Monday, July 30, 2012

From Bad To Worse

If I had to be honest, my first night alone on the island was really creepy. Despite having camped here numerous times over the past three years, I was always with someone else. As I set up the hammock between the only trees on the island, I couldn't help but look over my shoulder at every noise coming from the bush. By the time everything was set up, I was inside the bug net rocking back in forth in the wind and on the verge of passing out from sheer exhaustion, despite my trepidations.

In the morning, I was granted about an hour of sunshine before things started to get worse. In that hour, I had several chances at fish, including a big one but I couldn't make it happen. The big one flat out refused my fly, I had a pair of bonefish rush my fly only to have another horse eye jack take it, and in the above picture you can see what happens if you accidentally overshoot a fish by a few feet.

Then, the rains came. Intermittent at first with several passing showers but the sun rarely made an appearance, which greatly reduces your chances of seeing a bonefish.

Soon, small storm systems started rolling through, bringing heavy rain that lasted anywhere from 10-30 minutes. I spent the time in the hot car, drinking warm water, and reading Game of Thrones. 

With things looking downright dreary, I made an executive decision to explore the north shore of the island. Here you have a very large barrier reef and a few shallow bays rather than immense flats. I rigged the spinning rod hoping to catch something.

The north shore is a maze of sandy roads, pot holes, and salt ponds. With no map, you have to rely on instinct. With no way of communicating with civilization, you run the risk of breaking down, getting stuck, or flat out getting lost (only for a short while). I found a familiar spot from previous excursions when I came upon a pile of bones. Last year, we found a skinned bull. This was all that remained. 

The roads lead right up to the shoreline where one can walk the deserted beaches. I caught a few small jacks and snappers on fly and surprisingly caught nothing on the spinning rod.

I re-found a few promising shallow bays ideally suited for fishing a low tide. I planned on coming back in the morning to look for some fish and hopefully a tailing permit. At this point, I needed to find a place to string up my hammock.

Near sun down, I found an abandoned beach bar that had a cabana on the beach. It had four concrete pillars holding up a thatched roof of palms. Between two pillars, I found my sleeping quarters. I had to park the car a few hundred yards down the beach and carry some gear to the cabana. I was hoping that the thatched roof would provide some shelter from the passing storms.

With the DSLR in the car (sorry), the best sunset of the entire trip unfolded on the horizon as I bombed casts out into the reef to no avail. The sun warped from hues of red and orange and then faded to pink and finally purple. I couldn't believe how purple it got.

With the sun setting before 8 o'clock, I crawled into my hammock and began reading via headlamp. Around 9:30, as I was attempting to fall asleep, the wind picked up considerably and the temperature dropped a few degrees. I peered out of the hammock and realized there were no longer any stars in the sky. Storm time.

The rain started slowly at first and I wasn't too worried about getting wet. The thatched roof of palms wasn't letting any water in. As the wind picked up it forced the rain to come down at an angle but I wrapped myself in a blanket and brought the other half of the hammock on top of me to create a cocoon. A half an hour later, the rain was only getting worse, but I was still dry.

As the rain continued to come down at a heavier rate, rain began to seep through the thatched roof and saturate the bug net, hammock, the towel, and eventually my clothes. I had to pack it in. What started as a dream sleeping destination quickly turned into the night from hell. My bags, sleeping quarters, clothes, and book two of Game of Thrones were soaked. In rain and flashes of lightning, I had to take everything down and hike back to the car. Wet and covered in sand, I had to navigate back through the maze of sandy roads and find my way back to the dock to recover.

The dock sticks out into the Caribbean Sea and contains really heavy wind. I set up the hammock to air dry and stayed there until everything was dry. In the meantime, I blew off some steam by jumping several tarpon and landing one. Around three in the morning, I made my way to the trees to set up for a few hours of sleep before awakening the following morning to wipe this day off the books.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Bag of Bones and a Perfect Send Off

Arriving on day two were two of my brother's friends from the TTT fishing club. My brother and I had the task of getting them on their first bonefish on fly. When Matt left, they would be the ones to carry on the torch and take fly fishing trips here.

