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. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Suicide Kings

Back in August when news came of the first few salmon trickling into the Salmon River my focus on gold quickly turned to silver. In July and August I experienced the toughest carping ever. So the news of fresh chrome had me excited to say the least. After working twelve hours a day for six days, I hopped in my car for the four hour drive.. to fish for twelve straight hours on zero sleep. You got to do what you got to do...

I fished the DSR for two days straight where there were more people than salmon in the river. But none the less I had a fantastic time. The fish were few and far between and very spooky. My first day I swung the lower section hoping to locate a few fresh fish. Despite there being more people than salmon I still had entire runs to myself. I'd work my way down a run with one fly, walk back up and switch flies to do it again. Around noon I had lost all hope with the high sun and blue bird skies. I had only seen one fish move through all day. Since quitting is never an option while fishing, I swung on. It was around one o'clock when I felt it... Bump, Pull, Weight, Thrash... Holy Shit. My first king of the year grabbed a small pink comet on my first swing past a fishy looking log jam/undercut bank. After thrashing its way out to mid river it decided to go back to its holding lie. It streaked underneath the log and undercut and came back out at the top of the run with four of five other kings along for the ride, safety in numbers I suppose. I tailed the fish and gazed up and down river... Not a single soul in sight. It was magical. Later in the day I did find a small group of fish in a tailout that were so over worked through out the day they would scatter every time my fly swam past.

Day two I tried a different strategy. I started at the top of the "run" and worked my way down actually looking for fish instead to swinging empty runs and wasting my time. Its not as exciting as getting a take that your not expecting but I gave it a shot. There were ones and twos moving through fast water areas and staging in the tail out of the next run/pool. Since I had the river pretty much to myself again I watched these fish move up and let them rest in the tail out for ten minutes or so then I'd show them the goods. They were stubborn for the most part, ignoring my fly on every swing. Then there was a player. The fish tracked my wet fly for two feet or so my first pass at it. I got so pumped I shot another laser down and across and watched as the fish commit to my fly. I watched "the tug" from start to finish, it was pretty sweet. It was the only fish to commit on day two, but a one fish day is a good day.

See you on the river...

12' 7 wt. Cross S1 did some awesome work...

Judging by this fishes' mouth it was caught a dozen times out in the lake, but still willing to grab a gaudy wet fly.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Rubondo Island

With the collapse of the perch fishery imminent and inevitable, we figured we best try our luck as soon as possible. After all, from Dar es Salaam, Lake Victoria is easier to reach than Egypt's Lake Nasser.

Knowing that this trip was upcoming, my brother helped outfit me with some beefy fly gear. He loaned me his brand new Orvis Mirage V reel and Orvis Depthcharge lines in 300, 350 and 450grain weights. I paired that with a Loop Evotec 10wt of my own, that is really more like an 11wt.

Mark showed me how to tie the HangTime musky fly, and I tied a few for the trip. Mine paled in comparison to the gorgeous flies he tied with thoughts of musky dancing behind his eyes. He graciously loaned me a few of those, too.

Even with this gear, I was setting myself up for an ass-kicking. Fish between 60 and 100lbs are still pretty common. Unbelievable, a person trolling and staying in the same camp we were to stay landed a 93kg perch back in May. That's 205lbs, and they get even bigger.

For any larger fish that we might troll up, I had a Shimano TLD25 on an 8ft Penn Senator rod. For casting, we brought a Shimano Baitcaster 6000 on a 7ft Cabela's Saltstriker, spooled with 40lb braid. I had a box of huge Rapala-style lures that would allow us to fish anywhere in the water column. I thought we were fully kitted and ready to go.

Rubondo is the only island national park in Tanzania's park system. The forests covering the 175square mile island are almost entirely pristine. They were never, ever, logged. Most of the animals were introduced in the hopes of establishing something like a genetic Ark incase the Serengeti ecosystem was not preserved. There are elephants, chimps, a few species of antelope, bushpigs, giraffes, hippos and crocs present, as well as some huge monitor lizards and a host of other reptiles and birds.

The lushness of Rubondo conjured images of Jurassic Park in comparison to the deforested and eroded shoreline of the mainland. We were buzzing with excitement and anticipation as we approached the impenetrable prehistoric shoreline.

The only signs of life were thousands of snowy egrets flying low over the water and a boat anchored in a cove.

We came in low and hot to buzz the runway from east to west. We circled around a marshland thick with hippos and crocs to buzz the landing strip again. Pilots won't land on Rubondo until they're reasonably sure something like a bushpig won't lumber out onto the runway.

We spotted our lodge on the 2nd pass. We were to stay in a lakefront cottage, and head out for perch with Tanzanian Park Officers.

A stereotypical Land Rover was waiting for us in the "arrival, waiting and departure lounge". This family of bushpigs strolled across the runway a few minutes after landing. The largest was over 150lb.

We watched our ride depart from close range and turned towards the lake. We thought of the slammer perch swimming in the dark depths that we were soon to meet, in person. It was time to go fishing.

Again, Pete Stanley's excellent photography skills are telling this story as much as I am. Check his work out at