Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

It's late fall here in Wyoming. It is cold enough to frost most nights now and almost all the mayflies are gone. But today on Halloween, there was at least one left!
I think it was a pale evening dun Ephemerella dorothea infrequens.

This one was riding high, drying its wings and looking for its mate!

Happy Halloween to all!!

Tarpon Tips: Part Three

The hookset and fighting a tarpon...

First, foremost and before we go any further, YOU MUST LEARN TO STRIP STRIKE!!!

The strip-strike is the only way to impart enough power to penetrate a tarpon's bony mouth with a fly. With tarpon, a good strip strike is executed in two steps. First, gently come tight to the fish which allows the hook point to find flesh and then power the hook home with the rod pointed directly at the fish by pulling on your line hand. The strike is an aggressive strip hence STRIP-STRIKE! There should be no bend in the rod! Only shift the rod tip after you feel the hook has been driven into the jaw. You'll know it if it's right. With no bend in the rod, you're connected directly to the hook via the line. A strip-strike also keeps the fly in the fish's strike zone if the hook misses its mark. 

If you try to set the hook as soon as the fly disappears in the mouth of the fish, you will simply pull the fly out of the tarpon's mouth. Strike only after you see the tarpon shut its mouth and turn its head. Again, strip strike with rod tip low and pointed at the fish. Then after the hook has been driven home, move the rod sideways in the opposite direction of the fish’s turn. 
A set strike (commonly seen with trout anglers) employed by raising the rod tip to set the hook will never even come close to penetrating a tarpon's hard mouth. This set strike also pulls the fly completely out of the fish's strike zone. 
A coming tight hookset common with bone fishermen (which is a less aggressive strip strike followed by a rod raise as the hook comes tight) does not drive the fly into the bony jaw of a tarpon. 

Set your drag before you cast to a fish, and once hooked, get all the spare line safely out through the guides. Always fight a tarpon on the reel... to do otherwise, invites disaster. Until the fish is on the reel, watch your line, not the fish. After getting the line on the reel, hold your rod parallel to the surface of the water and use the power of your twisting torso to put pressure on the fish with the rod's butt section.

This low angle not only generates much more power than a rod held high, but it also forces the fish to swim slightly deeper and minimizes the number of rejuvenating air gulps a tarpon can get. 
One of the advantages of being an air breather (like a tarpon) is that air breathers can more rapidly recover from oxygen debt. This is because atmospheric air has a denser concentration of oxygen than water. This explains why tarpon roll during an extended fight. Tarpon thus have two sources of oxygen available to them during a fight. Their large gill surface area and their ability to breath air explains how tarpon are capable of such long extended fights. By not allowing a tarpon to reach the surface, you eliminate an important source of oxygen and you can tire out a tarpon much more quickly.

In addition, by keeping your rod low and twisting your torso, you can make a fish work harder by forcing it to swim in the opposite direction from the pull. Plus, the added drag from the line in the water will further tire the tarpon.

When a tarpon jumps, you should bow to him by thrusting your rod towards him. Remember the weight of a submerged tarpon is diminished by a huge amount. When he jumps he loses the buoyancy of the water and weighs what he actually weighs. When falling back to the ocean, his weight is increased by gravity. The tarpon can now easily break a leader if he falls on the line. The leader system will more likely hold up if the pressure is taken off during the jumps.

When fighting a tarpon, keep the fish off balance and do not let the fish rest and certainly not gulp air as previously discussed. Keep maximum pressure or "heat" on the fish at all times. You want to break the tarpon's spirit early in the fight and if you do, many times they will come more quickly to the boat and there is less chance of the hook pulling or working its way out. In addition, a quick conclusion to the battle does less harm to the fish which translates to a higher percentage of successful releases. 

So, when fighting a tarpon, remember these FOUR things:

• Fight with the butt section of the rod. This may mean pointing the rod almost directly at the fish at times for greatest leverage.

• Fight the fish “down and dirty,” meaning low-angle, lateral pressure away from the fish’s direction of travel whenever possible. Keep his head underwater by holding the rod tip low.

• Bow to the fish when he jumps.

• Fight a tarpon aggressively. If they get the idea that they can do what they want, they will never give up. Put the heat on them from the beginning.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tarpon Tips: Part Two

Casting to Tarpon and the Retrieve:

Never cast too early. Don't begin to cast when a tarpon is out of your range. Be patient, know your comfortable casting range. If you try to make too long a cast and your fly falls short, it may take too long to cast again and the tarpon will have moved on.
But, It is better to cast too short and hope the fish sees the fly, than to cast too long and spook the fish.

