Saturday, November 24, 2012

November Carp

Carping season ended as Fall approached in the Mid-Atlantic area. With it came lower air and water temperatures that cause carp activity to decrease considerably. Even so, if one plays their cards right, they can still have a few carpy outings. One needs to look for warm fronts that increase temperatures for a few days. Fishing these warmer days, you may find actively feeding carp that will take a fly. This past week, temperatures were in the sixties, so I headed to a shallow pond that would warm up enough for its many carp to feed. I found consistent mud clouds but zero water clarity. I parked the SUP Yak near the shallows and looked for any sign of carp. In two hours, I had one shot at a clearly visible fish whose back could barely be seen. My errant cast landed past the fish but he turned 180 degrees to eat my egg pattern. The rest of my time on the pond was spent staring at mud clouds with no way of seeing a take. I left satisfied with my one carp, knowing full well that if the water was clear, I would have caught a lot more. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Good Death

The moment that I'd been daydreaming about for the past 8 months manifested itself into reality on maybe my 5th cast that afternoon.  

Stace and I paddled out into the mouth of the channel at dawn that morning.  She for the sunrise, me for the fish.  I had a 7ft spinning rod with an old spinning reel attached.  Within the past year I've been turned on to the powers of conventional tackle for their ability to cover huge swaths of unfamiliar water.  I am not a purist, and would have no problems with my first GT coming to hand not on the fly.  After that first fish though...

After chasing a school of big bonito around without luck, we sidled up behind a small break for a few casts.  On my first, a school of 8-10 modest GTs harassed the spoon back to within the shadow of the kayak.  It was thrilling.

We soon realized the kayak was taking on water, so we headed back to the safety of the banda.  We were a good 2 miles offshore.  When we got back, I dumped out the 200lbs of water, ate a quick lunch and went out again on my own.

The reel I had with me was no ordinary spinning reel.  I picked it up out of a pile of dusty gear in my parent's garage more than a year ago.  It had been my grandfather's.  I have no idea what year it was made.  It is a faded Shimano 500s, no doubt designed for bass or something similar, but over the past year it has brought in more tarpon than I can remember, some massive barracuda, a few large snapper and countless smaller species from the waters of the caribbean.  Spooled with 30lb braid, the thing has performed flawlessly for me, as I know it did for my grandfather when he used it on the lakes of Canada and the canals of Florida.  I don't know when the last time he went fishing was, but he died in 2001.  It had to be well before that.

On top of its history and uses, it allowed me to chill out a bit and connect with some great guys on weekly beerfishing nights at a local bridge.  We had named the reel 'Old Granddad', and had all become familiar with the notes of its drag when it hooked up.  

Those days were gone and all that mattered at this moment was the surf break dead in my sights, the slowly sinking kayak and the monsters that I knew awaited me.  I paddled until my arms screamed, then stopped for a few casts before continuing on towards the break I had previously identified on Google Earth.

I rounded the reef and lined up behind the breakers.  I cast the 7" popper out as far as I could, picked up the slack and started working it back towards me.  The popper was throwing up foot tall splashes, but the huge swirl and explosion that made it disappear was unmistakable.  

I set the hook hard and fast.  The braid left a mist of vaporized water droplets on the surface as it lasered towards the shallows in a big arc.  The GT was trying to reef me.  The drag on the old reel held and the kayak began to swing around.

I pumped once on the reel, twice, and then my hand slipped off and slammed into the plastic of the boat.  I still held the handle.  Without looking, I knew it was over.  The old reel had had it.  Mercifully, the fish came unbuttoned and I brought in the lure.

I can't think of a better way for a fishing reel to be retired.  It was a good death.  The reel has now become an artifact, a monument to days on the water, and memories of my own and my grandfather's.

The take was an erie realization of an image I had daydreamed.  It did not end with me hoisting a dripping aquamarine leviathan for the most heroic of hero shots.  That's okay.  I'll be back.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Start em' Young

Fall was at its peak along White Clay Creek on the border of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Traveling up and down the stream made it seem like you were in a kaleidoscope of browns, oranges, reds, and yellows. A perk of living in the area is that the lower and closer one goes to the shore the longer it seems the colors of fall cling onto the branches of the towering trees. A few weeks earlier, I visited home, only a few hours north, and all the leaves were gone. However, the scene was about to change. Hurricane Sandy was on the way.

