By nature, fly-fishermen crave exploration and discovery. Some anglers prefer to pole small skiffs along the shallows, and others enjoy strapping on wading boots to creep along hard-bottom flats. Kayaks and canoes afford a peaceful yet mobile pursuit. Creative land-based anglers even manage to find new water, often by putting themselves in precarious positions or compromising situations. No matter what discovery-seeking method you choose, you’ll find a unique perspective of the saltwater world.
In all the years I’ve spent fly-fishing, I thought I had experienced them all. I was proven wrong when I walked on the water of South Caicos, in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The very instant I set foot on a stand-up paddle board about a year ago, my brain threw any fitness benefits of this relatively new sport out the window. Instead of paddling around and enjoying my maiden voyage, I thought about how deadly this surfboard-like watercraft could be on the flats.
Not long after this revelation, I was in contact with longtime Fly Fishing in Salt Waters contributor Mark B. Hatter about fishing the no-motor zone of Florida’s Indian River Lagoon. I told him that in lieu of a canoe or a kayak, I’d be toting a stand-up paddle board for this outing.
Hatter is an excellent angler and knows this area very well, but I was confident that with a paddle board under my feet, I’d be doing most of the catching this time. I wish I could say that I put Hatter to shame, but my day was a complete failure. To make a long story short, within five minutes of being on the flat, I saw a fish and somehow managed not to spook it. When I bent down to grab my rod, I lost my balance and fell into the cold water. That was at about 6:30 a.m. and was par for the course the rest of the day. While Hatter was busy casting to, hooking, catching and releasing fish after fish, I was busy thinking of more ways to swear at a paddle board.
When we returned to land, I made a solemn vow never to fish from one again. After such a hellish day, I was convinced that catching a fish on fly from a paddle board was a novelty and nothing more.
A Second Chance
Being a man of my word, I stayed true to my promise — for a while, that is. A few days after what I considered one of the most embarrassing fishing outings of my life, I received a phone call from Hatter. When I answered, I could detect a suspicious smirk on his face just by the tone of his voice. Hatter was quite aware of my feelings about fishing from a paddle board, but he asked anyway. “So I just received an e-mail from Bibo Jayne in South Caicos. He said he’s got a few paddle boards on the island and that he’s getting pretty dialed in. I’ve already convinced Charlie Madden to come along — why don’t you join us and give it another try? I really think this could be good.” Hatter continued to put the squeeze on me, and because I have rubber-arm syndrome when it comes to islands and bonefishing, it didn’t take him long at all to convince me.
After arriving in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, we made our way to the dock to jump aboard a water taxi to South Caicos. It was loaded down with everything from spare car tires to giant boxes of potato chips. Yes, we were among the locals.
Finally, we met Bibo Jayne of Beyond the Blue charters. As we settled in, I bombarded him with questions and explained my first and only experience fly-fishing from a paddle board. I was excited but remained skeptical. Jayne took myself, Hatter and Madden around to the back of the condo where we’d be staying to give us a rundown of how we would be fishing the next few days. Since opening his business in 1999, Jayne has become known for using an airboat to take his clients to the flats. This transport affords access to areas unreachable by any other type of craft, which gives his guests miles and miles of flats all to themselves.
As we rounded the corner, there was the airboat — loaded down with four paddle boards. Upon closer inspection, Hatter, Madden and I could see that Jayne had indeed done his homework. The boards had a unique shape — one that looked much more like the bow of a skiff than a paddle board. It looked as though hull slap actually might not be an issue. On the top of the board, I noticed a layer of SeaDek, which would keep things nice and quiet. Jayne then showed us the bottoms of the boards. Instead of the big fin that I remembered dragging bottom, Jayne had fabricated a long fin (roughly 3 feet) that ran lengthwise on the bottom of the board and hung down only about 2 inches. These aspects alone began to raise my expectations and confidence, though I still thought catching bonefish this way was going to be a just-to-say-I-did-it type of thing. Next, Jayne explained anchoring the boards, which measure 13 feet 6 inches in length. For the anchor system, Jayne ran a cord that’s approximately 20 feet long through the hull. On each end of this cord, he attached a 3-pound pyramid-shaped weight. This allows you to have a bow and a stern anchor to keep the craft in place while you cast to fish.
After going through the modifications, Jayne told us the typical scenario, which was actually quite simple. Strip out the fly line onto a homemade neoprene stripping matt, and set down the rod in front of your feet. Use a custom paddle like a push pole and move the board along just as you would a skiff. When you see a fish, pop the anchor cord from the clips, quietly set the paddle on top of the board, pick up the rod and make a presentation. After Jayne’s verbal demo, I was beginning to see the light.