This January I went with Knud and Thomas to Los Roques in Venezuela to do some fly-fishing in the tropics while the temperature here in Denmark went below zero. Fishing in the tropics is always exciting but at winter time you get an extra bonus because then you really need the warmth and the sun light (vitamin D here we come). Los Roques isfirst of all known for fly fishing for bonefish but you may catch something extra like tarpon or at least some jacks or bonitos. We have all been to Los Roques before and knew more or less what to expect, but when fishing there will always be surprises.
I think the heart of all saltwater fly-fishers will start pounding at a fast pace when looking down at this just before landing.
The bonefish on Los Roques is known for a good average size and for fish that primarily eats small bait fish and also very important when you come from the country with the heaviest taxes in the world, you can fly fish without the need for a guide.
Around the islands is an abundance of small baitfish which everyone feeds on: bonefish, pelicans, sea gulls, jacks, bonitos, tarpon. So a fly that imitates these baitfish will do good in most cases. We used a simple minnow imitation made of siliskin(some adhesive silicone material).
Here you can see a pelican just after diving when the bonefish follows the pelican to get the injured or lost baitfish. Sometimes the bonefish even tries to grab the baitfish directly from the beak of the pelican. If you can place your baitfish imitation right next to the pelican, you have very good chances of a bonefish hookup. But you also have a good chance of hooking a pelican, so I do not like this kind of fishing though it can be very productive. If you hook a bonefish close to boats like here, you will most likely loose the fish or at least you will have to swim to get it because in the first run it will tangle your fly line with the ropes of several boats.
Instead of fishing “pelican style” you can go along the beach either blind fishing or fishing for the fish you spot. Often you end up doing both some blind fishing and some sight fishing depending on the circumstances. This can also be rewarding and compared to bonesfishing other places here the fish grab the fly (when it is a baitfishimitation) in the most brutal manner. I have not hooked any other fish that grabs the fly this way nor have I tried it with bonefish anywhere else and I have to say it is very addictive.
The beaches are perfect for landing the fish.
My favourite way of fishing is the more classic approach where you fish in very shallow water and only cast to fish you have seen. For this kind of fishing the flies are also more classic like Crazy Charlie, Gotcha etc. I had success with a brown Crazy Charlie with rubber leg wing. The weight of the fly naturally have to be adjusted to the depth and the type of bottom.
Lars hooked up in the lagoon on Crasqui – classic sight fishing territory.
In the lagoon the bottom is very bumpy but without too much vegetation, an excellent place for casting your fly well ahead of a cruising bonefish and the start stripping when the fish is close to the fly.
A bonefish on its way back after release.
Two times a tarpon grabbed Thomas fly in the lagoon but he never hooked them properly. Later we found out why. The hook on his very nicely tied fly was broken off at the bend. A new standard for ecological fly fishing was set ;-)
Another of my favourite places were the windy side of the islands where there are often very shallow flats. These can best be fished at high or medium sea level as they simply are dry at low sea level. The good thing is that these areas are not fished much as the wind normally is quite strong and the best is to fish against the wind. On top of this many of the casts have to be made over the wrong shoulder. But when it is at its best you have fish cruising in 10-20 cm of water and as there are waves coming in all the time the fish does not get spooked until very close range if you go down to minimize your profile and often the fish grab the fly 5-7 meters away. Extremely exciting fishing – I love it.
Thomas with bonefish from very shallow water.
We had several mornings and whole days where we chased schools of fish feeding in a frenzy on the baitfish close to the beach (see the photo above). The schools are often a mixture of more than one species. The schools may consist of bonitos, bar jacks, blue runners, snappers or spanish mackerels. The schools literally attack the baitfish and they move around at a fast pace and sometimes they are only attacking for a few seconds. So to fish these schools, you have to follow the fish all the time and when they approach the beach you better be ready. This is very exciting and stress-full as you often need to get your line out in a hurry and also often have to run along the beach – a very intense way of flyfishing with many things that may go wrong. We found it very useful to use stripping basket these days as we did not have to spend valuable time retrieving the line from the reel.
Lars (me) with a blue runner. When fishing these feeding schools there is only one rule: retrieve as fast as possible.
The other Lars with a bar jack. As you may see the bar jacks are in the 1½-2 pounds range and the blue runners are larger, typically in the 4-6 pounds range. Like most tropical species they are very tough fighters, apparently tropical fish run on another type of fuel than the fish we have in the nordic countries.
An almost black bar jack from the beach.
