Wednesday, December 30, 2009
GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman -- When my wife, Kathy, gave me a bonefishing trip for my birthday, the choice of destinations was tough. I wouldn't go without her, so that eliminated any hardcore fishing camp.
We wanted a place where I could target bonefish and where we could enjoy the scenery, attactions and nightlife. That's why we selected this island nation located 480 miles southwest of Miami in the Caribbean Ocean.
We were not disappointed.
We flew out of Tampa at 2:05 p.m. on Christmas Eve and landed in George Town about an hour and a half later. The flight was smooth and uneventful. We checked two pieces of luggage. I opted to carry on my gear bag and fly rods. I could always buy clothing if the luggage was lost, but I didn't want to take the chance of losing my tackle.
I took a 6-weight TFO TICRX, 8-weight TFO TICRX and 9-weight TFO TICRX. The reel for the 6 weight had a sinktip line. The other two had full floating lines. I took the 6 weight just in case I couldn't find any bonefish and had to settle for bar jacks or whatever else might be interested in eating a fly.
We rented a compact Suzuki for our stay. That way I could drive to various fishing spots every day. Driving took some getting used to because they drive on the left side of the road in the Caymans. The steering wheel was on the right side of the car. Additonally, roundabouts there took some time to figure out.
We stayed at the Comfort Suites on Seven Mile Beach. Good choice. The place was clean, quiet and comfortable. The free continental breakfast wasn't worth a darn, but that was OK.
After breakfast on Christmas morning, we set out to explore the island and find some bonefish. I didn't even take a rod. I just want to get my bearings and find a few fish.
We stopped at South Sound, a place where I'd been told there were bones. We didn't see any and I really didn't like the look of the water. Most was too deep.
We headed toward East End and stopped at a stretch of beach near Morritt's Tortuga Club. No one had suggested the spot. It just looked good. While walking along the beach, we spotted a bonefish coming off the thick turtle grass into a sandy area. We saw a pair of bones a little later.
We drove north toward Rum Point and saw a spot near Grape Tree Point. We stood at the side of the road and saw a pretty nice bonefish in a sand hole. We watched as a bigger one (a real monster) tailed in some thick turtle grass.
We then drove to Rum Point, had a soft drink and snack. We took a few photos, then headed back to Georgetown. We wanted to explore one more area near Barkers.
We walked the beach there, but didn't see any bonefish. We did see a pair of small snook swimming along the beach. Even though we didn't see any bones, the area just looked fishy.
Kathy and I were tired, so we headed back to the hotel. That night, we ate dinner at Papagallo Restaurant at Barkers. It was magnificent. I had an 18-ounce ribeye that was cooked to perfection. Kathy had a large salad and a pasta dish. She said her food was fabulous.
Later, headed back to the hotel, parked the car and walked around. We stopped at Coconut Joe's across the street from the hotel and had a few Christmas drinks.
The next morning, I headed off the fish. Kathy slept in, then laid out in the sun at the pool.
I arrived at the spot near Morritt's Tortuga Club. I figured the fish had been easy to spot there and didn't seem spooky. But I only saw one tailing bone in three hours, so I left and headed for Grape Tree Point. The sun was behind clouds, so it was difficult to see. But I did spot a couple of bones in a sand hole near the beach. They swam off before I could grab the rod.
I watched for an hour and didn't see any more fish. That's when I waded out and just stood in the turtle grass near a sand hole. I watched as two bonefish swam into the hole. They were so close that the entire leader wasn't even out of the rod tip. I was using a 12-foot leader and the fish weren't 10 feet away. I really didn't think they'd hit, but I was wrong. I flicked the fly in front of them and the smaller of the two quickly ate. I set the hook and the race was on. Even though it was a small bone, it still took me into the backing. I was using a fly that I named "Gibby's Bonefish Fly." I tied it on a No. 4 hook. It featured rabbit hair, dubbing, small lead eyes and rubber legs.
I landed the fish and tried to take a few photos. That's pretty tough when you're by yourself.
I released the bone, then began look for more. I moved 10 feet and saw another fish, a bigger bone. I dropped the fly about three feet in front of it and waited for the fish to swim closer. When it did, I moved the fly. That's all it took. I was fast into another bone.
This fish was heavier, stronger and faster. It made a really long first run. I even managed to take a few photos while I was fighting the fish.
It took about five minutes to land. I released it and looked for more fish. I saw about 20 others, but no takers. I even saw a couple of small schools.
Those were the only two bonefish I caught during the trip.
I fished Barkers the next day and saw more fish. But I didn't connect. I even saw several schools of tailing fish. I made what I thought were very good casts, but obviously not good enough.
One neat thing I found were some mosquito ditches near Barkers. They had baby tarpon and snapper in them. I spent about five minutes casting and had one 15-inch tarpon follow. I thought the fish was going to eat, but it turned away at the last second.
