Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Lay of the Land
Located in the western Caribbean Sea, The Cayman Islands are the peaks of a massive underwater ridge, known as the Cayman Ridge. Situated about 430 miles south of Miami, 225 miles south of Cuba and 300 miles northwest of Jamaica. Of the three islands, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, the largest is Grand Cayman at 22 miles long and 8 miles across at its widest point. Christopher Columbus was the first to chronicle what he named Las Tortugas for the large number of sea turtles in the area, on May 10, 1503 during his 4th and final voyage to the New World. Sir Francis Drake arrived in 1586, subsequently naming the islands, “Cayman” meaning alligator. Largely uninhabited until the 17th century, it appears a variety of settlers with various backgrounds made their home here, including pirates, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, shipwrecked sailors and army deserters! Today the Cayman Islands are a British overseas territory, listed by the UN Special Committee as one of the last non-self governing territories. The Governor is appointed by the Queen and can exercise all legislative and executive authority granted to them in the constitution.
As of 2011, 56,000 residents, representing more than 100 nationalities find employment in one of 600 banks, tourism and shipping, providing the highest average standard of living in the Caribbean per capita. Offering an attractive tax environment (there is no income, capital gains or corporate tax) there are more registered businesses found here than people!
George Town is the capital of the Cayman Islands, the largest city and home to 50% of the population. The other 4 Districts of Grand Cayman are; West Bay situated north of George Town, and moving east is Bodden Town, North Side with East End in the east! A mile and a half outside of George Town is the Owen Roberts International Airport, good hospitals and health care. The coastal roads are in decent condition, wide and properly signed, but side roads leading to the interior can be another matter. Cell pones and Internet are in wide use, and obviously banking is not an issue.
Where To Fish
Special thanks to Davin Ebanks of Fish Bones Guide Service located on Grand Cayman for providing virtually all of the fishing information on the Caymans. I have fished Grand Cayman in the past but there is nothing like having a true professional and local to help shorten the learning curve. Most of the fishing is on Grand Cayman, but Davin has highlighted a few spots on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman as well.
Prospect Point -Starting on the western side of Grand Cayman, popular areas include Prospect Point (reached off Prospect Point Road), which is the first major point east of George Town Harbour. The flat here is pretty small, but quite protected, making it ideal for those windy days that shut down the rest of the flats. A reef runs into shore here, providing the perfect habitat for a variety of interesting species like jack, snapper, barracuda and the occasional tarpon. Bonefish are in evidence on either the grassy flat to the north or (if the tide is out) among the scattered corals nearer to the reef. These fish can be very aggressive to the fly, but all the corals make the big ones difficult to land. Use barbless non-stainless hooks here, as you’ll break off a lot of fish.
Frank Sound – About 25 minutes further east from Prospect Point is Frank Sound. The flats here are narrow and probably the softest you’ll encounter in the whole island, but it’s protected for most of the year making it an ideal place to find tailing fish. Be warned though, it is a fairly popular DIY area and the guides also use it in bad weather so the fish are the closest to ‘educated’ that you’ll find. Nevertheless, they’ll happily take a well-presented fly if they don’t hear you coming. The calm conditions usually call for longer leaders (up to 12 feet) and very light flies.
East End – Heading around the island, east and curving north, you come to East End. This area is usually unfishable in all but the calmest weather as its easterly face is unprotected from the constant trade winds. There are bonefish here, as there are around the rest of the island, but unless the winds have been calm for a couple days you’ll find the water muddy and the flats blown out. However, if the weather conditions are right it’s definitely worth a look.
North Coast – Heading along the north coast road and then back to the west, you’ll notice a sharp change in the shoreline. Most of the sandy beaches are gone, replaced by harsh, rocky “ironshore.” The flats here are narrower, deeper and there are lots of coral heads. The north coast running from about Morrits Tortuga Club west to Rum Point is ideal for blind casting around coral heads for jacks, snappers and cudas. While there are bonefish here, there aren’t as many as the southern flats and the bottom is often much too hard to find them tailing. However, in summertime when the winds turn southerly this can be a great area to walk with a fly rod and when you do find bonefish they willingly take a fly. You’ll also find cruising jacks pushing water on the incoming tide, baby tarpon and the occasional shoreline snook.
Rum Point and Cayman Kai – Here are a couple of beautiful beaches to hit with the family, just make sure to throw your fly rod in the car. Like other popular beaches in the Caribbean, these get busy with swimmers, kayakers, day-trippers, party boats and jet skis making the fish here ultra spooky. The fish aren’t particularly educated by anglers, but are extremely wary of people and will simply ease off the flat as you approach. However, they can certainly be caught and the plus of fishing here is that you’ll be in more classic bonefish water. Rum Point is about the only sandy flat on Grand Cayman and while the fish don’t tail often, they can be very easy to see cruising over the hard sand.
West Bay – Due west from Rum Point across the North Sound is West Bay. The northernmost tip of that peninsula is Barkers National Park. This is another great DIY area and probably has the highest turn over of fish on the island. Many of the other flats have ‘resident’ fish that live on or near the area. The Barkers flats have excellent access to the deeper water of the North Sound and bonefish use it as a highway between the deep water to the north and south. It’s only about a 20 minute drive from George Town to reach the Barkers flats. Simply drive north along 7-Mile Beach and follow the signs for Restaurante Papagallos. A quick search of Google Maps will also show the appropriate route. Once you reach Papagallos keep driving and take the left fork when the road splits. Pull off whenever you feel like it. The whole shoreline is productive depending on tide conditions.
Cayman Brac – Moving to the sister islands, information is scarce for Cayman Brac. This is truly a place for the adventurous DIY angler to figure it out on their own.
Little Cayman – It has the longest tradition of flats fishing in the Cayman’s and the Southern Cross Club has been there since the beginning. The Little Cayman Beach Resort also caters to those who want to fish and both establishments have guides on staff. It’s fun to hire a guide for a day or two, however Little Cayman is truly a place where the self-guided angler can be successful. The eastern half of the island is ringed by flats, particularly the southern coast, and bonefish are everywhere. Smaller than Grand Cayman’s fish, these bonefish run about 2 pounds, with the occasional 5 pounder thrown in to keep things interesting.
Once again my sincerest thanks to Davin Ebanks for providing most of the information on the Caymans found in this section.
Bonefish are definitely the most reliable of the flats species in the Caymans and can be found all around the islands. Grand Cayman has the largest fish, with schoolies averaging 3-4 pounds and 6-8 pounders in evidence most days. Since all three islands run east-west (instead of north-south like many Bahamian locations) the tides are fairly consistent. And, while there are no extensive flats like those of the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands offer a unique chance to simply drive to a flat, wade out and encounter tailing bonefish. The flats are easily accessed by foot, making them sensitive to fishing pressure. So, keep moving, give the fish a rest and explore the miles of coastline waiting to be discovered.
The Cayman bonefish have an undeserved reputation for being spooky and picky. This simply isn’t true; they are just like bonefish in other Caribbean locations, and they’re far more aggressive than many of the bones you’ll find in hard hit locations like the Florida Keys or the popular DIY flats on Eleuthera and Abaco, Bahamas.
The reason bonefish in Cayman have this reputation is simple. Unlike most of the Bahamas, Cayman flats are covered in a thick layer of turtle grass, yet many anglers insist on fishing like they were on a sandy bottom. Fishing the grass means, the bonefish have a limited field of vision and the fly has to be right in front of them or they won’t see it. That calls for accurate casting, and retrieving only when the fish can see your fly. The main mistake most DIY anglers make with bonefish in the Cayman Islands is to strip too soon, too much and too fast. You’ve got to feed the fish. Let them see the fly and then let them catch it. Start off with small strips, no longer than 3 inches. That will usually get it done.
Cayman bonefishing usually requires lightly weighted flies and longish leaders that turn over gently. Heavy flies (i.e. typical bonefish flies) tend to sink into the grass and get lost. Weed guards are also critical to success here.
Standard bonefish patterns work—Crazy Charlies, Gotchas, Veverka’s Mantis Shrimp and Del Brown’s Bonefish Fly (small Merkin) tied on #8 and #6 hooks—but they need to be weighted lighter than usual with reliable weed guards.
The usual rules of color apply here: match the bottom and if that doesn’t work use a contrasting color. On a daily basis some tan/brown version of a shrimp or crab will get it done, but don’t stick to drab colors in your selection. Local anglers have had great success with orange, hot pink and chartreuse as well. DIY anglers will do best to simply have a variety of patterns so they can switch if they get refusals.
As of this writing you don’t need a fishing license, but that might change as the islands upgrade their Marine Parks Laws. Also, it should be noted that only catch-and-release fishing is permitted from shore for visitors. If you want to keep your catch you’ll have to charter a local captain for some reef or bluewater fishing.
Like any mature Caribbean tourist location, the Caymans have a variety of vendors offering all the equipment necessary to enjoy a day on the water. Here are a few that rent kayaks and standup paddleboards.
Action Watersports www.ciactionmarine.com
Empty Suitcases www.emptysuitcases.com
The bonefishing guide I recommend is located on Grand Cayman.
Davin Ebanks: http://www.fish-bones.com
Where To Stay
Accommodations are ample, but tend to be expensive. There are several luxury resorts that include all the bells and whistles, but there are budget friendly options as well. Many visitors stay in condos and take advantage of the quality grocery stores by shopping and preparing their own meals, but there is no shortage of places to eat for those days you don’t feel like cooking. The main hotel strip is Seven Mile Beach, home to several major hotel chains and numerous condominiums. The Internet is your best resource to find a hotel or resort that fits your needs. There are 100’s of homes and condo’s available on VRBO and HomeAway.
Owen Roberts International Airport (GCM) of Grand Cayman is served by a number of international airlines that can get you from just about anywhere to GCM. Here are a few to check out:
Air Canada www.aircanada.com
British Airways (Departs from London, Heathrow) www.britishairways.com
US Airways (Charlotte, Boston and Philadelphia) www.usairways.com
American Airlines www.aa.com
Between the Cayman Islands:
Cayman Airways: www.caymanairways.com
Do you need to rent a car here…..…it depends. If you are happy to hang out on your backyard beach, take a tour or two during your stay or make use of the public bus system. If you want to explore more of the island and head off fishing while the family goes jet skiing, you need to rent a car. All major car rental companies are within walking distance of the airport. Pricing is all about the time of year, with the highest rates levied from mid December to mid April. If you decide to rent a car, confirm the age requirement for that agency. For some, the minimum age is 21 and for others it’s 25.
Cayman Auto Rentals www.caymanautorentals.com.ky
Scooters and bikes are another great way to explore the area and easy to arrange, many hotels provide bikes for the use of their guests – ask first!
Cayman Cycle Rental (345) 945-4021
Taxis are readily available at the airport with fixed rates to all island areas.
38 mini buses serve as the Grand Cayman public bus system with daily service starting at 6AM, getting you to all districts from $1.50 to $3.00 a ride.
Spousal Rating – 8
This is a quality tropical vacation destination. You can book Grand Cayman knowing that the family will have a great time, with something for everyone. The self-guided fishing opportunities are good and provide ample reason to pack your equipment. It may not be the best fishing destination but the flats around Cayman offer a pleasant opportunity to casually wet a line early in the morning while the family sleeps or stalk some tailing bonefish as they lounge on the beach.
Grand Cayman is a hard place to beat! The atmosphere is laid back, wrapped up beautifully in all the modern amenities. Known for its world class diving, maybe try something a little different. The Island’s most famous excursion is to Stingray City where you can feed and get a picture alongside the friendly southern rays. Rent jet skis or try kite surfing along Seven Mile Beach stretching from just outside George Town Harbour to West Bay. It’s one of the world’s great beaches and has public access its entire length making it easy to find your own piece of heaven on earth. The Botanical Park Nature Reserve, located on the eastern end of the island, is home to several Blue Iguanas and local flora, complete with information regarding their medicinal properties, and while you are in the area take a look at the East End Light, the first lighthouse in the Caymans. Hike the Mastic Trail, through old growth forests of the Island’s interior, don’t miss the Boatswain’s Beach Turtle Farm where turtles are bred from hatchlings and released in the waters of Cayman. Head inside and tour the Cayman Islands National Museum, which has an emphasis in maritime heritage or the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands housing traditional and modern works of art and culture. In need of sustenance, relax and refuel at one of the many restaurants and cabana beach bars dotting the island and if you’re up to it take advantage of the great duty free shopping!