Los Roques, Venezuela, has always been one of my favourite places. I love the pancakes flats and the way one has a boatman to drop you one end and pick you up the other thus wasting no time; the variety of fishing for bones with baitfish patterns which slam the fly rather that the shrimp pick-up take; the ever-present, characterful pelicans always willing to come and sit on the side of the boat for a chat; I could go on and on.
The Seychelles aside, possibly including the Seychelles actually, Los Roques has to be one of, if not the most reliable place weather-wise. Take right now, a huge storm has just gone through the USA impacting the Bahamas, Mexico, Cuba and most likely Belize; Christmas Island is suffering from El Nino; the Seychelles have had their ups and downs; and then there is Los Roques, in January, breezy as always but cruising along with clear skies and 30 degrees. That makes it such a good bet for those anxious to get away in January and February in particular, but remember, Los Roques, just 12 degrees or 1000 miles north of the Equator is strong year-round.
But there are understandable nerves about the gateway to Los Roques, the capital city of Caracas, so let’s examine the journey there. Caracas has, after all, been in the press for all the wrong reasons lately. From the UK the best routes are via Paris on Air France or Frankfurt on Lufthansa. Both are an early start and a day in the air but so is pretty much any trans-Atlantic journey. We chose Lufthansa because they were cheaper on the dates we wished to travel, other days Air France were cheaper. We flew over to Frankfurt early to pick up the 10.20 departure to Caracas. The walk between terminals is quite long so if you are in anyway lame or have other health issues, arrange wheelchair assist or a lift. There is plenty of time, especially with German efficiency; only weather would really confound the plan. Both Lufthansa planes were clean, the food was good and my client travelling with us tells me Business Class was comfortable as it should be.
The flight to Frankfurt is about an hour, the layover is about 90 minutes and then the flight down to Caracas is just over 10 hours. We arrived on time and braced ourselves for the arrivals process. We had to fill in two forms. One was focused on health which seemed a little onerous but two nice ladies took them from us as we walked the long corridors that every airport seems to have. They do not read them or stop you – you just hand them over as you pass. It is worth having your itinerary handy on the plane to complete the form. The other is the customs form. It is pretty easy but gets a bit confusing toward the end, and it seems like you have to list everything in your suitcase, but what they are really asking for is anything NEW. I just said, nothing new and no gifts. Customs seemed fine with that, though they did have a quick look at the camera gear. Passport control was quick and friendly, customs the same, the bags took about 15–20 minutes to arrive. We were now on GMT -4.5 hours.
As we emerged from customs, one of the JonJac Courier Service brothers was waiting with a sign for us. Lots of people helped us with our bags (they don’t want you to leave the building with trolleys!) and we walked outside into the sun and within a couple of minutes Jon Salazar appeared, the owner, and the other brother with our transfer van. Suitcases were loaded and off we headed to the Eurobuilding Hotel where Jon helped us check-in. (All clients are supplied with a detailed sheet on what to do if the meet-and-greet service is not there for some reason, which is very comforting but equally comforting is the fact that to date this has never happened.) On the way Jon changed money for us, which is a subject in itself. As the Frontiers’ pre-trip attests, keeping up with inflation in Venezuela is nigh impossible.
You can have a look at the Eurobuilding below:
The pre-trip says the Los Roques National Park fee (payable on arrival at Los Roques) is 285 Bolivar, which equates to $37. In fact it has gone up to 300 Bolivar but, wait for it, that equates to 46 cents! The official Bolivar/USD rate is something like 10/1, but the real rate on the black market, and there only seems to be a black market, is anything from 500 to 800 to the dollar! We exchanged $150 with Jon and got a rate of 650 so we ended up with 97,500 Bolivar. We exchanged three $50 bills and found ourselves carrying around 975 bills instead! These are the simple facts and I guess the most important point is make sure you have room in a bag for it all! While talking about money, it is really useful to have some USD bills in small denominations for tipping the JonJac baggage guys and the hotel baggage guys. I would give them $3 to $5 per journey and the same for the hotel guys if they bring your bags to your room. DO NOT USE CREDIT CARDS IN VENEZUELA – you will only get the official rate.
By the time you are checked in it is about 5pm or just after. Once you are sorted in your room, to meet downstairs at 6pm for drinks and an early dinner feels right. They recommend not leaving the hotel, this is no hardship as there is a restaurant and bar in the hotel and it feels late. We had an early dinner, which was not spectacular but adequate ($40 for three of us payable in Bolivars at the restaurant – if you used a credit card it would have cost you $2,650!), and headed to bed early. Something to keep you asleep is not a bad thing but usually you are leaving the hotel early the next morning so even if you wake at 4am, you went to bed at something like 9pm so you have had a good sleep and have time to potter and get yourself ready.
