Monday, June 23, 2014

Before and After… From Little Bugs to Big Bugs!

With all the bugs fluttering about last night it looked like it was snowing. There were caddis, many species of mayflies and lots of cottonwood seeds hovering in the warm summer air.
My trout flies were a mess so I needed to to do a bit of sorting before I could go. When I looked at the pile of fly boxes I had picked to sort through, it reminded me of that game with the stacked wooden blocks… is it called Jenga? In any case, I'm off in the morning!

Snow in June?

Take the box from the bottom and put it on the top!

A speckled tail with a whisper of pink gave these bows away.

Great day! Water was still high and a bit off-color. I was expecting to catch predominantly browns, but ended up catching mostly 'bows on a big stonefly dry. Some of the takes were beautiful. I could see these bright 'bows peel out of bankside eddies finning hard to catch up to my fly in the fast water. Most of the 'bows I was able to see first when I saw a spotted tail and a flash of red. They were feeding on emerges by darting out of the soft water into the bubble lines. Pretty cool!
I did manage one 20+ inch brown on a purple hopper towards the end of the day. I didn't take time to photograph the fish as lightning was striking the hills about 600 yards away!

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Nod to Our Moon: Our Constant Companion

Tomorrow is the summer solstice. The summer solstice occurs when the tilt of a planet's semi-axis, in either the northern or the southern hemisphere, is most inclined toward the star (in our case, we call it the sun) that it orbits. Our sun gets all the credit for our wonderful warm summer season in the Northern Hemisphere. But what we often miss is the role our moon has played in all this. For the flat's fisherman, we should be especially thankful for the role our moon has played in our planet's evolution… and it's not just about the tides:


Much has written much about tides. As a guy who consults with traveling anglers for a living, I live and breath tides. I use tidal charts to numerous locations many times each and every day. These charts are always within easy reach.

But let's take a step back and go beyond the tides. Let's leave it that tides are critical and the moon's role all important. What many don't know is that the moon's effect on our big blue ball is much more ancient, much more far-reaching and in the final analysis, unbelievably critical. In fact, all life on earth may owe its existence to our moon. My quest to find out more about our moon started one night while I was onboard the Sea Hunter in the southern Bahamas... 

It was one of those perfect nights. Bathed in a warm breeze, I gazed up at a bright moon. I had a cold Kalik in one hand and the ship's railing in the other. As I stared at the moon, I started to think about our companion. I realized I don't know much our orbiting moon… most of us don't. As fishermen, we know that the moon is very important. We know its gravitational pull somehow creates tides, but that's about it. So I thought, "When you get home, do a little research and see what effect the moon has had on our Mother Earth." 

Of course, my research started with what all saltwater anglers, from blue water maniacs who pursue tuna, billfish and dorado to flats fishermen who stalk bonefish, permit, tarpon and GT's, know about the moon. Most saltwater anglers understand the importance of our moon. Our sidekick's gravitational pull sucks water from one side of the earth while flooding the other. The cycle repeats itself year-in and year-out. Depending on the species pursued, anglers may choose a spring or a neap tide. They may seek a morning low or a mid-day high. They may swear by a new or a full moon. Making sense of this tidal miasma greatly increases an angler's odds of actually catching fish.

But there is much more to this story… As such, I offer the following brief synopsis as an homage to our moon with the hope that the next time you throw back a rum and tonic while watching a moonrise, you'll salute the old man. He has truly made all your fishing possible… and here's how he did it:

It all began about 4.5 billion years ago. The earth was then just another insignificant spinning sphere of molten rock riding uninhabited in the blackness of space. Then, coming fast out the deep void, a huge object, some scientists say it could have been an object the size of Mars, smashed into our young planet at about 25,000 mph (give or take a few sonic booms). The earth shuttered violently, but somehow took the blow. During the collision, a spray of molten debris was whipped out into space. Within a year, gravity gathered this debris into a sphere. That sphere began orbiting the earth. It has been with us ever since.

From the moment it formed, the moon started to exert an unseen power on our planet. We call this invisible force gravity… and this was the very same force that would eventually pull on our oceans to create our tides. But back then, this same gravity had much more far-reaching effects. In fact, our moon's mass reshuffled the deck on our very young planet. Initially, the moon's pull steadied us. It smoothed out our wild child wobbles thus saving our eventual home from crazy climate swings. Then the relentless power of the moon's gravity tilted the earth on its axis giving us one of the essential keys to life: seasons.

