Bonefish being released

Bonefishing – Water Cay

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.

My fishing buddies

My fishing buddies – Baz (checking the stock market) – Mike (note his tender cradling of the bottle) – and Dave

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.

Water Cay - arrow points to lodge

Water Cay – arrow points to lodge

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.

Loading the gear

Loading the gear

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.

The Water Cay lodge

The Water Cay lodge

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonefish

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.

Low tide mangroves

Low tide mangroves

The mangrove system (red mangrove)

The mangrove system (red mangrove)

Bonefish use the mangroves to escape and love to tangle you up by swimming through them.

https://vimeo.com/245833488

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.

Our guide Sidney

Our guide Sidney

 

Our guide Greg

Our guide Greg

 

Our guide Esra

Our guide Esra

https://vimeo.com/245751730

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.”

Small Barracuda

Small 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.

Baz hooked up

Baz hooked up

 

Mike hooked up

Mike hooked up

 

Jonas hooked up

Jonas hooked up

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.


Chasing Bonefish

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.

The moving parts of Bonefishing

1. Sun position and its movement across the sky

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.

2. Clouds and where they are moving

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.

3. The wind

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.

https://vimeo.com/245725367

Baz in the ready position

Baz in the ready position – line between the leaning poles

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.

4. The tidal movement

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.

5. Travel line of fish and speed

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.

6. Movement of boat and disturbance from it

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.

7. Your surroundings

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.

How to prepare for a Bonefish trip?

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….

Hrútafjarðará

Hrútafjarðará og Síká

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.

Réttarfoss - Salmon can not navigate this one

Réttarfoss – Salmon cannot navigate this one

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.

Trophy arctic char

Trophy arctic char – from the lower part

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.

#14 - #16 Salmon flies that work

#14 – #16 Salmon flies that work

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.

Gosi with his first salmon

Gosi with his first salmon

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……..

Gosi with his first salmon

Gosi with his first salmon

…. before he realized that tradition dictates that he eats its adipose fin. This is an ironclad rule in Icelandic angling circles.

Réttarstrengur - upper part

Réttarstrengur – upper part

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.

Salmon - upper part

Salmon – upper part

This one moved in the current at the top of the pool, giving his position away, and Sibbi caught him.

From the middle part

From the middle part

From the middle part

From the middle part

From the middle part

From the middle part

Fish on - from the middle part

Fish on – from the middle part (broke off)

Salmon - from the middle part

Salmon – from the middle part

Fish on - from the middle part

Fish on – from the middle part

The middle part pools are just incredible – the scenery – the solitude and the clear water makes for an unforgettable experience.

Sibbi fishing the Sírus pool

Sibbi fishing the Sírus pool

The pool Sírus is magnificent but did not produce this time. Note how Sibbi is using the rock to be invisible to the fish.

The flat gravelly part from the lodge

The flat gravelly part from the lodge

Fish on - lower part

Fish on – lower part

Salmon - lower part

Salmon – lower part

Lowest part - gravel bed

Lowest part – gravel bed

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.

 

Blanda IV

Blanda –

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.

Blanda IV and how it became gin clear

Blanda IV and how it became gin clear

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.

Where the glacial and clear water meet

Where the glacial and clear water meet

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.

Blanda IV fishing map

Blanda IV fishing map

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.

Blanda IV gorge

Blanda IV gorge

A lady at the center of previous picture

A lady at the center of previous picture. She is trying to spot salmon in the pool below.

These two pictures give a good idea how steep and deep the gorge is. These next pictures tell the story.

To get to truck you cross a river

To get to the truck you cross a river

The crossing

The crossing

On my way

On my way

Beer earned?

Beer earned?

No son, you go down there

No son, you go down there

 

However, this is a very majestic place. The pools are exquisite in the rugged barren landscape.

 

The pool Krókur high on the mountain

The pool Krókur high on the mountain

The pool Breiðan

The pool Breiðan

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.

The friends Skúli and Rossi enjoying a break

My friends Skúli and Rossi enjoying a break

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.

A glorified tackle box

A glorified tackle box

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

#14 - #16 Salmon flies that work

#14 – #16 Salmon flies that work

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.

https://vimeo.com/233997651

https://vimeo.com/234058516

A beautiful vista

Eystri Rangá

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.

http://www.ranga.is/veidisvaedi/eystri-ranga/upplysingar/

http://www.angling.is/en/waters/6369/

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.

http://www.lax-a.net/iceland/salmon-fishing/salmon-full-service/east-ranga-river/

Beats 4, 5, 6, 7 Eystri Rangá

Beats 4, 5, 6, 7 Eystri Rangá

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.

Rangárvað (#84)

Rangárvað (#84 refers to the # on the fishing chart) – cast to the other bank.

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.

Hofteigsbreiða efri (#57, Hekla the volcano at center)

Hofteigsbreiða efri (#57, Hekla the volcano at center)

Big and broad (the glacier at right edge is Eyjafjallajökull)

Big and broad (the glacier at the right edge is Eyjafjallajökull)

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.

Salmon from Rangárvaði

Salmon from Rangárvað

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.

Full of high hopes

Happy

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.

Dýjanesstrengur og -breiða (#65,64)

Dýjanesstrengur og -breiða (#65,64)

Langhylur (#80)

Langhylur (#80) The bank is a problem for overhead casting but no problem with a roll cast.

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.

Dýjanesbreiða (#64)

Dýjanesbreiða (#64)

 

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.

 

The view over the flat

Redfish revival

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 being brought in

Redfish being brought in

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.

The Running of the Bulls armada

The Running of the Bulls armada

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.

 

The view over the flat

The view over the flat

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.

Baz bringing in the Redfish

Baz bringing in the Redfish

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.

Baz with Redfish

Baz with Redfish

 

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.

 

Redfish prior to release

Redfish prior to release

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.

Redfish being brought in

Redfish being brought in

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.

 

Redfish with fly inside mouth

Redfish with fly inside mouth – not one in story – fly much deeper

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.

Slick clamp release and Ketchum release

Slick clamp release and Ketchum release

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.

http://www.buddys-coins.com/fishpage/Redfish.htm

http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/red-drum/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_drum

Waiting for the sun to pop out

Wading for Bonefish cures corns!

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.

Bahamian islands - gorgeous colors

Bahamian islands – gorgeous colors

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.

Our cottage

Our cottage

The resident nurse shark

The resident nurse shark

The local scenery

The local scenery

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.

The thirteen feet 30 HP skiff

The thirteen feet 30 HP skiff

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.

Bonefish two feet away

Bonefish two feet away

Bonefish noir version

Bonefish noir version

The tide is up on the flat

The tide is up on the flat

A Mangrove outpost on the flat

A Mangrove outpost on the flat

 

Flats and Mangroves

Flats and Mangroves

 

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.

Bonefish with pencil mustache

Bonefish with pencil mustache

Baz with a nice Bonefish

Baz with a nice Bonefish

 

Bonefish being released

Bonefish being released

A released Bonefish

A released Bonefish

A released Bonefish

A released Bonefish

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.

The tide is up on the flat

The tide is up on the flat

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.

Wading boots socks no gravel guards

Wading boots socks no gravel guards

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.

Baz with a stripping basket

Baz with a stripping basket

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.

Gotcha #8

Gotcha #8

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5NLo7nTwnw

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vedius_Pollio

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.

No need for pedicure

No need for pedicure

Now I have to cancel my monthly Pedicure as my feet are now scrubbed clean of corns from all that friction and sea water.

https://vimeo.com/202311347

* 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.

 

Lake Thingvellir (DF)

Fishing between Europe and America – Þingvallavatn (Lake Thingvellir)

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).

Golden Plover

Golden Plover the harbinger of spring (DF)

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern bringing food to the nest (DF)

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.

Lake Thingvellir

View from the north end of the lake towards south (DF)

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.

Skjaldbreidur

The shield volcano Skjaldbreiður (DF)

Þingvellir

Þingvellir view over the national park area (DF)

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.

Nikulasargja

Nikulásargjá one of the rifts at Þingvellir (DF)

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.

Arctic Char caught by Perla Sol

Arctic Char caught by Perla Sol

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.

Arctic Char

Arctic char with characteristic white stripes on its fins

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.

Sibbi with brown trout

Ice age strain of brown trout caught by Sibbi

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.

Iceage strain of brown trout caught by Sibbi

Ice age strain of brown trout caught by Sibbi

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F3uNXPipus

Silfra is a diving site famous for its clear water

https://www.dive.is/dive-sites/silfra/

The national park website

http://www.thingvellir.is/english.aspx

Sibbi with a trout

https://vimeo.com/42804675

Our favorite rods

http://www.gloomis.com

Regal Princess

Cruise ship fly fishing!?!?

Now there is a crazy idea. Can this behemoth navigate a lagoon or a flat? Absolutely not. But it can take you somewhere close.

My wife loves the relaxation these cruise trips can provide. No internet and no phone if  you so choose and you get away from the treadmill. With the crazy hours she puts in I understand completely and I am willing to provide valuable service as a Sherpa.

When this trip was decided I started looking for fly fishing opportunities during the port days. I came across a positive report on Carlos´s Vegas flats fishing operation.

http://www.cozumelflatsfishing.com

The die was cast and the day booked. I received all the info I needed from Carlos on which flies to bring and all the minutiae we love in fly fishing. Instruction were clear, be first off ship at 8am, take a taxi to Puerto De Abrigo Banco Playa (20 min) and I did. Meet up with Captain Enrique who is going to guide you and I did that too.

Captain Enrique and Juan

Meeting Captain Enrique and Juan at Puerto De Abrigo Banco Playa

The boat we used was a so called Panga boat wth a narrow beam and relatively high bow. Lunch and drinks are included and all was ready. Off we went to Rio de la Plata lagoon. Capt. Enrique drove the boat fast on the open sea and we stayed dry the 40 minutes the drive took. The other boat from the service was clearly trying to beat us to the lagoon and did. It figures it´s Captain Mike, Enrique´s son.

The race to the lgoon

Capt. Mike driving his boat to the lagoon beating us to it

The Lagoon Rio de la Plata is in the top North East corner of Cozumel with the inlet facing west.

Rio de la Plata Lagoon

Rio de la Plata lagoon from above

When I noticed the size of the inlet to the lagoon I did not realize how big it was.

The inlet to the lagoon

Enrique driving the panga to the inlet of the northernmost Cozumel lagoon Rio de la Plata

The passage was shallow but passable and when inside I realized how wast this lagoon system is.

The lagoon and the outlet

On the northernmost Cozumel´s  lagoon Rio de la Plata

Things were looking pretty good at that time and we went as far north as we could get. When there the wind was steadily picking up and clouds were covering the sky. Only occasional sunshine. The important fact about Bonefishing is that you have to be able to see the fish to be able to cast to it. That possibility was out because of the clouds. Now it happens that Bonefish sometimes tail. Meaning that they are standing on their heads rooting on the bottom and their tails can be seen above the surface. That was our best bet and the boat was left at anchor and we went searching for tailing reds but alas none were found. We were walking for hours in water to our waists.

Jonas searching for Bonefish

Jonas wading for hours searching for fish

Jonas searching for Bonefish

Jonas wading for hours searching for fish

Jonas searching for Bonefish

Jonas wading for hours searching for fish

This situation is a nightmare for a guide. His job is to find the fish and my job is to catch them. These circumstances were very tough for Capt. Enrique but I knew that and I know that the guides are not the Gods of the Weather.

 

Enrique driving the panga

Enrique driving the panga on the northernmost Cozumel´s  lagoon Rio de la Plata – looking for Bones

As it happened Capt. Enrique suddenly stopped and indicated that I should cast over a certain area. Of course I got some hits and landed 2 Bonefish on Moana´s Chili Pepper Gold #6. How he knew there were fish there was not clear to me. In the end we both did our jobs and I was very pleased. We were far from the boat in water to our waists and it is not recommended to carry cameras when doing that. I can not produce any pictures to prove my catch but when does a fisherman lie?

Moana´s Chili Pepper Gold

Bonefish fly assortment – arrow Moana´s Chili Pepper Gold #6

That was that and we tried for some Snook on our return without success. After returning to the marina I shared a Taxi with a young couple starting out in this fly fishing madness. “How did it go”? they asked.  “Well I managed to land two Bones (now I pretend I am an old hand at it) wading all day”. “how did you do”? They saw some life but did not catch any fish and “No no no we did not leave the boat. Didn’t you see the crocs”?

Next time in Cozumel I am certain that I will be found in the lagoon chasing Bonefish guided by Capt. Enrique.

(The Crocs in Cozumel are not aggressive to humans. Found only one incident of a croc biting a human when searching the internet).

http://www.everythingcozumel.com/

 

False Albacore Santa Rosa Island

False albacore from the beach

Around half a million people live in Escambia county and Santa Rosa county according to the 2010 census. These counties pride themselves on their beaches and they should. However scarcely few have a clue on what is IN the water and can be witnessed by just walking the beach and observing. Countless species of fish, sharks and dolphins the occasional Manatee and diverse birds working can be observed and enjoyed as one marvels at the diversity of nature.

During the so-called winter here in Panhandle area the fishing can be just fabulous. What gets my juices flowing is a northerly wind. I particularly like the second day of a northerly. The first day can have some residual wave action but on the second day the Gulf is just flat and the water clear and it is just breathtaking – but I digress.

The Gulf dead flat and the fish cruising in inches of water

The Gulf is dead flat on second day of a northerly and the fish cruising in inches of water

What I am looking for is the False Albacore. When the heavenly bodies are aligned and the Gulf is flat it sometimes happens that the Albacore come cruising up and down the beach.

