Fishing the Islands of Turtles & Crocodiles - Part 1/2

by Larry and Lilliam Larsen

The Cayman Islands lie just 480 miles due south of Miami, Florida, yet the fishing off these British West Indies islands went relatively unnoticed until a few years ago. On his fourth voyage through the western Caribbean, Christopher Columbus discovered the islands. But it was not until the advent of "Million Dollar Month International Fishing Tournament" in June of 1984 that the destination appeared on the sport fishing map. Since then, blue and white marlin, dolphin, tuna, Wahoo, tarpon and bonefish have been discovered by the "outside world."

Columbus called the islands "Las Tortugas" after their large population of sea turtles, but the Carib Indians later named them 'Cayman,' their word for crocodile. Today, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are a British Colony with a population under 50,000.

Good tuna results come during June and the "Million Dollar Month" Tournaments.

PHOTO: LARRY LARSEN

Outdoor activities are what the Cayman Islands are all about. Grand Cayman, the largest of the three islands, has always been known for its miles of beautiful white-sand beaches and fantastic scuba diving and snorkeling. The islands, 180 miles west of its nearest neighbor Jamaica, comprise an area of 100 square miles. The air water-sports haven varies temperature of the between 75 and 85 degrees year around, and the water temperature is seldom less than 80 degrees.

Knowing the reefs and deep walls surrounding the islands and productive methods to catch big game fish is paramount to doing well offshore. Certain techniques work in the Caymans, others do not. Hiring a guide or charter captain to help find the most productive spots is a good idea.

Billfishing is good during the summer with the north and south sides of Grand Cayman best suited for enticing a blue marlin to the bait. The very best billfish month, according to area charter captains, is August. One of the biggest marlins, a 360 pounder, was caught in August 1983, and 22 marlin were boated in 22 days in August, 1984. In fact, some captains will almost guarantee marlin in the month of August.

"On one August day, we had two triple headers," says one experienced captain.

"We had 11 fish up and boated five. Marlin in the Caymans spawn then, and they'll school. The fish run bigger because many have roe, but marlin can be caught anytime if you know the waters."
The fish will be even bigger in November, but there aren't as many around, according to several experienced anglers. The strikes will be aggressive and the hookups more solid in after a cold front has blown the cooler weather, through. The East End depths frontal gusts approach when then are hard to beat 8 to 10 mph.

The minimal tide (of 1 1/2 foot max) has little to do with strikes in Cayman waters. But the moon does, according to local captains. The best fishing is often two days before the new moon and the two days after the moon is full. When it is full and bright, the marlin feed at night, making for tougher marlin fishing conditions during the day.

"On a full moon phase, fish will come up and check out the baits and then just swim away," says one captain. "We can't expect too many marlin then."

Other local captains believe May and June to be the best marlin months and pick the 12-mile Bank as the best area. Still others say billfish can be caught almost any time all around Grand Cayman as close as four miles offshore. Roseland Bank about 90 miles east of Grand Cayman is also very productive.

February through April are considered the most productive months for white marlin in Cayman waters. More sailfish are being caught than in years past because, locals feel, more artificials are being used. Sails are usually taken in the same areas as the blue marlin.

Sky Watch

One successful method is to watch for the Man-of-War birds that hover over schools of baitfish and are a tip-off to marlin. This is a good time to move back and forth through the area to draw a marlin strike. If the fish is reluctant to take the lure, it's advisable to slowly turn the boat to slow the lure speed.

If sportfishing for species other than marlin is what you seek, the Caymans definitely offers plenty of opportunities. Dolphin, tuna, Wahoo, tarpon and bonefish are only a few of the possibilities. Local anglers agree that the tuna action is hard to top at times. During the first annual Cayman Airways Pilots Tournament in 1980, some 1200 pounds of Yellowfin were weighed in over two days by 26 boats. One crew alone had 450 of those pounds. They easily won that tournament, which was based on total weight.

Tuna, which is a favorite forage of marlin, always plays heavily in island activity. Cayman Brac, 89 miles to the northeast, offers excellent tuna angling. Summer months are best for the Yellowfin, and the Cayman Bank off Grand Cayman is also a top spot to find them.

Fishing generally improves with a change in water color. After heavy rains in October, Cayman's rainiest month, the water from North Sound mangrove area bleeds into deeper waters outside of the reefs. The green-tinted water shows up clearly in the normally crystal-clear Caymanian waters. Most knowledgeable charter captains will work the edges of the stain for action.

Big game fishing activity moves closer to shore when the wind is out of the southeast. A current sweeps along the 12-Mile Bank at 2 1/2 knots and into the shallow reef areas bringing baitfish. A lot of blue water fish can then be caught at 50 fathoms or less. Tidal changes of only 1 1/2 feet seldom affect the angling and waves are generally minimal along the sandy beaches. A light northwest wind and seas three to four feet with a nice chop are ideal.

Billfish Spread

Most captains usually troll five lines at around eight knots, unless the weather is bad. Two will be artificials on outriggers, one center rigger and three flat lines. A teaser is often run on one side and a huge lure off the other. Distance from the boat is adjusted by observing how each lure is running and diving.

"They have to be making bubbles," according to a captain. "If they are on top all the time, marlin will just look at it."

Lure color, always a consideration, makes a difference to every captain. Some prefer a black/pink or blue/white combination for Caymanian waters. Medium-sized baits attract the majority of game fish here. Cut baits are attractive to the dolphin found on drifts or weed lines. Schools of dolphin weighing up to 40 pounds can be caught year round off the islands, but the summer months are considered best.
Wahoo action, on the other hand, is best during the winter, off the Cayman Bank and East End of Grand Cayman. Catches of Wahoo on ballyhoo during December and January are common as close as one and one-half miles off the island. Specimens as large as 110 pounds have been caught from the

Grand Cayman bottom fishing offers grouper to 100 pounds off the East End. Waters around the island or the Cayman Bank are prime areas and November the optimal month for this good tasting fish. Top snapper months are considered to be April and May. Cut squid and barracuda and a sardine-type fish called "sprat" are top baits for both bottom fish. Cast nets are used to collect the latter.

Great fishing for a variety of species does exist around all three islands. Boaters have the advantage of easily navigating the 80 miles from Grand Cayman to visit the two smaller islands for a try at the existing island all-tackle records.

Plugs and cut bait tossed into mangrove areas are most effective for tarpon, which may grow to 60 pounds in these waters. The silvery fighters are found in the North Sound, Governor's Harbor, Mitchell Creek and Lime Tree Bay. Bonefish inhabit the North Sound flats of the more accessible and developed Grand Cayman and, more extensively, the Little Cayman flats.

Fishing the Islands of Turtles & Crocodiles - Part 2/2