Posts tagged: Fly Fishing For Bonefish

Ask the Guide: Best Flies for Cuba

Ask the Guide: Best Flies for Cuba
Words + Photos by: Josh Thelin

On a recent trip to Cuba, after a week of fishing, I asked my guide Frankie what his favorite flies were for the areas we were in. The fishing was over mixed flats (both white sand and turtle grass) as well as deeper channels for tarpon. We covered the area from Cayo Largo to Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth). With the primary target species of Bonefish, Permit, and Tarpon, here are the ones that made his list:

Best Flies for Cuba Fly Fishing

Permit

  • Strong Arm Crab - This was the first crab pattern he asked for when going through our fly boxes. Originally out of the Keys, and now also a popular pattern throughout Cuba and Belize for Permit, it's a variation of a Merkin but with a prominent claw made from chenille. Similar in idea to a "fleeing crab."
  • Avalon Very particular with this one. It had to be the original. Most of the mass produced versions of this fly Frankie did not like as their tails/rubber legs were not of proper length and the proportions of the rabbit strips usually were off.
  • Spawning Shrimp - This was the tried-and-true all a-rounder. Whether it was for permit or bonefish, our guide had a lot of confidence in this fly. We rarely saw a refusal with the versions that we tied/brought down. Mine were all tied on #4 & mostly #6 hooks. Most of the ones I fished and liked were tied on the #6 AHREX Salt Jig (SA254) hook. Now my favorite hook for larger shrimp flies. Below is a example of one I tied before the trip that worked well.
Cuba Spawning Shrimp Fly Pattern

Bonefish

  • Spawning Shrimp - see above
  • Webster's Shrouser - This got the attention of Frankie quickly. As we went through our fly boxes and I pulled these out, they said "tie that one on!" The Shrouser stayed on for most deeper water situations as I only had them tied (by Joe) on smaller lead eyes. But when we used them, they worked. Although no permit were caught on it, Frankie said that it would be ideal for them down there as well. So I left him a few in hopes of a photo soon. (This is the fly that's hanging out of the bonefish's mouth in the picture above)
  • Squimps - A popular bonefish fly also in Belize, the Squimp was a requested pattern by our guide.

Tarpon

  • Black/Purple - Mostly Tarpon Bunny and Stu Ape style Tarpon patterns. I tied all of mine on 1/0 & 2/0 Gamakatsu SC17 hooks.
  • Tarpon Toad - Both in black/purple & lighter/chartreuse colors.
  • Gamechanger - Worked great on channel tarpon with sinking lines. Due to weight when wet, they can sometimes be a little sloppy for sight casting on flats.
  • EP Peanut Butter - Also a preferred snook fly for the location
  • Mini Dragon Tails - With the mini tails, not the regular Magnums. These can be the ticket down there and give the fish another "look" if you think they aren't responding to other patterns.
Best Flies for Cuba Fly Fishing

Read more

Trip Report: Cuba (January 6-13th, 2024)

Trip Report: Cuba (January 6-13th, 2024)
Words + Photos: Josh Thelin

I didn't know what to expect. It was not only my first time in Cuba, but I had heard so much about the flats fishing and the culture (specifically of Havana via music) that l hoped it would live up to my anxiously driven expectations. Before arrival, I arranged an AirBnB in Old Havana for the night before our departure on the boat. This provided not only a less stressful travel day - not concerned with connecting with planes, vans or boats on time - but it also gave me some time in Havana to walk around and soak a little of it in. We were scheduled to be on the live-aboard (mothership) for the remainder of the week.

The evening of our arrival my fishing partner and I got a couple of drinks at El Floridita, a famous bar and favorite of Ernest Hemingway, while live music at the entrance kept people dancing. Then later we sat next to Clive Owen during a relaxed dinner. Once finished, we parted ways for the night and I took the long walk home listening to live music coming out from the various bars and clubs. Stopping at times to listen, I began to see why Havana has long been a place people come to do just this...and the fishing hasn't even started yet.

Fly Fishing Cuba Bonefish Permit Tarpon(old havana near the main port)

The Canarreos is a section of cayes, flats, lagoons, and channels, that all interconnect from Cayo Largo westerly towards Isla de la Juventud. Our trip would take us from the most eastern point of Cayo Largo westerly to IDJ. This would be our area of interest and would take us about a week to get from one side to the other and back. As we progress, the geography changes and so does the fishing. At the beginning, in Cayo Largo, it is more recognized as a bonefish and permit area. Then as we move west, we will hit Isla de la Juventud, some of the most famous tarpon water in the Caribbean. With a sprinkling of consistent bonefish waters in all areas, the fishing is always showing you something new.Fly Fishing Cuba Bonefish Permit TarponOur first day on the water we hit some great weather conditions. Quality sunlight the entire day and consistent easterly (prevailing) winds gave us an exciting day of feeling like one of us was always on a fish. At times, doubling up on big bonefish really made for a solid kickstart to our trip. Cayo Largo has expansive white sand flats and we ran into large sized bonefish that were happy, not spooky, and willing to take one of our spawning shrimp imitations on a long run well into our backing many times. Permit following stingrays waiting for easy meals gave us some good shots that first day as well, but none were landed. 

As the week continued, we moved our way west towards Isla de la Juventud and catch rates on tarpon seemed to intrinsically increase throughout the group. Those targeting tarpon in the channels and back mangroves reported daily catches on fish in the 10-40lb range. Bonefish continued to be the mainstay however with nice sized fish landed every day. This was true throughout the rest of the trip and was really the biggest take-a-way that I had from the trip in terms of fishing. At times, when the conditions presented themselves, it was some of the most fun bonefishing that I had ever done.Fly Fishing Cuba Bonefish Permit TarponFly Fishing Cuba Bonefish Permit TarponLike most winter weather in the Caribbean, we dealt with days of variable conditions. But conditions were never awful and at times were great. Rain only came one day for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and it was mostly managing the erratic local winds. So all in all, par for the course!

We found that larger shrimp imitations (in the #4-#2 size range) were really the only thing we needed for the bonefish. If it was generally the right size and was some sort of "spawning shrimp" pattern, it would likely be well received. I found that orange (yes its my favorite bonefish and permit color), was also key.Bonefish in CubaAt the end of each day, we would meet up with the mothership to where it had made anchor. During the days while we were fishing the boat would make its trip to the next spot for the night. This provided a stationary home base for us to relax, sleep, etc. at the end of the day. Late afternoon/evenings gave us time to tinker with riggings for the next day. A lot of times our guide would tell us to switch out a floating line for an intermediate or sinking, vice-a-versa, or something similar to help us dial-in the specifics for the following day. The flats boats were simply stashed along the shoreline nearby and retrieved in the morning which made for easy and seamless mornings. Further, our morning commutes were never long as the live-a-board was always very close to our spots.Fly Fishing Cuba Bonefish Tarpon PermitAs we worked our way back east towards Cayo Largo during the second half of the week, it was interesting to see and fish some of the waters we had done so previously. On a related note, on a sustainability and conservation side of things, it was encouraging to also see the consistent regulation of laws and standards. For instance most of their fishing water is divided into sections such as Zone 1, Zone 2, etc. On one occasion as we were passing by a flat on our way to another, I spotted a school of tailing bonefish. "Nice school of bonefish over there" I said..."Indeed, but we can't fish there today, that's Zone 6 and we are letting that one rest for a while. Keep the fish happy..." said Frankie our guide. 

Fly Fishing for bonefish in Cuba
The Canarreos proved to be a fascinating area. I was impressed with the amount of different types of water that we were fishing. Various types of flats and geography made our days always challenging. What made this trip as unique as it is was certainly has a lot to do with the quality of the water and environment. We commented regularly at how healthy the system looked...various fish life along the colorful coral and ample amount of other marine life from stingrays to flamingos were reflections of the surrounding area.
 
The "National Geographic Channel" moment of the trip happened at the very end of one of the days. A deeply swung tarpon fly in a deep blue channel within sight of the mothership came tight. I saw a nice tarpon jump out of the water shaking its head. No sooner had I looked down to make sure my line was clearing my feet, that I hear our guide say: "shit, shark!" - I then look up to see a large 6-7ft spinner shark on the surface making havoc with the tarpon. The shark's flexed abdomen being highlighted by the setting sun on the glimmering surface of the water while it took stabs at the tarpon was comically wild. After the top three sections of my fishing partner's rod came flying off (he had the rod with the sinking line), retrieved, and then eventually after a brief fight with the shark and (about 75% of) a tarpon the leader broke from shark teeth. Although Frankie, our guide, was kindly disappointed initially because of the lost tarpon. We ensured him it was quite the visual scene and was well worth the price of admittance, plus, we had a good moment to talk about over a drink later.
 
The last days of our week consisted of traveling back to our original destination for about 1.5 days of fishing the Cayo Largo area. Although my fishing partner and I were mostly targeting bonefish and permit, and everyone has different goals and expectations, our guides did a great of job keeping our group on fishable water and specifically geared towards what we wanted to fish for.
 

We are hosting another trip to Cuba! Join us!

- See the trip details HERE! - 

Check out our Instagram video of this trip HERE!

Fly Fishing in Cuba for Bonefish Permit Tarpon
Fly Fishing in Cuba

Read more

What Makes a Fly Rod Great for Striped Bass?

What Makes a Fly Rod Great for Striped Bass?
Written By: Joe Webster // Photo: Josh Thelin
Purposefully, this article does not mention any specific brands or models. This piece was not written to be a “Top 5 Best Rods” article or to sell you on any brand or model, but more so an article to help you determine what may be the best 5 rods for you specifically. For help picking out what brand and model of rod is right for you, shoot us an email or give us a call at the shop. We are here to help make sense of striped bass fishing and the gear you may need to accomplish your goals.

This is a question we get here at the shop on a very regular basis and one that the fly fishing industry as a whole has really not given any clear answer to. To answer this it is important to understand the industry mentality and how new and innovative technology is applied to fly rods. Striped bass fishing is not overlooked in the industry, however it is on the back burner for most manufacturers. Freshwater trout gear, whether that be rods, reels, or lines is always the first to be acknowledged. In the fly rod specific world, this means the newest technology and most effort into design and manufacturing will be put into the 9ft 5 weight rod before anything else. Almost every fly angler, whether just starting out or a seasoned veteran, will own this rod. In most situations it's actually the first rod we own. When the saltwater world is considered, the first thing most manufacturers focus on is tropical applications. Designing and manufacturing rods geared toward bonefish, tarpon, and permit has always come first. Oftentimes these efforts can overlap into the striped bass world, but really for the angler targeting striped bass (specifically from shore) different technology and designs can make for a better tool. Tropical fishing is often presentation based. A rod that can accurately and delicately punch out a small to moderate sized fly through wind is very different from a rod paired with a line that can properly turn over a 14” bunker imitation or deliver a 400gr sink tip fly line with a clouser sporting large dumbbell eyes. In this article we will discuss technologies and designs that help with conditions that the average striped bass fly fishing angler is put up against. Also, we will touch upon fly rod technologies and designs that may hinder or help in accomplishing the task at hand in these unique conditions.

A great deal of what makes a rod great is personal preference specific to the individual angler. Some anglers may prefer a softer feeling rod due to their casting style or needed application, whereas a more aggressive caster, or those looking to utilize a specific technique, may prefer a stiffer rod. How soft or stiff a rod may feel has everything to do with the design of the rod, the materials used, and the individual angler's casting style. A softer rod will be easier to feel load and often will cast more like your average trout rod. In the trout world, often softer rod designs are used for dry fly fishing. This allows the angler to accurately cast a small weightless fly and have it gently hit the water in hopes not to spook that wary fish. It is why some love using fiberglass rods for small creek or solely dry fly situations. This is actually a very similar scenario applied when targeting spooky bonefish. Though the fly may not be a surface fly, bonefish flies are often small (think Gotchas, Crazy Charlies, or Ragheads tied on #8-#4 sized hooks) and meant to land delicately on the water. Often fly lines with longer heads and/or less aggressive tapers are used for these applications. On the contrary, a stiffer more powerful rod in the trout world is usually considered a streamer rod. These rods are designed for casting larger more wind resistant or heavier flies such as Kelly Galloup-style streamers or tungsten-headed buggers and handling sink tips and more aggressively tapered fly lines - similar tactics used by those who are targeting striped bass. With all that being said, the point here is that a more powerful, stiffer rod would theoretically be the correct tool for most striped bass anglers, unless specifically sight fishing for stripers where presentation does matter.

