. The fishing starts off slow, but when they finally figure out how to do it the fishing pays off. That day Marlin fishing has to be one of those days that those guys will never ever forget.

It doesn’t end there. From lakes in central Mexico that are the homes goliath Bass to the baby Tarpon and Snook of the Yucatan. These fishing outings are the foundation of stories that become fishing legend and lore. Without giving too much away some of these locations and fish give a new fresh perspective to being “Off the Grid”.

Overall the greatest single thing about this adventure has to be that these guys got to do it together. Friendship and camaraderie is an important aspect of the sport of Fly Fishing. This movie is the ultimate example of that. Four buddies traveling thousands of miles while enjoying a sport that they love along the way. Does it get any better than that? I don’t think so. So get your popcorn ready! If you are interested in this Geofish or other fly fishing films and media please check out the Books & Media  section at Fishwest enjoy!

lean

Little Things Make All The Difference

lean

 I recently returned from my second saltwater trip and let me start off by saying my second saltwater experience greatly outweighed my first. The folks at Deneki Andros South made this trip amazing in every aspect. Honestly it would be tough to accurately describe how great the fishing is, especially in words. It is something that everyone should experience for themselves. The guides at Andros South were awesome in every way. They are true masters of their craft and will put you in prime locations for countless shots at fish. However the biggest factor in my success came down to one simple piece of equipment.  That piece of equipment is not the latest fly rod or fly reel or anything remotely close to that. A flats skiff outfitted with a lean bar made all the difference for me.

The premise of the lean bar is quite simple and self explanatory.  A Lean bar is affixed to the front of the flats boat on the casting platform and it gives anglers added support and stability. For me, an angler who has cerebral palsy where balance is an issue anyway, the lean bar setup is the perfect amount of support and it enables me to fish effectively without the hindrance of being able to balance.

Lean Bar In Use

The lean bar is not only designed to help people like me that have balance issues but also for anglers who may be a little older and their balance may not be as good as it once was. Also I could imagine that it would be perfect for anyone who needs a little bit of extra help balancing on the front of the boat.  Lastly I think everyone should use one on days where the conditions are not the greatest.  It would provide the angler an edge to the windy and choppy water conditions.

This lean bar setup is amazing however it is not without its faults. I found two situations while fishing that the bar was a hindrance to getting a good hookup.  The first thing I found is that the lean bar can be detrimental if I had a lot of outgoing line at a quick rate because periodically the line would get caught around the bar and the shot would be blown or even worse the fish would be lost. Also the strip set became a knuckle buster of sorts at times because I found that I would sometimes bang my hands into the bar on the set. This was more annoying than anything but the fish made it all worth it.

In conclusion if you are considering doing a saltwater trip and feel like the lean bar is something that you might want to consider don’t hesitate to ask your potential guide if they have a setup like this one. It truly does make all the difference in my book.

A Clouser and Jacks

Fly Fishing, Teenagers, and Cruise Ships

A cruise ship is an excellent way to get teenagers into the outdoors and also fly fishing!

This past summer, my 15 year old daughter and I boarded the Norwegian Sky for a 3 day/4 night Bahamas cruise.  We swam with dolphins in Nassau, kayaked through mangroves on Grand Bahama Island, and snorkeled with reef fish near Great Stirrup Cay.  And I distinctly remember parasailing as well…

Between these ports-of-call, our time on the boat flew by.  Immense buffets – and the gym equipment to work it off – kept me occupied.  I also spent a fair bit of time  scanning the open ocean, hoping to witness some tuna or mahi-mahi churning the surface to a froth.  (I actually did see one feeding frenzy.  Even though the species was unidentifiable, it kept me and another guy– also an angler – absolutely glued to our binoculars for a good twenty minutes.)

My daughter, Kerri, loved the boat’s supervised teen club.  Hanging around with kids from all over the continent was a great experience for her.  To be honest, once we were on the boat, I didn’t see too much of her at all.

