San Cristobal harbor

Photos Drífa Freysdóttir

First day

The Galapagos archipelago is a fantastic place to visit. The trip generated many good and some great photos. I have chosen to simplify the presentation by recounting each day with the corresponding pictures as we sail along.

We arrived in Isla San Cristobal in the afternoon for our Galapagos adventure. We flew in from Quito with a stopover in Guayaquil. Isla San Cristobal has a small town, and where there are people there will be cats and rats. After arrival the group was promptly rounded up by our crew and our guide. Tourists live aboard boats during their visit, and some boats are bigger than others. We were quartered on a boat for 16 tourists. The boat then sails between the various islands. Inflatable dinghies are used to get ashore. The boat is anchored further out. The small islands we visited were all regulated in number of visitors each day. There were marked paths we were allowed to take, and the guide was vigilant in herding us and making sure we were not transgressing. You can’t come closer to an animal than six feet, but generally they show no fear of humans.

Gran Natalia
Gran Natalia – our boat

The guide system.

No one is allowed to visit the islands without a guide. After meeting the guide, he was with us at all times. Our guide was a fantastically knowledgeable naturalist Fabian Sanchez. His website is http://galapagossealife.com He has profound respect for the fauna and flora, and was able to convey the facts, but also able to convey his respect and love for life forms in the Galapagos. All the guides working with tourists are employed by the national park. The park collects 100$ from each tourist visiting. https://www.galapagos.org

Wellcome
Wellcome

I am older than 18 “anos” for sure (but for some reason I am getting ads for hearing aids – shame Google. Unripe fruit is still ok – I think).

The giant tortoises of the Galapagos

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

For my Icelandic readers – Icelandic has only one word “skjaldbaka” but English has two words, one for the land animal i.e. tortoise, and one for sea animal i.e. turtle. In San Cristobal we had some time to visit a tortoise hatchery where work is being done to conserve and reintroduce the Galapagos giant tortoise. https://www.galapagos.org/conservation/our-work/tortoise-restoration/ for instance on Isla Santa Fe. Small tortoises can’t make it where there are rats. Now they are nursed until they become four years old and then they are released into the wild. Efforts are also being made to rid some of the islands of vermin and cats. The afternoon we were visiting it was rather cold. Consequently, the tortoises were seeking shelters and burrowing, thus it was difficult to get a good picture of them. You can believe me when I tell you “they are big.” Notice how the carapace has an upward notch – the tortoise munches on plants and this way can reach higher. Their necks are long (see below). The Galapagos islands sit on the equator but are colder than you would expect. The culprit is the cold Humboldt currenthttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humboldt_Current – that sweeps up alongside South America’s coast.

Giant tortoise
Giant tortoise

The islands and ocean around are a national park. The waters around the islands are protected from fishing, and visible in the harbor the Coastguard had rounded up some sinners and confiscated the boats – then they will be auctioned off I was told.

Next stop will be Isla Espanola.

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.

Zion NP. Angels Landing to the south.

South Utah National Parks and National Monuments

South Utah has a string of fabulous National Parks. From east to west we have —

Archeshttps://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm

then Canyonlandshttps://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm on to

Capitol Reefhttps://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm.

Then we have Bryce Canyonhttps://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

and finally, Zionhttps://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm in the south west corner.

On top of this we have Bears Ears National Monumenthttps://www.blm.gov/programs/national-conservation-lands/utah/bears-ears-national-monument between Canyonlands and Capitol Reef.

From Capitol Reef to Bryce there is the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monumenthttps://www.blm.gov/programs/national-conservation-lands/utah/grand-staircase-escalante-national-monument.

Zion National Park

This list of natural wonders is in itself enough to keep anyone full of awe and profound respect for the forces of nature.

In Zion I spotted some vultures soaring in their familiar fashion. I suddenly noticed a much bigger black bird cruising in the canyon. I immediately thought “it’s a condor” but nay – they are so rare. Probably the rarest extant bird in the world. My wife got in two shots with her 200 mm lens (you need more, but it will have to do) and when we blew up the image the case was settled. The white coloring on the wings’ underside clinched the diagnosis. A condor it was, and we were suitably impressed and thankful for getting to witness this majestic bird cruise effortlessly in Zion canyon.

