Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Day in April: A Day to Remember!

April 20, 2012, at a ranch somewhere in Wyoming, I had a day to remember...

This little Betty charged my #2 sofa pillow, missed it (how, I'll never know... chalk it up to a rainbow's typical overenthusiasm) and then sucked up my purple pheasant tail nymph. She went from zero to "Holy Shit" in 0.4 seconds. She exploded from the shallow run and tail walked to the pool below. She was twenty one inches of muscle and pastels. I had trouble landing her. I was thrilled and muttered to myself continuously as I tried to control her. I was pleading with myself to do it right, don't get impatient and to keep a still rod tip. My pep talk worked. She had an attitude like an Alaskan rainbow and the size to match! 

This big buck brown was feeding on the surface next to a classic western 12' cut bank. I peered over the edge of the bank and snapped photos with my 300 mm lens. I soon learned how tough it is to get photos of a rising fish then had the revelation that he preferred cripples to upwing duns. I could see why! He would rise to a dun and it would fly away (see photo) so he targeted cripples. Sometimes he would eat three or four cripples at a time. Soon, I put down the camera and bent the wings on a #18 blue dun to float flat like a spinner. I used no floatant. He ate it on the first drift. He was twenty-two inches of reds and yellows with a beautiful blue cheek patch!

Our boy spots a baetis dun...

Just as he surfaces, the mayfly starts to fly...

Now the mayfly is in the air...

He goes back to cripples... smart trout!

Fish #3 was delicately and almost imperceptively eating emergers under a dark bank of newly budded willows. I could see the top of his yellow tail surface as he slurped each emerger. I re-rigged from the dry and put on a prince nymph on 12 inches of 4X. I floated the rig over him ten times before he ate. They were all difficult casts. He was a gorgeous 21" buck brown. Now I was in heaven and feeling a bit greedy.

Next, a little 20 inch bow takes a pheasant tail... hoping you clearly understand my sarcasm, I'll just say... "Ho-hummm, another 20 inch rainbow."

Ten minutes later from the next riffle, another ho-hum moment with this stunning 21 inch brown... His back was as green as a dollar bill!

Rarely do hatches announce themselves thru your ears. But standing next to this quiet run, I started to hear the whine of a midge hatch. Think mosquito sound, without the promise of a bite. Soon fish were popping, but not in a classic midge riseform. I could see a few baetis on the water and assumed this was what they were feeding on. But the rise still sounded like a caddis rise even though I had not seen a caddis all day. I put on a size 18 Adams as I knew this would work for both midges and baetis. I had immediate good results and probably could have caught as many 14-16 inch fish on dries as I wanted. But I noticed a big fish feeding in the tail end of the pool and despite my many attempts to hook him on the Adams, a smalller fish would always take the fly before it could reach him. I knew if I wanted to catch him, my best bet was to go subsurface. I rerigged with a prince nymph and just as I was ready to make my first cast. I saw a grey caddis pop up. 
"Ahhh," I thought. 
A classic masking hatch. We'll get back to this after I hook this big guy on a nymph. On the second drift, the Big Grabowski ate and after a long battle, I landed my second 22" buck brown of the day. What a great day I thought as I rerigged with a grey elk hair caddis fly. But that's another fish story and it's getting late!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mantis Shrimp

     Joe Sugura and two of his friends just got back from Water Cay Lodge on Grand Bahama Island. They had a great trip with lots of bones including some big bones (up to 27 inches at the fork). Joe also hooked (albeit briefly) an approximately 18 lb. permit, but what was really cool was what a large bonefish disgorged when he landed it. Apparently, the bonefish had eaten, but not completely swallowed this shrimp and it was disgorged virtually intact. I think this is a tan or cream mantis shrimp. If someone knows differently, please let me know.

     In all the years I have been bonefishing, I rarely see mantis shrimp on the flats and I have seen only one other mantis shrimp actually inside the gut of a bonefish. In the stomach of almost all of the shark-killed bonefish that I have examined, I have seen mostly tan crabs and the rare worm or tiny shrimp (less than one inch). I did see in a big bone's stomach what I thought to be an olive mantis shrimp on Abaco many years ago. It was fairly well digested so it was hard to say for certain what it was. 
     This photo of the mantis shrimp makes the old adage "any color will work in the Bahamas as long as it is tan" resonate a bit more eh?!!  

