Lay of the Land
The Cayman Islands, located in the western Caribbean Sea, are the peaks of a massive underwater ridge known as the Cayman Ridge, situated about 430 miles south of Miami. Grand Cayman is the largest of a trio of islands that also includes Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Grand Cayman is 22 miles long and eight miles across at its widest point. In 2011, 56,000 residents, representing more than 100 nationalities found employment here in banking, tourism, and the shipping industry, providing the highest average standard of living per capita in the Caribbean. The Caymans offer an attractive tax environment, as there are no taxes on income, capital gains, or corporations. There are actually more registered businesses here than there are people! George Town is the capital of the Cayman Islands, the largest city, and home to half of the population. The other four districts of Grand Cayman are West Bay (situated north of George Town), Bodden Town, the North Side, and the East End. Owen Roberts International Airport is located a mile and a half outside of George Town. That city also has 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 phones and Internet are in wide use, and obviously finding banking service is not an issue.
Bonefish are 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 three to four pounds, and six to eight-pounders in evidence most days. There are also jacks available, some small tarpon and even a few snook.
Where to Fish
Special thanks to Davin Ebanks of Fish Bones Guide Service located on Grand Cayman for providing virtually all of the where-to-go fishing information on 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. First, a few general comments from me. Since all three of the Cayman islands run east to west, instead of north to south, the tides occur pretty at much the same time all across the country. And, while there are no extensive flats, the Cayman Islands offer a unique chance to simply drive to any number of smaller flats, 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. 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 the bones you’ll find in hard-hit locations such as the Florida Keys or popular DIY flats on Eleuthera and Abaco in the Bahamas. The reason bonefish in Cayman have this reputation is simple. Unlike most of the Bahamas and a lot of the rest of the Caribbean, Cayman flats are covered in a thick layer of turtle grass. Even so, many anglers insist on fishing them as if they are sandy. Bonefish have a limited field of vision in grass, so your fly on most Caymans flats has to be right in front of them or they won’t see it. That calls for accurate casting, and for retrieving only when the fish can see your fly. The main mistake DIY anglers make with bonefish here is they strip too soon, too much, and too fast. You’ve got to feed the fish here. Let them see the fly, then let them catch it. Start off with small strips, no longer than three inches. That will usually get it done. On another matter, you don’t need a fishing license in the Cayman Islands, but that might change as the islands upgrade their marine parks laws. Also, note 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. Finally, I’ll close here with a note about a memorable fishing experience I had on Grand Cayman a while back. The experience did not involve bonefish; it involved baby tarpon that inhabit some of the interior lagoons and canals here. An offhand remark by a local steered me to canals in the interior of Grand Cayman loaded with three- to seven-pound tarpon that just couldn’t say no to a surface popper. I got up every morning at 5:00 a.m., drove the 30 minutes to the canals, walked the dikes, and cast poppers into the most god-awful tangle of bushes and downed trees you can imagine. And on virtually every cast one of those “babies” would smash the popper. I only landed three or four each morning, but the action was unbelievable. No GoPros or YouTube in those days, but if there were, you would have seen a tarpon smash a popper every five minutes. Each morning I returned to my rented condo on Seven Mile Beach for breakfast, wondering if life could get any better. Now, on to Davin’s report…Grand CaymanProspect Point – The western side of Grand Cayman has many popular areas, including Prospect Point, off Prospect Point Road, which is the first major point east of George Town Harbour. The flat is pretty small but quite protected, making it ideal for those windy days that shut down the rest of the flats. A reef runs almost to the 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 both the grassy flat to the north and, when the tide is out, among the scattered corals nearer the reef. These fish can be very aggressive to the fly, but the presence of so many corals makes it difficult to land the big ones.Frank Sound – This body of water is about 25 minutes further east from Prospect Point. The flats here are narrow and probably the softest you’ll encounter on the whole island, but they are 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 – This area is east and curving north as you head around the island. It 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 of 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 – There is a sharp change on the shoreline as you head along the north coast road and then back to the west. Most of the sandy beaches disappear, replaced by harsh, rocky “iron shore.” The flats here are narrower and 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 on 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. 