I thought Dave McKenna was at our lodge in Guanaja by chance when we first set out to explore the Faraway Cayes, turns out it was written in the stars and reflected in the sea.
Dave had already hosted a few of his clients at Fly Fish Guanaja but our paths hadn’t crossed. I had a manager in place and wasn’t in Guanaja all of the time. In 2017 Dave happened to book his clients around the same time we planned on exploring the Faraway Cayes for the first time.
From the moment we arrived in Guanaja 10 years earlier, tales of a prolific flats fishery never seen by saltwater anglers came back with lobster and snapper fisherman, year after year. Schools of 1000 bonefish, averaging 5 pounds, eating bare hooks, and permit that would destroy any world record if caught on a fly, these were the reports that couldn’t be ignored forever. In 2017 a Canadian pilot arrived in the Bay islands with an A-Star Helicopter and our plans began for exploration. 160 miles away, the Faraway Cayes seemed too far for guests to reach in a boat, the chopper changed everything.
In order to get the chopper to Faraway Cayes, we first had to get jet fuel out there for the return, which was almost impossible and nearly killed the project. Before we got clearance to move the fuel out there, we had to gamble approval and send our supply boat with a building crew to get ready for our exploratory season. Dave’s unique timing of coming to Guanaja during all this inspired the invitation from me to be the first fly-fisherman to land at Faraway and explore the fly-fishing, find out if all the hassle was really worth it.
Along with Dave we had Noah Thompson on board as an exploratory angler. Noah was our first student in our Guanaja Fish for Change Student Program and grew into a fly-fishing gladiator with the world at his fingertips. Noah and Dave became the first fly anglers to voyage to the Faraway Cayes on the first supply boat. The plan was to boat out there, fish a few days, and take the first chopper home.
Stress mounted up in Guanaja while the exploratory crew embarked on the very long boat ride. I hadn’t received permission from the Honduran government to transport jet fuel and we weren’t assured of the angler’s return in the chopper. Noah and Dave had international airplanes to catch that relied on a chopper flight home from the Faraway Cayes.
Heavy wind and high seas slowed the boat down to an insufferable speed, barely 5 knots, and the boat ride took much longer than expected. Tension was high and mutiny lingered in the air. What our anglers thought was going to be a 12 hour boat ride turned into a 28 hour run with limited food and water.
I was sweating bullets to get them home, meanwhile our supply boat finally reached the Faraway Cayes and the first bonefish session ensued with Dave McKenna blowing off steam from the boat ride by landed over 50 bonefish in the first couple of hours. The legends were real, but the challenged persisted.
At the very last minute I received the golden approval from the Honduras government to go forward with our project and send the fuel. The boys made it with less than 1 minute to spare at the international airport in Roatan to catch their flights home. Everything truly came together at the “last minute.”
Noah and Dave created some of the first Guide Flies for the Faraway Cayes by tying on site, over a pile of lobster traps. Little did I know at the time, Dave McKenna was a master fly-tier and salesman, waiting for an opportunity to start his own fly-tying company.
The combination of my burning desire to create more jobs in Guanaja, provide our guests with custom flies they need, and finally connecting with Dave McKenna was the birth of Guide Flies.
I had already created several custom patterns needed for Guanaja but never had to time to meet the needs of our guests. My job as owner/operator turned into countless late nights in the boathouse at the fly-tying table, creating patterns my guests needed to catch fish the next day. Our flies needed weed guards, unique color variations, and constant innovation.
Guanaja is a challenging fishery that demanded a new level of fly.
The last ingredient needed for Guide Flies was the genuine friendship between Dave and me that quickly developed after we all survived the initial exploration to the Faraway Cayes. It turned out we were cut from the same block and between the two of us, there wasn’t anyone we didn’t know in the industry. Dave’s career based out of New Jersey and mine out of Colorado, together we were already networked coast to coast and it was just a matter of time.
By early 2019 we were ready to pull the trigger and bring life to Guide Flies. Dave trained our first tiers in Guanaja, a few of whom had already been tying for Fly Fish Guanaja. Manufacturing started at the lodge and has since grown to it’s own building in the village of Mangrove Bight. Our first patterns emerged for our clients to finally purchase and our first two goals were accomplished immediately: provide more jobs to locals while supplying our guests with the proper ammunition to fish Guanaja, the greater Caribbean, and eventually the world.
Dave’s goals of running a sustainable business while carving out his new career are coming to fruition as well. In order to keep the jobs going, and keep our guests supplied with the historical innovation we are creating, business must succeed.
In addition to Guide Flies, our non-profit organization came to life in 2019. Fish for Change embodies our Student Programs and its many important initiatives. Teenagers learn to fly-fish while engaging in service work, and Fish for Change raises funds to make this opportunity available to a diverse group of students. Guide Flies donates all flies and materials to learn fly-tying for these programs and a percentage of every fly sold supports Fish for Change. It seems we are the first fly-tying company with an authentic cause and we hope everyone gets involved. The advantage is ultimately in the casting hands of the anglers to get access to previously unavailable patterns coveted by guides in both fresh and saltwater fisheries. Guide Flies are guide’s flies: secrets revealed for a cause.
Fly-fishing is a platform for change, and Guide Flies make a difference.
About: Steve Brown
Steve is a Colorado native who has been fly fishing most of his life. Several journeys through Central America during off seasons led him to the Bay islands of Honduras.
He found expansive flats empty of any other anglers, yet full of fish: permit, bonefish, tarpon, and more. Steve’s dreams of starting a small, sustainable fly-fishing lodge came to fruition in the Spring of 2008.
Steve earned a Masters in English at Colorado State University and created and taught writing courses at Colorado College including: River-related Literature and Writing through Fly-fishing, Back-packing and Reading and Writing the Rivers and Oceans of Honduras: River and ocean-related literature through salt-water fly-fishing,
Steve has a deep rooted passion for fly fishing and conservation and developed Guanaja’s Sustainable Development Project with students and volunteers within the communities of Guanaja, a program which has also been running for the past 11 years.