I woke up early that day to a phone call from my friend Derek, asking about heading out fishing before the football games. I obliged, woke up, and immediately sat at the vice and tied three quick streamers for the stocked trout.

When we all met up at the stream, I was surprised that Derek's friend Eric had brought along a companion for the day, his six week old chocolate lab, Gracie. I quickly realized that the day was going to be less about fishing and more about being on the water. I didn't mind one bit.

Gracie was a natural on the water and we quickly learned that having her on the leash was actually a bad thing. Soon, she was running up and down the bank never letting Eric leave her sight. At only six weeks old, she was a little hesitant approaching deeper water and was shivering most of the day. However, she remained by her master's side, at attention while he fished. She was more well behaved than my two seven year old labs. I guess you have to start them young.

For me, it became one of those days where I kept the streamer on, despite the fish literally running away from it most of the time. I could have cared less. It was warm, the scenery was beautiful, and I had company.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Out for Tigers

I haven't had a bend in the rod since Cabo in late July.  Coastal east Africa still doesn't feel like home.  The past three years in the Caribbean afforded me instant access to tarpon and bonefish, and while I made a conscious effort to not ever take that for granted (I think I succeeded), it didn't make not having it any easier.

I had high hopes for my first time on the water here, even though I knew I didn't stand a very good chance of catching anything.  I was fishing the Rufiji on a meandering floodplain and Tigerfish like cooler, faster and cleaner water usually found far upstream.  Those places are all locked down within hunting concessions, usually owned by extremely wealthy non-Africans.  There is no such thing as DIY, and you've got to have a between 4 and 7 thousand bucks to blow for a week's access to those waterways. Just slightly out of league...

Nonetheless, we shoved off with high hopes.  Our armed boat captain took us to a mid-river sandbank and tied off on a snag.  He said tigers had been caught from the small rapid sweeping around the bank.  Just as we tied off, a hippo exited the water on the opposite side of the sand spit and began to walk towards the water we wanted to fish.

They kill more people in Africa than any other animal, and are justifiably given a very wide berth.  The hippo stopped in mid saunter and stared directly at us.  We wouldn't have had much time to get the hell outta dodge if he decided he didn't want us to be there.  We yielded and moved further upstream.

We tied up at a mid-river snag and I swung big clousers through some promising-looking water with nary a tug.  Again, hippos began to move a bit too close for comfort and we were forced to move.
This time, we had to get by a group of the creatures to move to the next spot.  Each group is essentially one dominant male's harem.  If anything gets too close, the male breaks off to smash some heads.

Our boat was chased twice by the same male.  Once on the way up, and again on the way back.  They submerge and gallop along the river bottom, pushing a bow wave as they run towards where they last saw the boat.  Thankfully, when the thing surfaces and bellows and shakes his tyrannosaur head and exhales like a whale, we've moved just out of range.  These things are no joke.  Guides in AK have to watch for grizzlies, but bears usually aren't openly hostile to the mere presence of human beings.

We eventually came to the best looking water of the day.  A big sweeping tailout just downstream of a chokepoint.  We beached the boat and the captain took his rifle to sit up on the bank.  We were just downstream from a village of perhaps 70 people.  I stood on the banks of the river and bombed big streamers through the water column while watching for crocs.  I was assured that the shallow shelf extending offshore for 15ft or so would not let a croc approach unseen, but those are just words.

I tried about a dozen flies.  Twice, I buried the hook into a log on the strip set thinking I was into a fish, but it was not to be.  I'd have to wait even longer to catch a tiger.  Eventually, it will happen.

Visible flecks of gold peppered the lapping shores of the river, hinting at the resources that first brought Arabs and then Europeans to this area hundreds of years ago.  The largest gold, timber and slave trading hub in East Africa was the village of Kilwa, 1000 years old, and our destination when we left the Selous Game Reserve on a Tuesday morning.  Not coincidentally, Kilwa was also one of the blue water sportfishing hubs of East Africa.  My focus shifted from toothy tigers to GTs blowing up poppers.  The possibilities were consolation enough for the uncooperative tigerfish of the Rufiji.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

