Sunday, January 29, 2012

Shoulder Season Trout Part 2: Fall

     Saturday was the perfect October day... 65 degrees, sunny and dead calm. So perfect that I was in a t-shirt and and an old ratty pair of shorts. Although it seemed like a long way off on a day like this, I was getting things ready for winter.  I pulled the water pump from the irrigation ditch and attached the snowplow to the 4-wheeler as I muttered to myself how I was wasting this beautiful day with chores. I gained some solace knowing that I had made a very adult, if not stupid, choice. I promised myself I would fish tomorrow and not mire myself in such useless behavior. Now don’t get me wrong, I am hardly Mr. Responsible. I had fished twice last week on local ranches with great success. I just wanted to go do it again! After all, we had a once-in-a-millennium grasshopper plague this summer and the trout have been big, eager and unbelievably fat. Last Sunday, I had caught quite a few fish and two browns over 22 inches. One had a girth of 13.5 and the other 14.5 inches. Now those are very big trout for a small ranch stream... and catching them on hoppers is an addicting activity.

     As I slogged through my chores, I thought about getting another crack at this one ranch and maybe repeating my success. I knew I couldn’t surpass last week’s experience, but one more big fish before winter set in would be great. 
I decided I would go tomorrow. I now worked with greater diligence and finally finished my work in the late afternoon. I then threw some gear together for tomorrow. This wasn’t difficult... waders, 4 wt., reel and most important, the HOPPER BOX! I didn’t even bother with nymphs, or a baetis box, or any of the myriad of other dry fly boxes I usually shove into every available pocket when I leave the car to head to the river. If I didn’t make it with hoppers tomorrow, I would come home. I knew this was more bravado than any risky leap of faith. But it felt edgy and cool so I stuck with it.  After loading my gear in the car, I decided to check the weather for tomorrow. I opened “The Weather Channel” website and there in big letters:


     GREAT! I burned this beautiful day doing chores and now tomorrow would be snowy and cold. I was pissed! It was October 5th and I knew the hopper fishing was just about over. This storm would seal the deal. Frustrated, I looked at the hour-by-hour report to see when the storm would actually roll in tomorrow. The precipitation potential went from 20% to 50% at 12:00 noon. In the morning, the potential remained at 20% from 8 until 11:00 AM, but then the temps would drop progressively until it reached the lower 30’s. Hmmmm... maybe, just maybe, if I was fishing by 9:00 AM, I could catch a fish before the storm shut everything down. Maybe, the fish would be eager to eat before the storm. Maybe they wouldn’t need the heat of the day to become active as they always do this time of year. Maybe the memory of tasty hoppers would be enough to overcome the cold and drive them to the surface. Maybe, I was an idiot and I should just go unpack the car. Maybe because you want to do something doesn’t mean it will happen. Maybe, maybe... Maybe, I’ll just wait and see how the weather is in the morning.
     At 8:00 AM, under sooty skies and 34 degree temps, I found myself in the car on the way to the river. Talk about wishful thinking... the ceiling was dropping along with my attitude. I consoled myself by noting at least it was calm. By 9:00 AM, as it started to spit sleet, I was “wadered up” and walking to the river. I promised myself I would fish for two hours so I could make sure I could get home. I knew we had a buster of a storm on the way. You could literally smell it in the air and I didn’t want to spend the night weathered in at a local motel because of my idiotic need to catch one more fish. 
     Once at river’s edge, I sat down on the still green summer grass and quietly skooched down the bank until I could step into the flat run. Last Sunday, under clear skies and warm temps, I had caught a 22” brown here and since this day was all about trying to recapture past glory, I decided to start here again. It is a beautiful spot. The willows were a bright yellow and red chokecherry bushes, their branches laden with ripe berries, sagged reaching out over the stream. Two rooster pheasants sat in one bush, munching contentedly, no doubt stocking up for the storm. I ignored them and they ignored me as I worked the bank with a big foam hopper. On my two previous outings, I had my best luck either under the willows or along floating weed beds where browns could safely lie unexposed and wait for hoppers to be blown into the river. I tried river left, then cast to the other bank drifting my fly along an edge where some branches had collected moss and leaves forming a 10 foot long island. I watched my fly until I felt resistance. I looked down to see a loop of line wrapped around my hemostats. I fumbled with cold fingers to unhook the line. I then blew briefly in my hands as I brought my eyes back to the weed bed. Now I couldn’t find my big hopper!  I saw no disturbance and assumed that I had lost my fly in the flat light. Just in case, I struck halfheartedly. My line came firm and a big fished rolled provocatively, then raced upstream. My day was made! If I didn’t get another look, I could go home happy. It hadn't taken long!
     With frozen fingers, I got the fish on the reel and let the drag work to slow her down. Soon, I was measuring a 20” brown. I slid her back into the steely blue water. The temperature had seemingly dropped 10 degrees while I was landing this fish and big fluffy snowflakes now started to fall! Suddenly, I was really cold!  I fished the rest of the run then got out and walked upstream to fish the next run.... then the next.  A cold wind picked up and drove hard at me out of the northwest. I stopped to add another layer and pulled on a wool cap. I hate gloves so I decided to tough it out. The wind ruffled the water’s surface except on the upwind side underneath the willows. I concentrated my efforts there. 
     In one riffle, I had another take and again didn’t realize it until it was too late. The low light and strong wind made for tough visibility and that combined with the penetrating cold slowed my reaction time. When it finally dawned on me I had a take, I only grazed the fish with the hook point. I watched numbly as a boil developed where the fish had finned away. The thing about being really cold is that you can tell yourself to concentrate and do better, but the body just doesn’t follow. It has a mind of its own. I decided I had better cherry-pick the best spots and get the hell out of here before I was either hypothermic or weathered in. I fished a long slick that last week had produced two 22” fish and one 23” monster. I waded slowly up to a willow that overhung what I knew to be deeper holding water. I was eager to see what this sexy spot held today. 

