A Million Shades of Turquoise

Page 1

A Million

shades of

Turquoise Los Roques, Venezuela’s Bonefishing Paradise

by Dylan Rose


Chrysta Rose briefly lifts another lovely Los Roques bonefish. Photo: Dylan Rose Page 20

s I gazed out at the quaint harbor scene of Los Roques, life was bursting out at the seams in all directions. Troops of brown pelicans were dive bombing fractured shoals of sardinas all around me, their bodies contorting into the shape of blades as they plummeted towards the surface from 50 feet above. Flocks of Laughing Gulls had adapted to make a living off the pelicans’ efforts by literally standing on their heads, flapping their wings wildly and shrieking in hopes they might release a portion of their catch. It seemed that all of the bay’s creatures had learned that the pelicans were the cash cow and that their relentless kamikaze attacks on the plentiful baitfish meant extra sardina scraps were available for all.

A Million Shades of turquoise As our guide Carlos and captain Vicente readied the boat for departure, I hopped up on the stern of the boat and peered out at the sardina slaughter. With the elevated viewpoint I quickly noticed that in all directions large bonefish were suspended and cruising around like miniature sharks. Occasionally, sparkling flecks of scales from unlucky sardinas fluttered in the waves as sporadic flashes from the sides of feeding bonefish reflected brilliantly in the clear blue water. As pelicans continued to rain down on the mass of terrified sardinas, it became clear that lurking bonefish were rushing to each concussive dive site and slurping up hoards of wounded minnows near the surface. Like heat-seeking missiles, the fish abruptly changed course to rally at each crash down of a nearby pelican. After several near eats of my small sardina imitation, a pelican landed in a heap just 30 feet from the boat. Carlos yelled, “Cast at the pelican, cast at the pelican!” My fly landed just short of the bird as he raised his head to swallow his catch. Just as I noticed multiple large dorsal fins surrounding the pelican, my line went tight and my first Los Roques bonefish tore off into my backing! From the back of the boat, before we had even fired up the motor, I landed three bonefish up to 6 pounds and threw at two large Bonefish cruising tarpon. All I could think was, “Welcome to Los Roques!”

The Setting

Los Roques sits just off the coast of Venezuela about 80 miles to the north (a 35 minute flight away) of the mainland. This archipelago, at the terminus of the Lesser Antilles, is comprised of several large atolls including the island of Gran Roque, which would serve as our tropical angling escape for six brilliant days. The island is surrounded by hundreds of small flats known as “pancakes.” Soft white sand beaches, corral cays, extensive reef structures and expansive mangrove lagoons abound within the 260 square mile region, much of which is a Venezuelan national park. The small central village of Los Roques is the largest habitation of the island group. With the absence of automobiles on the island, locals and tourists alike walk the quaint and sandy streets in bare feet and flip-flops. The town embodies all of the charm, beauty and warmth of an equatorial get-a-way; rich with friendly faces, beachside cantinas and laid-back rustic appeal. Fly anglers come to Los Roques for world-class bonefishing while tourists from Venezuela and Europe find their way to the island for a holiday in paradise. Late August found my wife Chrysta and I on the island with virtually no other anglers and throngs of tourists on vacation. The atmosphere was vibrant and full of charm as seemingly everyone on the island was keen on sun

worshipping, walking through town for photo opportunities and delighting in beachside food and drinks with friends and family. For the past 13 years outfitter Chris Yrazabal and his team at Sight Cast have consistently done a masterful job organizing guides and hotel accommodations, managing guests and handling mainland transfers. Sight Cast has teamed up with the beautiful Posada Acuarela, a small boutique hotel rich with Caribbean flair and hospitality. The posada is both casual and comfortable and adorned with original artwork painted by the owner, well known artist, Italian ex-patriot and master chef Angelo Belvedere. For those that appreciate an endless array of fresh seafood dishes, a good bottle of white wine chilling on ice and strong espresso, a finer place is hard to find. The warm atmosphere gives an inviting sense of coziness that allows guests to feel perfectly comfortable wandering the bougainvillea-lined courtyards in bare feet, or curling up on the roof top lounge with a good book. Nestled among plantings of tall aloe and palm trees, Acuarela is the perfect home base for hard core anglers, but is equally comfortable for spouses and vacation goers alike.

Getting There


Guests heading to Los Roques spend their first night at the Marriott Playa Grande just ten minutes away from the airport in the city of La Guaira (not to be confused with Caracas) on the mainland. The next morning an early flight is taken from the mainland to Los Roques for the first day of fishing. On the return trip the itinerary is reversed, giving anglers a full day to fish before hopping a plane back to the mainland for another night at the Marriott. The following morning guests fly out early for home. For many anglers and their spouses there is some apprehension about traveling to Venezuela. It’s easy to understand considering the incessant media attention given to negative issues surrounding politics. I believe Sight Cast owner Chris Yrazabal said it best when he proclaimed, “For the Venezuelan government, anti-American speeches are a tool to distract the lower classes from the day to day issues at hand. In the end, the USA continues to be the main partner of Venezuela. The Venezuelan people have absolutely nothing against Americans. On the contrary, culturally we share many similarities. As long as clients use our transfer service and avoid heading up the hill to Caracas, the issue is really a non-issue when it comes to safety.” In the 13 years that Fly Water Travel has worked with Sight Cast, we’ve seen this to be absolutely true. Sight Cast employs a professional transfer team to usher anglers every step of the way from the airport to the hotel and back while on the mainland. Page 21

