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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 November I fished for bonefish in the Bahamas with three of my friends. They are all experienced bonefish anglers, but I am not. I was very much looking forward to this trip to learn more about bonefishing. As it turned out, this trip was great and surprisingly the company, too.
Our destination was Water Cay on the north side of Grand Bahamas. This location is off the beaten path with low fishing pressure, but with a reputation for big fish.
To get there we flew into Freeport, where we were picked up at the airport by our guides. From there to the marina where the skiffs awaited us is about a 40 minute drive. Our gear was stuffed into the skiffs, and we reached our destination in 20 minutes. From where I live (Florida Panhandle) I got there in half a day’s travel.
The lodge sits on the south tip of Water Cay with a small jetty. There are 3 double occupancy rooms on the left side for the anglers, and the ambiance is pleasant. The cooking and housekeeping was in the capable hands of Kay and Syd. The meals – both plentiful and good – were served in the dining room in the middle of the house.
Bonefish are a very challenging fish to catch. To do so you have to spot them. If you hook one you are in for a surprisingly fast run that will take you into the backing. If fishing from a skiff the angler should take a ready position at the bow. The guide is up on a poling platform in a better position to spot fish. When he does, he guides you to their position and if you are lucky, the fish can be reached with a cast. The skiffs used are shallow draft, very light, and with a poling platform. Bonefish can also be caught by wading the flats. Spotting them from a lower position is more difficult, but doable. Sometimes after finding a fish, the water is too shallow for the skiff. Then you try to get into a position by wading.
There are endless flats around the lodge and plentiful of mangrove thickets. These flats are a veritable smorgasbord for the fish as the tides move water onto and off the flats. Crabs and shrimp also move in, and the bonefish like to feed on them on the bottom.
Bonefish use the mangroves to escape and love to tangle you up by swimming through them.
The three guides: Sidney was the headguide, and Greg and Esra were very good guides too. They found fish everyday. Unfortunately, only some were caught, but that is on the angler. The wind was a factor, and there were two cold fronts that came through during our stay.
What I liked about their approach to guiding was their teaching. They spot the fish, and then you were guided to the position by “Point your rod – left -stop – 45 feet,” for instance. After you had totally bungled it, there was a brutally honest post mortem. “When you took that clumsy step up on the bow you scared the fish away.” Or “When you slapped that line down it scared the fish.” And “Nope that is a Barracuda.”
You get the picture. There were many more variants of my ineptitude, but when I did everything right the fish took a look at my fly and sometimes grabbed it.
(This is the Anna Karenina principle of fishing. Its first sentence: “Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на друга, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему.” The standard translation: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Paraphrased: you succeed at bonefishing in only one way, but you can screw up in multiple ways.
After this trip I am confident that my skills have improved, thanks to their excellent teaching. We all caught fish, and I lucked into a 7.5 pounder that is my personal best in bonefish.
I did not fish with Dave, so I have no picture of proof, but he caught fish, too. This sums up our time there, and I plan to be back there next fall.
is difficult but exhilarating. Their runs are spectacular, and they are sneaky and run into the mangroves and out again to tangle you up. It is not a given that you land the one you hooked. However, that is in itself the most exciting part. To catch one you need several aspects to be aligned. First off you must see the fish, then can you cast to it and on and on. I have broken it down to the following parts to clarify my thinking and to give you an idea of the complexity involved.
It is always best to have sunshine, then they fish will have a shadow that you can spot, and that will lead you to the fish. It is best to keep the sun behind you so you do not have to look into the glare from the surface. How the sun is moving and how you are moving is important, and the guides set up their poling paths to take advantage of that. So trust your guides to do that part – you are in their home waters. On an overcast day the fish can still be spotted, but it is much harder.
Pay attention to the clouds and how they are moving, since this directly affects visibility. If you are under a cloud, but there is sunshine “over there,” you move over there.
Be prepared for the wind. You might have to cast into a stiff breeze. The wind might be blowing onto your casting side, pushing the line into your body. You might have to make your back cast into a hard wind, and you must be able to solve that. Very rarely is the wind direction “right” and the wind light. The only advice I can give is that you should practice the “wind” casts before you go there.
Line control is important in the wind. Mostly you can let the line loose on the deck if you take care to get it into the lower well of the skiff. There your fishing buddy can keep an eye on it and clear tangles. It is advantageous to place this line between the leaning poles – it seems to help control the line. One day it was blowing so hard that I had to hold the loops tight in my left hand. A very big loop on my pinkie, a slightly smaller one on my ring finger, and a smaller still on my middle finger, similar to what one can do when using a two handed rod for salmon. Then you shoot it out when opportunity arises.
As the tide inundates the mangroves, bonefish move into that maze to feed. When the tide falls the fish move off again. So, it is vital to be cognizant of the tidal movement. However, reading a tidal almanac is not enough. Wind can block the water from rising and conversely can block its egress from the flats. Local knowledge is the key, and the guides are tuned into this.
Bonefish rarely keep still. I saw countless bonefish that turned out be sticks on the bottom. “Not moving – bottom,” was the guides refrain. When you see a fish and it is moving, you must place the fly in front of him. For that you have to gauge the speed at which the fish is moving. You assume they go straight and try to intersect their line of travel. It is preferable that the fly sinks to the bottom before the fish gets there. The correct weight of the fly in relation to the depth of water must be spot on.
I was skeptical about claims that the fish could sense the boat at 60 feet, but I came away a convert. Just by rocking the boat slightly is enough. Once I stumbled slightly and put my foot down a bit too hard and the fish in my sights bolted. This is one moving part we can have control over. Move slow and do not make any noise that is unnecessary. Barefoot on the bow is probably the best option, otherwise wear something soft on your feet.
One needs to pay constant attention to the surroundings because the mangroves will happily eat your fly line if you place your back cast close to them.
It is tempting and easy to buy all the paraphernalia of fishing and equate that with success. That is not how it works. Most of the “moving parts” above are outside your control. What is under your control is your casting prowess, your movement in the boat, and using correctly weighted flies (get the fly to the bottom before the bonefish arrives). Your casting is by far the single most important point. I have never met a person who casts too well. I have met a lot of fishermen who could improve their casts with simple corrections. You cannot buy a cast!
That’s the way the cookie crumbles….
“Hi doctor X! You’ve got free air in your abdomen.” Doctor X is a pediatrician, rotund and florid. He is rather excitable and has a vivid imagination. You often expect him to have a cerebral hemorrhage during a conversation (blow a gasket). He is a great story teller with artistic tendencies, and has good rapport with children and their parents. A bit unorthodox perhaps, but never boring. “I can sell this darling on the internet for you,” he said once when some parents were complaining about their son’s stomach. Well, the doctor had been seen by the surgeon on call, because of an abdominal pain, who had promptly ordered a CT scan because of his abdominal pain. After the examination he&the patient somehow got through the cracks and just went home. The surgeon on call came across the CT later in the day and there it was — free air in the abdominal cavity (which means there is a hole in a bowel somewhere). The surgeon immediately contacted Doctor X and ordered him to come post haste to the hospital. Understandably Doctor X got really scared, and with his imagination racing, thought his days were numbered. He was expected to return within the hour, but time dragged on, and finally he shows up obviously freshly shaven and sporting a new haircut! “Where the hell have you been?” was the first question. “I am certain that I am not going to make it,” came the retort — “that´s why I went to have a haircut and a shave.” Now the surgeon is incredulous “we fix this all the time you idiot” (is that how you talk to a pediatrician?). “No, I am a goner,” he continues, “to be on the safe side I also had my portrait taken by a professional photographer – in black and white for effect. Something for my family to remember me by.”
His treatment was uneventful, and he recovered. Since that time, he has a new found respect for surgeons and thinks we are miracle workers, nothing less. Doctors are a very difficult group to deal with as patients. Especially those who are cynical and meddle in their treatment plans. The only group that is worse is probably the clergy. “It is all in His hand” type of reasoning can get you to a boiling point. “Perhaps He put us here to take care of you” reasoning does not seem to enter their minds.
At the end of my training I used my vacation to do locum work at my first surgical department. I was a newly minted surgeon (licensed and all), and it was common for new specialists to do locum work in Iceland instead of taking a vacation. The family got to go home to all the relatives, and we got some brownie points for relieving the staff doctors. It was a bit like a dress rehearsal, where we could show just how good we were and also get a feel for working there for the future.
The atmosphere at the surgical department was jovial, and the morale good. The rhythm of the day was to present new patients at the morning meeting. The emergency patients were discussed, and any problems incurring during the last 24 hours were recounted. I had been on call, and we had admitted an old lady with a distended abdomen in the morning hours. She was emancipated and in dire straits, and the bowels were obstructed. What to do? Well, first off you discuss that with your patient. She understood that an operation was very risky, but by doing nothing she was going to die. She still enjoyed life she told me, and we decided on an operation as our only option. The staff surgeons were very negative about this endeavor. One of them of the “It is none of your damn business” fame (see my blog, http://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=1811) thought me mad. “Are you going to operate on that mummy?” He went on and on about it. Then there were the anesthetists! “The electrolytes are terrible, the kidney function impaired and my god that heart.” Well, I honestly love anesthetists and I understand their plight. First, they have to anesthetize such a person, and then they have to deal with the surgeon – at the same time. So, the discussion with the anesthetists on the merits of such an operation, and the risks involved could be interesting. My central argument was always simple. The primary disease process causing all those abnormalities in the electrolytes, etc. was perhaps, and quite likely something that could be reversed. Our philosophy is, if the primary process can be fixed, the secondary problems have a chance of getting better. So, the patient will only survive the operation that fixes the primary problem. We must be very focused on that, and actually try to simplify things (some might call it tunnel vision). If you do not do that you will become mired in minutiae, and you can not do anything at all because it is all so terrible and rapidly getting worse. My arguments carried the day, and the anesthetists got the old lady ready for an operation. I was about to open her abdomen when the door of the operating room banged open, and the surgeon with his walrus mustache barged in.
He was in fine spirits and was holding a pen in one hand and a death certificate in the other hand (those forms were the only ones we used on yellow paper.) Then he bellows – “When you start cutting – I will start writing!” He really was a lovable scoundrel.
There you go – what an auspicious start to an operation. By that time, I was getting to know him and I suspected that he was only “weighing my cojones,” so I did not get too rattled. All this black humor is a coping mechanism in a stressful environment. The operation was easy, and I found the suspected incarcerated femoral hernia, which was easy to fix. This lady recovered nicely and was duly discharged.
