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I have set up this post for my clients to give their feedback on my teaching. Click the header and the comments section will open.
I am an International Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Fly Casting Instructor. I can teach fly casting in lakes or rivers. Additionally I teach salt water casting techniques. This blog will be dedicated to fly fishing and fly casting. I will also write about rods and reels and whatever takes my fancy in the fly fishing universe.
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Phone 361 9032846
Last weekend I was invited to the Magnolia Fly Fishers in Jackson Mississippi. The idea was that I should give a short presentation on salt water casting, since the Magnolias are headed to the salt in April. Then we would practice the various casting scenarios. Head wind, tail wind and cross wind. I have been working with Cynthia Low their president towards certification with the IFFF, hence the invite.
If you check their website you will find this teaser.
“Black Tie, Fish Fry and Fly Tie at First Baptist Church in Byram
Ok, it’s not really a black tie event, but it needed a name so I named it my favorite name. I keep hoping someone will show up in a tux! Cynthia, La Presidenta of our club, has invited IFFF certified casting instructor Jonas Magnusson to come to First Baptist Church of Byram on SATURDAY March 18.
Who wrote this beauty? This blog practically writes itself. I am not Swedish but my paternal grandmother was, and I speak that lingo, so what the heck.
I started late Friday with Cynthia on roll casts, and we had a nice little pond to practice on. She has put in the hours, and she is nearly where she need to be (see pics).
Then on Saturday – I give Cynthia the podium;
“Jonas says he’ll travel anywhere in the world to teach…even Mississippi USA. Yes, we have fly fishers. Yes, we fish all species and for a short 4 hour drive we have access to some of the best fishing in the world, the Gulf of Mexico.
Imagine a small town church tucked away in the wilds of rural Mississippi, light breeze, cloudy sky, and a deep fryer of oil warming for our fried catfish lunch that awaits us after the sessions with Jonas. Club members give fishing reports, present future outing details; the meeting a bit sluggish then “UP! Let’s go cast” like a sergeant barking orders wakes the crowd. Every man and two women head for the field, rods in hand.
We line up like soldiers. Southern accent communicating with Scandinavian accent; everyone listening intently to every word and instruction. Jonas moves person to person with a tip here and an instruction there. Next are group commands. Once again we line up. Now let’s cast to the wind. Wind changes, another command, and we line up again. Lunch! That fried catfish is calling. We take a break. Jonas eats like a bird, said one. That’s why he has his figure and we have our figure; we like fried catfish, slaw, hush puppies, turnip greens with fatback, ketchup. Onward!
Jonas continues with his individual students who booked an hour. Club members being club members, the one on one became one and a gallery. The afternoon whiled away as student, teacher, gallery became one unit. Each member helping the other as knowledge and understanding grew. Prodding, poking, laughter, and challenge punctuated the afternoon. Success! We had worked off those fried catfish calories.
We had a fun day and Jonas’ personality added to it. Great sense of humor, said some. He knows what he’s doing, from others. Mr. C, who just turned 90 said, “Cynthia, I learned something today. I learned I don’t know how to cast.” Our long distance caster and salt fisher said, “He identified a tracking error in my back cast I don’t think I could have ever figured out by myself. That and he showed me what he called his no-stop cast which is how Paul Arden generates his wind punching V-loop. I think I can start busting the 100 foot mark regularly now.”
Jonas survived Mississippi and made it back to Florida. He’ll go anywhere to share his passion and love of the sport. Every club should have an event that includes a certified instructor. It’s worth every penny and the benefits last a lifetime. If you’re not in a club, consider joining. It’s an enriching, encouraging, supportive experience.
PS We don’t always eat fried catfish. There are wonderful chefs in the area.“
Glen Davis gave me his stripping basket that looks very promising. You wear it on your left hip and strip into it. Will get back with you on that one when tried.
Glen also wrote about my teaching.
Well there it is and I thank the Magnolia Fly Fishers for inviting me, and I surely learned a lot more from them. The best way to learn something is to teach it.
A fly fishing set up is costly. Let’s look at the ingredients. The fly itself isn’t so expensive, especially if you tie one yourself. Let’s say that it costs 5$ a nice round number. Now we need a leader and we peg it at 5$. On to the fly line itself, and we can easily fork out somewhere from 50-100$ for a quality fly line. The line is connected to the reel through to the so-called backing, and we spend 5-10$ on that. Now for the reel. They come in a lot of different prizes depending on quality, brake power and size. The cheapest reels that are useable retail around 100$, and then the coveted quality and bragging rights reels will take you to 1000$. Let’s put a 200$ reel on our outfit. Then there is the rod itself. I like to organize them into 3 levels of cost. Entry level rods cost up to 200$. Mid-level 200-500$ and then the top-level rods retailing for 500$ and more. By and large the expensive rods will prove to be the best in the long run, but there are some exceptions. This will give me an estimate of (5$ fly + 5$ leader + 50$ backing + 100$ reel + 200$ rod = 360$ low estimate to 5+5+50+500+500 = 1160 high estimate). Most fly fishermen have several rods let’s say three to multiply whatever cost there is in your setup. These are just some numbers, but we can safely agree that the total cost for a fly fishing setup for the individual angler will be in the thousands.