I say ready because the idea is that you get up early, bags down and head to the airport for your flight to Los Roques dressed to fish. Breakfast on the island is better than in the hotel so best to wait if you can. So, waking early is no bad thing because it gives you time to get organized. I would not wear your flats boots unless they are comfortable, you are not rushed out fishing but good to be semi-ready so you can eat breakfast, put your rods up (which the guides help with) and head to the flats. The trip to the private terminal at the airport was about 10 minutes and Jon checks in for you while you relax.
Then you head through security, X-ray etc and out to the plane, ours was a Caravan. Important to note, you take your bags to the plane, so make sure you have bags that are easily carried and have wheels unless they are very light. The Frontiers pre-trip suggests a bag weight limit of 10kg per person with a £1 charge per 5kg overweight. We were travelling with some serious camera and video gear, a drone and all our fishing gear. There seemed no issue with weight but do not go crazy as you are travelling on a light aircraft.
The flight was 30 minutes as advertised. On arrival, lots of chaps appear with trolleys looking for their new guests and soon our bags were on La Acuarela trolleys and we were headed off the airstrip. Before entering the village, we had our passports looked at and paid our 300 Bolivar Park Entrance fee. It was about a 10-minute walk to the hotel where we were met by Sight Cast’s owner Chris Yrazabal, the lodge manager Enrico and his team who quickly showed us to our rooms, got us seated for breakfast and took our breakfast orders.
Los Roques, named after an extraordinary set of three or four rock hills just sticking up out of the southern Atlantic, is a National Park. It is a series of small mangrove islands and pancake flats (small football pitch or smaller) that surround a large lagoon. Only two or three of the islands are populated and the main one, the one we were staying on, is called El Gran Roque, because it has the rock hills one end of the island. There is a population of about 1600 people across all the islands. There are no cars, really no powered vehicles, most houses have trolleys and that is how the bags are taken to the lodge. The atmosphere of the village, the length of which can be walked in 15 minutes, is bohemian. Most of the houses are very colourful, most of the locals walk around barefoot and most work is connected to tourism activities of some sort, diving, kite-surfing, fly fishing and general tourism (there is no commercial fishing allowed in or around the lagoon, only in the blue water), or the guest houses that they stay in. The streets are sand, various dogs hang out, and there is a buzz about the place from busy people living their lives – but not so bad that you will be disturbed.
La Acuarela is no exception. It is open plan with various seated areas and even the dining area/room is dotted about a bit with tables here and there. There is a really lovely roof terrace again with various sets of tables and chairs and loungers etc. The lodge is colourful and decorated with local paintings, plants, and objects from local craftsman. The rooms are not huge but they are functional, clean, colourful and have enough space that you can unpack and settle in. They all have a fan and air-conditioning. I found out today that the authorities have stopped the posadas from providing hot water because it uses up too much power so the showers, which are not the highest pressure I have ever used, are warm from the sun at best in the evenings, and cold in the morning. Sounds bad but in this environment, it is not as bad as one thinks. Bottom line, if you are OK with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere (with soft pop music playing each evening and from other buildings) you will enjoy La Acuarela; if you are looking for fine dining while staying in a shiny room with a power shower, then Los Roques will likely not be for you. However, you will be missing some of the best and most reliable saltwater fishing there is!
Chris is a charming guy. He is Venezuelan born and bred, and has grown up in the fishing and guiding business. I first fished with him back in 1996 or 1997 when visiting Los Roques then and also doing some peacock bass fishing. He worked for a company called Chapi back then, a famous Venezuelan family power-house in those days. He has done his time and worked his way up and into the position he is in today. He has a partner in his company Sight Cast, Ramon Paz, who is ‘the’ man in Caracas and they (Sight Cast) own and run the fishing operation and partner with La Acuarela Posada for the accommodation.
Chris lives on the island and will be there every day, morning and evening. He is very attentive and charming and you just feel like he cares about how you are doing. If you have any fishing issues, talk to Chris about it and he will help resolve the problem. Enrico is your man for lodge matters. Chris can lend all tackle, rods, reels etc of all weights and sizes and he has flies tucked away too though they are not out on display for people to buy. So often lodges around the world lack a clear, caring, go-to host figure but with Chris about that is not the case. The great thing is he has done his time over many years on the water so he knows everywhere you or the guides are talking about, and he knows what is possible and not possible if you seek a certain species or type of fishing.