As time moved ever on, our moon's pull sucked at our planet's rapid rotation. It eventually slowed it from six hours in a day to 12 to 18 to eventually settling on a 24 hour a day cycle. Gives new meaning to 24/7 eh? Our moon had, while it was reshuffling our deck, also set the table for life on earth.

As the earth's rotation slowed, copious amounts of water vapor that was inconsequentially spinning in the earth's atmosphere, coalesced into rain. This wasn't your normal rain shower, these rains lasted for millions of years and they were torrential. Puddles were formed, then lakes, then oceans...

But the moon wasn't finished… and this is where we fishermen jump onboard. Once the oceans were formed, the moon's gravity was immediately at the controls. As life evolved in its myriad forms in the seas, the moon was now king and his evolving subjects had to obey his rules. These tides not only moved the ocean's water, they also stirred and recycled nutrients and created life giving currents. Today, the tides still perform these important functions.

At the interface where ocean meets land, the tides are felt most acutely. Even the smallest tide allows oceanic predators, like bonefish, to reach areas that only minutes before were dry land. But tides can also turn predator to prey. For example, most of our beloved flats fish love the rising tides, but they also fear them. Same can be said for the falling tide. The tides offer opportunities to feed, but also to be fed upon. The phenomenal power of the moon may bulge our oceans on one side of the earth and rob the other side of water, but the moon also presents opportunities for both the killers and the victims depending on how a creature has exploited the effects of the moon's pull. 

Bonefish, tarpon and permit are some of the fish species most dramatically effected by tides. Life for these flats species is a nervous repetition of fear and hunger-driven aggression. Their cockiness on a newly turned tide drives them into absurdly shallow areas. All too soon, this surety is replaced with a paranoia brought on by the quickly receding waters. To make a mistake is to die. It takes only one miscalculation to be left high and dry or be ambushed by a 'cuda or shark… leaving only their remains to be picked over by the blue crabs and seagulls. And so it goes for the children of the tides, their life and death struggle was created and has been watched over by their king and our constant companion, the moon. But that is another story!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day 2014

On Father's Day, Sara and I drove up to the North Fork of the Tongue River. The water is still quite high. The stream is running through the bankside grasses, but the water is now crystal clear.
A gusty breeze blew the 48 degree temps in our face, but we still managed to catch quite a few fish on dries, streamers and nymphs. Lots of fun making this a wonderful Father's Day.
…as an added bonus, we arrived home in time to watch the Spurs beat the Heat!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Weekend… Day Two: Big Horn Basin

On Saturday, our choice was to do another section of the Bighorn River near Thermopolis that we knew well ...or take a flyer and go exploring. We chose to go exploring. I won't tell you where we went, but I will say we had no idea if we would find any fish. We managed to find a put-in and more importantly a "secret" takeout that was on state land. Our map showed an access point, it turned out to be down a long, fenced dirt road. At the put-in, we could see the stream was a bit off-color, but not too bad. I was worried it would get worse downstream. I was concerned that small tributaries might bring dirty run-off water into the stream.

Rigged and Ready

Good to know!

As it turned out, the nine road miles we bit off turned out to be a lot more in meandering river miles. So, how did it go? Well… we fished beautiful grassy cutbacks, rocky cliffs and graveled runs. Did we catch fish? Absolutely! In fact, we boated a 6 lb. 24" brown within sight of our Chevy Suburban at the put-in!

24 inches of pure fun!

What a slab!

This stream offered classic brown water so it was a bit surprising that we ended up catching dozens of 18-20" rainbows and only a few browns (but they were all over 20 inches). Every fish we caught was deep, fat and healthy. With the water off-color, we thought that this would be a bank banging, streamer day. It was not. Our most productive technique was to use a dead-drifted sculpin pattern and a droppered nymph. The streamer apparently caught their attention, then they found the nymph and it was game on. 

Trying to stay "found"!

Chad with another health rainbow.


We got off the river late and hungry. We drove until we found a good burger and a few cold beers in a friendly little bar in Kirby, Wyoming. Once basking in anonymity, Kirby is now known as the home of the Wyoming Whiskey distillery. We made it back to Thermop in time to catch the Soft-Serve Ice Cream Shop for dessert before it closed. It was a great day! Thanks guys!!