Matt and I awoke a little earlier than normal and he dropped me off on the beach, while he headed to pick up Matt and Brian at the ferry dock. Fifty yards down the beach, I had a pair of nice bonefish heading my direction. They cruised no more then ten feet off the beach in about ten inches of water looking for an easy meal. I provided it. However, they were accompanied by an unseen threat: the horse-eye jack. The small jack swooped in before both bones and nailed the fly. Rather then make a commotion, I let the jack realize his folly and spit out the fly. I made another short cast and had my bonefish screeching to the horizon as Matt and his friends pulled up for the land.

As we discussed strategy for the day, a large cow emerged onto the beach about to go for a morning dip and drink. The main problem being that it decided to walk down (in the water) the entire beach front. Nonetheless, we decided to walk the beach and came away with a few chances. Matt was able to hook up on a nice bonefish spotted from distance. However, the hookup came in close and all the excess line coiled in the water at his feet proved to be a costly mistake.

Later, we decided to walk a larger flat for a few hours. We broke into two sets of pairs figuring that if we kept our footprint lower and doubled our eyes, we would improve our chances. The only problem was, the bonefish never showed up. Between the four of us, we saw one fish.

However, I did have another opportunity at a permit. Located roughly in the same location, the same time of day, and on a similar tide, I figured it was the same fish from the day before. This time, he was tailing and I saw him from a distance. I also decided that I was going to change and put on a crab imitation rather than stick with a bonefish fly. As soon as I finished my knot and clipped the excess, heavy cloud cover rolled in and I couldn't see the permit. Finally, he tailed again revealing his location and I made the cast. He didn't see it. I made another, landing the fly on a dinner plate in front of his head, just like they tell you to do. He spooked, giving painful meaning to the phrase, "hook em or spook em".

With the lack of fish and intermittent cloud cover, we decided to walk a sandy flat in the vicinity and came away with several shots at fish. One particular fish will probably hunt Brian's dreams until he catches a bonefish to wipe his memory clean.

With the five o'clock ferry on the way, we decided to walk one last beach. Matt, Brian, and I made our way east and into the wind. I spotted a very large bonefish making his way off the beach (a tough shot) and Brian decided to give Matt his last chance at a bonefish before the big move.

Matt fumbled, stumbled, and seemed about to pack it in, when an unseen fish came out of nowhere. It miraculously did not spook as his fly line landed across its back. Picking up the line, Matt made a fresh cast, stripped once, and tied into the fish. Letting the moment soak in, he landed and released his last bonefish for quite some time. It was made possible because Brian (still seeking his first bone) relinquished the opportunity giving him a perfect send off.

We drove to the ferry dock and I dropped off my brother, Matt, and Brian. It was then that I realized I had the place to myself for five more days. Alone.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


In the heat of summer, the best trout fishing in the Lehigh Valley area is relegated to tailwaters and limestone streams. Outside of terrestrials and midges, the only major hatch occurs from the tiny trico mayfly and it runs from July all the way until the first cold snap in October. The earlier you hit this hatch the easier it will be to fool the trout since they become more educated to flies as the hatch progresses. The Little Lehigh is often a sure bet to fish the trico hatch, but tricos can be found on a lot of waterways, including freestone streams.