Humans are capable of immense destruction of nature. We are in a period of extinction of animals and moving towards a climate catastrophe. However, humans are also capable of immense feats when we choose to. When we understand that we are a part of nature – not its outside masters – it is possible that we can solve the environmental problems we have created and survive and even thrive. On my positive days I am a pessimist and I do not harbor much hope that we as a species will come to our senses. However, the condor story gives me hope. I choose to recount my condor story because it is positively amazing, and it underlines what we are capable of when we set our minds to it.

The Condor Project

1987 Californian condors were nearing extinction. The US government funded an ambitious and expensive plan to breed and then reintroduce the condors. All extant Californian condors were caught and brought to participating zoos. The Condors will lay one egg every other year. If that egg is promptly removed, they will double clutch (i.e. lay another egg). The chicks were hand reared and little by little the stock increased. Now, to make certain that the condors could survive when released, two female Andean condors were released in South California, and they did fine, thereby proving the point. Subsequently those two Andean condors were caught and returned to South America. Now, condors have been released in South California, in the Grand Canyon Arizona, Zion National Park, and North Mexico. In short, the birds are making a slow comeback. Now their biggest threat in the wild is lead poisoning, acquired by eating animal carcasses peppered with lead shot. Hunters in condor areas are now supposed to use lead-free shot.

https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/condors.htm

Condor cruising in Zion National Park
Condor cruising in Zion National Park
Condor cropped
Condor cropped from previous picture
Condor in Zion National Park
Condor in Zion National Park
Condor cropped
Condor cropped from above picture

Photography – Drifa Freysdottir

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

Nice loop on the forward cast

I gave a presentation on “Matching a Fly Rod to a Flyline” 1/18/19 for the Fly Fishers of Northwest Florida my local fly club. For my effort I was awarded a pair of castanetes by the club’s president Dr. Handley.

David presents Jonas with Castanets
David presents Jonas with Castanets

You can enjoy the lecture or not at

https://vimeo.com/310672161

Ólafur Ólafsson

When running an inpatient surgical ward there is a constant struggle to get the patients home after operations. There is, of course, some reasonable length of stay needed for serious matters etc. However, from my point of view some of my patients could go home sooner than they themselves wanted. There were all kinds of ploys used to hasten their discharge, but the opposition had some tricks up its sleeve, too. For instance, when I would do the rounds on Monday, I expected that someone would be able to go home on Wednesday. So, I would suggest discharge on a Tuesday. Then when the patient began to balk I would suggest: „Well ok Wednesday then,” and everybody was happy. The hospital had a library and the patients used it in their convalescent period (Icelanders are a literate bunch). Then I had the following rule to lighten the atmosphere in the wards where there were a number of patients together. Of course, the patients preferred the romantic genre of books, for example, the Red Series (Fabian bare chested, etc.). The rule: Whenever a book like that was spotted on a patient’s nightstand, they would be unceremoniously discharged (or an attempt would be made on the basis of the evidence).  If you can read that stuff you are ready to go home, right? And It would happen that this did not go over too well.

Ólafur Ólafsson

Ólafur Ólafsson

At that time, we had a Surgeon General of Iceland Ólafur Ólafsson, who was and still is a crusty old guy. He sported bushy white hair, and his equally bushy eyebrows were in the Santa Claus class. He was at the tail end of his career at that time. His voice was deep and gravely, and had he been an American he would have been reading the voice overs in the Whiskey and Cigarette commercials. He probably would have put James Earl Jones out of the voice work. As Surgeon General he has a great sense of humor and the ability to see the absurd and funny in just about any setting. He was always a champion for the patients and their rights, and was never a tame tool for the politicians – he was a very unconventional civil servant. He gave me invaluable advice: “Jonas, just be yourself.”

Contrast him with the Suits and apparatchiki that we have met through our lives.

https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=suit

Author‘s addition to the definitions: A Suit – a civil servant totally devoid of any charm, humor or even a face.

Ólafur could be a handful, especially when he called in the middle of the night (he is a night owl) to discuss some pressing issue. You are fast asleep in some happy dream and then “It is Ólafur” and you began thinking – it must be some damn volcanic eruption. When he was still working, his offices were next to the square where the homeless and unfortunate souls of Reykjavik congregated. To his credit, he always kept a protective eye on his neighbors and tended to their needs. When he retired he palmed them off to another humanist doctor. I just love this guy for lots of reasons.