     I cast my hopper across the stream and luckily tucked the fly under the willows only inches from shore. It drifted about 4 feet before it was pinched between the jaws of something big. With muscles not taking orders too well, I clumsily pulled up on the rod tip. I saw a flash of yellow and red and knew a big buck brown in spawning regalia was on the line. He came quickly to my side and I, in my cold-addled state, thought he was cold like me and was not up to the fight. As I reached down to unhook him, he exploded. He porpoised and then ripped upstream, obviously not effected one bit by the cold. He made two spectacular jumps, then turned toward the bank and some brush. I couldn’t keep up with the slack and he burrowed through two brush piles before the pressure suddenly went off my line. I waded over to untangle the mess knowing he was off and I would now have to reach my hand into the frigid water to get my fly back. I then felt the line pulse! With increased urgency, I kicked at the first brush pile lifting the mess with my foot. I grabbed my line and pulled it free of the bundle. I tried the same thing with the second jumble of branches, but I couldn’t lift the tangle very high off the bottom so I rolled up my sleeves and grabbed the highest branch. I pulled the whole mess to the surface. My hands were now numb. I got the line free and realized the fish had burrowed into some weeds next to shore. I jammed my arm in the water and pulled the line through the weeds and again he took off like a rocket. This time he didn’t make it as far. I soon landed him. He seemed a bit odd and when I held him out of the water, I could see his spine was badly deformed where a large wound had healed on his left side. 

     His spine looked like 3 inches had been excised from his back then the two ends put back together. He must have lived this way a long time. Maybe an otter or an osprey had grabbed him when he was just a parr-marked youngster. This guy had the head of a 26” fish, yet his body measured only 23 inches. I admired this survivor and wanted to get him quickly back in the gene pool. So after measuring him, I took a photo and slid him back into the stream. As he finned away, I encouraged him to spawn well. I caught a few more fish, but the cold and swiftly deteriorating conditions soon drove me off the river. It took the drive home to get feeling back in my hands. Just as I pulled in my driveway the snow from what would soon become a full scale blizzard began to fall harder. As I watched the storm build, I completed a few “indoor chores”. My fingertips tingled all day, I’m sure this was because they were just itching to get just one more chance at those big browns on hoppers this fall.

Shoulder Season Trout Part 1: Spring

As January stumbles into February in Wyoming, some of us start to think of spring. With summers being so short here, we will stretch spring into winter and pursue summer late into the fall...
Here is spring's story:

      Sunday, April 18, was a beautiful day...65 degrees and sunny with wisps of rain moving in from the mountains. After taking Gus and Tut, my two Weimaraners, for a walk, I decided to drive the 25 minutes to Buffalo and fish my favorite stretch of water. This creek looks like any other river from the road, but if I had to choose, I would call it my home water. Although I live 60 miles from the fantastic Bighorn River and fish it often, I know this little stream better than any angler alive. I have fished it hundreds of times over the past 12 years and have learned many of its secrets. Sometimes I go after work or when I have only a few hours to fish.

     The section I fish is on a private ranch. The owner lets me fish the mile and a half of river that runs on his property any time I want. I’ve explored every inch of it. He has been great to me. We often sit and chat riverside before I get impatient and start making excuses so I can get on the water. He is in his 90’s and his wife is very sick so every day I’m on this stream, I figure it might be my last. The ranch is just out of the foothills where the prairie still has some relief making it a great combination of classic riffled runs and long elegant slicks. Very few people get to fish it... it's just me, a few of our clients and a couple old timers from Gillette who throw Mepp’s spinners in the pools every now and then. It can be a tough river and it has a limited season. You can get in a few good days in April after ice-out and before run-off, a few days in June and July after run-off and before the irrigators suck it down and a few days after irrigation and before the water gets too cold again in the fall. It seems to be either really good or not so good. I either hit it right or go home consoled by the fact that this little slice of heaven was all mine for the day. A few of our clients have hit it right and had spectacular days. The majority have turned only a couple fish and never wanted to fish it again. I guess I can’t blame them, but what they don’t know is what I do know...and that is what lurks below.

