Wayne Jones and friends enjoy the holiday of a lifetime
Some of the UK’s top match anglers enjoy the holiday of a lifetime
THE Cayman Islands is a dream destination for saltwater flyfishing. So, it’s little wonder it attracted so much interest as the main prize in last year’s Anglers World Fly Fishing Championships! Welsh angler Wayne Jones beat a starstudded field of 100 anglers at Chew Valley Lake last September to be crowned the 2016 Anglers World Champion and it was my job to accompany him to Little Cayman for his fishing holiday of a lifetime, writes John Horsey. Welsh contributor Russ Owen joined us along with Anglers World boss Martin Founds who filmed all the action!
About little Cayman
Little Cayman has 170 people and over 1500 iguanas. It’s also home to the largest colony of red-footed boobies, who get mobbed by the huge and agile frigate birds that steal their food while in flight. Most visitors come for some of the
best dive sites in the world due to its pristine water and phenomenal fish. This too makes Little Cayman an angler’s paradise, meaning you can wade the flats all day and never see another angler. The island is 10 miles long and a mile at its widest. White sands and mangroves provide a haven for the ‘grand slam’ – bonefish, tarpon and permit. One other attraction unique to Little Cayman is the ‘tarpon lake’ formed after Hurricane Gilbert swept the island in 1989 and destroyed the red mangrove trees. Regeneration of this area has now meant that the lake, fed by salt water, is a haven for massive numbers of fiddler crabs and mosquito fish. These shallows are also home to tarpon, probably washed into the lake from the sea during a tropical storm. They thrive in this unique environment and although classed as ‘baby tarpon’, they grow to 20lb and are great fun on surface flies! My job is to guide Wayne to his first-ever bonefish and tarpon on the fly and who knows, even an elusive permit! The first two shouldn’t be a problem and the best area for tailing bones is normally in front of our accommodation; the Southern Cross Club. I’d previously stayed at this wonderful resort, known for its ‘barefoot luxury’ and found that the shallow flats in front of the venue held good numbers of bones. There’s always a chance of a big tarpon near the deeper water of the pontoons, as they feed on the huge baitfish shoals. I’ve jumped a couple of tarpon here but never landed one. With the help of Southern Cross Club’s resident guide, Chris Gough we hatch a plan to catch one of these 60lb-plus monsters.
An early start
We let the lads sleep in and head for the tarpon before anyone else wakes. This is always a good time for these massive silver predators and, they are ‘on the munch’ when we arrive. Chris gives me a fly, not a big hook, but sharp, and attached to 80lb shock leader. Although tarpon don’t bite through tippet, they have sharp areas around their gills and this breaks normal tippet during the fight. My heart pounds as I wade quietly into position and watch the tarpon tearing up water on the baitfish. We know that this action won’t last long, so my cast has to be accurate and my nerves hold. I cast into the melee and begin stripping the fly. The best fish turns off and follows before hitting it. I hold my nerve, set the hook with several really hard strip-strikes, then all hell lets loose. Jumping, crashing into the water, running under boats – this fish does it all. Forty minutes later Russ Owen, appears and helps with plenty of advice, and secures the tarpon for a few pictures. Martin films the whole session and at around 60lb, that’s the hardest-fighting fish I’ve ever landed. It makes me think, what would a fish of three times the weight fight like? But that’s hopefully for another day and my immediate task is to help Wayne catch his dream fish. Wayne takes up the story...
In Wayne’s own words
Russ Owen and myself meet John and Martin in a London hotel before our early-morning flight to Grand Cayman. We arrive mid-afternoon and after hopping on the smallest plane I’ve ever seen we’re finally in fishing paradise. We decide to get straight out and fish. It’s now early evening, I tackle up with a 9ft 8wt rod, floating line and bonefish fly. Having not seen any bones I cast blind
“One other attraction unique to Little Cayman is the ‘tarpon lake’ formed after Hurricane Gilbert swept the island in 1989...”
catching small jacks and blue runners. The takes and fight are fantastic! After some great sport, I move further down the beach in search of the bonefish. Scouring the sea for nervous water I spot a small silver glint of a tail a foot from the shore. Creeping into position I cast, but it has company and the pod is spooked. This happens several times during the evening and by now I’ve lost the light. I head to the bar and discuss tomorrow’s plans. Next morning Russ and I head off alone. I set up with a 20-foot leader of 10lb fluorocarbon and a small unweighted fly. A short walk down the beach I’m greeted with the most amazing sight in fishing, a shoal of bones on the feed. I make the perfect cast and after a few quick pulls on the line the fish bow-waves after the fly. The line goes tight and my first bone is hooked. The fight and the sound of the reel singing is incredible. Russ assists in safely landing the fish. I’m over the moon and spend the rest of the day stalking and catching bonefish, in my element. Later we meet up with John and Martin at the bar. John tells how he’d hooked a large jack and a huge barracuda bit the jack clean in half. My mission now is to catch a barracuda.
Hunting the big “barra”
Next morning, I set up a 12wt rod, 80lb fluorocarbon leader to a 60lb wire trace. We arrive at the spot where John and Martin saw the barracuda. I spot a huge black shadow – it’s the big ‘barra’. Pitching the fly in front of the fish, it nails it instantly but I’m too eager and strike the fly clean out of its mouth. After John explains the importance of stripstriking I’m ready again. This time I make no mistake and firmly strip-strike into the fish. Nothing could prepare me for the fight I endure. John had tightened the reel drag a lot but the fish strips line too easily. After lots of tail-walking I land a giant barracuda! Thankfully, the fly falls out of its mouth, so I don’t have to go near those huge teeth! We bump into some locals who’ve come in from deep sea fishing and watch them gut the fish. This attracts sharks to the shore and I have a cast at a smaller lemon shark around seven-foot long. The shark instantly takes the fly and it empties my fly-line and backing. I clamp the reel and try to turn the fish before losing my line but the shark breaks free. Up early next day, I check my tackle. The tarpon are in a feeding frenzy on fry. Guided by John my first cast has a take. Again, I strike instead of stripe-striking, much to the annoyance of John, and the tarpon makes a big leap for freedom – the fly comes out. The fifth tarpon I hook gives a tiring battle. After multiple leaps and long runs it’s in the shallows. But as John reaches for the leader, it makes one last run, and the fly comes free. All too soon the week ends. Before leaving the following morning, I have time for one last bash at catching a tarpon. Time for the tarpon lake. Fishing a large Deer Hair Mouse pattern pulled across the surface results in lots of action but no fish landed. A change to a sunk fry pattern lands two tarpon at around 8lb each – not the monsters of the previous day but still an epic fight on an 8wt rod. Everything lived up to my expectations. Being crowned European flyfishing champion was a wonderful achievement and there is no other prize like this.
Words: John Horsey & Wayne Jones Pictures: Russ Owen, Martin Founds & John Horsey A nervous moment as John Horsey carefully plays his tarpon under the watchful eye of Pro Guide Chris Gough.
The Little Cayman coast offers stunning scenery for anglers.
A rock iguana sunbathing at the roadside.
Russ Owen with a small bonefish.