Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Miami's "Bonefish Whisperer," Cordell Baum, Jr. - The Interview

A friend in Miami recommended Cordell Baum, Jr. as a knowledgeable guide who can consistently produce quality shots at bonefish, permit and tarpon on the flats of Biscayne Bay.  "They call him 'The Bonefish Whisperer," my friend said.

"With a nickname like that," I thought, "this guy had better be good."  So, I did a little background research.

You know the old saying "the camera doesn't lie," right?  See below.

After a bit of due diligence, it became readily apparent Cordell has a very unique guiding style and an interesting business model:

  1. Clients are guided via sea kayak, canoe or on foot. 

  2. Guiding options include "fully guided," "assisted DIY fishing," and "DIY fishing with kayak rental." 

  3. His daily guide rates are by far the lowest in Miami and affordable lodging (at his "Camp Morning Wood" cottage) may also be included in any package. 

  4. If the weather is not conducive to flats fishing during your trip, he can get you in front of tarpon, snook, peacock bass, pacu or cichlids in area freshwater lakes or canals - or permit, pompano, jacks and redfish in local saltwater canals.  It's a pretty sweet back-up plan and I am not aware of anywhere else in the continental U.S. where can you do this.
If you're like me and you think the most significant part of the experience - whether guided or DIY - is earning every eat, I suggest you check him out.

Not only is Cordell's guiding model unique, but he has produced some pretty unusual fly patterns that have a reputation for producing fish when other patterns may not.  The Fly Shop of Miami indicates his "Electric Dread" pattern sells out very fast at the shop.

The Electric Dread
The Mighty Mighty Speed Dart
What follows is a series of questions regarding Cordell's unique guiding style and fly fishing techniques...

Let's talk about your personal background and experience as a fly fisherman.  You grew up in Alaska, fly fishing for salmon and trout, right?  Then you moved to Miami about 10 years ago?  What was your initial impression back then of the fly fishing opportunities Miami had to offer?

I moved to Alaska just before I turned 11 years old, before that I learned saltwater from my dad in Hatterras. I began fly fishing about 1974. I didn’t really know about any of the fishing in Miami other than it was close to the Keys. 

My first impression of Biscayne Bay was not good. I had seen it at dead low tide and wondered if there were any fish; all I could see was mud and no water.  I had never even heard of Biscayne Bay until I moved here. I was also really shocked by all the canals with nobody fishing. The best part to me was that the Everglades was 12 miles away.

How receptive has the local guiding community been to your unique guiding style and fly patterns?

Basically not a single person has been affected, apples and oranges. I am merely a guide; I am not a captain. I am almost totally unknown and considered a joke among many, if not most, of them. Also, there really isn't anybody that fishes where I do anyway, it's much too hard.

Although the Florida Keys has a reputation for having some of the most challenging flats fishing in the world, Biscayne Bay can be just as challenging, if not more challenging, than the Keys.  How would you compare your experience fishing Biscayne Bay versus other areas?

I really haven't fished anywhere else except Hatterras and Alaska. To me, the Keys is just like Flamingo, it's a great place for people to go that can't catch fish in Biscayne Bay. 

The character of Biscayne Bay can change significantly whether you are fishing the west side or the ocean side.  Do you fish the ocean side very often?  If so, how does this alter your fishing/guiding style, choice of fly patterns, etc.?

Within the Bay, the ocean side is considered to be best. I have never fished it and likely never will. This is where 99% of all the reports come from and all the boats and BS that goes with it.  No thanks.

You have a reputation as a guide for expecting the client to "step up to the plate."  Is this an accurate assessment of your guiding style?

Yes and no. I will expose your strengths but also your weaknesses in casting. It is really a downer when somebody shows up unprepared and not knowing anything at all as to what to do or expect.