Chad Olsen where he feels most comfortable… at the oars!

Leaving the bar in the wake of a thunderstorm

Soft-Serve Ice Cream Shop here we come!

Wyoming Whiskey distillery

Monday, June 9, 2014

My Weekend... Day One: Wind/Bighorn River

Wow, what a weekend! As I write this, I have just arrived home after spending Friday and Saturday in the Big Horn Basin. I drove over to Thermopolis, WY on Thursday night after work getting there at 7:30 PM. I met my good friends Danny Sheldon (from Florida, Danny is an expert angler both in freshwater and the salt) and Chad Olsen (long-time Montana guide and shop owner, Chad is an exceptionally knowledgeable angler). I was planning on fishing Friday and Saturday with these guys and heading home Sunday morning.

We hadn't seen each other in a year or so and it was great to see these guys again. We had been to Kamchatka, the Amazon and the Bahamas together and always found each other great fishing companions and somewhat hilarious. That's not saying we are good companions or funny… just that we think we are. We picked up right where we left off. I don't think I've laughed so much in a long, long time! While we screwed up enough to embarrass ourselves repeatedly, we did manage to have some success. In fact, over the course of the day, we caught plenty of fish, experienced great weather and thoroughly enjoyed our day.

Seriously?… this sign was on a small island in the middle of the river. 

On Friday, we fished from the "Wedding of the Waters" (where the Wind River becomes the Bighorn River just above Thermopolis) down to the takeout at the Hot Springs boat ramp in town.

We caught lots of fish… we caught them on small dries (small pseudocleons or baetis), big terrestrials (crickets), droppered small terrestrials (cinnamon ants), droppered nymphs (hare's ears and pheasant tails) and streamers (too many to count). We caught big fish rising in pods, we stalked individual sippers, we sight nymphed big 'bows and we relied on indicators to stick big browns. It was never easy, but always entertaining. When all was said and done, we boated plenty of fish up to 22 inches and had a wonderful time.

22" brownie

22" brownie

Chad's dog Ursa watches the action

lots of these...

...and one cutthroat!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Last Two Days: Sea Hunter at Acklins Island, Bahamas 2014

The last two days were a pure joy… and why not… our home rocked gently in electric blue waters at one of the most remote anchorages in the Bahamas, we were fishing flats rarely visited and our weather, although windy, was sunny and clear. The only "less than perfect" moments happened when were we headed north to reach the flats. In doing so, we had to round (at Salina Point) a long exposed shore. With the strong 20 mph winds, the heavy chop slammed the skiffs diabolically.  To avoid being totally drenched, we donned raincoats and pulled our hoods tight. Going home wasn't so bad as we were running with the waves.

On Thursday (Day 5) I fished with our guide Reno, Steve Peskoe and "EZ" (Earl Zagrodnik). We fished Roker Bay and the flats north of Roker Cay. I hadn't fished these flats since I was on the Commander liveaboard with Dave Sloan at the helm fifteen years ago. I remember beautiful creeks, large firm flats and lots of hefty bones. Not much had changed.

As usual, I bailed out of the skiff early so Steve and EZ could fish with Reno. I began my day on a large hard-bottomed flat that was fed by a picture perfect creek. White sand beaches, palms leaning out over the sand and a perfect bonefish habitat had me convinced I was on the verge of a "boneanza"! I ended up taking a long hike thru this creek system that looked like bonefish central, but to no avail. The cries overhead from an osprey supported my assessment, but both of us were not getting the results we expected. And if my osprey couldn't spot any bones, how the hell did I have a chance!

After walking out the other side of the creek having seen exactly zero (as in zip, nada), I waded back along the ocean side and by the time I got back to where I had started, I had covered many miles, seen no fish and was totally baffled. The creek, the outside shore and the flat outside the creek were beautiful... there should have been fish everywhere.

