Flyfishing Crested Butte, Saltwater During Off-Seasons – Flyfishing for fresh water trout vs. saltwater bonefish, tarpon & permit
When the rivers and streams in Colorado get covered in ice and snow – where do you go to get your fly fishing fix? How about Belize… Fly Fishing in Crested Butte – Crested Butte Colorado is a special place, and a great place if you are a fly fisherman. There are many rivers and streams, lakes and reservoirs to fish for elusive trout. I consider myself a “pretty good fly fisherman” who is still learning. Freshwater flyfishing in moving water is a challenge and a lifelong pursuit. It is a great sport and requires much patience, skill, and determination. Everyday is different. Each section of water is unique. There are many variables that are out of the fisherman’s control: the weather, the hatch, the water level, the cloud cover, the temperature of the water… all affect the fishing experience. Saltwater fly fishing has some similarities – but very different. Most of the casting skills will travel from fresh to salt water, but there are many additional variables that come into play. I have enjoyed the pursuit of flyfishing for freshwater trout for 15 years in the beautiful Crested Butte Colorado area – and only recently discovered the wonder of saltwater fly fishing. As a real estate agent in Crested Butte I get the opportunity to represent clients who are selling or buying private riverfront properties – so I have the opportunity to fish for trout in live water (rivers and streams). Comparing fresh water to saltwater fly fishing is interesting. When fresh water fishing the water is moving – but the fish are stationary, conversely when saltwater fly fishing the water is stationary but the fish are moving (or getting ready to). The most common saltwater fish that anglers seek are bonefish (the grey ghost). Tarpon and Permit are also sought after, but much harder to catch on a fly rod. A grand slam is defined as catching at least one of each of the 3 species of fish in the same day. Many places do not even offer the opportunity to catch all three fish – or only during certain times of the year when the tarpon may be migrating through the area. I recently had the opportunity to go “hunt” all three of these elusive saltwater fish in Belize. Destination – El Pescador Resort, on Ambergris Caye in Belize. This is an Orvis endorsed fly fishing lodge that caters to fly fisherman (and women) that has been around for decades and prides itself on high quality guides, nice accommodations, good food, and customer service. I was very impressed with El Pescador and hope to return many times with other fly fisherman. I booked the trip through Crested Butte Anglers in historic downtown Crested Butte Colorado. One of the best things about El Pescador is the opportunity to sit around after a day on the water and relax, swap stories with the other avid fly fishing guests around the bar or pool area. This talk continued during the family style dinners and into the night and it was fun to listen to everyone else’s stories about their home water, their favorite destinations and about the ones that got away… Some of the Variables that come into play when Saltwater Flyfishing: The Conditions – sun, clouds, wind, water depth, the fish type, the size of the fish, the tide, the moon (one guide said the time 3 days before until 3 days after a full moon was an excellent time to catch tarpon) The Equipment – bonefish – 8 weight rod, saltwater reel, flyline, 12 lb. or 16 lb. test leader, flies. Tarpon – 10 weight rod, 80 lb. test line with a section of 60 lb. test line as well above the 80 to act as an elbow in the line and provide a gentler presentation of the fly to the tarpon. Permit – I am not sure what the rigging was for the 8 weight rod we had rigged for permit because we only saw 2 schools of permit we could cast to – and they were immediately spooked and gone in an instant. There are a wide variety of saltwater flies to choose from – shrimp patterns were the favorite for bonefish.
The Guide – probably the most important ingredient to a successful day is the guide – Especially saltwater flyfishing. El Pescador has many very good guides who have decades of experience. There are literally miles of water to cover and to know where to hunt for the fish – all the guides have “special spots”. Selecting the correct fly (if there is one) and the size of the fly depending on the water level (shallow water – smaller lighter fly) are also key. We rarely spotted a bonefish or tarpon before the guide saw the fish (and we never saw permit before the guide). We tried, but did not catch a tarpon or permit. We had many chances at tarpon and probably turned 6-8 curious ones – they followed but did not eat our fly. We saw a few schools of spooky permit and only a few hail mary casts – “you really need a minimum of 5 days to catch a permit” said one guide. Another angler I talked with on this trip has kept a logbook and said he has fished for 20 days over the past 5 years without catching a permit, but he smiled when he said it – almost as if the hunt for that first permit was so fun that he did not want it to end. Bonefish – I will use this narrative to describe our experience with the elusive bonefish. The Hunt – We were in flat boats – the guide on a platform with a pole moving us slowly through the water. He had the advantage of knowing what to look for – it is hard to see the fish because their color matches their surroundings – instead you see the shadow of the fish on the bottom. If it is cloudy or the sun goes behind the clouds it gets very very hard to see the fish. If it also gets windy it is even harder to look into the water to see the fish. Bonefish eat small shrimp and crabs on the bottom in seagrass areas and can be seen “tailing” (their tails stick out of the water as they are feeding). “Nervous water” is when there is evidence of a school of fish under the surface that creates a different appearance on the surface. There were times when we saw nervous water – then a very large school of bonefish – then the guide got very excited and yelled “CAST NOW, there are a “fooo-king millions of them!”. The Cast. Typically there were long periods of inactivity interrupted by a very excited guide enthusiastically yelling at us to cast the fly 50’ into the wind at 10:00 to a moving fish we could not yet see. Since the rod, line and fly are heavier than a typical freshwater 5 weight set-up, and the saltwater cast is farther than what is normal in fresh water – it is harder. You have maybe 5 or 10 seconds to hit a spot that is 3- from the fish – leading them with a soft presentation so they do not spook. This also introduces many challenges – the line at your feet is prone to be stepped-on, or tangled, or caught on something. Most times the cast is short, or too far left or right of the fish you cannot see – this requires a re-cast. It is impossible (for me) to just pick-up 50’+ of line and re-cast, so the line must be stripped-in fast and then re-casted to a new spot where the fish has moved to… usually further away. Consider all of the above and a very excited guide who is yelling to you where the fish is, what direction he is traveling, how fast he is traveling, and how foooking big he is, and how you need to cast NOW!! This is different than freshwater flyfishing which requires casting to fish that are stationary – the angler in the river has all the time in the world to set-up, make false cast and lay the fly on the spot. The Set. The bonefish fly is replicating a small shrimp on the bottom – so waiting for the fly to sink prior to stripping the line is key with a low rod in the water pointing at the fish. Once the fish is in close proximity to the fly on the bottom then short stripping begins. Watching the fish follow the fly is exciting – the take is obvious but not a dramatic strike on the line. The hook-set is a faster strip straight back – the rod stays stationary until the fish is on. This is NOT at all similar to the typical rod hook-set in freshwater trout fishing. The Fight. We caught many bonefish and pound for pound this fish is heralded as one of the strongest fish in the ocean. They are fast. It is hard to strip line fast enough if you catch a fish and it charges the boat. When it runs away it was a bit awkward feeding line until getting to the drag on the reel. We had many bonefish that were only 2- – but took out all of our line down to the backing on the reel. The highlight was when a bonefish went side to side so fast that the line literally created a rooster tail with a ripping sound as it tore across the surface of the water. Supercool! If you are an avid fly fisherman and looking for a great destination for salt water fly fishing, (and great SCUBA diving and snorkeling) – Belize and El Pescador may be a great option for you as well. If you are considering fly fishing property in Crested Butte or that perfect mountain ski home for you and your family – I appreciate the opportunity to earn your business – give me a call today. Chris Kopf, Previews® Property Specialist Coldwell Banker Bighorn Realty Phone: (970) 209-5405 email: firstname.lastname@example.org 305 Sixth Street, PO Box 100, Crested Butte, CO, 81224