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Blue Water Shelf (Snapper Central)

No Boundaries in the Bahamas

The 20 foot Maverick was immense. If I were a track and field official, I would have demanded a urine sample. Hanging off its back was a 200 horsepower Yamaha framed by twin trolling motors.  “They do the work,” said my guide earlier.  “The push pole is just for course corrections.”

Nevertheless, I had signed up for what H2O Bonefishing calls its “No Boundaries” program.  And at that particular instant in time, it was really well named.  We had left Grand Bahama Island about 15 minutes ago and there was nothing but ocean all around us – no cays, no flats, no rocks – just ocean.  Apparently, we were headed to some isolated cays.  Luckily, it was flat calm.

Another 5 minutes passed, and the cays showed up as a couple specks on the horizon.  In another half hour, we were hunting tarpon in a shallow bay.

Nothing but a couple of big nurse sharks showed themselves as they lumbered along… We drifted outside the bay to a small point… Tarpon!  40 to 50 pounders rolling luck crazy!  I think I got bit on my third cast.  Nevertheless, as tarpon are prone to do, it jumped off.  And the remaining tarpon, as tarpon are prone to do, got lockjaw.

So off we went in search of bonefish…  The rest of the day is a bit of a blur – but a good blur.  We fished mostly deeper flats from the boat.   We saw huge schools of bonefish, small groups of permit, groups of bones with permit mixed in, singles, doubles, barracuda, sharks…  You get the picture.  The bonefish weren’t pushovers, but they were pretty grabby.  And the 8 or 9 that visited the boat averaged a solid 4 pounds.  The permit …  Let’s just say they were permit.

It was hard focusing on just bonefish and permit; there were too many other distractions.  Like blacktip sharks and barracuda.  Don’t let anybody tell you that sharks and barracuda are reckless predators; they knew exactly what I was up to…

I remember one brash 4 foot blacktip and an equally ballsy bonefish. I was winding the bonefish close to the boat when the blackip charged – not the bonefish, but the boat!  At high speed!  The guide gave it a solid crack between the eyes with the push pole and the shark settled, skulking about 30 feet off our stern.   At this point in time, the bonefish ran directly toward the shark.  As far as I could tell, the bonefish gave the shark a solid head butt in the flank.  The shark, obviously disturbed by the sheer madness of the situation, finally moved off.

Needless to say, that bonefish got unhooked with extra respect.

As we wandered from cay to cay, a lot of fine looking rocks and coral were worked over with a sinking line.   The odd jack or snapper was happy to play.   Occasionally, a thunderstorm would pop up in the distance, but we’d adjust our course and skip around it.

It was a long day on the water.  I left my hotel at 6:30 AM and came back 13 hours later.  But those kinds of long hours I can get used to.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

The “No Boundaries” program runs during the summer months.  It actually consists of 2 days fishing the plentiful flats close to Grand Bahama and 2 more days plying the offshore cays.  The quiet summer winds (and the big boat!) help make the offshore forays possible.  The offshore cays offered amazing fishing  in terms of size, variety, and numbers.  (If you’re a gear head, bring lots of stuff!!!)  The closer in waters offered excellent bonefishing, although the fish were a smaller and the variety less.  The accommodations were in Freeport and boat got trailered to launch sites around the island.

The Mend

The Mend

The MendThe mend.  A correction of the fly line as it is impacted by different currents in the stream.  I am not the greatest at this, yet it is vital to obtaining the perfect drift…and the reason for my blog name.  Underneath the surface of any given trout stream is a flurry of activity.  Trout and other aquatic creatures move and dance with a current that is constant yet ever changing.

The need for the mend in your drift is to keep the fly line from presenting the fly in a way that does not look natural.  For success in most cases, the drift is the single most important and often overlooked portion of a cast.  Get it right and success is at hand, botch it and your fly either skitters across the surface like a water skier or jumps over every fish in the stream.