Many of the stiffer rods on the market that are designed to deal with big flies, heavy sink tips, and howling wind are often labeled as “broom sticks.” They can often deter people, especially those test casting rods under perfect conditions and putting them up against presentation oriented rods that are a lot more enjoyable and fun to cast because you can feel more of what you are doing. Fast forward to being out on the beach, waist deep in the water, with your body being pounded by waves and 30mph winds - your analysis on what is needed out of a fly rod may differ. That "broom stick" may not feel so stiff or perform so badly. Although a powerful, stiff fly rod may lack the feel and responsiveness of a softer and more presentation based fly rod under a controlled casting environment, that same stiffer rod will almost certainly do a better job at being able to generate the line speed and power to turn over a wind resistant or heavy fly on an aggressive over weighted line. That is what the technology and designs are being used to accomplish. That being said, again, a great deal has to do with personal preference and a stiff and powerful fly rod is not for everyone, nor is fishing in 20+mph winds or wanting to throw 12" long bulky flies. This is why it is important to consider how you fish for stripers and what kind of flies, lines, and conditions you as an angler will most often be dealing with. If you are someone who doesn't find themselves out in tough windy conditions much or can manage to cast most of their striper flies without that "clunky" feeling at the beginning and end of each cast, a softer more presentation based design may be better for you. They are certainly more pleasant to cast. If you’re regularly throwing large 12" flies and find themselves in areas or conditions that may not be ideal but the fishing certainly is, something stiffer with a little more power may be the ideal tool.

Another thing to consider about rods for striped bass, especially if you are a shorebound angler, is durability. This is something that should be considered in all rods but comes especially important when your rod is getting slapped by waves, dropped onto barnacle covered rocks, casting heavy flies, and is being used to exert high amounts of pressure to pull a bass out from behind a rock in strong current. Rod durability has a lot to do with material selections and how they are formed into rod blanks. The fly fishing industry has constantly been furthering technology to create lighter and stronger rods but often a lighter weight rod can also be more fragile. Another thing that can make a rod fragile is actually being too stiff. With less bend comes less forgiveness and a tendency to be brittle. Though a stiff fast action fly rod is theoretically a better tool for dealing with most striped bass conditions, the durability of that rod can be compromised due to its material make up and design. The tough thing is that the only way durability is truly put to the test is over time and generally speaking the field testing companies do in the R&D phase are often much too short spans of time to truly test this. Companies try their best, but time and regular use over variable conditions and scenarios is the only true test of a rods durability. Oftentimes we will judge the durability of a rod not only by our own ownership and use of the product, but also if we are seeing a specific model come back to the shop for repairs regularly. We certainly have rods we never break and never see come back, and rods that we initially loved to cast but stopped carrying because we did not feel them up to the task of striped bass on the coast. 

We hope this helped! There is a lot thrown at you here and it can certainly be confusing. Fly fishing for striped bass is still very much a niche within the already existing niche of fly fishing. So when researching, say "saltwater fly rods," a lot of the information provided is really not intended for the eye of the striped bass angler. Please feel free to contact us with any questions!

Read more

Fly Rod Shootout: Sage Salt R8 vs. Sage Salt HD

Fly Rod Shootout: Sage Salt R8 vs. Sage Salt HD
Words + Photos By: Josh Thelin

Saltwater fly rods have a unique place in fly fishing. They are dealt a wide variety of environments to accommodate, have to manage larger fish on average than freshwater endeavors, get punished with corroding/damaging salt, and still need to find the balance between powerful, accurate, and responsive. For the most part, with the subject of "saltwater fly fishing" the fly fishing industry (as a whole) mostly thinks of bonefish flats and cruising tarpon. So with this, saltwater fly rods over the years have been designed more towards accuracy and presentation with fighting/lifting power as a secondary thought. It is understandable, as in many cases these characteristics can be mutually exclusive. Further, specifically within this review, Sage has been actually known as a maker of generally faster/stiffer rods than other manufacturers. Depending on what you are looking for in terms of your needs or how it matches with you as an angler, there is a lot to consider when purchasing your next saltwater fly rod. 

