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

The choice, the sun and Icelandic crepes

After graduating Med School I worked for six months as a general practitioner during the coming winter. At that time it was a requirement for obtaining a license as a doctor before you could embark on your chosen speciality. I took a post in a small village in the countryside where I was the sole doctor. It was remote from Reykjavik. The villages around Iceland are mostly coastal with fishing interests and service to what is left of the farming community around. The movement of people from the country to the towns and villages had already depleted areas that once were thriving communities. Where I was posted the fjords are deep and the mountains are layered up to a flat tabletop. The mountain sides are steep and they will block the sun if the village is so located. These fjords are ringed by mountains where the foothills run into the sea with limited lowland. Some places the mountains cascade into the sea with vertical cliffs and the surf pounding the walls. The ocean is a part of the allure sometimes flat and other times raging and cold it is. These fjords are barren devoid of trees, mostly stones and tundra but exceptionally beautiful even majestic.

The preceding summer I worked as an intern in one of the hospitals where I got to know a young patient in her twenties. She was battling a cancer. She was from the rural area where I became posted and her only wish was to live in there. South of the mountains in the next fjord she lived with her husband on a farm in a valley where there were no other inhabitants. Mountains both sides and then a bay with yes you guessed it more mountains. There were no lights from any other settlements to be seen from where she lived.  When the snow started in the fall it became impossible to to get there driving. There was a an airstrip at villages north and south of her but if you can not get there it is useless. The lady had a relapsing condition and after each treatment and actually from the first treatment she absolutely refused to be in Reykjavik extended periods for follow up and such. She could not stand the city and would go back to her farm immediately after the chemo. She had had a number of relapses and then recovered. This lady was very intelligent and understood well her predicament. However living on her farm was the only thing she would accept despite the consequences.

In these fjords the mountains are so high they will block off the winter sun that only manages to get up over the horizon some few degrees in the wintertime. It takes for ever for the sun to rise and it sets slowly. Some villages do not get any direct sun at all for a while. You can see the mountain tops across the fjord illuminated and you track when the rays are creeping lower as the sun rises after the winter solstice.  So winter at these latitudes is prolonged periods of dusk little bit of sun but mostly pitch dark. To not feel the sun on your skin for an extended period of time is depressing and you long for the caress of the sun again. The feeling of the sun on your skin after this period of deprivation is indescribable even wonderful. The day will come that the sun manages to get over the mountains blocking it and shine on our village and that day is understandably a very special day. This day we have the sólarkaffi (sun coffee). We bake what is locally called pönnukökur (pancakes) but the rest of the world calls crepes (we think everyone else has it wrong). We do not care so pönnukökur (or pönnsur a nickname) it is. We bake them on flat round crepe pans that must not ever be washed and are not used for anything else. These pans become heirlooms. My sisters wondered what became of momma’s pan but I know. There are many recipes and I for instance put a little bit of coffee in the batter to get a better color, I actually prefer instant coffee if it is to be had. We like them thin and roll them up warm with sugar brown or white or we we put whipped cream and fruit jam on top and fold them twice so they look like a padded quarter circle. This is a great tradition as we indulge in crepes and the revitalizing rays of the sun. This is the best celebration I have experienced in my life.

The winter I was working there I took some blood samples which were sent to follow up on her condition. The winter was uneventful and I returned to the City and soldiered on. Next year in the fall I learned that the lady was getting weaker again. She understood the situation and as she was snowed in the Coast Guard was summoned to help out. Before that she in her weakened state hiked up the mountain and sat down on a stone and awaited the return of the sun. When the sun reached her she sat there and soaked it up and then hiked back to the farm. Pönnukökur  were baked and she enjoyed her sólarkaffi (sun coffee). Now she was ready and the Coast Guard got her out of the isolation and she had to return to the hospital. She did not make it back alive. I am certain that her spirit, if there is such a thing, is there in these barren isolated majestic valleys. The memory of her certainly is.

That damn fireplace is smoking again irritating my eyes so I have to fix that.

