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Fly fishing the British Virgin Islands

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By E.J. Daws
Explore Big Sky Staff Writer

Dark shapes dart past me in the warm shallow water, breaking my concentration. I stop casting and look more closely, realizing that several stingrays are feeding actively around me, unbothered by our presence.

It is 7:30 a.m. on a muggy morning, and I’m standing knee deep on a remote flat in the British Virgin Islands with a group of three, casting for the grand slam of salt water fish: bonefish, tarpon and permit. This reef is teeming with life, which is a good sign.

Better known for trade winds, casual sailing and rummy drinks, the BVI isn’t exactly a fly fishing destination by Caribbean standards. The small and remote island group sits near the top of the West Indies, separating the teal, cozy confines of the Caribbean Sea, and the deep blue of the Atlantic. Its bays and secluded coves – once home to notorious pirates including Sir Francis Drake, Calico Jack and Blackbeard – the area now harbors sailors, paddle boarders, windsurfers and fisherman instead.

It’s dead silent this morning, but for the sounds of distant breakers on the reef and the familiar click of our saltwater reels. A small flurry catches my eye, and a couple of thin, black fins breach the surface like a pirate sails. The scythe-like paddles waddle back and forth, a sure indication the permit fish are feeding, fat and happy.

We may only have one or two chances at dropping our fly in their feeding zone, and we must do this with stealthy action, so we don’t disturb the spooky fish.

A false cast or two loads the rod, then the presentation of a delicious looking crab fly pattern. The two permit act as if nothing has happened. A slow strip of the line, then another perfect delivery of the fly. This time they scatter as if a stick of dynamite was tossed between them, jolting off into the deeper reaches of the reef, and off the flat.

Our silence is broken as we throw high fives all around, loving the fact that, although we missed them, we had two great chances on one species of trophy fish in saltwater fly fishing. We celebrate in the early morning Caribbean sun.

The remaining line is stripped in, the fly reset, and the process begins again. We scan the shallows for black fins, and tailing game fish and the chase goes on.

The gear

Fishpond Gore Range River Shirt

Made of fabric created from recycled water bottles, this easy fitting, long-sleeved breathable shirt allows your skin some air, but also provides the coverage and protection needed when you’re surrounded by harsh sun overhead and reflective water below. $39.95

Chaco Outcross Lace Shoe

Looking for the perfect all around “water” shoe? Chaco has you covered with the Outcross. An amphibious shoe built with walking in mind, these kicks transition seamlessly from water submersion to trail strolling. Heavy-duty Vibram soles combine with a rubber toecap for grip and sturdiness, and singlehanded lace adjustment allows the perfect fit. The Outcross is a go-to for water sports ranging from walking shallow flats in the Caribbean, to wading Montana high mountain streams. $120.00

Sage Motive Saltwater Rod – 9ft, 8wt

When stalking flats and saltwater runs, accuracy in your cast is everything. The fast action in the new SAGE Motive Rod allows precise flight and presentation, even with heavy saltwater fly patterns. The four-piece construction makes breakdown for travel a breeze, a must when pounding for fish abroad. $425.00

SAGE Evoke Reel – 7-8wt

Slinging for big game fish means you need a big game reel. Unlike smaller trout reels, a setup that can handle fights deep into the backing is of upmost importance when facing the deep blue sea’s trophy fish. The quality, durable construction SAGE is known for is brought to life with the Evoke reel. One of the best components? The enlarged drag adjustment button, which makes handling your drag tension a breeze, so you never have to take your eyes off that beautiful turquoise water. $575.00

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