Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Interview: Cordell Baum Jr.- the Bonefish Whisperer!

Now that is a BIG bone...
So this will be a new feature on my blog- a weekly interview with another angler. To initiate this new endeavor I thought I would hit up Cordell Baum Jr. a.k.a the Bonefish Whisperer. I first heard about Cordell from my good friend Marty. Marty and his son Jake went down for a couple of days of guided fishing with him on Biscayne Bay about two years ago and they had a great time despite some crumby weather conditions. Marty said that Cordell and I were very much alike in many respects and we both love to fish for big fish out of a canoe.  Well, Marty has decided to get us together in about a month. I am heading down with him and his brother Tim for a few days with Cordell. So I thought it would be fun to let folks know a bit more about him.

How did you get started with fly fishing?

I started fly fishing around the age of 12yrs old I guess. My mother had remarried and we packed up and left the summer before 6th grade. My dad had always taken me fishing with him from Chesapeake Bay thru Hatterras so that was all I really wanted to do. I found a old bamboo fly rod and old reel among my step-fathers stuff. I only knew fly fishing from what I seen in those days, the early 70's, it wasn't much. I was more interested in all the insects and also how fisherman knew them. I also found a book on trout fishing and flies by Joe Brooks and used to study it and daydream. From that point I realized that my life had changed and my dad wasn't there to take me fishing plus everything changed radically such as species and environment. I would sneak the rod and I fished where ever I could find water. I was already fishing at extreme high level for my age with conventional gear since age 5 or so back south. My 1st fish was before I can remember but I know it was a "puppy drum"

Before heading down to Florida you were living and fishing in Alaska. How did you end up with the nickname “Rainbow Jesus” (watch this video to see him in action)?

I invented it while fishing on the Kenai River...was thinking about the song "Country Jesus" by ZZ Top while putting the wood to the rainbows and dollies...I have the exact moment on video...I 
liked it immediately, others not so much

So what made you decide to pull up your roots in Alaska chasing rainbows and salmon to move to South Florida to start all over again with the flats?
Cordell with a rare vegetarian bonefish

I would say fate...I had no plans on leaving Alaska for any reason, I hate traveling.  I met Angela and she was of course in Miami. I knew nothing of Biscayne Bay or anything pertaining to flats fishing here, nothing. I didn't believe there to be much action so I didn't even try until I lived here for 8 months...when I caught my 1st bonefish it changed everything I thought I knew about fish. My 1st bonefish was pushing upper 14lbs...wading!!! For me literally a life changing experience...
Bonefish are a staple for you, what would you say the big differences between the bones in the area you fish compared to those found in the Keys?  And what is the difference in fishing them?

I would tell you the Keys fish must be much easier than Biscayne Bay...I hear many stories of guys telling me how huge they are and how many they caught...usually the same guys that really struggle or can NOT catch fish here...the state records are NOT from the Keys, they are from Biscayne Bay...unless you try to weasel out on a line class record...I have never fished the Keys while here...I have never fished anywhere except right here in Miami, I don’t want easier fish. Same for permit. How many Biscayne Bay Permit do you see posted on fly? They are certainly here but much tougher to catch. I would say the difference is the Keys is a good place to learn so you can come here in the Bay and be ready.
A truly stunning permit!

Can you describe your style of fishing/guiding to everyone?
I am a fly fisherman above all else, not a guide. I guide because I get ask so many times to take people fishing or to help them out. I try to curtail the fish for the level of skill of the customer but it’s up to the customer to have their "A GAME", I fish with them just like I would fish alone and I often put them in situations that can expose your casting skills both good and bad, the truth is the truth and you might have to relearn things to be successful my way, I really on absolute speed in have 3 seconds to cast and get the fish if you want to be successful...I take the fish as they come, no chumming. Basically I am dialed in to the environment and have little say over what happens.. When fishing with me you are assured that you are on going all out and that I have all the experience needed to be successful. I have been 100% successful on EVERYTHING I have ever targeted, including multiple GRAND SLAMS of the Big 3...I am the only person in history to do this from a canoe fly fishing much less in Miami...

How many rods do you have rigged in your canoe at one time and what do you rig them with or for?
Usually 2 rods in the canoe while on the flats and even up to 3 rods...usually something like a 6wt-8wt-10wt...I would have the 10wt with a crab fly in all likelihood, a Dread or Speed Dart on the 8wt and perhaps a small top water on the 6wt... if taking only 1 rod I would take a 9wt and use a Electric Dread without question. The Dread with ensure that no matter what species you see you have a very good chance to score...I would use 20lb FC bite tippet to have a chance on tarpon and snook. I rarely go over 25lb bite tippet...
What are some of the most unusual fish you have caught out on the flats (so far)?

I would have to say the Sawfish. I got it out on the flats a couple yrs ago. it was approximately the size of the canoe, about 14ft...the thing is I got it on my 8wt and I think 10lb tippet...I was thinking that it was a lifetime catch but not much was said...Boxfish are kinda odd but fun to watch...
Alright, the photo I have seen that gets me the most excited shows you with a bull shark you landed on a fly while wet wading... please share the story about that fish....
Don't try this at home!

