Fly Fishing on a Tropical Vacation
How to Integrate Saltwater Flyfishing into a Tropical Vacation
Have you ever wanted to tie in a Caribbean vacation with some saltwater fly fishing? You can do so without breaking the bank. Here’s some ideas on equipment and general approach.
Saltwater fly fishing is the fastest growing aspect of the industry over the last fifteen years.
If you haven’t fly fished for baby tarpon and bonefish, well, you haven’t really lived life to the fullest.
Twenty five years ago I picked up the bible of Saltwater Fly Fishing, from the book of the same name, by Lefty Kreh. Kreh is my favorite fishing author for a number of reasons. His writings are jam packed with more practical “how-to” tips than anyone else. The book covered all aspects of taking a trip to southern tropical climes to target bonefish, tarpon and other surly marine fishes.
A good 8wt rod, possibly overlined with 9 wt saltwater line (due to ever present wind) and a good quality reel. You will need a reel with a sealed drag that keeps the saltwater out and runs smoothly. If you don’t want to pay the extra money (starting at $375 plus) for a saltwater quality reel, bring the best bass reel you’ve got and see what happens. In a crunch, grab your bass fishing 8wt and pack it along. Tippet will vary between 10 – 14lb for bones and 30lb for baby tarpon and snook.
For the adventurous angler – rent a car. I always rent a car in nearly all of the destinations we travel. This way we can explore on our own. Many of the islands, have accessible flats you can explore on your own. Plus, wading the flats for bones and other fish, is a fun way to begin your saltwater fly fishing. Make no mistake, it’s not easy, but with time – you’ll understand what to look for and begin hooking some fish.
As is almost always the case, hire a local guide at the beginning of your stay. The best advice is to hire a qualified guide for at least one day on the water either via boat or wading. If you do this at the beginning of the trip, you’ll get the feel of what to look for and perhaps how to gauge the tides and other factors to help you succeed.
For the not-so-adventurous type, once you arrive at your destination you can ask around for information. Beware as there are a lot of scammers out there. Im skeptical of booking a guided trip through your hotel as they may not knowledgeable in fly fishing and will probably put you with a bait fisherman guide. Make sure to ask specific questions about the guide, what type of fish will you pursue and what type of tackle. Most locals will want to take you out to troll a reef for barracuda or fish a ten foot hole (called a mud) where schools of bones hangout when they’re not up shallow.
If I’m going in totally blind, I generally check with one of the ever present dive shops and see what they recommend. Dive shops have employees that speak English well and generally have information on fishing guides.
The best bet is to conduct your own research ahead of time on the area you’ll be staying and see what’s available for guided fly fishing. Trip Advisor comes in handy here. You can they deal directly with the guide and probably get better pricing than through an intermediary.
If you’re one of the huddled thousands that like the Cancun area, down to Playa de Carmen good flats fly fishing is in short supply.
In Cancun now, for example, there are several guides to take you into some of the area lagoons for baby tarpon and snook. I have not tried this specific area, because I just don’t care for frenzied places like Cancun. But if you’re there, give it a shot. Nearby smaller venues like Isla Mujeres actually has some decent fishing for bones and tarpon.
Further north towards the apex of the Yucatan and on the west coast, there are a number of fine fly fishing destinations, but they are more geared toward fishing, such as Isla Holbox, Progresso, and Campeche – and not for general vacationing. On the Gulf side of the Yucatan are some incredible opportunities for baby tarpon, but lack the great beaches, so if you’re bringing a non-angling spouse, this may be problematic.
All the way down the Yucatan east cost there are places where you can explore and find some shallow flats to look for saltwater quarry. There are famous fishing resorts as you get south of Tolum into the Ascension Bay area. I have explored areas and employed snorkeling the shallows to see what kind of fish are around. The further south you go down the Yucatan, the better quality of flats fishing you will get.
Most of the islands in the Caribbean have bonefish and tarpon of various sizes, as well as other great fighting fish. Some islands are better than others. Topographically steep islands dropping off quickly into the depths are much better for diving than shallow water fly fishing. Most of the Virgin Islands are like this and don’t offer the opportunities you’ll find in “flatter” “pancake” islands like the Bahamas, Caymans, Turks & Caicos, Aruba, Bonaire and similar. If I was going to pick one area that contains the best of laid-back vacation activities, great beaches and lots of bones, it would probably be somewhere in the Bahamas.
Local guides see fish much better than you ever will – and know the tides, etc. These are the two most important components when hunting for saltwater fish. Sometimes you’ll just have to roll the dice on a guide. They may be good and you’ll have a much better grasp of where to go and how to fish on your own.
Many years ago my wife and I took a trip to Roatan, Honduras. It was primarily a diving trip, but I had my fly fishing gear along as usual. We rented a car and between diving days we’d drive around and look for flats. We were told of a flat adjacent to a cemetery, which was easy to find. We wound up going there every chance we could and it was there I hooked and landed my first bonefish and caught several more. My wife was able to lounge on the beautiful beach and watch me wade around and spook fish.
Google Earth is a great internet resource for finding flats and out-of-the-way spots for bonefishing. Generally lagoons and channels will hold baby tarpon, but you’ll need to rent kayaks or canoes to get to them – but these can really be fun.
Over 25 years ago my wife and I went to Grand Cayman. We asked around about fly fishing and they looked at us “funny” at the dive shop. We kept checking and low and behold, there was a wayfaring guide on Grand Cayman from Wales! It was all “drive-to” fishing, mainly for baby tarpon in a maze of inland mosquito control canals dug the by government. The canals were easily accessible and we hit them early in there development, not long after they were dug, so the jungle had not encroached too much – allowing for plenty of open spaces for casting. The baby tarpon were there in the brackish water and would hit poppers with gusto, jumping into trees, etc. Great fun! We returned many times, rented cars and had the entire area to ourselves for many years. There are also some bonefish flats on the Grand Cayman, but you must explore to find them.
This year, plan to tie in some saltwater fly fishing with your vacation. It will add a new dimension to your travels and probably set a new variable on your choice of tropical destinations.
Resources for the traveling fly fisherman:
Fly Fishing in Saltwater – Lefty Kreh
Do It Yourself Bonefishing – Rod Hamilton
Flyfisher’s Guide to Mexico – Phil Shook
Bonefishing! – Randall Kaufmann
Fly-Fishing for Bonefish – Chico Fernandez