     Also look at the fly in the bone's mouth. It's not hard too see why he jumped on it after his snack of mantis shrimp! 
     Thanks Joe for taking the photo and passing it on!! This info should generate some interesting patterns!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Questions About Prescription Sunglasses

For the serious fisherman, the most important question regarding equipment is not about rods or reels or flies... it's about what you put on your eyes! If you can't see the fish, the best rod or the smoothest drag or the best fly pattern is worth zip. Experienced anglers know this and often ask me this crucial question:
    "In your opinion who makes the best RX polaroid sunglass and what is the best color lens for prescription sunglasses?"
     Here is my answer:
I like Smith Sunglasses. Some people know them as Action Optics, but AO is owned by Smith. I like the Igniter or Copper lens color. I prefer the polarchromic lens if your RX can be made in this glass lens. 
The frame style should be dictated by the size of your head and your personal preference. 
Whatever you choose, I want a frame style that covers your field of vision and filters enough light so you don't have to squint. 
But back to Smith Optics...
Their primary Fishing RX Dispensing Optician is Janet Bagley and she is well versed in the intricacies of RX’s. Her direct line is 208-726-6524. 
Mention Angling Destinations or me, Scott Heywood, and I'm sure they will bend over backwards to help you. (Make sure you include your PD (pupil distance) with your RX.)
E-mail me at:
and I'll send you a PDF of their RX order form:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sometimes Fish Catch You

     The wind's force had not yet collected itself. It was a perfectly calm morning. A single cloud boiled out of the horizon like a giant fortress. The thunderhead's reflection was carried all the way back to me by the glassy sheen of the ocean's surface. Our concentration was held by a school of bonefish nervously headed our way. Occasionally, they would stop briefly to forage. Their tails would pop to the surface and dart back and forth looking like a fleet of miniature sailboats tacking feverishly into the wind. 

     As the bonefish got closer, one tail seemed to loom above the others. So much for quiet contemplation. I false casted once, then twice, then released my fly on a trajectory that pierced the oily surface only inches away from the spot where I had last seen the biggest tail. Before I could even start my retrieve, my line shot out and I was on the reel. Line melted off my reel as I prepared myself for a major battle, but just as suddenly, the fish stopped. I began to retrieve line. After another very short run, I landed a two pound bonefish.

"Nice job." Patrick said, a big smile spreading across his Bahamian face. "You managed to catch the smallest fish in the school." 
Some days humility is simply forced upon you.
-SSH Journal 1992
Sandy Point, Great Abaco Island, Bahamas

Water Cay Lodge Before the Hurricanes 2004

In 2004, Grand Bahama Island was devastated by series of hurricanes. The original Water Cay Lodge was heavily damaged at the time. When the hurricanes hit, the lodge was being upgraded. Asa result of the damage, the lodge was not to reopen for many years. What follows, was one night out of many spent trying to get Water Cay Lodge operational pre- hurricanes. I thought it gives a good glimpse into the history of a lodge many of us today love to visit.

     It was pitch dark and dead calm. A sliver of a silver moon struggled to penetrate a thin sheet of clouds. I could just make out the stocky silhouette of Iram, an Olympic sprinter, who was poling us across a shallow spot on the bar. As Iram leaned into the pole, the motor continued to idle quietly. We could not see the other skiff, but we could hear their voices and occasionally see a quick flash as their flashlight's beam briefly pierced this inky Bahamian night. How I came to be perched on this mound of luggage and four flat screen TV's in the dark is a classic story of Bahamian bureaucracy and island time. 
     We had burned our afternoon waiting for the chariots we were now poling to clear customs in Freeport. Because the port authority officials had an interest in another bonefish lodge on the island, our departure had been delayed until the evening had caught up with us. We had gotten to the ramp on the north end of the island just as it was getting dark and the tide was approaching low. We launched towards Water Cay by feel and by flashlight. It was slowing going in the skinny water. We were  to be delayed even more when we discovered one of the boats had had a drain plug removed by the bureaucrat and his cronies. We used one of my dirty T-shirts from my luggage to plug the hole. It worked and we arrived at Water Cay just in time to wolf down a can of Del Monte fruit cocktail before the clock struck midnight.
SSH Journal 
Spring 2004

