Cartagena Colombia

Cartagena – Colombia

Cartagena is a walled city in Colombia on the Caribbean coast. It is renowned for its well preserved architecture. This post is going to be just pictures all taken by Drifa Freysdottir. There is nothing to add, the pictures say it all.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartagena,_Colombia

 

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.