Friday, September 17, 2010

Vela in the Angling Report

The Angling Report
October 2010

Fly fishing for blue water species – billfish in particular – is one of those activities that could, and should, have more support. Think about it for a moment. Big, high-jumping fish are involved. Interesting tackle is involved. And, above all, the activity at its best involves casting to sighted fish. What’s not to like here?

The answer’s pretty simple: Many of the boat captains involved in blue water fly fishing secretly don’t like fly fishing. They don’t like the lowered success rate, for one thing. And they also just don’t like dealing with fly rods and piles of unruly fly lines. The increased messiness of fly fishing appears to challenge their total command of the cockpit.

I say all this based on my experience on one big game fly fishing outing in Guatemala with one blue water captain. So, maybe, I over-generalize. All I know is, the experience was so negative I vowed to never do that kind of fishing again. The captain, I still recall, fairly screamed at me when I tried to cast to a raised sail- fish. "What are you doing?" he yelled. "Just let the line go out. The fish will see your fly. We’ll have him in place in a moment!"

The activity, to me, looked pointless. A stunt at best. And the screaming...? Well, I don’t like anyone to scream at me. Ever. For any reason.

Fast forward to a short video Scott Ruprecht of Sportfishing Worldwide (Tel. 800-638-7405. Web: just sent me. It depicts anglers at his Sailfish Bay Lodge in Guatemala casting for raised sailfish and generally enjoying themselves greatly. You can take a look at the video yourself by clicking on: Project Vela from Castaway Films. The excitement of the anglers in the video is almost palpable. Indeed, this is what I originally envisioned saltwater billfishing to be all about.

I immediately rang up Ruprecht and told him about my previous experience in Guatemala and my resultant burn-out on the sport of blue water billfishing. Ruprecht said he understood entirely. He said the widespread nature of the behavior I encountered at another lodge was one of the things he had taken into account when he decided to emphasize fly fishing at Sailfish Bay. He said he suspected there was pent-up demand for the real thing.

Ruprecht says all of his captains at Sailfish Bay have standing orders to encourage fly fishing clients to cast.... and cast... and cast to raised fish. They are specifically forbidden to yell at their clients or discourage them from casting. Moreover, he says he has told all his captains to find out which hand all fishing clients favor (right hand or left hand) so he can decide on which side of the boat teasers will be trolled. No teasers at all are trolled on the right-hand side of the boat when a right-handed client is on deck, the opposite is true when a left- handed client is on deck. The procedure insures that teased fish will approach the boat at something like a 45 degree angle to clients who are always positioned on the opposite side of the boat. Casts are almost crosswise to the back of the boat, he says.

Ruprecht admits that he still occasionally has trouble with captains backsliding because the use of teasers on only one side of the boat reduces the number of fish raised. And, among those raised, the number of fish that are hooked and landed is only about one in three or four. Experienced fly anglers can reduce those odds some- what. Still, the bottomline difference between the success rate of conventional fishermen versus a fly fishermen is huge. The payoff is a large increase in fly angler loyalty and enjoyment. All anglers, he quickly added, are free to modify his teaser policy and cockpit procedure to suit their own desires.

Indeed, this is an interesting development. Has anyone fly fished at Sailfish Bay or another blue water fly fishing facility that does things right? We’ d love to get some on-site feedback on this subject. Who knows, I may rethink my antipathy toward blue water billfishing. Subscribers send your feedback to: Don Causey

The Angling Report