I did notice the water temp was unusually cold, especially for May, but it wasn't THAT cold. Anyway, by the time I had finished my big circle and gotten back to the flat where I had first bailed out of the skiff, Steve, Reno and EZ had pulled up in the skiff and were now wading towards the creek mouth. I waded towards them and almost immediately a bone swam by. WHAT the hell? I had made this big hike and now I see a bone right where I had started. Then another bonefish swam by, then a small school, then it was like someone had flipped a switch and pegged the dial at 10. It was kinda weird! There were fish everywhere and over my left shoulder the osprey was holding still in the wind. He must have been amazed too. We both were just gawking, waiting for an opportunity to strike.
We all caught a bunch of bones, then the spigot was turned and things slowed way down. Reno suggested we head to another creek. It too was gorgeous. The bones were less plentiful, but we still caught fish and some were in impossibly shallow water. I love hooking these shallow water, backs-out-of-the-water bones. The rooster tail kicked up on their first run is thrilling. It's amazing a bonefish can be so fast with at times a third of their body out of the water.

Eventually, I crossed from the creek to the ocean side and hooked a huge barracuda on my walk back to the skiff. The big 'cuda's take was frighteningly violent (it seemed especially so when you are standing in waist deep water 15 yards away). This barracuda was so big he eventually sawed through my 40 lb.Tyger wire tippet. Even that was perfect… I didn't want to handle this monster anyway! 

Jim uses a barracuda for bait

A big mutton snapper… delicious!

Doug had everyone showing it off but himself

In the late afternoon, we returned to the Sea Hunter to enjoy conch fritters and a superb dinner of Jambalaya. After dinner, we fished off the back of the Sea Hunter with fly rods and spin gear. A pack of big-eyed jacks were camped under the boat. We hooked many and only landed a few. We chummed them up with rice left over from supper. A fly dangled in the midst of these leftovers was immediately scarfed up… at least for awhile, but then being jacks, they wised up. Most of the big-eyed jacks we hooked either reached the coral below or eventually sawed off on the ship's hull. We also hooked a number of big mutton snapper, but only Doug Jeffries landed one of the big ones. This fish was destined to become snapper fingers the next night. In addition, we caught numerous other snappers and reef fish. It was a lot of fun.
Day 5 was a great day… we all crashed early... pretty well exhausted from our long fishing day.

Let's see if you are paying attention!

EZ… with more bait

Horse-eyed jack

Squirrel fish

Our last day was how you put a cap on a trip…
For me, it was the perfect day. In the morning, we walked and walked and walked, but saw no fish. Then Fidel, who was getting a bit frustrated, took us back to our starting point and we moved the boat a mere 200 yards. As if on cue, a few schools showed up. Jim Woollett, Steve Peskoe and I each hooked up numerous times, but Fidel wondered where the bulk of the fish were? Fidel muttered and fretted again, then signaled us to jump in the skiff. We quickly motored to a long shallow shoreline not far away. It was a good call!

This shore offered a classic and quite beautiful flat. When the tide got high enough, it would flood onto a hard pan of packed sand dotted with small mangroves bushes. At this tide level though, there was water only in a basin below this hard pan and from the moment we got out of the boat, bonefish were following the pan's edge. No doubt this pan was their landmark. Big schools, small schools, groups of 5, 6, 8… pick a number, streamed by. It was like a bunch of high school cliques headed for the cafeteria at lunchtime. It was nonstop and thrilling. Sharks were everywhere and they were very aggressive. Every bone I caught was chased by a shark, some were eaten.

You can tell the size of the shark from the bite mark

Soon, I waded out of the water, left these fish to Jim and Steve and hiked 500 yards away. When I stopped, I caught six or seven solid bones usually from the dry hard pan while I was hiding behind a bush. I hauled these fish out onto the hardpan when caught, chased off the sharks that were circling and quickly released these bones so they could swim another day. Most of these bones were caught literally within inches of the shoreline. At one point, I cast to a school of four and hooked a fish, but the hook pulled. These fish were moving fast contouring the shoreline so I crossed a point, caught up to the quartet and actually hooked another in the group. Perfect!

Eventually, Fidel caught up to me with the boat.  Steve and Jim were with him. They had experienced great non-stop action too including a double. Now that's they way you end a trip!

We motored back to the Sea Hunter, washed the salt from our rods, and before we could break them down and pack them away, we were underway, rumbling back to Landrail Point. It would take us a bit over 5 hours. We anchored in the dark with the lights of the village in the distance… the perfect end to a great trip!
Soon, it was back to the airport to begin the journey home.

Boots drying… a sad scene
Back to reality?