Monday, February 25, 2013


Ice on. Ice off. Ice on again. Ice off again.

That is how the first fifty days of 2013 began in Delaware. I found myself checking local retention ponds on my way to work in the morning or randomly going fishing after work to find the ducks and geese walking on the water. When the sun was out and I had the time, the ponds would be covered in ice. When it was warm out, and there wasn't any ice, it would be pouring rain outside. My opportunity came on a day with a high of fifty degrees where I found a clear pond and actively feeding carp.

Having no hat and the fish feeding in an area that put the sun shining directly into my face, I had to make the best of my opening day of carp season. As I geared up on the bank, a helicopter ended up flying overhead at a low altitude. The entire pond erupted in a boil of water as every single carp flipped out from the ensuing noise and vibration. That reaction is one of the reasons why carp are so awesome.

After things settled down, I was able to target a few carp that left the safety of a vast mud plume and roamed into clear water. With the water being shallow and consisting of a very soft deep muddy bottom, I had small sucker spawn imitations dotting their projected paths. After a few agonizing refusals, errant casts, and missed hook sets, I had my first carp of 2013.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Hog Johnson of the Oceans

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to live out a dream from my childhood. I was\am fascinated by animals, and sharks took up a considerable amount of my imagination as a kid. Particularly enthralling were images of divers swimming along with whale sharks. Swimming with them moved to near the top of my to-do list when we signed our contracts to live and work in Tanzania.

Mafia Island, known more for the GTs and offshore species that are beyond the reach of my finances, also hosts a seasonal population of the largest fish on the planet. We hopped a short flight there last weekend in the hopes of meeting one on its own terms.

After a bit of a fiasco with some local fisherman and their dhow, we decided to pay for a much more environmentally conscious operator that happened to be owned by ex-pats.  They took us straight to the brown algae slick about a mile offshore, and it didn't take long for the first dorsal to be spotted.  They maneuvered the boat into position, and told us to dive in. I had our GoPro in tow.

The size and grace of these sharks was an incredible thing to see. They did not seem to mind our presence, or the sound of the outboard, as they kept on feeding during the duration of our visit.

The murky water was the very reason for them being there. Algae and plankton comprise their diet, but hamper the visibility. Watching them materialize before us in the water was indescribable and very humbling.

We didn't touch the sharks, and definitely didn't ride any of them, but I did get close enough to draft in their wake. Most of the time in the water was spent in pursuit, just behind the swaying 6ft high tail.

Being in the presence of such awesome animals is an addicting experience. If you ever get the chance, take it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Single Digits

As the alarm sounded and we began to wake up from our two day fishing comas, we quickly realized that it was a little different outside. Arriving from Canada was a cold front that erased the 30-50 mph winds and snow from the day before and replaced it with single digits. In addition, the river was raging around 1300 cfs. We decided to head back to bed for a few hours. 

When we arrived the lower fly zone parking was pretty desolate save for a few locals gearing up. Not one to drive away from a prime location, we decided to give it a try before heading home. For a few hours we had solid action on the inside seem at the head of cemetery pool. With the high water, the seem was a little swirly but an experienced mender of line can get a long dead drift if he plays his cards right. 

One of the reasons we decided to spend the third day on the river was to get Dan and Ben their first steelhead on fly. Dan knocked the door down halfway through our morning session with a nice fish. This occurred after losing several. It's always interesting watching the steelhead win those first few encounters. It takes me back several years when I was experiencing the same things. I had flashbacks whenever Dan and Ben would lose a nice fish downstream, on a jump, or simply from applying too little or too much pressure. I hated whenever I lost one, but it happens. You just can't land them all. As we left the river, Dan was super pumped. Meanwhile Ben was less than pleased. Considering the circumstances, I could only offer sympathy and the hope that the next time he hooks up, it will be his time. 

Meanwhile, we overstayed our welcome fishing well into a system of lake effect snow. The snow left I-81 south looking more like an ice skating rink full of spun out cars, trucks, and fender benders. It was the longest drive home from the SR I could remember. Good job driving Ben. Surely the steelhead gods will be in your favor next time. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Hunt for Winter Steel

For various reasons and excuses I've fished more on the tributaries this Winter than I did in the Fall. After putting in some extended time, I have come to enjoy the experience more. There are less people, everything is usually covered in snow, and the fish are still willing. The big variable in the equation is the weather, but every now and then, windows of opportunity present themselves.

A few friends of mine decided that they wanted to experience some winter steelhead fishing on the fly. We settled on an extended weekend and before I knew it, I was a passenger on someone else's planned fishing trip. I can't say that very often and I didn't even have to drive (thanks Ben). I even got to sleep for an hour on the ride up. On the downside, my tributary routines that had been honed and established over the past five years were challenged, but I excepted that fact and rolled with it.

On day one, we fished unfamiliar water between some familiar sections of real estate. With the temperature reaching into the high 30s, we had high expectations for some increased activity. It ended up being our least productive day. While Ben and Dan actively nymphed the runs and pools, I split my time evenly between indicator nymphing and throwing a skagit line and a medium sized intruder in brown. After day one, we all hooked up with nothing to show for our hard effort.

On day two, we experienced a hellish day on the water. Temperatures in the mid-20s with snow showers and 30-40 mph winds, gusting to 50. In other words, it was really cold. Despite this, we were able to find a few fish in some overlooked nooks and crannies in the lower fly zone. If you can even call them "overlooked".

That night, Dan and I were content and wanted to head home. A cold front was moving in and the temperatures were dropping into the single digits. Ben wanted to stay so we did. We headed back to the Mike's Mid-river Motel, and tied a new set of eggs for the next morning. Ben's decision to stay and freeze ended up being a wise one.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Weak Substitute

I can't go fishing. I don't have a friend with a boat or a rifle, and that seems to be what it takes around here. Let's go ahead and add a 'yet' to that previous sentence, because things can change pretty quickly.

In the vicarious meantime, I've developed a new activity that offers *some* of the same feelings that fly angling brings. At best, it is a weak substitute.

I'm talking about birding.

Scanning the savannah, or the skies, or the riparian zone, or the trees for birds is pretty much exactly the same as scanning the shallow flats for blue-grey-green shadows on a favorable vector. Instead of muscle memory taking over and dropping a fly in the zone at distance, you reach for a book. Granted, it's a bit less exciting, but it satisfies that deep down fold in the brain that evolved to alert us to potential food or danger. It scratches that itch, for sure.

It adds a new layer onto the outdoor experience. Not just birds, but all sorts of small things are noted. Knowing what they are and a bit about their habits is very satisfying. It forces your way of seeing to evolve. It sharpens attention to detail.

More importantly, it offers an infinite reserve of things to learn. In that regard, it is profoundly humbling. Just like fly fishing.

There are more than 1100 recorded species in this corner of East Africa, and a relatively huge number of devoted scientists, aficionados and amateurs who compile their sightings in an attempt to map their ranges and migrations for the first time in history. Being a small part of that is rewarding in and of itself.

After 6 months, I'm at 156 species.

African Fish-eagle

 Broad-billed Roller

Blue-cheeked Bee Eater 

Egyptian Geese and goslings 

Common Pratincole 

Eurasian Hobby - wintering in Tanzania after crossing the sahara 

European Bee Eater - wintering in Tanz. 

European Roller - wintering in Tanz. 

Sedge Warbler 

Red-billed Firefinch 

Grey Kestrel 

Lilac-breasted Roller 

Knob-billed Duck 

Lilac-breasted Roller 

Martial Eagle - this thing takes out impalas. 

Marabou Stork - A 5ft tall carrion eater. Know your tying materials. 

 Northern Carmine Bee-eater - this bird was catching dragonflies in mid-air over a small pool.

Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu 

African Paradise Flycatchers - nesting over our campsite. 

Superb Starling

Friday, February 1, 2013

January Gold

Winter in Pennsylvania is the most ridiculous season there is. There is no stability in the weather what so ever. It can go from 10 to 60 degrees without warning, one day you could be wearing four layers and stalking carp in the snow other days a single micro fiber will do.

Along with my layers of clothing I like to vary my fly selection this time of year as well. During the winter months I tend to use brighter patterns to grab their attention. Sometimes a drab color is not enough motivation for a lethargic fish to go out of its way for your fly. 

Orange sucker spawn

Pink lady sucker spawn


Yellow Temptation 

There is only one reason to be smiling the day after you shave your beard...