The Lonesome River – Bob Dylan
For doctors the river is constantly there. Our lives are lived on the banks of the river. Sometimes our toil is to prevent early departures and sometimes it is to help people to navigate across. We might as well fish it while we are at it!
Hrútafjarðará (á – river/stream) is a two hour drive north from Reykjavík. The lodge there is one of the nicest in Iceland with self catering. The river is fished by 3 rods and is fly only. Most of the pools are easily accessible by any car. For the upper parts of the river some walking down into the gullies is required, but nothing too strenuous. For over 20 years the river was leased by R.N. Stewart, author of Salmon Rivers of Iceland.
His description is spot on – “The Hrútafjarðará from the Réttarfoss north, is a delightful mixture of rocky gorges, open flat pools, swirly pools, fast runs, still pools and then opening out for the last two miles into a flat plain of gravel and pastures with several excellent pools until it reaches the long narrow fiord leading to the Arctic Ocean.” The catchment area for the river and its tributary Síká is 367 km². This river system is fed by a myriad of rivulets coming together (a spate river), and as such the water levels will fall and rise in harmony with the local rains. Each river has a waterfall in its course stopping the salmon’s ascent. Hrútafjarðará has 9 km of bank length and Síká 3 km. The rivers have 42 named pools and between 200 to 700 salmon per year are caught there.
From Réttarfoss (foss – waterfall) the river flows straight north through rocky gorges. The pools and holding places do not change in this part but the water level does. The salmon will concentrate in the deeper pools during a drought, and spread out when there is more water. The pools between the old main road bridge and the ocean course through gravel beds, and here the channels and holding places are at the whim of the water and the flow.
The gravelly river part also holds some trophy sized sea-run char. The lowest part is tidal, and during high tide that is the place to be. I love catching the arctic char whenever I can find them. The trophy char are every bit as strong as the salmon and fight hard. Síká is similar to the main river but smaller, with the stream coursing through a rocky gorge for most of its length. Síká joins the main river about 1 km from the sea. On this trip we did not fish the Síká because of low water.
Now for the fishing – it was just phenomenal! The river is gin-clear and is just perfect for the tiny flies that we like to use. When you swing those, the takes are exciting (beginners will experience rectal spasms). In addition to those we mostly used small unweighted black tubes. There were salmon in all parts of the river, and they were duly caught. There are maybe 1-2 pools where something heavy is useful.
In Iceland we call the first salmon a person catches his/her “María salmon,” and that salmon will stay with you forever. One such salmon was caught by master Gosi (his nickname – Pinocchio!). His father calls him that, and everybody falls in line (Johny Cash´s “A boy named Sue” comes to mind?), his real name is forgotten even by his kin, but his smile is infectious and well earned……..
…. before he realized that tradition dictates that he eats its adipose fin. This is an ironclad rule in Icelandic angling circles.
The pool Réttarstrengur is a long chute, and the salmon are stacked up under the hill in a long line. If they just stay put it is very hard to spot them, but they are there. Then they give the game away by jumping, and we duly note that.
This one moved in the current at the top of the pool, giving his position away, and Sibbi caught him.
The middle part pools are just incredible – the scenery – the solitude and the clear water makes for an unforgettable experience.
The pool Sírus is magnificent but did not produce this time. Note how Sibbi is using the rock to be invisible to the fish.
In the valley bottom the river courses through gravel, and the pools are constantly changing. Here in addition to the salmon you can find the arctic char. In the open you will have to contend with the wind, but in the gorges the wind is not a problem.
This river is just a wonderful place place, and I will always welcome the opportunity to return.
I graduated from med school 1977. My class was required to do internships in various departments to fulfill a certain standard (Europe adheres to this system). When the standard was met, we could embark on studies in our chosen fields. This system is not used here in the States. Here you graduate and go directly into a specialty without going through the main departments of medicine and surgery. Young doctors, in the European system, can sniff various branches of medicine, so it helps them to choose right. It is amazing how similar personalities aggregate in the same specialty. Think about the orthopedic surgeons you have met – and my case is proven. There are even some medical idiot savants who can tell the speciality of male doctors just by looking at their ties. I think the European system has the edge, as it exposes young doctors to more varied scenarios, but it takes a year, and time is expensive.
It is known that surgeons can be a handful. They can get a very bad case of the “God complex,” and the cardio-thoracic ones tend to be severely afflicted, with neurosurgeons, who are a close second. Society has some blame here, as witnessed by this rendering on a stamp of one of the pioneers of modern surgery, Professor Theodore Billroth.
This could easily be Jesus with his disciples, right? I, however, am the most humble surgeon that I know.
My first day as an intern was at the Department of Orthopedics, and I was eager to learn proper bedside manners and how to conduct the morning rounds. The Chief of Orthopedics was a big personality. He was a bit under average height, but compactly built, and a former gymnast. His hair was black, combed straight back – he wore black glasses. He was always very neatly attired, and brought his own white gowns to work, which were starched to perfection. I discovered quickly that the attending doctors at that time had two faces. First was the “inside face” for the medical and nursing staff, then there was the “outside face” for the ´patients. He was very charming and funny in his own way, and I grew to like him a lot. However, he could be brusque, and small talk was not his forte. Professionally, he had his opinions and he made them known. I never detected any meanness in him.
Well, I will get to the morning round now. We set off from the nursing station, in a big posse, The Chief, his attending ortopods, the head nurse, and finally I, trailing behind. We got through the first patients, and nothing special occurred, and I was picking up pointers, drinking it all in. Then we entered a room where yesterday´s patients were located. Lying there were four elderly ladies who had undergone hip replacement surgery the day before. The method used by the Chief was called the Charnley´s operation. Charnley pioneered the so-called plastic and steel concept. The part of the hip joint that is the pelvis was replaced with a steel cup that was lined by plastic. The other part of the hip joint, the femoral head, was summarily cut off by slicing through the femoral neck. This part was then replaced with a metallic prostheses with a ball part that fitted the plastic cup. So, all in all it is a considerable operation with a long incision and severing of a bone. The Chief bursts into the room and asks the first patient about her status. “Doctor, I am in pain” said the first lady, and this turned out to be the answer du jour for the four ladies operated on. The Chief did not answer the first lady, just moved on to the next lady, asks his question, does not respond, and moves on, etc. Wow, I was impressed by the compassion and tenderness of the spectacle. Now the Chief heads for the exit and turns around and says, “You ladies cannot have any pain in steel and plastic,” and he was gone. It was an absolutely correct statement, and I begin to think – I need be to toughen up some for this specialty.
At that time, we did not have any ultrasound, computed tomograms (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Understandably, diagnostics were really difficult. The hospitals had their fair share of people who had all kinds of complaints, mostly rooted in some neurosis or other. How to sort it all out was a challenge. We were doing all kinds of investigations and taking all kinds of tests on these patients. Patients lingered in their beds as this waltz was being performed. Next I became an intern at the department of Surgery at the City Hospital. Our hero is now a crusty general surgeon with a walrus mustache, a small beer belly, and outsized personality. He is one of the most charming persons I have ever met, and a superb conversationalist. Full of humor and mischief. We were discussing a difficult case where we were coming up empty in test after test. It was becoming apparent that there was malingering behind this. Come the morning rounds next day and we found ourselves at this patient´s bedside. Our surgeon recounts the negative results of all our testing. The patient is whining and whining and whining (you know, honestly, they can do that) and our hero was becoming irritated and fed up of all the b.s. going on. Finally, our patient laments “Then what is wrong with me doctor?” — to which he immediately answers “It is none of you damn business.” That response was truly one for the ages!
It could be very hard to discharge this type of a patient. However, we had an ace up our sleeve! You know when all else fails – we suggested the Air Encephalogram. That was done by tapping a little bit of cerebrospinal fluid via lumbar puncture, and replacing the fluid with air. The air rose into the skull, and then x-rays were done. This usually was a quite a painful procedure and the clientele was aware of this. This suggestion usually worked to get them check out of the hospital.
Did this behavior influence us young men and women at the beginning of our careers? Sure, it did up to a point. Society was changing fast at that time, and iconoclasts were hard at redefining professional roles in society, and pretty much the whole of society.
After that I found myself in an ER setting, fresh from graduating and probably pretty full of myself probably. I was asked to see an old man whom I had not encountered before. However, I immediately recognized his name (which is magnificent – but cannot be divulged). I had read about him in a contemporary novel describing the diverse and often colorful characters on our national scene years prior. He had led a tragic hard life of addiction, and was well known in the ER setting, and now he was there old, burnt out, with withdrawal symptoms, and generally in a bad way. Despite all that, he had a presence of serenity, and was still in possession of his dignity. His speech was immaculate, the voice was clear, and he was very courteous. It started badly. He, in his calm courteous voice listed the drugs he needed to counter the withdrawal symptoms – then he said he needed to be admitted to his usual ward. He had quite the experience with this situation. I was young, inexperienced, cocky and stupid, took umbrage at the patient telling me what to do. I delivered a mini rant of sorts for a while. He just looks at me with a sad expression on his face and experienced eyes, and he obviously pitied me. Jonas, he asks me “Are YOU really going to become one of those?” It was like being hit with a sledgehammer. Was I in jeopardy of becoming a stereotype? Well, I cannot have that. Since that day, I have tried to be just me. So, I sobered up and pretty much followed his plan of action, and off he went to his ward. What are the chances that you can “cure” such a person? Well, nonexistent really.
I am sure that all these patients and my interactions with them, and a host of colorful specialists shaped my personality. Sometimes it felt being like drowned by a great Kanagawa wave.
After my surgical training, on return to Iceland, I realized that I would need a hobby to stay sane. The constant barrage of sick patients, and the pressure cooker of the hospital environment is stressful, and I needed something to get away from all that. Then there were the meetings! My Lord, those were the worst of all. Imagine being trained to make decisions on the spot, and then acting on those decisions. Then you have to suffer through meetings where no decisions are ever taken. And to boot, the people at those meetings really did not want a decision, as it would risk scrapping some future meetings (coffee and danish is good remember). Is it any wonder that I choose the solitary and quite sport of fly fishing?
One thing I have learned on the way. Old doctors are the worst cynics you will ever encounter.
