Venezuelan smorgasbord at Los Roques
"It's amazing the way that some things fall into place. A chance encounter, one phone call to a friend and before you know it you find you have booked a flight and are headed to Venezuela. I speak to a fair few guys that have made the pilgrimage to Los Roques and I have quite fancied a trip to its flats for a long time. Everyone who has been has great things to say about the island, its friendly inhabitants and the fishing."
Austen Goldsmith of UK Saltwater Flies based down in Cornwall knows a thing or two about saltwater fishing being a bass guide himself but put him on a flat in an even more tropical part of the word and the addiction only gets worse!
It's amazing the way that some things fall into place. A chance encounter, one phone call to a friend and before you know it you find you have booked a flight and are headed to Venezuela. I speak to a fair few guys that have made the pilgrimage to Los Roques and I have quite fancied a trip to its flats for a long time. Everyone who has been has great things to say about the island, its friendly inhabitants and the fishing.
Los Roques certainly lived up to my expectations. As we made our way through the clouds in our flying sardine can the seascape of aqua blues, turquoise and greens are breathtaking, amid spectacular if maybe slightly worrying cloud formations, the 1/2 hour flight from Caracas was certainly memorable. The regular charter plane was in the hanger for servicing so we were squeezed into a light aircraft. We buckled up and then the captain flicked the switch on the ignition. There was a sound somewhat reminiscent of a Volkswagen Beetle with a broken starter motor, 'Click' then silence, 'Click' then silence. A few expletives from the captain later or at least I suspect that's what they were, we were asked to vacate the craft while essential repairs could be made. No doubt the large hammer was sent for. Half an hour later it was all systems go. I joked to Peter that they were probably circling the airport testing out the plane for faults, moments later the plane was landing on the runway!
In comparison the landing on the small airstrip on Los Roques was smooth and uneventful. We were greeted by Raphael our guide for the next week. No need for a taxi from the airport, we made our way to the lodge on foot through the sand. The lodge is owned by an artist and the creative attention to detail of the rooms and living areas combined fine Italian food would impress any visitor.
An hour later we made our way to the beach to fish for the afternoon. As we hopped up onto the panga good sized bonefish were right in front of us chasing down fry amid young children who were swimming in the shallows playing. These bonefish were quite relaxed and willing to share the water with the children. This was rather a shock to the system! Los Roques is a unique fishery and that was evident straight away.
Our first afternoon was spent avoiding the thick black tropical storm clouds and plucking small bonefish from the beaches and flats. It was pretty early on that were informed by our guide that the fishing was not going to be at its best, Los Roques was recovering from the recent hurricane which had just missed the island by 200 miles. This is not the kind of news you want to hear after a long journey across the Atlantic but that is the chance you take. The rough seas had dispersed the baitfish, upset the equilibrium and made the fishing tough. If this was tough then I would love to be here when it's at its best!
Dog and Bone !
One thing that my fishing partner had told me about on Los Roques was the variety of species you can target. Our second day was an odd one or at least it was for me. Over the course of the day I landed baby tarpon, bonefish, yellowtail snapper, spanish mackerel, bonito and pompano. One of each, no more no less. Once again we were shrouded by thick storm clouds and at one point we were forced to sit out a tropical downpour. Fatigue is as much the enemy as any tropical low pressure system and the long journey, the change of time zone and the heat did get to me. The famous pancake flats were quite deep as we waded and the sun was interspersed with cloud. I really struggled to spot the bonefish over the darker patches as sweat and suntan lotion leached into my eyes. It always takes a couple of days to settle in and find your feet. Excitement will only get you so far before the fatigue due to the long journey, a change of time zone and heat catches up with you
A Baby Tarpon on a Gummy Minnow size 2
A decent night's sleep can make all the difference. Refreshed and somewhat more adjusted to the time zone I felt ready to fish. We headed across to Crasqui, a favourite spot of Peters. This white sand beach offers great sight casting for bonefish cruising the margins in search of a meal. Pelicans were diving and bonefish were hassling the birds to release their catch. Peter fished the floating gummy while at this point I stuck with the Christmas Island special. We were both hooking the bonefish via diferent methods. The floating gummy is a great fly to fish. You may not catch quite as many as you would do with a traditional gummy but the thrill of watching the bones circle, target and attack your fly takes some beating.