Now fly leaders and fly lines will wear out and we replace those as we go along. The rod craze is there too. The industry wants you to buy the latest model and by reading the ads you become certain that this one will cure all your casting ailments, right? Then there are the reels. Large arbor – sealed drag and what not, but you got to have it.
Now there is the cost of the fishing license. Fortunately, this is not costly as a rule but if you want to fish some private waters or hire a guide, it is going to cost. I am in contact with some guides here in Florida and they all agree. Most of their clients, despite labeling themselves as fly casters, will have significant problems casting in the salt. Think about it – travel to Florida – hotel – food – guide – plus your equipment and the fly does not get out there.
Most people cannot cast the fly. There are several reasons for this but it does not alter the fact that most people are terrible casters. On small streams, it does not matter much you bungle it out somehow, and the current will straighten your line and you are in business. With any kind of wind, it will become a total disaster. Here in the salt on the Gulf shores this becomes painfully evident. There are many fly fishermen that have been fishing for years in rivers and lakes but will realize that when fishing the salt, they just cannot do it.
However, the biggest reason for this is that people do not seek lessons. I know for instance that just three lessons can help an average caster to become a very good caster. The essentials are going to be the same for a very long time, so good help can last you for life. When you look at the cost of the outfit fly anglers flesh out, it is hard to presume it is because of the cost, but people still do not seek proper instructions. There are of course some great casters that have figured it out on their own. Most casters have had some help from friends and fly fishing clubs including me. This type of learning is however fragmented and haphazard and is not based on a platform of knowledge.
There is a program run by IFFF whereby budding teachers are taught a certain system of basics. They are then tested and vetted by IFFF. This way of organizing is proven, and ensures that the licensed casting instructors have a common basis, and this basis is proven as a sensible platform to teach fly casting.
When I started studying in this program (and I was a decent caster at the outset) I had no clue about the 5 essentials. I had inferred something like that during my trial and error stage that became needlessly long. However, when presented with the curriculum of the IFFF program, I made a quantum leap in understanding, and my cast was seriously improved. It took a master caster a day’s work with me to get me to the next level. On basis of that teaching I have been improving my cast little by little. The students that I am now teaching seem to make speedier progress and I find it easier to teach them and diagnose their ailments.
The other important item you cannot buy is a knot.
“Whoa – what was that”? It is late February early March in Texas. Something just whistled past me as I was gardening. This UFO was small, the size of a big bumblebee or a big moth. No way I could identify it, such was the speed. I rewound the memory spool, and yes there was some sound too. Could it be? I had never in my life seen hummingbirds, but knew they existed in the Americas. My interest was piqued and I did some googling. Yes – it very well could be a hummingbird. I discovered that they will drink a sugar solution if available to them. Now next step was to procure a feeder which I did. The mix is one part sugar dissolved in three parts water. Then you just hang the feeder in a place where the birds can easily access it and feel secure (think like a bird eh?). Now the wait and after a little while I was rewarded when this exquisite creature came to the feeder.
I was so overjoyed by seeing this bird for the first time that I felt like a little kid. (Those of us who are not grownups by fifty do not have to.) I must put a disclaimer here. These birds move so fast that it is very hard to get sharp pictures and some of mine could be better. However I use them since they are mine, and if you are interested, go to the net and enjoy their colossal beauty in professional photos.
Why do I find them so special? First off they are the smallest birds there are, from 3-5 grams. They can hover in the air, go up and down, sideways and even back. They can cross the Gulf Of Mexico in a 20 hour flight, losing half their body weight enroute. It is very tedious to list all their factoids, so I put a facts website here. What really sets them apart is their rapid metabolism. Heart rate per minute is 500 bpm at rest and 1200 on the wing! I guess it could be called delirium cordis?
They eat insects for protein, and then they hunt for flowers to drink their nectar, which supplies their energy. The plants need pollinators and will provide just enough nectar to keep them flying, doing their job. I already have mentioned my Bottlebrush in a previous post and how the Monarchs love that plant. The butterflies like their nectar a bit fermented explaining their erratic flight! The Hummers just love the Bottlebrush too, and the nectar it provides. Late summer there are probably up to a hundred of these birds in my trees.
They are solitary birds and the males are surprisingly aggressive and territorial. When a male has located the feeder, it is his property, and magnificent aerial battles are fought over the right to have a sip. Of course a male will allow a female to drink from his feeder. I suspect the motivations are somewhat less than pure, but what the heck, I understand. If the number of males gets to be too much to defend against, they change strategy and all are friends and drink the sugar solution together.
In Iceland the migratory birds are the harbingers of spring. Here I have chosen the hummingbird for that task.
It is with perverse joy I write this since today in Iceland there is 2-3´of snow and here there is this glorious spring. It only proves the article of Swedish faith that the only real lasting joy in this world is schadenfreude.
Cartagena is a walled city in Colombia on the Caribbean coast. It is renowned for its well preserved architecture. This post is going to be just pictures all taken by Drifa Freysdottir. There is nothing to add, the pictures say it all.
The feature image gives you a good idea how difficult it is to spot the fish. The water is a bit tea colored from the prior heavy rains. In the upper left quadrant there is a fish fighting, but you can see the swirl in the water on close inspection.