What makes this stream so unique is there is always the possibility of a big fish. On most streams this size, an 18” trout would be a trophy. Not on this stream. Most fish will be at least 18 inches and go up from there. I’ve caught many 20” fish and a few in the 21, 22, 23” inch range. Twelve years ago, I caught a 25.5 inch rainbow and ten years ago a 26 inch brown. I’ve thought those times were over, but last summer, I caught a few 23” fish so maybe the fish are getting bigger again. In any case, I think any fish over 20” makes your day. On this stream, you’ll never rack up big numbers, but if you can manage to hook some fish, they will be quality specimens. All you need is the patience to risk getting skunked and the drive to fish hard until the point you hook one of these monsters.
     This last week, spring decided to poke her head out in Wyoming and see if the coast was clear. Now, the willow shoots have turned yellow, pasque flowers are popping up amongst the yucca and sage and most trees have buds. As I pulled on my decrepit waist high waders and noted a new pair was in order, I listened to a dozen sandhill cranes that were reintroducing themselves after their long migration. They chatted noisily in the middle of a horse pasture formed by an ox bow in the river. Soon, I was walking down the lane towards the hay mow, now just a collection of bailing twine and loose hay remnants matted down by winter. As I got to the irrigation ditch, I stepped over a snapping turtle. I snapped a few photos as it lumbered through the cow patties making its way from the main stream to a cattail slough. I could hear meadowlarks, red winged blackbirds and pheasants. This was the kind of day when if you were still, you could hear the thrum of an earth coming back to life. 

     It wasn’t long before I was at the river’s edge. I slid down the bank and walked through the honey-colored winter grass spooking one of last year’s whitetail fawns. I stepped into the stream. The water was cold. I wondered if too cold for the fish to feed today. Sitting on the bank with my feet in the water, I rigged a big foam spider on 9’ of leader then dropped a size 16 prince nymph on 5X two feet below my spider/strike indicator. I often start here where the stream splits around a little island forming a fast run on the right and a slow deeper pool on the left. I nipped off the tag ends of my leader, and waded to the bottom of the island positioning myself to fish the right riffle.

     From this vantage point, I could literally touch with my rod tip a half dozen spots where 20+” fish had been caught in previous years. Behind me, in a deeper trough below some willows, I had gotten two 22” browns on hoppers on two separate days last summer. There would be no fish there now; they would be in the runs waiting for nymphs to come to them and not in the still water under the willows hunting for hoppers. To my left and up the other channel, I had caught a 21” rainbow on a blue dun at a spot where a Russian olive tree reached out over the channel. Below me in the confluence of the two channels, I had caught a 22” brown in the heat of summer three years ago that had been tailing on a crayfish. He had delicately eaten my beetle like someone eats an exotic hors d’oeuvre they think its food, but they’re not quite sure. So many good memories and the whole river is like this for me. Every bend, every pool, every riffle holds a memory. This is home water...a place to fish and a place to remember. 

     Interrupting my reverie, I made my first cast and caught a beautiful 18” brown hen. She was deep and strong and had obviously wintered well. What was a plague for the ranchers was a bounty for the trout, and last summer’s hoppers had no doubt put her in good shape. She had emerged from winter fat and healthy. As the sunlight became muted thru the first of series of light rain clouds, I took a few photos of her then slid her back into the cool stream. I checked my fly and waded back to fish the run again. This time I cast across the run and probed an eddy line on the far side. The line came taut. I hauled an 8” fish up into the Wyoming sky. What a ride that must have been! On this river I’m always thinking big fish and when you tag a minor, it can involve adrenaline for you and air time for them. I unhooked the little brown and went right back to the run. The rust-colored spider slowly spun its way downriver thru the eddy. I squinted, trying to keep contact with my fly in the diffused sunlight. Then the spider disappeared. I struck and knew immediately I had a good fish. It was that pleasing thunk that occurs when a big jaw is pierced. The fish didn’t move much, but I knew it was not a snag because I could feel a slight pulse. Then, all hell broke loose. The fish jumped 2 feet out of the water not a rod length away at eye level. He smacked the water, then raced downstream.
     Now, there is that moment when a particular fish is hooked that your day goes from run-of-the-mill normal to rare once-in-a-lifetime spectacular. When these moments happen you know you will always remember them. You can tell when these events occur because you suddenly really care if you land the fish, not so much because you want to be successful, but because you want to see the fish and see how big it is and to feel it in your hands. You want the unknown to be known. This was one of those moments. This fish was huge...huge for a stream with big fish. After this fact was reconfirmed by yet another spectacular jump, the fish raced downstream. I knew with 5X tippet on a size 16 fly, it wouldn’t take much line drag to pop the fly or break the tippet. I needed to stop him from getting too far downstream. I needed to chase!

