Cayo Cruz, Cuba – The Caribbean’s Last Fly Fishing Frontier: Hosted Trips Jan 19-26 & Feb 16-23, 2019

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Cuba has been a destination of intrigue for me since I was young.  The closure to American travel has kept the Caribbean’s largest and most pristine flats systems located on this island nation virtually unfished.  In the past, US citizens had to enter the country “illegally” through Mexico or Canada.  Many of the travel restrictions are now removed and there are several flights a day from the US to Cuba making it very quick and easy to enter the country.

Avalon, an Argentine fly fishing company, has been working with the Cuban government for two decades to set aside marine sanctuaries throughout the undeveloped and biologically diverse waters of Cuba.  This has led to fisheries protection unmatched in virtually any country in the world.  As part of Avalon’s work in designating marine parks, the company is given exclusive rights to fish in these sanctuaries.  Avalon puts strict limits on the number of anglers that fish each region.  Unlike most other tropical destinations where the same flats get pounded everyday, Avalon gives each flats boat roughly 50sq/km to fish on a rotating basis so you are always fishing new water!

I recently had Scott Osborne, the US representative for Avalon, out fishing for striper here on the Chesapeake Bay.  I am coordinating with Scott to arrange two group trip that I will be hosting to the Cayo Cruz region of Cuba during the winter of 2019.  Cayo Cruz is located along the north-central coast of Cuba.  A look at Google Earth and you will see that the Cayo Cruz marine sanctuary provides extensive habitat for flats species like bonefish, permit and tarpon.  Cayo Cruz may be the last virgin flats fishery left in the Caribbean since this location has only just begun hosting fly anglers.  This means most fish there have never seen a fly!

Cayo Cruz is a great winter destination since the many cays provide shelter from northeast wind ushered in by cold fronts.  The bonefish in Cayo Cruz are big, plentiful and uneducated.  What makes Cayo Cruz a real jewel is the permit fishing.  It is common to see 10-30lb permit riding the backs of stingrays.  Some are calling Cayo Cruz the best location on the planet for quality permit fly fishing.  While winter is early for the spring tarpon migration, the region supports a resident population of 20-30# tarpon which makes the flats “grand slam” a possibility.  In addition to the “Big 3”, there are numerous other flats species to target at Cayo Cruz like cuda and triggers.  For those who like to wade fish, the vast hard sand flats of Cayo Cruz stretch for miles.

Unlike many “fishing lodges”, accommodations in Cayo Cruz are at the brand new Oceans Arena Blanca all-inclusive resort which is scheduled to have its grand opening next month.  As the only hotel on Cayo Cruz, non-fishing companions have uncrowded access to the island’s pristine Caribbean waters.  In addition to the pool and fitness center, this luxury hotel offers activities and tours for non-anglers.  With the flats skiffs just 5 minutes away, you get the best of both fishing and 5-star accommodations.

Since Cayo Cruz is a new fly fishing destination, Avalon is offering a special price of $2,999 for 7nights/6days guided fishing (non-fishing rates available) until the end of February.  These are the cheapest rates you will find to any fly fishing destination in Cuba.  Flights from Richmond, VA are roughly $500.  If you are interested in joining me on this trip to a virgin piece of fly fishing paradise, please take a look at this brochure and contact me as soon as possible.  Cayo Cruz will not remain undiscovered for long!

Both January & February trips are now full.  Please contact me to hold your spot for 2020.

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The Ambitious Ambidextrous Angler

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Unlike many other fishing disciplines, fly fishing is more akin to an athletic sport which requires practice and dedication to become proficient.  The fly cast is by far the most challenging and often most rewarding aspect of fly fishing.

Volumes have been written about the technical nature of casting, but little is ever mentioned about the benefits of becoming an ambidextrous caster.  Despite the lack of attention, the ability to cast with either hand opens up a multitude of opportunities to catch more fish.

As a fishing guide, I must always be aware of which hand my fly angler uses to cast.  Wind often dictates how I approach the boat to a piece of structure to best set up the angler for the cast.  There are many times where a spot cannot be fished effectively due to the relationship of wind direction and the angler’s dominant casting hand.  Outside of my home waters of the Chesapeake, the ability to cast with either hand has many other benefits both in salt and freshwater scenarios.

Becoming an ambidextrous caster pays huge dividends while wading a bonefish flat. The best wading technique is to approach a flat with the sun at your back to allow for sighting fish and to have the wind blowing at a slight angle behind and away from your body to keep the fly from hitting you.  Unfortunately, mother nature does not always provide this perfect scenario and the fly must be presented with the wind blowing onto your casting shoulder.  Of course, you could try to make a backhand presentation with your dominant hand but it will never be as fast, accurate or effective as the ability to wade a flat with the rod in your non-dominant hand.

Being restricted to one hand for casting limits your success in freshwater scenarios, as well.  The tight quarters of a wooded Appalachian stream or the fast water of a large western river present opportunities to the ambidextrous caster that are otherwise a hindrance to someone restricted to casting with just their dominant hand.  Learn to cast with your non-dominant hand and you’ll never be on the “wrong side” side of the river.  There are ways to present the fly with the dominate hand like an off-shoulder cast; but again, there are limits to distance, accuracy and presentation compared to the ability to deliver the fly with your non-dominant hand.

Now, I’m not saying that learning to cast with your non-dominant hand is easy — hence the title “Ambitious Ambidextrous Angler.”  However, the dividends are great and will put you in an elite class of fly anglers that can present the fly in all scenarios without limits.  I love the fact that fly casting can never be perfected but always improved upon.  It is the challenge that I find intriguing and the only way to get better is with a rod in the non-dominant hand!

Feel the Pressure: The Barometer & Fishing

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As anglers one intriguing aspect of fishing is solving the mysteries of nature.  We try to figure out why we have epic fishing one day and bring home a skunk the next.  There are countless variables that influence fish behavior – tide, current, water temperature, moon phase, time of day and salinity level to name just a few.  Probably the most mysterious and debatable variable is barometric pressure.

In layman’s terms, barometric pressure can be thought of as the weight of the air, and it is influenced by weather systems.  High pressure is generally associate with cloudless conditions and low pressure with rain, especially hurricanes. I am not aware of any scientific research that proves barometric pressure has a direct correlation to fish behavior, but it has a definite place in angling lore.  Those that dismiss barometric pressure having an influence on fish point to the fact that water pressure is much greater than that of air, so even huge changes in air pressure are virtually undetectable underwater.  Still, many avid anglers follow the barometer as a predictor of fishing success.  Fishermen, by nature, are a superstitious crowd.  It could be that barometric pressure’s influence on fish is just an old wives tale.  I’m on the fence as to the direct influence on fish.

My observations generally show that quickly rising pressure causes a slow bite while falling or stable pressure make for better fishing.  It may be that barometric pressure indirectly influences fishing by altering other variables.  I find that the fish I target prefer low light conditions most of the time.  It would make sense then that high pressure would slow fishing due to the bright cloudless skies that are caused by a high pressure weather system.   Conversely, overcast skies caused by a low pressure system will prolong the transition from night to day which will likely make fish active during a longer time period.  Quickly changing barometric pressure causes strong wind which can effect water clarity, tidal height, and current speed.  Also, barometric change typically means changes in air temperature.  The combination of wind and air temperature can cause a noticeable change in surface water temperature.  Heavy rain from a large low pressure system can alter salinity and cloud water due to runoff.  The are many other scenarios where barometric pressure indirectly influences fishing.  In conclusion, fish have the ability to sense lots of variables that we as humans cannot; barometric pressure could be one of these variables.

One thing that I know for sure is that “you don’t know if you don’t go”, so let’s get on the water and wet a line!

 

Give Your Reel a Helping Hand

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Other than cranking the handle, most anglers only touch their spinning reel to open the bail before a cast.  Well, there is a lot more that can be done to give your spinning reel a helping hand!

Your fingers can be used to adjust the distance of your cast by applying pressure to top edge of the spool as line uncoils.  The amount and length of pressure will let you place the lure right where you want.  This technique should be used in place of two common angling errors.   The mistakes are quickly cranking the handle to close the bail and/ or jerking the rod.  The use of your fingers to “feather” the line is far more accurate, effective and better for your reel.

Closing the bail by hand after making a cast is a great habit to learn.  For starters, it will extend the life of your reel.  Turning the handle to initiate the bail trip mechanism causes unnecessary torque on the reel that will lead to worn and broken parts overtime.  Using your hand eliminates this torque, plus it is just as fast and efficient as turning the handle to close the bail.

Another bonus of closing the bail by hand is the elimination of most loose loops that can develop on the spool.  These loops are caused by slack line at the end of the cast and often lead to a bird nesting tangle on the subsequent cast (especially with the small diameter GSP lines like  Power Pro).  When you use the handle to close the bail, the bail arm makes a partial revolution before closing which allows the loose loop to develop.  The better alternative is to put your hand on the bail wire to close the bail manually.

A cause of the dreaded bird’s nest is cranking the handle when the drag is feeding out line during a battle with a large fish.  This causes twists to form in the line which leads to tangles; therefore, it is important to remember not to reel when you hear the drag clicker.

It is often necessary to quickly put the brakes on a hard charging fish headed to break you off on barnacle encrusted pilings.  In this situation, you want to apply pressure with your fingers on the spool to slow or stop its rotation.  It is common for anglers to apply spool pressure with baitcasting or fly reels but for some reason people forget to use the same technique for spin fishing.

Give your reel a helping hand with these techniques.  You’ll be fishing with less frustration and bring more fish to the boat!

The Beat Goes On

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The beat goes on… the drum beat that is!

Redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus) and speckled trout (Cynoscion nebulosus) are both members of the family Sciaenidae, informally known as the drum family.  Of the 270 Sciaenidae species, 17 are found in the Chesapeake; some of the most recognized are croaker, spot, grey trout and black drum.  Many members of this family have special swim bladders and muscles that can produce noise – hence the name “drum.”