I fish with my friend Sibbi, whenever we can team up. He is about 20 years younger than I, and it is quite common that a fishing pair are of different ages. We have some things in common — we just love being outdoors and taking it all in. We suffer fools badly (remember, false modesty is no virtue), and are very old school, both of us. We first met at a lake in Iceland (Vífilsstaðavatn). This is a shallow lake that warms fast in the so called Icelandic spring. This is where the trout start to move the earliest in the Reykjavik area, and naturally that’s where you would find us. I was just starting out on this fishing journey of mine, and I really was a terrible caster and a worse catcher. At that time I was an attending surgeon at the City Hospital, and was working on my thesis. I guess my ego was at least extra-large and all that. We were fishing the Vífilstaðavatn one evening, and I was on call at the hospital. We were fishing with an old crusty trouter, Jón Petersen (the type who wades until water pours into his waders, then he is happy), my cellphone kept chiming, and I was barking orders. At that time Jón and I did not did not know each other, and he turns to me and says, “what is going on, either you are selling moonshine or delivering pizzas.” That cracked up this kid whom I had noticed there fishing. This led to our friendship. He laid out his line like a god (ok, let´s award a him demigod status at this juncture). He was catching char after char and the rest of us were – well, not. However, he was in a foul mood and cursing out his line. “This worthless piece of shit etc. etc.” “Well, Sibbi what is wrong with your line?” He replies “It is too effing short” (at 80 feet!). He was well into his backing at fourteen! The way I roll, I have no problem realizing that someone is way better at something than I am. However, I also know that if somebody can do something manually, chances are that I can copy it and master it. Just imagine the situation — the kid teaching the surgeon with an outsized ego. The kid, however, was willing to teach me in his own way. And to my credit I buckled down, swallowed my pride, observed and took his guidance. He did not teach by talking. I had to observe and figure out what was going on. Let´s assume it could be A or B. I then asked, “do you yada yada A?” He then looked at me with a touch of irritation, and then I knew it was B! He is not the kind that has found the Holy Grail and wants everyone to know about it. Little by little my fortunes improved, and I started catching, and my casting improved, too.
Sibbi is a marvelous angler (out fishes everyone all the time), and therefore his contemporaries just can’t stomach it. I suspect there is a healthy dose of testosterone poisoning and self-image problems in this situation, but I digress. I have no problem fishing with him because I turn it into a learning experience. By observing and “copy & paste,” I have turned into a decent angler, I like to believe, but I am still learning. In his teens and twenties, Sibbi was a Ghillie (guide) in our top rivers. Sometimes the merriment of anglers at the lodges went on into the morning with resultant late or non-starts. Imagine being a teenager with a whole blue ribbon salmon river for yourself to experiment with.
Once we guided together in a brown trout heaven called Laxá í Mývatnssveit (see my books). The group we guided there for a week there was headed by Mel Krieger and his fishing buddies from California. It was great fun, and in the kitchen we had one of our well known chefs, who incidentally was fond of pot, and his specialty was fish. He was a big bruiser who liked to cooke in shorts. It was very nice to visit the kitchen, and take in the aroma. It turned out that Mel did not eat fish at all. It was all sorted out though. Some of these Californian anglers were very good casters, and it irked them that the kid cast farther than they could. They brought out the shooting heads and special lines to no avail. It was a custom of Americans, at that time, to leave the their gear as an extra gratuity for their Ghillies, instead of lugging it all back home. I was not tipped since I was a surgeon and in their view did not need the money (although I did). However, I was awarded a brand new two piece GLX 9´eight-weight rod. I still have that rod, and fish with it often, and it is still every bit as good as the new rods being touted today. It has lasted much longer than money would have!
We have fished lots of lakes and rivers together, and sometimes we do not catch anything. However, we never grumble or get into a foul mood because of that. I have been in the company of countless anglers that become very upset when the going is tough, and I can not stand that attitude. The unpleasant truth is that we sometimes do not have the skills needed for a certain situation. Assume we are in a river, and the first day we catch nothing, and nobody else does either. “There are no fish here” …….. and on and on they go. The day after the fish start hitting and god is in his heaven. Do they think that the fish went somewhere on vacation – to Tenerife maybe? To return 24 hours later? The fish are always there, because they live there – if you do not catch them it is because your skills are lacking in that situation.
I often hear anglers around us comment something like this about Sibbi “He just has some thunder-stick rod.” “He is just so diligent.” “He is just lucky.” “Lady fortune has just touched him” – and on and on. All of it is utter fish crap. I have reflected on this self-deception, which it essentially is, and I think anglers just can not admit that their skills are lacking. Thus, we are back to the testosterone and frail self-image speculation (we sorely need more female anglers). If you can not judge your abilities correctly, chances are that you will have trouble improving.
This has been a lengthy rumination to get me to the marginal gains and the way Sibbi does it.
Let´s start with the fly. Certain fisheries seem to favor certain types of flies. By talking to other anglers and based on one’s own experience, the “right” type of fly is tied on from the beginning. There are thousands of flies but only a limited number of types of flies. We do not carry a lot of flies, we just cover the types. Furthermore, Sibbi gets that fly to the depth where we think the fish are.
