You may have seen the story… a fly fishing trip that ends in a double murder. If you had told me that happened in the Keys, I would have thought it was a matter of time. Tell me that happened in Belize and I’d call you a liar.
A 53-year old cardiologist on vacation with his wife and three kids gets caught up in some crazy gangster/drug BS and ends up dead, along with the intended target, his guide.
The Trump Administration recently announced some expanded travel restrictions for Cuba, because, ya know… they are super, super, super duper a threat to our way of life and, also, he’d like to keep Florida red in 2020.
I talked with Kristen Tripp, Program Director for Cuba at Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures and I asked her what the impact of this latest news would be on their program.
First, Kristen expressed her frustration and sorrow for the people of Cuba who have been through a lot, make due with very little and are certainly being hurt by some of these very backward looking policies. There’s a shortage of just about everything in Cuba, including chickens, and people really are being put through unnecessary harm.
Second, Kristen explained that things have changes since I went to Cuba back in 2012. The whole operation has worked hard to make their trips legal (read, not just sneaking in from Mexico). This new policy makes that harder, but not impossible and they’ll be trying very hard to maintain above-board Cuban trips this year and into the future. Trips are still being booked to Cuba and any already on the books are grandfathered in. Still, there will be changes and the exact fall-out is a bit still to be worked out.
Cuba was a fantastic experience for me… one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. It was pretty obvious how bad the Cuban people were hurting back then and it hasn’t gotten better since. It is all a travesty and I hope some intelligence seeps into our Cuban policy that doesn’t revolve around Presidential politics.
For the latest developments, there are few people better suited to answer your questions than the folks at Yellow Dog and Kristen in particular.
I’m not the only one who thinks this is a bad idea. So does Foreign Policy (that liberal rag). The Guardian thinks sanctions don’t work. Fortune seems to think it is a bad idea.
It is bad policy… a failed policy that didn’t work for 50 years. Let’s get past this.
Sounds like these got dropped off in Eleuthera recently and are being distributed around the island.
Eleuthera is a DIY location for the most part. Guides are scarce and many anglers have been heading there for years to ply the waters on their own.
A permit there would be hard to come by (I guess you go to Tracy Auto Parts?). The process isn’t exactly working, really anywhere, and there’s no real sense of who is enforcing this sort of thing. If there IS enforcement for this, why not for gill-nets?
We fly anglers love our gear. Some (I’m looking at you Aaron) use a trip like this to load up on new rods and reels. I tend to try and make due with what I have, although even I brought in some new tools for this trip.
I brought 5 rods with me and used 3. My 12 weight never left the rod tube and my back-up 10 had a similar fate. Both of those rods were the Redington Predators that I’ve been very happy with for years.
I brought one loaner rod with me and that was a Sage Salt 10 wt.. This was my go-to GT rod and the rod I used to horse up Milkies and Bluefin Trevally. It’s a solid rod and it cast well. Fast action and easy casting. Sadly, I have to send that one back, as it was a loaner, but it would earn a place in most saltwater quivers.
My go to bonefishing rod for the past few years has been my Orvis Helios 2. I’m just comfortable with that rod. We’ve seen things together. Just yesterday I cast an H3 and it felt like a totally different rod (which I didn’t love). I’ll keep my H2 until I snap the thing.
I used a “trigger” rod for part of the trip, a rod rigged up with a crab fly and 20# tippet. This was my Redington Predator 8 wt. that I picked up last year. I’ve been pretty pleased with this rod, which is on the lower price-point side of things. The first trigger I landed in Christmas was on this rod and I had to put the stick to the fish to keep it from heading back to his rocky, coral-lined home. This is the fish that then bit the rod. I am happy to say the rod is in fine shape, which is pretty shocking, but is true nonetheless.
I ended up using two new reels on this trip.
First, I had the Redington Grande, which is a machined version of their Behemoth reel, which I also own and have liked. I had the Grande on the 10 wt. and actually got the larger version of the reel, a 11/12, so I could dump more backing on it. I wish I would have caught more fish on this, but what I saw out of the reel was all positive. I made a mistake with the reel on my reef-lost GT in that I should have locked the drag down, but I didn’t and the line ended up getting a bit roughed up on the reef. That spelled the last action for the Grande as I moved to the back-up reel which had a new line on it.
The back-up reel was the Sage (the SPECTRUM MAX). Solid reel. I had no issues with this reel and it did well when pulling those milkfish up from the depths.
The bonefish reels I used are the ones I’ve been using for years now. There an Orvis Mirage (the earlier version) and a Lamson (a lightspeed, I think) which is similarly no longer in production. I used to really like Lamson as a reel maker, but they’ve made a succession of odd choices in the past few years.