Now, one of my patients got offended by my Red Series comment and made a formal complaint to the surgeon general. Such a matter needed to be resolved and resolved it was.

I got a formal reprimand letter from the Surgeon General’s Office stating (loosely translated):

 

Ólafur Ólafsson landlæknir
Reprimand letter

—————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Reprimand

It has come to the Surgeons General’s notice that you have been joking around with your patients during the morning rounds.

It is decided by the Surgeon General that you are not to joke around with your patients.

Signed

Ólafur Ólafsson

P.S. Unless they have the same sense of humor that the Surgeon General has.

P.P.S. It is forbidden to divulge the content of this letter.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————–

I contacted Ólafur on my last visit to Iceland and he released me from the ban.

I am sure that governments and especially the populations the world over are be better served by persons such as Ólafur as compared to their empty, talking Suits.

Ready to go

Icelandic Medical Association centennial – fly casting course

In the fall of 2017 I got an email from IMA’s president asking me to teach a fly casting course to Icelandic doctors. The IMA is celebrating its centennial this year, and the president thought it a good idea to introduce some play into the pomp. I was all for it and started to organize the course. Indoor or outdoor is the first dilemma. Outdoor is a better option generally if we could have some other weather than Icelandic, but it is the only one we have there in the subarctic.  There is a near constant area of low-pressure area at our latitudes called the Icelandic low.

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

We Icelanders never use that word or acknowledge the low’s existence because it is just too damn depressing. Denial is a robust defense mechanism. However, all phone calls between Icelanders start with “How is the weather?”

So, outdoors was not feasible. To get anything done in Iceland it must be before spring (if there will be one that year at all). When the days get longer, and temperatures get into double digits (Centigrade) the natives go nuts. It is impossible to plan anything because now everyone is so busy living and enjoying life – scheduling a course then would be utter folly. In the summers it is even worse to get together a group of people. So, March indoor it was. We secured a good size gym and announced the course, and all the spots we had available were promptly filled. Forty-five persons booked and 42 showed up. What I was most pleased with was that 15 ladies participated. Some of them were intermediate and some beginners at fly casting. Unfortunately, fly casting gatherings can get to look like a Trump rally at times. We need to attract young people and more females into the mix.

Stefán keeping an eye on Gunnar - Guðbjörg doing fine

Stefán keeping an eye on Gunnar – Guðbjörg doing fine

Gubjörg bringing the rod tip too far back i.e. wristing

Gubjörg bringing the rod tip too far back i.e. wristing

I have discovered that it is far easier to teach females to propel the fly than males. Females do not resort to brute strength and are much more limber. They also listen better than males and pay attention. There are some great female casters, and Joan Wulff was the best of both sexes for a spell – her accomplishments were not built on power (Ms. Wulff is still teaching, and her books are great). Usually it takes up to an hour to break down a male and get his attention.  Starting out they use far more power than they ever need, and the speed they use is excessive. So, the first hour goes like this: “Slow down – slow down – are you deaf – slow down. God dammit, slow down. Less power – less power – have you got a seizure?” I do not know for certain why males behave this way – I think it might be the testosterone marinade that we males live in. However, when they slow down and go gently a big smile is usually our reward. “Wow I could feel that.” – is the refrain – meaning they felt the rod unload in their hand (a bent rod straightens and counter flexes and then straightens again – you will feel a slight kick in your hand – called unloading). The term casting is perhaps inappropriate. There is no follow through of the hand as when we throw a stone, and we stop the rod tip high – it is the rod tip that propels the line forward – the caster only bends the rod tip with his motion.

Gunnar and Stefán

Gunnar and Stefán

Þorgerður doing the triangle exercise

Þorgerður doing the triangle exercise

Many ways to skin a cat

An old friend of mine Stefan B Hjaltested was a co-instructor, and we got along very well. He did teach differently than I do, but we both got the same results in the same amount of time. He did not use any technical terms – do this – no do not do that etc. – was his way. His approach is “teach them like they are children.” This only proves that there are many ways to skin a cat.

All in all, we taught for 30 hours and we hope that our students had as much fun as we had.

