Fishing had been deemed essential by the Tallahassee Oracles (and it truly is) during the lockdown the of Florida beaches. So, Baz and I went fishing one glorious day. The weather was just great (disclaimer — whenever a fisherman begins a sentence with the bloody weather you know she/he in all likelihood got skunked), and the visibility into the water was fantastic. Even I could clearly see the fish. There were a lot of redfish and jack crevalle schools milling about. We just anchored the boat in such a way that we expected the jacks to swim on the outside of us, and they did, one school after the other. You just have to cast to those big badass fish, and when you spot them, the urge is immediately there. We decided to use a big popper called Bob’s Banger, which is only cast by folks with masochistic tendencies (sadomasochistic when we hook our company). These big and heavy poppers are a pain in the – wherever you like your pain best – to cast (how to cast big poppers – see at end). For the first school of fish we cast the fly in front of the fish as they bore down on us, but the line did spook them and that was that.

Bob's Banger
Bob’s Banger (4” long 10cm)

When anglers first see the jacks come in formation in two – three feet of water, they often just freeze. They just stare – eyes popping, mouth gaping, sphincters can go iffy, and they are totally unable to get off a cast. Those beginners who unexpectedly do get off a cast bungle it without fail. There is usually only one chance to deliver a decent cast to each school. The schools were coming thick and fast at us, and all the jacks swam the same way as you can see below. We decided to cast the popper straight out and have it waiting in the blue part you can see below. The rationale was to cast an unhurried long cast where we could strategically place the fly where we wanted it. That done, we just waited for the next school to come cruising.

Here come the Jacks
Here come the Jacks – tighten up those sphincters

This school of jacks showed up as predicted, and you can see the line that has just been biding its time. When the time was right the popper popped away, and some fish just ignored it, and swam under the line, but suddenly a bruiser in the 20-30 pound class swam under the fly. Suddenly the jack turned back and up, and came to the surface just in front of the popper, in precisely the same way a big salmon takes a fly on the surface. Baz and I both saw this magnificent take but it happened so quickly that it was impossible to catch in a photo.

Flyline laid out
Fly line laid out – red arrow on popper

I set the hook and the fight was on. Jacks simply take a very dim view on being hooked, and they are fast, strong, and mean, but not impossible to deal with. After a while the fish tired and I eased it towards the boat. Baz grabbed the leader and was ready with the net in the other hand. And presto — the fish broke off. He turned around and sternly asked “Jonaswhat was the pound strength of that leader?” (he knows that I sometimes just slap on whatever I happen to have in my pocket). Eyes downcast and somewhat sheepishly I murmured “maybe ten pound.” That answer just earned me THE LOOK.

Damn – in the doghouse again. But I managed to rescue my tattered standing, and finally pulled off a really long cast, with a backhand delivery, to hook a redfish that I managed to land; proof see below.

This blog is deficient if I do not honor the jacks with a picture. The jacks are a force to be reckoned with for sure, and here is a picture of one of them.

Jack Crevalle
Jack Crevalle – the Popper in its mouth

The jack crevalle is in the jack family with the GT (giant trevally). GTs get much more press, but are no more of a game fish than our crevalle.

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

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

How to cast big and heavy air resistant flies

The Bob’s Banger in the first picture weighs in at 0.073oz or 2.08gr. So, it has considerable mass and a lot of drag, too, being 4 inches long (10cm). The considerations as to a fly’s “cast-ability” are its weight and its drag (air resistance). This fly is both very heavy and also has a lot of drag. I would advise using at least a ten-weight line or bigger if you have it for such a beast (mass moves mass). The leader that works best has the thickest butt you can find (again more mass in the leader – SA now makes a leader with 0.03” butt). Forget about a long leader, but instead shorten your leader to 7.5′. Now you are in the game, but if you try to cast this beast the “usual way” it will probably not go well. I advise you to open your loop and lob the popper out there. The cast I am referring to is the Belgian cast or the constant tension cast. Beware of casting videos where the teacher says “horizontal back – then up and over” for instance. If the line is horizontal and the caster points the rod straight back, all tension in the rod is gone and the fly will ricochet. Start the backcast horizontally, and when the rod tip is coming to the three a’clock position you start to bring the tip up. At that point, the heavy fly will swing up high – you come to the delivery position and go straight into the forward cast. And there should be no pause. Here is the best Belgian video I can find.

https://www.thecampflyfishingschool.com/pages/belgium-cast

Belgian cast's rod tip trajectory
Belgian cast’s rod tip trajectory

English consultant: My good retired neighbor Joe

One person in my stable of blog characters is Capt. Baz. No, don’t worry, this one isn’t about him. However, it started with him.