Each stream in any particular area has multiple hydrological issues that the fly line is moved, bellied, bowed, or in some cases, sank completely.  It is the Zen of the angler to detect these things and move in accordance to what the water dictates.  This is a part of our craft that never changes.  We are always in hot pursuit of the perfect drift.

Life is much like this.  As our life moves downstream, we are often impacted by currents that are not under our control.  Frustration comes easily when we do not read the current of our days leading to an unsuccessful attempt or missing the mark.  Often we dream of victory that seems to be right under the surface, but we go dancing unnaturally across the surface leaving these amazing life events behind.

I am often very opinionated, most likely a habitual offender of faithless living, and assuredly a man who allows his pride to block obvious blessing.  All of these occur because I have lost the drift.  I have not allowed myself to relax, see the flow, and make adjustments as needed.  But thankfully I now recognize the correlation and have reached the point where the light bulb is flickering.

John Buchan is quoted as saying, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”  Much like the rest of our lives isn’t it?  The big hurdle comes when we are faced with actually making life application out of our sport.

You may not agree…and I am fine with that, but I firmly believe that every area of our lives is intertwined to the point that one part will teach us something about another.  That there actually are life lessons that can be learned in everything from a person we work with, watching a football game, or standing in a river waving a stick.  It is all about how we choose to perceive small snippets of our lives.

So, in light of what I know to be my own shortcomings, and the desire to reach that unattainable thing we call perfection, I will try to learn from the river; that babbling cacophony of change and potential.  I will seek to apply elsewhere that which I have gleaned from time spent watching a floating line being moved by a current that was moving before I was born, and which will be moving long after I have gone.  Maybe, just maybe, I will have learned enough to get a few other things right.  I can’t ask for much more than that.

The Bighorn River

Better than Cutting Holes in Ice – New Year’s Trout!

 

After some skiing at Red Lodge, Montana over the holidays, we stopped in at the Bighorn River, which is not too far south of Billings.  A couple years ago, we heard rumors of great Christmas fishing and wanted to check it out.  It was January 2, the sun was shining, and the air temperature was about 39 degrees – almost tropical!  I was bundled up but it really did feel like a warm spring day.  (Perhaps because I’m from Manitoba?)

The Bighorn River is a “bottom-draw” tailwater that never freezes up. We walked and waded and drifted tiny nymphs and split shot through a lot of promising water. Although we didn’t get anything, it just felt great to be fishing. Around 4 PM  the light was getting low. I noticed some good-sized wakes moving up through a very skinny riffle in a side channel. I switched to an unweighted egg pattern, about a foot below a small indicator, and cast just upstream of the riffle. The water was maybe 8 inches deep…  Fish on!

Hello, brown trout! As darkness fell and the temperature dropped, I was on my knees, about 25 feet from the wakes pushing through the riffle. After every second cast, I dipped my rod in the water to unthaw the guides. A bad case of “rising fish” jitters made sure that my line got tangled way too often.  Nevertheless, two more browns honored me.  The last fish had to be stripped in ’cause my reel was completely frozen.  But I was feeling completely toasty.

The next day, before leaving, we could see the redds in the gravel above the riffle. The fish were spawning but aggressive. The Bighorn is about 1200 km away from my home.  Cost of gas: $250. Sight-fishing in open water on Jan. 2: priceless….

(The Bighorn Fly and Tackle Shop, located right by the river and also in Billings, was a great source of info.)

 

Fishwest Author Secures A Book Deal

The AuthorJust a quick note to say congratulations to Marc Payne.  He just secured his first book contract.  It will be a comprehensive look at fishing in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The book is slated for release in 2014.

Marc credits Fishwest as his first “writing gig” and we couldn’t be happier for him and his achievement.

Congrats again to Marc and we are looking forward to seeing the new book!