But how does fly fishing fit into all this?????

Miami was our home base for a couple days before the cruise departed. We did some shopping, some South Beach sightseeing, and some fly fishing.

Hamilton Fly Fishing Charters (www.flyfishingextremes.com) out of Palm Beach took care of the fly fishing.  The idea was to go just outside the reef and chum a bunch of false albacore up to the surface.  However, the wave action was a bit rough and the albies stayed deep, so we headed back “inside” to the Intracoastal Waterway.  As it turned out, this was a real blast!  It was very visual – the guide tossing out bait and all kinds of jacks crashing it.

I was using a streamer and an intermediate line.  My daughter was armed with a spinning rod.  Both her and I thoroughly enjoyed it – Kerri was actually landing fish out on the boat’s deck in pelting rain.    Unfortunately, some nasty wind and thunderstorms cut our day short.

The accompanying video shows the whole adventure.  It isn’t in chronological order – South Beach and the cruise ship activities come first and then the fly fishing. (And then the nasty wind and thunderstorms.)  I also have to admit that Kerri did all the video editing…  Enjoy!!!

What it's all about!

Yucatan Baby Tarpon

Baby tarpon react to a hook like their oversized parents; they try to put as much air as possible between themselves and the water.  However, they are far more accommodating.  When fishing for adults, a great day is 5 fish jumped and 1 landed.  With babies, jumping 15 and landing 5 is definitely not out of the question.  And the babies aren’t exactly puny – 5 to 10 pounds is a common size.

I am by no means a seasoned tarpon hunter, but over the last few years I’ve managed to visit some of the Yucatan’s premier baby tarpon fisheries.  Although not definitive, my impressions might be helpful if a trip is germinating in your brain.

It should be noted that all my trips took place in July or August.  Visiting the Yucatan in the heat of summer sounds a bit twisted but it’s actually prime time for baby tarpon.

The gear for baby tarpon is simple – an 8 or 9 weight rod, a floating line, and a reel with a smooth drag.  Most baby tarpon will not take you into your backing.   Some veteran baby tarpon fishermen recommend stripping them in without putting them on the reel.  A decent fly selection would include baitfish patterns, poppers, and Seaducers – all on 1/0 or 2/0 hooks.  A very functional leader looks like this:  5 feet of 50 lb mono for a butt section, 2 feet of 25 lb mono for the tippet, and 2 feet of 40 lb fluorocarbon as a shock tippet.

Now, here’s a look at some baby tarpon destinations…

Tarpon Cay Lodge in San Felipe (Rio Lagartos)   www.yucatanflyfishing.com

San Felipe, about 100 miles west of Cancun, is a sleepy, pleasant village where walking around gives your camera a taste of real Mexico.

The baby tarpon fishing starts after a 5 minute boat ride.  It’s mostly blind casting the mangroves off points or in the rios, which are saltwater creeks.  Oftentimes, rolling fish provide targets.

Once you’ve shaken the jitters when fishing to babies, San Felipe can give you the opportunity to come unglued in front of much larger fish.  A boat ride of an hour or so will take you to a spot offshore where migratory adults up to 100 pounds hang out.  This is sight casting to rolling fish over deep water.

Isla del Sabalo at Isla Arena    www.yucatanflyfishing.com

If San Felipe is sleepy, then Isla Arena is comatose – in a good way.  Even though you are only 100 km north of Campeche, it’s like the edge of the world.

The fishing is very similar to San Felipe with the addition of sight fishing on the flats in front of the mangroves.  (N.B.  Tarpon are much easier to see than a bonefish.)  Some of the guides like to go WAY up the tiniest of creeks.  Bring a mosquito repellant and don’t forget to duck under that mangrove branch!  I found a Sage bass rod a great tool for such close quarters.

You will likely fly into Merida, which is an incredible colonial city.  It’s like being in Europe, but the tarpon are much closer.

Paradise Lodge on the Costa Maya Coast   www.tarponparadise.net

Between Chetumal Bay and Espiritu Santos Bay, Paradise Lodge has a breathtaking variety of fishing opportunity.

Baby tarpon are the backbone of this fishery; they hang out in cenote lakes, which are land-locked lagoons connected to the ocean via underground channels.  Each day starts out with a truck ride as your boat is trailered to one of these lakes.  Bring your casting arm – you’ll blind cast the mangroves like crazy.  Nevertheless, you’ll probably see enough tarpon to keep your motivation in high gear.  One of the lakes has a good population of both snook and barracuda.

During your stay at Paradise, you’ll probably drive south to sprawling Chetumal Bay to chase bonefish and permit.  I caught my only permit in Chetumal Bay.  I’d like to say I made  a 70 foot cast to a tailing fish but I actually flipped a crab pattern about 30 feet into a HUGE mud.  The permit that popped out was VERY small.  At dinner that night, I downplayed my catch and was promptly chastised by the lodge owner.  “A permit is a permit!” he insisted.

If baby tarpon are the backbone of the Paradise Lodge fishery, then Espiritu Santos Bay is the jewel.  It’s a long, pre-dawn drive to the north.  Punta Huerrero, an obscenely picturesque fishing village, guards the bay’s entrance.   Once your skiff ventures into Espiritu Santos Bay, you’re not on the edge of the world, you’ve actually gone over it!

Very few people fish Espiritu Santos. Its flats are beautiful, wild and abundant, just like its bonefish.  Chances are you’ll see permit, too.  My guide even pointed out a few wily snook underneath the mangroves.  I didn’t believe they were there until he chased them out with his push pole.

Isla Blanca by Cancun  www.yucatanflyfishing.com

Cancun, as you probably know, is fueled by thousands of beach and bar-seeking tourists.

However, 30 minutes north of the sunscreen-slathered hordes lies Isla Blanca and its tremendous variety of fishing environments – hidden lagoons, picturesque bays, mangrove tunnels, small flats, large flats.  Is your boat careening towards a solid wall of mangroves?   Relax, the guide knows exactly where the opening to the other side is. Baby tarpon, a few bonefish, and smallish permit roam all over these waters.  The permit, although small, are numerous.

If you want a break from fishing, and perhaps Cancun’s frantic pace, there are loads of guided excursions to Mayan ruins, traditional villages, and cenotes.

Isla Holbox   www.holboxtarponclub.com

Isla Holbox is comfortably touristed but in a golf-carts-on-funky-sand-streets sort of way.   It is about 60 miles northwest of Cancun; the last part of the journey is onboard a ferry.

Although Holbox is noted for big, migratory tarpon in the open ocean, the backcountry flats and channels in the lagoon behind it have excellent populations of babies.  Tired of slinging 500 grain heads on a 12 weight?  The babies chase poppers and streamers and put on a great show when connected to an 8 weight.  I found sight-fishing for the babies to be excellent.

Another attraction at Holbox is the opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks.

Nichupte Lagoon (Cancun) and Campeche

These are a couple places I have yet to visit.  The former is the lagoon directly behind the Cancun hotel strip.  The latter is a colonial city.

South Florida Nightlife on the Fly

Late last week, I had to take a last minute business trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  With meetings scheduled both day and night, I would be lucky to leave the hotel during the entire three day stay.  There was one opportunity for fun, on the last night of my stay.  Given the last minute nature of the trip, I didn’t have the opportunity to even think about staying another day and possibly booking a day of fishing, let alone finding a captain available in early May.  I know that Tarpon are primarily night feeders and I began to wonder if anyone ever attempts to fish for them at night.  A Google search revealed that not only do people attempt, there are captains who provide such a service.  I found a guide who was willing to work in a night trip despite having day trips booked on either side.  His name is Captain Shawn Fairbanks (www.saltH20.com).