Hi Jonas – my little brother Dave is in town, and he really would like to learn to fly cast, was the gist of our phone conversation, followed by and it is on the house too!” I am fine with the work is your rewardphilosophy if I am teaching something. However, Baz, manual labour is a straight no no no.

Capt. Dave
Dave – you see what I am up against!

Dave showed up, and he was an exceptional student from the outset. When I am teaching raw beginners I find one issue in them all. It doesn’t have to do with the movement, but rather lack of it, i.e. they just can’t stop the hand/wrist and rod when they make the backcast. So, their backcast will look like the picture below.

Poor stop and/or too much wrist bend.

The motion we are trying to teach starts with our upper arm vertical, and under arm horizontal (90 degrees). Then the hand is moved up and back with constant acceleration to an abrupt stop until the underarm has reached the vertical position with the wrist firm. This movement should be smooth, and the acceleration constant, but the stop must be abrupt. There are some issues with the constant smooth acceleration, but that can be ironed out rather quickly. However, the abrupt stop on the back cast is very hard to accomplish in the beginning. The drawing below shows a good backcast.

A good stop.

This near universal inability to stop the hand/wrist and rod is a bit baffling when you come across this first when teaching (conveniently forgetting how I myself struggled). We use our arms and hands all the time to do all kinds of complicated tasks. We certainly can stop a forward moving hand hard (think fly swatterhammer). But, when you think about that particular backward motion, we do not use that often in our daily lives, if at all. When we gain the ability to stop our hand on the back cast – the backcast will be straight without slack – setting up a good forward cast. My task as a teacher is pretty much wrapped up when my students understand the importance of the abrupt stop and straight backcast. All the rest is tweaking this or that.

But returning back to Dave, it turned out that he could absolutely stop his hand wherever I wanted him to stop it, while keeping the wrist firm. On top of that, the constant acceleration part was there, too. This piqued my interest, so I asked him what his work was. Oh – this and that in business was the answer ” and I am a drummer (i.e. sort of a musician).” Now this was very interesting to me, and sure enough the musculature of his underarm was exceptionally well developed, and precisely those puppies control the wrist movement. Biceps and triceps have to do with flexion and extension of the elbow.

Underarm of a drummer
Underarm of a certain drummer – or Popeye?

We had two short sessions, and at the end he was double hauling, and shooting line with ease. A week later he calls “How long are these fly lines?” It turned out that he was casting into the backing (fly lines are around 100′, some shorter some longer). That is a very long cast for even excellent casters.

Since then, drummer Dave has shed his skin, and found Capt. Dave within – and is running a guide service. https://gulfbreezefishing.com

——————————

Last January Capt. Baz, Odell Mullis and I went to the Bahamas to escape the Florida winter, that is, what there is of a winter. This was Dave’s first encounter with bonefish and he had been told that they would be very hard to catch. We don’t go to a bonefish lodge, so it is low key and self guided. The Bahamian flats are just stunning. Vast flats become dry on low tide and then the tide comes in, and the bonefish follow to get to the smorgasbord of the inundated flat.

The flat at low tide

Yup, you guessed it, Dave with a bent rod became a recurring theme. Bent rod when I only almost had a strike!

Same flat with the tide in – Dave with bonefish

The bonefish subsequently released. Needless to say, Dave caught numerous bonefish on his first trip with us.

Release of a bonefish

I gotta go now – the UPS guy is at my door delivering my set of drums.

Pictures; Jonas and Odell

English consultant; My good retired neighbor Joe.

Below the Réttarfoss

Réttarfoss

In a previous post I covered this river – see below. The current post deals exclusively with the two uppermost fishing spots – i.e. the Réttarfoss pool and the Réttarstrengur run.

The crew for this trip was my fishing partner and friend Sibbihttps://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=1783 – and Hilmar Konráðsson, with whom I had not fished before – but I will gladly fish with again. Then there was my American friend and traveling companion Odell Mullis in the role of photographer. His job was the hardest – fingers freezing – electronics sluggish, and rain constantly splattering the lens.

The salmon in Hrútafjarðará can get up to Réttarfoss, but can’t jump that waterfall. Therefore, the pool below the waterfall invariably holds numerous fish at the tail end of the season. However, it is awkward to fish, and casting in the canyon can be problematic. The position taken by most anglers is close to the middle of the outflow from the pool. That is not an ideal position. You get too close to the fish to my liking, and you are practically on top of some of them. This violates two of my fly fishing tenets: no unnecessary wading and don’t get too close to the fish.

We were fishing there in late August ’19, and the conditions were challenging. Just a few degrees above freezing, and wind was barreling up the canyons from the north, and the blessed rain was there too, and there was a lot of both. The amount of water flowing was quite a bit over the average. No fun wading in those conditions.

