Thursday, February 28, 2013

Staring Down Winter

For those of us that live in the north, March 1st is an important date. When February FINALLY gives way to March, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and begin to stare down the last of winter. Our thoughts turn to shirtsleeves, hoppers and long days on beautiful trout streams.
It's about time!

Jake concentrates his thoughts on spring!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Great Tarpon Video from the Fly Fishing Film Tour

If this short video from the FLY FISHING FILM TOUR doesn't get you going, you are on the wrong website!

Have a look at Will Benson's video SILVER LINING!

Amazon Double Double

Amazon Double Double
2 Dougs (Doug Ellis on the left and Doug Jeffries). 
2 Paca (or spotted peacock bass... my favorite peacock!).
... you gotta love it!


Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Perfect Day... Bahamas

I could tell you that a day like this is common in the Bahamas. But it would not be true. A day like this is a rare gift. These islands own a hot sun, making wind a constant companion for the bonefisherman. Learn to live with it or quit… it’s your choice. But this morning had dawned calm and it was still dead calm. There was not the slightest exhalation coming off the big island of Andros. These are the kind of days you dream about… a few wispy clouds, a few small thunderheads way off on the horizon and a sea as slick and quiet as a marble slab in a morgue. If you could only bottle these days and take a sip once a week, a desk stacked high inside a slushy sidewalk just wouldn’t seem so bad.

As I stood staring at the simmering sea, I realized there was no horizon. In its place was just the diffused blend of flat, grey sea and dull blue sky.  If you stared only at the mangroves’ reflection in the water, it looked like a world gone upside down. The reflected image was perfect with mangrove leaves, gnarled roots and scattered white clouds. The only give-away in this reflected view was the cloud’s bellied anvils were pointed down like pots. Heat had slowly oozed into the day and now drops of sweat rolled down my back.

I took a step forward advancing from a patch of soft marl and white sand to a hard rocky shelf.  Startled crabs, with claws drawn like six guns, stood their ground itching for a fight. I scanned the pale yellow flat. Dragonflies hung in the air and one landed lazily on my rod tip. Cicadas thrummed their “rake and scrape” in the background.  An osprey changed direction to push overhead, briefly canting its head down to stare at me. Was it just curiosity or a tip of the hat from one fellow angler to another?  

All was perfect… the stuff of dreams. This was the second morning like this. But as still and calm as it was, anticipation hung in the air like the drive to a high school tryst.  I was all dressed up and ready to go… I just needed my date to show up. I scanned the shoreline looking for the last element to complete this perfect picture... a fish.  I knew this wasn’t the best weather for bonefishing… a small wind scuff always increased your odds. Wind hides you from the fish, while calm water allows a closer scrutiny by a shallow water predator with senses perfected over countless millennia.  But I wished for no wind.  For me, the most thrilling moment in bonefishing occurs when you see a tail scratch the surface on a calm day. On a day like this, you can see a tail glinting across a flat... seemingly a mile away.  On a day like this, the splash from a six-inch needlefish can stop your heart.

The tide was dropping now, draining water from the mangroves.  Two small creeks worked at the placid surface where sun-warmed water drained back into the bay from the island’s interior. It looked like wind scuff, but was only a gentle current. Calm prevailed, yet I felt agitated as anticipation reigned.  I needed a fish to complete this perfect picture... one fish, one shot, one tail, one hookup.  It may have seemed a shame to destroy this remarkable calm, but winter was in charge up north and a man has to do what a man has to do.

As I stood waiting, I drew my backpack strap off my shoulder and felt inside the pack for the camera that I had placed under my raincoat. I took special care to place the camera’s sling around my neck before reshouldering the pack to my back. I took a few photos, taking time to look at the digital image to see if the photo conveyed accurately the beauty of the day. It did.

Just then it happened. I saw a tail pop up and slowly ease its way around a mangrove shoot.  This fish was obviously enjoying the day as much as I was. To a neurotic fish doomed to a life of incessant scanning for sharks and barracudas, perhaps a day like today evened the odds. The water was clear and there were no lapping waves or surface scuff. With no background static, bonefish senses, tuned by eons of predation, would work as designed. Maybe for this day only, all the bonefish on Andros could just relax and act recklessly. At least as recklessly as a bonefish can act given their serious need for maintenance levels of Prozac augmented with a Valium shooter. Eventually, I lowered my camera and shifted my rod to my right hand. But for some reason I paused. What came next tempted the fish gods. Stupid I know, but maybe this calm day had made me as relaxed and reckless as my tailing companion. 

