Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hope Dangling on a String

Alone with my thoughts and five hours of open road, I told myself that this trip was going to be different. Different in a sense that I was going to focus more on my swing and presentation of the fly, rather than my casting, distance, and loops.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

One Request

My sister's birthday came around and as usual I waited until the last moment to think about what to get her. Due to my lack of creativity when it comes to gift giving, I simply asked her what she wanted. To my surprise, she only had one request, "TAKE ME FISHING!". Needless to say, but I was willing to oblige. For someone that only fly fishes once a year, she is a pretty fishy individual and likes to remind me that she caught a bonefish on fly before I did. This sole fact, according to her, makes her a better fisherman than me. Typically, I have no response for her boasts and shake my head whenever I account that moment in time. Nonetheless, we planned on an early Sunday outing before family festivities took over. 

 In typical fashion, we overslept and arrived on the water with only two hours of fishing time. Despite a few risers here and there, I gave her an indicator rig armed with some meat (san juan worm) for those greedy fish looking for a meal. I dropped off a midge on 7x, for the more pressured and picky wild browns. Both flies scored in the cold weather. The picture above reveals my sister's joy at catching a colorful rainbow on the san juan. We were laughing, because of her three second delay from when I said, "set", to when she actually raised her rod to set the hook. The rainbow went for a rollar coaster ride and my sister dropped the fish a few times into the ghost net before settling on her patented "death grip". Despite the picture looking as if the rainbow is about to explode, the fish was fine and swam off with authority.

We ended the day in reverse situations, as she guided me to a large brown trout sipping midges from atop a bridge. I took my time to get in position while my sister told me the whereabouts of the trout. On my first good drift, the brown rose and ate my size 26 midge. My hook set pinged off the bridge and the fly never found flesh, karma for laughing at her inability to hold the rainbow. I gave the brown a break and tried a few more times. I dropped off a subsurface midge and had my sister watching the fish's subsurface feeding habits to let me know when to set the hook. This time, the midge found it's home but after a few head shakes, it was thrown. Defeated, I knew that it wasn't meant to be. I should have let my sister have that shot. With her luck and skill, she could have been the one to catch that wild brown on her birthday. 

Next time. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Big Fish Tale

In 2008, I made my first fly fishing trip to the Great Lakes tributaries to target steelhead. I began with 7 hour trips to Erie and later branched out to the equally far Western Ontario tributaries near Oak Orchard. When I finally fished the larger water of the Salmon River, I knew that it offered a lot and was close enough for multiple trips. As the years progressed, the number of excursions began to increase into the high single digits. My fishing techniques began to vary as I branched out with switch rods and later spey rods. In the past two years, I haven't fished any other water besides the Salmon, and almost exclusively swing flies or go home. Fueling my inspiration and sleep deprived ventures, was the thought of catching the "one," a large steelhead of my dreams, which can be hard to come by in the non-native hatchery stocks of the Great Lakes.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Summer Sessions

Taking a look back, my last days of summer were well spent. I fished a lot of new water and got to try some new techniques in the process. I had an absolute blast. As summer came to a close salmon and steelhead took my focus away from carp. Carp are #1 in my eyes but swinging flies #2. I’m ashamed to say that in the past two months I fished for carp only once. When winter hits and the temperatures plummet I’ll be back in search of carp. Ice in the guides from constant casting will be too much for me to handle, so swinging flies will be out. Winter carping is more my style anyway, casting once or twice a day if I’m lucky and the rest of the time spent clutching hand-warmers. 

Until then I’ll use this compilation of photos to get my carp fix...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Coliseum of Fall

It's mid-October in Delaware and the temperatures are still approaching the eighties on a daily basis. For the most part, the leaves are still green. As I entered my truck for the drive home, everything felt like summer and there wasn't a hint of Fall in the air. Two hours north, in the heart of Pennsylvania, the Fall season is nearing its peak. Leaves are yellow, orange, red, and every shade in between. When I exited my vehicle in Pennsylvania, my senses immediately registered everything there is to love about Fall, my favorite being the smell. Try as I might, it is hard to put into words how much I love the smell of dead leaves rustling through the wind. It ranks a close second to the smell of an old growth forest after a brief thunderstorm. There is also a slight chill in the air, something that is noticeably absent in Delaware. Fall is definitely here and the signs are everywhere.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Arrival home after a steelhead bender... 

Every serious fishermen has a vehicle that they drive everywhere and treat like no other car owner would. For the past seven years, my particular "fish mobile" has been a 2004 F-150. It's predecessor was a 1992 Honda Accord that rocked out 236,000 miles for various members of my immediate family.  However, the truck was a true game changer for the traveling fly fishermen. The F-150 quickly became a second home for me on my weekends and extended holidays.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Swinging for Kings

There are very few moments in fly fishing that can compare to a migratory fish slamming a wet fly on a tight line swing. This moment is only amplified when a king salmon, fresh on his way upriver, decides to have a go and rip the cork out of your hand. Experiencing a big pull has been known to change fishermen's lives and make grown men shake in the knees.  This singular moment has changed our entire style to the point where we cannot experience the tributaries any other way. It literally became a game of swinging or going home.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Solitude on the Swahili Coast

I needed a break. Solitude is surprisingly hard to find on the Swahili coast. There aren't any rivers, ponds or flats you can fish without encountering a whole lot of people just trying to live their lives.
In search of some solitude, I drove 5 hours west to Mikumi National Park to get away. It was a substitute for a weekend fishing trip.

Once there, I drove about 40km through the wilderness to a watering hole I knew should still hold some at this time, late in the dry season. I was not disappointed.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Little Slice of Heaven

We headed off the water well after dark and headed back to our campsite to make a fire and cook up some grub. Wood was scarce, so I got to work splitting the timber we had with my Gerber survival knife. Not to make excuses but I was on about 40 hours of no sleep and just fished from sun up to sun down. While setting the blade on another piece of wood, I missed and plunged the six inch fixed blade about a third of the way into and then across my pointer finger. It didn't hurt initially, but as the blood began to gush, the pain set in. Pat and Austin were quick to get to work as I slowly got lightheaded. I obviously needed stitches but when your without cell phone reception, in unfamiliar territory, and it being close to midnight you make do with the first aid materials on hand. Thankfully, I packed a kit and got cleaned up pretty well. Soon, we were cooking some dogs and bacon over the fire like nothing happened. The next morning we were going to work a little slice of heaven.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Highs & Lows

Last year, two buddies and I decided on a whim to travel westward towards the edge of Maryland and the border of West Virginia to do some camping and trout fishing. It was early spring and unseasonably warm temperatures brought torrential rains which made a memorable trip. We vowed to make it an annual get together and patiently awaited the next excursion. The spring of 2013 came and went due to our inability to plan an agreed upon weekend. Summer began to push towards Fall before we finally made it in early September.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Plans B & C

It is late August and there are sporadic reports of good numbers of salmon running through the lower end of the Douglastown Salmon Run. Naturally, my mind wondered to two handers and swinging flies for fresh kings, cohos, browns, and steelhead. The reports elicited enough of a response that I decided to break my one rule for salmon fishing: wait for the main push of fish before dropping everything and going for it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Invasives - It's what's for dinner.

It's a rare thing for any of us to keep a fish. I can count on two fingers the number of times we've kept fish to eat. Once was during our first ever trip to the tributaries, and the other was a fly-caught dorado during a trip for roosters. Both of those fish fed a lot of people. 

While I am definitely against fishing for trophies, I am not opposed to fishing for meat in some instances. This happened to be one of those instances.

We kept one fish a day for us to have for dinner. We were counting on it so much, in fact, that we didn't really bring anything else to eat during our stay on Rubondo. We had some pasta and sauce, but perch, we were hoping, would be on the menu. We also gave one fish a day to our guide. We estimated our impact as equal to about one nile crocodile. 

There are always conflicting emotions when keeping a fish instead of seeing it swim away. This time, there were even more. Should the perch be fished out as soon as possible to allow the lake to recover, as best it could? Would the lake be better off if the perch were eradicated? Would the people who live on the shores be better off if the perch were gone? In the short term? In the long term? I don't know.

Nile perch are very fatty. They cannot be dried in the sun, and must instead be smoked if they're to be preserved. This has caused deforestation along the shores. We weren't worried about preserving our catch, so we cleaned it and slapped it on the grill.

Because of the fat content, the skin crisped up like fried chicken, and the white, flaky meat was delicious after long days on the water. With a bit of salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon, we couldn't ask for much else.

We downed a few warm beers and sipped some whiskey as we sat around a campfire, telling stories, listening to the sounds of the forest and watching the constellations of the southern hemisphere turn overhead.

Each night, crocs came to the shoreline for the entrails we left out for them. We scanned for their eyes with our headlamps from the safety of the concrete firepad.

The trip was drawing to a close.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Nile Perch

The word for perch in Swahili is sangara. Each day, we went out in the hopes of catching a sangara kubwa sana, but the very big perch eluded us. Instead we caught a bunch of babies, relatively speaking. Sangara kidogo.

 Nile Perch can get gigantic. In March of this year, a woman landed a 93kg fish, above 200lbs, while staying in the same lodge as us. Our hopes were high each time we stepped into the boat, but while we caught multiple fish on each of our trips, the slammers were not enticed by what we had to offer.

They're undoubtedly a good-looking animal, but what they've done to the lake gives them an aura of menacing potential power. Their red, dead eyes tell you that there is no one home, and the state of the lake is no more their fault than it is the fault of the sun when it burns you.

The smallest fish we caught was perhaps 8lbs, or 3.5kg. Even at this size, these fish have a lot of heart. This one might be just safe from cannibalism, but a 200lb perch probably has an equally big mouth. Most of the other fish we caught approached 20lbs, or 8kg.

Nothing will explode your serene scoping of the shoreline, or cease a deep conversation by slamming your senses into the present moment like the take from one of these fish, felt through the rod you pretty much forgot you were holding. I guess that's trolling; long sequences of storytelling, day dreaming, nature watching and conversation that gradually draw your senses away from what you're actually hoping will happen. The greater the distance removed, the greater the shock when you're brought back.