I had my good friend Patrick out on the Little Lehigh to fish for a few hours in the morning and we found ourselves locked in battle with pods of small rainbows and browns eating tricos. Pat is new to the sport and absolutely loves the challenge of fishing for trout with dry flies. I found a few Al's Tricos and Griffith's Gnats in my fly box, tapered an already long leader down to 6x, and tried to get him on a trout. After two hours, he missed dozens of fish, every way imaginable. Fishing tricos requires a very accurate cast to a feeding fish's lane and with all the naturals, it requires a perfect dead drift. Those are two areas in which beginning fly fishermen struggle most. Frustrated, he routinely handed me the fly rod to show him the tiny flaws in his game and I obliged by catching many of the fish he was working for the two hours. Frustrating as it was, it was a good lesson to learn the subtle nuances with fishing tiny flies to educated trout.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Father's Day

Father's Day came and went a while ago. It has become sort of a tradition the last few years to take Big Poppa Pump fly fishing and then out for a round of golf. Of course, I love the fly fishing aspect of the day but I'd rather be out fishing when it comes to a round of golf, but that is my dad's thing, so I don't mind it every now and then. I particularly enjoy beating him in a round of golf and watching him catch fish.

My father and I have a particular fishing destination in mind whenever we go out. It is close to home, involves a nice hike through the woods, and is home to a good population of wild brown trout and leftover stockers. Back in the day, my grandfather fished here as a kid and I often refer to it as "Grandpa's Stretch," so it has a little more significance on father's day. It is also a perfect place to take our chocolate lab out, Riley, and let her roam around for awhile.

This year, the water has been low and the temperatures hot. With the three of us wondering upstream, the trout easily spooked but I none of us seemed to really mind the lack of fish caught. On this day, they were just an added bonus. The company is what this day was all about.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hookups & Cold Shoulders

After three days on my brother's home island we embarked for the last time to another island, a little ways northeast, that is home to robust flats and large bonefish. I picked Matt up from school on a Friday afternoon, rescuing him from cleaning up his classroom, and we embarked on the afternoon ferry for a weekend of fishing. On Sunday, he would go back to work and leave me deserted on the island for the remainder of the week. Being the good brother that I am, I decided to fish for bonefish rather them help him pack to move to another country.

We arrived just in time to fish for tailing bones as the sun set. We each had a chance but being a little rusty, we spooked both the fish in mere inches of water.

In the morning, we headed east, as far as an on foot angler can go on the island. There, one can access the flat and walk all the way back to the ferry dock. Knowing how grueling that can be, we just decided to walk a small section of it.

Matt took the outside lane in water 1-3 ft. deep. Here the bottom is mainly sand intermixed with a mottled bottom. I took the inside, mainly a mottled muddy bottom interspersed with mangroves large and small. Matt hooked up on the first fish of the trip as a small school of four bonefish meandered his way to his outside. He was all smiles.

 A short while later, I hooked up on a fish coming off of the mangrove shoreline. He took the fly immediately and I survived two backing runs in and around the mangroves. As I was recovering my fly line the second time, he popped off over a purely sandy bottom leaving me a little perplexed.

Down the flat a ways, I spotted a large permit circling and tailing in a slightly deeper section of water. Wading a flat, your visibility window shrinks dramatically and I didn't spot him until I was almost on top of him. I was faced with a decision: keep my bonefish fly on or quickly tie on a crab pattern. I chose to keep my current fly and not risk him spooking. With my heart in my throat, I laid my fly out and began popping it back with long strips. The permit was on the fly and following all the way to my rod tip before spotting my silhouette, casually turning, and leaving the flat to my utter dismay.

After a long time with nothing to see, we decided to re-walk the entire flat. I was able to exact revenge and catch the smallest bonefish of the trip while Matt had a shot at another large permit. 

We took a midday siesta, heading to a local bar and getting some cold drinks into our system. Then we hit up the beaches looking for tailing fish in skinny water.

For the rest of the evening we only had a few shots at some extremely wary fish. One particular fish was a brute, not very long, but tall and round. He was actively feeding with half his body out of the water where the small waves crested onto the beach. I waited for him to come off the sand to present my fly. He pounced and took off to the horizon line. Once again, I survived two deep backing runs before he rubbed me off on the bottom, something that ended up being a re-occuring theme of the trip.