Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Professional Development

You know you've chosen the right career path when attending a professional development seminar=spending 10 hours on the water. I had a chance to head up to Roscoe, New York this week to meet up with a cast of Orvis affiliates on the banks of the Beaverkill River . The group mission was to expand technical skills and understanding of two important niche aspects of fly fishing; spey casting (and moreover two-handed rods and their application), and European Nymphing techniques and strategies.

Friend Will Turek of Midwest Spey and SAO and George Daniel of Team USA fly fishing and TCO fly shop out on great programs, respectively. 20mph winds and wind chill values as low as -5 made for a tough learning environment but it seemed that by the end of the day everyone involved was excited about what they'd been able to take away from the program.

First stop, fly shop...

Banks of the Beaverkill...

Toy box. Probably had $40,000+ worth of rods and reels on hand - quite the quiver...

GD doing his thing while first group looks on...

Plying some pocket water...

Kickin' it between sessions...

Will talking two-handers...


Steve dialing in the big stick...

and ironing out the details.

So after a long, cold day Will and I finally got on the road about 7:45 pm with a 7-hour drive ahead of us back to Cleveland. I wasn't worried and volunteered to drive.

Somewhere west of Erie we got to swapping fishing stories. We went back and forth talking famous hatches and must-see rivers and ones that got away when right around 2:00 AM the accelerator just dropped on me and the RPM's went to zero. I was pretty befuddled until Will shot me a look as if I were the mentally challenged employee trying to change the trash bag at McDonald's but making a real mess of it.

"Dude, you ran out of gas."

Ah, Indeed I had. So we took a brisk half-mile jaunt up I-90 to the nearest gas station, grabbed a 5 gallon tank of gas, and hitched a ride in the back of a strangers pickup to our vehicles and were promptly on the road once again.

Just another story for the Dudewater archives.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Just Do It

I had planned to wake up early in order to sneak in a few hours on the river before work. But when I woke up to a piercing cell phone alarm, shivering under the comforter and looking over at the frost on my bedroom window, I have to admit, I wrestled with the decision.

In retrospect I'm pretty pleased with the path I chose.

... A reminder to us all that, when in doubt, get off your ass.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Friday Fish Porn: Bowling with Skippers

In honor of an extremely cold weekend forecast, we give you our favorite cold weather activity.

For maximum gripping ability, we recommend wool.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Puta Madre Sabalo Grande!

Mother &*$%@#$ big tarpon.

That's why you go to Holbox, for a shot at one of the biggest, strongest, and most challenging fish on the planet on a fly rod. Tarpon, especially the big ones, don't come easy. For many anglers with a freshwater background (Fast Jimi and I very much included) the transition to bigger, heavier, and more powerful rods and a strip set are the first couple of adjustments that anglers need to make to be successful.

As Jimmy already told you, the first big tarpon of the trip was a pretty short experience. A cast in front of a school of rolling fish, a thump as a 100-something pound fish engulfed my purple death, and a solid strip set drove a 6/0 600SP deep into the hard mouth of a monster tarpon.
Within a couple seconds, I was in my backing, in the process of losing just about every guide on the rod, and my brand new line. The fish jumped three of four times in the process, and Jimmy was able to snap these pictures as the fight ended with a sickening crack.

Choose your four letter word here...
And one last jump before he disappeared for good...

Rigging up a new 12 wt. and line on the Gulf on Mexico.
Weather limited our opportunities to fish for these monsters, but we did get out a couple other times during our stay.
Jimmy vs. Tarpon

Separation anxiety.
Jimmy was leaving on a Wednesday, and after a couple beers and a quick glance at the weather forecast, Sandflea proclaimed that Thursday was going to be the Whenever a guide says something along those lines, it's a very bold prediction - and something that isn't said lightly. But let's just say that Sandflea was right. We hooked a half dozen monsters, had a double on, and got these shots...

Hooking a big tarpon is like getting into a bar fight. In the opening seconds adrenaline shoots through your veins and your mind struggles to fully understand what is happening. The fish is already shooting off at mach 2, and you're left behind just trying to catch up.

You look down at your reel, and the handle is spinning so fast it just looks like a blur. A silver rocket shoots out of the water along the horizon. It's the fish you're hooked up to, but you can't believe it's that far away already. As the fish crashes back down in to the water, doubts start to materialize that you can actually tame the beast and get it back in.

As the fight approaches an hour, you start to realize that you are the weakest link in the process. Rod, reel, line, and backing are doing their job, but your body aches from the fight. When you rest, the fish rests, and just maintaining pressure on a fish that weights just as much as you do takes its toll on your strength.

After the fish makes a few more runs and jumps, you've finally drawn it close to the boat. However, the fish senses the significance of the moment, and clears water again, head thrashing, trying to throw your fly. The jump starts below the surface - a dark spot turns in to a silver bullet as the fish powers upwards, it breaks the film of the water, gills flared, eyes wide, and then flops back down

The struggle has just begun once the fish is close to the boat. The fish tries short runs, quick rolls and jumps, and desperate moves under the boat to try to escape. But you've almost got him, and soon, he's yours.

Most of them get away - more than any angler fishing for them would like to admit. But when one comes to the boat, the picture says it all.

"Are you kiddin' me??"

Unreal. Its clear that somebody somewhere really wants to rain on our parade. At this rate we're not even going to have a spring steelhead season. And that, my friends, would suck.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Fish Porn: Mixed Bag Edition

It was interesting getting back to the rivers this week after that little jaunt to the salt. Funny but somehow jumping trout now leaves something to be desired. Oh well. It’d be hard to complain about catching tarpon and steelhead in the same week…

Here are a few specimens we sampled over the last week or so. Enjoy!