     I couldn’t control him from where I was, He was starting around a bend and if I stayed in this spot, his trajectory would pull him into some willows and debris. I had to wade across the river and get a better angle. Once on the other side, I thought I could move downstream after him. He was a handful and I knew he was a "he" from his huge kyped jaw so elegantly displayed during his last jump. I waded into the main channel. It was deeper than I thought. I spilled water over the top of my waist highs, but didn’t care. I’m not sure I even felt it. On tippy-toes, I made my way through the deepest portion then relaxed as it got shallower. I reached the far bank and crawled up the slippery bank. Luckily, this new angle prompted my fish to move back upstream towards me. I madly retrieved line concentrating on keeping my rod tip bent and still. Soon he stopped to sulk in the middle of the stream. Now, I was having a hard time moving him at all. I knew I needed to put pressure on him and decided it was now or never. I pushed the 5X to the limit and he rose up off the bottom. Eventually, I was able to move him more easily towards my side of the river. I waded downstream to reach a small beach where I thought I could land him. I swung him in, reached a hand under his belly and slid him up onto the sand of the beach. 
     “Holy shit” I said aloud to myself.
     I watched him for a moment then pulled out a tape. I got his length at 24” and his girth at 16.5”. I frenetically took photos most of the time keeping him in the water to do so. I wanted to keep him, to take him home, introduce him to my friends, put him on a leash and take him for a walk...anything but let him go again. Soon reason prevailed and I pulled the tiny prince nymph out of his upper jaw and held him in the current. His massive hooked jaw pulsed as he sucked in water. Soon, his tail moved and his body started to twist in my hand. I let him slide out of my grip into deeper water. He finned out of sight quickly. I was wet to the elbows with sand and mud and could barely see out of my fish splashed sunglasses. I could feel the water in my waders, but thought it a fair trade.

      It took awhile to get cleaned up. Then I walked slowly up to the next of my favorites. I caught a 20” fish from the top of the run last week...only fish I landed all day. On this day, I could have cared less if I caught another fish.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


 Panga: a fishing boat indigenous to Central America and Mexico

It begins so innocently. One moment you're cruising along in your panga taking in the early morning sights and smells. Maybe your eyelids droop a bit... perhaps reacting to last night's Margaritas. Maybe you sit for just a second and let your attention slide. You're relaxed, you're content, hell, you're barely awake. Then a silver side flashes enticingly against the a patch of dark turtlegrass. This innocent observation serves as a mental wedgie that shoves you from your early morning reverie and takes you to fully amped in only a small slice of a second. 

And thus it begins... pangamonium... the time-honored ritual, really more of a combination affliction and reaction, but I digress. When pangamonium begins chaos reignsPangamonium is apparently a required activity when tarpon fishing. In the throes of pangamonium, an adrenalized angler can find a million ways to blow his shot: wrap the line around the rod tip top, catch it on the cooler below the casting deck, stand on the line, let the wind blow it overboard. It's all part of the symptoms that afflicts most of us when that first tarpon is sighted. While not everyone gets to cast to the sighted fish, everyone gets to participate in pangamonium. Pangamonium is an equal opportunity virus. It spreads like ebola and afflicts everyone in the boat. Soon,  not only is the angler finding new and creative ways to screw up, but everyone is aiding him in his pursuit of "buck fever" by yelling  helpful, but mutually exclusive suggestions and instructions. Pangamonium sounds like a bunch of chimps in a fig tree or my family at Thanksgiving .
 "Cast longer!"...  "Cast shorter!"...  "Cast again!" 
"There he is, to your left, more right, over there, he's behind you, there’s one, etc., etc.” 
Sure everyone is excited and just trying to be helpful, but it is a confusing situation! Some anglers get really pissed off and tell everyone to shut up.  That's just wrong and it's not in the spirit of panagamonium. After all, this tarpon belongs to everyone and to force people to be quiet is like taking the ball and going home. Besides, when it's not your turn to cast, you'll be wanting to play too! What a well-adjusted angler needs to do is to try an accommodate everyone's suggestions ! At least until the fish had disappeared or you have learned to tune everyone out and make your cast. Not too early or too late, but when the time is right.  If you can ignore the pangamonium party and do it right, and if the tarpon eats, Stage Two of pangamonium begins.