The leader Sibbi uses is the thinnest he can get away with, for instance, 10-pound or even 5-pound for salmon. Leader to fly-line connection is the least bulky for a nail knot connection. Tapered leaders are expensive (especially in Iceland), so he goes with a straight level tippet. Dry fly opportunities seldom present themselves in Iceland so he uses stiff tippet material. This results in the leader landing straight (fly line too), and the fly is fishing from the moment it is in the water. He also uses longer leaders than customary. When your casting improves, you can turn over longer leaders.
Sibbi never over-lines his rods, rather he under-lines them. Good casters do this frequently – the head might be a tad light but by carrying more running line (more overhang) the rods load well. Floaters are his preferred lines but he sometimes uses floaters with a clear intermediate section if he wants the fly deeper. He uses fly lines with “normal” weight distribution (the head has the same diameter throughout), but opts for the longer heads. The backing is totally immaterial.
Now for the rod. Typically he uses lighter rods than the average angler, but often favors ten feet rods. Thus, he can cast a bit farther, hence stand farther away from the pools, which is important. He is into the so called fast action rods, but prefers rods that will bend in the middle. Fast, but no broomsticks. Most of his rods are old Loomis rods. His casting is superb, both length and accuracy, because he has practiced, and taken the time to develop such a cast. There is no or absolutely minimal false casting. The fly is placed with laser loops at the spot he thinks is the right one, then it swings across. One back cast and the fly is where it is supposed to be again, and everything is straight and fishing from the start. Basically, his fly is in the water (that´s where the fish they are) as much as possible. He can do this with any decent fly rod but he just likes the “feel” of certain rods. All good casters can use any rod, but they choose their rods based on “feel,” which is purely subjective.
Its importance has been vastly overblown. For most trout and grilse fishing you do not need an expensive reel. Any trout reel will do, and most trouters never see their backing. I have seen him catch countless salmon with a five-weight rod and a simple trout fly reel. However, if you connect with a 20 pound plus salmon in a foul mood (you very rarely do), you need something better. Last trip he connected with a salmon in that class, and the reel was a simple trout reel. It is no more, because it spun so fast that the lubricant overheated and it seized up – goodbye salmon.
I have dealt with that subject for lakes fishing
and here is the link to stream fishing
When all of this is added together it becomes crystal clear why he is so successful at angling. He gains an advantage at every link in the system and when all is added up, it translates into a huge advantage in the end. Most anglers are too lazy or complacent to analyze themselves and do not hone their casting. And thus they are doomed to mediocrity.
If I were to pick just one component of all these, I would absolutely pick the casting. The other ones are really rather simple, but good casting only comes from practice. It kills me when I see anglers in costly salmon rivers, and they have no cast or just terrible casts. This is also the case here where I live, most fly slingers can not handle the wind when fishing the salt.
is a long glacial river running north that has been dammed for hydroelectric power. That turned the river into a major salmon river. The resident salmon is very compact, and has a big tail. I like to smoke the few salmon I harvest. The gentleman running the smoking business can easily peg the salmon from Blanda because of those characteristics. The dam was constructed, and the river was directed into a new channel to the intake of the power plant. This picture explains it neatly.
The dam was built in a good area for a reservoir. The Blanda Reservoir has a live storage capacity of 412 Gl and is the third-largest lake in Iceland. The water is diverted through diversion canals and lakes on a 25 km long route to the station’s intake reservoir. From the intake reservoir, water runs through a 1300 m long canal to the station’s intake, where it is diverted to the turbines in the powerhouse. The drop to the turbines from the harnessed head is 287 m. From the turbines, the water is lead through a 1700 m tailrace tunnel back into the river channel.
During summer, when water is stored in the reservoir (the silt accumulates there), the glacial part of Blanda became much clearer and fishable, and thus becomes a major addition to our to our salmon river menu. Blanda IV now is a clear water river that forms as rivulet fed stream. The surrounding landscape is igneous rock and volcanic soil. Water just disappears into the ground when it rains, and reappears as rivulets that that little by little form the river, which is clear as gin. I think this type of a river in Scotland is called a spate river, which has no fixed flow. Rain will make it grow, and then the surface falls again. And during long periods of drought the surface is very low. Now you will have big deep pools here and there, and the water just trickles between them. If you see the river like that it is hard to understand how the big fish got into the pools. However, when the water fills the reservoir, glacial water will make fishing impossible in all the Blanda beats.
Just a glance of the map will tell you that this is going to be a river in a deep V valley. This cannot be a river in an U-shaped valley. The giveaway is its relative straight course, where it has cut a gorge into the rock formations.
These two pictures give a good idea how steep and deep the gorge is. These next pictures tell the story.
However, this is a very majestic place. The pools are exquisite in the rugged barren landscape.
The lowest pools are easily accessible but for the rest of the river one needs to be in shape. Probably the best/most enjoyable way to fish this river is to drop the angler/anglers at the very top pool Rugludalshylur. From the road to this pool there is a half an hour walk. Then it is possible to hike down river and fish the various pools en route to civilization.
Skúli and Rossi opted for the lowest pools only and enjoyed their time with the beer. The cars you need are definitely of the SUV persuasion.
This one is great for the job. It is built like a tank and can get you anywhere. The only thing that does not currently work is the air conditioning. Do not worry the country is air conditioned. Notice how we transport the rods. Suction cups fasten the rod holders securely to the car.