Redfish are found in the extensive bay systems connecting to the Gulf of Mexico, and also the Gulf side. In the eighties they were over harvested and catch limitations were put in place. The stock has rebounded, and restrictions on their catch are still in place. Today the limit in the Panhandle of Florida is one fish in the slot range. Slot range fish? I took me a while to figure this one out – it means the fish has to be longer than 18 inches and no more than 27 inches long. This is a somewhat curious/unusual rule, but the big Redfish are actually the most valuable spawners of this species, according to research. At any rate we can all agree that dead fish will not spawn. In local parlance the under the slot fish are called rat reds. I find that a poor choice of words for such beloved and sought after game fish. Then we have the slot fish, which you can harvest (but should not). Why do we need to harvest a slot red (they do not come close to the fighting abilities of the big fish) when everybody wants to catch the big ones? Then over the slot size we call them Reds, and still larger Bull Reds, which is a bit of a misnomer as the females are bigger than the males. They start spawning in the fall and that’s when we see them in huge schools come to the surface in the bays. This phenomenon is called “Running of the Bulls,” but is the “Run of the Cows” really.
Now there will be lots of boats in the bay, and total bedlam when a school is spotted. All the boaters gun their engines, and all the boats will converge at the same spot, putting the fish down. Fly fishing during this mayhem is not enjoyable at all, and I call this type “Olympic style fishing.” The big mommas can release 60 million eggs per spawn! The guys have sure their work cut out for them. Imagine that! Redfish grow fast, and at one year are eight inches long, and three-year fish are 29 inches, and reach 39-44 inches 11-35 years old. So these fish can get quite old. They prefer temperature from 50-80F.
In January the temperatures drop and now some skill is required to find and catch them. We do not blind cast for them so we must visually locate the fish. Now the crowds are gone, and God is in his Heaven, and we love this time of year. We work on the theory that when it is very cold the fish will move deeper into the channels, and when the weather improves and the sun shines the fish will move on to the shallows and flats and use the sun to warm themselves. But which flats? I have an idea but I am not going to tell. The infrared rays of the sun heat fastest the shallow water, and fish can found close to shore or further out. It is good to have a theory like that and it strengthens our prejudices when positive things happen but it is only a theory until we gain better understanding.
So our sets of requirements are reasonably clear. In very choppy water the surface is so broken up that it becomes hard to spot them – so reasonably calm waters. We also need sunshine. The fish can sometimes be spotted on the bare sand close to a spot of sea grass, just parked right to a grass bed. It is exceptional to spot them when on the grass beds. We hike in looking as nerdy as possible in our waders and stripping baskets. We’d only been in the water about ten minutes when we start seeing fish. The trick is moving very slowly to let our eyes adjust to the “background” of grass beds and varying depths of sandy-bottom.
When they are on the move that is the best way of seeing them. The back of these fish is darker than the sand, and it is about the only concession they allow us. I am starting to spot fish under Captain Baz’s tutelage. “Baz I spotted that one?” “Good – it is the size of a submarine.” I tend to walk into those.
On the flats we fish the reds do not tail at all. When I fished shallow water in Texas I frequently saw tailing reds. Tailing means that they are rooting on the bottom, vertical in the water column, with their tails above the surface. Those are feeding fish and take our offerings if we can get them there. Why they do not tail on “our” flats probably has to do with the hard packed quartz sand we frequent. Their snouts would in all likelihood become damaged.
The moving fish require you to take notice of their speed and direction, and you try to place the fly where your calculations tell you that the fish is going to be and intercept their line of travel. If shallow say two feet then I do not like overly weighted flies. They are boring to cast and land with too much of a splash to my liking. However they need to sink. So try to land the fly softly and have your leader twelve feet long. If you have problems turning over your leader shorten it. When you come tight to a fish strip set the hook. Trout fly fishermen are taught to raise their rod tip to strike a fish and many reds are lost cause of that. DO NOT. When the line comes taut keep the rod pointed at the fish and give a good pull or two with the line hand called strip strike, then you may bring the rod tip up. Remember it is more important to keep the line taut than get it onto the reel. So strip strike and keep line taut. If the fish comes to you do not even try to get him onto the reel. Just pull in line and keep it taut. If he runs away let out line and transfer onto the reel. The reds are heavy and that is how they fight but no spectacular runs await and they do not jump.
One of the fish caught had the small fly deep in his throat, and we had a hard time getting at it. It got so difficult that we had to put it in the water to freshen its oxygen supplies. What carried the day was a release clamp where you place the leader in the cylinder of the clamp and keep the leader taut then advance the instrument towards the fly where it will hit the bend of the hook and now you push the hook back and voila out it comes. Of course we fish with barbless hooks.
Now our fish was a bit dazed and I hold it by the tail and drag it backwards. Works well in rivers when reviving fish, as you drag the fish against the current. The gill plates (operculum) usually open and water gets to the gills. In the still water this did not unfold, so I grab the edge of the gill plate and open the gill slit, and now I can pump water over the gills by moving the gill plate back and forth. Lo and behold the red recovers and you keep doing this until he starts to try to get away then it is time for “au revoir.” Back home when reviving big Seatrout I tailed them and stroked their bellies continuously and then let go of the tail. Curiously these fish were in no hurry to depart seemed to like being stroked and then just slowly they edge away (there probably is some deep pathology at work in the dark recesses of my mind). I like to think that they have forgiven me my intrusion into their lives (entitled to my alternate fact eh?). It is a special feeling to have these big fish on your hand like that.
Our calculations have been borne out, and our oversized brains have outsmarted a creature with no college degree, and we feel good about ourselves. Understandably we are very happy and the fishing goddess has smiled on us. Back to the car and now I discover that the right leg of the waders is badly leaking with water spilling over to the left side. Her highness has a warped sense of humor.
Just returned from the midwinter Bahamas wade fishing trip with my friend Captain Baz. Our destination is a band of coral islands at the edge of the horizon. We get there by flying out of Ft. Lauderdale but have to land somewhere in the Bahamas to clear customs and immigration and off we fly again. Where we are headed there are no fly fishing guides and no other anglers. This is a self-guided trip and it is not easy.
We drive down to south Florida, about 10 hours drive with short pit stops. Overnight in a hotel and next morning we fly out into the archipelago and settle in to our little fishing nest. We rent a small cottage and full meal service and a small boat (13´), which can be upgraded (to a 17´boat) at a reasonable charge. A marina and a bar are on site and it being windy was full of boaters waiting for the wind to subside. The atmosphere is laid-back, people are friendly and we are on island time.
On arrival at noon all the bigger boats were already gone and we only had available a thirteen foot long skiff. A 13 ´skiff for one grown male and another a bit overgrown in the Atlantic is not ideal. The wind was blowing from the east with occasional whitecaps. Our target for this day was down wind of us so we sallied fort downwind in excellent spirits and found our flat. The wind was supposed to die down anyway.
Bonefish will come up on flats to feed when the tide is rising and vice versa will leave on falling water. They are maddeningly hard to spot and years of experience are needed to see those fish. There needs to be a sun otherwise you will not spot them at all but they cannot hide their shadows but are working on it. We have to figure out the likely spots where they will come on to the flat and likely leave by the same place. When on these flats they can be found in very shallow water and go into the Mangroves and disappear there in that thicket. So it can be difficult to find these fish. When spotted they are very skittish and the fly has to be placed in front of their traveling line. Thus lots of moving parts and much to go wrong and it does. Fly has to land softly otherwise you might spook them. In short very difficult fish.
The first day Captain Baz caught a good size Bonefish on a brand new high-end rod. It is always a good omen that a new rod catches fish. Now if you look at the picture of the Mr. Bone you see that dapper little pencil mustache he is sporting. He looks a bit French to me or maybe Belgian – there it is Monsieur Hercule Poirot? Baz’s fish spotting vision is legendary and I rely on his spotting the fish. It is like hunting with a pointer and sure enough when I see him bent a bit and his butt sticking out I know he has a scent of a fish. Then he gives the coordinates for instance 60 feet ten o’clock from him and I triangulate and it works out pretty well. I am starting to spot those fish but nowhere near where I need to be.
Now time has come to return to the marina but the wind has picked up and the waves are now 2′ high. Our small dinghy is not built for such waves and underpowered (30 hps). Baz sails the boat into the waves and I sit on the center thwart* clutching the rods watching the waves. You see where this is going? A wave throws the bow of the boat up and then it comes down obeying Newton’s law. I on the other hand am airborne flying up and back having torn the thwart off and crash down on my back in the boat in front of Baz a bit later. He managed to pull his feet from boat zero. Landed flat on my back and my first question was understandably “Did I break the rods”? Of course I broke Baz’s rod setting me up for a predictable “I sure am happy I got to break it in before you broke it” from Baz. Oh well that is why we carry backup rods on all trips.
Folks generally have no clue how we go about wading flats chasing Bonefish. This is how we do it. Wading boots are needed and I like to wear neoprene socks. On top of the boots we have a gravel guard to reduce the sand and grit that will invariably find its way into our socks and boots. The gravel guards just decrease it a lot. We don shorts and it is best to wear something that dries fast when we get out of the water.
Long sleeve shirt for sun protection and fingerless gloves and a buff is called for. We top it off with a cap where I like the underside to be black to reduce the glare. Polaroids are vital otherwise fish will not be spotted in time. For fly line management I recommend a stripping basket. I know it looks nerdy not dressy at all but by Jove it works. Then you can have ready line to cast and you are in better control. It is also nice to place the rod transversely in the basket when waiting and looking for fish.
We like fast rods if we can load/bend them. If we cannot they are useless to us. My recommendation to anglers is to use a 7-9 weight rod and pick the one that is your fastest and the one you can load comfortably. Do not fall for the marketing craze that wants you to buy the latest fastest rod absolutely a miracle yada yada yada. While I am at it there is no need for a Bonefish rod or a Bass rod or any specific rod for a certain type of a fish. The fish do not know and do not care. You need a rod that can cast your fly reasonably well and can handle the targeted species that is all there is to it. The line to use is a floating line and there are many excellent to choose from. I favor lines that are true to their size meaning I do not want it half or a whole step heavier than the standards set. Now when my casting has improved that is just what suits me. If you are a fledgling caster and load your rod better by over lining that is just fine and no cosmic rules have been broken by doing that. We use twelve feet long leaders and this trip a #8 Gotcha carried the day.
If you are in a situation where the leader does not turn over shorten it. We cast the line straight and lay out the leader straight (stiffer leader is better than a soft one for that). Then it is a good rule to strip once to get all slack out of the system and then let the fly sink to the bottom. Then you play with the strips and retrieve. All the usual casts and deliveries need to be mastered but there is one that Baz is a wizard at and actually his loops are sharpest when he uses that cast. When he has a fish to the right of him and feet set 90 degrees he does not turn his body he just sends the line out by this sidearm backhanded cast.