Stage Two can be even more chaotic than Stage One and although it begins with the hookset, it continues through the clearing of line and bowing to the first jump. All these activities must seemingly be practiced simultaneously.  If you sucessfully pass Stage Two and the fish is still on, then Stage Three of pangamonium isn't far behind. It begins when the tarpon is on the reel.  
Stage Three not only involves physical work, but also demands you listen to many more countless suggestions and helpful observations... this time on how to fight and land your fish. 
"Put pressure on him." 
“If you aren’t hurting him, he’ll hurt you”. 
"Lower your rod to the right, pull hard off your hip."  
"Don't raise your rod tip!"
"Bring your rod parallel to the boat’s deck." 
And  the time honored, 
" You can't wait for him to tire... you must tire him! "
All true, all helpful and all rarely heard by the angler engaged in the fight! 

But whatever you do and no matter how much craziness ensues, Stage Three can be a long process. It only ends with Stage Four which begins when the fish gets somewhat close to the boat. Now a skilled pangamaniac can still lose his fish in a variety of ways so you must remain alert and watch for late slow motion jumps and courageous runs. The suggestions from the guide and your fishing mate at this point are creative, instructive and seemingly endless... as well as useless.
If your luck holds and you have a guide who has the hands and the mind to handle a bucket of a mouth hitched to a muscle mass accrued by millions of years of evolution, you’ll get your picture and then watch as this huge, ancient silver beast with the dark green back slides back into the blue of the ocean.  You'll feel exhausted. Your hands will ache and your biceps will tingle. You'll feel a need to chatter and tell everyone that you don't want to do that again... but that's a lie, the last symptom of pangamonium. In truth you love pangamonium and you want to get very sick again soon!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tarpon fly-fishing in the Los Petenes Biosphere Reserve, from the beautiful town of Campeche Mexico.

Old friend Drs. Larry Towning and Brian Crock visited the Tarpon Coast in October 2011 with Dental Education, Inc. Larry posted this great video upon their return... thanks guys!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Scott's Bonefishing Advice: Part 5... Your Mindset Is All Important!

     I ended the last edition of "tips" with the comment that your mindset is all important. I was referring to a stealthy mindset then, but now, I'd like to expand upon an angler's mindset a bit before getting to some specific technical tips in the next edition. (I apologize if I get too metaphysical here, but I've watched these suggestions play out with bonefishermen for both good and bad for years. I hope you won't think these suggestions are too weird and that you will at least think about them... I think they will help you become a better fisherman!)

     OK, so you've got your game face on by getting in the stealth mode. (That is why I use an old Abel with a silent outgoing drag and why I don't use Sharkskin fly lines. Although I think these noises scare fish, I think any unnecessary noise destroys a stealth mindset. Excessive probably... but I'm sticking with it!). Now to go to the next level, you've got to add to that predator mindset the concept that first, everything works to your advantage and second, it's all up to you.

1.) So you've got no sun or maybe lots of wind, what's new! Let's face it, rarely do you have ideal weather conditions... instead of using it as an excuse for the "poor" fishing or allowing it to frustrate you, use it. Wind, bad weather, low light... these conditions may not be the best for the fish either! Wind and waves especially reduce a bone's ability to see and hear you. Use it!  Learn to love the weather, especially the wind... it is your friend.

2.) Expect to catch a fish instead of telling yourself you won't. I've seen it more than once... the guy that expects to catch fish and behaves accordingly creates opportunities if not actually creating bonefish. As they say "you gotta believe!". Maybe it's hope, or optimism or confidence, Whatever you call it... attitude is everything when it comes to fishing. I'll even go further... I think bonefish (hell, all fish for that matter), smell resignation. Achieving a predatory mindset is a hopeful action. One that is often self fulfilling. Hope/confidence/optimism is as important as the right fly or a new rod or a fine tippet.

3.) On a practical level, use the wind and sun to your advantage. If possible, wade a flat with the wind behind you. If there is little or no wind, have the sun behind you. Take the time, after spotting a fish, to navigate upwind of your fish, but always wade quietly until you are in place. When you are in position, false cast away from the fish, especially with a slow moving or tailing fish. This will keep the fly line from spooking the fish. Cast away at a 45 to 90 degree angle to the direction that the fish are heading. If it is windy, make your false cast holding your rod as parallel as possible to the plane of the water. The wind's friction with the water lessens its velocity in the area 3 to 4 feet above the water's level. This casting technique makes it harder for the fish to see the fly line and allows for a very quiet presentation since the fly does not drop from much height.

4.) Don't blame your equipment. Don't get so involved in the minutiae of equipment that you focus on that and abdicate your role in all this. To look to your equipment for answers actually hinders your ability to learn the skills of the sport. Casting, stalking, presentation and a proper retrieve have to do with you, not your rod... not your leader... not your fly. Of course they are important. That is a given... make your choice, then move on and know your success is literally in your hands.