A change of location was called for so we headed off to another one of the many quays with wadeable flats. Our arrival was well timed as a large shoal of bonefish were cruising quite deep down . A long and accurate cast would always result in a hook up. At this range we were very prone to dropping fish, several fish were landed and plenty managed to shake free. The fly of choice was a Christmas Island special size 6. We decided to have a rest and hopped back onto our boat and enjoyed our tuna burritos in the shade of the bimini. It's hard to eat when you have a shoal of bonefish within casting range. I decided to experiment and tied on a very large and very heavy permit crab pattern. A long cast found the shoal and the fly was allowed plenty of time to get down deep. While the fly made its way into the depths it was taken on the drop. It was obvious that this was a decent fish because as line was stripped line from the reel it felt heavy. Today the fishing gods were smiling upon me. At one point the fish went straight through a loop in a mooring rope. With aggressive persuasion and a great deal of luck I managed to steer the fish back through the ropes. We landed and decided to weigh the fish and she hit the scales at 7 1/2 Lb. That's my best bonefish to date. The rest of the day had been forgotten, eclipsed by landing such a fine fish. 7 1/2 lb bonefish on a permit crab.
Next day blues
If the fishing Gods had smiled upon us the previous day then I would have to guess that somehow we had offended them. With a red wine hangover I boarded the boat. The weather looked fine however several hours and zero fish later we were sheltering from the torrential rain. This was followed soon after by the attack of the Kamakazi Mosquito squadron. These bugs took no prisoners and clothes were no match for these elite troops, and they simply sucked the juice through your clothing. We ran for the sanctuary of the open sea. Mosquitoes clung to our clothes and faces in the breeze. I had been warned about the mosquitoes and apparently this was worse than ever due to the rains. Clouds seemed to hug each quay and flat hampering our chances of sight fishing, you just get days where every direction you go you seem to hit a brick wall. We were heading towers a total blank. Blitzing bonito rescued Peter and I was forced to hit the spinning rod with a surface popper. One horse-eyed jack was landed and one was released at long range before we finally made our way back to Grand Roque, Not the greatest of days but that's fishing. The resident bonefish of Grande Roque are always awaiting you and a few bonefish at dusk rescued an otherwise slow days fishing.
Horse eyed Thugs (Jacks)
We headed out full of hopes for the day. Our plan was to hit the Pancake Flats but once again the forces conspired against us with thick clouds hugging the flats, the lights were switched off. Sight fishing over turtle grass with cloud cover is tough going at the best of times. Had the water been shallower we would have been able to spot the tailing bonefish. A change was called for and we followed the sunshine and the birds. Jacks, bonito and blue runners were chasing bait in shallow water. We encountered bones on remote sand flats close to deeper electric blue coral filled holes. Birds were resting on the sandbanks, bonefish cruised within inches of the shore line, and we cast to and landed a couple of nice fish prior to spooking the shoal. The variety of flats you encounter on Los Roques has amazed me. The pancake turtle grass flats, sand flats in the middle of the sea, and beach flats where bikini clad Venezuelan women watch you cast at the bonefish within a few yards of the shore. The day had turned out to be a tough one, half a dozen bonefish each and a couple of pelagics. We encountered a permit around the coral flats and tarpon on the town beach. The cloud cover had restricted our movements as we followed the sun.
Birds sunbathing !