We also hope that all our students learned a lot and will diligently practice new tricks before their future fishing trips.

Pictures – Davíð Valdimarsson

Berlin Airlift

As a boy I vaguely remember reading about the Berlin airlift (Berliner Luftbrücke­­­ – i.e. airbridge).

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

That was when the russkies were naughty (they still are), and ­­when they wanted to mess with Europe they just squeezed its balls, i.e. Berlin. To get vital supplies to Berlin after the roads and railways were closed (by the russkies), the Allies resorted to a massive airlift to keep the city running.  I found this utterly fascinating and subsequently had a brief obsession with airplanes. One of my casting students (a retired pilot) actually flew on those missions via that corridor [via one of the three permitted air corridors]. But I am just rambling, so I will get on with it.

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

During the tail end of my Med School days, I got the opportunity to do a locum (relieve some doctor who needed a break) in general practice out in the sticks. This was very welcomed since we med students got paid, and it was a learning opportunity for us. What the patients thought of it is not clear, but I guess they thought it better to have someone manning the shop, albeit an inexperienced medical student. It was deemed prudent by the authorities to send two med students to relieve one experienced doctor. So off we (I and my colleague) went and wound up in the farthest district from Reykjavik on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

That month turned out to become very eventful, and we were very busy. At this stage in your journey as a doctor everything is just so damn interesting and stimulating. We for instance had a patient who developed a sudden onset of pain in one eye! What the heck can that be? So, dive into books (remember no internet), and if we needed more, a corded telephone was our best ally. We treated cardiac arrhythmia, overdose, urinary retention and even plucked shot gun pellets from the derriere of the local police officer. Plus, all the other more routine ailments. It turned out that the organ specialists in Akureyri (closest big town) and Reykjavik, whom we repeatedly had to consult, were very helpful. They probably remembered their own bygone locums, so the system worked – if you had the sense to ask for help. We both were keenly aware off our limitations, and relatively free of hubris (that came later) – but when I reflect on that period I realize that we were so ignorant of all the ways things can go caput [go to hell in a handbasket] in medicine, that we just happily forged on with our trusted ally, the telephone. When I gained more experience I never encountered a situation that I could not make substantially worse by untimely intervention or the wrong one. So, make sure your indications for doing anything in medicine are solid before proceeding.

To give you a glimpse of the Zeitgeist  I can share the following story. We got a call from a farmer who had some pain in his chest. “A stick  fell on my back” was the story. “Can you come out here and have a look?” When we arrived at the farm, we met the family, and then we were invited to a meal. There was no examining until after. After that and conversations about our family trees (yup, that was the social norm) we got to have a look at the farmer. This was the typical attitude of those people in those days. Tradition dictates a certain decorum, and it is to be observed even if you had a “stick” fall on your back.

Driftwood

Driftwood a.k.

As it turned out, the “stick” was in fact a large driftwood log. This farm owned a stretch of beach where you could harvest these logs. Such logs drift from Siberia to Iceland’s shores and were through the ages extremely valuable as there were no big trees in Iceland for construction purposes.

Transpolar current bringing driftwood to Iceland

Transpolar current bringing driftwood to Iceland

Furthermore, they were salt impregnated after their journey in the ocean and thus rot resistant. The farmer had his ribs on one side broken with air under the skin (subcutaneous air). When you encounter such air, it feels like the crunch of newly fallen snow under your fingers. The lung was punctured, but the farmer was stable so we sent him off via airplane to the nearest hospital in Akureyri.

During the Cold War the Americans had built a radar station on the top of a nearby mountain and ran it from 1954 to 1968.