I know you take ‘em when you can get ‘em. Bonefish tails are rare so reach back, make the cast, get the hookup. In front of me was a happy fish, a fish ready to eat.  Instead, I placed my rod back in my left hand and raised the camera.  I would get a picture of a tailing fish. 

Yea, that’s the ticket. I’ll take a photo, then I’ll catch him." I told myself.
Obviously the hot sun and lack of breeze had sizzled my brain. I was tempting fate and I knew it. I would deserve nothing more than double goose eggs and I'd probably change the weather in the process.

But I took one photo, then two, searching through the viewfinder for the elusive tail. I checked after each exposure and saw nothing. Maybe these bonefish really are ghosts or maybe this fish was an apparition created by a brain heated to the point of hallucinations by too many hours on the flat. But I foolishly continued trying to photograph a tail. At one point, I spotted another fish as it tailed in from my left.  I ignored him and eventually, as he gazed up at me with that big black eye, he finned slowly away.  Geez, was I tempting fate! I was a fool festooned in khaki and basted in sunscreen just waiting to go from the stove to the frying pan. My fish continued to happily tail until he rushed ahead throwing a big boil into the surface of the glassy water. 

"Spooked him!" I thought. "See, you should have taken the shot." 

But, just as I prepared to move on, I saw him tail once again. Then, in the reflection of a big dark mangrove bush, I could see his entire pale green form. He had a crab crossways in his mouth. Tan claws stuck out each side of his mouth. This was a big crab. You’d need major ordnance to deliver a fly this big. You’d need a 14 wt. rod and enough rug yarn to carpet a small office spun on a 4/0 hook to deliver a fly this size.

Then he crunched. I could hear the crab’s exoskeleton crack as the big bonefish reached the sweet meat inside. On this still morning, it sounded like a bunch of diners at Long John Silver's.  After a few loud cracks, it was over.  No chewing, just crunching once, twice, then I presume, swallowing. I figured that much crab meat would fill him up and he would soon adjourn to deeper waters for cigars and brandy.  But no, if you are a bonefish, you must make hay while the sun shines, so in no time he was off tailing again. He meandered towards the mouth of the first small creek.

OK, no more photos! It was time to catch this fish before he filled up on crab cakes and shrimp cocktails. I raised my rod just as his tail disappeared into the roiled waters at the creek's mouth.
"Oh man, now you’ve really done it." I lamented.

I squinted and I stared. Nothing. Eventually, I had to accept the reality that he had found the current from the creek, leaving me with only a few silly photos and perhaps a nice memory. But luck was smiling on me today and three feet beyond the riffle, a tail popped up again.  I quickly cast. My fly landed with a plop to the side and slightly behind my fish, about at his pectoral fin. 

Before I could say, “they don’t eat from that end”, he pounced like a cat and pinned my fly to the bottom. I could see the pink bead at the hook eye just above his right gill. He finned backward drawing the fly towards his mouth until he took it all – the bead, the rabbit fur and the hook – in one big vacuuming rush of water.
I stripped and he was on.

It has been said that a fisherman lives for that nanosecond before the hookup.  The rest is just work – good work – but still work. I generally agree, but on this day the nanosecond lasted for quite a few minutes... and it will last for quite a few more if I somehow managed to get a photo of this fish tailing. Time will tell.
I could tell you that the wind came up and this perfect day was soon over... but it wouldn’t be true. I could tell you that by tempting the fish gods, the rest of the day was slow… but it wouldn’t be true. And I could tell you that the next day dawned clear and calm just like today... but it wouldn’t be true. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Amazon Basin: Before and After the Rains

The guest cottages on the left, the pool and the runway during the fishing season.
Each year, during our trip to the Agua Boa River, anglers ask me how high the water gets during the rainy season. I tell people the river rises 27-30 feet. Yes, that's feet. This year, during our visit, we could have waded across the river in many spots. The low water leaves many large islands and sand bars exposed. During the rainy season you would be under 30 feet of water in those same spots. 
Perhaps the best way to demonstrate how much water drains out of the Amazon Basin each year is with photos. What follows are some before and after shots of the lodge and its guest cottages. It is truly hard to imagine how much water flows down the Agua Boa  during the rainy season. The river climbs a 20 foot cutback, overflows the lawn, then overtakes the lodge and its buildings on its way to inundating the forest. It becomes deep enough that Carlos the lodge manager, photographed a tapir (that was being chased by a jaguar) swimming in fromt of the dining room. Have a look at these before and after shots...