A bonito from Madrisqui.
When releasing bonitos and jacks the best way is to throw them head first into the water. In this way they get a lot of oxygen passing the gills and they literally get a head start.
Both Thomas and I experienced a big barracuda taking a hooked bonefish. My bonefish was simply taken late in the fight and we could both see the barracuda in the shallow water with the bonefish between its jaws – it looked just like a pike with a roach. My leader was immediately cut. Thomas bonefish was attacked earlier in the fight so it managed to escape but the barracuda came after it and got it but miraculously it escaped once more and finally Thomas actually caught it. As you can see the bonefish got some cuts but it looked OK when released, though we are not certain on its future. Both bonefish were in the 4-5 pounds range and the cudas were 15-20 pounds. As all this took place in 30-50 cm of water it was very visual and exciting. We tried several times to cast a fly to barracudas but without any luck.
Two days we hired a guide and a boatman because it would enable us to fish in other places and ways. The guide was Eric (right) and the boatman Alexis (left). They are very nice guys and despite the fishing was not as good as we had hoped for we had some good days with them and they gave us some long days as well. We started the day tarpon-fishing, but we did not produce many chances. Both Thomas and I had a tarpon looking at the fly but that was it. Later we went to the pancake flats to look for bonefish. The first day we got several each though conditions were not good. The water was too high and cold and there were many clouds which made it hard to spot the fish. The high water improve the barracudas chance to get a bonefish so they tend to be very spooky under these circumstances.
Thomas has hooked a bonefish on a pancake flat.
We thought that we were quite good at spotting the fish after 1½ weeks of practise, but Eric he was in an entirely different league. He spotted the fish and explained how they behaved, how many there were etc. when we had problems seeing anything. And every time we were able to control him, he was correct. Big applause from us he was the champ in fish spotting.
Some times the bonefish are easy to spot.
Both days we ended up hunting schools of feeding fish. In a boat you naturally are able to follow the fish much better than from the beach but you still have to cast and retrieve quickly and it still is a very intense and hectic type of fly fishing. The bonito Thomas shows on the photo was memorable as it chased Thomas fly over a long distance and jumped out water in its hunt for the fly so everyone could follow the fish. Furthermore are bonitos very fast and strong fighters so even smaller fish are good fun with light tackle. The last days with the guides we caught more than 10 fish (bar jacks, blue runners and bonitos) while a competing boat got nothing. We were happy and so were our guides but we were even happier when it later turned out that the fisherman in the competing boat was the french flyfishing champion :-)
One day when passing some fishermen huts we saw a nurse shark close to the beach. It had a rope around its tail so it was hitched – another way of keeping the food fresh in a hot climate.
Whenfishing in Los Roques you catch many smaller fish of all kinds, here Thomas is with a pompano. It looks like a permit but do not grow to much more than a pound, but for their size they are tremendous fighters.
Thomas with a snapper, Thomas got a lot of snappers so he appointed himself to “the snapper expert”
The last day Knud wanted to catch two bonefish as he then would get an average of three bonefish a day for the two weeks we had. He got one in the morning but in the afternoon he actually had almost given up as we should be picked up the last day at 5 PM. But 5 minutes before pickup this bonefish grabbed his fly and his goal was achieved. This explains his happy smile for this moderate sized fish.
When fishing with light gear it is easy to use both hands – you just place the gear on top of the water.
The pelicans are the dominant bird on the island and they are very active diving most of the day except they also has a siesta after noon.
The frigate bird is probably the most elegant bird and though outnumbered by the pelicans they are always around.
Herons of different colours and sizes are also watched frequently.
The last week three Italians (2 fly fishers and one with spinning gear) arrived with a movie crew. Some said it was for Sky channel. They naturally got some fish and at one time a guy had to swim out with the caught fish to reattach it to the hook, but that is probably the way to make a fishing movie ;-)
When you are at Los Roques you got to eat lobster several times. It is as fresh as it comes, it tastes fantastic and the price is very fair.
To summarize the trip: we had a very nice trip with plenty of bonefish, both caught in very shallow water the classic way (the most interesting way to fish and the best fights) and with baitfish imitation(the best hookups). The average size seemed to have diminished and at times they were hard to hook acted as they have seen a lot of flies. We had a lot of fishing to attacking schools of jacks and bonitos, which I missed on my last trip to Los Roques. The tarpon fishing on the main island were sporadic as it often is. All this at a price affordable to everyone, would I do again? Yes, any time.