The last day always comes around too fast. Once again we waited for the town bonefish and pelicans to clock in for the early shift. In the distance forked lightening pierced through the clouds spiking the sea. Not the best omen you would say and soon after the heavens opened up. One or two casts too many resulted in a soaking as I ran back to the Posada. Like a fool I had locked myself out so was forced to sit the storm out. A young boy with a spinning rod followed me into the shelter. We sat there for half an hour, we had a great chat, he in Spanish and myself in English. He asked me for my Costa sunglasses I smiled and said nice try.
Once again our options were going to limited by the blankets of clouds. Our home island was bathed in sunshine so we opted to drift along the town beach. Bonefish were harassing pelicans close to shore, the decision to hop out and wade the town beach resulted in a few fish happily.
This Bone shot straight around the jetty. Time to walk the plank!
We headed back to the same areas as the previous day and upon arrival we immediately spotted a large permit cruising the flat. The fish zig-zagged its way through the mixed ground and turtle grass. Head down obviously looking for a meal, the permit rod was ready to go along with the large crab fly. We hopped out of the skiff and began to stalk this very large permit. My mouth dried out instantaneously as I stumbled over loose coral beneath my feet. We had to get up wind and ahead of this fish, meanwhile a huge tail swung back and forth as the fish burrowed for crabs. I made one weak cast after the other, suddenly my casting had gone to rats, the large crab I had been casting earlier in the week had turned into a brick. My guide wanted me to hit the fish on the head with the fly or at least get the fly very close indeed. The pressure was starting to show as my casting worsened with each shot. My greatest fear was spooking the fish hence my cast was too short most of the time. I did manage to arouse the attention of this fish for a moment. The permit chased my fly for possibly ten yards before turning away. In the process I had lured the fish uncomfortably close to Raphael and me. We both crouched down and covered our faces below the brim of our hats as the fish came closer and closer, eventually the fish was within two rod lengths of me tracking up wind and into the sun. The fish started to vanish. I knew my chance had gone. It had also been a great chance. Once again I have been left feeling helpless, confused and perplexed by this creature. My permit saga goes on. I know I should head to Mexico or Belize and cure my permit problems but to be honest I want one of these big Atlantic swimmers, the type I have chanced upon in Cuba or Los Roques. Later over dinner my well travelled fishing partner owned up. That was the largest permit he had ever seen, at least forty pounds.
"We're not Tackle Tarts! Promise!"
Tackle and Flies
Bonefish and gummy minnows are synonymous with the location, but what did surprise me was the diversity of species that you can target . Be prepared to chase the blitzing fish and birds. Gummy's will catch just about everything that swims around these waters. For some reason I did not pack any Clouser minnows, that was definitely an oversight. Next time I will pack a few size 4 with heavy eyes and tied very sparsely. The reason being that when the birds are blitzing and you strip your fly like crazy to stimulate the bonito and jacks into a hit, your fly will ride straight across the surface and the birds will pick up your fly. This can become highly frustrating. One morning Peter managed to land three terns and a pelican! At least I saw the funny side.
A Christmas Island special size 6 will suffice for a great deal of the bonefishing situations, throw a few superlight flies and bonefish bitters in for fishing the pancakes. Gummys should be size 6 or 4 for the bones , size 2 and 1 for the baby tarpon and size 1/0 for the larger tarpon. Deceivers and seducers are preferred over toads and bunnies. For the permit pack a bunch of crab flies and take them to a priest and ask him to bless them.
I laughed when Peter boarded the boat with two eight weights rigged, one with a Gummy and the other attached to a Christmas Island. This turned out to be a great idea as you end up switching between those two flies all day every day. I will do the same next year. A sturdy ten weight should do for the tarpon. Always leave a rod rigged and ready for that permit too.
January through to June can have the best bonefishing. This is apparently the busy season for visiting anglers. For tarpon then visit during October and November. Personally there's a limit to how many bonefish I want to land in a day. Variety is the spice of life for me so I would elect to sacrifice the best bonefishing in favour of a shot at tarpon. I guarantee that you will still catch plenty of bonefish, they are everywhere and then there's the barracuda but I never got around to telling you about those did I !
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