Planning a Caribbean Fishing Vacation
For flats fishing, always pack your own tackle. Charter boats, however, will have what you need.

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Sooner or later
every salt water angler begins casting glances toward the far off horizons of the Caribbean. Thoughts of swaying palm trees, bonefish, permit, tarpon or big marlin become almost obsessive.

The same question keeps recurring: "If other people can do it, why not me?"

Exactly. Why not you?

Gamefish in the Caribbean must be in league with their country's tourist boards, since fall through spring generally is the best angling period everywhere. That's good and bad.

There's nothing better than a Caribbean vacation in winter, but airline fares and accommodations are highest from Dec. 15 to April 15, the most desirable time to visit the Caribbean.

You can save as much as 30 percent if you book either side of this peak period.

Although resident species such as bonefish and permit usually can be taken year-round, the summer sun is more than most anglers can stand. Some bonefish lodges either close down then, offer cut-rate packages (some real bargains here) or cater to scuba divers .

Packing for a Caribbean trip poses some interesting questions. Foremost is whether to take your own tackle. It depends, really, on what you'll be fishing for.

Charter boats for offshore trolling supply rods,bait and lures. Charter captains are also very savvy about the latest trolling techniques. Plastic heads are popular for billfish, through many boats still trail at least one or two natural baits like ballao or mullet.

If you have a favorite trolling lure, by all means bring it to see how well it works way down South.

Spinning tackle is the preferred method for all shallow water species. Although complete outfits may be available for loan, take your own gear for bonefish, permit or tarpon. You can never be sure of the quality of the reels or line of something that gets passed around frequently and serviced haphazardly.

The most important piece of equipment for flats fishing is a high performance reel with a steady, smooth drag and a capacity of at least 200 yards of line.

When something like a bonefish or big tarpon is tearing off a hundred yards of line, a jerky drag will often bust the mono, which is heartbreaking. Never skimp when it comes to selecting a good reel; this is not a trip you'll soon to repeat.

For bonefish, take a light rod and 6-pound test line and a good assortment of 1/8 or 1/4-ounce pink or white jigs.

Permit demand a slightly heavier rod and 8 to 10-pound test mono. Their most popular bait is small live crabs, which guides provide. Bonefish and permit rigs are almost interchangeable (and can be in a pinch), but tarpon need 15 to 18-pound test mono and a rod capable of handling up to 5/8 ounce plugs.

Fly fishermen definitely need pack complete outfits since fly fishing equipment is about as rare as a 200-pound tarpon. Bonefish like a rapidly sinking fly with marabou or bucktail streamer in No. 6 to 1/0 hook sizes. Pink is usually the hot color, though white often works, too.

Permit, often tough to take on a fly, need slightly larger hook size, No. 4, No. 2 or 1/0. Sinking pink shrimp, marabou streamer or small bucktails produce best.

Tarpon on a flyrod is an incredible, unforgettable experience. Tarpon come in all sizes, from 5-pound babies to 100+ pound monsters. Tarpon up to 15-pounds take a 3/0 hook.

Between 15-40, try a 4/0. Above that, a 5/0--and a fast prayer when it strikes. Streamers in red and white, blue and white, and red and yellow are all good choices.

For large tarpon, many experts recommend 12 inches of 80 or 100-pound mono tied to a 12-pound tippet to keep the fish from fraying the line.

It's inconvenient enough to have normal luggage lost; it's a disaster when it's your fishing tackle. With checked luggage getting lost as frequently as it does, it is best to hand carry broken down rods placed in a protective (but not bulky) rod case.

Use a size that will fit in an overhead rack. If it won't fit there, try the coat closet. If the stewardesses start giving you a rough time, appeal to the pilot. He, not the drink toters, has the final say about everything.

Rods aren't much good without reels, so carry them aboard your plane in a small sport bag or suitcase that will fit under the seat in front of you.

Other essential items to pack are polarized sunglasses (absolutely vital for flats fishing so you can spot the fish), plenty of sunscreen, and a wide brimmed hat and long pants and long sleeve shirt for even more sun protection.

That Caribbean sun is a lot hotter than anywhere in the U.S.

And don't forget a good camera with a good supply of film--or lots of memory cards--to record all the fish you're going to catch

Next Page: Caribbean Fish Finder - Where's the Action?

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