Pictures Drifa Freysdottir

 

 

Hofn i Hornafirdi

My friend, the river and a slab of stone

Now that I am retired from surgery memories come floating into my head. Incidents that I had forgotten big and small and good and bad. I have been ruminating on one of my patients who was quite an inspiration to me (we will call him E). If the rebirth theory and Nirvana holds true he was close to attaining that state, old soul and all that. It so happened that when I dealt with patients that some of them became my friends. It was understandably those with serious diagnoses. They and their families need so much more from you than simple cases solved quickly. The simple cases mainly need technical excellence and that is that. In some ways I was rationing my “love” because I think my “love” is finite. I know that some teach that the more you give the more you can give but I don´t think so. I have seen so many health professional who have become callous and burnt out with no “love” left to give.

Back to my friend and our journey together. In some ways you might say that I have lived through many lives with my patients especially their last years. We sat together drinking coffee and telling each other stories. When my friend was a boy on a farm in South East Iceland one of our national bards Thorbergur was visiting as he was born in that area. Thorbergur was notorious for his angst of ghosts and everybody knew that even little boys.

“So little E are there any ghosts here on this farm” Thorbergur asks? “There are some in the barn and stables but that is nothing compared to the farmhouse. It is very bad here” E answers.  “Now that is some news. Where are they most aggressive” Thorbergur asks? “Well if you insist it will be in guest room where you will be sleeping.” And so it went little E worked himself up telling ghost stories real and imagined. He was so focused that he started to believe them himself. Thorbergur believed any and all ghost stories. When it became time to go to bed E told me that Thorbergur had said to him. “Little E it is best that you sleep with me tonight.”

He told his stories quietly with a soft smile and immense presence. He was a tall man powerfully built and with the largest pair of hands I ever have seen. He radiated kindness but he was firm all the same. Previously the nightlife in Reykjavik had become rowdier and wilder. In one incident the bad boys had spilt into the ER and were partying. Knocking over medicinal cabinets and what not. Young Dr. H (one of my closest friends) was dusted a bit and the attending orthopedic surgeon Dr. H* who is built like a classical orthopedic surgeon (a tank) and behaves like one. Not the kind kumbaya type you meet today. He sustained rib fractures so good times were had all around.  The countermeasures were to have an officer there during the weekends. Officer E was one of the first to take that shift and when he was there all was calm. The bad boys came and he just met them and genially said “How are you boys” smiled and placed his hand on someone´s shoulder and that was enough. You can radiate power in different ways.

I had to do a rather big abdominal operation on him one early spring and he recovered from that eventually. I meet him the next fall. “What have you been up to my friend?” “Well I was not sure if I was alive after all I have been through” he said. “You look alive to me.” “I know and I feel alive now after my experiment.” “Now what did you do” I asked him? “Well as I was in doubt on my vitality I returned to my birthplace. You know there is this glacial river there Jokulsa i Loni?”  “I know” I answered “I have seen that river and passed it on the bridge several times.” He says “I know a ford in that river from my youth.” “And” I ask? He goes on and “I picked up a big slab of stone to weigh me down.” Now I became worried “You idiot you could rupture the wound or some such doctor worries.” His answer was “But I needed to know if I was alive.” A verbal touchdown?

“Then I proceeded to the ford on the river and made it over to the other bank. The current was fast and cold but the stone kept me down but I became pretty tired though.” And goes on “Now I realized the car was on the opposite site so I had to wade it again.” I am now flabbergasted. He continuous “Then I knew I was alive.” Just like that calmly half smiling and with this gentle and loving presence that I cannot fully describe.

Now as fate would have it his disease returned and it slowly led him to his demise. “How are you E what is going on now?” On one of his last visits to the outpatient clinic. “Well I am so happy now.” “What is going on” I ask. “My disease and the way things are going have brought my family together.” There had been some discord and strife that I knew about in his life (discord and strife, isn´t that just generally life eh?) “Now that I am dying we have solved some of our problems and we are united again. I am very grateful for that.”