The guides rotate each day and those guiding us the first day helped us put up our rods and put together leaders, choose flies etc. There were good strong opinions on what we should use for where we were going which I like. It shows they care and know the water. They all wear a Hardy/Greys sponsored uniform each with a twist and look smart. We took longer than most to get organized because of getting all the camera gear ready and securely water-proofed but soon we were walking the two minutes to the beach to get on the boats. They are not skiffs as the journey across the lagoon can be rough with largish waves which a skiff cannot handle… I know, I tried it with a previous operator and he buried the nose of the skiff in a wave which went over the boat. It was not a pleasant experience and was probably the last time they tried it! The boats here are called pangas and are excellent for the job but:
YOU MUST HAVE A LIGHT WATERPROOF COAT/JACKET AND PUT IT ON FOR EVERY LAGOON CROSSING OTHERWISE YOU WILL BE SOAKED AND COLD!
The pangas are high-sided, but do not worry, they each have a wooden or plastic step that they place beside the boat, which makes getting in easy. The boats have good space, great racks for safe storage for rods, and a comfortable seat in front of the steering console, which is definitely the place to sit. The crew is your guide and the boat driver which makes life so easy because wherever you walk to while fishing, you just call the boat and he picks you up so no walking back at all! The boats really are fit for purpose.
A typical day is breakfast from about 7am, if you are up earlier the staff can offer you tea, coffee or the lovely freshly-squeezed juice from about 6.30. Breakfast is basically to order: tea, coffee, the orange juice, eggs, fruit (watermelon, pineapple, melon) and toast. As soon as breakfast is over, time to get ready and head out. The walk to the boats is about two or three minutes but the guides come and meet you at the posada and help you with your gear. You discuss what you want to do with Chris and the guide and head off to wherever. Journey times to the flats can range from 3 minutes to 20 minutes on average. Once one is across the lagoon everything else is no more than 20 minutes away.
Lunch is in a cooler along with the drinks. It is basically a sandwich, a variety of boxed salads and some biscuits and fruit. You can and should tell the staff what you want to drink and what you want in your sandwich for each day. You start to head home around 4pm as the sun begins to drop, arriving back by about 4.30 generally. By about 6pm, they serve piping hot, homemade pizza, which was always welcome and very good. Dinner is at 7.30 and is usually four courses but they are not huge. Ceviche wahoo, pasta, lobster, fresh tuna are all examples of what might be on the menu with a dessert, such as chocolate mousse or strawberry ice-cream. I thought the food was refreshingly simple and delicious.
If you are inclined, the highlight of the evenings can be the massage service, which is offered at $15 per hour for full-body massage. The masseuses come in with their tables and set up on the open-air roof terrace and are clearly well-trained and knowledgeable. Overall, the stay at La Acuarela was a real pleasure. It would have been nice to have hot water and better water pressure but we were on a tiny island north of Caracas, Venezuela, everything else was relaxed and nothing was too much trouble for the lovely staff.
We fished the last day, got back to the lodge at 3pm to walk to the airport at 4pm. The Caravan took off on time and soon the JonJac team were looking after us again. This time we went to the Marriott Hotel, the other option. The Marriott is slightly further away, bigger, with an air-conditioned lobby, bigger rooms, better and cheaper food in our experience and looks out to sea with a beach option as well as a large pool. It is rather soulless and we felt we were almost the only people there. The Eurobuilding in comparison has a bit of life to it but rooms are smaller and the lobby is rather hot and humid. Maybe for the short stay, use the Eurobuilding and then for the longer stay use the Marriott (we had half the day here). The JonJac team was there at the hotel at the agreed time which got us to the airport three hours before departure.
We tipped the remains of our Bolivar and headed into the airport with their assistance. Check-in was easy, security took about an hour but was not hostile in any way, just a long line. Half way through they separate men from women as they body search everyone. Passport control was very relaxed. When you check in, they tell you that you may be summoned by security to ask questions about your checked bags. I was one of those selected and it involved a supervised trip down to the bowels of the baggage-loading area to discuss my bag with security people who did not speak English. Thankfully there was a kind man also being checked who acted as translator. They asked where I had been and what I was doing and then checked my bag in not a great deal of detail. Apparently this was a real opportunity for bribes of people anxious to catch their planes, but things are much better and though strange, it was all perfectly in order for me and they were polite and seemed to follow procedure. We were not required to pay any other taxes or airport fees or anything.
Tackle & Equipment
Chris can loan you rods but equally, it is nice to fish your own equipment if possible. For those that do not want to buy rods that they may not use much in the future, a combination of an owned bonefish set-up and a loaner rod for other species might be the best way to go.
An 8-weight saltwater bonefish rod and reel with appropriate line and backing, sealed drag is preferable (and more expensive) to avoid issues.
A waterproof boat-bag if you want to safely store anything you do not want to carry on the flats.
This is an example – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/bags/dry-creek-z-duffle.html
Then there are packs like these…
This is a sling pack – very comfortable to carry – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/vests-packs/dry-creek-z-sling-pack.html
Or the bigger version to leave in the boat but carries easily – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/vests-packs/dry-creek-backpack.html
Or dry-bags like these…
Waist packs are useful for flies and leader etc.
