If ever there was a fly fishing destination to challenge the dedication of even the most committed of us; this is it. Melbourne to Los Angeles. Los Angeles to Miami. Miami to Caracas. Caracas to Los Roques. After all the flying, luggage dramas, cancelled flights and added expenses; we are finally here.
What an amazing place this is. I know Tom and Rob did a wonderful job with A River Somewhere, but they didn’t do this place justice. It is simply breathtaking.
Despite being a small place, the main town is much bigger than I had expected, even after all of my research. Quite a number of bars and inns at which to eat or have a beer while watching the game (World Cup) on the big screen. Food is mostly Italian inspired with each place doing their versions of all the classics. Today I had a chicken empanada (not Italian I know) for lunch and last night it was spicy pumpkin soup (entree), grilled barracuda with salad (main) and some sort of chocolate creation I cannot pronounce for desert. As good as anything that we get at home in Melbourne.
One of the first things that you notice is that there are a lot more children here than adults, and from what I can see this trend is likely to continue way into the future. I have it on good advice that there are only three things to do on this island and working and drinking are the two I can mention on this PG rated blog. Suffice to say most people have a minimum of four children so maybe the Federal Government’s initiatives to encourage us to do similarly are poorly conceived (pun intended). We already live on an island so all we really need is to ratchet up the global warming a couple of notches. Maybe some more coal fired power stations is the answer.
Getting back to the kids, it is refreshing to see so many happy faces despite the lack of high tech consumer items. I have seen not a single iPod, Playstation portable or even one damn pair of those must have skinny jeans. Hard to believe I know. All the boys seem to fish and they hit the water about 3.30pm when school is out sporting every conceivable hand line in creation. They work their way up and down the main beach, throwing in between the moored boats and diving pelicans. I thought we were accurate casters until I saw these guys. Fractured attempts to converse with the kids end with them just repeating ‘Gummy bueno’ as they touch (or try to steal) the gummy minnow hooked onto the third guide of my 8 weight.
The Posada we are staying in is run by Italians, as are about 70% of them on the island; so speaking Italian is as much of an advantage as speaking Spanish here. As such the lodgings are up market and the service and food is impressive. At last count they were running 1.5 staff for every guest and they make sure that you are well looked after. As an Australian it can be a bit awkward to be called sir and be waited on (I guess their typical clients are slightly higher maintenance), but the trick seems to be to play it down and not get used to it.
I think the guides are enjoying the change of pace (apparently we are their first Australians) and we have been sharing our ice box cooled watermelon and icy drinking water with them each day. I don’t think they are used to it. We have let our guides have a fish a bit each day as well which they seem to be enjoying. I have found a ‘new’ worst job in the world and that is boatman to a flyfishing guide in Los Roques. The poor bugger sits in a bright white open top boat all day from 7.30am until 4.00pm. There is no umbrella as it would obstruct casting on those 3x a day that we actually cast from the boat and they have to watch the whole time to see whether the guide needs to be picked up on the other side of the flat or earlier if no fish are showing. I managed to get the lodge to double my water allowance each day so that we can look after these guys as much as we can. From what I can tell though the boatman is the stepping stone to guiding and they all have to pay their dues to get the premier job/paycheck.
I am getting too tired to write much more so I will just ramble and hope that it is enough to make amends for a week of no updates. The sun is up and shining strong very early in the morning by not long after 5am. Most days you wake at about 6am and you can walk down 75 metres to the beach to fish for trophy bones among the ropes. I haven’t landed on yet on 9wt and 20lb tippet. There are so many mooring ropes that any deviation in that initial 75 metre run and you are toast. Giampiero’s crew apparently broke two rods in a session among the ropes.
Pelicans dive into the water around these moored boats all day long and as soon as one does, 4-8 of the biggest bonefish you have ever seen scream across to look for scraps/stunned baitfish missed/dropped by the pelican. I hooked two a couple of trophy fish a couple of days while standing in ankle deep water trying to keep cool. The fly of choice is a gummy minnow and the takes are full on. I also saw the biggest bonefish ever cruising on the surface on its own. I would say it was 14lb and I expect to get a photo of it before this trip is up! Yeah right…..
At about 7am breakfast is served on the roof of the posada. Usually I would say that this is the ideal time to check the weather but you know it is pretty much going to be the same every day…..hot, sunny and windy.