I work way too hard to supply shots to have somebody say "where's the fish?" or "which way is he swimming?" If this is something you do, then you are not ready yet. If you can't tell which end the tail is on, then I don't know what to say.  Most of my customers caught their first bonefish with me - or at least their biggest. I am easy to get along with and appreciate the business. I would say 90% of all my customers always come back and consider me their best asset.
The big freeze of 2010 put a huge dent in the Biscayne Bay bonefish population.  Are they coming back in significant numbers yet?

No.  The truth is they are on the way out, in my opinion. I have only caught 12 bones personally since the 2010 freeze. I caught over 250 bones in the five years leading up to the freeze. I go weeks and even months without seeing a single bonefish now. 

They are being replaced by redfish! You heard this here first. It's more than obvious, but what do I know?

People that aren't from the area have a hard time believing redfish can be so challenging to catch in Biscayne Bay.  Why do you think they are so hard to catch there when they are less challenging in other fisheries just a few miles away like Flamingo or Chokoloskee Bay?  Are they more challenging to catch than local permit?

The redfish are getting much easier than a few years ago. For one thing, there are much higher numbers. Five years ago I could not get people to believe there were redfish here and big ones, too! Now I can target them daily, both on the flats and also in the canals. The biggest I see is about the 40 lb. mark, I would say.  The only thing harder than catching a west side Biscayne Bay permit is catching a huge west side snook. Of course, I do both!

It seems recently (especially since the big freeze) your business has focused more and more on targeting freshwater exotics.  Are you finding there is more client demand for these species - or is it more a factor of weather patterns and the recent toll on fish populations out on the flats?

I used to fish the canals only on really windy days, but not anymore. The freeze destroyed well over 90% of the entire fishery, both salt and fresh. The exotics that were in the deepest canals survived due to the aquifer. Those were the only fish left alive and I have been waiting ever since, but now I know where everything is and, more importantly, where it isn't

A Jaguar Guapote Cichild
I've heard, as a result of your successes, a few local fishermen have followed you around for intel on some of the fishing spots you've unearthed.  Is this true?   Have you seen this at all from any local guides?

It happens rarely from the average person and never by guides. Remember that I am unknown, except to kayakers and a few locals. I did have a major situation right after the freeze with a certain a-hole tournament kayaker that studied each and every post I made on certain forums to the point where he was able and willing to meet me every morning and even take my parking spot. Also, he did expose my spots and took as many people as he could, plus made videos and posted anything and everything he could while he raped my area and destroyed my relationship with several customers permanently.  

He did all this in under one month. That is why I quit all forums and refuse to be part of any kayak club or tournament. I cost me a few thousand dollars and almost the entire business. 

What is your favorite species to target when you are fishing alone?  Why?

I would say permit, if I had to choose. I would base this on their reputation of being the "holy grail" of shallow water fly fishing. The truth is that when I fish solo, I am ready and hunting for grand slams.  I take pride knowing I am the only man alive to do this from a canoe with success. I got two back-to-back grand slams in five hours on my 47th birthday! The reality is there is nobody that fishes at my level. There are few people who have witnessed me actually catching fish due to the fact I am so far out of my game of stealth and concentration just by not being alone. I become aware of everything and have very high perception, but I must be alone.

Right now there is a development proposal in front of Miami-Dade County and the City of Coral Gables for a 62 million cubic square foot boat warehousing complex at Matheson Hammock.   It appears the project could have a significant impact on the character of the area, local wetlands, the mangrove swamp and juvenile fish in an area where you guide.  Do you have an opinion about the project either way?
I do have opinions but I also realize I am nothing but a small potato and have no status in any way, it's out of my hands. Money talks and the $$$ will always win. The boat situation is already completely out of hand and unregulated, ANYBODY can launch a boat without training and it is apparent by their actions. The amount of damage to the environment is in plain sight. Scarred manatees, dead sea turtles, glass and trash and trenched up grass flats are one of the first things you notice around the marinas. Personally I can have NO part of that and I let my actions speak for themselves.