     Again to be successful, is more a matter of preparation than luck. But since I've been a bit "mental" with these tips, here is one more and it has to do with karma. Build up some good karma by remembering: When you do catch a bonefish, take a few pics, but treat him well. As someone else pointed out. "He is old and possibly embarrassed." Be kind to him... it will pay off for you.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bonefish tattoo

Bill Hegberg has the best bonefish tattoo I've ever seen! Bill is from Basalt, Colorado and is an avid and experienced trout angler, but I think his true loyalties are evident.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Water Cay Lodge: A Few Words with Head Guide Sidney Thomas... Part II

We continue our discussion with the extraordinary Bahamian guide, Sidney Thomas of Water Cay Lodge. Here, he reveals methods and a style of bonefishing that goes somewhat against traditional Bahamian approaches. We hope you find his revelations on bonefishing, flies and gear helpful and perhaps applicable to other fisheries around the Bahamas.

Sidney continues:

I think lots of guys I meet at the lodge strip the fly too fast. Bonefish aren't ‘cuda and you can strip the fly out of their way. Both Gregory, Ezra and me all want to get our guys to move that fly with the fish, not move it away. So I tell them to rest that fly, watch the fish not the line. When those fins stick straight out and they are looking for what made that splash, bump it just a bit. No shrimp or worm has ever outrun a big bonefish... they hide. Bump and watch. Wait ... the fish will find it and eat it. Wading or on the boat it can be hard for guests to see the fish tip down and eat, but I see it every time. I tell them to make a looooooong clean strip. I don’t say he ate it, hit ‘em like lots of guides do. The looooong strip is calm and easy and most times that fish has eaten the fly and is moving away. When guests make the long strip the line comes tight, the bonefish feels it and the guest... well... that’s why they came to Water Cay. They get their line cleared and that is fishing.

But the BIG bonefish are smart and they will run either to deep water where they can use their speed or they will run to the mangrove bushes. It all depends on where you are fishing. Some guests break off a lot of fish when they run for the bushes. Here is where I help them. I tell them to release the drag and go slack on the fish. Almost every time that fish’ll stop when he feels the pressure on him leave. That way the fish stops and waits thinking he is hiding in shallow water. We walk up on him and clear the line. The fish, he’s happy to be free and my guests caught another big one. Seems like the wrong thing to do but taking that pressure off of them is the way to land a fish that has gone into the bushes.

I been visiting these flats for many years and I have seen these fish in all conditions. I have spent most of my life out on the flats and bays and in the back country. So I am out there to help my guys who come down to catch bones. If you come to Water Cay you’ll get my best opinion and my best work. We fish to catch fish, learn about fish and see the beauty of my island. That is what Water Cay Lodge was built for”.

Guide Greg Rolle Commutes to Work

Sidney Thomas has spent his life on the water fishing for bonefish. He has worked for all of the lodges on Grand Bahama and knows the nooks and crannies of all the north side bonefish spots. His lodge, Water Cay Lodge, can be seen on the Angling Destinations web site or I’d be happy to talk directly to you regarding a visit to meet Sidney’s BIG fish. Bone fishing is a skill sport and as such Sidney’s years of experience are invaluable to the avid fly fisherman looking to learn the sport or to polish and improve existing skills.

For more info about Water Cay Lodge and the exemplary guide Sidney Thomas go:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Photo and a Funny Note from the Ydens after their North Andros Trip

Larry and Carol Ydens just returned from a great bonefishing trip to North Andros and the Joulter Cays. When I commented on the beautiful photo of Larry's wife Carol, Larry made the following comment. I thought it was really funny and since I'm a short guy, I have now come to realize that tall guys have their share of problems too!

 Larry said, "You'll notice that there are no pictures of me, and that is intentional. I will not have my picture taken holding a fish. It dates back many years, when I went to Patagonia to fish. My guide, Arturo, and I were fishing Lago Founk, and I caught a very large Brook trout. Arturo asked if he could get a photo for his website, so we took photos of he and I holding the fish. When I returned to the states, and showed the pictures to my wife and daughter, they asked "How come Arturo's fish is so much larger than yours?"... Arturo is 5'5" and 130#, and I am 6'6" and 260#... so no more pictures holding fish..."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Water Cay Lodge: A Few Words from Head Guide Sidney Thomas

Sidney Thomas, Guide Extaordinaire

   Prior to 2008, Grand Bahama Island's Northern Horn was a tough spot to reach. Several well known operators on Grand Bahama, namely the Pinder Brothers and Greg Vincent from Pelican Bay Resort fished this area, but it required long boat rides for visiting anglers (45 minutes at a minimum) which chewed up valuable fishing time. In the fall of 2008, this problem was solved by long time Grand Bahama resident and superb bonefish guide, Sidney Thomas. Sidney and his family took the task of renovating the small bonefish lodge on remote Water Cay that was destroyed in the fall of 2003 by a series of devastating hurricanes. Along with a few experienced anglers, Sidney and his brothers knew the bonefish treasure that swam in and around the flats of Water Cay. 