Fish Ohio 'gill?

Double on the Dock

Sandflea grows his own saddle hackle...

Bird in the hand.

Creepy Crawlers

"CEVICHE baby!"

Count this guy 2x... he was caught, released, retreived by Victor, and released again.

This guy gave Victor a fit and had him foaming at the mouth after a few licks. Apparently toads and dogs aren't really meant to play together.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two Versions of the Story

The Old Testament doesn't have much in the way of fine print.  But if one were to read between the lines in search of the story of the tarpon, I'd imagine it goes something like this: "On the fifth day God created all the fishes of the sea, and birds of the air.  As night was falling, and the day was almost done God realized that he had created many species of minnows - the prey for many, but the predator or master of none.  Taking pity upon this group of fish, he decided to create one last specie that would make up for the other's shortcomings.  God created the tarpon - a minnow that grew to unfathomable sizes, possessed unbelievable strength, and a coat of armor that could only be defeated by the sharpest of teeth and the strongest of jaws.   And lastly, to protect the fish from anglers who wish to catch it, he gave the tarpon a mouth consisting of bone - making them difficult to hook, and even harder to land.

For the evolution theorists out there Megalops Atlanticus represents the pinnacle of piscatorial development.  Millions of years of natural selection has culminated in a fish that has the ability to grow to incredible sizes, is largely composed of red muscle - perfect for power and endurance, and who's complex swim bladder serves as a rudimentary lung.  The fish's range extends from Cape Hatteras to Argentina, and it is able to withstand a wide range of DO levels, pH levels, and temperatures.  Over millions of years they have developed in to one of the most sought after species for anglers - as their strength and leaping ability often culminate in some of the best sport fishing opportunities in the world.

Heading to Holbox started out as an accident - an earthquake in Chile last March canceled my fishing plans, and a friend and I were left scrambling to find an alternate destination.  With the help of a generous angler, we found ourselves flying across the Gulf of Mexico to Cancun.  A couple hours drive, and a short trip across the bay we found ourselves at Sandflea's house.  Sandflea owns the Holbox Tarpon Club and is one of the most accomplished fly fisherman probably in the entire world - he's landed 135 permit, and probably boated more big tarpon than anyone in the entire world (although he's long lost count of that number).  He consistently has opened up his house and his table to me, and has become a good friend.  As special as the fishing is on Holbox, it wouldn't be the same without Sandflea and his lovely wife Ellia.

It's hard for me to decide where to start when telling this story of my trip down there.  Admittedly, I'm currently suffering from a bout of post trip depression.  After spending nine days bouncing around in a panga, waking up in my own bed just doesn't feel as nice.  The first thing I remember was after catching up with Sandflea, he asked to see my tarpon box.  I'd spent a lot of time tying for this trip, and had tied up traditional tarpon patterns up to 4/0's.  He looked at me and said that my hooks were too small.

By this point all the days have blended together a bit, and I don't quite remember what happened when - but I do remember what happened, and how it did.  So I'll start by describing the fisheries.

Holbox offers two distinctly different fisheries.  The first is for the big tarpon - and takes place in slightly deeper water.  These fish range in size from 60 lbs. up to 200+ lb. monsters.  In most places with big tarpon they are only present during certain times of the year, however, this fishery boasts both resident and migratory fish and creates an opportunity for anglers to catch a trophy fish anytime weather conditions allow.  The second fishery is in the creeks, mangroves, and flats in the bay created by a peninsula where the town of Holbox lies.  This shallow water habitat is home to baby tarpon, snook, barracuda, and many other species.  No matter what the wind direction or speed there is always somewhere to fish.  It's this second part for baby tarpon that I'll take on today.

Whenever you're headed saltwater fishing, you have to change your attitude and expectations to be dependent on the weather.  Sun, wind, clouds, rain, temperatures, etc. all come in to play on the flats, and anglers are truly at mercy of the weather.  Luckily during my stay the weather was generally good.  A small cold front came through and brought quite a bit of wind, but the opportunity for good fishing was still present.

I think Jimmy painted a pretty accurate picture of what fishing for big tarpon is like in Holbox.  A long cast headed outbound to intercept a school of rolling fish.  A momentary pause to let the line settle down to the depth where they are.  A series of steady strips ending in a dead stop.  A millisecond of dead weight ends in chaos as an enormous fish surges away with all of it's might breaking lines, tackle, and egos as it explodes out of the water and shakes it's massive head.  Anyways, I'll speak more about this on another day.

Baby tarpon present a fun, and a bit more manageable challenge for anglers.  Instead of a 12 weight, you can fish something less.  Although they challenge angler's skill with their hard mouthes, electrifying jumps, and spooky nature they are still on their way to obtaining the size and power of their older kin.  The places where the live are often pretty, and sometimes hard to get to.  However, like any other fishing experience, the more difficulty encountered getting there the greater the reward and half of the experience is simply getting there.

Some days you find the babies everywhere you look, and others you might only see two or three.  As Sandflea would say, "That fishing baby."

Saltwater shallow water sight fishing is one of the most exhilarating experiences in fly fishing.  It requires accurate casts, calculated strips, and a precise and powerful strip-set at the exact moment your fly is eaten.  Any mistake is immediately apparent as the target spooks, and disappears with a series of powerful tail strokes in a cloud of mud or sand.  However, the culmination of a good cast, solid take, strong set, and a properly played fish is a great reward, and is worth taking on the challenge.  

These "bambinos" are the future of the fishery.  Give them another 60 (yes, sixty) years and they'll look more like this...