I loved this man and will always be grateful that I got to know him.

As I write this I think that the smoke from the fireplace has gotten to my eyes and I need to go fix that.

*Dr. H is without question my favorite orthopedic surgeon. Both Drs. H are fly fishermen and there is a river there somewhere as this is a fishing blog.

Pictures Drifa Freysdottir

Laxa in Adaldal

The billionaire´s compliment

“Are you a fly fisherman”? “It is a disease” I retorted. “I will pick you up tomorrow,” he said. “Sure” I answered – “what river are we fishing”? “It is the river Mine” he answers and we were practically engaged.

I had in my lapel a small brown trout pin made of tin. Nothing fancy but a statement all the same. “Who is this guy?” I asked after he had disappeared. I was visiting with a leading surgical instruments maker in the New England area and being chaperoned around by a sales rep. I noticed that everyone around us had gotten quiet and very respectful. The rep looked at me and said, “this is Mr. X and he owns this place”.

So next morning a car is in front of my hotel to pick me up. I have gone fishing in all kinds of vehicles but never before or since have I gone in a stretch limo. SUVs small and large even Skodas but never a limo. I say that is just a great way to travel. We drive out into the countryside for a bit and come to a great estate that is walled in. When inside it was just a beautiful land with some bass ponds here and there and a hill. The river Mine was so constructed that water was pumped to the top of the hill and then it came flowing down through pools and meandering curves when it was being fished otherwise it was just a trickle. Trees and brushes were on the banks and the pools were so constructed that you could cast in the correct direction and the back cast was unobstructed. It was a like a Japanese garden – serene and peaceful. Of course the fishing was fabulous – rainbows and browns galore.

Later he came to Iceland on his private jet and I served as his ghillie salmon fishing. Now salmon fishing can both be crushingly boring and fabulously exciting. The way it works in Iceland is that you buy a fishing permit for one rod for 3 days for instance. Each river has only a certain number of rods each day that are allowed to fish it depending on the annual catch. Some rivers have just 2 rods per day other have more also depending also on the length of the river.  The salmon are a migratory fish and if they are “late” or you are “early” it is boring I tell you. If the salmon are running up the river and you are there it is magical but then there is the weather.

Iceland is in the subarctic zone. The Arctic Circle is just north of Iceland and traverses Grimsey (small island off the coast of Iceland). Any day of the year at those latitudes can bring a blizzard or a howling northerly or both.  We do have a month called July in Iceland but it is a far cry from an USA July. So of course we have 3 days of howling north wind at our river when we were supposed to be fishing, with temperature around 40F. Mr. X was not expecting this weather and was a bit underdressed for it. All the same we were flogging the river and shivering. Now in Iceland we have a curious custom when we get cold. We slap our palms on our torsos for a bit and presto we get warmer. This custom was totally alien to the billionaire so I gave him a good hiding with my palms. He suddenly got furious but then suddenly he smiled and said “You are the only one who has beaten me in a long while – and I liked it”! – When fishing a considerable time is spent on the banks just shooting the breeze and having a little dram of whiskey every now and then. I was on a roll telling stories (I can b.s. with the best of them) and explaining the geology and what not when he wrapped up the pause by saying “Jonas – you are full of useless information”.

I would say that this is the best backhanded compliment I have ever gotten.

Pictures Drifa Freysdottir

 

 

 

 

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

 

Monarch

Monarchs

Monarch

Monarch sampling the Bottlebrush

The Monarchs are getting ready to haul off to Mexico. It is that season. These creatures are worthy of our respect and admiration. This one fueling up on nectar from my Bottlebrush is the forth generation of this year. This Monarch is destined to fly from the Florida Panhandle to Mexico for the winter. I am not any authority on Butterflies but witnessing this spectacle when they cover my Bottlebrush trees has led me to Google a bit. If you would witness the “gathering” on my Bottlebrush trees and not be moved you are probably dead. I simple must share this with my friends.