You have created multiple new fly patterns based upon your experience fishing the west side of the bay.  What was the impetus for creating the "Electric Dread" and how many versions did you experiment with before you settled on the final design?

I would say the Electric Dread constantly is changing. It began as scud for trout fishing and crossed with a Dean River Lantern for steelhead. I then experimented with it out of frustration with bones while I learned how to fish here. From there, I have tweaked and worked with it constantly and it is my #1 producer. Actually, I just changed it this week and the new version is the best yet, in my opinion!

It appears your "Mighty Mighty Speed Dart" pattern catches every saltwater flats species and also multiple freshwater exotic species.  Is there a species you target that hasn't eaten it yet?  Why do you think it is also so effective in freshwater?

The Mighty Mighty Speed Dart is deadly as it is simple. I designed it specifically for the Biscayne redfish and it was the breakthrough fly I needed. Since then it has proven to be even more deadly than I thought it would be. Originally designed to be a "waving flag" in the grass, it can be stripped and has erratic action that is unmatched. I have caught every flats species there is on the Mighty Mighty Speed Dart and wouldn't consider fishing the flats or any canal without it; especially for permit from shore. In freshwater it is number one for everything! The calf tail is tied at a 45-60 degree angle and becomes the weed guard plus aids in the fastest fly on the flats. The key to catching bones and exotics is speed, like it or not.

Please describe your average client and their experience level with saltwater fly fishing.  Are they typically visiting from out of town?  What is typically the biggest challenge for your clients on the flats?

Almost all of my customers are from out of town. I have a strict policy for taking "locals".  I don't own the water so I must ensure what I know isn't used against me. Many are fishing the flats for their first bonefish or whatever. I first start with evaluating their casting skills such as distance, speed, accuracy. I can tell immediately what they can do. The next thing is have them stand while I push pole and have them spotting to see how they do spotting fish. I will then try to find fish within their ability if possible. This is where the customer must deliver. Not all fish will be ideal shots, few are. If you are within 50 feet of a fish, you must be able to deliver under any condition, in the wind, sidearm, backhand etc.  I am patient as Job if you only listen to me and try to do what I say.  

I am not conventional, but I am effective. You will not find anybody that can beat me! I would say 90% of all my customers return whenever they can. I make it easy for anybody to fish.  

I pick you up, house you, make sure you have food, take you fishing, drop you off at the airport - all at a blue collar price.

A Photo of the Ghost at Camp Morning Wood
What can you tell us about the ghost at Camp Morning Wood?  I have heard of at least three sightings this year.

The Ghost of Camp Morning Wood is very real. Not a scary thing in any way. The cottage was home to Angela's grandmother, who passed just before 100 years old a few years back and, by all accounts of the family, the image is her - bar none. Her picture is in the cottage. 

The atmosphere is friendly and quiet and everybody loves it. Actually, little time is spent there except to sleep. The other sightings have actually been in the front yard and different entirely, they are shadow people. I personally have seen two of them so far this year. I always take my camera every morning now when I walk the dogs at 4:30am. This house is 100 years old and the first one in this part of Old Coral Gables.  

You can learn more about Cordell Baum, Jr. and his Bonefish Whisperer guide service by clicking the banner below...


  1. Nice interview .... up front and to the point with both the questions AND answers! This is not play acting with Cordell. This is the way he was/is the few years I've been an internet acquaintance with him. Pulls no punches. I like it!! :)

    p.s. NICE pics as usual from Cordell's online portfolio.


    1. Yes Cordell is the real deal and I love his style. It's knot about him it's about the fish. You can see that from his photo's. He is like the next next door neighbor Wison from the show tool time. Full of knowledge and he releases more trophy fish from a canoe in a month then most guys do in a 70K dollar flats boat in a year! I to had the same guy tryin to steal spots from me. Sad how big of dirtbags people will be to get info for fishing spots. May sound petty so some but if you make your livin of thoes spots that is very serious.
      Capt Russ