Tag Archives: travel

Crab

’55 Chevys, Mojitos, and Bonefish – A Cuban Adventure

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…

Typical flat
Typical Cuban Flat

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!

Havana
Havana

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.

Deb's fish
Deb’s fish

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!

Bigger fish
Dale’s Bigger 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…

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

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…

Sage One 890-4

Accuracy Redefined: Sage One 890-4 Review

With each passing year, fly rod manufacturers, continue to push the boundaries of manufacturing fine fly rods. The status quo is constantly evolving and hype is generated with each new release.  Andros Rod Rack (Sage One's All Around)The team up at Sage has hit a home run with one of their latest releases .“The One” is definitely lives up to the expectations and all the hype that was generated by this highly anticipated release. I have had a chance to fish this rod over the last two seasons and I would love to share my thoughts.

In this article I will be focusing on the Sage One 890-4. I just recently returned from a trip down on the island of South Andros with the folks over at Deneki Outdoors at their great lodge on Kemp’s Bay so my article will mainly focus on the usefulness of this rod in bonefishing situations.

First off let me start by saying that a fly rod can only do so much for an angler in tropical saltwater conditions. Bonefishing itself is NOT easy at all , don’t let anyone tell you differently. Practicing a double haul and dialing in a solid casting stroke  is the best thing you can do for yourself when throwing bigger flies, especially in situations like you find in South Andros. Practice does make perfect.

Sage One 890-4Andros Bonefishing Setup:

Rod: Sage One 890-4

Reel: Hatch 7 Plus Mid Arbor

Line:  Scientific Anglers Sharkwave Saltwater OR SA Mastery Textured Saltwater Taper

The first thing you will notice about this rod is that it is very light. This rod tips the scales at a scant 3 ½ ounces which means that you will be able to throw casts all day without too much in the way of fatigue.  This rod is the perfect mixture of a nice crisp fast action and lightweight feel which means that as an angler you can feel this rod load up in no time and be ready to cast. This came in handy because a vast majority of the shots that we were presented, with out on the flats, came in at anywhere from 20 to 40 feet from the boat itself. That is not to take away from the fact that you can go “operation launch” on this rod and send casts anywhere from 60+ feet when paired with the right line.  We had a few days of extremely high wind gusts of 20+ and I never once lost confidence casting into the wind with this rod. Let’s just say the rod did its job when delivering the line into the wind and any blown shots could be attributed to my bad casts.

This rod is NOT a true saltwater rod and for that reason the rod isn’t designed to muscle fish around whereas if you had the Sage Xi3 for instance which has a much larger blank diameter and more powerful butt section it would not pose as much of a problem.  So when hooked up with the larger bones I found that you have to be much more patient with them and be very mindful of surrounding mangrove clusters.Dodum Creek Tailer

To top it all off the black blanks paired with the metallic tread wraps give this rod a very unique and great look. In short this rod a lightweight and accurate rod that performs well in pretty much all situations in both freshwater and saltwater applications.  My “One” 8wt has seen everything from bonefish, bass, carp, pike, tiger musky, and trout. The possibilities are endless. This rod is truly “accuracy redefined”.  I would urge you to get out and give this one a cast or two to see if it is the ONE for you. You can check out the rod by clicking HERE

Simms Fishing Products

Simms & Gore Tex: Fishing Gear To Protect You From The Elements

This video provides a little insight into Gore-Tex technologies and Simms Gear.  Simms Gear is a favorite of most of the shop staff here at Fishwest and it is easy to see why. Please check out the new 2014 Simms Fishing Products line by clicking HERE.

Fishpond Road Trip Fly Tying Kit Bag

Holiday Gift Ideas: Fishpond Road Trip Fly Tying Kit Bag

I know most guys complain about their in-laws, but I have to say, my in-laws give some of the greatest gifts. A Christmas or two ago, I ripped off the wrapping paper to find the Fishpond Road Trip Fly Tying Kit. Fishpond definitely hit one out of the park with this bag and it goes with me on any out of town fishing trip so that I can tie a few extra flies after a long day on the water..

What I like -

Organization – there are more pockets and compartments in the Fishpond Road Trip Kit than you can shake a stick at.

  • Padded internal storage pocket for your vice and tying tools.
  • 2 small storage pockets
  • Four large “see through” zippered mesh material pockets
  • Two 9” clear tubes for thread spools
  • One 4.5”x9”x1” molded plastic organizing box for hooks, beads, etc.
  • Nine 4”x6” resealable, clear, poly bags with Velcro binding attachment
  • Nine 3”x4.5” resealable, clear, poly bags with Velcro binding attachment

Before any big trip, I sort through the different pockets and make sure I have the right materials for area that I’ll be fishing. Most of the bags, boxes, tubes are velcro attached and can therefore be rearranged to fit whatever your needs are for a particular trip. It never ceases to amaze me how much I can actually fit into this case.

Fishpond Road Trip Fly Tying Kit Bag10Construction – The case is built out of the Fishpond Diamondtech fabric, which makes it extremely durable. Being constructed of fabric and with dimensions of 12” x 9.5″ x 4”, The Road Trip Kit is just the right size to squeeze into a suitcase or gear bag.

The Fishpond Guarantee – “At Fishpond, our goal is to build a reputation for unmatched quality among the outdoor enthusiasts using our products. Our soft goods are covered by a lifetime guarantee.”