Keep your rod's tip at the water’s surface and point your rod tip directly at the fly when stripping your line. This helps give proper action to the fly and will help when a fish eats. Strip slowly. A fast, jerky retrieve will spook most tarpon, while a long slow retrieve usually initiates an aggressive response.

For bonefishermen, a bonefish retrieve is too often short and too erratic.

For trout fishermen, a properly executed streamer retrieve is usually too jerky and fast.
The bottom line is... not all retrieves for all species should be the same... nor do they get equal results!

The magnificent turtle grass flats on the West Coast of the Yucatan 

Remember a tarpon's mouth is designed not impale or grab, but to "inhale" it's prey. Think of it as a tackle and not a stab. The massive gape of the mouth is tilted slightly up and therefore designed to take prey from below. Tarpon flare their gills while opening their mouth thus "vacuuming" in their prey. A fly should ideally be slightly above and heading away from a tarpon when it is first seen. Predators chase their prey and they expect their prey to be moving away from them and fleeing. This is the best way to "feed" a tarpon. You are literally trying to tease a tarpon into taking your fly. You want to trigger their predatory instincts and make them "eat" even if they are not hungry or aren't excited by your offering.

If a fish follows closely, but does not take your fly, change your retrieve: make longer strips, strip even more slowly or stop entirely. This change will often elicit a strike from a sluggish 'poon.

Lift your fly line quietly and smoothly off the water to initiate another cast. DO NOT use the water's drag on the fly to load the rod tip. Many beginning anglers rely on this "water loading" to allow themselves to make longer casts or to cast into the wind. This noisy lift off will almost always spook tarpon. The tarpon will be gone and you'll have nothing to do but deal with a guide who is muttering under his breath.

Do your homework before going fishing. Learn to cast accurately and quickly. Do not false cast excessively. Learn to make 2-3 false casts while playing out line with each cast then shoot your line accurately to the fish on your last cast. As well as wasting valuable time, repeatedly false casting over a fish (in an effort to "measure" distance and therefore increase accuracy) often spooks fish as they repeatedly see the fly line whipping in the air. Remember the part about tarpon being called megalops (giant eye) in Latin!

Next: The hookset and fighting a tarpon once hooked.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tarpon Tips: Part One

This time of year, thoughts turn to the salt. As fall deepens and the leaves begin to fly, many anglers are eager to make plans to pursue tarpon, especially at the "baby" tarpon hotspots in Mexico and Central America. First time tarpon anglers are often very experienced with trout, bonefish and other species like stripers, but they are not experienced with tarpon. While excited at the prospect of pursuing this legendary fish, they are also aware of the tarpon's reputation for being difficult and a bit "bitchy". Being experienced anglers, they typically ask lots of good questions especially about the techniques and angling skills required to be successful. 
In an effort to answer their questions, I put these "tips" together. I wanted to organize some good "intel" for these anglers regarding tarpon techniques and the relative effort and skills required to pursue the beast.
I won't talk about flies or terminal tackle in this post as both terminal tackle and flies are much more size and destination specific. On the other hand, these tips will work wherever tarpon swim and on any size from 2-200 lbs. 
But first, let me answer, why tarpon?... What's all the hubbub about?... well that's a enjoyable question to try to  answer: 

Tarpon are one of the world's greatest gamefish. Some say THE greatest. I won't argue the point (FYI, I fall towards the greatest end of the spectrum), but these powerful creatures certainly stir the passions of those lucky enough to get the chance to pursue them.

On appearance only, tarpon are an absolutely spectacular creature. They come fully equipped with a bucket of a mouth, huge armored scales, a big broad tail and a long, filamentous dorsal fin ray that, in its delicate appearance, seems to be out of place on such an brutish beast. 

But tarpon are not just big-mouthed, armor-plated posers, because once hooked, tarpon reveal what's "under the hood" and it's more than enough horsepower to make them a legendary species. From twisting, backflips to marlinesque pirouettes to gravity defying vertical high jumps, tarpon earn their legendary status here and collect their fair share of oohs and ahhs from even the most jaded of anglers.