See all of his Fishwest articles here.  You can also visit Marc’s blog, The Perfect Drift

lean

Little Things Make All The Difference

lean

 I recently returned from my second saltwater trip and let me start off by saying my second saltwater experience greatly outweighed my first. The folks at Deneki Andros South made this trip amazing in every aspect. Honestly it would be tough to accurately describe how great the fishing is, especially in words. It is something that everyone should experience for themselves. The guides at Andros South were awesome in every way. They are true masters of their craft and will put you in prime locations for countless shots at fish. However the biggest factor in my success came down to one simple piece of equipment.  That piece of equipment is not the latest fly rod or fly reel or anything remotely close to that. A flats skiff outfitted with a lean bar made all the difference for me.

The premise of the lean bar is quite simple and self explanatory.  A Lean bar is affixed to the front of the flats boat on the casting platform and it gives anglers added support and stability. For me, an angler who has cerebral palsy where balance is an issue anyway, the lean bar setup is the perfect amount of support and it enables me to fish effectively without the hindrance of being able to balance.

Lean Bar In Use

The lean bar is not only designed to help people like me that have balance issues but also for anglers who may be a little older and their balance may not be as good as it once was. Also I could imagine that it would be perfect for anyone who needs a little bit of extra help balancing on the front of the boat.  Lastly I think everyone should use one on days where the conditions are not the greatest.  It would provide the angler an edge to the windy and choppy water conditions.

This lean bar setup is amazing however it is not without its faults. I found two situations while fishing that the bar was a hindrance to getting a good hookup.  The first thing I found is that the lean bar can be detrimental if I had a lot of outgoing line at a quick rate because periodically the line would get caught around the bar and the shot would be blown or even worse the fish would be lost. Also the strip set became a knuckle buster of sorts at times because I found that I would sometimes bang my hands into the bar on the set. This was more annoying than anything but the fish made it all worth it.

In conclusion if you are considering doing a saltwater trip and feel like the lean bar is something that you might want to consider don’t hesitate to ask your potential guide if they have a setup like this one. It truly does make all the difference in my book.

Winter Blues

Winter Fly Fishing – Observations From This Year

Winter Blues

A recent trick to winter flyfishing depends simply upon the weather. For instance, last winter there was hardly any snow—so little, in fact, that I’ve never seen a winter that dry in the central Rockies in my lifetime. I’d call it a drought. This year’s winter started with parallel results, but finally it began to snow, albeit a couple months later than usual. But once it got going, it snowed every few days—through December & January. By the middle of January, it seemed like the foremost trick to winter flyfishing was simply finding some open, un-frozen water to fish. We did have a dry spell at the end of January through mid-February, but the idea still amounted to finding fishable water.

Does fly selection make a difference? Maybe…research in recent years points out that black, blue, and fluorescents are the most visible colors in deep water; many winter anglers will testify to the effectiveness of patterns in these colors. Biologists do not exactly understand what trout see, but what I find truly interesting is that trout not only see color—they can identify some colors that are beyond human visualization. In particular, trout can sense shades of red and ultra violet that we cannot, and in lower light conditions. I used to think that blue was a nonsensical fly color, since I have not seen blue insects on the streams I fish, other than adult dragonflies/damselflies. However, scientists report that the fish’s capability to distinguish minute pigmentation differences is greatest within the blues.

A lot of experts say that trout seek deep water and become less active in the winter, which may explain (at least in part) why highly visible flies are effective. However, Levi, a buddy of mine who has been ice fishing for years says trout can actually feed aggressively; you just have to hit it at the right time. He also says Pam cooking spray helps de-ice rod guides, and advises to prepare for extreme weather. Cold winter weather might seem like common sense, but as I said—he’s been doing it for years, and hypothermia is a very real danger.

Winter flyfishing can be a great way to discover secrets about your favorite trout stream, and offers a change of pace from the tying bench. Flies tied in outlandish, unnatural colors might be the ticket to get strikes, and may shift your thinking about the appearance of your favorite patterns. Who knows, maybe someday research will show that fishing blue flies will reduce cabin fever!