All true...the bull shark was maybe 7ft or so. Just before June each yr I notice the bulls gather in numbers at most every canal gate waiting for them to open and discharge freshwater. June begins rainy season and you can set your watch by it, it will rain June 1st no matter what and they know this....when Miami floods out they open the canals to drain the flooded streets into the can imagine the monsters that are waiting for this to happen...any fish that is in the canal will get dumped like peacock bass, cichlids, tilapia, mullet etc....this goes on for a good month or can count the huge dorsals from land because they are about 30ft from shore in water about 2ft...I got that shark while children where swimming and wading about 20ft away from me...I don’t recommend that anybody hold a bull shark like I did, you will probably get bit...his huge head is actually wedged between 2 chunks of coral and I had just removed the hook...actually I had the tail up so he couldn't swim and bite me and it looks like I am posing but not was a frozen action shot

It seems like you do a fair amount of canal crawling too- quite a variety of freshwater fish to be targeted as well. Do you have any favorite species?
Gorgeous exotics in the canals

The canals I fish all the time...I will even use the kayaks for peacocks in certain canals and I can also target salt or fresh water depending on where I fish...usually it is best to walk so you can constantly cast...I am about CATCHING fish not just using a canoe or kayak to say so...lots of times walking catches fish when all else fails and it sure is easier...most people I find basically refuse to fish it because they actually have to walk and do the work...the ones that use it like I do are the ones with fish pictures

What is it you enjoy about the freshwater fish?

I think it takes me back to a time of self discovery when my parents divorced I was very young. I fished to be like my dad. My dad never fished freshwater so I had to learn on my own. It was my escape and actually my entire life every summer...I worked to master bull gudgeons(bait) thru blue crabs and carp...looking back I was much too young to be alone fishing there. Also remember that for me here freshwater means peacock bass, jacks, snook and tarpon
I have heard you describe yourself as a “hack tyer” but it seems like you have come up with a few innovative flies of your own and they obviously catch fish… why do you call yourself a “hack”?

By refusing to learn to tie properly...I never learned the fancy knot to whip finish, even now I do 2 1/2 hitches to every fly I have ever tied. Also I have never used head cement but always rely on super glue for all my needs...I even coat my flies with superglue as a final touch...I have taught myself whatever it is I do...I see it like a backyard mechanic, there are good ones for sure but without the piece of paper stating you have went to school and been certified by instructors you will never really be considered a mechanic...I have 2 flies with their own link for the public to share and they both show in detail that all the rules are broken...yes, the flies do work
Can you tell me a bit about your go-to fly- The Electric Dread (sounds like a Sabbath song)- how did you get the idea?

I wanted to have a signature fly in Alaska for rainbow/ many tiers that are obsessed I made creations every single time I tied. Experimenting with new things I really liked the DEAN RIVER LANTERN.  Again the design shows my strong trout influence...sort of a nymph type ribbing and shell and also shrimpy look from Polar Shrimp took 2 years of thought to get it to its current status...also I did it out of spite to show all the naysayers I encountered here that they should shut up when it comes to me. I received nothing but grief from the get-go when I invented it and showed the locals with lots of jokes and laughing from my distracters. Now they sell at the fly shops and even bait stores here and I get people wanting me to send them out all the is without question the best fly IMO in all of Miami for Biscayne Bay, better than the Merkin and right there with the Clouser, like it or not. The Electric Dread has caught every single fish in Miami from the Everglades thru the flats and I have all the pictures to prove it.

Finally- what can a client expect out of a day (or three) with you on the water?

From me they can expect the truth and 100% effort. I take it as it comes. If you have booked a trip during high probability weather then you should expect to take shots at whatever is out there. If it is not meant to be then so be it. Bad weather will shut you down every time no matter who you are. Nobody goes fishing without getting shots more than me. The fisherman will get extensive insight as to why the fish are here or are not here and either way it goes they will be a better hunter with new perspective. If the fisherman can make a hookup the chance of a dream fish of a lifetime becomes very real and usually is the end result...I have never had anybody complain that caught fish. If they (the fish) are there then I am confident to find them but it is the CUSTOMER that must deliver at that point, remember I live and die with each fish with you, your victory is my the end of the day you will be spent no matter what. I routinely outlast every fisherman so you will be brought to your breaking point if that's what you want and maybe even if you don’t want it. I realize that I will have my work cut out for me with YOU and your goombas so I have been "secret training" for you guys. I am looking forward to finally meeting you in person and taking plenty of fish photos for my website.

Well Cordell, thanks for the interview and the three of us “goombas” are dying to get down there!  It is coming up quickly and we are all excited. To book a trip with Cordell, hit up his website. You aren’t going to be disappointed!


  1. I've fished with Cordell as my guide several times and he IS the real deal. He's unlike any guide I've ever met & he DOES live & die with your every cast. To emphasize this...he was shaking so hard with excitement after we landed my HUGE bonefish that the entire canoe was rocking. Flyfishing with him isn't like being on the water with a guide, but rather your best friend. There's no doubt he'll put anyone on "fish of a life time" fish. Check out the photo gallery on his website. Those photographs do not lie...

  2. I'll echo Kelly's observations, as I also felt I'd made a friend after three 12-hour days in a row of "bootcamp" with Cordell last year. As I wrote on my own blog last after fishing with him "If there is a more overtly passionate fly fisherman on God's green Earth, then I have yet to meet him". I love the intensity he brings to the game because that's the kind of heart and soul "all-in" approach I the midst of the elements and hard after your quarry...with a full understanding and appreciation of just how special it is to hunt and catch fish the way he does it.