Saltwater fly fishing whether it be for Bass off the coast of Donnegal or Marlin
in the Indian Ocean is as vastly different from freshwater fishing as cane rods are
from the modern high tech Carbon Graphite rods of today. The surge and power of salt-water
species can give the unaccustomed a hedonistic taste for the sport in a way that
the humble stocked Rainbow Trout can only dream of. The biggest challenge of all
however is usually making that first leap which takes one from familiar turf to exotic
Like any keen angler I have developed a sixth sense for likely fishing opportunities.
I had not however expected my radar to be activitated whilst on a visit to a police
Station in Belfast. One spirited conversation later, an exchanged telephone number
and I had unwittingly signed myself up for a trip to Los Roques in Venezuela. Talk
of tarpon rolling under my feet, bonefish removing all my line and all under the
Caribbean sun, was all that was required to dispel my winter gloom, with the closure
of the Trout and Salmon seasons.
And so it was that a frantic month later I found myself drifting out of the clouds,
in a plane that looked like it had seen service in WW2 - and probably had, in our
descent over what can only be described as breathtakingly beautiful cobalt, turning
aqua-marine coloured seas.
This dramatic spectrum of colour is due to the fact that Los Roques is an archipelago,
rising out of the deep blue Caribbean sea and consisting of approximately 100 sq
miles of islands, keys and underwater mushroom like profusions, which I later discovered
went by the name of pancake flats.
One Hour later I was standing on the beach in shorts and shirt, armed with a bottle
of beer, looking out to sea where laid out before me was most incredible profusion
of marine and aquatic life. Immediately in front of me there appeared to be an impenetrable
wall of minnows, 10 Metres deep and stretching the length of the waterfront. In amongst
these minnows Tarpon crashed and Bonefish cruised.
Above the air this mass of life was being attacked by phalanxes of Pelicans who would
dive as one into the water and re-emerge with gullets overflowing with fish. In turn
they were also being attacked by squadrons of Artic Turns who would hover and dance
around the Pelicans, deftly stealing any protruding minnows from their beaks.
Just as I was trying to comprehend the scale of this maritime assault, my host and
guide, Justin Mcarthy, reappeared brandishing a 7 wt rod and reel and armed with
a 'gummy minnow', a silicone based 'fly' which appeared to mimic almost exactly the
baitfish on offer. He pointed excitedly at a Pelican as it emerged from its underwater
foray-"Did you see it", he cried, "put on your polaroids"-"watch the next Pelican".
I did as instructed, opening up an underwater spectacle the like of which I had never
seen before. As each bird surfaced and tried to make good its meal up to half a dozen
Bonefish between 4 & 8lbs would jostle for position as they nimbly removed the minnows
from the Pelicans.
As a reference point to aim the crash of a Pelican from 30ft in the air is a little
less subtle than the gentle ripple of a rising Trout however this was my target and
my mission was to place my 'gummy' at the feet of the surfacing bird. A few attempts
later I achieved the cast as instructed and almost the moment the 'gummy' hit the
water a 'Bone' emerged from the bottle green water, my line tightened and the next
thing I knew was the rod was bent over, the reel was in overdrive and my backing
was hissing through the water. The tussle that followed saw me holding on for dear
life, taking to the water, ducking self and rod under numerous anchor ropes and winding
furiously. All of this was set to a growing audience of chattering children who looked
on nonchalantly as they critiqued my performance.
On emerging triumphantly after a tooth and nail battle with a striking 5lb fish I
paused for a moment at which point it occurred to me that Im still had not even unpacked
my bags or clapped eyes on where I was staying. To those who have never embraced
saltwater fishing prepare your gear, your tackle and yourself with the strains and
the excitement that you both will endure. Whilst my first few cast on the waterfront
were an appetizer the main action takes place further afield. Most of the fishing
is done by wading in ankle deep water, your eyes peeled for signs of activity above
and below the water. Here, in the shallower water, the ever so subtle, protruding
fin of a Bonefish replaces the crash of a diving Pelican.
To be successful you have to firstly detach yourself from your previous fly-fishing
experiences and devote yourself whole heartedly to the attentions of your guide.
With tutoring what initially seemed like a blind cast will become a casual nod of
agreement as you and your guide simultaneously locate and target the fish. The consistent
cast of a salmon angler or the well honed presentation of a trout fisherman will
often be thrown into hectic disarray. A cruising torpedo in the shape of a Barracuda
or the effervescent energy of a shoal of Tuna, bursting into a feeding frenzy in
front of you, will oft send your guide ducking for cover as you try to impart instant
energy into your fly.
To the experienced angler this is a place where you will be challenged to the utmost
with your stealth and skill being paramount. To a novice fisherman you will be rewarded
with a visual spectacle that guarantees to satisfy all of your faculties whilst at
the same time providing enough rod-bending action and adventure to ensure you never
again look at fishing in the same light again.