The only lines I used that were really new to me were the RIO GT lines. I had no complaints about these lines. I had made the decision not to monkey with the factory loops and so I should comment that I did have to swap reels because the factory loop on the first reel got pretty messed up on the coral. I can’t think that is the fault of the loop though. The loop to loop connection seemed to be the place on the coral that the line got stuck and the loop was partially cut through in a couple of places. That said, it still held, it was the leader that ended up getting cut. Also, if I had made my own loop the profile would have been even more pronounced and it would have caught even more. I still stand by my decision to use the factory loop. The factory loop held on the milkfish just fine. People land huge GTs on the factory loop. I’ve seen the pics.
Other Key Bits of Gear
I ended up getting a pair of Simms flats boots because I was told the booties would not stand up. The boots worked well. I got a pair that were a previous year’s model so they were fairly cheap. That said, a guy on our trip had a pair of the booties, same Simms booties I have, and they stood up to the coral just fine.
The Patagonia sun hoodies are all I wear these days. They are just hard to beat. I now have three pairs of that shirt.
The Simms sun mask is my go to now. Love the holes which reduce the feeling of breathing through someones hand on my mouth and it also reduces the fogging up of sunglasses.
Earplugs. My roommate for the trip very much suffers from un-diagnosed sleep apnea. I never got a solid night’s sleep. Someone on the trip gave me a pair. That was very, very important for how the whole trip went down for me.
Body Glide. Nothing would mess up your trip faster than your inner thighs being rubbed raw. Body glide is the answer. I use it proactively pretty much any time I’m spending time in the salt.
Antibiotics. Turns out my health plan has a travel clinic. You tell them where you are going and they’ll write you a prescription for what you might need and they’ll also look and see if you need any vaccines. I didn’t get sick on this trip, but I would have been in good shape if I had.
I needed a big, waterproof bag and I didn’t want to break the bank. Enter the Outcast AK Duffle. This thing is HUGE (no, I was not over weight). I could fit my rods IN the bag. Really pleased with this thing.
Anini… a pretty cool place and one of very few places in Kauai where folks target bonefish. I’m not hot-spotting here. If you couldn’t put those particular topics together your Google is broken.
So, yeah, my 12 year old daughter and I made our way to camp at Anini for her Spring Break. We’ve been doing these Dad/Daughter trips for the past couple years and it has been some top shelf memory making.
A few things to know:
Roosters. Roosters start doing their thing about 3:15 AM. Ear plugs are mandatory equipment.
It is cheap… $3/day per adult. Cost us $9 to camp.
There can be a lot of people there. There were, roughly, all the people when we were there.
The North Short of Kauai means rain. Sometimes, that could mean 50″ in 24 hours. On this trip it meant some rain at night and on and off during the day.
Mixed in with the rain and the wind will be stretches of wonderful beautifulness.
The bones there are, ya know, kind of scarce. I saw one on foot and I saw a few while paddle boarding.
You’ll need a car to get around.
The Bubba’s in Hanalei is now a salad place.
Camping means bringing camping stuff. For the two of us it was 4 bags. I’m sure if you are a really awesome camper you can do this with less stuff. We tend to bring a lot of stuff and that meant four bags.
The BEST thing we brought with us was an inflatable SUP. Worked very well and the beach at Anini is such that I had no worries about letting my girl take it out and paddle around. There is a coral head that takes all the oomph out of the waves and you are left with a pretty calm flat.
I managed to catch some trumpet fish in the cuts. Trumpet fish are dumb. Simple as that. I caught a couple on gear and three on flies. I didn’t catch anything else. It wasn’t really a fishing trip. It was a trip with the girl and in that regard it was pretty wonderful.
If you are looking to go catch a Hawaiian bonefish, well… go to Oahu and go out with Kenny. If you are looking for a pretty awesome place to do some very unique camping, check out Anini.
I had heard pretty much everyone who goes to Xmas gets the runs at some point. I’m here to tell you this is not the case.
The risk is certainly on Christmas Island, however, and caution is your friend.
The Villages provides purified water in a pitcher in your room. Use it. Use it to brush your teeth. Use it to rise your toothbrush. Use it for anything.
Don’t put water in your mouth in the shower. Just don’t.
I had a phone appointment before I left with the Kaiser Travel Clinic and they got me a 3 pill prescription for antibiotics specific to what I might encounter there. I didn’t need to use them.
It was frequently the case that guides missed days because of GI bugs. Water borne disease is pretty rampant on Christmas and the locals are very much not immune. Many guides powered through their days even with their stomach bugs and would simply excuse themselves to take care of business. It’s life on the island and that guiding money isn’t going to come from anywhere else.
Only one guy out of our 16-17 anglers had any issues and that was minor, treatable with Imodium (which is NOT how you treat sever diarrhea). Caution and prevention is where it is at.
There are a lot of bonefish in Christmas Island, which you’ve probably heard. I found the bones of Xmas to be irrationally difficult, due in part to the weather (several days of that high cloud, diffused light that makes bonefish vanish on the white sand canvas) and in part to my inability to make it happen. Let me explain.
There are loads of bones there. I saw maybe 200 a day, even if I got shots only at a fraction of those. In the low light the shots were really, really close. I hooked and caught bonefish with just the leader out of the rod, as well as at 10 feet and 20 feet and 30 feet and, rarely, maybe 40. However, I also botched a much higher percentage of fish in Xmas than I normally do and that comes down to the strip.