 

Monarch

Monarch sampling the Bottlebrush

 

Monarch

Monarch sampling the Bottlebrush

It is impossible for me to get a picture that conveys the sheer number on my trees. These two above is just to give an idea of the density of the Monarchs. You will have to believe me when I tell you that there are thousands working and drinking the nectar that fuels them.

The forth generation of Monarchs will reach Mexico for the winter. I have not witnessed the winter location but pictures on the web are telling.

http://fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/Monarch_Butterfly/migration/index.shtml

There are some that will spend the winter in south Florida and they migrate down the peninsula in the fall. Then there are others that take the coast route to Mexico and pass through here in the Panhandle. These Monarchs are the ones that roam east of the Appalachians. Monarchs west of the Sierras can overwinter in San Joaquin Valley. Those in between migrate to Mexico (or this is how I have understood it). If I am getting it wrong please post a reply to me so I can correct this blog.

Monarch

Monarch sampling the Bottle Brush

Next spring this Monarch will mate and the first generation Monarch is on its way. They lay their eggs on so called Milkweed plants solely. From the eggs we get the caterpillars. They will munch on Milkweed plants happily and from the latex derive the Cardenolides (type of steroid that is cardio toxic) that they sequester. The caterpillars will pupate and enter into the chrysalis stage. Of course we humans are destroying Milkweed habitat (along with much else) and if you love these butterflies plant Milkweed plants in your garden and be aware of this connection and educate people around you. If Milkweed disappears so do these beauties

Monarch Chrysalis

The Monarch Chrysalis is attached to a Round-Up plastic container! They are beautiful but not smart.

 

Now the great miracle of metamorphosis occurs and the butterfly emerges from the Chrysalis. And – no the shower that fishermen take after a days work is not comparable albeit a small miracle.

This first generation Monarchs will fly north. There will be the second and the third generation as they fly and actually reach Canada. These generations all are completely reliant on Milkweed plants. The Caterpillars will only chomp on those.

Monarch

Monarch sampling the Bottlebrush

The fourth generation is responsible for getting back to the winter-grounds and they do not need any Milkweed until after mating next spring. This generation must get nectar for the flight. The Bottlebrush trees are a great attractor and the Hummingbirds also love them but most of the Hummers are gone south by now.

These colors of the Monarchs are there for a reason. This is called true advertising. “I am black and orange and you eat me at your peril” – they are poisonous because of the Cardenolides. In my garden I also find the Gulf Fritillary.

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

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary sampling a Lantana

Gulf Fritillary sampling a Lantana

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary sampling a Lantana

Gulf Fritillary

Gulf Fritillary in flight

And we notice right away that they are sporting the same colors. However they are not poisonous. This ploy they use and is called false advertising. They are sheep in wolves garb. I prefer sheep in sheep´s clothes.

https://vimeo.com/190793438

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

Amberjack on Popper

Amberjacs

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

Now there is a badass fish. They are big heavy and strong.

Amberjack on Popper

Amberjack took a Popper

When hooked they really are pissed off and you sense their extreme displeasure. We find them on wrecks out in the Gulf down on the bottom. If you come to a wreck where there are boats bait fishing your chances are slim. If you have a wreck to yourself the chances are much better. Now we cast big Poppers and work them for a while and often the Amberjacks come to the surface to check out the commotion.

Tube popper

Four inch tube popper

The rods need to be 10 weight both to fight these fish and also to cast the big Popper and the reel needs to have absolute top-notch drag. The leader needs to have a thick butt to help turn the fly over and we keep it fairly short around  7´6´´for the same reason. Now the strikes in the surface are just spectacular and we strip strike to set the hook. Now what to do? If the fish gets to dive to the wreck it will cut itself off. Maybe even severing the fly line itself.

Fighting an Amberjack

Baz making sure the Amberjack can not dive

http://gulfbreezeguideservice.com

So set the drag to max and just do not let the fish dive. The fight is very hard but short this way. I was astonished to experience that the fish fight hard for a minute or two then they are done. This short fight probably increases their survival after release.

https://vimeo.com/187492952