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Charlie the Chandler

Staying in the Loop“One of the crew sitting at the stern lets down on either side of the ship lines with hooks.  On each hook he ties a bait (perhaps not a bait in our modern technical sense, but rather a lure) wrapped in wool of Laconian red, and to each hook attaches the feather of a seamew.” Aelian, Natural History, circa 200AD

It seems that fly fishing has been a popular sport for almost two thousand years.  However, saltwater fly fishing only seems to have achieved recognition in more recent times.   Although the first recorded bonefish was caught on a fly in 1891, it wasn’t until the early seventies that the sport became really popular.

Even in its short history, saltwater fly fishing has managed to accumulate marked regional differences in saltwater fly patterns.  Flies from the North Atlantic and Pacific coasts of America tend to resemble freshwater streamers or bucktails, while their southern counterparts have a unique style involving chenille bodies, bucktail or saddle hackle wings, and contrasting hackle collars.   Whatever the region, though, the emphasis is on brightness and new materials.

Saltwater fly patterns have been consistently innovative, not least because of the harsh environment they have to endure.   Their names roll out of the imagination and off the tongue – just ask Mischa McCory of Mermaid Flies.  Mischa has been hand making flies right here in the BVI and has a growing reputation for creating beautiful and successful flies – what’s more, she not only makes them herself but takes parties out fishing so you know they must be good! Some of her flies are classics, like the baitfish ‘Lefty’s Deceiver’ and ‘Crazy Charlie’ which was originally designed in the late 1970s.   She also has her own range of aptly named flies – ‘Sparkling Shrimp’, ‘Caribbean Blondie’, ‘Clouser Minnow’ all strike a light.   Her complete range can be viewed at Island Marine Outfitters.

Bonefish aren’t the only creatures to swim in the salt.   After several years of experimentation, Dr. Webster Robinson succeeded in landing the first Pacific sailfish on a fly, using a home-made Styrofoam popper tied on a 7/0 hook to take a 74 1/2 pound fish.  The first Atlantic sailfish was landed two years later.  With that capture, fly fishermen realised that nothing was uncatchable; in fact there are very few species the saltwater crew aren’t hunting down right now.

Not only have flies increased in exoticism, fishing rods have also developed apace from the early split bamboo.   These days, we tend to use graphite rods and surf fishing has driven many of the improvements in strength and durability we see today.  Surf fishing has also been responsible for generating rods tapered in a curve to achieve maximum loops.

Most fishing in the Virgin Islands comes in the form of bluewater trolling for marlin and sailfish and inshore fishing for kingfish, grouper and snapper.  Anegada is probably the Mecca of flats fishing, but there are many other locations stretching around the islands – some big, some small, all offering a new experience and a wealth of fish.  Check with local guides Kevin and Garfield Faulkner of Anegada or Ian Batchelor of Tortola for what’s swimming in your area and you will soon experience a great day of angling excitement searching for dorsal fins and muddied waters along the flats of the BVI.

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