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Day in French Polynesia

Eric Berger photos
     OK, so I admit to having been a bit frustrated. My no-strip presentation had all too often deteriorated into a halfhearted crawl that no French Polynesian bonefish would respect, let alone eat. By 10:00 a.m. we had seen three or four monsters, but none had eaten my bunny fly. Our guide had suggested casting 15 to 20 feet away from the fish. After letting the fly settle, he suggested one small slow strip, then to do nothing. I was trying, but as each monster refused my creeping offering, I became more willing to commit totally to his approach.
     Now, it was a brand new, more serious, game. In front of me, a broad tail waved in the warm tropical air while the business end rooted for worms in the white sand. I pushed water hard yo get upwind. I couldn't make it totally upwind, but at least I got somewhat even. I collected myself and pounded a 30-foot cast with a strong second haul. I presented the fly as delicately as I could given the activity being generated by my adrenal gland. 

Just a few worms over 10 lbs.
     I stripped one small scuttling strip in hopes of getting this big bone's head out of the sand and onto other matters. It worked and he rushed my fly. I waited an agonizing few seconds until I finally figured it was now or never. I stripped-striked. As my internal chorus belted out HALLELUJAH, I felt that delicious tension on my line! The big bone ran instantly through my fly line. Backing melted off my spool until the sun-bleached pale sherbet orange turned into the bright international orange of never used Dacron thread. 
     Somewhat absurdly, I knew it was time to change my backing... until I managed to redirect my over stimulated synapses to the job at hand. I rarely had wanted to land a fish as much as I wanted to land, or at least see, this fish. I began racing around the flat like a crazy fool, lifting line over coral heads as I tried to get an avenue to apply pressure to the beast. The specific details are blurred, but eventually he tired and came to hand. He weighed exactly 10 pounds. I caught another just like him later in the day. I caught a total of four bonefish for the day... around 38 pounds of bonefish. According to my calculations, not a bad day... anywhere!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Early Days in the Seychelles

Michael Melford of National Geographic, Dr. Russ Dilley and Scott Heywood  enjoy dusk after another superb day!
 Long before the Seychelles were famous and long before there were the five-star resorts, the Seychelles were visited by a only handful of lucky anglers each year. In the decades preceding Y2K, most of these anglers fished the Seychelles from a liveaboard the Tam Tam. The majority of these trips started from Alphonse Island which is now the home of a luxury resort. The hand-built Tam Tam was owned and operated by the eccentric Englishman Martin Lewis. Logistics and bookings were handled by his lovely wife Anna. After my first trip to the Seychelles, I described the results adventure in glowing terms:

Northeast of Madagascar and east of Nairobi, in the vast expanse of the western Indian Ocean, lie the idyllic Seychelles Islands. The 115, mostly coralline islands, are sparsely spread over 1.3 million square kilometers. Southwest of the main island Mahe, about an hour by air, lie three postcard perfect coral atolls and the best bonefishing on the planet Earth.

There is no way to adequately describe the bonefishing in the Seychelles. You may see more fish here than you will see the whole remainder of your bonefishing career. When you tire of bonefishing, you can pursue giant trevally or smaller bluefin trevally that savagely attack poppers or large deceivers. If all this fishing becomes too easy, you can go for the rarest of all Seychelles' angling prizes, the acrobatic milkfish. Milkfish rarely have been caught on a fly. But this elusive fish is one of the strongest found on the world's flats and when hooked, dazzles the lucky angler with blistering runs and huge thrashing jumps.

The flats are all hard and easily wadeable. Comprised of packed white sand and crushed coral, these hard-bottomed flats are interlaced with beautiful pale blue channels that give fish access to the flats. On the fringes of the tide, where the water meets the land, lies the best tailing bonefishing on the planet. The experienced angler will immediately gravitate towards these areas especially on the rising tide where bonefish tails glint suggestively in only inches of water.

But perhaps the most important accolade we can heap upon this island group concerns their unspoiled beauty. If you were to design the prototypical idyllic coral atoll, this would be it. These islands are stunning with huge palm trees leaning out over perfect white sand beaches that slope onto pale turquoise flats. Hawksbill turtles, fairy terns and soaring frigate birds constantly monitor your activities. Each island's lovely lagoon is encircled by waves crashing in on the atoll's reef sending a fine mist into the bluest sky imaginable.

...If you choose to make the commitment of time, energy and money and if you are willing to endure the hassles of international travel and the disorientation of jet lag, you will be rewarded with acres of tails glittering in the soft, saturated equatorial light of a completely deserted and perfect coral atoll. 

