April 14, 2021
Exotic travels and fishing for extreme species around the globe have taught me more than I could ever gain from my local waters. Experience is the ultimate teacher and most valuable lessons are often learned the hard way. Some of what I have learned are effective fishing tips, regardless of the species you are casting for, and some are just important tips for the world traveler.
When in the Bahamas and flyfishing for bonefish I learned that preparation is key. For example, I learned to observe the fish I’m targeting and understand their feeding habits. Much like fly anglers learn how to “match the hatch” by watching what hungry trout are eating, I learned long ago on my first trip for the "grey ghost" - that bonefish feed in shallow water, so the locations I fish for them are around mangroves and flats where shrimp, crabs and worms will be readily available. To locate bonefish, look for string rays. Often bonefish follow behind a feeding ray picking up the excess and overlooked food bits. Casting behind the feed trail of the string ray will often help find a hungry bone fish that will willingly take a fly.
Stealth is important for many species, though it is especially vital when fishing for bonefish. Be very quiet, toes first, and move slowly preventing the water splashing against your legs. You'll notice a good guide will pole gently, trying to avoid making any noise. When you’re casting, avoid rocking the boat and and try to keep your footsteps light and nimble so your prey will not vacate the area or simply turn off.
It’s also a good idea to organize your flies and prepare for the day before you apply sunblock or bug spray. Try not to handle your flies, as oil from your own skin and residue of any applicant can be a huge deterrent for the skittish bonefish, permit and tarpon—or any species for that matter. This, in turn, is a great reminder for fishing at home. Be careful of how you handle your flies and lures
to ensure you do not transfer any fragrance, sunblock or DEET to your set up.
Once you’ve played out a bonefish, like many fish, wet your hands before touching it. They have a protective slime coating, especially on their backs that protects them from infection, which is critical to their survival. This slime that also makes them exceptionally slippery, is easily removed with dry hands and fabrics. Consequently, it’s important to avoid removing the hook by over-handling. Next time reach into the water and without lifting the fish, simply cradle it in water beneath its belly making sure you don't touch it’s back. Using rubber coated nets rather than fabric as also a good idea.
When in South America a few years back, I was fortunate enough to get into some amazing payara fishing. These large fanged “vampire” fish are incredibly interesting and downright scary to many. However, my preference in fish species is that of the toothy kind. Hooking and landing these fish require extreme patience, similar to the African tiger fish. I found casting my fly into the torrid under current of the river was successful - and the ability to set the hook past the massive fangs garnered a bit of luck. Vampire fish strike at their prey with the fangs, injuring it first. So, hooking a fly into the mouth and not the teeth can be tricky. Patience is a virtue, timing is key and when dealing with predatory fish, always assume the strike.
Never underestimate the power of your fish, and never let your guard down for the take. I learned from my Tanzanian Tiger fish guide that I need to be “on” all the time, ready to set the hook. I assume every strip of line I bring in could be “the” hook set needed to land my next fish. I reach the line back past my leg as though I was setting the hook firmly. You can also think to yourself “strip set” on every retrieve, it will help you to never “trout set” (lift the rod up as you set) in excitement on a toothy beast ever again.
Whether fishing, lounging on a beach or going for a hike, never underestimate bug bites. When I was fishing the border of Venezuela and Columbia recently, I was introduced to a pesky little type of black bug almost invisible to the eye. My bare feet and ankles were bitten for the first few days. I used DEET and other bug sprays, including natural sprays from my own local stores back home, however none of them worked. I quickly learned that I could have prevented all of torment by simply wearing pants that go down past my ankles and river water shoes that do not expose the skin. Experts say the bugs are attracted to bright blue the most, so wear bland, neutral toned colors with long sleeves to avoid troubling bites.
Which brings me to my next final and most important tip. Always remember an emergency kit. I cannot express enough how I underestimated the heat. The elements and the extreme fatigue one experiences when fishing long days can be exhausting, not to mention dealing with time changes and dehydration. No matter where I travel now, including on my home waters, these ventures have taught to always have an emergency pack on my boat.
Stay safe and tight lines!