Now for the fishing – it was great. The pools are small, and the river is clear. Stay away from the water´s edge and lengthen your cast instead. We like to stay 15-20 feet from the pool edges. Of course our lines will sometimes be on the ground, but we counteract that by using a bit longer rods. Sibbi was using a ten footer #7, and I was using a eleven footer #5 that can double as a two handed rod. Anything big has no place in this part of Blanda. We start by using the small flies and
if that does not elicit a response we might try small light tubes. When all else fails, out comes the Sunray Shadow tube, and as a rule it will get the salmon moving. Only once did I throw a slightly weighted tube. Be advised – the rocks in this river are treacherously slippery. I had my wading boots fitted out with metal studs and I slipped at least 3 times. I have no idea why the stones are so damn slippery but trust me they are. For the usual fishing porn – see below.
My fishing buddy Sibbi and I fished three different salmon rivers this summer. This post is about the first one, Eystri Rangá (Eastern Rangá (á = river). There are two Rangás, of which the eastern is smaller, with a steady flow of 30 cubic meters per second. It is mainly a spring-fed river. It holds salmon for about 22 km. Average early catch is around 4600 salmon with a generous portion of big fish. There are 9 beats with two rods, and you spend six hours on each beat. Anglers stay at a full-service lodge overlooking the river. There are 18 en-suite rooms. Guide service is provided and there is one guide per two rods on each beat.
The East Rangá is about a one and a half hours drive from Reykjavik. It is a medium-size river flowing on the alluvial plain of Suðurland (South). The upper river is 15 to 25 m wide, broadening to 30 to 45 m on the lower beats. The beats are easily accessible by car (SUVs are better but no monster trucks are needed), and no strenuous hiking is necessary. There are no major rapids or waterfalls along it´s course, but the flow is quite swift and begs for swinging the fly. The bottom is good, sand or earth, with a few rocky areas. However, wading above knee level made me quite aware of the swift current.
The river at the top is flanked by a range of low, grassy hills. The river meanders over Beats 7 and 6 on the alluvial plain. Lower down on Beats 4 and 3 there are similarities to Tierra del Fuego, because of the grassland and winds!
This river is best suited to two-handed rods from (13 to 15´), with an intermediate or sink-tip # 8 to 10. Big flies and tubes seem to work best here. The fish are often deep, and the river is cold.
It was not a “natural” salmon habitat because of the cold water in it. The salmon were not able to spawn there in any numbers. There were at one time some Seatrout around (anadromous brown trout), but now they are mostly gone. The river was turned into a salmon river by growing salmon to the smolt stage. Then the smolt are released into the river. They will migrate to the estuary, and then into the ocean to reach sexual maturity, and return a year or two later to spawn.
On a good day the vistas are great with the infamous volcano Hekla, and the ill reputed Eyjafjalla glacier, of flight delay fame, the main points.
The current is rather heav,y and I wade up to my knees if I have to, but not more. By and large anglers wade far too much, and get too close to the fish. Practicing casting before the trip, especially with an instructor, will increase your catch rate much more than wading. This river is best fished with a two hander. The long two handed rods are known in Iceland, but mostly for overhead casts by the natives (well, the backcast is usually not a problem). Then they were used for steering earthworms into the gullets of salmon. I know it sounds terrible. but it is true. However, foreigners have always used the traditional Spey techniques with their two handers. It is a bit curious how the Spey casts faded from memory in Iceland because farmers (for instance in Aðaldalur in North Iceland) in the early 19oos were using long two handed rods with Spey technique. I hope Icelandic anglers are again catching on and will start using the two handed rod and maximize their advantage. Spey techniques can not be beat in close cramped situations with limited or no back cast available.
I have taken some two handed rod lessons here in Florida from the only certified two handed instructor in the whole state, Leslie Holmes ( http://leslieholmesflyfishing.com ), and have made some progress I think. At any rate I was rewarded with a beautiful salmon on Rangárvað (#84). I was fishing river left, and the fly was on the dangle. Then snap T placing the anchor upstream of me, and the subsequent roll casts to the opposite bank. The casts were working, and during a swing of a Snaelda everything just stopped, and it was on. First salmon I catch Spey casting. By convention you face downstream, and if the river is on your right you are on river left and vice versa. “Fly is on the dangle” means the fly is directly downstream of you close to your bank.
The look on my face holding the salmon is rather constipated (was not), but I can assure you I was very happy, as this picture proves.
There are some places where the back cast is limited. Those are, of course, best worked using the traditional Spey casts. A case in point is the dark steep hill in the picture below. It begs for roll casts.
There are some very deep pools there, and in some places a sinking tip is good to have. Below I tried a Skagit set-up, and down it went, but the salmon were not interested.
We fished beat seven, six, five and four. To fish all the beats you would spend nine days there. These beats had some very varied flow patterns, calling for different approches. We mostly fished these beats by the time honored tradition of swinging our flies. This means that one casts over to the opposite bank (or the opposite edge of a productive channel) and then the current grabs and swings the fly line and fly across to our bank. Sometimes we strip the fly a bit and experiment with the retrieve. We do not use microflies (#14-#16) here. This seems to be the river for tubes, and big is good. This was my first time fishing Eystri Rangá, so this should be read with that in mind. I will definitely return to this river given an opportunity. The days we were there the fishing was below average, but we managed to raise or catch salmon in every other pool we tried.