What I don’t like

The thread spool tubes - Nice idea that doesn’t really stand up. The tubes hold multiple spools of thread, but have a tendency to pop open and have them fall out everywhere. I ended up using a piece of tape to keep it securely shut.

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Bottom line – The Fishpond Road Trip Fly Tying Kit is an essential piece of gear to keep you organized and churning out flies when you’re on the road. A must have for the traveling fly fisherman.

Check out the Fly Tying Kit by clicking HERE

Marina Flags

Teasing In Cabo

(A sample of the fishing and – the non-fishing – in Cabo San Lucas.)

To me, a “non-fishing” vacation involves fishing – just not the majority of the time.  So even for a “non-fishing” vacation, I research the fishing possibilities well before any flights get booked.  And I’m sure you can imagine why my girlfriend and I wound up in Cabo San Lucas this past March…

Halfway through the trip, I had a full day charter booked with Baja Anglers. At about 7 AM that morning, I hopped on a very fishable 26 foot Glacier Bay catamaran with my captain and mate. Our first stop was getting the bait part of “baiting and switching” from a local pangero; $20 got me a half dozen, 8 inch goggle eyes.

We started fishing almost as soon as we left the marina.   The mate ran the boat slowly along likely beaches and rock outcroppings while the captain bombed out long casts with a spinning rod and a hookless surface plug – the teaser. My job, with a 9 weight and 350 grains of sinking line, was to land a Clouser just beyond the teaser as the captain skipped it back into range.   And then strip like crazy.  Sounds simple, right?

The persistent swell, which was likely great for surfing, was not terribly noticeable when just sitting in the boat.  However, it felt like a mechanical bull was out to get me while  casting.   I have to admit that for the first 15 minutes I was pretty sure that my entire day would be stumbling around the stern of  boat while trying to avoid “clousering” myself and the crew.  Eventually, however, my casting smoothed out.

I actually found it helpful to throw my fly on alternate casts of the teaser.  Every other cast of the teaser, I would merely watch, ready to throw if a fish showed behind it.  The whole routine was a bit hypnotic, even zen-like…

Cabo JacksUntil fish crashed the party.   About every third spot we tried, a gang of jacks assaulted the teaser.  It was very visual – sometimes they were a dark, swarming mass and sometimes they churned the surface.   Regardless, before they could touch the surface plug, the captain jerked it away and I replaced it with a fly.

The jacks were hyper-aggressive.  The first struck so violently, I seriously thought my rod was going to break; I froze and the fish shook off.  A second jack was well into the backing before it came unbuttoned.  I finally landed jack number three and was shocked by its lack of size.  The way it tested my backing knot and bore under the boat, it felt much larger than its 6 or 7 pounds.

When the action slowed down for jacks, the captain harnessed a goggle eye to the spinning rod and slow trolled along the shore, hoping to attract a roosterfish within casting range.  Unfortunately, the roosters did not make themselves available and we changed gears again.

This time we headed about a half mile offshore, towards a loose gathering of other charter boats.   I should point out, that up to this point, we weren’t exactly fishing in the wilderness .  One of the jacks was taken with a construction site as a backdrop; many of the other spots were just off major resorts.  So heading into a pack of boats seemed like no big deal.

“Spanish mackerel and maybe some yellowtail,” said the captain as we took our place in the formation over about one hundred feet of water. Fishing this depth was VERY relaxing.  I believe I polished off a sandwich as my fly sank toward the bottom.

However, once more, the fish interrupted. Something pulled my rod into a deep bend and kept pulling until the backing knot was deep in the water.   I thought it was a big yellowtail, but it turned out to be a 5 or 6 pound Sierra mackerel.

And so it went…  Another half dozen sierras reluctantly came to the boat and a couple were kept for delivery to our resort’s kitchen later.   As strange as it may same in that deep water, the sierras occasionally boiled on the surface and offered a visual target.

With an hour left in the charter, the captain still wanted me to experience a roosterfish, so we went back inshore to a couple more beaches.  However, the roosters played shy and we were soon heading back to the dock, escorted by a squadron of low-flying gulls.

As I left the marina, a few locals filleted my catch for a few dollars.  That night, with the wizardry of our resort’s kitchen, the sierras provided our best meal of the trip.  Sierra mackerel definitely are definitely too tasty for their own good..

Overall, it was a great part of a non-fishing vacation.  But what about the truly non-fishing aspects?  Here’s a few things both my girlfriend and I would recommend:

  • Rent a car and drive out of town. Visit Todos Santos, a picturesque village with quaint shops and galleries.  On your way, pull down a side road and look at the giant cacti. Maybe even find the beach at the end of the road….
  • Take a guided hike to a waterfall in Baja’s interior mountains.  The scenery is incredibly unique. And the water is incredibly refreshing (icy?) if you decide to take a dip.
  • Stay at a resort that is off on its own with a quiet stretch of beach.  Pueblo Bonita Pacifica is one such place. Watch the surf roll up. Watch for whales in the distance. Stroll down the sand to the rocks at either end of the beach.

A kayak tour and some snorkeling – those are a couple things we didn’t do  in Cabo San Lucas.  Someday, I’d like to get back there and try’em.  Maybe in November, ‘cause I heard that’s a good time for striped marlin…

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(P.S. For non-fly fishing significant others and family, Baja Anglers is adept with ALL types of light tackle.)

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.

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.

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.