Fishpond Slippery Rock Wading Staff

Product Review: fishpond Slippery Rock Wading Staff

Fishpond Slippery Rock Wading StaffAs winter continues I found it would be appropriate to talk about one of my most underappreciated pieces of equipment. Take it from someone who knows: having a good reliable wading staff can be the difference between enjoying a day of winter fishing or packing it in early because you took an unfortunate spill. I have had one too many a winter fishing day ended early with a nice brisk swim In Utah area waters.

I have tried all different types of wading staffs throughout my years as a fly fisherman. If you were to name the staff chances are I have used it. Crossing streams and rivers is not easy for me and it definitely isn’t the prettiest sight however, it has gotten easier with the addition of the Fishpond Slippery Rock Wading Staff.

Fishpond aka Komperdell (A brand synonymous with quality ski & trekking poles) have hit a home run with this staff. The biggest reason I choose this staff over any others out there has to be the patented “Easy Lock” system that is utilized to determine the length of the staff.

The staff has a base length of 29 inches which equates to roughly 74 centimeters. From there the bottom can be unscrewed to lengthen the wading staff. Once the proper height is reached the staff can be twisted into to the lock position. The locking mechanism on this staff is quite substantial and definitely gives me the ability to wade confidently.

Overall this staff has been a great addition to my equipment. From the telescopic “Easy Lock” system to the oversized grip are just a few things that help make this the perfect staff for this unsteady angler. Take the “plunge” (No pun intended) and give this staff a try. You won’t regret it.

Pros:

  •  Lightweight Telescopic Design – Ranges from 29in (74cm)- 57in (145cm)
  • Durable & Lightweight 3 piece aluminum construction
  • Oversized synthetic cork knob that unscrews to reveal a camera mount
  • Removable Rubber tip to reveal carbide steel tip

Cons:

  •  Just discovered today that the staff has a camera mount ( would have liked to know this earlier)
  • Removable Rubber Tip could be easily lost

 

 

Amanda and Ryan

Why I am a Fly Fisherman

I think I’ve read every reason that has been written to explain why someone fly fishes. Many are cliché: to get away from it all, to enjoy the solitude, to spend time with friends and family, the serenity, or perhaps the spiritual experience of connecting to nature. Everyone comes to fly fishing for different reasons and under different circumstances. Those who have fallen under its spell know that it becomes more than a hobby or a sport. It’s a passion, a livelihood. It’s something that transports you from the mundane routine of everyday life to a world of excitement, appreciation of nature, and a challenge to your skill. We envy those who get to fish often, and look forward to the next cast. As a former avid golfer-turned fly fisherman, I liken the feeling in your hands of a good golf shot to the feeling of making a physical connection with the handle of your fly rod when you hook up with a fish. The feeling never leaves your hands and draws you back time and again.

I am a restless person. Since I was a kid, I have had a hard time sitting still. I was constantly rearranging my room, building “forts” in the backyard, or inventing something. My grandpa taught me to be a fisherman. Trips to the river, ponds and lakes, and Minnesota taught me the first skills I need to hook a sucker, a bullhead, and later a crappie, bluegill, walleye, or bass. Before the day of the Internet I read books published in the 50s from the public library to learn more about species of fish I only dreamed about catching. I loved to learn about something I was interested in and still do. When I was 12, my grandpa gave me a fIy rod he had no use for. Fly rods in the flat farmland of Iowa are few and far between. I loved the idea of fly fishing, but had no idea what I was doing. I read all I could, but without someone to show me, I did my best to mimic the actions I had seen. Despite catching a few bluegills in a local pond, casting in the backyard was about as far as I got with my fly rod, which was soon “benched” for a more practical spin reel. I loved fishing, but as I grew up, time on the water took a backseat to sports, cars, girls, and college.