First & Fumble

My roommate was able to tag along with us on our only steelhead trip of the fall so far. He has been out fly fishing only a few times, so heading along to the Salmon River was a big step up on his path as a fly fishermen. Up to this point in time he has only had the opportunity to catch a few stockers and small wild browns. Needless to say, he didn't really know or learn how to properly fight a fish. After a few agonizing losses of steelhead from simple beginner mistakes, he finally managed to land a decent slab of steel. Too bad he never learned how to properly hold a fish for a photograph. I think this perfectly captures his noob status as a fly fishermen. A fumbled first piece of chrome and an absolutely giddy facial expression that has yet to realize he is no longer holding the fish for the photograph. A few days later, I was able to hear him account his fishing exploits to another friend. I think it's safe to say he thoroughly enjoyed his first tributary trip, despite all the unfortunate things that happened during it.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


A Bantu myth from sub-saharan Africa tells of the tree where man was born; a great baobab sentinel of the savannah.  Their creation story isn't so far from what fossil evidence and genetics tell us about our origins.  The African wilderness is infused with legend, history and meaning, and to set foot in it is to step back into geologic time, into our deep past.  The power of the landscape travels through your boots and reverberates with your DNA itself.

The plan was to camp for three nights in the Selous Game Reserve.  We hoped to spend that time exploring the park in our new truck and the river in a hired boat in search of tigerfish.  

The park is the largest in Africa and is the size of Switzerland.  Being a game reserve as opposed to a national park, we did not have to stick to the single road evident on the 'map'.  We bushwhacked for 75km and laid a trail of breadcrumbs using a GPS, which was absolutely necessary if we wanted to get back to our tents by dark.

The Selous is the epicenter of elephant poaching in Africa.  Estimates are the 40,000 elephants have been slaughtered in this park alone in just the past 10 years.  Corruption, a lack of man-power, unfathomable poverty and a thriving Asian demand for ivory has brought poaching to levels approaching the highest levels ever recorded.

Our time there was incredible.  Driving yourself through a wilderness as wild as that has you constantly on edge.  You and your partners are all that you have to rely on if things get hairy, but a healthy respect for the animals, the terrain and an understanding of the limitations of your vehicle will keep you safe.

For redundancy and in case of getting stuck, we took two capable trucks along.  A 1995 FZJ-80 Land Cruiser that we just purchased, and our friends capable and trail-proven Toyota Surf.  We had 40 liters of extra gas, 10 gallons of water, tow ropes, jacks, shovels, rad seal, every fluid the car might need and rolls of duct tape.  We were ready.

Nice Crocs on the lake shores

A whole lot going on in this photograph.

Elephant Skull - seed of the cyclops myth. 

 The Tree Where Man Was Born

 Little Bee Eater

 White-fronted Bee Eater

 Pied Kingfisher, doing what it does best

Grey-headed Kingfisher 

Braids of the Rufiji 


 We spotted some wheeling vultures in the sky not too far from our current positions.  We decided to spend 30 minutes to try and locate the kill they were indicating.  Somehow, the forest opened up and we found the dead Impala.  There was no sign of the killer, only 20+ vultures of 3 species that were busy feasting.

A fresh kill

Yellow-billed Stork 

Stacy's first time driving the Land Cruiser had her tasked with navigating a dry streambed and deep tire ruts to sidle up next to a fan palm harboring 6 juvenile male lions in its shade at mid-day.  They showed no interest in us, and we were able to photograph them through open windows at a distance of 5 meters.


 They could not be bothered


 Hippos watch as we scoot past

 We fit the cruisers through a narrow opening in the foliage to reveal an iconic African scene; Yellow-billed Storks stalked the shoreline of a shallow lake with Open-billed Storks in their shadows as Spoonbills swept the coast for a meal.  A family of Warthogs with 6 piglets cross the path in front of us as hippos settled into the swamp, hiding and supporting their bulk as Cattle Egrets perched atop their backs.  In the middle distance, a family of perhaps a dozen African Elephant moved from right to left, led by an old matriarch towards the setting sun.  In their number was a newborn, whose skin seemed ill-fitting, like a pair a grey trousers a few sizes too large.

We approached cautiously but got to within 40ft of two small females that had stopped to feed on some palms.  Their trunks moved as nimbly as fingers as the stripped the fronds of greenery.

The Matriarch and her family 

Playful female 

We passed by the lions again on our way back to the lodge.  Our vehicles flushed a herd of Lichtenstein's Hartbeast as we approached, visibly disappointing the lions as they watched their departures attentively.  We watched them for some moments as Fork-tailed Drongos and Imperial Woodpeckers flitted in the trees above our heads.

Headed back to camp 

The voice of Africa 

 FZJ-80 Land Cruiser, living up to its legendary reputation

Back to camp to prepare for a morning of tigerfishing