   After many months of hard work, Water Cay Lodge opened its doors to traveling anglers seeking the island's most remote bonefishing. Sidney’s dream became reality as Water Cay Lodge quickly became a hotspot on the global bonefish map. The word from visiting fishermen was “BIG bonefish, naive and unpressured... some permit during the warm months and the occasional tarpon in predictable spots”. With several daily flights from the U.S. to Freeport, Grand Bahama, Sidney quickly filled his small guest lodge (6 anglers max.). Today, Water Cay Lodge has become an outstanding location for not only experienced anglers, but also beginners looking for a positive first time adventure.

   Interestingly, as we have gotten to know Sidney, his methods and style of bonefishing go somewhat against traditional Bahamian angling approaches. Late in 2011, I spoke with Sidney about some of these strategies and his opinion on bonefishing, flies and gear in the discussion which follows. I hope you find some of it helpful and perhaps applicable to other fisheries around the Bahamas.

Sidney speaks...

“Bonefish got to eat. And to eat, bonefish got to get up onto their flats and find food. It’s nice to see those big tails waving in the sunlight on the incoming water. We see them and we fish ‘em directly. What I mean is that I like to have my guys go straight for the fish. No leading or putting that fly where you think them fish are gonna be. Just try to hit them on the head. The fish at Water Cay haven't seen many flies and so when they are hungry, they ain’t shy. You might think that your cast spooked them because they take flight twenty or thirty feet. But more times than not, the fish spin in a circle looking for what made the fuss. If they think it’s a ‘cuda or shark or maybe a bird, they’ll keep moving. But if the coast is clear, those big fish will come right back to the spot. If you are there, then they are gonna eat every time. We hook a bunch of BIG bonefish this way.

Sidney at work.

I tell my guys to use lead eyes on size 2 or even 1 tin hooks. Why tin? Cause if you bust off a big bonefish that tin hook will be out of them in two weeks. Better off for everyone. Why the lead eyes? Cause they make a bigger splash. The big singles and doubles pushing up on the flat are happy guys... the water’s getting higher and they hear the dinner bell ringing. When those fish are like that, the kinda fly you use doesn’t matter a whole bunch. Just stick to tans, olives, maybe a bit of orange or pink and no flash. All those little worms and shrimp don’t have flash. Flash will kill them and nature doesn’t do it much. Stick to big lead eyes, pale color flies that match the bottom, gun your cast straight at ‘em and hold on.

For leaders and stiffness I tell my guys to use seven to ten foot leaders, regular old ones are fine. Our fish don’t care much. They don’t care if that leader costs $10 or $3. Ten to fifteen pound is fine. For fly lines, the old ones are better than the new ones. Guys with the new bumpy lines (Sharkskin lines, Ed.) in bright color, might cast farther, but out on the flats, them fish hear that sound. They feel that sound and it’s nothing that they ever see or hear. So when they hear it, they know somethings wrong. I've seen so many bonefish run and keep running cause of that zipping sound. Bonefish feel pressure in the water and they feel that sound and they run for cover. Bonefishing is a quiet game. Things have to be natural and those new lines are the worst at wrecking happy fish. I give my guys my boat fly rod to use and try to get them to take that line off while they are at Water Cay. 

Most guests who catch a six pound bonefish and feel the fight, think it’s a ten pounder! But when that same guest hooks a real ten pounder or a fish like the twelve pounder we caught this past fall, they know that six pound bonefish wasn’t a ten pound fish. Then all they want to do for the rest of their day is look on the edges and bushes for another BIG fish. Most folks have not hooked really big fish on trips to the other islands. Three, five, seven pound fish maybe. But around the horn, near Water Cay, there are really BIG fish. Guys come to Water Cay, but they come back to Water Cay because they got a big fish on their last trip and now, they want another.
Sidney's brother Ezra, also a superb guide, commutes to work.

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Forty Feet

Apparently little has changed in my world. I discovered this entry the other day in an old journal that I pulled from under a pile of maps. Thought you might be interested:

 Under a searingly hot sun, I hiked to the end of a long, sand spit that had been exposed by the falling tide. The moon’s power had sucked the water away revealing a huge white sand bar framed on either side by deep turquoise that quickly faded into cobalt blue channels. Sweating as I finally reached the end of the spit, a flash of silver, then another, caught my eye.  I waited patiently on the far side of the spit, kneeling on the soft, wet sand.  Finally, as my knees were beginning to feel the strain, a tail once again popped up only a foot from shore. The bonefish stood on end, clumsily straining to reach a tasty morsel at the bottom of a pothole.  I threw my line in the air and cast across the spit. Forty feet of line and eleven feet of leader settled on the sand. A little over a foot of leader and the fly made it to the water. 