Pool below Réttarfoss
Pool below Réttarfoss
Below the Réttarfoss
Below the Réttarfoss

By tiptoeing close to the black basaltic rocks to the position you see on the photograph above, we were in a relatively concealed position to cast over the outflow tract of the pool. However, the fly was not going to move across the water in a way we like it to do. After some rumination Sibbi says “let’s try a hitching tube here, and just strip it across the outflow.” This is why I love this guy – he is always ready to try something unconventional. The salmon loved this, too, and we had great fun for a while with multiple salmon striking the flies, and there were some takes and then some salmon landed. (It is called hitching when the fly is riding the surface and a V shaped disturbance on the surface forms – see video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0TYgn_oO2Q )

The current is usually sufficient to make this happen, but by stripping the fly we made it go faster than the current, thus making the V on the surface. This strategy saved the day for us and will certainly be tried again. This is a very good reminder not to get stuck in some routine. If your approach does not work, try something else. It really does not matter how you don’t catch fish – does it?

Réttarstrengur

After leaving the Réttarfoss pool the river flows over some rocks, and is shallow and spread out with no channel. At the rock formation – seen clearly in the third picture below – the river forms a channel, Réttarstrengur, that is pushed up against the west canyon wall. The salmon will be there from the run’s beginning, and can be found for 100 meters (more or less depending on the amount of water). There are always salmon there – you may not catch them, but they are there. We take great care not to get too close (no wading there), instead we use longer casts, and the fly must be delivered on the opposite side of the current for best results. Then you pull it into the current and now you mend. Small flies are our choice there. Take care to cast with quite a sharp angle not more than 45 degrees to insure the fly swings first over the fish – not the line then the fly. To do that you need longer casts as you do not want to wade or get close to the channel. Make an effort to keep the line and leader straight, that way the fly is fishing from the get-go. For the Icelandic crowd – see the excellent book Af Flugum, Löxum og Mönnum by Sigurður Héðinn a.k.a. Haugurinn page 72 on Smáflugur. Réttarstrengur is without doubt one of the premium runs in Icelandic salmon rivers.

Correct casting angle
Correct casting angle

You really should practice before your fishing trips, preferably with a casting instructor. I have witnessed multiple times anglers in expensive rivers with no cast at all. It is a mystery to me why anyone buys those costly permits, and shows up with no cast. Most anglers I come across in salmon rivers would do well to take some lessons. When you are riverside it is too late to learn how to cast.

You have expensive gear – why not spend on learning how to use it?
Fishing the Réttarstrengur
Fishing the Réttarstrengur

This is how far away from the river’s edge we like to be. There is no sense in getting closer if we can cast over the run with a sharp angle from where we are at. By and large anglers wade too close and also too deep. If you get too close – the fish see you, and it is game over. If you wade too deep you lose height and your cast suffers.

Fishing the Réttarstrengur
Fishing the Réttarstrengur

Sibbi keeps his distance and is rewarded with a beautiful salmon.

Sibbi has a salmon on in Réttarstrengur
Sibbi has a salmon on in Réttarstrengur

Subsequently released into the river.

Salmon released by Sibbi
Salmon released by Sibbi

Odell and Hilmar seeking shelter from the wind, cold and rain.

Shelter from the rain and wind
Shelter from the rain and wind

Here is a short video from Réttarstrengur.

Santa Rosa Island Bayside

I moved to the Florida Panhandle ten years ago, and when it was time to go fishing I found Baz’s website, and off we went. I was into fish on my second cast, so all the jitters were settled quickly. After the trip I paid my bill, but I was unaware of the tipping culture. Sorry Baz, you are never getting that money. Baz and I were on insulting terms from the get-go and have since made countless fishing trips together and have since become friends. Baz has a keen sense of humor which is required when dealing with me.

Baz’s website: http://gulfbreezeguideservice.com

I had learned a little bit about fishing in the salt living in Corpus Christi for two years. Since I moved here, Baz has taught me all I know about fly fishing the salt. Which rod to use – fly lines – leaders – knots – flies – the whole shebang. And how to catch the different species of fish found here, etc. The tidal movement is an issue too. It has been a tremendously rewarding apprenticeship for which I am grateful. I can now do most of what is required, except I don’t see the fish in the water as well as he does. Sometimes he sees fish that don’t know they are there. He is like a pointer, I swear, but curiously sticks his rear end out a bit when he spots a fish. When beginners look for fish in the water, they have a mental image of a fish and expect to see something like that in the water. Forget that and look for a dark moving spot, sometimes you only see the shadow of the fish. Dark spots that do not move alas will be stones or vegetation.