I planned on flying to Little Cayman for my final outing, but plane was full. So, I had a decision to make: Where to fish? I debated all night and wasn't sure when I got into the car. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I turned right. That meant I was going to do a repeat of the first day. I stopped at the beach near Morritt's and spent a couple of hours there. No fish.
I then drove to Grape Tree Point and fished there for three hours. No fish.
On the drive back to George Town, I stopped at Prospect Point on Sound Sound and waded for 90 minutes. The area looked very good, but I didn't see any fish.
After I returned and cleaned up, we drove downtown and walked around. I was looking for a souvenir cap and T-shirt. It was a holiday (Boxing Day), so most of the shops were closed.
We ate dinner at Coconut Joe's the last night. I had jerk chicken and it was great.
We played tourist the last morning. We drove up to the Turtle Farm and looked around. We then went to Hell. It's a real place that was named because of unruly terrain.
We returned the rental car and headed for the airport. Because of increased security, I had to check my gear bag (because of the flies and my Leatherman multi-tool). They did allow me to carry on the fly rods.
The flight to Miami was very quick. We flew over Cuba and I saw some gorgeous water. I hope to fish those waters some day.
We had a layover in Miami for a couple of hours. We caught our connecting flight to Tampa at 7:`15 and arrived about 8 p.m. We got our luggage, found our car and arrived home at about 10.
The trip was wonderful and I'm sure we'd do it again.
People in Grand Cayman were very hospitable and friendly. The weather was magnificent, with daytime temperatures in the high 80s and 70s at night.
The island is a little pricey. The Cayman dollar is worth about $1.25 to a U.S. dollaer. Dinners for two averaged about $80. Our Christmas dinner was $150, but we planned for that and didn't mind.
If I return, I think I'll book a flight to Little Cayman in advance to assure a seat. I've been told Little Cayman has a very good bonefish population.
Also, I think it would be a good idea to book a guide. Davin Ebanks come highly recommended (http://www.fish-bones.com/).
Lefty Kreh, the grand old sage of fly fishing, reportedly said that if you find a bonefish destination that your wife likes, the fishing probably isn't very good. I'd give Grand Cayman another try before I'd agree.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Rudy Gomez of CyberAngler.com emailed to tell me that a photo I took of Capt. Pete Greenan (fighting a fish on fly rod at right) has been selected as a cover photo at the site. That's the second photo of mine that Cyber Angler has featured.
You never know when you're going to take a decent photo. I always subscribe to the advice that veteran photographer Frank Ross told me.
"Burn a lot of film and you'll screw up and get a decent photo," Ross said.
And in this day of digital photography, it makes little sense not to shoot a load of photos.
I was fishing with Geoff Page a few years ago and we were doing well, catching lots of hefty redfish. Later that morning, we found a school on hungry bluefish. I asked Page if he had a hookless topwater plug. He did. I asked him to cast it out and work it back. I put on the 300mm lens, sat down in the boat and steadied the camera on the gunwale of Page's boat. When the blues started attacking the plug, I started shooting. At 4 frames per second, I took more than 400 photos that day. I screwed up and got a couple of good ones, too!
Check out my Cyberangler.com photo at http://www.cyberangler.com/. There are 16 featured photos, so just hit the refresh button until you see it.
Look out, Grand Cayman, here I come.
Tomorrow at 2 p.m., Kathy and I will depart Tampa. We'll land in George Town, Grand Cayman at 3:50. Grand Cayman is located 480 miles southwest of Miami in the Caribbean. We have a car rented (I'm not sure how I'll fare driving on the left side of the road) and we'll check into our suite sometime around 4:30. We're staying on Seven Mile Beach.
Christmas morning, I'll be fly casting to bonefish. I've Google-earthed Grand Cayman, and I'll probably head for South Sound. Of course, it all depends on the wind.
Lefty Kreh, the grand old sage of fly fishing, claims that if you find a destination that is good for the wife, then the fishing will suck. That might be true in some locales. But I don't think it will hold true in Grand Cayman.
A fried of mine, Capt. Al White of Rotonda, Fla., visited Grand Cayman about 18 months ago and reported excellent bonefishing. I trust Al. He fished South Sount, Breakers and another spot near Boddentown. With a rental car at my disposal, I can cover the entire island. Plus, I'm thinking about flying to Little Cayman on Sunday or Monday. I hear the bonefish and permit are fairly plentiful there.
The trip is a birthday present from Kathy. She surprised me. She always gets me great gifts, but this one was special. Of course, I wouldn't go anywhere without her, so many bonefish destinations were elminated (South Andros, Los Roques, Ascension Bay).
I wanted a place where I could spend a few hours in the morning casting a fly to wiley bonefish and then spend the afternoon and evening with Kathy. And we wanted a place where there is plenty to do, good food and great nightlife.