This type of fishing is physically difficult, to say the least. We did six – seven hours of this every day, wading looking and just being one with nature. However it does a lot of good in the psychic department of our bodies. When a big fish takes your fly and you feel its power and speed you realize the force of life. There is then the pulling and giving back and forth and I am reminded that I am also an animal of the same nature and I need to be humble and cognizant of that fact.
Now as we wade these flats the ocean is warm and no waders are necessary. Sometimes the bottom is firm and sometimes muddy and you think that this is it you are being sucked down. Sometimes you are wading in an area where there are lots of depressions with a 5” hole at the bottom. Needless to say your imagine all kinds of creatures living there and they are just waiting for you to make a mistake and then they will act. Vedius Pollio comes to mind and his pool of lampreys.
In the series on my colleague Dr. Lecter there is a scene like that. Then there is one in the deliciously decadent Borgias series (season3). This mucking around invariably leads to sand and grit accumulating in you shoes and socks. We ignore it just a part of the deal.
Now I have to cancel my monthly Pedicure as my feet are now scrubbed clean of corns from all that friction and sea water.
* Thwart is the board that runs between gunwales and is used to sit on. I could not use the word boat seat cause it was just too lame. In Icelandic the word is þófta and I am indebted to my linguistics adviser Professor Joe Mozur friend and neighbor for digging this beauty up.
In Iceland I just fly fished rivers and lakes. I did not fly fish in the salt there and I doubt that it will ever become a big sport. The North Atlantic is just so cold and the waves are unforgiving.
I moved to Corpus Christi in Texas in 2007. There are few rivers there with the type of fishing with which I was comfortable. I passionately hate fishing in discolored water. That lead me to fishing the Corpus Christy Bay and the area south east of Shamrock Island and it took me a long time to figure the salt out. There were not at that time many fly casters there. I teamed up with a local guide Steven Utley and he taught me the area and I helped him with the casting. I mostly fished from a sit on top kayak and cast sitting down which takes some time getting used to. The area south east of Shamrock Island was perfect for kayak fishing and I loved floating around the area taking in nature and fishing. There is a channel there from the Bay into the Gulf with breakwater structure on each side from which I fished and there I got connected to my first Spanish Mackerel and have come to love fishing for them. I did not try my luck in the Gulf itself while living there.
IN 2009 we relocated to Gulf Breeze Florida (south of Pensacola). There I have been fishing with my friend Basil Yelverton a local guide and from that experience (plus Texas) we put together an iBook (see Books page). Fishing the salt is very hard because everything is moving. The boat is rocking the fish are busy going every which way and then there is the blessed wind. Experienced fly casters from fresh water scenarios are known to have a meltdown when they realize that they cannot cast at all in these conditions. At any rate it became painfully apparent to me that I had to up me game in order to be able consistently to cast from a boat in the wind and all that.
So I did just that, pouring over YouTube and websites – basically self-taught. Cast until my arm was falling out of it’s socket and then cast some more. There are some very good casters here but most local casters have difficulties in the salt. The usual resultant reflex is to tie “the top secret classified nuclear fly” that is going to save them. It does not matter which fly you have if you cannot get it out to the customers. I hope we will slowly change the emphasis onto casting. Others and I have been busy teaching casting at so-called monthly clinics for the Club members.
My friend Baz noticed that I was becoming a better caster so he suggested that I do the CCI with the IFFF. “What is that”? I had no clue. I researched this a bit and since I am retired this could be a good niche for me. I have been teaching my whole life (coaching sports – teaching med. students – teaching residents etc.) so this would be somewhat in my comfort zone.
I decided to go for it and became a member of the International Federation of Fly Fishers (IFFF). Contacted their office and was guided to a certain MC (master caster) Leslie Holmes as a possible mentor in February ’16. We spoke on the phone and were instantly on insulting terms and he took me on. He sent me a ton of stuff and more practice ensued. Then we had a weekend session in Boca Grande in April. Well that was quite the eye opener for me. I could cast some he gave me that but my faults were many and varied and mercilessly pointed out and corrected. After that I returned to the Panhandle with more practice and we scheduled a tune-up and a practice session in late August. The goal was to become a certified fly casting instructor (CCI).
Three days before going again to Boca Grande Leslie calls me and asks “are you ready”? Sure I am ready my arm is falling out of the socket but I am ready. Leslie arranges to have me tested Sunday 8/28 and off I go. We had a dress rehearsal on Saturday where I suddenly got ripped a new one. My problem was/is overthinking and being a bit of a nerd I was too verbose. When I understood what was expected I reworked my answers to the various tasks on the test and made ready. It must be handed to Les that after he had deconstructed me he built me right back up. Sunday morning I meet Captain Pete Greenan and Captain Rex Gudgel my examinators. They quickly settled all jitters and I passed the test. I have been involved with teaching and testing In Iceland Sweden Scotland and once in Africa and I can tell you that Pete and Rex were very competent and the whole process well thought out and solid (mainly because I passed). Les’s teaching was spot on and I plan to work with him again.
I have certainly made some colostomies in my time but not with the finesse and elegance that Les does it. But Les my patients were always under anesthesia.
Well there it is.
(DF) Drifa Freysdottir picture
Local fly clubs website
The fishing season in subarctic Iceland is relatively short. The fishing rhythm of the year was to start tying after new year brooding in the dark waiting for the light and return of life. I tied my flies and fantasized about the coming season getting ready for the spring that might be there or not. In the north spring is not set to any date at all. When the migratory birds return spring is official. Certain birds have special meaning for us and the return of the Lóa (Golden Plover) will merit first mention during the evening news irrespective of what is going on in the world. Hearing the Plover calling first time each spring can bring on blurry vision in the most hardened of fly slingers. The return of the Kría (Arctic Tern) is also well received since now we can be fairly certain the there will not be night frosts until next fall. The third important migrant for me is the Hrossagaukur (Galinago galinageo – Snipe). When the male dives in the air patrolling his territory he sounds like a neighing horse (hence the name – hrossagaukur literally horse cuckoo). That this small bird can produce this remarkable sound fascinates me and it is always a joyous sound out in the fields whenever (If you have experienced the silence in the countryside following their departure you can imagine the joy of hearing the birds anew next spring).
Then when life returned off you went and kept going as long into the fall as possible. The summers demand a sub-manic phase and sometimes I fished until next morning (the lights were on right?). This fix barely sustained me until next tying season rolled around. Within Reykjavik there are accommodatingly two trout lakes. One of them is very shallow Vífilsstaðavatn and therefore warms fast in the sunshine so aquatic critters start moving and the trout start feeding and cruising. This can happen in late March to April. Anglers are there pronto when the weather warms up (above freezing is good). Then there is a bigger lake called Elliðavatn that opens first of May holding both arctic char and brown trout. Both these lakes serve to steady you after the long dark winter and it feels great to start there and get your cast and gear in order and the fly boxes sorted (typically you invent a new brilliant system each spring that spectacularly breaks down during the season so a new one is needed). These lakes are such treasures within the city and serve to keep one sane and lakes like that can be found many places around Iceland.
Then there is the real McCoy Þingvallavatn (Lake Thingvellir) that is an unique place and a World Heritage Site since 2004. It is Iceland’s biggest lake 32 square miles and 367 feet deep and dips below sea level. The rivers that flow into this lake are small and the biggest part of its catchment water is through cold springs in the lake bed (90% estimated). The spring water is gin clear as is the lake. The runoff river is Efra Sog (3800 cubic feet per second) and lower down called Neðra Sog in itself a Salmon river but three waterfalls there (now with hydroelectric plants) can not be navigated by the salmonoids. The lake is ringed by some volcanic mountains of which the shield volcano Skjaldbreidur is the most distinctive. The area is one of majestic barren beauty year round. Needless to state that it can be bitterly cold there in the spring and the water temperature is just around 39F. We fish from outcroppings in the lava and wade out into the water on submerged lava ridges. You can bet the relief when neoprene waders replaced the rubber ones. Goretex waders are a bad idea any time of the year. Cold water can be quite disfiguring and downright scary! The other option is by belly boats. I have no experience of fishing the lake from a boat.
The lake is 40 minutes drive from Reykjavik and that is where we were headed all the time the other ones just warm ups. This lake is absolutely one of a kind. The lake is in a graben exactly where the Eurasian tectonic plate is separating from the American tectonic plate. This is the place where you can see the earth being torn apart having one leg in Eurasia and the other in America! The surroundings are mostly lava that is very porous. The rain just disappears into the lava fields and then at the interfaces of lava layers it seeps forward towards the lake. It takes the water welling up in the cold springs in the lake bed hundreds of years to percolate through the lava layers. This water is clean, clear and soft with very little calcium and it has a steady temperature of just under 37-38F year round and it is potable.
The lake holds 4 morphs of Arctic Char that have evolved there in about 10.000 years from a single strain. The fish became landlocked there post last ice age. In the spring we were mainly fishing for a strain that specializes in water snails on the lake bottom in the littoral areas (Kuðungableikja or Bobbableikja). For that we use intermediate lines and try to stay just above the lake bottom that is lava. Understandably we snag and lose our flies often and as the saying goes “they strike just before you snag” is an apt one. The flies we use are simple bead heads or just something black and round like the water snails. Middle of summer the smaller trout called Murta will appear in huge numbers and now is the time to take kids fishing. They love catching these fish and we usually rig them up with a float and the fly 3 feet away. It takes time to connect with this lake and it took me many a fishless trip to figure it out and start to catch there regularly.
The Arctic Char spawns in the fall when the temperature falls. In Þingvallavatn (Lake Thingvellir) the temperature is steady year round in the cold springs just at 37F. Thus the Char there will spawn much earlier than usual. Huge schools of spawning fish can be seen from land and sometimes it looks like the fish are swimming towards a cave opening to disappear but in reality they are just disappearing into a ball of fish giving this illusion. The color of these fish is black from above and hard to see against a black lava bottom. The telltale sign is the white edge on the pectoral fins so it looks like white V from above. From the side these fish are sporting stunning colors. These lake holds so much fish that it is ok to to harvest on or two as they are delicious.