But tarpon are not easy. Their here today, gone tomorrow nature leaves even the most committed of anglers frustrated. Furthermore, the tarpon's finicky nature makes yesterday's victories no lock for today. But it is their hard, bony mouth that causes most beginning, and even many experienced, anglers their greatest problems. You can do everything right: a good presentation, a proper seductive retrieve and a good strong strip strike... and still fail. At times like this, you see the mouth gape wide creating a liquid canyon in the tannic waters followed by a heart stopping jump... and then the fly pulls and you are reduced to the "posture of the defeat"... head down, shoulders slumped, eyes shut.

At times like this, you should remind yourself that tarpon have a category of angling terminology reserved all to themselves. While some fish are caught and others are simply lost, tarpon are JUMPED! Tarpon fisherman created this category to massage bruised egos and comfort broken dreams. Some consider a jumped tarpon a half victory, while others think of it as only putting a good spin on a bad situation. Whatever it is, if you're gonna fish for tarpon, get used to it... for in this game, there will always be more tarpon jumped than boated.

And here's some more bad news... better fishermen put more tarpon in the boat. It's not luck. Tarpon fishing is a skill sport. To be successful you must learn to deliver the fly quickly and precisely. You must initiate a proper retrieve and convince your tarpon to eat a fly. You must always strip-strike and develop a feel for the hookset. Rarely is blind luck rewarded. In this game, skill wins the day and this pursuit of these necessary skills is the reason why many anglers form a lifetime relationship with the fish. For many anglers, tarpon are the ultimate and they return to their secret lagos, bays and hidey-holes time and time again, year after year. They suffer the frustrations and wonder at their perseverance.

But it is worth it! To see an enraged tarpon launch a leap that sends your eyes following into the sky, makes all the headaches worth it. You live for this moment when coils of line smash toward the stripping guide. Through the sizzling tropical heat, you watch mesmerized as a silver plated fish crashes back into the dark stained water. If this doesn't get you going, please put down your laptop, step away from the table and dial 1-800-GO BOWLING!

What follows are a few hints to help improve your tarpon hookup and boating rate. If you are an expert, we invite your suggestions and additions. If you are a novice, we will be happy to clarify or go into greater depth on any of these recommendations.

Let's start with the beginning... and that's before you make that first cast...

Lay a wet towel over any obstructions on the casting deck of your boat. Cleats and handles can easily snare your fly line and ruin a cast or worse, break off a fish. Some anglers purchase a cheap plastic laundry basket to stack their line in on the deck especially if they are using a boat without a casting deck cowling. This is also an especially good idea in windy conditions.

Don't strip out more line than you need to make your cast. Make a practice cast, then leave that measured amount of the line stacked carefully on deck. This will minimize the amount of line that can tangle on your feet or form knots. Do not pull line off your reel and stack it on the deck of the boat. If you do, the forward portion of your line is underneath the pile, then when you cast with the line stacked in this way, you will end up with a tangled bird's nest. Make sure you make a practice cast, then stack your line as you retrieve it.
If possible, take off your shoes. This will allow you to feel the fly line stacked on the deck and you can avoid stepping on it.

Tarpon have very abrasive mouths so check your leader regularly for abrasion and re-tie your fly after each fish.

Once you begin the hunt...
Scan the water constantly. Look for any surface disturbances... a tail, a fin, a subtle swirl. Tarpon typically "roll" especially at dawn and dusk when they surface to take air into swim bladders that allow them to respire. Tarpon seek oxygen-depleted waters especially when young. This gives them an advantage over predators that cannot breathe using surface air and therefore cannot tolerate poorly oxygenated waters.  Dead still water may not look good, but it is often good tarpon water. Don't be lulled to sleep by these still lagoons and torpid back bays. If you see no surface activity, try to look through the water to the bottom to see cruising fish, especially under and around mangrove bushes.

Literally, don't rock the boat. When you cast, try not to send out little wavelets that will alert the tarpon to your presence. 

Be quiet, don't drop the lid on the cooler, make a lot of noise against the boat hull or talk too loudly... especially if you are not "on the bow". Remember to remove shiny jewelry.  Tarpon are a fish with great vision especially in low light conditions. Their Latin name is megalops (big eye). They aren't called this by accident!

Also, don't hesitate to cast from your knees or crouch if fish come in very close. A sidearm cast from the knees has caught many a tarpon!

Next Part 2:  Casting to Tarpon and the Retrieve.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Most Memorable Fish: West Side of Andros

I was once asked in a magazine interview "What is your most memorable fish?"