Embraced by the Atlantic Ocean, New River, and a myriad of scenic inland waterways, Fort Lauderdale is known as the “Venice of America”.  It is the inland waterways that provide the greatest opportunity to fly fish at night.  With over 300 miles of navigable waterways, it pays to hire a guide who knows their way around, especially at night. Captain Fairbanks fits the bill since he has been fishing these very waters for more than 20 years.  Many of the homes located with waterfront have underwater dock lights which make the monumental task of parking some of the largest yachts I have ever seen, just a bit easier in the dark. The lights, while aesthetically pleasing, act as magnets for baitfish.  Schools of glass minnows and other baitfish congregate around these lights like moths to a bug zapper.  From this simple underwater oasis, an entire food chain aligns itself.  Jack Crevalle, Lookdown fish, Snook, and Tarpon may all be present within a reasonable proximity to these lights.  Now you might be thinking, isn’t that cheating? Akin to shooting fish in a barrel?   Nope, these fish are easily spooked.  This is true sight fishing and you had better make your cast count or you will be left counting glass minnows in a landscape otherwise devoid of the desired predators.  Having said that, it isn’t making 60 yard casts with a ten weight on the flats in the wind, but if you have cast dry flies to rising trout, you understand the need for accuracy.  More than once, I flopped a fly right into the light and watched in horror as every fish scattered as if I had cast a grenade.  The idea is to spot the Snook or tarpon sitting at the edge of the light occasionally darting in and out in pursuit of their prey.  You are targeting a specific fish and casting the fly such that you can bring the fly past his nose on the retrieve.  I managed to land a couple of Jack Crevalle, and a Lookdown fish before truly focusing on the Snook.  My dreams are filled with Tarpon but the Snook were presenting themselves far more often.  I had Snook completely ignore my fly, even swim away from it, but more often than not, they would follow it; inspecting it very closely right up to the tip of the rod. We changed flies a lot! I varied the retrieve from long slow strips, to very short energetic strips.  Apparently we found more followers than leaders on this night.  At one point, Shawn had just cut the fly off to try another pattern when a LARGE shadow intently moved through the periphery of the light.  TARPON!  He was interested in what was going on, but didn’t stick around long enough for me to make any kind of presentation.  I tried a few hopeful casts in the direction he was headed, but to no avail.  That will be the fish that haunts my dreams for the next few months.

As we moved throughout the city at high tide, it became apparent why Captain Fairbanks had removed the poling platform from the Maverick.  We went under some bridges that were so low that we both had to duck; and I mean crouch and duck.  It was emerging from one of these low bridges that we spotted a tarpon hiding behind a dock pylon at the edge of the light.  Shawn expertly positioned the boat such that I had the best shot at making the right cast.  I began false casting, paying out line with each cast until I had about fifty feet of line in the air.  Just as I made the decision to place the fly, I created a wonderful tailing loop, which caused the fly to firmly embed in my left pant leg.  Yes, grace under pressure.  Fortunately, all of the line piled up on the deck of the boat and in the water behind me, thus not spooking the fish.  I patiently gathered myself, unwinding line from my ankles, from around the rod, and from around the trolling motor mounted on the bow; never once taking my eyes off the fish nervously munching away.  The second attempt, although much more tentative, delivered the fly into the darkness beyond the light.  As I began to strip, the fish instantly saw the fly and decided that he wanted it, and wanted it bad.  The strike happened so fast that I swear I set the hook on pure instinct rather than by any measure of cognitive intent.  The instant the line went tight, the fish went literally ballistic.  It went straight out of the water much like a missile being launched from a submerged nuclear submarine.  When it landed back in the water, it streaked to the boat so fast that I had to strip line as if my very life depended upon it.  He swam right past me at the bow of the boat as if it were underwater lightning.  Indeed that is the best way to describe hooking into a tarpon; it is as if you stuck the tip of a nine-and-a-half foot graphite fly rod into a light socket. Miraculously, I managed to avoid stepping on the line that I had just so feverishly stripped in, because the fish took that back through the guides of the fly rod in a nanosecond.  When I finally got him to the reel, he launched out of the water a second time.  I had heard that you are supposed to bow to the tarpon when they breach but that critical tidbit was buried too deep in my brain and any chance I had of retrieving it was overwhelmed by the massive adrenaline dump surging through my body. So I acted on instinct to keep the line taught.  He landed with the fly still firmly lodged in his jaw as Shawn gently instructed me to take the slack off while the fish performs aerial acrobatics.  As the fish rounded the stern of the boat, obviously intent on fouling me on the prop, I was running down the gunwale in hot pursuit attempting to foil his plans.  Another show of aerial ability, this time accompanied by the appropriate postural tribute on my part; bow to the Silver King!  A second later I was on another trip along the gunwale toward the bow making it to the casting deck just in time for another aquatic air show.  The fish and I were circling the boat counter clockwise so fast that I wondered if even the tarpon in Florida are fans of NASCAR.  Just as I made it to the stern again, he managed a tremendous black flip behind the outboard and the line went suddenly slack. The electric rod had been unplugged. The leader had finally succumbed to the sandpaper-like lips of the beast. Perhaps my inexperience the second time he launched had cost me after all.  The fish always teach the most effective lessons, and this session, albeit short, will leave me pondering for some time.  All hail the mighty tarpon!   Well after the stroke of midnight, without spotting another poon, I walked up the dock toward my rental car, grinning from ear to ear.  Captain Fairbanks was headed home to prepare for another client headed to the Everglades a mere five hours later. I was headed back to a hotel to grab a bit of shut eye before the flight that would carry me 2,500 miles away from this beautiful place, and the tarpon that I will never forget.