I bumped the fly with one slow strip. No response. Apparently, his line was busy.  I decided to wait and call again in few minutes.  When his tail briefly flashed at the same spot I had seen him before, I stripped my line once again and his tail magically reappeared.  I knew I’d made a long distance connection, but because my line was laying on the sand, I felt no telltale tick.  Assuming he had eaten my fly, I strip-striked. The bone shot off the flat before I could stand on my cramped legs.  The fish was well into my backing before my legs regained their feeling.  After a few more spectacular runs, I managed to land the fish just as a three foot lemon shark zeroed in on his scent.  I released my bone on the far side of the spit, far away from the prying nose of the shark.  I looked around now suddenly aware that white sand spits and cuts stretched endlessly off into the distance.  I walked on,  prepared to search them all if I had to.” SSH April 1993

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Scott's Bonefishing Advice: Part 4... Big Bones

With few exceptions, all gamefish are both predator and prey. While one eye is constantly peeled for their next meal, the other is always scanning for lurking danger. Their appetite pushes them greedily forward while their wariness urges retreat. This constant push/pull creates a rather nervous personality whether it be a 24” brown trout sipping mayflies off a swirling eddyline, or a 28” bonefish rooting deep in the marl for a mantis shrimp. Even salmon, hellbent to move upstream struggling to fill a primordial appetite of a different sort, are subject to the same wariness of character. The brown trout fears the eagle and osprey, the bonefish fears the shark and barracuda, the salmon fears the grizzly bear and they all fear you.

The selectivity and wariness of wild fish is an innate characteristic, yet it is increased by fishing pressure. Experienced anglers know that the single most effective technique that they can employ to increase their success is stealth. In any type of fishing, and most especially with sight fishing, you must avoid alerting your prey to your presence. This single rule is more important than fly color, or size, or pattern, or tippet diameter. We all spend huge amounts of time and effort conceiving ways to fool fish with tackle, especially terminal tackle, refinements. But, it is often at the complete other end of the system where the problem occurs. The noisy, quick or jerky motion, the gaudy dress, the poorly presented fly, - whether it be in the salt, or in freshwater lakes and streams - often sabotages an angler’s chance of success.

Think about this, a fish’s vision is extremely acute. If a bonefish can see a small shrimp scooting away in muddy water, he can most certainly see and hear you - unless you can avoid alerting him. Bonefish can focus simultaneously on a whole range of objects on any given plane. This means bonefish can see in almost every direction at once. To catch a bonefish therefore, your wariness must match his wariness.

Here are a few suggestions to increase your “stealth factor”:
1. Wade quietly, move slowly, watch constantly - look before you change your position. Good anglers are like herons, they watch and wait then move - often the fish come to them.
2. Wear clothes that camouflage your presence. Select colors that blend into the background shades of your fishing environment. Try to disappear into the fish’s surroundings. Stand in shadows, on patches of turtlegrass, behind trees, rocks, or mangroves.
3. Practice your casting before your go on your trip. Learn to cast with a minimum of false casts and never false cast over a fish. Never load your rod by “popping” your fly off the surface either in front of you or on your backcast. Not only learn to cast longer, but learn to drop your fly more quietly.
4. Don't wade into the water from the shore without looking into the shallows first. In other words, look closely before you enter the water.
5. Don't talk if you want to catch fish, if you want to socialize that's great, but if you want talk to your buddy, don't expect to catch as many fish. Talking obviously makes noise and diverts your attention from the task at hand. Don't kid yourself that fish can't hear you talking or splashing.
6. Don't wade noisily or too quickly to get to an area that looks promising. This is just "calling ahead" and drastically reduces your odds of success once you get there. Likewise, don't wade quickly thru a shallow bar to "get to the other side". You are merely "reaching out and touching somebody!"
 7. Don't false cast or practice casting while you are wading, Don't roll cast (thus splashing water) to initiate your cast. Use as long a leader as you can cast and get upwind if you can (more on this in the next post).

Remember above all else:
Fish may not immediately leave an area when they become aware of your presence, but they will behave differently. If they know something is up, they are far less likely to eat. In order to get a shot at big bones before they "make you",  you must learn to think like a predator...  that is what you are afterall. Your mindset is all important. Stealth is as much an attitude as a particular technique. When you assume the attitude of a hunter and all that entails, you are on your way to becoming invisible to the fish - and that will increase your fishing productivity more than any other single learned technique or purchased technology.