Interview with Chris Santella

If you are a fly fishing angler and anyone in your family is aware of that fact, you have probably been given a book by Chris Santella at some point.  He wrote 50 Places to Fly Fish Before You Die and recently put out 50 More Places to Fly Fish Before You Die.

I have both and the first one I think I received three times.

Chris has been around a bit and he’s collected some good stories.  Turns out I may be getting to fish with Chris come April at one of those Destination X kinds of places.  Can’t wait.

So, here’s my interview with Chris.

First, I have to say, I’m not a bonefishing expert. I’m like a baseball reporter who only played little league.

I’m coming at this from a similar place. I’ve gotten to fish a great deal, especially over the past ten years, but, if you have an appreciate and a curiosity about it, unless you are writing a technical fly tying book, that’s as good as anything.

I’ve selfishly squirreled away the funds to do a few of these trips, I really got hooked on them, the saltwater experience. I had poo-pooed it for several years after a good friend of mine who I fish with quite a bit, came back from his first saltwater trip, his first bonefishing trip, he said “this will rock your world, you gotta try it.” I said I liked to fish for steelhead, I like to fish for trout, I don’t need anything else.

Finally I went and the fishing on that trip wasn’t even that great, but even just catching a few bonefish it was really exciting and that was the beginning of the end.  Now I’ve decided, for better or for worse, each year by hook or crook I’m going to try and get somewhere and go for at least 4-5 days or a week.

When you are looking at a destination, there are lots of places you can catch average sized bonefish and you can catch a lot of them, and then there are some places where you have a shot at a really big fish. What do you look at when you are looking at a destination.

I have to say, I think that the first few times I went, and the first time was to Punta Allen, and that wasn’t a lot of big fish, a lot around 2 pounds or less, but there are a lot of them and they were in big schools, so you don’t really have to have that great a feeling for what you are doing and I felt like that was a great place to start. As I’ve gone more and more frequently, and I think I’ve gone more or less every year for the past 8 years, I personally like to have a little variety in terms of what I’m going after. I like to be in places where permit are a real possibility and maybe you can go and fish for snook a little bit or baby or larger tarpon. I love to have that option a little bit.  The one time I went to Andros it was a little time of year, but that’s when I could go. We saw a few really big fish, but didn’t really see that many because there has just been a big front that had come through. So, I can’t say I’ve really had a chance to have that experience where we say we are going to forsake numbers and we are going to go after a couple good shots at truly big fish.

I think that often times I like to have some variety. I’ve enjoyed the Yucatan and Belize probably because you do have that mixed bag. Christmas Island last year, we fished 40% bonefish and 60% trevalley. There was the sense that we’ve done the bonefish thing a little bit and in the inner lagoon you’ll find numbers but not really big fish, but there are some big fish out at “the wreck” even though the wreck hasn’t been there for 50 years, you are on the outer edge of the atoll and there are some big fish out there. It’s pretty exciting.

What’s your preferred bonefish rig?

I am almost always fishing with an 8 wt., and I am of the sort that even now, when I can get all the pro deals and I can get all the stuff for a big discount, I’ve never been a big gear junkie. I’ve been using, for the most part, some L.L. Bean rods, which are pretty solid. For reels, in the past, there were one or two reels I didn’t have such good luck with, but now, the reel they’ve had on the market for the past year or two, I think it’s called the Shearwater, I’ve had really good luck with that.  My thinking is I’d rather work a day or two less and fish a day or two more. The $800 reel and the $600 rod, I’m always worried I’m going to break something, even though I know they come with good warranties. I tend to go for utilitarian rather than flash.

The only time in my fishing days that I can say I maybe wish I had the $800 Tibor was when I hooked a really big Trevally. These reels do a pretty good job, but I had the thing ratcheted down all the way and I had 85# test leader on and the fish took something like 250 yards of line off and popped me off on a reef and I couldn’t do a thing about it. I was actually a little bit scared. It was maybe 50-60 pounds. It was big.

When you think back to the times on the flats, is there a single bonefish that stands out? For me, while trout fishing I find that all the fish tend to merge together and if I want to remember a fish, I have to really focus on it.

I would say there are probably two.  One was a fish I got out the wreck at Christmas Island. It was one of the last fish I caught because that was the last trip I went on, but it was the biggest fish I’ve been lucky to catch. It wasn’t huge, maybe 8 pounds. I had always heard people talk about how explosive they can run and I’ve always been impressed with even a small fish will take of 50 yards of backing pretty fast, but then they’ll peter out. This is the first time I really experienced how fast and powerful one of those fish can really be. It took me out to about 150-200 yards three times. Also, because it was such an anomalous spot. You had the open ocean right on the other side of this ring of coral. Here you had the beach and 100-120 yards of shallows and then the outer ring of the atoll with the waves really crashing and violent and you could really feel the surge and to have this fish racing all up and down this area, it had a really different sound than you usually associate with bonefishing with the quiet.

The other fish that sticks out, it was down in Chetumal Bay.  It was noteworthy because instead of casting 30’ into a bunch of mudding fish, the guide didn’t see the fish. It was probably the only time I saw the fish and the guide didn’t.  The boat was pointing at 12:00 and the fish was at 11:00 and moving away, but at a slight angle, going toward the top of the clock.  It was one of those times I was able to make a pretty good cast for me, maybe 75’ and 5’ in front of the fish. I kind of got to do it all myself. It was a longer cast. The fish was maybe 4-5 pounds, so bigger than most of the fish we had been catching. It was one of those times where everything just kind of clicked right and it felt like I had mustered a tiny bit of skill.

One of the thing that I really enjoy about bonefishing is everything else that comes with it. Is there an association you have about bonefishing other than the bonefishing?

One of the things I remember from the very first time I went was the vibrancy of life on the flats. When you are up on the Upper Sac (BOTB’s home water), I know there is a lot of life around, but it is so small and the water has enough color to it you just don’t notice it.  But when you are in the bow of a flats boats, you are seeing rays and small sharks and cuda’s and mullet and maybe a Manta Ray comes out and crashes down and maybe you have some exotic birds. Just the amount of life you get to take in. It makes you feel like you are a part of a very vibrant system.

Thanks Chris!

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