Humbled by the King!

The Silver King. In my extremely humble opinion this fish is the epitome of saltwater fly-fishing. Of course I am talking about the Tarpon. These unique mysterious fish are simply breathtaking. I recently had an opportunity to travel to the Florida Keys to fish for Tarpon and these are my thoughts about the experience.

Now I consider my self a pretty confident and competent fly fisherman let me rephrase that, I consider myself a pretty confident and competent trout fisherman.  However I learned quickly that saltwater fly-fishing is a totally different ballgame. Instead of throwing size 20 Midges on a 4wt I found myself using a rod unlike anything I have ever really utilized before. Comparatively 12wt fly rods are a gargantuan and the flies utilized are much the same way.

In preparation for this trip I did quite a bit of practicing to try and familiarize myself with the larger saltwater gear. I felt as I had done a fair job for preparing for this experience but alas I was gravely mistaken. Casting on top of a milk crate in a grassy field with little to no wind was beneficial but once I found myself on the front of that skiff with the boat rocking and the wind blowing directly into my face I knew I was in for a humbling trip.

The highlight of the trip was definitely the sight of a Tarpon 30ft away engulfing my scantly looking crab imitation. However I strip set the hook too early and found myself staring at the backside of a fish going the other way. Honestly that sight freaked me out and I nearly jumped off the front of the boat and that is probably why I screwed up my best shot. I was disappointed yes, but that 40 second experience has to be one of the greatest I have ever had with a fly rod in my hand. I was left standing on the front of that boat in awe of what actions has just transpired before me. The consolation was that I had an opportunity to see some eye-opening places and get a nice tan. So in all reality I am okay with that.

Overall this experience is exactly what I expected going in. Anything that you do for the first time in life is probably not going to turn out pretty and most likely is going to leave you wanting a different outcome. I know thing is for certain. I will be back to tangle with the Silver King. This experience has opened up the metaphorical Pandora’s box of fly-fishing and the best way I try to explain my thought is these fish and the waters in which they reside are new frontier and new way of challenging me as a fly angler. My hat is off to those who have put the time and practice in to become masters of this whole different venue of fly angling. Finally, next time I will be better prepared and will have practiced a lot more.  Because we all know that old motto, practice makes perfect. In this case perfection is embodied in the form of the majestic Tarpon on the end of the line.