It is hard to explain how good the fishing was back then. I was lucky enough not to only fish these atolls but also Cosmoledo, Astove and Farquhar in the "early days". In those days, bonefish were literally everywhere. In fact, on my first trip to the island of St. Francoise there was never a time when I, along with National Geographic photographer Michael Melford, could not stand up in the skiff and see a bonefish. We tried, but it was impossible... we could always see one which meant we could always catch one. The bonefish on St. Francoise then never met a fly they didn't like. It was literally too easy.  Back on Alphonse, the only buildings were the remnants of an old copra plantation. We caught 60 lb. trevally on the beach in front of where there are now luxury cottages. The fishing is still excellent, but it is not as ridiculously good as it once was.

I am often asked, "How good was it?"
Try this:
1. On the shoreline of St. Francoise, bonefish would tail only inches from shore in the wavelets. If you stood on shore and cast 18 inches off shore, you could strip a crab fly out of the water and onto the sand and enticing bonefish to literally climb out of the water up to their anal fins. When almost beached, they would give up their pursuit and flop clumsily back into the surf.

2.) We caught bonefish on grasshopper flies, on trout nypmhs (from the depths of a chestpack), two at a time on dropper rigs, and on bare red hooks.

3.) We could often get close enough to touch tailing bones with our rod tips and came damn close to touching tails (we called it "counting coup") with our outstretched fingers.

4.)  We once calculated how many bones we could catch in a day. We figured it took us 7-9 minutes to land a 6 lb. fish if we "horsed" it in. We thought it would take us one minute to find a new fish after landing the previous fish. Therefore, we could realistically catch a fish every ten minutes or 6 in an hour. We could fish ten hours a day, therefore we could catch 60 bonefish a day. No breaks, no screwing around, no lunch. Tough work, but a job is a job.

5.) When we saw rays they often had dozens of bones weaving in and out of the mud that the rays were stirring up.  Less often rays not only trailed dozens of eager bones, but also bluefin trevally and Indio-Pacific permit.

Three huge bonefish weave in the wake of this ray. Thee are 20 more smaller bones behind these three monsters!
6.) We had dozens of 40 +lb. GT's (along with two or three 9-10' lemon sharks) cruising off the back of the Tam Tam. The GT's would eat anything: fish guts, oranges, paper plates... they were so aggressive we had to make sure we never put our hands in the water! The GT's could calculate a thrown object's trajectory and would race to the spot where a fish head for instance might hit the water.  How a fish learns to do this is impossible to know, but it is indeed an impressive skill for a fish.

Donald cleans a snapper as the GT's wait for  a snack.

The GT's would defer to the sharks whenever a fish head was offered.

7.) We could catch huge sea turtles on the flats where their speed was diminished by the shallow water. Initially we took  a ride on the big turtles after taking them to the edge of drop-offs and hanging on. That lasted until a 10' tiger shark knocked me off a turtle and we brainiacs learned why so many turtles only had 3 flippers.

8.) In addition to bonefish, GT's and milkfish, we caught many other  spectacular specie including: Bawa snapper, bluefin trevally, irridescent trigger fish, parrot fish, Indio-Pacific permit, Capitan Rouge... the list went on and on.

  I will always remember my first trip to the Seychelles thusly: (These words were written below a map I had hand-drawn in my journal)

"After leaving the lagoon of Alphonse Island, we crossed the deep blue waters of the narrow channel, Canal de la Mort, before reaching another reef which protects the tiny island of Le Bijoutier.  Once past this perfect little gem, we entered the lagoon of St. Francois Island.  Around the tranquil heart of the lagoon waves hurl themselves against the outer reef.  At least five wrecks loom ominously on the skyline standing as silent testament to the power of the Indian Ocean.  For the fisherman, they serve as convenient landmarks.  The St. Francois Lagoon is about 8 x 4 miles and is slightly oval in shape.  Between the crashing waves and the inner lagoon lie the extensive white sand flats.  The bonefish hungrily invade this great shallow expanse in search of crabs and worms as the tide pulses in from both the open ocean side and from the lagoon.  The flats consist of hard white sand and packed coral.  They are some of the firmest, flattest and most easily waded flats in the world.  Grass, weeds and coral are minimal although weed beds and crushed coral terraces at the atoll’s rim hold prolific numbers as well as some of the largest bonefish I have found anywhere in the world."