The river flowing out of the lake southward is Efra Sog. This was the major spawning area of the biggest strain of the Brown Trout. The flow of the river and the Black Fly larvae there were optimal for the fish (Curiously Black Flies in Iceland are North American whereas the Midges or Gnat are European. There are no skeeters in Iceland). The absolute lurkers were caught there. In 1959 a hydroelectric damn was built at the outlet of the lake and the water routed through Dráttarhlíð to Úlfljótsvan to power Steingrímsstöð. There was an accident and a damn gave way and the resultant flood destroyed the gravel beds used for these fish for spawning. This stock collapsed and has not recovered to my knowledge. However the brown trout that by and large disappeared from our catches has reappeared and spawning occurs in small feeder rivers to the lake and in the autumn these fish are tagged and studied. It is seriously bad karma to to kill these fish.
This is a strain of brown trout that has become landlocked after the rise of the earths crust post ice age. They are believed to have come the British Isles following the rising land. These brown trout are sea going and called Seatrout in the UK in America they are not widely known but the the sea run rainbows are called Stealhead. They have the remarkable characteristic that after gaining reproductive age they will spawn every other year and they will grow the off year. These fish can become very big because there is an abundance of food in the lake.
Sibbi is my fishing buddy and we have fished the lake countless times solo and together. This was the routine in the evening before. “You free tomorrow morning”? “Yup”. “How is the weather”? “Let´s check the weather station at Þingvellir. Not to bad 39F and calm”. Then we each packed rods, neoprene waders and flies and all the paraphernalia. We like fast rods (GLX Loomis) but not noddles and broomsticks. You become excited about the trip and we were certain that we are going to catch a good fish. We thought about the flies which is not necessary at all cause they are not the deciding factor there. We rose early and trembled with anticipation. We usually left Reykjavik early when the night revelers and drunk drivers were returning home from their escapades. One managed to sideswipe us and clipped our side mirror but we shrugged that off and continued undeterred. Then when we arrive there calm descends upon us we move slowly and we listen and we look. There were mornings there when no birds could be heard working and singing. You know the feeling, everything is just dead. To be honest we really do not get upset at all. If this was the case we did not even assemble our gear to go fishing. We know it is no use when nothing is moving. We sit and take in the scenery shoot the breeze a bit. Not casting or catching does not bug us. Angling has nothing to do with success. We just went with the mood of nature accepted it and moved on. We were just as happy with this outcome as with a “fishy” one. Then we return home but stop at the National Park shop and have a hot dog.
Pictures marked DF are my Wife’s Drífa Freysdóttir
Websites pertaining to Þingvellir
Research – Icelandic spoken in this video but the Brown Trout does not mind and neither should you
Silfra is a diving site famous for its clear water
The national park website
Sibbi with a trout
Our favorite rods
After graduating Med School I worked for six months as a general practitioner during the coming winter. At that time it was a requirement for obtaining a license as a doctor before you could embark on your chosen speciality. I took a post in a small village in the countryside where I was the sole doctor. It was remote from Reykjavik. The villages around Iceland are mostly coastal with fishing interests and service to what is left of the farming community around. The movement of people from the country to the towns and villages had already depleted areas that once were thriving communities. Where I was posted the fjords are deep and the mountains are layered up to a flat tabletop. The mountain sides are steep and they will block the sun if the village is so located. These fjords are ringed by mountains where the foothills run into the sea with limited lowland. Some places the mountains cascade into the sea with vertical cliffs and the surf pounding the walls. The ocean is a part of the allure sometimes flat and other times raging and cold it is. These fjords are barren devoid of trees, mostly stones and tundra but exceptionally beautiful even majestic.
The preceding summer I worked as an intern in one of the hospitals where I got to know a young patient in her twenties. She was battling a cancer. She was from the rural area where I became posted and her only wish was to live in there. South of the mountains in the next fjord she lived with her husband on a farm in a valley where there were no other inhabitants. Mountains both sides and then a bay with yes you guessed it more mountains. There were no lights from any other settlements to be seen from where she lived. When the snow started in the fall it became impossible to to get there driving. There was a an airstrip at villages north and south of her but if you can not get there it is useless. The lady had a relapsing condition and after each treatment and actually from the first treatment she absolutely refused to be in Reykjavik extended periods for follow up and such. She could not stand the city and would go back to her farm immediately after the chemo. She had had a number of relapses and then recovered. This lady was very intelligent and understood well her predicament. However living on her farm was the only thing she would accept despite the consequences.
In these fjords the mountains are so high they will block off the winter sun that only manages to get up over the horizon some few degrees in the wintertime. It takes for ever for the sun to rise and it sets slowly. Some villages do not get any direct sun at all for a while. You can see the mountain tops across the fjord illuminated and you track when the rays are creeping lower as the sun rises after the winter solstice. So winter at these latitudes is prolonged periods of dusk little bit of sun but mostly pitch dark. To not feel the sun on your skin for an extended period of time is depressing and you long for the caress of the sun again. The feeling of the sun on your skin after this period of deprivation is indescribable even wonderful. The day will come that the sun manages to get over the mountains blocking it and shine on our village and that day is understandably a very special day. This day we have the sólarkaffi (sun coffee). We bake what is locally called pönnukökur (pancakes) but the rest of the world calls crepes (we think everyone else has it wrong). We do not care so pönnukökur (or pönnsur a nickname) it is. We bake them on flat round crepe pans that must not ever be washed and are not used for anything else. These pans become heirlooms. My sisters wondered what became of momma’s pan but I know. There are many recipes and I for instance put a little bit of coffee in the batter to get a better color, I actually prefer instant coffee if it is to be had. We like them thin and roll them up warm with sugar brown or white or we we put whipped cream and fruit jam on top and fold them twice so they look like a padded quarter circle. This is a great tradition as we indulge in crepes and the revitalizing rays of the sun. This is the best celebration I have experienced in my life.