The Sage Salt HD has been around for a number of years providing a very capable rod in many saltwater/big game situations. I currently own the 9wt myself which I use for striped bass here in Maine, permit/bonefish in the Caribbean, and Golden Dorado in Argentina. In the words of Sage, the Salt HD has "more pulling power than a standard Fast Action Rod to bring stronger fish to hand more efficiently, and increased line lifting power allowing for long range second casts." So this tells me a few things right off the bat if I had never cast it and were reading this for the first time: this rod is fast. And in truth, if there has been a complaint about the Salt HD from some anglers, it has been that it "lacks feel/seems clunky and doesn't have the touch and responsiveness as other saltwater fly rods, even within Sage's lineup." 

But again, saltwater fly fishing is diverse. So this stiffness that some feel doesn't work for their fishing/casting needs, can also be a good tool for others in different situations. For instance I enjoy the Salt HD especially for striped bass fishing as it provides a rod that allows me to effectively and efficiently cast the flies and lines necessary for stripers. For most of these situations I am not looking for a rod that can delicately place a small + lightweight shrimp fly accurately at 70ft (a la bonefish or redfish), but a rod that can manage throwing lead-eyed clousers/crab patterns as well as wind-resistant hollow flies on sinking and aggressive tapered fly lines. Sure, there are certainly situations with striped bass fly fishing where you can target the fish in flats with a technique very similar to bonefish/permit, but a vast majority of striped bass anglers are not doing this on a regular basis. 

Sage has now released their replacement for the Salt HD. The Salt R8 is a continuation of the R8 family of rods. Using their proprietary Revolution 8 technology, Sage has replaced the KonneticHD technology which was previously available in the Salt HD. This newest rod technology has certainly provided a lighter-weight and responsive rod in the R8 CORE offerings, so let's see how the new Salt R8 fairs against its predecessor...

Rods Used:

Lines Used:

Flies Used:

  • Clouser (medium lead + large brass dumbbell eyes)
  • Crab Fly (medium lead eyes)
  • Hollow Fly (4/0 hook)
  • Articulated Beast Fly

Reels Used:

Sage Salt R8 vs. Sage Salt HD

We wanted to give the Salt R8 a wide range of tests. This included not only using a variety of different fly lines and flies, but also environments. The first place we brought the rods was into a local gymnasium. This gave us a completely sterile area with no weather/wind to effect the casting. Being able to cast the rods without any environmental interference allowed us to get a good baseline assessment. 

Before we started casting, I did the ol' wiggle test with the 9wt Salt HD and Salt R8 side by side. Right out of the gate it was clear that the Salt R8 was not only lighter but also had more flex, especially in the top section. It did feel "softer" but not in a bad way. The flex styles of the two rods are distinctively different. After rigging up the different lines and flies, casting them side by side with the Salt HD, the Salt R8 felt not only more pleasant to cast, but surprising capable at managing the heavier lines and bigger flies. Additionally, it seemed that I had to work less while casting the Salt R8 to get similar (distance) results as the Salt HD. It took very little effort to get the Coastal Quickshooter 9IXP line with a hollow fly tied on to shoot across the gym. This told me that the power of the Salt R8 is there and comparable to any saltwater rod currently on the market. Plus, with the softer tip section accuracy was enhanced and it was overall a more efficient and pleasant rod to cast compared to the Salt HD.

The 10wt echoed similar results. In the gym, the 10wt Salt R8 performed better than the Salt HD is almost every way. However, once we both tied on aggressive sinking lines and big flies, the Salt R8 seemed to run out of gas a little, but not by much. This was true with the 9wt as well. Certainly doable and the rod could get the job done, but the stiffer Salt HD had an easier time managing the grunt work. 

So, then it was time to bring them outside...

Sage R8 Salt vs. Sage Salt HD

It was windy on this day. Gusts of around 20mph kept things interesting. But, what is a saltwater fly rod test without some wind? Using the same setups as inside the gym, we cast at various targets/distances, changed flies, changed lines, and cast at different angles into the wind. The Salt R8 continued to be the more pleasant casting rod between the two. However, it did start to suffer a little quicker than the Salt HD when the wind picked up and we were trying to negotiation larger/heavier flies and more aggressive lines. This was one of the few instances that the Salt HD had a leg up. 

