Vaughn Cochran is owner of Black Fly Outfitter, connected to the Black Fly Bonefish Club and an artist specializing in saltwater scenes. His art is fantastic and his place out in Abaco looks nice… so very nice.
Is there something in your art, when you are doing a bonefish, that you are trying to capture?
I work in so many different styles that is usually the medium I’m working in that determines the fish is going to look like, which is kind of the reverse of how most people would approach it. If I’m using pencil, to me, drawing a bonefish is like drawing an ear of corn because you have all those damn little scales and it’s all the same little thing… it’s very monotonous to do it, but those scales and those lines, that’s what makes it work. If I do it in acrylic, which I did in the “Bright” series, bonefish were part of that series, I used colored lines. One of my most successful bonefish paintings was a paining I call “Lean Green Fighting Machine,” it was an underwater painting. I rarely do stuff like that because everyone else does it, and that usually means I don’t do it. I painted it to show everyone that I could do it and it was the last one of those I ever did. If there is anything I try to capture, I’d say I look more at the formal aspects like lines, shape, color and form, all those kinds of things. They are more important to me than trying to capture the mood of the fish.
With the Black Fly Bonefishing Club in Abaco, it seems you are really tied to Abaco. What’s your history with Abaco? How long have you been fishing it?
I got started with my friend Clint Kemp, who was a guide and now my business partner, and I didn’t fish Abaco until maybe 3-4 years ago. Clint introduced me to Abaco when we did a fly fishing assessment for the project of Schooner Bay, which we are now a part of. That was my first experience, and what an experience it was. I had never seen bonefishing like that before. It was outrageous. At the end of that trip we were sitting on the balcony of one of the little hotels there, drinking rum and smoking Cuban cigars and just remarking about what an incredible trip it had been and how the fishing had been so good it was almost impossible not to sign on to the Bonefish Club… we were wondering how we could not do it at that point. It was the perfect situation for us.
Have you seen a lot of increased interest in Abaco since The Pirates of the Flats was filmed there?
I think the Pirates was a result of the increased interest in Abaco in general. The Abaco Lodge coming in there was a big deal. There are very few lodges in Abaco, it is unlike Andros… someone told me that there were 40 lodges in Andros, I believe it, but in Abaco they are trying to restrict the number of lodges that can be there. Really, there are only so many lodges that can physically be there because of the geography and the water. I don’t think it will ever be as populated as Andros and I think it will remain a very viable fishery for many, many years.
I’ve seen that Schooner Bay is being held up as a model of sustainable development. What are some of the things that are happening there that give it that label?
I think that just the selection of the site alone was key. They took an area that had been repeatedly damaged by hurricanes over the years and they took out the damaged stuff and they kept the good stuff and they didn’t tear down trees to build houses, they put in a harbor, a good 30% of the land is going to be devoted organic farming, the idea of smaller houses and using reverse geo-thermal air conditioning. They are going to capture water. They just dug two huge pits because they needed some dirt and those pits are going to used to create a one million gallon venetian well type of thing, they’ll line those pits, put sand on them and then put plants on top of it and then they’ll take the water that is naturally filtered and put that to a central processing facility where it will be pressurized and sent to the houses. They have all sorts of things they’ve done like that. The community is a bicycle or golf cart community with no cars. It will be a walking community that is a sustainable and simple, small fishing village along the lines of other small fishing villages around the Bahamas.
When is that slated to open?
They should finish the harbor around the first of the year or early Spring. The are looking at 2012 to have businesses running and small houses. It’s interesting because they are building a town, not a condo project where everything has to be built before you open. They want to get a few businesses in and a few homes in and let it grow. The economic engine of any project like that, or any Bahamian town, is the harbor. Once the harbor is done then the boat traffic will come in, the sports fishing boats will come in. It will really change the village and the harbor will be the heart of the village.
Is there something you’ve seen out there that stands out as being unique?
I had an encounter with a water spout that was pretty interesting, but, ya know, as an artist every day is an experience. I see colors and shapes and events and sharks eating things and, ya know, life… big fish eating little fish, I carried my camera with me all the time in Abaco… seeing a tarpon daisy chain, seeing a bonefish daisy chain, seeing 500 bonefish going around in a circle is a pretty interesting thing to see. For an artist, a photographer, a blue sky is the last thing you want to see. You want to see clouds and atmosphere, those are the things that give a scene its dimension. A thunderstorm coming across the water… nothing better than that for a painter. Those are the things I look at every day. I did a paining called Turtle Grass and it was as if you were standing on the front of the boat and looking down in the water. The water is clear and so you are just seeing the pattern of the grass in the water. I took several pictures of that image and worked off the photos to paint the photo, but it took me 8 months to paint the painting. It was pretty complicated, but it was a great piece.
What reel and rod to you prefer for your fishing at the moment?
Being someone that sells fishing equipment for a living, I love to fish all sorts of different equipment, different rods, different reels. I like to try new equipment. My current favorite is a Loomis GLX 9 wt. I prefer that rod because you can really lift a lot of line off the water with it. If you do happen to get lucky and get a 10 or 12 pound bonefish you have the tackle to do it. I use the 9 wt. because it’s windy, a lot, and that is a rod you can throw in the wind.
I got a chance to cast the new Hardy, the one that Andy Mill designed. It’s a 9 wt. That’s an equal rod, easily. I tried that again on my last trip and I thought it was a good rod. I’m looking forward to seeing the new Loomis (NRX) to see what that’s like. It’s a great time to be testing rods because there are so many good choices out there.
I have quite a collection of reels and I use different reels all the time. I bought my wife an Abel that’s anti-reverse. She’s a great angler but she doesn’t fish that much and sometimes she forget to take her hand off the reel handle. I started to use her reel and found out I really liked that anti-reverse, even for bonefish, so I guess right now my favorite reel would be that or my equal choice would be the Nautilus, either the NV or the CCF. That’s a great, great reel. They are equal as far as I’m concerned.
Do you have a particularly memorable bonefish?
We were doing a show this past year called Hooked on the Fly. We had been fishing for a couple of days and I hadn’t been fishing much because the host was fishing and we had some other people there. Finally on the last day the camera man said “OK Vaughn, we need you to catch a fish for the show.” I said “OK, I’ll do my best.” I was with Paul Pinder and George Clark, the camera man. We were working along the edges of one of the flats at Moore’s Island, which is one of the places we go to out of lodge, about an 18 mile trip. I had made a couple of shots at some awfully big fish and Moore’s Island is one of those places that is known for big fish and it is really a special place. Every fish I threw at had run, immediately. Here came this fish, I could tell it was a big fish. I didn’t know how big, but it was big. I threw a fly at the fish, he spooked, made a big circle and came back and ate the fly. It was a huge surprise, I’d never seen that. Once they spook they are gone. This fish took off and I turned to the guide and I said “This is the biggest bonefish I’ve ever caught, I’m sure.” Actually, I thought I hadn’t adjusted my drag properly so when the fish finally stopped running and my backing was almost gone, I checked it and it was set where it should have been and I knew it was a fish of a lifetime. We got the fish in, the camera man was there with an underwater camera. It was amazing because, not only was it the biggest bonefish I’ve ever caught, but it was recorded on film. That show is out in January, I think, but that was my most memorable fish. People estimated it was 12 pounds. A 12 pound fish and the whole thing captured on film. That was amazing.