Anglers are often surprised to learn that specks, despite their appearance, are not actually trout but drum.  Only male speckled trout make noise which resembles a grunt.  When you are fishing next time, take notice that plump, roe-laden females are silent but slender males produce grunts when you land them.  It is believed that males make grunting noises to attract females during spawning.  Here is a fantastic article by Jerald Horst of the Louisiana State University about speckled trout grunting behavior – http://www.seagrantfish.lsu.edu/resources/factsheets/grunters.htm.  I learned a lot of new facts from the article.  There are four specific types of grunting sounds and the majority of grunting occurs from sunset to three hours after sunset.  Most important from an angling perspective, speckled trout do not feed when they are grunting.

Grunting and body shape can be advantageous for conservation minded anglers looking to take home a tasty meal of trout.  In any fishery, it is important to protect breading females to ensure sustainability of the population.  So try to release the potbellied females full of roe and keep those grunting males.

Impress your fishing buddies with this lesson in speckled trout “gruntology”!

Tossing Rocks: An Aid in Fly Casting

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“Tossing rocks” is a game I designed to aid in fly casting instruction.  This game helps replicate the cast and teaches some of the cast’s fundamental principles before a student even picks up a fly rod.

First, collect some pieces of gravel and attach a target (paper plate) to a tree at shoulder level.  Stand facing the target at a distance of about 6 feet with the target in line with the dominant hand’s shoulder.  With the dominant hand, make a fist with the thumbnail facing upward.  Hold a piece of gravel between the thumb and pointer (index) finger knuckle.  Try tossing the rock at the target and stop the forward motion at the moment the rock is released.  Have a second target set up about a foot higher than shoulder level.  Try turning around backwards about 3 feetaway from the target.  Toss a piece of gravel behind you at this target remembering to stop as soon as the rock is released.  When playing this game inside, try replacing the rocks with pennies and attach the paper plate targets to a wall.

After playing the game for a while, you can demonstrate how it applies to fly casting.

First, it teaches a good grip of the fly rod with the thumb behind the cork toward the target.  Show the student how the grip of the fly rod is the same as holding the rock during the game.

“Tossing rocks” also teaches acceleration through the casting stroke with an abrupt stop.  Make a short overhead cast with the fly rod and show the student that the speed up and stop of fly rod is similar to the speed up and stop used to toss the rock.

Finally, the game teaches proper tracking during the casting stroke.  Show how the motion of tossing the rock when applied to casting encourages a straight-line path of the rod tip and tight loops.  Demonstrate how an inaccurate toss of the rock is the same as stopping the rod tip in a direction not toward the target (i.e. the fly line & fly travels in the direction the rod tip speeds up & stops).

Play this game for yourself or as a competition with friends.  You’ll find that it enforces good mechanics the next time you pick up a fly rod.

Get Down with Tides & Current

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Understanding the influence of tides is vital to fishing success.  Tide is generally referred to as the vertical rise and fall of water due to the gravity of the moon and sun.  Under a full or new moon, the gravity from the moon and sun are additive.  During these times, the greatest tidal changes occur.  The tides of the full or new moon are called spring tides.

Tides in the Chesapeake Bay are semi-diurnal, meaning there are two highs and to lows per day.  It takes a little over six hours for the tide to change from one extreme to the other.  While vertical tidal changes on the Chesapeake are small (~2ft.), they impact the location of fish in shallow water.  As a general rule, gamefish like striped bass move closer to shore on high tides to feed around structure that they cannot safely reach on low tides.

When fishing the shallows, it is important to notice the tidal height when you find fish at specific locations.  During extreme highs or lows, you will find fish in areas that typically do not hold them.  Generally extreme tides are the combination of the general gravitational forces plus the influence of wind.

Strong wind can push large amounts of water causing a raise or fall in water level.  Here on the western shore of the Chesapeake, strong northeast wind will stack up the water causing abnormally high tides, while strong southwest wind will cause abnormally low tides.  I also find that during fall and winter, the tides tend to run lower on average – possibly due to the tilt of the earth’s axis.

Horizontal current is created from vertical tidal movement.  Fish are opportunist feeders and rely on current to catch smaller prey in the fast moving water.  As a general rule, fish feed most actively during times of strong current.  For example, it is critical to fish a fast moving current at night when targeting stripers under the bridge lights of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

Current direction will influence where fish will congregate.  I will only fish certain spots on an outgoing current and others on an incoming current based on the way water moves around particular points, channels or structure.  Understanding local variations in current flow for your given area is important.

I find that the time of slack current can vary greatly in a short distance.  There are spots that I fish 1 mile offshore where the time of slack current occurs 1.5 hours later than directly inshore.  Using this knowledge can help you plan your day to take advantage of moving current.

Wind can play a role in current, as well.  If a strong wind is blowing in the same direction as the tidal driven current, the current speed will increase and vice versa.  On the Chesapeake’s western shore, it is a good idea to plan to fish an incoming current during a strong NE wind, because the wind and tide will be working together causing faster moving current.  During a strong SW wind, you will want to do the exact opposite and fish the outgoing current.

I hope you have found this tutorial to be useful, because understanding tides and current can help decode the mystery of fishing!