My plan was to write about my recent salmon fishing trip in Iceland, but I got stuck on salmon trivia. I also feel that I should first explain briefly how this industry is set up in Iceland. I need to get that off my chest first, as a prequel to the fishing trips.
The Atlantic salmon is a truly magnificent creature. Now that is a boring sentence! – But to me it really is so. Just to remind the reader of their life cycle I will undertake to summarize the main points.
To reach the river, in which it was born to spawn, the salmon faces long odds indeed. The life cycle is from a fertilized egg to the Alevin stage where the fish consume the nutrients of their yolk sac. Then they grow into a form called Parr (those small fish will take small flies). When the time comes for them to venture into the ocean (at 2-8 years) they enter the Smolt stage. The Smolt adapt to the saline environment of the ocean in the estuaries.
The salt excretion from the seawater poses a new problem for them, which they solve by excreting the salt load through their gills. When the fish returns to sweet water the process must be reversed. Now they can venture into the ocean to grow and reach reproductive size. They are eaten by other predators at all levels of their stages, and very few will ever reach sexual maturity and return to their river of origin. Now the great miracle unfolds. They will unfailingly return to that river. Either after one year in the ocean (these fish are called grilse in the UK) or after 2 years (those are the salmon). As a rule of thumb, the one-year fish will be less than ten pounds and the two-year fish will be more. The salmon must now adapt to fresh water physiology in the estuaries, and still they face being devoured by seals, for instance, lurking at river mouths. The seals in the estuaries earn the wrath of the river owners who will take appropriate measures. After the salmon are in the river they will not eat at all and would vacuum up all their young ones if they did, and now are fueled by the fat they accumulated in the ocean. Those who survive will travel up the river and take up residence in some pool or run that they like. Freshly run salmon are silvery and will have some sea lice attached, but those will fall off after 24 hours in the river. Then their colors become darker as they wait for the fall and spawning. Every year there will be an influx of grilse (one year in salt) and salmon (two year in salt) to spawn. This is probably natures hedge to ensure against catastrophes. Nature is sneaky, and some males will not go to sea, but remain and reach sexual maturity. Females need more energy to produce the roe, I suppose. The big males and females will go at it in the fall. The dwarf males wait behind a rock, and will snatch any opportunity at fertilization.
It is a testament to the cynical nature of sapiens that now is the time we fish choose tofor them. Why do I do it? For me the thrill is in the “takes” or “strikes.” To swing a small fly near the surface and see the salmon chasing it and finally turn on it in an explosion of power and speed with water splashing is just breathtaking. I really cannot describe this moment or do it justice but it is an incredible moment and it is addictive. The general rule in Iceland is to release all salmon, but keeping a few grilse is allowed. The zeitgeist is moving towards releasing all salmon, and anglers as naturalists and conservationists will not be taken seriously if they keep killing the fish they love. It certainly makes no sense economically to fish for them to obtain food. Homo Islandicus is a peculiar beast, and the subject of catch and release causes more heated exchanges than any other subject on the fishing blogs, some of which are deplorable. I am convinced that in time all salmon caught in Iceland should and must be released.
On top of the takes the salmon rivers are beautiful and some of their pools one would never see if not through the angling. The surrounding scenery can be a bonus, and these rivers are in varied locations and come in different sizes.
Icelandic rivers are the property of the farms through which they run. The farmers form a syndicate around a river. Then the river banks are divided into “beats” to which a rod is assigned. The number of rods varies depending on the size of the river and on its productivity. One needs to buy a rod license for the rivers well ahead of time. If you do not possess a rod license, then it is ” no cigar.” Below is an example of a “beat” map (svæði). Salmon angling in estuaries is illegal so there is no public access to salmon waters anywhere in Iceland.
The salmon culture in Iceland was probably influenced the most by upper crust Brits fishing the rivers starting late eighteen hundred and up to the second world war. After the second world war the anglers came from all over the world. The season is 90 days for each river with different starting days. The best rivers are run with “hotels,” but some are self-catered – understandably the meager ones. The hotels are best described as luxury fishing camps. Each rod gets a private room with two beds and a bathroom. It is customary for two fellow anglers to share a rod. The daily cycle when salmon fishing runs like this: The morning starts with breakfast, and continental it is not. You need your fat and protein to battle the fish. Now we start fishing at 7 AM and fish for solid six hours. At midday, there will be a two-hour break during which there is a shut eye and lunch because now we are getting hungry. At 3 PM we go at it again and fish for another six hours or until 9 PM. At 10pm there will be a three-course dinner with aperitifs and digestives. When we finally fall into our beds after midnight we are just whipped, yet are slated to be up again at 5-6 AM. The average salmon angler is usually big with thick torso and resonant chest. You might think that we sleep soundly after such an ordeal. We do not! Now it is time for the international ensemble of snoring virtuosos. You despair – you must sleep some – but alas, no quarter is given. There is the Austrian going strong, quite melodious, kinsman to Mozart. The Germans go with resounding tones, think Beethoven. Then there is the skirl of the Scots. You get the picture. It is a cacophony of immense quality. Earplugs are an absolute must.
When my fishing buddy shakes me awake next morning, he greets me with – “my god – you snore like a Brazilian saw mill”.
It truly takes a strong constitution to be a salmon angler.
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.