That's Grand Cayman.
I'll let you know how I do upon return. If I land a bonefish, great. If not, we'll still have a great time!
Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The drive from Sarasota to where we fish in The Everglades is about 2 1/2 hours. But it's not bad when you have someone with you. Talking passes the time nicely.
Capt. Pete Greenan of Sarasota joined me on Monday for the first 'Glades trip of the season. We talked about fly fishing all the way down.
Greenan is one of Sarasota's fly-fishing pioneers. He hooked me on the sport many years ago. We've caught everything together on fly: snook, spotted seatrout, redfish, tarpon, jack crevalle, false albacore and other species.
On Monday, our targets included oscar, Mayan cichlid, bass, bluegill and whatever else might be lurking in the depths of The 'Glades.
We arrived at our spot about about 6:30. We unloaded the kayaks -- Native Watercraft Ultimate 14.5s -- and placed them near the water. We then grabbed life vests, anchors, paddles, seats, milk crates, fly boxes, leader and fly rods and put them in the kayaks.
We hit the water at 7.
We knew we were in for a good day. And we weren't wrong. Greenan hooked a fat oscar on his first cast. It was the first of 200 we would land that day.
The water level was low. That's important because it concentrates the fish. We don't fish during the rainy season (June through September) because the water level is up and the fish can spread out over millions of acres. Plus, the air temperature is much more comfortable in winter and there are no bugs.
That Greenan hooked an oscar on the first cast was an indication of things to come. By our conservative count, we landed more than 300 fish. Other species included Mayan cichlid, largemouth bass, bluegill, stumpknocker, warmouth perch, speckled perch and peacock bass.
Ironically, we had never caught peacock bass or speckled perch at this particular spot.
We used 3- and 4-weight fly rods, floating lines and 7 1/2-foot leaders with 8-pound tippet. You can't use much lighter tippet because oscar are so strong. Their first move is to head back into the structure. You need to prevent that from happening.
We started out with No. 10 popping bugs, but switched to the ever-popular Myakka Minnow within a half hour. For The 'Glades, I tie black MMs because most of the small minnows along the shoreline are that color.
It was easy to find the fish. All we had to do was watch them bust minnows or thump the bulrushes and reeds. A quick cast usually resulted in a hookup.
Greenan is a veteran saltwater fishing guide (www.floridaflyfishing.com), but he loves nothing more than to take a break and spend a day in the Florida Everglades fly fishing for oscar and other species.
It's usually a day for bent rods and fast action.
I run Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing (www.kayakfishingsarasota.com). Everglades trips are available from December through April.
You can reach me at (941) 284-3406.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
If you're stumped about what to get the outdoorsperson in your life for Christmas or for an upcoming birthday, you might consider the SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker.
I been using a Spot for the last year and it's wonderful.
What the unit does is let your loved ones know where you are and that you're OK. Turn the unit on and press the OK button when you arrive at your destination. It sends an email link to whomever you choose during the registration process, showing where you are via a GPS function.
The SPOT also has a 911 function to be used in the event of an emergency to summon an ambulance or helicopter, depending where you are. And you can take out insurance for a nominal fee that covers the cost of the ambulance, helicopter or boat.
I used it whenever I go fishing. I send the OK signal when I arrive and a few other times while I'm fishing. I'll also send the signal when I'm back at the launch to let my wife know that I made it back and I'm on my way.
I've seen the unit as low as $99.95.
Check the SPOT out at http://www.findmespot.com/
There was a shocking rumor that Lefty Kreh, the world's Mr. Fly Fishing, was seriously ill and in the ICU of Maryland Hospital.
And it was reported that his longtime wife died yesterday.
The rumor hit the Internet and spread like wildfire.
I'm happy to report that is was just that -- a rumor.
Lefty and his wife are doing just fine.
I tie a lot of flies.
I have to. I am a kayak fishing guide and I specialize in fly fishing and I supply the flies that my clients use.
My favorite times to tie flies are right before an outing and immediately after. Before a trip, I'm excited and want to have the right flies for the species I'm seeking. And after a trip, I'm usually full of ideas.
My wife, Kathy, and I fly out of Tampa at 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve and will land at Grand Cayman at 3:50 p.m. Then, it will be five days of bonefishing around the island. I also might give tarpon a try. And I hope to give tarpon a try.
I've been tying bonefish flies for the last couple of weeks. In addition to standard patterns such as Clouser Deep Minnows and Gotchas, I've created a number of shrimpy crabby patterns that I hope bonefish will like.
I tied a bonefish version of my First Cast Crab. It's called the First Cast Bonefish Crab. I tied it on a No. 4 hook. The fly got it's name because I caught a fish on it the first time I cast it.
Gibby's Mantis Shrimp is my impressionistic version of a mantis shrimp. Bonefish love mantis shrimp and it's a good pattern to have in your fly box.
Gibby's Bonefish Fly is just something I thought up while sitting at my tying table. It's a simple fly that I hope works.
I Google-earthed Grand Cayman and you can see every potential bonefish flat. Plus, I've talked with a number of fly anglers who have fished there.
Won't be long until I'll be casting to bonefish.
The stars have aligned and it's time to head for The Everglades to fly fish for oscar (top and bottom photo), Mayan cichlid (middle), largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcracker and other freshwater species.
Action is best from December through April when the water level is down.
Once the rain season hits (June), the water rises and the fish spread out over millions of acres. It's much easier to find and catch fish when they're concentrated. In addition, it's hot during the rainy season, thunderstorms move through nearly every afternoon and mosquitoes are unbearable.
My Everglades trips are something else. My anglers average 150 fish per person -- or more! And over the last two years, it's been more oscar than anything else.
Oscar are my favorite. I call them the pugnacious bulldogs of Florida's fresh water. Their range is south Florida, in particular Broward and Miami-Dade counties. They are the strongest fish I've ever encountered for their size.
I use a 4-weight fly, floating line and 8-pound tippet. Go lighter and you'll never land an oscar. They are structure-oriented and their first move is a strong run back into the trees. You're job is to keep them out.
I begin the day with a No. 10 popping bug. Topwater fishing is exciting. If the topwater bite ends, I switch to my Mighty Myakka Minnow, one of the best flies I've ever used. Everglades fish really love the MMM.
I emailed famed peacock bass guide Alan Zaremba of Hollywood, Fla., last week and asked about fishing in The 'Glades. He emailed me back and wrote that the water level is down and the oscar are hungry.
I've never caught a peacock bass in the spots that I fish along Alligator Alley. But it I head another 25 miles east, I can get into them in the canals at Holiday Everglades Park.
If you've never experienced oscar fishing, give me a call. It will be a trip that you will always remember.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I am convinced that flies are created to hook more anglers than fish. There are flies that catch fish and flies that catch anglers.
I was browsing through a book on bonefish patterns and there are some really neat flies. There also are some real jokes. How some of them made it into the book is beyond me.
And what else gets me is that someone tweaks an established pattern a little bit and then puts his or her name on it.
The late George Rose of Rotonda was one of my early fly-tying mentors. He told me in his New Hampshire accent, "Steve, there are no new patterns. There all variations on the same theme."
I still believe that.
One of saltwater's truly great flies in the Clouser Minnow, a simple pattern developed by Pennsylvanian Bob Clouser. The fly will take everything from bonefish to carp. All it consists of is an upper and lower clump of bucktail, a little flash and lead eyes. Four steps and you're done.
But there are some numbnuts out there who add a little ice chenille for a body and add their name to the fly.
I created a fly that I named the Myakka Minnow. You can Google it and learn how to tie it. It's a great pattern for panfish and other freshwater species. The beauty of the fly is that it can be tied on any size hook to be used for any minnow-eating species you desire. The fly appeals to everything from bluegill to tarpon.
I posted the fly's recipe on a website, along with photos and the tying procedure. It mostly drew raves, but one disgruntled forum member blasted me for copying someone else's fly and adding my name to it.
I responded that I had never seen a fly like it, but certainly it was possible that there would be another out there. I asked if he would post a link to the site where he had seen it.
A couple of days later, he did. I clicked on the link and it took me to another site. There on my screen I saw my fly. It was on another forum where I had posted the Myakka Minnow photo and recipe.
Guilty! I copied my own fly.
The Myakka Minnow has caught literally thousands of fish. It's a dynamite pattern for oscar and Mayan cichlid in The Everglades.
About a year ago, a fly angler from North Carolina emailed me and wanted to know if I would sell him a few Myakka Minnows. I replied that I would. I said that the flies cost $3.50 each and the minimum order is a dozen.
He said that he was heading down to The Everglades and had read that the Myakka Minnow was THE fly.
About a week later, I mailed the flies to him. I asked that he let me know how he did.
I got an email from him six months later. He told me that they put their boat in at a canal along Alligator Alley and didn't do so well. So, they loaded the boat on the trailer and drove to another canal. They spent a fishless first hour.
"That's when I tied on a Myakka Minnow," he said. "And that's when I started catching fish.
"Your Myakka Minnow saved the day!"
While the Myakka Minnow is somewhat famous, it's not a contest winner. You have to understand that flies that catch fish and flies that win contests usually are two different animals. I entered the Myakka Minnow and another pattern that I created, my Wide-Eye Snook Fly, in a contest last year. The MM didn't place. The Wide-Eye Snook Fly, a pattern that hadn't ever caught a fish at the time, placed third in the nation.
But like I said at the beginning, there are flies that catch fish and flies that catch anglers.
I'm glad the Myakka Minnow catches fish.