The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 35 - June 2, 2010

reel time

Chico Fernandez, flyfishing pioneer

From the May 26, 2010 Issue
Reel time

Chico Fernandez and his son, Stephen,
share a love of fishing and a commitment
to preserving the environment.

Chico Fernandez needs no introduction to dedicated fly anglers, as he is one of the pioneers of saltwater fly fishing in South Florida. Early on, anglers sought him out in south Florida and the Keys to buy his bonefish specials and honey shrimp patterns which he had perfected to catch bonefish or macabi as they were known in his native country of Cuba. He caught his first bonefish on the fly in Cuba in 1956 and the "grey ghost" of the flats have captured his imagination ever since. His infatuation for bonefish didn't keep him from pursuing other species, including a world record 42 pounds, 5 ounces (I.G.F.A. record on 12 pound test tippet)red drum (redfish) which he caught on a fly in North Carolina. In 1980, he was also one of the first anglers to land a white marlin on a fly rod. A prolific writer, speaker, photographer and fly fishing consultant, Chico is responsible for many of the modern saltwater fly-fishing techniques and fly patterns in use today. I first met Fernandez a few years back at the Miami Boat Show where he told me that his son Stephen was living and working in Sarasota. At the time we agreed that we should get together to fish one day.

That day finally came last week when I had the pleasure of taking Chico and Stephen tarpon fishing off Longboat Key. I had actually met Stephen about six months earlier when Sarasota BayWatch member Adam Fernandez (no acquaintance) told me had met a fellow attorney (Stephen) at a function and that he might be interested in working with a group like SBW. That first introduction led to a fishing trip on Tampa Bay with Adam and Stephen Fernandez where we caught little tunny on fly in Southwest Pass near Egmont Key.

Stephen Fernandez eventually joined the board of Sarasota Bay Watch, where he has been a valuable and active member of the group every since. He has always been eager to help with and advise the group as its legal liaison. When SBW decided to partner with the Snook Foundation on an event dubbed "Snook Watch" Fernandez asked his dad Chico to participate and offer a fly fishing trip with Chico as an on-line auction item, which he agreed to do. He also provided several copies of his latest book, "Fly-Fishing for Bonefish" ( It was apparent that Chico's love for fishing and his commitment to protecting the resource for future generations had been instilled in his son.

This past Saturday we met on north Longboat and headed out Longboat Pass to spend a morning hunting for tarpon. Stephen took the bow near Longboat Pass where we spent an hour talking about our shared passion for fishing, writing and photography. When the tarpon failed to materialize we moved south to mid-key where we found several schools of fish moving just off the beach in about 20 feet of water. Although we managed to get well positioned on several occasions, we couldn't get the fly where we needed it because the fish spent most of their time near the bottom. After about an hour we elected to move back to Longboat Pass when the sun was high enough for us to see any tarpon that might be in the shallow water where we all preferred to fish. We found several schools right away, but the Memorial Day holiday boat traffic made approaching them difficult. The plethora of boats and jet skies that were running the flats, coupled with a persistent swell made us elect to take a boat ride in the bay where I introduced Chico and Stephen to the Sister Keys and some snook and redfish flats they might want to explore in the future.

We finished the day having lunch under the buttonwoods at the Mar Vista Dockside restaurant where we were joined by our wives and restaurant owner Ed Chiles. A beautiful view of the bay, engaging conversation, great seafood and cold drinks made for a perfect end to a great day of camaraderie.

Anglers who would like to contribute to a great cause and share a day on the water with a fly fishing legend can bid on the trip with Chico by going online to the Sarasota Bay Watch Web site at or the Snook Foundation at . The day will consist of snook fishing with local snook expert and guide Captain Rick Grassett ( and Fernandez. You'll learn from the best under the lights, on the flats and along the gulf coast beaches. Don't miss this once in a lifetime opportunity.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper