Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The stuff you see when you don't have your 10wt.

Another unexpectedly good thing about being a teacher on this island is having 40 sets of eyes spying all of the bays and inlets around for you at all times. I received word from a 6th grade student that the fry have moved in to a bay near his house. They spend the daylight hours huddled under the dock, subject to marauding tarpon, jacks, snapper and pelicans. At sunset, they disappear into deeper water for the night.

I went there Saturday expecting to slay but was met with empty water. The fry had moved on. Later that weekend, I visited the next beach to the west of where the fry used to be with some friends. I did not have my fly rod with me. As soon as we pulled up, I regretted not bringing it along.

We were greeted with a scene of utter mayhem. More than two dozen pelicans dive-bombed the water only feet from the shore as hundreds, literally hundreds, of tarpon herded the baitball into the shallows and surged through as one with mouths agape.

It could have been the most legendary day of fishing anyone has ever had. Instead, I was reduced to gawking as the tarpon gorged themselves.

Nervous Water rounds the point.

How many tarpon do you see in this photo?

They hunt in packs!

Reminds me of humpback whales engulfing a baitball.

What a missed opportunity...

An incredible number of tarpon.

Dancing bait.

Regrouping for the next open-mouthed surge.

As darkness fell, the action stopped as if someone had flipped a switch. I heard later that the tarpon had been there for 3 days, consistently in a state of feeding frenzy. Alas, the swell is up and the area I was standing for these photos is now in the middle of a pounding shoreline. As soon as it dies down I will spend the weekend in search of this giant baitball and it's attendant predators.

On another day, I was actually ankle-deep in the salt when these bones made an appearance. My 8wt was rigged and ready, but I needed to try for a few shots of tailing fish before I scared them away. Sure as shit, leading a bone by 10ft in four inches of water isn't anywhere near enough. One cast later and they were gone.

Skinny Water.

Street Gang.

Taking tiny shrimp and sea urchins.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lex Takes Us To Bonefishing School.

“Why aren’t you fishing?”

“The swell is down, yeah? Probably good conditions…”

“When are you gonna put Lex on some fish?”

He’d flown out three days ago but was mentally still fishing the flats. Mark’s only chance, having struck out with bonefish during his brief week of opportunity, was to live vicariously through us until he returned in 8 months.

A few days after Stace and I had begun to settle into the school week routine and Lex settled into her own routine of napping her way through the beaches, I rigged up our 9wt for bones and the 10wt for baby tarpon and took Lex to our newly discovered honey hole.

The goal was to give her a chance to cast to some fish. This was unrealistic for a few reasons. More often than not, I see nothing during a trip to the flats. Not a sign. Of the remaining encounters, there is probably only a viable shot at a bonefish 10% of the time. As I have previously documented, bonefishing is difficult. Furthermore, Lex had received her first saltwater lesson about a week ago.

So, it was with these expectations that we slunk through mangrove roots and entered the water with about an hour of sunlight left. I helped Lex set herself up for a quick cast and gave her a 3 second tutorial on how to walk on the flats. Shuffle your feet slowly, watch out for rays, scan at the limits of your vision and look for movement.

Astoundingly, as I finished that lesson, I caught movement above the turtle grass not 10ft in front of me. Realizing it was a pod of bones, more bones than I had ever seen in one place, I ducked low and rasped to Lex a command to throw her fly 8ft to my 12 o’clock.

Lex was 5ft to my left and she was casting right-handed. Her first cast was not to hit it’s mark. The leader wrapped about my torso and the fly caught my shorts. I unhooked while barely moving and pulled as much of her fly line through her guides as she would need to get the fly into position.

We were both laughing. Her 2nd cast wrapped around my neck but thankfully didn’t hook me in the face. She pulled the rod tip up in an attempt to untangle and only looped the line around the rod a few dozen times. Thinking all hope was lost, I dared look for the bones. Incredibly, they had moved closer to me. At least a dozen fish were no more than 6ft away, hovering above the turtle grass in 18inches of water.

We managed to untangle her rig without spooking them. Her next cast landed 3ft in front of me and I watched, incredulously, as two bonefish zoomed over to inspect the slowly sinking shrimp pattern. One of them moved right on top of it, and paused.



“Lex, set!”

“What does that mean?!” she replied.

“Strip! Lift! Pull!” I was freaking out. This was just too much.

She managed to take in some slack line and felt the fish. The bone took off, peeling out a bit of line, but Lex had a death grip on the fly line and wasn’t letting it take any.

“Let her run! Just let her run! Keep the rod tip up!” I barked commands as Lex giggled uncontrollably.

With about 20ft of slack line sitting on the water, the bone just cruised around, more confused than alarmed.

When I caught my breath from laughing, I told her to take in the slack and keep the line taught. At this, the fish thrashed and peeled out some line. It was no match for Lex’s superior play.

She guided the bone towards me and I scooped it up. In countless hours of fishing the flats of this island, my sister lands the first bonefish in ridiculous fashion.

How embarrassing for that poor bonefish.

The fish finally realizing it was hooked.

Pretty damn happy.

About to facilitate the release and she doesn't even know it.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

New Year's Never List.

2010. A new year. I thought I would reflect on the many things I have never done as a fly fisherman. This is a little late with February days away but I am going to make my list anyway. In doing so, I am hoping to cross many of these off as the days continue to tick away.

I have never stepped foot in a drift boat. 

Therefore I have never floated a stream or river.

I have never caught a striper and have yet to even fish for them.

I have never had a casting or fishing lesson. I learned through trial and error.

I have never fished in New Jersey despite how close it is.

I have never hired a guide.

I never practice casting. I fish. 

I have never fished the Lehigh Gorge.

I have never casted a spey rod. 

I have never fished in New England.

I have never caught a bonefish. 

I have never used a high end camera such as a DSLR. I just bought one though. 

In ten + years of fly tying, I have never finished a fly in a traditional manner. 

It's called super glue and it never fails.

I have never been across the Atlantic.

I have never fished the fabled waters of the Upper Delaware.

I have never caught a permit.

I have never landed a trout out of the Letort.

I have never gone fishing just for a hatch. I go fishing and whatever happens, happens. 

Personally, I have never paid for a hotel room. The bed of the truck works just fine. 

I have never Euro-Nymphed.

I have fished Colorado but I have never fished any other Western states. 

I have never gone fishing with both of my dogs. Bad News Bears.

I have never tied a tube fly.

Thats about all I can think of at the moment. So here is to a new year, new fish, and all the new horizons and avenues to explore. For if there is one thing about fly fishing, it's deeper than the Marianas Trench. There will always be new fish to catch, flies to tie, ways to cast, places to go, and methods of fishing to learn. The sport runs deep, and the deeper you go, the more rewarding it becomes. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Toothy Tug

The switch rod cult…I never had a chance. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon, it just flat-out ran me over. (long story)

My choice, Beulah’s 7/8. I had fished the rod single-handed for awhile, throwing in the occasional D-loop as I fished an indicator rig. This technique became too automatic..if you catch my drift. My interests soon turned to the other capability of the rod. Ever since then spey style casting has taken over my train of thought.

Teaching myself this new style of casting and fly presentation has been the most fun and rewarding experience since I first taught myself how to fly fish over a decade ago. I may just like getting new toys, Skagit heads, running lines, sink tips, poly leaders and so on. It’s been a new world of excitement ever since the first cast that placed my fly across river without a single backcast…leaving me to wonder why I waited so long for my first double-hander and what kind of spey rod to buy next…

Odd First Catch

I doubt that swinging flies for pickerel will catch on anytime soon...but for my first fish caught using my skagit head it was an unexpected but welcome surprise.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Last Flat.

Time was running low. After a week of fishing and relaxing we had precious few hours remaining to put Mark on a bonefish. He needed to be at the airport by 5:30 for his flight outta paradise. We decided to hit one last flat on the way to the airstrip, hoping against hope for some bonefish.

We pulled up and peered through the windshield at a gorgeous flat, looking primed for some cruising gamefish. The promise a pristine caribbean flat holds for an angler is unlike any anticipation experienced by a trout fisherman. Any character in a cast of species could appear as a fin knifing through the still surface, bisecting the reflection of the sky into what came before the sight - hope and strained eyes, with what comes after the sight - twitching fingers and tunnel vision.

Within that promise lies the problem. Invariably, when rigged for bonefish a baby tarpon or two will cruise into your sights. When you change leaders and fly for that tarpon, a school of bonefish begin tailing to your right. Cursing your impatience, you switch back only to lose the school of bonefish and in their place, a shark moves effortlessly through the casting lane, looking hungry. A shark won't eat a shrimp pattern. A bonefish won't eat a tarpon toad. The jacks mauling a baitball just off of the edge shy at your 80lb abrasion tippet.

As we waded onto the flat, we were rigged for bonefish and planned on sticking to it. The ripplings beyond our footsteps disturbed the perfect reflection of the sky. Mark, Stacy and I headed east, eyes peeled.

I knew there were bones around. Big ones. In the past, I've seen many, cast to a few, spooked almost all, without a fish landed. Time ticked low and no fins appeared. Mark spotted a bonefish and then marveled when it simply vanished. No wake, no ripple, no wormhole. Just...gone. They'll do that, I consoled him.

Mounting desperation.

Conceding to the setting sun, Mark tied on a clouser to mine for whatever was making glass minnows dance for their lives just off the edge of the flat. Two hard takes and missed hooksets later, we angled back towards the car. It was 5:15. We would be late.

Last chance.

Mark's words to me as we left the flat were "You waited until the last hour of my trip to bring me here?" The challenge of bones in skinny water, the tailing permit taunting us from the waves, all of the tarpon that got away...these things will haunt him, day and night, until he returns.

When he comes back, we'll stop at this flat again. Only this time it will be on the way from the airport instead of to it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Magic Hat

For Christmas my friend Nate received his first pair of chest waders, we decided to head to the Little Schuykill to break them in. The last time Nate and I fished the Little Schuykill was during the one fly contest held last year…where Nate failed to catch a single fish leaving me to carry the team, haha.

We began by trudging up river to my favorite haunt. I set Nate up with the exact pattern I gave him to use in the one-fly. Not long after he bellowed “There He Is!”…I wonder who he gets that from..haha. Nate soon landed two more fish following a quick and splashy rise to his hot pink indicator. He then retired to let me have a go at the honey hole where I produced the smallest trout of the day.

"There He Is!"

White Tipped and Gorgeous...

Nice Flaps

Pretty Sun-Kissed Bow

Loads of Spots Too...

Nate Left Me The Little Guy...

We then moved down river to the infamous…“Bend Hole” (where Mark and Matt clinched their one-fly gold medals). Fishing along the way, Nate managed three more trout all within two minutes of fishing a riffle. In between taking photos of Nate landing fish, I took the only brown of the day.

Second Fish In Three Drifts

Real Classy...


Lone Brown

A Dorsal View

Upon arriving at the bend I produced three rainbows and a notorious Little Schuykill fallfish. We soon called it a day each of us landing six trout a piece. On our walk back to the car we reminisced about the one fly contest and how I placed third with no help from my partner…we could only come up with one reason…It’s just got to be that hat…no question about it, haha.