A Million Shades of turquoise Sight Cast’s expediter, John Salazar has been working with arriving anglers for nearly 20 years and to say that he does a professional job is a distinct understatement. Immediately upon clearing customs John and his brother Andreas had their eyes on us. He knew where we had to be and at what time we needed to be there. If there was a question as to the flights, check-in process, baggage weights, money exchanges, or details with the trip once on the island, he was on top of it. John and his team work efficiently and leave zero chance for errors or surprises. Their track record speaks for itself and in the last 20 years there has never been a compromising safety issue with traveling anglers.

Being There The morning after arriving on the mainland we awoke early for our 6 a.m. flight to the island. Upon arrival in Los Roques we met our guide Carlos who is Sight Cast’s head guide. Carlos helped us with our bags and paying our park entrance fee before we made the short five minute walk to the Posada Acuarela. We checked in to our room and immediately we were entranced by the hotel’s charm. After dropping our bags in the room we sat down for a scrumptious breakfast of pancakes, ham, egg and cheese scrambles, hot coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice. After our early morning wake up and subsequent flight to the island, our air conditioned room and sumptuous king size bed was too much to resist and we snuck in a quick pre-fishing nap to recharge the batteries. Our first day was mostly spent fishing out of the boat for a myriad of Los Roques’ alternative species. We had numerous encounters with marauding blue runners crashing schools of sardinas, big needlefish nearly four feet long, bonito, horse-eye jacks and sierra mackerel. It was immediately obvious that the chain of life was in full swing and that a multitude of sport fish were fully activated. Everywhere we ventured (including at the beach in front of town), it seemed that the whole system was alive and switched in to overdrive. Schools of bonito and blue runners were smashing baitfish and whipping the surface into a white torrent while multiple bird species rained in from above. Several times we gently slid the boat up to a frothing mass of bonito and laid casts across a saltwater rapid of charging fish. Within seconds we found ourselves standing slack jawed as more than 100 yards of backing peeled off our reels. On one occasion after mentioning that my wife Chrysta was a novice in the bonefish game, Carlos

nodded and took us to what I jokingly referred to as, “The Ladies Tee”. As I readied my camera Vicente silently anchored the boat near a shoreline in about fifteen feet of water. Very calmly, Carlos climbed up on the deck with Chrysta and pointed at the water 30 feet ahead. I smiled behind my camera as I could make out a dense cloud of bonefish gently meandering in about twelve feet of water. I was quite certain Chrysta had not seen the school as her fly landed and began its decent into a cauldron of bonefish. As she began to twitch her fly back towards the boat, her Gotcha fly was immediately snatched up. Her shocked screams verified my impression that she was largely unaware of the mass of 4 to 5 pound bonefish right in front of her. After losing a few and landing three out of the school, we figured she was properly tuned up and ready for action! That evening we returned from fishing, cleaned up and walked the sandy streets of the village before dinner. We watched as children played and wrestled on the beach. Tourists conversed in Spanish and Italian at light speed with matching over-enthused hand gestures. We enjoyed beachside Caipirinhas (a mix of rum, lime and sugar) and watched as a deep orange sun slid into a perfect turquoise sea. As the ever present equatorial trade winds eased and a scarlet Los Roques sunset peaked, we ambled back to the lovely Acuarela for dinner. Fresh seafood, ceviche, empanadas, Carpaccio, pasta, and salad are all executed with a tasteful blend of Venezuelan and Italian flair. A chilled bottle of white wine, the buzz of a busy kitchen staff and the conversing hotel guests set amidst a slew of dancing candles made for an enchanting evening. After a hand-crafted lightly torched crème brûlée, our eyelids felt heavy and soon we were dreaming of feisty bonefish and crystal clear flats.

Pancakes Our next several days on the water were focused on the pancake flats. These small flats systems dot the topography of Los Roques and range in size from a few hundred feet to a mile around. The bottoms of these mini-flats consist of a blend of marl, sand, coral, or dense turtle grass; all of which are easy to wade. Our guide Carlos was an expert at approaching these flats. He had learned over his 16 years of Los Roques guiding to switch the motor off early and silently wind drift into place to avoid spooking wary fish. Out of the dozen or so different pancakes that we fished only one was not holding bonefish.