The strip, for the lagoon bonefish, is much faster than anywhere else I’ve ever fished for bones. The bones are not picking the fly off the bottom, they are eating it as it swims. This may be because they are taking the fly not to be a shrimp, but as a milkfish fry (that’s Shane’s theory and it is as good as any I could come up with). If you are used to a short strip, pause, short strip, pause, or if you are used to a strip-and-sit kind of retrieve, this is going to be hard to adjust to. I certainly found it difficult to adapt to.
On the ocean-side flats (the Korean Wreck) you may find a school of bones. I saw one of 30-40 fish, a school I took 3 fish out of. Inside the lagoon the bonefish just don’t seem to school up. If you see more than 3-4 fish together there is about a 90% chance those fish are actually milkfish. Milkfish can look frustratingly like bonefish and they share the same flats habitat. In deeper water the milks will be higher in the water column and the bones will be on the bottom, but in skinny water those fish can look very, very similar. When tailing, milks have a tail with some black on it, looking more like a permit tail than a bonefish, so that’s a giveaway.
Don’t get me wrong… I caught bonefish, having one day with ~15 and there were so many other fish to go after. I had one day without a bonefish, but that was the milkfish day and my cup was pretty full with that experience, so I didn’t mind so much.
The last day I had one particularly difficult morning, going 1/25 on legit shots. I was seeing the fish very well, but couldn’t make it happen. I don’t know what was wrong. That same time another angler in the group was going about 25/35… so, it wasn’t that people weren’t smashing it, it was just that I wasn’t smashing it.
Maybe it was the wrong strip and maybe it was my fly selection. Maybe it was the UV flash that has a purple tinge to it that isn’t maybe what’s called for. Maybe I was just having a temporary mental block. I don’t know what my problem was, but I wasn’t firing on all cylinders.
The bones of Xmas ran from 1-6 pounds with a few bigger fish around. I’d say they average 2-3 from what I saw.
I’d tie differently for this trip, knowing what I do now.
I never used a worm fly.
I never used a green fly.
I would have tied more plain Christmas Island Specials.
I would have tied more orange Christmas Island Specials.
I would have tied more #8s with small barbell eyes.
I would have used regular crystal flash, not UV crystal flash.
I would have left off any funky eyes (heavy eyes with actual eyes painted on)
I’d add… my crabs were on point.
I caught some nice bonefish and I had some decent bonefishing days. The days that were a bit more frustrating on bonefish were mitigated by other species (bluefin, GT, triggers, milkies).
So… bones, bones, bones galore, but for me it proved difficult to break old habits to adapt a new mentality to fish for them. Many good bonefish days were had by those in our group, so my issues were not universal or signs of a “problem” with the fishing. Just had some of my own shortcomings exposed… but that’s what learning looks like and I’m not disappointed.
Now, don’t get me wrong. You CAN catch milkfish the hard way. In fact, in our group a guy named Barry did just that. He went 2/3 on milkfish down at the Korean Wreck. He caught them on algae flies. It’s an impressive feat.
That’s not how I caught milkfish in Christmas Island though. How I caught milkfish in Christmas Island would make a fly-only purist want to puke a little. Luckily, I’ve moved away from purity in my fishing and have, largely, adopted a “Is it fun?” approach.
Milkfish are fun.
When the tuna boats are anchored off London, Christmas Island, you can go and catch milkfish. First, you stop by one of the giant fish processing boats to get some small fish in a burlap sack. Then you anchor up to one of the ships and your guides start ripping the fish apart with their hands, throwing chunks of chum into the water. Seconds later the water around your boat is full of milkfish and various types of trevally (mostly blues, some golden and deep, deep down, maybe some giants).
Simply get your algae or flesh fly near the chum and see if the milks eat. If you let your fly sink too low it is fare for the Bluefins. If you get a milkfish to make a mistake and eat your fly (mostly, they’ll avoid it… like, 99% of the time, they’ll avoid it), well, hold on. Milkies pull and they pull hard and often straight down (although they also jump). Lines get tangled and rod arms get a bit worn out.
Milkies are built for speed and strength and it really shows. Odd looking fish, but, ya know… after they strip off a bunch of line they get much more adorable.
We got our share of milkfish and the guides kept every single one. They take these fish home to feed their families. There is no C&R when it comes to milkfish.
If you’ve ever fished in the back country in Christmas Island, you will have seen the roughly 100,000,0000,000,000 young milkfish milling around and looking a bit like bonefish on the flats in the back.
Some of the other fishing hanging around aren’t so bad either…
This particular bit of fishing isn’t for those who aren’t up for feeling at least a tiny bit dirty. It was a great time and the highlight of the day.
If the boats are in and you find yourself on Christmas Island, go get some milkies. If you have a pulse and aren’t a pretentious pain in the keister, you should have a good time.