Cudda Fishing off Grand Cayman
Jeffrey K. Lown
Our objective was to fish for locally known "Mr. Pointy Head" or the Atlantic Blue Marlin. However, Hurricane Lenny had past through about ten days prior and the fresh water still remained inland, clouding the pristine turquoise waters and leaving the water temperature a few degrees colder. To make matters worse, a high-pressure cell stalled over the island creating offshore winds in excess of 30 knots and getting to the offshore banks nearly impossible. Captain Eugene Ebanks, owner and operator of Bayside Watersports and our guide Ric Meuberg decided to fish the leeward side of Grand Cayman, accommodating some of the most beautiful beach and resorts on the island to wait for the winds to subside. they never did. After long discussion, we decided to fish for the one species that really turns your nose because of its smell but its unique ability to race through the water with accelerated speed and powerful jaws to destroy teasers and bait in a matter of seconds. Locals call it the "stinky" fish we call it the barracuda. Fishing for barracuda is not to hard to fish for once you recognize a few key elements that need to be followed. First, when fly fishing for cudda, they appear and disappear in a matter of seconds. Secondly, you have to have teasers and bait close enough to the boat to see the strike and third, you need to know when to throw the fly.
Like fishing for most big game fish, be prepared to go through several marlin teasers. Once they have been hit, the resultant teaser is usually unproductive for anything else just throw it away. We used marlin teasers on the outriggers about 20 to 30 feet off the transom, and then placed another set just inside at about 12 to 15 feet. For the fly fisherperson this creates a target area in which to draw the fish into. Though barracuda will strike the marlin teasers, after a hit or two, they become discouraged and tend to leave the area. We overcome this by placing either ballyhoo or ladyfish on rods just off the stern to hold the barracudas attention. We found that the ladyfish was a more attractive bait to use in the water than the ballyhoo because of the simulated tail action it generated. Our guide used a halter rig to secure the bait to 60-pound monofilament with a two to three ounce elliptic weight at the mouth. The ladyfish generally would lie about a foot to a foot and a half under the water and about 10 feet off the stern. Our Captain kept the boat at about three to five knots of trolling speed allowing for minimum cavitations off the props and a clear view of the bait either from the deck or from the tower. A constant eye is required to ensure your bait is not taken without the opportunity to throw the fly. In the end, we still lost a lot of baitfish.
When fishing for barracuda, one needs to understand the habitat of the fish. Most barracuda school in reefs and shelves were there is an abundance of non-predator fish. In the Cayman Islands, the reef runs about 100 to 200 feet off the shore then drops to several hundred feet and within a quarter mile, youre at 1600 plus feet. The good news is that you can fish pretty close to shore and while being on the leeward side, makes for a nice day of fishing and enjoying the sun. More importantly, following the reef line enables the fly fisherperson to see a lot of activity in clear water. The barracuda typically will hover in the reef and launch itself with its powerful tail and aerodynamic body profile, attacking the bait in seconds. Barracuda in the reef environment can range in size from juvenile length up to three and a half to four feet. The fish will weight from 10 pounds up to about 20 to 25 pounds. The barracuda will grow up to 100 pounds but chances are, you wont catch a worlds record here, but you will still have fun.
I carry a 10-weight rod for such an aggressive game fish. I have the Abel Super 12 with 10-weight intermediate sinking line. Once I know there is a fish in the water, I need to get the fly presented to the fish at its depth as quickly as possible. Also, the reel is a little over kill for a fish of this size but a barracuda will strip line pretty quickly and youll need at least 80 to 100 years of backing to play with.
When it comes to flies, I like either the Herring or Anchovy Deceiver pattern with a least a 4/0 hook or a green and white popper with a Trey Combs 8/0 hook. It is mandatory to attach the fly to a single strand wire. Braided wire works, but I carry single strand wire because if there is a Wahoo in the area, the Wahoo will shear the branded wire fairly easily. I like a minimum of 50 pound single strand wire because it is easy to work with and is thick enough for the barracuda not to cut the wire on the initial attack on the fly. I attach the fly to the wire using a haywire twist. Be sure to turn the wire at least six times to prevent the wire from unraveling under load when the fish is on. Use about 10 to 15 inches of wire then attach the wire to a leader (16 to 20 pound single strand monofilament) using an Albright knot. One important note, when fishing for a predator like this, you want to minimize the water disturbance off the attach points to the fly line so that the fish sees the fly and not a stream of bubbles from the knots the barracuda will attack the point of most water disturbance activity first. At this point, stay poised and wait for the cudda to surface.
It is fairly easy to see the baitfish getting hit because the cudda will drive the bait rods downward. Once the rod has been hit, cast to the bait and with slow stripping storks, bring the fly back to the boat. It is important that once the rod has been hit, for the Captain to slow the boat down to the boats most minimal speed. The key here is to keep the bait swimming to continue its simulated action but to allow the fish to see the fly. Cast beyond the bait and slowly strip the line back. Because, the cudda has had taste for the bait, it will hang around in an aggravated state looking for anything to eat. This usually results in a fairly quick hook up. I have found that barracuda will usually set their own hooks, but once the fish hits, I like to immediately bring the rod tip up high and let the fish run. Like other predators, this fish will make a very fast surface run then shorter runs dispensing a lot of energy. To be on the safe side, I like the Captain to at least drop the engines into reverse until the first run has stopped. At this point, it is a matter of fighting the fish and enjoying the fun. Barracuda usually dont jump out of the water, I have only seen it in shallow waters, but will try to take a few deep dives. Let the drag off, and the fish go. Play it until it is landed into the boat. I prefer catch and release, so I like to tier the fish before bringing it aboard. This does two things, one it makes it safe to physically handle the fish and two, it allows for a photo opportunity. Once the fish has been unhooked, revive the fish by holding onto the tail and keep your hands away from its mouth. After which point, go back and try it again!
© Jeffrey K. Lown 1999
Jeffrey K. Lown
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