“Several times we gently slid the boat up to a frothing mass of bonito and laid casts across a saltwater rapid of charging fish.” Page 22

Clockwise from top left: The author plays a bonefish with the main landmass of Gran Roque in the background; wade fishing an interesteing deep water flat; one of the many bones lifted for a quick photo; the beach not far from the Posada; Chrysta with a big one; the entrance of Posada Acuarela. Photos: Dylan Rose. Page 23

A Million Shades of turquoise At times schools of 200+ fish could be seen and casts needed only to land gently in the mere vicinity of the school to generate a strike. Sometimes even after spooking an entire school with an errant cast there were so many fish zipping around that inevitably one would pick up the fly. At other times we found ourselves casting at singles, doubles and small gangs that were cruising for crustaceans and baitfish. Often fish found in singles or pairs were a bit larger and on one flat we walked for the better part of three hours, we picked off bonefish left and right up to six pounds. Carlos was very fond of our amber Bonefish Bitters in size 6 while on the pancake flats. They resisted the turtle grass well and were light enough to fish in ankle deep water. By the end of the trip we were left with only the tattered remnants of our Bitters fleet. On some flats the bottom type was more reminiscent of Christmas Island, consisting of firm white sand and coral. We often switched to Christmas Island Specials and Gotchas in these areas with great results.

Beach Fishing When you close your eyes and dream of powder soft white-sand beaches, piercing electric blue skies and a seascape colored in a million shades of turquoise, you are envisioning the beach fisheries of Los Roques. Throw in schools of bulky ,baitfish-fed bonefish stalking prey in the shallows and the image is complete. The beaches may be one of the most fun and unique aspects of the trip. Guides have learned the power of the Gummy Minnow as bonefish found here are just after one thing, other fish! The beauty of the size 6 Gummy Minnow is that it tends to dart, dive and fall like a crippled sardina. While not necessarily the most attractive fly pattern, it certainly proved irresistible to Los Roques bones. Beach fish move quickly as they cruise around looking for injured minnows. Most of the time Carlos and I would walk the shallows and I’d lay out casts 15 to 20 feet in front of the fish. Carlos would watch the minnow imitation slowly sink and at just the right moment I would quickly strip the fly. This method was highly successful and most respectable casts induced a following fish, a swipe at the fly or a greedy grab. On several occasions Carlos and I enticed fish off the bottom in six or more feet of water to chase down a waking surface fly. With a downturned mouth, it seemed hard for them to properly get a hold of it and while I did not manage to land a bonefish on a dry this trip, next time I hope to have my pattern and my victory dance perfected.

The Whole Empanada As our time in Venezuela progressed we settled in to a comfortable routine of fishing the pancakes in the morning followed by lunch and beach fishing in the afternoon. On several occasions a mid-day snorkel break was in order and we found it a fantastic way to take a break from fishing and cool off. The crystal clear water yielded an endless array of coral beds adjacent to prime fishing grounds. We had the opportunity to get up close and personal with pompano, yellow-tail snapper, barracuda, cow fish and an incomprehensible number of reef fish species. During one session we were amazed to find ourselves squarely in the middle of a large school of bonefish. It was incredible and surprising to find them totally at ease with our presence only a few feet away. On one afternoon, I surprised Chrysta on her birthday with a pre-arranged lobster lunch. Carlos dropped us at Polito’s restaurant on Augustine Island where they had set up a special beachside table for us. Moments later a veritable feast lay before us complete with fresh local lobster, conch ceviche, oysters, fried snapper and baskets of authentic Arepas (flatbread). It was immediately clear that we could never finish such a feast on our own so we invited Carlos and Vicente to join us and they happily obliged. Los Roques is by definition a world-class destination for non-anglers. In fact, fishing is but one minor activity as most world travelers come to the archipelago for the stunning scenery, water sports and laid back atmosphere. The simple truth is that anyone can truly have a fantastic time at Los Roques. Not only can they enjoy some of the world’s most beautiful beaches but wind surfing, kite surfing, diving, snorkeling, eco-tours, turtle watching and birding activities can all be arranged. Of equal note, new anglers keen on catching their first bonefish are more than welcome as Sight Cast’s guides are adept with novices and numbers of fish and opportunities are plentiful. By the end of the trip Chrysta (a relative bonefish beginner) was spotting, hooking and releasing fish at will, entirely on her own. The combination of fantastic fishing, incredible beaches, stunning scenery and the tropical charm of Posada Acuarela makes it easy to understand why so many ardent saltwater anglers fall madly in love with Los Roques. If you’re looking for firm flats, heavily shouldered bonefish, boutique accommodations and activities to delight non-fishing companions, then set your sights squarely on Los Roques. A tropical paradise in a million shades of turquoise with just as many bonefish awaits.

“This method was highly successful and most respectable casts induced a following fish, a swipe at the fly or a greedy grab.” Page 24

Trip Details Season: February – October Tackle: 7-10wt Rods & Floating Lines Lodge Capacity: 18 Anglers Top Flies: Bonefish Bitter, Gummy Minnow, Gotcha Rate: $4,250 per person for a 7 night/ 6 day package

Clockwise from top left: A beach fishing romance; a celebratory high-five; a lobster lunch served beach-side; the inner paths at Acuarela; an average Los Roques bone; fishing a flat Page 25 with lobster shacks in the background. Photos: Dylan Rose.

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