Monday, November 30, 2009

Chasing Tail

For my birthday, Stacy planned a trip to nearby by totally different island, a small coral atoll just north of our home island. Anyone you speak to down here says that this particular island is ground zero for bonefish. So, while the rest of This River is Wild was freezing their asses off on Great Lake tributaries, Stacy and I were wading tropical flats in search of bonefish.

We picked up our sweet ride for the four days we'd be there and went to fill it up at the gas station. I asked the attendant if he knew anything about bonefishing around the island.
He perked up and said he knew a thing or two about bonefishing. It turns out that the owner of the gas station was none other than the one and only bonefishing guide on the island. He has guided the likes of Jimmy Buffet and others who have come here to try their luck on the flats.

A Wrangler can hold a 9wt and 10wt quite comfortably...

He told me the best option for wading was to head to the bridge and walk east. The farther east you go, the better. However, the farther east you go, the muckier the bottom becomes and soon, it becomes unwadable.

He left me with the words, in his thick accent "don judge by what you see out der, mon. Wait 'til you go wit a guide." Not exactly instilling a sense of confidence. He then gave me his card and invited me to check out his fleet of skiffs. I told him I just might give him a call if we didn't have any luck wading. We fist bumped and parted ways.

About 200 people live on this island year-round. It's highest point is 28ft above sea level and we saw way more cattle and goats roaming the settlement than people. It is also home to the critically endangered rock iguana. We didn't see any.

What also seemed to be critically endangered were the bonefish. Dreams of flats sparkling with waving tails and dorsal fins evaporated when we arrived at the access, rigged up in a stiff wind and hit the flats. Knee-deep water with breaking white caps due to the wind is what greeted us. We walked for an hour and half and saw nothing alive save mangroves. The rough surface made spotting a tail impossible and the angle of the glare from the height of a wading person made looking off into the distance for a fish impossible, as well.

As far as the eye can see.

A wreck on the edge of the reef.

Prime habitat for bonefish prey.

We hopped back in the jeep and explored the island. The next morning, at 6am, we hit the flats on a falling tide. We hiked for a mile, eyes straining, shuffling our feet and making little wake, for two hours east. We saw absolutely nothing. I whispered to Stacy that bonefish were a myth. We were speaking in whispers because it seemed natural when compared to the way we were sneaking around the flats, tip-toeing like ninjas.

The only other fisherman, straining to find some prey.

Stace rounds a mangrove cluster, looking for movement.


Making a U-turn and heading west, we saw two rays and a shark. Then, an impossibly fast shadow zoomed out across the flats trailing a wake. Our first sighting, or so I told myself. It saw us way before we knew it was there.

We were now on high-alert. Five minutes later, I saw two big bonefish cruising perpendicular to me. I made one cast but they were moving too quickly. They scattered and fled as my line splashed to the water above them. Our first confirmed sighting and our first cast! Progress.

Half an hour after that, We saw a single fish slowly meandering through the turtle grass. One cast, perfect placement, and the fish bolted. We were getting frustrated but at least we were seeing fish.

A few minutes later, miraculously, two bonefish were swirling and actively feeding twenty five feet to my right. They had not spotted either of us. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. Trailing the fly behind me, I made one quick flick and landed the fly about 6ft away. Immediately, a tiny little grunt tried to eat my fly. It seems that bonefish have some attendant fish that devour any of the shrimp or crabs that try to scoot away as the bonefish muddles for a meal. One of the bonefish moved over, deliberately, then paused right above my fly. I pulled in the slack and felt the fish. I offered a slight tug and held on tight as the fish took off like a bullet in a half-circle around me towards deeper water. The reel screamed as the line lasered through the water, throwing spray 3ft into the air. Into my backing almost instantly, I tightened the drag and slowed the fish. I frantically reeled as it swam towards me, then it took off again. Into my backing for the 2nd time, the fish slowed and then seemed to play dead.

Coming to hand.

Success at long last.

Epoxy shrimp, not the most elegant of flies.

Active Camo

Silver Bullet.

Bonefish obviously have excellent eyesight.

After two blistering runs it was totally and utterly spent. I hauled the fish in and tailed it. I hoisted it for a pic, then placed it back into the water and walked it towards shore to take the hook out.

As I fought this fish, my knees were literally quivering. I was laughing out loud and hoping against hope that it wouldn't break me off. Hour upon hour upon hour upon hour of wading through flats in the burning sun since I've arrived here in August finally paid off with this solid hook up, quick fight and decent fish landed. I was more than pumped.

Bonefish are almost totally invisible on the flats. Especially to a wading angler, who can only see about 20ft in any direction and spends most time frightening anything within earshot of their sloshing towards deeper water before the angler even knows anything was there. Add to the inadequacies of the angler the almost perfect active camouflage that bonefish sport. Their body is covered in tiny mirrors that reflect whatever color the bottom is. They are the predator and you are Arnold.

Thousands of reflective surfaces...

mimic the bottom coloration...

and make them disappear.

Stacy had a great shot at another, larger fish almost as soon as I released mine. She took one cast and the fly was gobbled by the the bonefish's attendant grunt, which dragged the line across the bonefish, spooking it for good. Nothing after that.

The next morning, I jumped a good-sized tarpon off of a dock outside of our hotel. Later that day, I tied on a 7inch baitfish pattern to try for a big barracuda. We spotted a 4 footer in 8 inches of water. I jogged 200 yards to get in front of the fish and laid my fly 20ft to it's right. I began to strip the fly towards me with both hands when the fish accelerated and nailed the pattern. I strip set, and with one mighty shake of it's tooth-lined head, the nail knot on my 30lb pike leader exploded. The massive fish broke the surface trying to shake free of the hook in it's mouth and moved off only a few feet. I re-tied, anxious to see if it would still bite and I didn't have to leave it with a giant hook and 8 inches of wire dangling from it's jaw. The fish wasn't interested and swam off. I felt pretty bad about that.

Tarpon inspecting a floating leaf.

As fresh as dinner can get.

Four days on a deserted coral atoll, one bonefish, a jumped tarpon and a missed barracuda made for pretty much the coolest birthday present ever.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Feast.

Adam breaks into some double digit Oak Orchard Steel. Thanksgiving spent on the river in the rain. Our feast consisted of beef jerky, red bull, special k bars, and martins bbq potato chips (the best). Another great day on the water and we still smell terrible. Erie tomorrow with Big Poppa Pump & Gil.

Erie Outlook:

Forecast: 20-30 mph winds, rain, & snow
Our Dad's Fishing Experience: Zero
Erie Flows: Non-existant

Fishing Conditions: Terrible

Bring it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday's Best.

Day one of five days has gone by fishing the Ontario and Erie tributaries for steelhead and brown trout. Here is day one's best fish. We slayed the browns on the Salmon River in New York today.
We are currently tying flies at a Subway in the Albion Walmart Supercenter. Oak Orchard awaits in a few hours. We smell like moldy salmon. Full report sometime next week.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dear Mom & Dad,

I am writing to let you know, that for the first time in my life, I will be missing Thanksgiving dinner.

Steel > Thanksgiving.

Over the years, this dinner has meant a lot to me as I am sure it has for you. Every year I enjoy the company and the laughs that only our family can produce. From the incessant "knob" jokes, the political ramblings about the current administration, Dad's gut wrenching laugh, or even Sophie always finding a way to get something off the table. This goes along with your lovely food that takes you hours upon hours to produce. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, green beans, crescent rolls, cranberries, pumpkin cake roll, cheesecake, Christmas cookies, and beer. I love waking up to the smell of turkey in the oven not only because it smells so great, but also because it is one of the few times the dogs actually leave me alone. Simply put, I love Thanksgiving. However, as you already know, I love something else too.

Praise The Steel.

And The Weather.

Since you bought my first fly rod for my 13th birthday, I have developed an addiction to the sport of fly fishing. You already you know this. Over the years you have seen me (or have not seen me) depart the house during the wee hours of the morning in search of all manner of fish in all manner of conditions. From the 100 degree heat of the summer, to the freezing temperatures of winter. From raging thunderstorms to white out blizzards, I greatly enjoy being out on the water. At first, you did not understand the symptoms but over the years you began to understand. You supported my addiction. Always helping me buy new gear, paying for my gas, and always stocking me up with food for my long road trips. You usually questioned why I needed another fly rod, a new reel, or another undergarment. But you always listened to my explanation and let me make the decision. For that I am thankful.

Now, you are probably wondering why I need to miss Thanksgiving dinner, one of the few times each year the whole family is together. Well...there is this fish. It's called a steelhead and it is a magnificent creature. It grows large in the depths of the Great Lakes aggressively feeding on a smorgasbord of aquatic insects and fish. At various times throughout the year they make their way back to their original starting point and anglers from all over the world journey to these waters to catch them. Fresh out of the lakes, they are dime bright, their chrome sides glistening in the rays of the sun. They eagerly take the flies I tie with all that material that usually clutters the kitchen table. When you hook them, they go ape-shit in the fast currents they love. Usually jumping in every direction testing your line, rod, reel, and your forearm. Originally these fish were not found in the Great Lakes. They are native to the Pacific Rim where (wild) they grow to even more epic proportions and feats of strength. Be thankful, I never get a taste of that game or else you would probably never see me again.

Silver Bullet.

Big Bucks.

Departing Steel.

Now up to this point I am missing Thanksgiving because of my addiction to fly fishing and steelheading. I also want you to know that I have a shot at a monstrous brown trout upwards of twenty pounds. Yes, brown trout grow to epic proportions (world record) in the Great Lakes and we live within driving distance of this fishery. By missing Thanksgiving I'll be fishing for large brown trout without having to travel to New Zealand or Argentina. No passport required. These fish are heavy bulldogs whose violent head thrashes let everyone know you have one on the line. Males possess raw strength and a vicious looking kype while females possess the weight and girth thanks to a belly full of eggs. These are beautiful fish worthy of missing Thanksgiving.


Browns > Thanksgiving.

My third reason is that it's Thanksgiving! No one in their right mind will be out during the largest feast of the year. Everyone will be at home with their friends and families leaving all the waters to me! Oh wait, I am surely not the only one with this disease. I will not be alone, hundreds of others are thinking the same thing I am right now. Steelhead, Brown Trout, and less crowded water. Screw Turkey!


Equals More Steel For Me.

I am sorry Mom and Dad, I must depart soon after I arrive home Monday night. Please have an extra turkey cooked for me along with all the other Thanksgiving fixtures. Have it wrapped and ready to go so that I may be with you in spirit on Thursday. I fully intend to eat it streamside and share it with any other anglers that have the same addiction I do. Also, please share this letter with any friends and family that question my decision. I am sure they will understand.



Thursday, November 19, 2009

East Coast Pride.

Bent Rod Media's latest and greatest: 

Down on the Farm.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Was I Thinking?

I traveled home for my little sister's 21st birthday, and made an early morning trip out to fish some small streams. I was a little hesitant at first. It is hunting season and I passed several guys on the side of the roads carrying some big ass guns. I was wondering why they needed such heavy firepower for squirrel season when I realized all I cared about was whether or not they could shoot straight. Walking in the middle of the woods, I flinched at every gunshot ringing in the distance. When I finally reached the stream, my nerves finally began to settle. I was at home.

Sick Falls, Lost A Nice Brown Here.


Deep Plunge Pool.

I made a very poor decision on this particular trip. I decided on my 7 foot 4 weight Superfine after several long minutes of thought. I was going after small wild trout in tight quarters. At the time, it seemed like a very wise choice. However, the first hole I fished easily reached depths of 10 ft. plus and happened to be situated a few hundred yards from a very large lake. A large lake run brown was a possibility this time of year. After landing some smaller fish I tied on a size 10 tungsten bead golden stone with non toxic wire on the shank. It was heavy as shit, and I intended to probe the depths of this beautiful run.

Beautiful Run.

Jutting Rock Face & A Drop Off To Emerald Water.

Failed To Produce.

On my first cast with the golden stone, my indicator plunged under and I set the hook as best I could. A very large brown doubled my rod over and started peeling line off my reel. The full flex Superfine struggled under the trouts weight. I adjusted the drag accordingly and began worrying about my ability to keep such a heavy fly pinned in the corner of a large male browns mouth. After a struggle of no more than thirty seconds he made a very audacious move in the current and the fly shook free. What was I thinking bringing the Superfine? Better yet, what was I thinking tying on such a heavy fly when I was using my Superfine? I sat stunned for awhile thinking of the large male brown break dancing in the depths of the green water. His large palm sized fins were all I kept thinking about. He was born in this small stream and made his way out to the depths of the lake to feed and grow large. He survived countless seasons, every year returning to where he was born. I very much would have liked to hold him for a second or two before returning him back to the depths.

Pennsylvania Brook Trout.

Gorgeous Brown Decked Out In Fall Colors.

At a later destination, I meandered through the woods listening to the roaring water rushing through a deep ravine on my left. Getting down into the mini canyon I stepped out into a very shallow fast run. About halfway across the stream, I saw a neon glow out of the corner of my eye. I took a glance before diving for cover. A large palomino was chilling in the current no more than twenty yards downstream. I sat contemplating this fish for a minute or two watching his every move in the current. He wasn't moving far at all for his food. I thought about how he got here. According to the PA Fish and Boat Commission website, this particular stream is not stocked. He was either introduced here by some proud fisherman or he sought thermal refuge in it's cold waters in the heat of the summer. He probably came from the lake as well.

The Ravine.

Working my way into position, I was careful not to spook the thick fish. Palomino are usually super skittish and they have to be. They have no where to hide. I tied on a size 16 flashback soft hackled pheasant tail on 6x and made a few casts. I made the cast, the one that looks perfect as soon as you make it, and got my game face on right before the fish slowly moved to his left and inhaled my pattern. I set the hook and once again, thoughts of my Superfine mistake came to my mind. The rod once again bent to the cork and the fish could not be controlled. For several minutes he worked me real good in the current. The high point coming when he literally bull dogged his way into some rhododendron protruding into the stream. My heart sunk when he made the move, but to my surprise he popped out the other side. The end came fifty yards downstream. He was even thicker than I thought. My largest palomino to date, and my most memorable for sure.

One Healthy, Thick, & Perfect Finned Palomino.

The Superfine Did Mad Work.

Next time, I will be thinking long and hard before grabbing the Superfine to go tangle with a possible lake run November brown.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sunset at the Sugar Mill

This past weekend, I resolved to catch a bonefish or permit. Something, anything, off of the flats besides a grunt or school master. The plan was to fish 4 sets of flats between our apartment and town. I set off with high hopes around 8am.

First set of flats was larger than I was anticipating. Creeping softly through the baby mangroves, I made my way toward a mound of sand for a high vantage point. As soon as I made it to the mound, I saw the largest bonefish yet not 5ft in front of me. Well over 20inches, it probably saw me before I saw it. It turned as I cast a crab pattern towards it and fled the flat, never to be seen again.

And that was it. One bonefish spotted in the first 10 minutes, followed by 4 hours of wading around in circles with peeled eyes and focused concentration, looking for a fin, a tail, a ripple, anything.

The only other fish I saw that warranted a cast or two was a 4ft shark with a biologist's tag in it's dorsal fin. It obviously wanted nothing to do with a shrimp pattern and would have sawed through the 14lb flouro in a micro second, but I was bored and took some casts.

The other three flats looked so promising, but yielded nothing. Bonefishing is hard.

That night, Stace and I walked down to the spot where I've landed three tarpon so far. The tide was low but rising, and there were thousands of baitfish clustered around the jetties. Things were looking good.

In the two hours we were there we saw zero tarpon. I'm attributing it to the new moon, a traditionally shitty fishing period. It seems tarpon activity is highest during the week approaching and the week after a full moon, and is shitty for the remaining two weeks of the cycle. This is just an observation based a very little data.

Stace did manage to snap a series of casting shots backlit by a setting sun. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Oak.

Part 3

Every weekday I wake up at 5:15 a.m. to go to work. After awhile, your body gets in a groove and your automatic alarm becomes set at that time. There is nothing worse than waking up at 5:14 and looking at your clock thinking you can go back to sleep, only to realize that an annoying alarm tone is about to piss you off. With that in mind, I woke up at 5:14 a.m. in the bed of my pickup truck. My shoulders ached from a night spent sleeping on my casting shoulder and I struggled to realize where I was. The desolate Albion Walmart Supercenter parking lot was deserted save for a few cars. My suspicious looking truck lingered near the end of the lot away from all the worker's cars. I had about thirty seconds before my alarm went off, so I fumbled around for my glasses. The alarm screeched its tune and I quickly turned it off. Adam came stumbling out of the front seat and let me out of my chamber. I rolled out of the back just as a new shift came rolling in. The person in the car gave me a nice look after glancing at my sleeping bag. Who knows what he was thinking when he saw us stumbling out of that truck. We didn't care, it was time to go fishing.

A Good Sign. 

You Would Think This Would Work...But It Didn't.

Adam Working His First Chrome of 09'

It was our second day fishing Oak Orchard river in western New York. On the previous day I hit everything just right and landed several of the largest brown trout I have ever caught and some nice steelhead to boot. Adam had a terrible day, failing to land a single fish. That being said, we still had high hopes for round two. This particular Sunday, the weather was extremely warm and this brought a lot more anglers out to the river. It only took half an hour before Adam and I were slowly squeezed out of our first spots by several anglers who kept getting closer and closer. Being polite, I just packed up and went to the next open area. This day was much slower. The water level dropped over a foot, there were more people, and every fish in the system was probably caught the day before. Before our half day was over, we each managed to land a few fish each. I was happy for Adam, who landed his first steelhead of the season. The two steelhead he caught were awesome fish that were in great shape. I managed one brown that closely resembled a mini-taimen and had a bulldog battle with a very thick steelhead. A little past noon, we packed it in and began the long journey home. Another successful round on the Great Lakes coming to a close.

Boo Ya.

Only Brown Landed on Sunday.


Adam's First Steel.

The Pig, Close Up.

One Gorgeous Great Lakes Steelhead.

Best Fight 09'

One Thick Hen.

Adam's Scores Again.

November Steel.

The Way Home. 
Reflecting on the Past Two Days.
Planning The Next Trip.