At 7.30 your guide and boatman arrive to pick you up and walk 80 metres to the boat. Rods are stowed, a quick discussion takes places as to what you want to do i.e. permit, tarpon or bonefish and then what style you want to do, in the case of the bonefish you tailing fish, pancake flats, beaches (gummy minnow fishing), muds, from the boat etc
Driving time in the boat can be anything from 10 minutes to an hour although typically it has been between 25-40mins to the first destination. The ride can be rough but the advice to bring a spray jacket was way off the mark. I know that it can get cold when you are wet and whipped with wind; but it is not a problem here and being wet is a short lived bonus as you dry out in about 15 seconds flat.
One thing I will say is that the sun is especially brutal. Fifteen minutes exposed with no sunscreen will burn the best of us and it is relentless the entire day. Even though Buffs make everyone look like total losers, they are mandatory and you should have it pulled up over your chin and the back/top of your head so that your ears and nose are protected at all times. Just remember to pull it down for photos.
The fishing is out of this world. The guides don’t seem to know what the tide is doing on any given day and I believe this is because there are so many flats and places to fish; that within 5 minutes boat ride there will always be a perfect location on which to chase bonefish. Everywhere we have gone there have been good numbers of fish.
While I definitely prefer casting to individual fish, casting into a mass of 300 tails all pointing in the air is something to behold. Hook ups send the fish racing off the flat and the entire school seem to move as one entity, moving in a wave back into deeper water momentarily before returning to the relative safety of the flat.
Hooked fish usually make an initial blistering run of 50-75 metres, this is often followed up by several more of similar distances and I cannot recall a fish that hasn’t run into the backing and we have caught perhaps 100+ each as of this point and we have had a couple of days each at this point!
Recently I have been ‘stalked’ by a couple of very large barracuda (5 feet long) and it is as these times that I worry for our guide with the bonefish tattoo the length of his lower leg! They sit absolutely motionless and then take off at lightning speed. This is no exaggeration as they catch bonefish easily. I had one take a discomforting liking to me yesterday as I waded the far side of a flat that dropped off into very deep water. David and the guide were about 300 metres away and were not aware of what was going on but this thing made a couple of close passes at me when my back was turned and it was enough to give me the willies for about 30 mins. Despite having spent a lot of time in saltwater, I have never had Barracuda behaving so boldly. Suffice to say that I will never complain about tiger snakes ever again.
I should mention the amazing casting abilities of our guides. Their loops are scarily tight at long distances and they can easily throw a full line and #4 gummy minnow into the wind. The very last casting stroke/presentation stroke is the one to watch as the rod comes from almost horizontal (3 o’clock) and almost throws that last cast in. There is a wrist snap, haul and arm extension in there as well, but that is the crux of it. They are equally adroit using their backcast with the wrist snap to generate the necessary line speed. Amazing casters that kill it in this harsh environment.
A few days ago my guide set me up in a lagoon on some tarpon but I couldn’t make the cast. Those of you who know me will probably know I can cast a full line with reasonable accuracy on a five weight. With the big fly, heat and pressure of starting a grand slam roll got the best of me. It was maybe a 35 metre cast with large gummy minnow and I just couldn’t reach it and then started to over work the rod to get that extra 5-6 metres. It might have been the thought of the 8-10 big permit that I saw ten minutes earlier that caused the panic, but I blew my opportunity big time.
I know where those permit are though and the tides are perfect for them tomorrow, so it wasn’t a dead loss.
The best flies on the sand have been the Gotchas and Squimps with the bonefish bitters doing the damage on the grasses. On the grass the fish seem to be permanently head tilted donwards sucking up crabs from the ocean floor. Just like the tailing fish in Tassie. Casts to these fish have to land within a foot of the fish; and land gently. Not easy to do and I have screwed up a lot of fish this way as getting the fly to the fish often requires brute force which results in a not so delicate arrival. Sort of like Chopper Read showing up at your wedding reception claiming to be the stand in MC and carrying a bottle of Bundy and a collection of interesting stories he hopes to share with every guest in attendance.
Fish cruising are a different proposition and you must judge the speed at which they’re moving and the speed at which your fly sinks in order to work out where to cast the fly. This is of course assuming that you have seen the fish! Guides help in this regard.
All that stuff you read about them being ghosts is true. While maybe at Christmas Island on more even coloured flats they are slightly easier, here they can move about you like some sort of clandestine MOSSAD hit squad (with Australian passports even). While I won’t exaggerate and say I have almost stepped on them I will say that I have cast to individual fish that I have spotted, only to have my perfectly placed fly send 10+ bones shooting in every direction. Yes those ten were in between me and the one I had seen and cast to. I am no mug when it comes to spotting fish and I have challenged my guide to come to a certain river on the west coast of New Zealand for a ‘spot off’; but these guys are at the top of their game and absolutely essential in the complex environments in which we are fishing.