As we continued to cast both the 9 and 10wts, the differences between the two models became greater. The more I cast the R8 Salt I was able to manage all of the lines that we brought with comfort and, with the exception of the Beast Fly, could easily cast all of the flies accurately with less effort needed than the Salt HD. But the wind was a deciding factor between the two. With either the hollow fly or the Beast Fly, the Salt R8 started to suffer quicker than the Salt HD. However, something to consider: throwing these types of flies or aggressive lines is not what everyone does or needs to do. Which brings me to fly lines...

Best Fly Line

Sage Salt R8 Review

One of the things that I like to take note of when doing these types of fly rod shootouts is to see which lines the rod really prefers. This can not only be a good indication of the type of action the rod is but also what techniques, situations the rod will do best in, or even which species it's best suited for. Testing rods with only one line doesn't really give much information. So that is why we picked fly lines from floating to sinking, aggressive or presentation minded, and also coldwater and tropical. 

A while back we tested a group of 9wt rods with specifically striped bass fly fishing in mind. (You can read our "9wt Fly Rod Royale" HERE). At the end of that shootout the RIO Coastal Quickshooter was our favorite line across the board. It was aggressive enough to load the faster action rods that we like for this type of fishing. In this shootout, although I was pleasantly surprised athte R8 Salt's ability to manage all of the lines we brought, I found that the RIO Elite Flats Pro was the best matched line for this rod. This makes sense as although the Salt R8 is a very capable rod with both power and feel, I think that it will shine brighter on the tropical flats than it will chucking big flies and heavy lines especially in windy situations. 

Conclusion

Joe Webster from here at All Points had a good overall assessment of the Salt R8 after our testing: 

"The R8 Salt 9 and 10wt models are overall a much smoother and pleasant experience to cast than the Salt HD. I think the R8 Salt will probably outperform in every situation other than in rough windy conditions, more specifically windy conditions when wading from shore. For our local striper anglers, I think there are better tools out there, even amongst Sage’s current offerings. But it certainly may be a better tool for our local striper anglers who may not like the broom stick feel of rods that handle heavy sink tips and large flies so well. It just may be more difficult during poor windy conditions (which isn’t for everyone either). If I had to reach for one of the two on a calm day I would choose the R8 Salt every time. But if a rough windy day came about I’d probably still be fishing the Salt HD with a more aggressive and heavier line. Overall I see this series going over very well with everything from sea trout to sailfish with the unfortunate exception of shore bound striped bass fisherman."

Both Joe and I really liked this new rod from Sage. For those who did not like the feel (or lack thereof) of the Salt HD, this rod is definitely worth checking out. Additionally, according to Sage, the Salt R8 has also improved the durability of this rod which I know in some situations was a complaint about the Salt HD. This is not only a perk for any angler, but certainly to note for remote/traveling anglers. As their newest flagship saltwater rod, I can see this going over very well for years to come. 

 

Thanks for checking out this review! If you have any questions for us, please feel free to contact us at: support@allpointsflyfishing.com

Read more

Fly Focus Friday: The Original Crouser

Fly Focus Friday: The Original Crouser

The crouser has fast become one of the most popular flies for targeting striped bass here on the New England coast. This pattern was developed by local fly angler and current shop employee Joe Webster. The crouser is a crab + clouser hybrid and produces great results in a variety of scenarios.

Striped Bass Fly Fishing - Crouser Fly Pattern

What makes this such a great fly is its versatility in that it will work in scenarios where fish are selective towards crab, shrimp or small baitfish. In any of these situations the crouser will produce results. Originally this fly was designed to fish directly on the bottom with a sink tip fly line but also works well on a floating or intermediate line, especially when the bass are more interested in shrimp and baitfish vs. crabs. The olive/light olive color was the original and to this day still the most popular and all around productive color scheme, however darker colors have been found to work especially well in stained water or low light hours and the lighter tones have become extremely popular on some of the bigger flats south of us here in Maine. On top of being an extremely productive fly pattern for striped bass, tropical flats fisherman have taken a liking to this pattern in smaller sizes for bonefish and permit. This is a must have for any fly angler targeting striped bass on the New England coast.

Materials List: (click for product page)

Check out one of our Crouser fly tying videos:

Read more