During the dry season, sand bars are exposed and the water is very low.
The pool with the guest cottages beyond during the dry season (when we come to fish).
A look upriver from the lodge.

The river on the left looking downriver and over the lawn from the pool.
A look upriver... notice the 20' cutback on the left that the river has to climb before it overflows its banks!

But from the same spot, during the rainy season, you might feel a bit different... like you were up to your ears in water!

The same cottages with 27 feet more water in the river

The view upriver
The lodge from a runway that is now underwater!
A Tapir swims in front of the dining room.
The pool from where we have cocktails and look out over the river 22 feet below!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Payara, the Famous Vampire Fish of the Amazon Basin

4" long teeth and new ones are folded down in the jaw
On this year's trip to Brazil's Agua Boa River, I finally caught a payara, the famous vampire fish of the Amazon. I've been trying to catch one for years! I think they are cool fish. Huge teeth, lean silver body, strong aerial fighters... payara are amazing. Think of them as badass tarpon and you've got the idea. Anyway, I finally caught one! I have no photogrphic proof of my catch. We took him off the boga to take a photo and as I was clicking the shutter on my camera, our guide lost his grip and my payara went overboard. Doug Jeffries is my only witness. He was landing an arowana at the time! That's the bad news... the good news is Agua Boa Lodge most senior guide, Pedro, cleaned a payara skull for me and I brought it home. The photos are below.

Pretty cool eh?

Doug Jeffries with a Beautiful Payara
Looks like ALIEN!

No wonder our guide didn't seem too interested in maintaining his grip on my fish when it thrashed.
Nothing would escape these jaws!

Payara are fast, aggressive and a great gamefish. The two large fangs jutting from the lower jaw can grow to 6 inches. These two lower teeth fit into holes in the upper jaw. Payara usually swallow their prey whole (after spearing them with their teeth), but will sometimes dice prey into bite-sized pieces. This fish can reach up to about 4 feet (117 cm) in length with a weight of up to 40 lbs (18 kg). A 40 lb. Payara would be one badass fish!!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Agua Boa River 2013 Trip Report

We seek the only strip within many miles.
Doug Jeffries with a big temensis

Sometimes you get a reminder that it may take a lot of effort to pull off a fishing trip. Sometimes to make it, you really gotta want it!

When I awoke at home at 4:30 AM on January 31, it should have been just a simple drive to the airport and a quick flight to Denver. I would be in Miami by 3:00 PM, Meet my group, get some sleep and then take an early morning flight to Brazil... easy right? Instead, after scraping a thick layer of snow off my car, it was clear the predicted winter storm had arrived and all that was “simple” had disappeared from my formula. 

With 6-10 inches on the ground and a lot more on the way, the drive to the airport was ugly. What normally took 15 minutes took 40 and felt more like skiing than driving, The building winds, drifting snow and low visibility, didn’t look good for getting out. If I missed my flight out of Sheridan and couldn’t get to Miami by tonight, I’d miss the TAM flight to Manaus on Friday and would therefore miss the charter to from Manaus to Agua Boa Lodge early Saturday morning. I would spend the week at work instead of fishing in the Amazon Basin. The prospect was chilling, both literally and figuratively!

I’ll make a long story short: what should have been a 6:30 AM departure from Wyoming was delayed to 7:45 AM, then 9:00 AM, then 11:00 AM, ... all hope seemed lost. We reboarded the 18 seat twin prop four times and sat on the runway with no heat in 7 degree temps while the ground crew tried to de-ice the wings. Four times we de-boarded as the deicers couldn’t keep up with the snowfall. According to the pilot, we needed the ice to stay off for six minutes to complete taxi and takeoff. We couldn’t make four. 

On the fifth try we made it out of Sheridan through a small gap in the storm at 1:30 PM (which meant our fifth time through security. Previously, each time we deplaned after an unsuccessful deicing, we were sent back to the main terminal to get warm, then had to go back through TSA security (shoes off, laptop out, metal detector etc.) and sit in a small unheated waiting room.)   My office had changed my flights to Miami three times each time booking later and later flights as each postponement in Sheridan. What should have been a 3:00 PM arrival in Miami had turned into a true epic with the described false starts, but it also meant I barely made flight legs in Denver and Dallas and eventually arrived in Miami at 1:00 AM on the last possible flight of the day. 

After getting my luggage which had somehow managed to keep up with the close connections, I met my old friend Doug Jeffries at the airport hotel, showered, then it was off to TAM Airlines at 3:30 AM for the 4:40 AM boarding of the flight to Manaus. Some 5 hours later we arrived in Manaus. Whew, I had made it!  Now that is one hell of a travel day!




The question is... Was it worth it? Yes....... no make that hell yes!! 
The Agua Boa was in perfect shape. As we banked over the runway while preparing to land on the runway at the lodge, we could see exposed white sand bars which meant low water. The tannic stained waters of the Agua Boa River flowed over the bars showing light yellow in the shallows and dark olive at the dropoffs. These undulating white sand flats and olive green deeper channels alternated and made the river look like a giant serpent snaking through the rain forrest. Those of us who had been to the river before knew that these low water conditions insured ample sight casting opportunities. Not only that were the conditions right, but we also had a great group. Most of us had fished together before either in the Amazon, the Seychelles, Mexico or the Bahamas. We switched the partners around most days and fished 60 some miles of clear Agua Boa River water.

The fishing wasn’t always easy. The big peacocks were spooky in the skinny water, but we managed to catch lots of borboleta (butterfly) peacocks, paca peacocks (spotted) and enough big temensis peacocks of 10+ pounds to keep us happy. We caught numerous temensis (the fish we see in the photos labeled peacock bass) in the 12-17 pound range on big streamers especially chartreuse and white, but also green, yellow/red and shades of tan. We also caught many 1-2 pound temensis peacocks insuring the health of the river for many years to come. (A peacock bass is reputed to grow 2 pounds per year). Generally the best rig was a 5-6 foot 30 lb leader with a 40 lb. bite tippet. BUT, if you were committed to sight fishing the skinny flats, a longer leader (and a longer cast) combined with a smaller fly was necessary. In these shallow pale yellow flats that were scored with dark green dropoffs, It was like permit fishing... but in the Amazon Basin. It was great sport, but not easy!

Paca Peacock


The arowana fishing was spectacular usually on small deceivers stripped slowly. A few 8-12 lb arowana were caught, but the majority were in the 4-8 lb. range. Anna Riggs and I found a flat on our last day that was home to hundreds of arowana from 2-14 lbs. Impressive indeed! We also caught payara (the vampire fish), jacunda, oscars, bicuda, pacu, piranha, matrichan and dogfish.

In addition to the spectacular bird life we have come to expect from previous trips, we saw giant Amazonian otters, agouti, howler, squirrel and capuchin monkeys, tapir, hundreds of caimen from one to one thousand pounds and boto freshwater dolphin (Scott Sawtelle and I saw a freshwater dolphin eat a 5 lb. spotted peacock I had just released. It was no contest... the dolphin moved like a cat in the water and easily caught the peacock via some of the most sophisticated sonar in the animal world).


Thanks to Doug Jeffries, Peter Acosta, Jim Squirrel, Russ Dilley, Seaborn Jones, Doug Ellis, Scott Matthews, Scott Sawtelle and John Riggs and Anna Riggs for a wonderful trip!

And many thanks to the great crew at Agua Boa Lodge including guides Pedro, Irmao, Josue, Juraez, Cobaclo, Daniel, Samuel.  Thanks to Carlos and Charlie for making things run so well. We all had a great time and your efforts did not go unnoticed.

For more info on the Agua Boa River please read the trip reports from previous year’s adventures:
Fly Paper Blog 2012
Fly Paper Photos Part One 2012
Fly Paper Photos Part Two 2012