I returned to fly fishing through two individuals at just the right time in my life by means of a high school friend and a former athlete-turned-best-friend. In my early twenties I went on a summer camping trip with some friends from high school. One morning, my buddy and his wife left to try trout fishing a nearby stream, and on a whim, I decided to join them. On light tackle and a spin rod, I landed my first trout in years. The excitement of the possibility of catching such an intelligent creature and fishing a dark, cold, unknown stream drew me in. The next 3 months turned into the “summer of trout fishing,” a 2-3 times/week affair that afforded me the best distraction from the reality of my life and the purpose of the initial trip: getting away with some friends after a sudden divorce had turned my world on end. My life as I knew it had been ripped apart, but trout fishing gave me a new definition and a new identity.

Spin fishing was productive, but the restless side of me wanted a challenge. I turned to an athlete of mine, a runner who loved fly fishing and who was the only person I knew that could help me get a handle on what I needed to invest in, knots, set-up, etc. He patiently taught me everything I needed to know, and my enthusiasm filled the gaps with reading and research in books, magazines, and the Internet. He helped to fix my mistakes, took me along on trips to our spring creeks, showed me places to fish, showed me how to get a good drift, set the hook, tie flies, and how to be a more efficient fly fisherman. The friendship lasted well past his high school days, through his guide school in Montana, and into his first guide job in Maine, then Montana. Our friendship has afforded me the opportunity to fish for landlocked salmon on Grand Lake Stream, steelhead on the Brule, big browns and bows on the Madison, Box Canyon, and the tricky Henry’s Fork. Though I’ll never be the technician that he is, our mutual passion feeds off one another. He’ll be incredibly successful either on his own or to a business in the industry and I envy the courage it took him to seek out a career that is unheard of in our school system and the passion that keeps him always dreaming and moving forward.

Amanda and I got married in June a few years ago. Our first date we spent at a large, ponded, natural spring, watching a BWO hatch, tiny trout feeding at a free buffet. She was eager to learn to fly fish, and turned out to be a natural. When I proposed, I surprised her at that spring during a fishing trip this time, in waders, with a ring. Her and I have spent many days on the water. I savor every moment. She is a quick learner, and fishing has been competitive whether it be on our annual steelhead trip, on vacation in Montana or Colorado, or home on our spring creeks. Her and I and now our guide friend are practically family, spending winters tying, and warm summers on the stream or river. In our small town, I feel like the three of us have an exclusive fly fishing club. Walking into our downtown coffee shop, I wonder if anyone thinks twice about what my Simms hats mean. Then again, it’s probably as cryptic as the snowmobilers’ jackets are to me.

I somehow feel “richer” as a fly fisherman. I have never made an income from it, but it has enriched my life. I often think about what fly fishing has given to me and how I can begin to give back, or “pay forward” what I have been given. As a teacher, I have had that chance. Each year, I take students to a spring creek north of our town during an activity day. Prior to the trip, we talk about what trout eat, their habits, and the importance of catch and release. They always have fun and learn how tricky catching a trout can be. For some, it’s their first, maybe only, experience fishing. I like sharing that. Last year, with a partnership with my local TU chapter, we started Trout in the Classroom, a TU program where students learn about watersheds, raise and care for trout eggs in the classroom, and release them in the spring. The kids loved it, were sad when a few died, and got to experience nature first hand. We’re set to begin our second year of TIC this January. With the help of my friend, we started a fly fishing club at my school. A devoted group of 5 students came each Friday morning to learn about set-up, casting, tied flies, and put their skills to the test with some casting contests. This year, we’ve earned a grant for fly tying materials and a fishing trip for the club. It’s given some of the kids involved an identity and an activity to be involved in that they may not have had otherwise. I love to teach, to help people discover something new. It’s the reason I became a teacher in the first place. Combining that and a personal passion has been a lot of fun for me. Maybe someday I’ll try my hand at guiding.

A person has no idea what life has in store for them. That’s the adventure. All the experiences- good and bad- help to shape a person.  We’ve all made choices we’d take back, but that’s not part of the deal. Becoming a fly fisherman has been one of the best choices of my entire life. It gives me peace of mind, an outlet to creativity, an escape, friendships, happiness, and humbling experiences that keep me coming back. I look forward to someday sharing my passion (the good with the bad) with my own children.