The winter I was working there I took some blood samples which were sent to follow up on her condition. The winter was uneventful and I returned to the City and soldiered on. Next year in the fall I learned that the lady was getting weaker again. She understood the situation and as she was snowed in the Coast Guard was summoned to help out. Before that she in her weakened state hiked up the mountain and sat down on a stone and awaited the return of the sun. When the sun reached her she sat there and soaked it up and then hiked back to the farm. Pönnukökur were baked and she enjoyed her sólarkaffi (sun coffee). Now she was ready and the Coast Guard got her out of the isolation and she had to return to the hospital. She did not make it back alive. I am certain that her spirit, if there is such a thing, is there in these barren isolated majestic valleys. The memory of her certainly is.
That damn fireplace is smoking again irritating my eyes so I have to fix that.
Pictures Drifa Freysdottir
Now that I am retired from surgery memories come floating into my head. Incidents that I had forgotten big and small and good and bad. I have been ruminating on one of my patients who was quite an inspiration to me (we will call him E). If the rebirth theory and Nirvana holds true he was close to attaining that state, old soul and all that. It so happened that when I dealt with patients that some of them became my friends. It was understandably those with serious diagnoses. They and their families need so much more from you than simple cases solved quickly. The simple cases mainly need technical excellence and that is that. In some ways I was rationing my “love” because I think my “love” is finite. I know that some teach that the more you give the more you can give but I don´t think so. I have seen so many health professional who have become callous and burnt out with no “love” left to give.
Back to my friend and our journey together. In some ways you might say that I have lived through many lives with my patients especially their last years. We sat together drinking coffee and telling each other stories. When my friend was a boy on a farm in South East Iceland one of our national bards Thorbergur was visiting as he was born in that area. Thorbergur was notorious for his angst of ghosts and everybody knew that even little boys.
“So little E are there any ghosts here on this farm” Thorbergur asks? “There are some in the barn and stables but that is nothing compared to the farmhouse. It is very bad here” E answers. “Now that is some news. Where are they most aggressive” Thorbergur asks? “Well if you insist it will be in guest room where you will be sleeping.” And so it went little E worked himself up telling ghost stories real and imagined. He was so focused that he started to believe them himself. Thorbergur believed any and all ghost stories. When it became time to go to bed E told me that Thorbergur had said to him. “Little E it is best that you sleep with me tonight.”
He told his stories quietly with a soft smile and immense presence. He was a tall man powerfully built and with the largest pair of hands I ever have seen. He radiated kindness but he was firm all the same. Previously the nightlife in Reykjavik had become rowdier and wilder. In one incident the bad boys had spilt into the ER and were partying. Knocking over medicinal cabinets and what not. Young Dr. H (one of my closest friends) was dusted a bit and the attending orthopedic surgeon Dr. H* who is built like a classical orthopedic surgeon (a tank) and behaves like one. Not the kind kumbaya type you meet today. He sustained rib fractures so good times were had all around. The countermeasures were to have an officer there during the weekends. Officer E was one of the first to take that shift and when he was there all was calm. The bad boys came and he just met them and genially said “How are you boys” smiled and placed his hand on someone´s shoulder and that was enough. You can radiate power in different ways.
I had to do a rather big abdominal operation on him one early spring and he recovered from that eventually. I meet him the next fall. “What have you been up to my friend?” “Well I was not sure if I was alive after all I have been through” he said. “You look alive to me.” “I know and I feel alive now after my experiment.” “Now what did you do” I asked him? “Well as I was in doubt on my vitality I returned to my birthplace. You know there is this glacial river there Jokulsa i Loni?” “I know” I answered “I have seen that river and passed it on the bridge several times.” He says “I know a ford in that river from my youth.” “And” I ask? He goes on and “I picked up a big slab of stone to weigh me down.” Now I became worried “You idiot you could rupture the wound or some such doctor worries.” His answer was “But I needed to know if I was alive.” A verbal touchdown?
“Then I proceeded to the ford on the river and made it over to the other bank. The current was fast and cold but the stone kept me down but I became pretty tired though.” And goes on “Now I realized the car was on the opposite site so I had to wade it again.” I am now flabbergasted. He continuous “Then I knew I was alive.” Just like that calmly half smiling and with this gentle and loving presence that I cannot fully describe.
Now as fate would have it his disease returned and it slowly led him to his demise. “How are you E what is going on now?” On one of his last visits to the outpatient clinic. “Well I am so happy now.” “What is going on” I ask. “My disease and the way things are going have brought my family together.” There had been some discord and strife that I knew about in his life (discord and strife, isn´t that just generally life eh?) “Now that I am dying we have solved some of our problems and we are united again. I am very grateful for that.”
I loved this man and will always be grateful that I got to know him.
As I write this I think that the smoke from the fireplace has gotten to my eyes and I need to go fix that.
*Dr. H is without question my favorite orthopedic surgeon. Both Drs. H are fly fishermen and there is a river there somewhere as this is a fishing blog.
Pictures Drifa Freysdottir