The Overboard one is good because it is waterproof – http://www.over-board.co.uk/pro-light-waterproof-waist-pack-6-litres.html
The Simms bag is more fishing orientated – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/vests-packs/waypoints-hip-pack-large.html
There is also the chest pack version which I find easier to use – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/vests-packs/waypoints-chest-pack.html
Leader material, fluorocarbon – we got broken time and again on the take with 11lbs so switched to 15lbs and only got broken on the coral after that!
Flies – Frontiers supply a full list of recommended flies but bring some ‘blind’ (eyeless) flies for fishing the skinny water for tailing bones.
At least two pairs of polaroid sun/fishing glasses.
Bug juice (optional) – we suffered almost no bugs at all.
Lightweight waterproof jacket is essential – something like this – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/jackets-rainwear/acklins-jacket.html
Cap of your preferred style.
At least two buffs – one to do the main job and another to help cover up any gaps around the neck – something like these – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/hats-sunhoods/sungaiter-2.html or these – http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/sun-mask?p=28736-0
Saltwater shirts – you can go the traditional shirt route which gives you a high collar like this – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/shirts/ultralight-ls-shirt.html
…or you can go the long-sleeved t-shirt route which I prefer, they seem cooler somehow and one can move more easily in them but you do need neck protection.
or this with a hood for added sun protection – http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/mens-sunshade-technical-hoody?p=52657-0
Or these by Simms – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/shirts/solarflex-ls-crewneck-solid.html
Or this for cloud camo – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/shirts/solarflex-ls-crewneck-print.html
Saltwater, sun-protective gloves like these – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/socks-gloves/solarflex-sun-glove.html
Lightweight saltwater trousers like these – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/pants-shorts/superlight-zip-off-pant-1.html
Or shorts like these – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/pants-shorts/superlight-short-1.html
I like to go the shorts with lightweight compression leggings because they give you full sun protection and are much easier for movement without all that wet trouser waving in the water – something like this – http://store.nike.com/us/en_us/pd/pro-hypercool-max-tights/pid-10845154/pgid-11065001 – note Hypercool or cool is the key – go on Amazon and you will find lots of cheaper versions. We introduced some of the other guests to this system and they bought ours from us!
A belt – whether wearing shorts of trousers, when they are wet, they tend to come down!
Saltwater or flats socks, bring at least two pairs to rotate them – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/socks-gloves/wet-wading-sock.html
Saltwater wading boots – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/wading-boots/flats-sneaker.html
Gaiters or gravel guards to go over the boot and sock – http://www.simmsfishing.com/shop/accessories/gravel-guards.html
You do not have to buy Simms or Patagonia clothing – it is easier for me to use them as examples as they do very good equipment, which shows what is required easily.
Finally lodge attire – very casual – shirts, shorts, trousers etc, no need to bring a lot.
Extra rods that can be rigged for permit, barracuda, tarpon, needlefish, snook etc. You could have a rod for each but I would just bring an extra 9 or 10 weight and adapt it for purpose.
Appropriate flies, leaders (inc wire trace) etc
Mask and snorkel though these can be borrowed too.
Go-Pro – best worn on the head, if you bring one, try and get a polaroid filter for it.
Waterproof easy to carry camera.
I am not going to go into a blow by blow of the fishing because we were rushing about looking at things, taking photos and video etc but here are ten top suggestions for the fishing:
- Because there are so many, Los Roques is predominantly about bones and good-size bones but there are plenty of other species such as tarpon, permit, jacks, barracuda, needlefish and blue runner. If you want to go species hunting, talk to Chris and your guide and they will make it happen.
- Be prepared to use longer leaders (15-20ft); when the tide is low and the bones are tailing, it gets the fly close to the bones with much less chance of spooking them.
- Have a good mix of weights to your fly patterns including some with little or no weight. Heavy flies tend not to be needed so much as subtle weight differences in the lighter category.
- Use stronger leader than you thought – we think 15lbs is a good balance between thickness and strength.
- Make sure you have a good line up of smaller flies as well as the average sizes.
- Our top three patterns were pink puffs, green or brown bitter and clousers (green, pink and black was also good) but be sure to have gummy and Los Roques minnows.
- There are some very big permit at Los Roques so if you are that way inclined, go and have a try and bring permit flies!
- Some of the bones will whack the flies to the point of snapping the leader, others would only take when you stopped stripping, even when fishing minnow patterns. The adage of ‘if the fish is chasing the fly, speed up’ did not seem to work.
- The minnow patterns seemed to do best when fished very slowly and smoothly.
- When the fish are on the flat, do not be afraid to simply stop and wait for them to come to you. If you keep walking, you can just keep pushing the fish away or even off the flat. Sometimes a little patience and stealth pays great dividends.