I answered, "There have been many, but the fish that I would choose as my “most” memorable was a tarpon I hooked, but never caught, while kayaking on the west side of Andros. For those who are not familiar with Andros or the Bahamas, this coast has no settlements and was and still is, rarely visited by anglers. About 14 years ago, I kayaked from the settlement of Red Bays on the northwest tip of the island to the southern tip ending the voyage in Jackfish Channel.

As I remember, I had scheduled two weeks to make the journey. About midway through the trip, I had paddled up a very small creek that eventually spread out into a shallow lagoon. The bonefishing was superb and the area had probably never been fished, as there was really no access to the area by skiff. There were no footprints or evidence of boats. After catching countless big bones, I found another small creek and sat at its mouth eating peanut butter off my fingertips out of a jar. It was then that the submerged log that was guarding the creek's entrance moved. I quickly sucked the last of the goo off my finger and clipped off my Crazy Charlie. I attached some ratty-ass tarpon fly to a bite tippet then tied it to the bonefish leader with a Hufnagel knot. I was using an 8-wt. rod. The fish was facing me and I had no idea of its size. I made a short cast. The tarpon barely had to move to eat the fly. I set the hook and immediately realized that what I had done was probably not very prudent.

The tarpon was in less than two feet of water so the fish really didn't jump, he just took wing and came straight at me. It was then that I realized a few more things:

I realized that an 8 wt. was not the right rod for this size of fish. 
I realized that I had stupidly left this big fish no room to retreat
and I realized that I was going to get hit... hard... and it was going to hurt.
Almost instantaneously, the tarpon smashed into my boat and me. Now remember, I'm in a kayak. I was sitting virtually at water level so the fish seemed to soar above me as he charged at me. When he smacked into me, he bent me over the kayak’s wooden gunnel and in the process, badly bruised my rib cage. Looking back at it, he didn’t really jump over the boat so much as go through the boat all the while spewing that particularly disgusting fecal material that tarpon seem to love to get rid of when stressed. I was suddenly in pain and coated in a disgusting, pale brown pudding. I worked hard to put the brakes on the fish, but soon learned that I had another problem. As the tarpon towed me to the deeper water of the lagoon, I noticed that my butt was getting wet. I looked down and discovered that I was sitting in six inches of water. Apparently, the tarpon had damaged the skin on my foldable kayak and I was now sinking.

I remember taking a moment to assess the situation... let's review:

I’ve got a big rod fish attached to my 8 wt.
I’m covered in tarpon shit. 
My ribs are bruised at best, and possibly broken.
...And I’m sinking.

With an act of rare intelligence, I broke off the fish (I estimated it to be approximately 90-100 lbs.) and pulled my kayak up into the mangroves to make repairs. The kayak's Hypalon hull had a 6-inch cut from where my rudder (that I had taken off the stern and stored in the boat) had been hit, where it contacted the hull, by the tarpon. The rudder had acted like a knife. Using the force of the tarpon, it had sliced neatly through the hull. The repairs took hours so I missed getting out of the creek before the tide fell. I spent the night lying in my boat marooned on a patch of marl swatting mosquitoes and drinking rum to deaden the pain from my very sore ribs. At dawn, I made it out of the creek and turned left to continue my voyage south.

Yes, I didn’t catch the fish, but the whole event, even 14 years later, seems pretty damn memorable."

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Kamchatka Flights Resume!

After being essentially closed for the past three years due to the cancellation of direct flights from Alaska to the peninsula, Kamchatka is back!!

We are very pleased to announce that after a successful summer of flights, we now feel confident directing anglers to Kamchatka thru Anchorage for the summer of 2013. Now adventuresome anglers can once again enjoy a quick and easy flight via Vladivostok Air from Anchorage to Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka!

If you've heard about Kamchatka and wonder if it's hype I gotta say NO
.... in fact, HELL NO

On our many previous trips to Kamchatka, we have experienced some of the finest fishing for big rainbow trout, salmon and several species of char that we’ve found anywhere in the world... and we’ve floated and fished literally scores of rivers in Alaska including the Alagnak, Goodnews and Kanektok rivers. Kamchatka reminds us of the early days in Alaska when huge fish were everywhere and you could pursue them in complete solitude.
If you are considering a trip to Kamchatka, here is some info that might help:

For the angler who loves far-flung waters, it is hard to wrap your mind around what is Kamchatka. In order to do so you must first grasp how secluded Kamchatka is from not only the rest of Russia, but from the world at large. You must start with the concept of a frontier so geographically isolated that it is ten time zones from its forests and rivers to the capitol city of Moscow.... Ten time zones! Now imagine a land this remote that was purposefully kept roadless and undeveloped by a regime that feared an invasion from the east. This regime thought that without roads and infrastructure, a conqueror could move neither quickly nor easily westward into the motherland. To this day, only one rough dirt road runs the length of the peninsula.