It's a fun and social way to fish, but it's nothing next to the fly.

There were 4 of us on the trip and a goal was to ensure that everyone caught a fish. With mission accomplished on trolling and spinning tacke by the morning of day 2, the urge to pick up the long rod increased. The only thing stopping me was the fact that everyone else would have to sit and watch while I fished from the bow.

On the last day, with everyone satisfied, I was able to pick up the 10wt and not feel guilty about everyone sitting and watching. This also meant I got to be the casting model for Pete and his camera. With the right expensive camera, even I can be made to not look completely like a bumbling noob.

I was throwing a 450gr sinking line with an 8\0 musky fly from the bow of a rolling boat. I am proud to say that I did not return with an ear piercing or a bleeding scalp.

I probed drop-offs, overhanging shorelines and submerged structure. I didn't come across any cooperative fish, but I did feel one mighty grab as I struggled to handle some tangled slack line in a sheltered cove. I hope to go back in the spring and fish exclusively with feathers, hackle and flash.

After getting some 4\0 trebels buried in my forearm while going for the lip of a smaller fish that was a bit too green, we broke out the plastic fish grip. I had to cut down to the barbs, through the meat of my arm, using the scissor tool on my Gerber Flik. Add 'surgical instrument' to its multi-tool bio. A dousing with a splash of local gin called Konyagi, which tastes like an industrial cleaner, and I've got a new 3\4 length sleeved SWC micro and a pretty gnarly scar on my right forearm.

After the initial take, the fish will make for deep structure. If you can keep them out of that, they will be yours. If not, that's what 130lb mono leaders are for.

They'll eventually come near the surface and tailwalk like a largemouth, a 30lb largemouth. You can expect them to sound for the bottom once they get sight of the boat, but after that they are finished.

This was our largest fish, and she fought like it. On the 10wt, the outcome would have been far from certain. With anything larger, I might as well should hold tight and break them off from the get-go. I'll need something more stout for the spring.

Next up: Invasives - it's what's for dinner.

For more photography of the trip, and of East Africa in general, check out Pete Stanley's website. You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Island

Rubondo is the Jurassic Park of Tanzania. A relatively unspoiled island teeming with birds, mammals and reptiles. In the complete absence of predators they have been allowed to proliferate, kept in check by the harshness of the dense forest.

Rubondo has a healthy population of a few species of African mammals. Many of them were transplanted to the island between the 1950s and 1980s. There are now nearly 40 elephants, and we were lucky enough to stumble upon one huge male, drinking from the lakeshore, during our walk back to the lodging one evening. That night, we used headlamps to watch him tear the forest down just outside of our bedroom windows. We could sense his footsteps through the floor, and feel him breathing in our lungs like an ultrasonic bass beat.

Bait-sized Nile Perch

There are also roughly 40 chimps inhabiting the island. These animals were brought here after being freed from captivity elsewhere. They are extremely reclusive, and one researching staying on the island has been tracking them continuously for months in the hopes of habituating them to the presence of humans.

Common Jay Butterfly

The setting Sun after a good day on the water.

Snowy Egrets through some foliage

Hold on tight

Prehistoric forest down to the water's edge.

The island's forest is largely intact, and looking at it from the water it is not difficult to imagine having been sent back in time a thousand years. That illusion fades when you glimpse the first set line or croc entangled in netting.

Expounding on the virtues of various knots


We wondered whether or not we could make it back to the lodge if the boat started to sink. Swimming ashore would be easy, except for the crocs and hippos. After that gauntlet, we doubted we'd make enough headway through the forest to return by nightfall. It looked impenetrable.

Snowy Egrets, Long-tailed Cormorants and a Nile Crocodile

The anchovy-like fish that has exploded in population has dragged the populations of fish-eating birds upwards as well. Literally thousands of cormorants, egrets and kingfishers lined the shorelines. They would take flight at every cast.

Snowy Egret and Eutrophication

Birds on Endege Island

Two species of Cormorant

Pied Kingfisher

The endemic Sitatunga

The aquatic sitatunga has a waterproof coat and splayed hooves. There is some evidence of these animals interbreeding with the closely-related bushbuck that can also be found on the island.

African Fish Eagle

Think of a bald eagle with a white vest, a longer neck and a longer wingspan and you've got the African Fish Eagle. We were transfixed as 4 of these eagles performed an aerial dogfight, screaming and swirling and locking talons in a death spiral in a game of chicken, until our trance was broken by the vicious take of a larger nile perch. More on that later.

Grey-headed Kingfisher

Some birds are just insanely colored, and when the light hits them right there's nothing else to do but stare.

Grey-headed Kingfisher

Yellow-billed Kite with nesting material

Immature African Fish Eagle


While taking in the sights, we were also fishing. That was pretty awesome, as well, and will be detailed in the next post.

Do yourself a favor and check out more of Pete Stanley's photography. He is extremely talented, and his photos of people, wildlife and landscapes can give you a sense of what it's like to live in this amazing part of the planet: East Africa.