The Gulf dead flat and the fish cruising in inches of water

The Gulf is dead flat on second day of a northerly and the fish cruising in inches of water

It is astonishing to see these fish in the first trough in very shallow water. They can be cruising outside the first sandbar too and easily spotted. The first time I witnessed this spectacle I must admit that some sphincters loosened a bit and I bunged the casts utterly. With increasing sophistication the sphincters were tamed and the cast was resurrected.

Jonas with Albacore prior to release

Jonas getting ready to release a False Albacore – note beanie on top of cap – fashionista!

The fly I have been successful with is the Gummy Minnow #4. If the Albacore take the fly you are in for a stupendous ride (it is rumored that they can go 40 mph). They will just run for open water and the reel will be screaming far into the backing. Keep your fingers from the rotating reel handle if you want unbroken fingers. It is just fascinating the speed of these runs. Usually they will take you far into the backing and manage 2 such runs so do not think they are done after one.

We happened to be there on the beach in one early January  and we were honored by their presence. It was just one of these moments in your angling life that probably never will never be repeated so whenever it happens take great care to savor that moment. We had constant action for 2-3 hours and this memory is forever seared onto the hard drives of our minds. While you are at it you might also thank the piscatorial goddess that reigns over such matters.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_tunny

 

Spanish prior to release

Hola Spanish – “pez malo”

The bad hombre stunt is already taken so I had to improvise. I love catching Spanish Mackerel. There it is an admission and we can move on. The Spanish appear in the spring on our Gulf shores and then they make their way into the bay systems. The water temperature needs to be 68-70F and over. What I find exciting about them are the ferocious takes. There is no nibbling or sipping or such cautious stuff they mean business and the fly gets hammered. Their teeth are sharp and cutting.

The Spanish got my thumb

The Spanish got my thumb and did not let go when asked. Lizard fish took a tube fly

 

Spanish Mackerel prior to release (this one got my thumb)

This Spanish Mackerel got my thumb when I was getting the hook out of his mouth

They easily cut through 40 pound even 60 pound strain tippets. They announce their return in the spring by hammering your redfish fly and cut it off. The leader is frayed not with the curlicue end (pig tail) the tell tale of a sloppy tying of fly to a leader. I used to use thick tippet for the terminal connection but I have subsequently moved to nylon coated multi strand wire. It is easier to tie and withstands the mayhem. Of course the coating takes a beating but the wires hold. It is generally a good idea to inspect the wire to fly connection and move the fly up by retying if the tippet has gotten a beating.

Conehead tube

Conehead tubefly tied with a nylon coated multistrand wire

The tube flies are remarkable in that after the fish is hooked they ride up the leader and are more durable than the classical flies. However after catching a number of fish they manage to destroy them all the same.

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel – note how the tube fly rides up the leader

 

They usually move in schools small or large. If you catch one there are probably many more right there. These are aggressive fish and if you can locate them they usually take a fly. However “always” is a dangerous word and they can follow right up to the boat but then turn away or hammer the fly feet from the boat. This brings me to a general advice. When anglers strip the fly towards them I notice that sometimes they start recasting when there is say 20 feet to the boat. They do this to avoid all that false casting when only a short line is outside the tiptop. However if you stop stripping and just lift up the rod watch the fly swim towards you and bring it to the boat then you are in a position to just roll out the line and go into a backcast and deliver (roll cast pickup). This is called fishing to the bank or boat and is a general advice. Increases your chances of getting strikes and hones your roll casting abilities.

Spanish Mackerel boatside

Spanish Mackerel does not want to be caught

Once hooked they put up a decent fight relative to their size and they will make a furious attempt at escape when close to the boat. The Spanish will take all the usual Clousers and they will also take top water flies.  When in the mood the fly is not important. This one took a red Crease Fly after having followed subsurface flies repeatedly. So it pays to mix things up. If subsurface does not work try a topwater fly. It does not matter which fly you use to not catch fish. If I can use a topwater fly it is always my choice cause the takes are just so magnificent to witness.

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel took a red Crease fly in the surface

The Spanish are currently here and I have to go out and chase them because they will disappear when the temperature in the bays decreases. When they are gone I will absolutely not think that I chased them too much and I will miss them. It is a consolation that I can then turn to False Albacore, Pompano, Spotted Seatrout, Redfish or Bluefish. So little time!

 

https://vimeo.com/190158568

 

Jelly fish

Sea Nettle floating in Pensacola bay

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel – the nylon coated black wire is clearly visible and so are the sharp teeth

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel prior to release – notice the blue in the dorsal fins

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel netted – note how the tube fly rides up the leader

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel prior to release

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel prior to release

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel – note the blue tinge of the dorsal fin

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_Spanish_mackerel