Driftwood and the mountain

Driftwood and the mountain

To service it there was a small airfield on the shore running from east to west. To be able to land there, a radio beacon had to be turned on.  The airfield manager (and only personnel) turned the beacon on after receiving a call from Keflavik. ”Can you turn the beacon on Mr. X?” to which the answer was “Whiskey?” “No damn it – no whiskey.” “No whiskey no beacon.” They could get by with few words.  If the negotiations were successful, the beacon got turned on, and the airfield manager was happy. The way alcohol is sold in Iceland is through state monopoly shops. Sweden has the same system, for instance, and it is rumored that the people living on the Faroe Islands only get to buy their liquor if their taxes are paid. The state shops in Iceland are called “Der Reich” (The state) and exist only in the bigger towns. The population with no “Der Reich” makes a phone call, and the merchandise is delivered with the next post delivered by flight. It was thus imperative to receive the post on a Friday. On Friday the airfield manager had radioed in the local weather conditions on which the pilot made his decision to fly or not. The “terminal” at our local airfield was the bridge cut off from a decommissioned trawler.  Yet it functioned well.  We were in the terminal once waiting for some medical supplies when we witnessed another interesting exchange on Friday afternoon:  “You reported the local weather – visibility unlimited – calm – no clouds” came the voice of the pilot from the radio. Then we could hear the drone of a plane from above, but it was totally overcast (clouds 600 feet), wind from the north 10 mph (crosswind). “Yes – it is amazing how the weather on the arctic ocean can change in a heartbeat,” answered the airfield manager tongue in cheek. Now the calm voice of the pilot was heard – “I am going to kill you Mr. X.” “Well, you have to land to do that” was the logical answer. The bush pilots are very good, so nothing untoward happened despite dicey weather. We got our supplies, and the village its vital necessities.

Casting Clinic February 2018

My local fly club is called FFNWF (Fly Fishers of North West Florida). Now that is a mouth-full without vowels but still not quite Hebrew. We just love our abbreviations here, but I can tell you that it takes a while to understand them. Especially if English (American?) is your third language. Some abbreviations are simple and ubiquitous like the OMG! exclamation that is now being used even in Icelandic parlance. What the heck does POS mean? Or NYOB – PAWS and on and on. So, here’s my advice to the natives – go easy on those abbreviations when talking to a non-native. But I digress.

Casting Clinic February 2018

Casting Clinic February 2018

When I first saw the term “Casting Clinic” in our monthly newsletter I was not sure what it referred to. Casting could refer to fly casting, but it could also mean shaping a plaster of Paris cast. The clinic part implies some medical endeavor in my understanding. But what I discovered, was that it means club members get together and wave their rods. The idea is that we supposedly teach each other, especially those who are starting out. Then we can show off a bit by banging out long casts with sharp pointy loops (Yup – guilty as charged). As I have been sucked closer and closer to the black hole of teaching fly casting, I realize that this way of preaching probably is not a very effective way of converting beginners to intermediate casters or intermediate casters to good ones (to become a great caster you need private lessons!).

Casting Clinic February 2018

Casting Clinic February 2018

So, this year we are running an experiment. I plan to introduce one special fly casting drill/exercise every clinic during the year. The February clinic was devoted to the pick-up and lay down cast. We had a good turnout – around 20 casters with several new faces, which was heartening. When we commenced I got up on my soap box and explained the basics of the cast to the group. Then we divided the group into subgroups of two, with one experienced caster in each, and set off to practice. I was a libero (soccer speak – for a player who is undisciplined, so he gets to roam around) and went from group to group running my mouth and praising technique or correcting small errors, etc. We focused on just this cast for half an hour, until it became apparent that the group was starting to lose focus. Then we reassembled in the larger group and went through the components of the cast. I was rather pleased with this first lesson and I hope that the next clinic will have a good turnout of students, especially new ones. These clinics are open for all comers.

Casting Clinic February 2018

Casting Clinic February 2018

The pickup and lay down cast

This is a basic fishing cast, and we will break it down into its components.

Its purpose is to unstick the fly from the water surface (the lift part) and cast the fly out again (the subsequent parts). We start casts by lifting the rod tip until the casting hand is at breast height. We do not rip the fly line from the water surface since that will scare the fish. When we lift the rod tip you will notice on the water that the fly line clears the surface and runs away from you to the leader. That is when you commence the casting stroke. Pay attention! If you wait too long the fly line will sag again to the surface. The idea is to have just the leader in the surface.

We start with fly line (30´ – 35´) and leader (7,5´) straight. There should be no slack in the line.

The Pick-up and Lay Down Cast

  1. Rod´s tip down and lift gently to shoulder level (peel)
  2. now we flick the line over the rod tip upwards and backwards (pluck)
  3. and pause for the line to straighten (pause)
  4. now we flick the rod forward (pat) and stop the hand at 10 o’clock. The line and leader straighten, and we let them gravitate/float down to the surface and let the rod tip follow.

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….