Los Roques – Now or Never?

Silvio travels to a once-famous island archipelago off the coast of Venezuela.

If fast internet at your flyfishing location is vital, then the location I’m about to describe isn’t for you. However, if standout fishing in one of the world’s most beautiful places is your dream, it could well become your paradise.

Los Roques first came to my attention, while watching the legendary flyfishing series “A River Somewhere”. Some research at the time revealed Los Roques as being quite a busy flyfishing location, which was reason enough to cross it off my bucket list. A coincidental discussion, years after, painted a new picture. Due to instability in Venezuela, anglers have stopped going there. Having missed the best time to fish in Cuba, which, after opening its borders to Americans has become a rather exclusive, expensive destination, I suspected it was now or never to visit Los Roques.

A dangerous destination?

This fishing journey started in Florida, chasing big tarpon. While there, my plans to visit Los Roques were put in doubt, with most people questioning my sanity visiting Venezuela. As all my expenses and tickets had already been paid for, I chose to ignore the warnings.

It would be a lie to say I wasn’t nervous before landing in Venezuela. But to my surprise, no gun was pointed at me after stepping off the plane, and nobody stole my bags or kidnapped me. On the contrary, the whole process until reaching Los Roques Islands was seamless, apart from a toilet at the airport not having any paper!

Flying into Los Roques will make any angler smile, as the vast expanse of fishable water becomes evident. Upon landing, I was met by staff members from my accommodation and my bags were loaded onto a trolley.

Not much appears to have changed since Rob Sitch and Tom Gleisner visited. There are still no sealed roads or cars, and walking the sandy paths while admiring the colourful buildings, it soon became clear that this was a special little town.

On the water

I wasted no time getting started, and the second day saw me catch a cheap water taxi to the closest island. On arrival, a bunch of pelicans were diving near the beach. You can imagine my excitement when, after a close look, I spotted a dozen good-sized bonefish beneath them, getting stuck into a school of baitfish. The fly rod was ready in record time, a floating minnow fly was almost snapped up while still in the air, and my first Los Roques bonefish was soon heading for the horizon. I was most impressed, what a wonderful welcome to Los Roques!

Bonefish helped make Los Roques famous all those years ago.

The rest of the day was spent exploring further and catching more of these great fish, tempting them with shrimp, baitfish and crab patterns.

Guided fishing

A few days into my already very satisfying stay, I met an English-speaking local guide. When I described my excellent start, he smiled and claimed that I’d seen nothing yet; only a little sample of what Los Roques had to offer. So out of curiosity, I arranged a few days of guided fishing – my first guide hire ever!

It turned out his optimistic assessment was right. We began by spending half a day catching countless bonefish. At one of the spots we fished, it would be possible to catch 3-7 lbs bones all day, without walking a single metre. The fish would spook for one reason or another, but they always came back for more. It was truly unpressured fishing as I had never experienced before; however, by the afternoon, I was ready for another species.

Endless flats.

The remainder of the day saw us targeting snook and baby tarpon under overhanging mangroves – a bit like barra or mangrove jack fishing.

Permit and big tarpon

The plan on day two was to chase permit, as well as the grandparents of the baby tarpon we’d already encountered. Then the guide called out, “Permit there!” I was unable to see it, even on a white sandy flat. Then my guide pointed to what I’d thought was a big dark rock about 100 metres away – I was very surprised by its size. Then, a black tail came wiggling out of the water, teasing me to have a shot. Out of nervousness, it took quite a few casts (more than I would like to admit) to put the fly on the money. Luckily, the permit liked the presentation and swung towards the crab fly to pick it up.

At this point, something went wrong, and the hook never drove home. Regardless, the fact that I managed to convince a big permit to take my fly was rewarding enough. We spotted and had shots at more permit, but without much success.

In the early afternoon, we decided to start boating towards a tarpon spot. However, on the way there, we passed a sensational-looking flat, too good not to check for what was swimming about. We could see tails and fins all over the place, belonging to huge trigger and parrot fish; plus the odd big bonefish.

After a couple of hours of distracting fun, it was tarpon time. We drove the boat over miles of shallow white flats, interrupted only by huge clouds of bonefish mud. Then, as darker patches became visible in the distance, we slowed. The guide said these were baitfish schools. I almost doubted his words, but when we got there, the dark patches extending over acres were indeed baitfish. Once anchored, we observed the bait schools splitting at times, a sure sign that a predator was close. That afternoon, we saw a dozen big tarpon cruising along and I had the pleasure of jumping a huge fish.

Twilight tarpon after jumping big fish by day.

A week to repeat

A week fishing with a great guide was extremely worthwhile. Not only did I catch many prime fish, I also learnt valuable new skills. Seeing the best Los Roques had to offer made me want to come back, with a good mate, to share the experience.

Outstanding fishing is all about being at the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. As far as I am concerned, Los Roques is the right place now, it is the right time and doing the right thing is just a tad easier – the fish don’t really seem to know anymore what an angler looks like.

The right place, right now.

FLYSTREAM FACTS – Introduction to Los Roques

The fishing

Los Roques provides a wide variety of fly species, mostly above average in size, including bonefish, tarpon, permit, snook, triggers, barracuda, jacks, parrot fish and so on. Accessing great bone fishing is as simple as taking a water taxi to one of the nearby islands. Some of the fishing there is as good as anywhere else at Los Roques, with fish from 3 to over 10 lbs, averaging 4-5 lbs.

However, to access the best bonefishing locations, as well as the spots where permit, tarpon and most other species live, a guide with a boat is needed. Los Roques has three or four English-speaking guides and value for money is outstanding, likely due to the absence of other clients. Not so many years ago, over 1000 flyfishing clients from two travel companies alone used to visit annually. Now they are all staying away, though no doubt still dreaming about Los Roques. The fish don’t seem to mind, and it is a rare gift being able to experience totally unspoilt fishing.

Guided permit action.

There are two ‘water seasons’ a year: low water and high water, the latter occurring from September to February. During high water, tailing bones are harder to find, but lots of cruising fish are present. Also, high water is supposed to be the best time for tarpon on the flats. However, my guide assured me that all species can be caught year-round, confirming information found on the internet.

There is an absence of substantial tidal influence and fish can be caught on the flats – or from the beach – all day long. This is a very important point, as at many other locations worldwide, only certain tidal stages are worth fishing. On Los Roques, you can fish until you drop, and the fish will keep on coming. Another great aspect, especially for bonefish, is the snow-white sand and the above average-sized fish, making spotting not as tough as it can be elsewhere.

Other information

The people, town, accommodation and food exceeded my expectations. Los Roques felt as safe as any place in the Americas ever will and the weather was a continuously sunny 28 degrees. Indeed, there were only a few hours during my stay where the spotting was harder due to clouds. No need to pack a raincoat either, as the total yearly rainfall amounts to about 10 inches.

My recommendation would be to visit for at least two weeks, one professionally guided and the other self-guided, as both will provide you with different yet satisfying experiences.

I am certainly going back to Los Roques, but I will keep an eye on the situation in Venezuela. At present it is doable, and it may well be a case of now or never.

Contacts

My accommodation and meals were at the Posada El Botutu.

Two of the local English-speaking guides are Carlos Quiaro (ph.+58 0143307454) and Erik Salazar (ph.+58 4147792186).

Should you require more information or maybe want to come on a future trip, don’t hesitate contacting me on s.s.s@xtra.co.nz However, don’t expect an instant reply, as I am spending a lot of my time these days in places with bad internet!