To illustrate my point I would say that my guide sees 30 fish to my one. This is no exaggeration. Quite often I will see it in the waves and chop and the technicolour background (marl to sand to turtle grass to ribbon weed to patchy reef) but once the cast is in, it seems to disappear. Meanwhile the guide confidently says….streeeeeeeep…..streeeeeeeep….streep-streep…..wait……streeeeeeeeep…fish on……
I have been fishing on my own (within shouting range of Dave and the guide) and doing the same thing that they have been doing. Dave is catching about 5:1 bonefish when compared to me without a guide. He has also dropped more than me, broke a rod and often left his flies or sunscreen or tippet at home every single day (had to get a couple of kicks in to restore the damaged pride).
Even so I have been pleased with efforts i.e being able to catch fish in challenging circumstances on my own and changing flies by reading the water. However once I had returned to Dave and Oswald I quickly learned that being pleased with oneself is usually due to vanity or ignorance. This I know to be true as the Oswald pointed out a bunch of fish that otherwise would have remained unseen. There is a lot to learn that’s for sure.
The fishing though is out of this world. There is no one else fishing here either, as the bulk of the clients are yanks and they come from December to April to avoid their winter. Makes sense but it means that we can have this place to ourselves and have the pick of the fishing whatever species or style we choose to indulge in. Plus it is one of the best times of the year to fish here.
On Wednesday Oswald took us to fish beaches. Beach fishing in Los Roques means Gummy Minnows and baitfish feeding bonefish. This is the only destination where bonefish are known to prey on minnows and from I understand we are talking the second most important food item behind crabs. That’s right. It goes 1.Crabs 2. Minnows 3. Shrimp. Unique and one of the reasons that so many people love fishing here.
We have brought three colours of Gummys and two main sizes. The #6 Gummys represent the vast bulk of the baitfish found in the shallows. The larger #4 Gummys imitate the local anchovies very well and are very important to have in the box.
So far we have been using 8 weights exclusively although a 9 is always rigged for permit and a 7 is worth carrying for the spooky pancakes. Leaders are between 10-16lb and 10-12 feet long. 15lb fluoro is the preferred tippet for fishing gummys on the beaches for the bigger fish.
I have met some interesting people and have heard some interesting stories about other laces. One fella from the UK who used to fish Christmas Island, Cuba and the Bahamas a lot said that once he came here he stopped fishing these other destinations. I listened to all his stories about the lack of facilities on Christmas Island, the lack of proper air service and the one dimensional fishing and riding in the back of trucks in the heat. He spoke of ultra sooky fish in the Bahamas, lots of sharks stealing fish, greater expense and more people in general. Cuba is very good but the prices were exxy and the hassle of going there if visiting the USA can be too great. He also said that the size of the fish on LR was considerably larger than all these destinations. I cannot speak of these other places with authority and I am only relaying what he said, but the day we got 50-60 fish they averaged 4-6lb and we got a few at 7-8. I hope we get one of the pigs in the boat harbour to habd before we leave as these guys are gi-normous.
So that’s it for the moment. Hopefully I can sort out some reliable internet access to put more updates online. I will be back in Montana by the 21st June and will have access most days from then on, so plenty of reports and pics to come. Tomorrow morning our first crew of 4 arrive from Australia followed by another group the following week. I think they are fishing together (i.e.not with David and me tomorrow as we are off chasing a high tide and some 40lb+ permit I spotted on a flat the other day. The #4 heavy crabs are already tied on…….I have watched every world cup game so far missing 2x days of fishing to do so, so to miss Australia’s match tomorrow is a big deal. Only for a shot at a big permit would I do this……
Enjoy the last weekend of the trout season if you manage to get out. Hopefully these updates will go part of the way towards keeping the soon to be ‘closed season blues’ at bay.
PS- I’ll try and take some more photos this week. I have literally taken about 60 for the week with maybe only photographing six different fish and nothing of the island. I will do my best to rectify this but I have switched to ‘island time’ way too easily.
PPS- I realise that Tom and Rob were here like 14 years ago before all the development so please no hate mail! All criticisms will be binned as I am ocurrently on island time and couldn’t care less……*G*