If continuing your quest to understand the magnitude of what is Kamchatka, you would have to grasp the size of Kamchatka, especially in the context of its population. Maybe it would help to imagine a peninsula the size of California with only 1% of California's 33 million inhabitants. (It should be noted that Kamchatka's population has fallen and is still falling, since the demise of the Soviet Empire. With this fall, over 300,000 soldiers, and various people supporting the military, have left Kamchatka. This exodus left about 300,000 inhabitants or roughly 1% of the population of California. At least 250,000 people live in the city of Petropavlask. That leaves the rest of the peninsula and its primeval forests and tundra with only about 50,000 people scattered here and there in small villages.)

So now that you have grasped the statistics and understand how remote, secluded and sparsely populated Kamchatka is, consider this: A vast mountain range splits Kamchata north to south and sends its rain and snowmelt either west to the Sea of Okhost or east to the Pacific Ocean. Scattered upon this land of high peaks and dark forests are numerous volcanoes, many still active. Their lofty cinder cones and precariously balanced slopes bear huge growling glaciers and domed summit snowfields that further feed many of the rivers and streams that slither east and west to the seas. And while you're focusing your mental powers around the pristine immensity of this wilderness, wrap your cerebellum around this: There are 1100 rivers in Kamchatka with significant salmonid populations... that's one thousand one hundred! Of these 1100 rivers, 20-30 have been seriously sportfished and maybe a dozen more have been floated and fished!

While anglers catch some big 'bows on streamers and egg patterns, the vast majority of rainbows can be caught on mouse patterns... BIG mouse patterns! Actually, Kamchatka rainbows feed on voles, a small rodent very similar to a mouse. There are also dollies, silver salmon, chum salmon, Kundzha char, jack king and goo-gobs of grayling up to 24 inches.
We will offer two options for 2013 ( I have done both trips and will be happy to describe them to you!):

Ozernaya River 

The “Oz” lodge hosts only eight (8) guests per week. Each two-person cabin is spacious, comfortable, dry, bug-free and includes electricity and heat. Amenities include flush toilets and hot showers. The fishing is simply fantastic!
See Ozernaya Video

The Two Yurt Float Trip 

The Two Yurt Float Trip offers the same high standard of comfort and service, but from a mobile and moving base of operations. Six anglers per week travel between stationary cabins spaced along the river. With hot showers, large dining facilities, electricity and heat, the Two Yurts is best for anglers who enjoy float trips over a jet boat camp. The fishing is fantastic.
See Two Yurts Video

 Here are some of my trip reports that will give you a sense of what these rivers are like:

The Oz

A few additional thoughts for anglers contemplating a trip to Kamchatka:

Whereas the rainbows are big, take flies readily and are as plump as a Gerber baby on a diet of Russian sausage and dark beer, they do not jump in the boat. You'll have to cover water from the eddies and riffles at the top of a run to the bulldozed king salmon redds at the tailouts and from the log jammed and buggy side channels to the undercut banks of the slower slicks. You'll have to cast, wade, cast again and then wade again. You'll have to work the water and in the process, the water will work you.
But this is good work, if you're so inclined. If you decide to come and then don't put in the effort, don't blame the guides, or the river and certainly not Kamchatka! For some anglers, Kamchatka is heaven. For others, it is too far, too remote and too different to be enjoyable.

In Kamchatka, you don't need superb angling skills. Often mediocre talents can be overcome with energy and enthusiasm. And one last bit of advice, don't expect Kamchatka to be like the good ol' U. S. of A. Expect some glitches and blips... from maddeningly slow passport controls to off schedule pickups to foods to which you are not accustomed. 
And don't immediately start in with "what they oughta do" because it has taken 15 years to get them to stop serving hot dogs and spaghetti for breakfast or fish head soup for lunch. 
But if your constitution is tough and if you love wild trout and remote water with no other anglers within 100 miles, Kamchatka may be your cup of tea. 

But watch the video below before you decide!: