Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Real Time Tarpon Report from the Yucatan

View of San Felipe from the hotel's rooftop.
I just got a report this morning from the west coast of the Yucatan at San Felipe.
My friend Tony Wendtland is there with a group of friends including his sons Kit and Taylor, Martin MacCarty and his son Ford and Lynn Stewart.

Tony reports... 
"Good first day here at San Felipe. Everyone boated at least two fish and Lynn Stewart caught his first tarpon on a fly rod. Guides and the lodge staff and staff are great."

and a bit later...

"Classic late May here. Still killer mornings and then a hot windy day and a brief, but good late day with fish up even with some breeze. The service and food has been excellent. Marco is here checking on us too."

"T and Ford are taking chest harness Go Pro videos each day. I even have one of the interior of the hotel now. I will share them with you when we get back."




Little Abaco Lodge Summary, April 20-May 4, 2019

My good friend, Chuck Ash, just returned a couple weeks ago from Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge. Chuck guided for many years in Alaska and knows the state from the Arctic to the Panhandle. He has floated and explored most of the major river systems in this massive state and is clearly one of the most experienced and accomplished guides I know. Chuck was my boss on many raft/kayak trips in the Bristol Bay area, as well as in the Arctic and Kenai Fjords.  I guided with Chuck for many years and learned a ton from him. It is rare when you work for someone (who is also a friend) and as time goes on, your respect for that person grows. In addition, Chuck has fished the Seychelles, Mexico, extensively in the Bahamas and Baja. Given his experience, I very much trust his opinion.

Chuck filed this great trip report on Little Abaco Bonefish House which covers all the details of this new operation. The lodge is on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. If you drive as far north as you can on Abaco, you end up at Crown Haven. The lodge is on the outskirts of this small settlement. While not for everyone, LABL is receiving great reviews from the "fish first" crew.

Read this report carefully, then decide if it is for you. And thanks Chuck!... This is a terrific asset for any angler contemplating a trip to Little Abaco Bonefish Lodge.

Chuck Ash
The Lodge: Sidney grew up in Crown Haven and built this place 30 years ago but the summer of 2018 was the first time he had lived in it. All in all, the lodge is clean, well-maintained and comfortable. There is a central dining area, bar and kitchen that is smaller than at Water Cay but is certainly adequate for a group of 6.

Little Abaco at Crown Haven

The building sits on the main road and faces south. Sidney and Keeta’s residence is on the west side (LH side in photo), the kitchen-dining area is in the middle with the front door and rear double doors both opening into it. Guest rooms are off a hall to the east (RH side in photo). There are 2 double rooms on the south (road) side of the hall. On the north side of the hall are a bathroom with a shower for the 2 south-side doubles plus a double room with its own bathroom/shower. Each room has two twin beds, a large open closet with shelves at each end, a new air conditioning unit mounted outside with controls inside and a ceiling fan. At present there are no end tables or dressers in the rooms, but Sid is still in court trying to get his possessions back from the owner of the old building on Water Cay. Those possessions include his beautiful dining table and chairs, bedroom furniture, kitchen equipment and even the pictures that were hung on the walls. The attached utility room off the garage on the east end of the building is used for rod storage, laundry and storage of lodge gear and supplies.

Kitchen/bar & rear door
Dining area & front door
TV/lounge area

At some point, another bath will be incorporated into the utility room, and maybe more guest quarters in a new building on the back of the lot. Also a screened-in porch, maybe front, maybe back, but screened. No-see-ems were not unbearable during our time, but they and the Bahamas mosquito definitely live here.

While we were there Sid had a local man clear the vegetation off some of the land behind the building. I asked Sid what his plans for that area were and he said that he wasn’t sure yet, but over the course of our two weeks he talked to me about extending the concrete deck that’s out the double rear doors and making a covered, screened-in area there, plus adding bearing trees to the newly-cleared area. He planted 2 hog plums while we were there and has plans for some citrus and other trees. Knowing Sid as I do, I am sure there will also be a vegetable garden somewhere behind the house when we show up next spring.

Right now cash flow is the limiting factor in continuing the improvements and bringing the lodge up to the high standard that Sidney envisions. He is capable and hard-working and has Keeta right beside him, so as revenues continue to come in, the place will continue improve.

The boats are stored on trailers at the west end of the yard and there is a clothes line out back to dry wet gear at the end of the day. The front porch now serves as the lounge area for morning coffee and evening sundowners.

Food, Drink and Lodge Life: If you are after an insular lodge experience with polished amenities and American style food, you should probably look at other places, but you’ll be giving up a lot. At Little Abaco the fishing is as good as it gets and you’ll be surrounded by island life and all of the great things it has to offer. We had cigars and sundowners on the porch each evening, laughing and rehashing the day’s events. Locals walking or driving by waved, said hello or honked their horns to us. That friendly attitude continued wherever we were.

Tommy, the fellow who owns the boat and fuel dock, is as hard-working as Sid. We saw him on a daily basis and he would stop his work to chat with us. The same pleasantness was true with the folks at the Tiki Bar in the harbor area and with every local person we met. You could tell from their friendly attitude and from the respect they showed Sidney that they were glad to have Sidney, his business and his guests in Crown Haven. It was a real plus to be so welcomed into the local community, so different from atmosphere in Freeport or Nassau.

Keeta does the cooking and it’s wonderful, tasty Bahamian fare. Breakfasts were scrambles eggs and bacon or cereal w/ bananas and fresh-brewed coffee.

Lunches on the boat were 2 sandwiches that varied between tuna, egg salad, sliced turkey and sliced ham. The turkey and ham sandwiches were made from whole turkey breast or a baked ham, not from packaged meat. A package of potato chips, granola bars and a candy bar for each fisherman were included in the lunch. Ample bottled water, soda and Gator Ade were also in the boat coolers.

Dinners were conch, fresh fish, chicken, pork chops, ribs or spaghetti accompanied with a changing combination of pasta, rice, rice & beans or grits & beans and always a salad, slaw or mixed vegetable. One advantage of Little Abaco over Water Cay is that there is better access to both fresh sea food and fresh vegetables.

The lodge provides both Kalik and Sands beer for $3.00 a bottle. If you want Guinness you’ll have to let them know in advance so they can lay in a supply. Wine and hard liquor is BYO and Sid or Keeta are willing to stop at a liquor store after they pick you up at the airport so that you can get what you like.

Unlike Water Cay, there is a tiki bar within walking distance for the not-so-faint of heart. Friday through Sunday nights are most active, and some might prefer mid-week visits. It is the local hangout and offers cold beer, locals, local foods, nice breezes and a view, not as compelling as Water Cay, but enough to satisfy your need to see the sea.

The Daily Routine: We were up by 6:00-6:30 am, Keeta had the coffee maker programmed so that we always arose to the smell of coffee. She was making breakfast by 6:45. Around 8:00 the boat trailers would be hooked up and we’d drive less than 5 minutes to the ramp, off-load the boats and were heading out. We broke for a quick lunch on the boats mid-day, fished the afternoon and were back at the ramp around 5:30 pm. Porch time was the late afternoon routine until dinner around 7:15-7:30.

Conch shell pile at the harbor

Launching the boats
The Fishing: The fishing environment around Little Abaco is subtly different than that around Water Cay. Around Water Cay it was mainly extensive, shallow mangrove flats with tidal creeks that flooded with the rising tide. High tide was a tough time to fish there because many of the fish were back in the mangroves and thus unreachable. Around Little Abaco there is little of that type of habitat, so the fish are more accessible at high tide. It is mostly rock shorelines and sand beaches with both sandy and vegetated flats. Some of the sand flats are extensive, one being well over a square mile in area. Others are smaller pocket flats off of smaller beaches. These sand flats are all wadable and as a result we did a LOT of wading when the tide was low. There are also some passes between keys that have soft, vegetated bottoms plus a few creeks and back bays reminiscent of Water Cay. We poled these areas and also some of the beaches and shorelines when the tide was up. The vast majority of our wading was comfortable, on fairly hard and reasonably level bottom structure.

There are 3 main areas to fish out of Crown Haven, and the wind was the determinant as to where we fished. Along the south shore of the island to the east are extensive sandy flats and a couple of creeks and back bays. When the wind was east or north this was the usual area we targeted. If the winds were light it opened up access to the keys south of Little Abaco that extend toward Grand Bahama Island. This area had wadable flats, though fewer than along the south shore, and held the advantage of more and varied shoreline. If the winds were out of any quarter from the south it made the north shore of Little Abaco the place to be.

The fishing to the east along the south shore holds schools of smaller fish and scattered groups of larger bones. Among the keys to the south we generally found larger fish. The same was true of the north shore area, plus we saw most of the mutton snappers there (Don and Alan each caught one…and we ate ‘em!).

The only other boats we saw in two weeks were from the east side of Grand Bahama and only on the farthest flats to the southwest. To say that the area is lightly fished would be an understatement. Bonefish are bonefish and all can act strangely – some days or even hours brain dead and aggressive; other times skittish and particular to flies, bird, sharks, motion or who knows what. We saw more schools of fish here than at Water Cay, but most schools included some tempting big fish as well as the popcorns.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Alice and Jimmy's Excellent Adventure... to Abaco Island

I recently received a trip report from Alice Sudduth and Jimmy Ellis. This duo just returned from the Little Abaco Bonefish House on Abaco Island in the Bahamas. You might remember Jimmy and Alice from a trip we did together last fall to North Andros. These two are very enthusiastic anglers, a lot of fun to be with and make friends wherever they go. As such, I trust their opinion on fishing venues! Thanks Alice and Jimmy!

We had a great trip to Abaco - Sidney is a great guide and worked really hard in some pretty challenging conditions (we are convinced the wind never stops in the Bahamas!).  We were comfortable and well-fed the whole time, and it seems like Sidney has some big plans for expanding/improving.  It will be a few years, I think, but will be very nice when it's done.

Alice Sudduth with a great 'cuda!
Jimmy gets one too!

Looking forward to more great trips! I'm sending pictures separately - Jim and I both got a barracuda.  Nice bonus. Sidney always kept the spin rod with a 'cuda plug in the boat. He said most people aren't interested in using it, but we were thrilled.  

Nice Alice!


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Ascension Bay La Pescadora Lodge March 16-23, 2019

In March, Angling Destinations' Clark Smyth and Cole Burnham hosted a trip to the Yucatan's Ascension Bay. They fished out of La Pescadora Lodge in Punta Allen. 
Here is Clark's report...
Clark with a hefty tarpon
Cole with a great jack

Stingrays, Manatees, Crocodiles, Crabs and Flamingos
by Clark Smyth

Our red-eye flight landed in Cancún at 4:45 in the morning but being groggy from the abbreviated night’s sleep I had a lot of trouble recalling much of that early arrival.  We’ll start this report from that same morning around 7am as we rolled through daybreak into the increasingly touristy spa-laden pueblo of Tulum.   It’s a Saturday morning and the town is still asleep, nothing’s open.  Our group included of a handful whole hearted trout bums, two childhood friends, one of whom claimed to be Mexican sportscasters (evidently, he’s not), an orthopedic surgeon his wife and the owner of a mainstay Sheridan watering hole.  For some, this was their umpteenth salt-water fishing trip in search of another catch or species while others in the group had never cast a fly rod in the ocean.  Before we left, we’d been assured we won’t be needing the services offered at the Casa de Cambio - everyone in the Mayan Riviera accepts US Dollars (despite the unfavorable exchange rate).  We ask our driver to stop for some “postres” or “desayuno” and all agree Breakfast is long overdue.  The FullGas station is the only open option - suppose Rebanadas and Sabritas will suffice.  In a little more than an hour we’ll be kicking off our shoes and sifting our toes through the sand on the beach.

After a scenic hour-long panga ride through the mangrove lagoons between the bridge at Boca Paila and the small fishing village of Punta Allen, we turn the corner at the lighthouse and moments later, glimpse the other guide boats moored in front of the La Pescadora Fly Fishing Lodge.

Jose Briceño and his wife Lily Bertram run the lodge with an adept combination of American hospitality and Mexican work-ethic. Makes sense. Jose is from Punta Allen while Lily was raised in North Carolina. Their son’s Parker and Romeo are also very much involved. Parker as an up and coming bilingual fly tier, kite flyer, kayak poler and spider finder while his little brother, Romeo, although a skillful browser of YouTube, is amazingly deft at capturing and then removing the stinger from venomous scorpions using a small stick - he’s not yet five. Aside from the host family, the lodge offers very comfortable accommodations, home cooked Mayan meals and direct access to the celebrated flats of Ascension Bay.

The guides consist of four main guides and four “junior guides.” The jr.’s offer additional assistance on deck, another set of eyes on the water and aid in managing the angler’s line (particularly when hopping out of the boat in a “time is of the essence” wade fishing pursuit - helpful when wary Permit hear the waves slapping against the hull of the boat and therefore keep their distance).  The lodge can accommodate eight anglers and is tropically modest, has a well designed elevated front porch that connects each guest room to the main building.  It’s stick-built mahogany and very well appointed.  The rooms are beautiful, air conditioned and each have ocean views with showers with adjustable window shutters to steer the sea breeze.  The lodge’s cleaning staff have a knack for creatively folding clean unused bath towels into ocean-going creatures (our room had both crabs and flamingos).

We shifted our bags and equipment from the transfer boats to the lodge porch.  My mind was elsewhere, all I could think of was how each Wyoming winter has a tendency to outdo all of the previous winters.  I found myself staring at the innumerable shades of turquoise blue the Caribbean Ocean while seriously contemplating how each subsequent Winter could be perpetually worse than the last.  I was distracted when the mid-morning sun broke from behind a cloud bank and wholly enhanced the pallet of gaze-able turquoise.  I lost my train of thought and parked a truly relaxing smile on my face.  I snatched up the last of the freshly prepared conch Ceviche and was told our rooms may not be ready for a while - we did arrive unusually early.  So, I quickly rigged a 7-weight bonefish rod, slathered on a little sunscreen and walked the Sargasso speckled beach south to a flat that extends out in front of the lighthouse we saw upon arrival.

As I stepped into the clear Caribbean water, it wasn’t but ten seconds that I saw the blue hue of a bonefish rooting around near a pocket of less than clear water swirling near the shoreline all but a rod length away.  I never made a cast, merely unhooked my fly from the rod and flipped the fly in the water in front of me toward the slow approaching fish.  Immediately the bonefish swam over and snatched up the fly as if he finally found what he was looking for.  “Ha!” I laughed out loud as I let the fish peel some line while looking over my shoulder toward to lodge hopeful for an audience or at least someone to confirm that one can wade within two-rod’s length of bonefish and roll-cast effectively for them.  All I see is Justin who’s dawning an Indiana Jones style fedora with a mesh panel sewn-in to make it useful in the tropics - that is, unless you forget to put sunscreen on your forehead under the mesh.  Justin’s bent over studying the myriad of plastic trash washed up on the beach.  I let out a “yelp” he looked up, smiled and asked, “bonefish?” followed by, “all this shit’s washed up from Port-au-Prince, is that a bonefish?”

“Get over here” I shout as I release the bonefish to swim off in search of real crustaceans.  “It’s your turn.”  I say as I hand Justin the rod.  In return he hands me a faded empty bottle of Haitian laundry detergent.  There is far too much plastic floating in the Caribbean - all oceans for that matter.  Troublesomely the problem is worsening.  It’s an environmental disaster on a scale that is essentially immeasurable.  Please “effing” recycle your plastics and find ways to eliminate them as best you can!  But I digress. 

As I’m wading closely alongside Justin, merely a minute after the first bonefish of our trip had been released, I proceed to mention that the sand on the bottom is softer than it looks and there may be stingrays lurking around.  While I’m mentioning that it’s always a good idea to shuffle/drag one’s feet in this scenario, Zang! A searing pain throttles up my leg.  That’s right, unbelievable, a freakin’ stingray plunged its barb just under my right ankle bone.  What are the chances?  I had kicked the ray with my left foot (shuffling) and it chose to spook into my right, felt threatened, and stung.  “Shit,” I exclaimed as I put most of my weight on Justin’s shoulder. “I think I just got stung.”

“No way” came his sarcastically reply. As I pulled my foot from the sea, we both saw the blood oozing out of a small puncture wound on my right instep below the anklebone and immediately Justin glanced around the immediate area.   I assumed for sharks, although maybe he was trying to identify the ray swimming away.  Either way, no-one feels okay bleeding in the ocean.  And assuredly, no-one feels okay after the sting from a ray.  There’s nothing comparable to the pain inflicted by this sting except, maybe that from the bite of a rattlesnake (unfortunately, I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing both - a different story for a different time).  I can unequivocally attest that the pain from a stingray unquestionably trumps that of the bite from a rattlesnake - though I strongly recommend neither.  I was not prepared for the pain that ensued but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let this distressing mishap get in the way of the next six-days of fishing.

Justin quickly came to terms with the situation and was of considerable help in shouldering me out of the ocean and onto the beach to where I could sit down and further asses the situation.  A short time later our compadre Woody arrived (after what seemed like more than significant time to rub in sunscreen) and immediately offered a helping hand.  Apparently, it was discernible I was struggling.  It took the two of them to help me hobble down the beach back to the porch of the lodge.  Just then, both the supposed Mexican sportscaster and Juan, the lodge foreman, arrived on the scene in order to surmise the commotion.  Immediately Juan convinced the supposed Mexican sportscaster of the benefits of urinating on my ankle.  Let it be known that the supposed Mexican sportscaster knows little Spanish and Juan speaks no English.  However, the universal man pissing gesture needs no translator.  After a brief awkward silence one could hear the sound of a lightbulb clicking on just above the head of the supposed Mexican sportscaster.  “I’m not going to pee on your foot,” he continued, “I’m going to pee in a cup so you can pour it on your foot.”  Then he dashed for the kitchen.

In trying to remain calm and endure the ray’s venom searing it’s way up my right leg and into the lymph nodes in my hip I let my thoughts drifted back to Wyoming and the coldest February in quite some time.  What I wouldn’t do to thrust my leg in a snowbank… my thought was disrupted when the supposed Mexican sportscaster handed me a piss-warm plastic cup.

Thinking this was the cure all I so desperately desired and an environmental catastrophe at the same time, the pain won over the environmental impact of the cup and I immediately doused my wound with someone else’s urine, to little or no avail, spilled a few drops on my iPhone only to have the spilled cupful roll downhill to and encircle my supportive uninjured foot.  By then the pain had increased up under my right ribcage causing me to flat-out not care.  Good thing I was not calling the shots here.  The cupful did nothing but make Juan and the supposed Mexican sportscaster laugh.  Thankfully, Lily, the lodge manager was first-rate when asked to call the shots during a stingray incident. Although off at volleyball practice, Juan was able to reach her on a cell phone.  Having recently dealt with another’s encounter with a stingray that resulted in a trip to the Emergency Room, Lily offered amazing advice.

As it turns out, the one tried and true antidote to alleviate the ill-effects of stingray venom is to soak the injured area in the hottest water tolerable.  Nice to find this out moments after the Mexican sportscaster handed me that warm red cup.  I still didn’t care.  Juan brought a five-gallon bucket of boiling water and added just enough cold water to the mix as to not burn my foot.  The contents were excruciatingly hot.  Not a care nor comparison to the worsening agony.  After ten minutes with my foot in the bucket the pain wained by half, or more.  It was then that I realized the next six days were likely not in jeopardy of being spent in a hospital room in Playa del Carmen.  In fact, after about two or three hours of soaking my injury in hot water, I was that afternoon able to dress the wound and participate in a round of beach Bocci.

That evening, prior to convening in the dining room for a pre-dinner margarita Juan, the foreman, pulled me aside while he heated up a leaf plucked from a Barquilla plant in a raw skillet.  He then applied the hot tacky bandage to my wounded ankle.  The dressing stayed in place throughout dinner (i remember a memorable chicken molé).  After dinner, the medicinal properties of the Barquilla plant significantly reduced the swelling in my ankle.  Disaster averted, whew!

The next morning we awoke to the chunking of an ice pick chopping a block of ice out the back door to the kitchen.  I got up and peered out the back of our room and saw one of our guides filling his cooler, a few sodas, a couple beers, chips, cookies, fresh mango, a double decker sandwich and a pile of pickled jalepeños.  The wind had laid down overnight, the ocean was calm and clear and my injury was pain free.  Yesterday was a long day.  Today, was our first day of fishing and It was going to be a good one!

Over the remainder of the week, the weather held, for the most part, and every angler in our group had, not only good fishing, but a great time.  New friendships were forged, and several notable occurrences were experienced.  Aside fro the stingray incident, John and Penny had lunch with a crocodile merely inches from their boat.  Monte, the bar owner, caught his first Tarpon and improved his angling game significantly over the six days.  Woody learned that the Manatee is his spirit animal, caught thirteen bonefish over forty minutes while the boat was anchored in place.  He also caught Montezuma’s Revenge.  The author caught a “Grand Slam” (Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish) on day two.  Trout guides Justin, and Nick each caught their first Permit and consequently, per la Pescadora rules, publicly ingested pickled scorpions.  Angling Destination’s own Cole Burnham added to his ever-growing list of Permit landed as well as his ever-growing list of Spanish slang words.  He, along with yours truly, saw Permit eating mango peels left floating on the surface cast away during lunch.  Considerable time was spent casting floating crab patterns near these Permit, nibbling away on the mango, but they must have been vegetarian, they preferred the mango to the floating crab fly.  The supposed Mexican sportscaster, we learned his name is Homer, but not what he really does, spent a lot of the trip in awe of what a place like Ascension Bay can offer the fly angler.  Not only did he pee on my foot, but he caught his first Bonefish, Snook and Jack.  He also was the cause for all in the group to learn about Enrique Bermudéz de la Serna - most call him “El Perro.”  I digress, again. Furthermore, Homer’s childhood friend, Jonathan who’s an accomplished freshwater angler, tested his prowess in the ocean for the first time and on our last day landed 2019’s first “Super Slam” (Tarpon, Permit, Bonefish and Snook) in Ascension Bay!  He too ate a tequila-soaked scorpion.

We have another March-week reserved at this gem of a lodge nestled at the southern tip of the Mayan Riviera.  Contact Angling Destinations at 800.211.8530 to inquire about the possibility visiting La Pescadora on March 14-21, 2020 with Angling Destinations’ host Clark Smyth.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

New Fly Fisher TV Show from Angling Destinations' Base in Sheridan, Wyoming

A video we did last October just aired on TV.

Mark Melnyk of the New Fly Fisher is near Angling Destinations' headquarters in Sheridan, Wyoming. Mark photographed his show on the Big Horn River and other waters in our area for fall brown trout. It is late fall, but the fishing was still excellent and the scenery unsurpassed. In this video the trout were hot for a mouse pattern on the surface! Lots of great information in this action-packed video! Here is a link to the fly shop too: Fly Shop of the Big Horns:
(Click "watch this video on You Tube" if it doesn't come up.)

Trip Member's Cuba Photos from April 2019

Here are some additional photos taken by trip members. 
Thanks to all that made this fantastic trip posssible!

Anna Riggs:
"The picture of the musicians, and the little boy, and restaurant were all taken in Cojímar, where Hemingway was inspired to write The Old Man and the Sea. I wanted to go see the little town and the bay, so we went there before going to the Hemingway/Gellhorn home. We also saw Hemingway's boat the Pilar.  
Love these photos Anna!




Doug Jeffries:
Doug always adds a few great shots to the mix! Some great snook photos here.



Jim "Big Fish" Woollett:
Mutton snapper, jack crevalle, huge tarpon... nice examples of what Cuba has to offer. Thanks Jim!

Keith Calhoun:
Some great photos here. Thanks Keith! You were a great addition to our group this year. See you in 2020.