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 – There are a couple of beautiful beaches here 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 they are extremely wary of people and will simply ease off the flat as you approach. However, they can certainly be caught, and the advantage of fishing here is that you’ll be in more classic bonefish water. Rum Point is almost 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 – This bay is due west from Rum Point across the North Sound. The northernmost tip of that peninsula is Barkers National Park. This is another great DIY area and probably has the highest turnover of fish on the island. Many of the other flats have “resident” fish that live on or near the area. The Barkers flats provide excellent access to the deeper water of the North Sound, and bonefish use them as a highway between the deep water to the north and south. To reach the Barkers flats, which are only about a 20-minute drive from George Town, simply drive north along Seven 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.Information on Cayman Brac is scarce and hard to obtain. This is truly a place for the adventurous DIY angler to figure it out on his or her own. We hope subscribers will file Trips Reports on this island and tell the rest of us what is available there and how to go for it.Little CaymanLittle Cayman has the longest tradition of flats fishing in the Caymans. The Southern Cross Club there has been around since the beginning. The Little Cayman Beach Resort also caters to those who want to fish. Both establishments have guides on staff. It’s fun to hire a guide for a day or two; however, Little Cayman is a place where the self-guided angler can be successful. The eastern half of the island, particularly the southern coast, is ringed by flats, and bonefish are everywhere. Smaller than Grand Cayman’s fish, these bonefish run about two pounds, with the occasional five-pounder thrown in to keep things interesting. We hope DIY subscribers will file Trip Reports on great spots they find around Little Cayman.
What to Bring
Cayman bonefishing usually requires lightly weighted flies and longish leaders that turn over gently. Typical, heavy bonefish flies tend to sink into the turtle grass (which is ubiquitous here) and get lost. Weed guards are also critical to success here. Standard bonefish patterns work well here: 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 thatdoesn’t work, use a contrasting color. On a daily basis some tan or 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. The bottom line is, you should come here with a variety of patterns so you can switch if you get refusals. Not everyone is a fly fishermen, of course, and there are times when fly tackle just doesn’t work very well, or at all – in the midst of a cold front for example. Here are some suggestions on spin tackle to bring along.Bonefish: Your rod will need to be multi-piece, of course, because of airline restrictions. A lot of modern spinning rods come in three sections, some in four. Assembled rods ought to be seven feet minimum. Depending on fish and lures to be used, consider rods that’ll handle eight- to 12-pound-test line. Reels should have 150-yard minimum line capacity. Nylon mono, fluorocarbon, or braid will work. The go-to original lure for bonefish are Phillips/Gaines Wiggle Jigs. They are still sold, but there are many look-alikes now. Aside from jigs, plastic shrimp imitations by DOA and others are excellent. Depending on what they’re eating, bonefish will also grab small minnow-imitative spoons. As for weight, 1/8-ounce jigs are the standard. Deeper muds and flats call for ¼-pounce lure weight. Bonefish have keen scenting ability. Jigs and various plastics can be tipped with sections of natural bait. Shrimp are the gold standard bait but bonefish like pieces of conch, even clams. Shrimp are normally rigged on a size one or two hook. Pinch off the tail and thread the hook up into the body where the tail was. A small split shot goes on the line just ahead of the hook. Other baits can be rigged as small strips or bits.Barracuda: If you are going for barracuda on spinning gear, you will need heavier gear than for bonefish. Consider 15- to 20-pound-test line, and a reel that has 200-yard capacity. The rod (again seven feet or more) needs to be medium to medium/heavy to handle 3/8- to one-ounce lures. The most popular lure is green, orange, or red surgical tubing rigged with internal wire, hook, and weight ahead. These are readily available through tackle shops, or via mail order. Barracuda are great fun on plugs, too, ones that swim just beneath the surface. Obviously, wire needed.Permit, other species: Other usual target species for spin tackle include the various jacks, snappers, and permit. The bonefish rig is fine for dock snappers, but medium-size snappers and jacks and permit are best fished with rods that’ll handle 12- to 15-pound-test line. Reel needs to hold 200 yards of line. Natural bait bits are best for dock snappers, while larger snappers such as the mutton or mangrove, will also eat small lures, typically what you’d throw at bonefish. And, of course, they’ll eat natural bait, too. A live crab hooked at the pointy side shell edge is tops for permit. Hook should be large enough to accommodate the crab without fouling. Permit like live shrimp, too. Just keep in mind that tourist anglers are not allowed to fish on their own and keep fish for personal consumption.