THE HAVEN

THE HAVEN

When Richard Langford and his wife moved to Grand Cayman, it was for work. But he soon discovered there was more to this tiny tax-neutral Caribbean island than meets the eye. Grand Cayman fly fishing as featured in The Mission Issue 44 (Mar/Apr 2024). Photos: Richard Langford.

We first learned that Richard Langford was a fishy character when he entered the 2022 Feathers Award with a colossal largemouth yellowfish from the Orange River that only just lost to an equally big Clanwilliam yellow. Since then, we’ve seen a ton of different fish appear on his Instagram feed, but these days they all seem to originate from a very different area code. Grand Cayman. 

Covid-19 changed a lot of things for a lot of people. For Richard and his wife Candice an opportunity came up to move to Grand Cayman in the Caribbean when Candice, who has a specialised field in physiotherapy, got a job offer. Richard, who comes from a pharmaceutical/biotech background, tagged along as her plus-one. At first, due to Covid restrictions, things were tough as they had to sit in quarantine looking at the ocean, unable to leave their apartment. But once restrictions lifted and Candice left for work each day, Richard had plenty of time to fish.

In fact, for the first few months until he landed a job, he fished at least every second day. We’ve been watching with big eyes as he’s caught a ton and racked up everything from tarpon, bonefish and jacks to triggers, kingfish and more. Both mildly jealous and deeply curious, we caught up with him to find out more about this low-key fishery.    

Give us a quick summary of your life and your Grand Cayman fly fishing. 

I’ve never been to Seychelles, but I can imagine if you go there, or perhaps one of the other islands here in the Caribbean, it’s very secluded and there’s lots of fish. These are the kinds of places where you’re going to see a school of a hundred bonefish, but you have to make a special trip and go for at least a week. The fishing in Grand Cayman is really different. Firstly, the place itself does not have that clichéd relaxed, rum-soaked Caribbean island pace. It’s a British Overseas Territory and is a tax-neutral country that attracts a lot of finance and related business, so it has some elements of a London-like 12-hour work culture.

It is also very expensive to live here and so drives a high-level work culture. However, I go to work  in town and then, on my way home, I can go and check a flat, bump into a little school of five or six decent bonefish, or find a tarpon, have an amazing time, then go home. I don’t know if that kind of work/flats fishing balance is a thing in many other parts of the world.  

How big is Grand Cayman?  

It’s quite a weird shape, like the letter L in reverse and on its side. On the top of that L is a big bay, which we call a sound. The one side of the island is about 8km long and the long part at the bottom is about 30km. So it’s pretty small. Driving slowly you can probably circumnavigate the whole island in an hour and a half, while traversing it takes about 45 minutes.

Has it been DIY all the way? Is there a local club?  

There’s no Grand Cayman fly fishing club. There are a couple of guides on the island. I didn’t go the guide route because, when Candice started work,I had a lot of time to fish and make the most of this new place. It was just so different to what I was used to. I have travelled quite a bit and I’ve lived in a few different places like Australia and the UK, but I’d never even seen what a flat looked like and now suddenly I had all these beautiful flats to explore. Fly Tying Smith put me in contact with John McDow who shared some great info ahead of my move.

I also reached out to a local fly angler, Dom Jackson, a really nice guy who took me fishing. So, in the beginning, I was using their information as well as just figuring out some spots myself with Google Maps and a vehicle. It’s mainly sight fishing here so at least that’s less time-consuming in terms of scouting, because if you’re scouting and blind casting you really need to work an area to understand if there’s fish there or not. 

Can you describe the terrain and conditions you get there?  

You get a lot of flats with turtle grass where you can walk out quite far and explore. A couple of the sounds get a bit deep towards the middle but, closer in towards the shore, it’s usually a bit of turtle grass and then a span of 5-6m of sand before the turtle grass. Depending on the tide, you can walk the beach and spot the fish coming in onto the sand off the turtle grass. That’s actually been my most successful strategy – walking those sounds on a fuller tide and looking for fish over the sand. They don’t call bonefish “grey ghosts” for nothing, so even over sand it can be tricky to the untrained eye.

Then there’s the sargassum, a kind of seaweed. Depending on the wind and season, the sargassum can blow in and really change things. It’s got all these little hooks so it hooks onto itself and forms big islands out at sea. If it’s blowing towards the shore at any point, it packs up against the side of the shore. That means your close-quarters bonefishing from the side goes out the window. But the tarpon love it because it drops the oxygen levels. Tarpon can survive in low-oxygen water by breathing a bit of air. You’ll see them gulp at the surface and this often gives away their presence. They’re hunting things that are trying to get away from that low-oxygen water. I walk along the sargassum and see where a tarpon comes up. Then I slowly approach them through the sargassum and start casting along the edge.  

“I went out on an evening with a full moon, no wind and clear water, which luckily turned out to be the perfect conditions.”

The other main type of terrain is the iron shore. It’s a very sharp, jagged limestone rock formed from being battered by the ocean for so long. Fly fishing off that is like standing in the middle of a bramble bush and trying to cast 25m into a trout dam, an exercise in frustration. It feels as if it comes up and tries to grab your line but, because it’s a rock, it literally tears everything apart. It eats lines, it eats shoes.

A stripping basket is essential. If your line falls onto this rock it will get stuck, so you have to try to avoid this because the fishing can be amazing. I catch a lot of tarpon, jacks and triggers off the iron shore. Triggers love to come right into the shallows where you’ll see them tailing. If it drops off deeper, you’ll find tarpon going in and out. 

There is another spot on the island with little lagoons, which is completely different to anything else. The lagoons are very productive in terms of fish with loads of small, aggressive tarpon that you can target with poppers or any sort of baitfish patterns.  

Tell us more about the tarpon fishing. 

To put things into perspective, in the main town, Georgetown, where the restaurants are, there are tarpon cruising around every day. You can see them because the restaurants feed them at certain hours. When we first drove past and saw them I was like, “Shit! There are tarpon right here, they must be so easy to catch.” And then you find that those things know exactly what your intentions are. You’d do well with a fly that looks like a French fry, though. We don’t get massive tarpon. Those fish in town are the biggest I’ve seen. Probably about 100lb. Outside of town in the completely wild stretches where you see them hitting bait balls, I’d say they are topping out around 60-70lb. I go for those wilder, free-swimming tarpon more often because they are more likely to take a fly.  

Read the rest of the story about Grand Cayman fly fishing in The Mission 22 below – it’s totally fee-neutral.

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