I can emphatically say that Baz is my saltwater muse. At first I was not able to deal with the conditions here casting wise. The wind was an issue and the boat movement was troublesome when casting. So, I had to go and learn how to cast properly. That done, Baz was pleased with the outcome and now prodded me to become a casting instructor – so I did. I have derived a great deal of pleasure from teaching fly casting. There is some truth in “if you want to learn something – teach it.”

Becoming a certified instructor: https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=611

We have fished from boats out in the Gulf and in Pensacola Bay. We have fished the flats from the boat where poling is required. Baz has even started teaching me how to pole a skiff. That is not a task to be undertaken lightly. On top of that he has introduced me to bonefish in the Bahamas. I am not sure I should thank him for that because it is going to be a seriously costly addiction for sure.

Out in the Gulf: https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=251

Bonefishing: https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=1896

Our latest endeavor is to wade the flats around here and then cast to the fish we spot. We go minimalistic – light tackle – couple of flies – skinny wading (water still is 75-80F). Most commonly we are after redfish and to have a chance of catching them you must move very slowly. Just creep along the flat and be on the lookout for dark spots that move. Baz has taught me to pay attention to the position of the sun. Mostly have it behind you – sometimes it works sideways but never into the sun. The glare from the surface just makes it impossible to spot fish.

10/21/19 we went wadefishing for a couple of hours. When we had covered some 200 yards of flat and seen some reds, but mostly too late, they were already wise to our presence. Having gotten a few hits but no serious takes and we called it a day. I was ready to go but Baz was in the process of winding up his line when we see a black drum come cruising in 2′ of water about 3′ from the water’s edge. Even I saw it clearly. The fish was just in front of us, and Baz lobs out the small Clouser just for fun. The drum just ate the fly and off it went. Black Drum are very difficult to catch on the fly. The fly needs to be put just in front of their noses, and then they might take it, but mostly don’t. They are bottom feeders.

Black Drum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_drum

The cast Baz made is not going to win any awards but who cares? However, to subdue a big black drum on a 6# fly rod and a ten pound tippet takes some serious skills.

Capt. Baz does it again
Capt. Baz does it again

The proof – the fly was securely lodged in the corner of the drum’s mouth and did not come loose – fish brought to hand.

The Black Drum is revived
The black drum is revived

The fish needs a little bit to recover.

The Drum is released
The drum is released

It is seriously bad karma to harm a fish like that. This is the largest black drum Captain Baz has caught on a fly rod. Probably around 34 pound is our guesstimate.

Jonas waiting for the moment

You can look, but don’t touch! Oh, how wise that advice is. We start out looking at the opposite sex – but beware!– we can’t resist! Then it seems we end up looking at cookies we shouldn’t touch, but then we do. Same goes for ours life savings.

I took a trip to an undisclosed Bahamian island in January with some of my friends. It is not a famed Bonefish destination. There are Bonefish there, of course, but they are very hard to find. The trip is about escaping the daily grind (feeding the dogs and cats) and enjoying mild weather as the winter rages in the Florida Panhandle. The company of friends is great, of course, up to a point (see picture below). 

Baz and Snead
Snead and Odell

This time around the weather in the Panhandle was truly nasty, and the Bahamian weather was mild but very windy, with real tough fishing conditions. I seem to be fixated on the weather and I blame my roots in Iceland for that. The weather there is erratic and nasty as a rule. The wind is constant and brisk and it has shaped the way we walk.  All really adapted Icelanders lean into the wind as they walk. When there is no wind, they still lean, and once I spotted one of my friends on a busy street in Stockholm just by the way he walked. There is something about the national style of walking that is a dead giveaway. All telephone conversations between Icelanders start with – and you could be at the Taj Mahal – how is the weather? Living at 66 North affects one. But back to the flats…  Previously I have touched on the moving parts of Bonefish chasing – so I will not regurgitate that part.

Bonefish are a very exciting fish to chase. Hard to spot – finicky, and if hooked, tremendously fast.  In the Bahamas they are protected, i.e., you have to release them.  How best to do that?  I am guilty of having handled fish and posing for an egotistical picture with the fish and then releasing it. However, the best way to go about this is to let them stay in the water and try to release them without touching them. The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust have a very good web page on this. 

https://www.bonefishtarpontrust.org/education-outreach-bonefish-catch-release/

There is one reason additionally to not take a fish out of the water. In water they weigh very little (Archimedes’ law), but when out of the water the effects of gravity are stronger than they are used to. This can lead to internal bleeding when the internal organs experience this. 

Here is a short video on how I managed to unhook Bonefish.

https://vimeo.com/313914630

Jonas

Bonefish being released

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 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 –

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

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

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