Tag Archives: How To

Bonefishing 101: The Packing List Part 2

009With ten days to go until my next Bahamian saltwater adventure, I find myself still compiling all my gear to head down for another wonderful trip. In this post I want to go over some more of the packing essentials for a Bonefishing adventure. In part 1 of my packing list, I went over arguably the three most important parts of a bonefishing setup. In this article we will continue down the list of items I think belong in any angler’s travel gear.

RI31BNFL_lg_535x535RI32SWFT_lg_535x535Next up on my list is leaders and tippet. In the wind you need a leader that is tapered correctly and stiff enough to turn over big flies easily. For the sake of simplicity and ease of prep grabbing a few of the Rio Bonefish Leaders is a must. These leaders are tapered to cope with wind and heavy flies with ease. I would recommend having enough leader and corresponding tippet for the worst case scenario. I like having a few 3 packs of each of the 10ft leaders in 8lb 10lb and 12lb. I like to fish these leaders with fluorocarbon tippet for more abrasion resistance. Those mangrove roots and sand mounds can be bad news for a leader setup.

UM14VEMS_lgFlies are the biggest variable in this whole equation in my personal opinion. Three factors to keep in mind when selecting the right flies to take on your next adventure are size, weight, and color. Size and weight of flies is extremely important when selecting flies for bonefish because of the variances in water depth. Fishing a big fly in skinny (shallow) water will cause the fly to land with a big splash and therefore no fish will be within 50 feet of that fly.  When fishing less weighted flies in deeper water the flies will take longer to sink and get in the “zone” and in a game where timing is everything, a slow sinking fly may be the reason for a blown shot.

The colors of the flies that you take along with you need to match the different bottoms of each flat. This is due to the fact that the shrimp and other food that the bonefish eat tend to take on the color of their surroundings.  This isn’t an exact science but flies need to match the flat pretty closely.

With that being said there are two flies that I would never be without on a Bahamian bonefishing flat.  The Pearl Gotcha and the Ververka’s Mantis shrimp are probably responsible for more than 80% of the bonefish I have hooked into. As far as sizing goes I was told that the bigger bones enjoy the larger meal, so most of the time i fish a size 2 or 4. However it is always nice to have a good selection of flies in the 2-8 size range in various colors. If you are just starting out and you want to get a good base of flies going, don’t hesitate to look any farther than the fly selections put out by Umpqua.  Flies don’t always have to be stored in a fancy box either, there have been times for me that flies have come out of an Altoids tin, however a box like the Umpqua Flats Box was a nice upgrade.

SIF80DCZPCH_lg_535x535Having a place to store your gear is a must when preparing for a day of bonefish.  I would recommend a pack like the Simms Dry Creek Z Backpack (Available Soon) . This nice waterproof pack can serve two purposes when out on the flats for a day. It can serve as a nice small boat bag to keep all your gear in or if you find yourself out wading for a period of time it doubles as a nice pack for that as well.

Items For Your Pack or on you:

  • A Buff – This tube of fabric is a lifesaver for your face and neck. They are a good idea when out in the sun.
  • A Camera – If you meet a large bonefish you may want to snap a shot or two. However please remember keep em wet if you can.
  • Tippet- Who knows this may get overlooked. Say a fish wraps you around a mangrove shoot or you need to lengthen your leader for picky fish, tippet is a good thing to have.
  • Pliers –Another no brainer right? Removing hooks safely and easily is best for both you and the fish in question. Make sure that you get some pliers with scissor blades. My grandpa the dentist would be disappointed to hear of people using their teeth to cut tippets.
  • Sunscreen – The sun in these tropical locations tends to cook things. Keep yourself covered in this stuff.

Please stay tuned for part three of this article. I have plenty of more to talk about. With the first two parts we are almost ready to head out to the flats.

Bonefishing 101: The Packing List pt 1

I find myself here with two weeks to go before the next Fishwest hosted trip to the Andros South Lodge and after a few years I think I finally have figured out how to pack accordingly. Since Bonefish are generally (and unfairly) categorized as one of the easiest fish to catch on the flats they have been they are becoming more and more popular to chase with a fly rod. These fish are a great way to introduce someone to saltwater fly fishing or for the experienced saltwater angler. From time to time we get anglers coming into the shop asking for our insight on how to pack how to pack when going to a bonefish destination. So here is a quick rundown “survival” guide on how to pack for your next trip:

644451_10152617052495142_608451831_n
First and foremost you need a fast action 8 weight fly rod. A rod with a crisp fast action makes all the difference when sight casting to bonefish on the flats. Paired with the right fly line these rods load up easier giving the angler the ability to deliver flies both quickly and accurately which hopefully leads to more hookups.

JC’s choice: The Winston B3-SX or Sage One 890-4

Next up is a stout saltwater safe fly reel. Having a reel with a really good drag is a must when chasing bonefish. Backing capacity definitely comes into play as well with these fish. I would say that anglers should look for a reel with a minimum backing capacity of 200yds. I generally use 20lb backing with bonefish, however an argument can be made for Gel Spun backing or even the new Hatch Outdoors Braided backing. These Bahamian flats residents have a tendency to run all over the place when hooked and you need a reel that can slow them down and bring them to hand as quickly as possible. Reels with disc drags that are completely sealed are my preference due to having less maintenance after a tough day of fishing.

ORF25MARRBNFR_lg_535x535
JC’s Choice: The Hatch 7 Plus Mid Arbor Fly Reel or Orvis Mirage IV

Dialing in your fly line is a must when sight fishing on the flats. I would actually argue that the right fly line is the most important part of any fly rod setup out there. A line that will load up a rod quickly and more importantly pickup for second casts easily is paramount. These lines need to be able to perform accurately at medium and long distances.  Having a line with an aggressive front belly allows anglers to make shots in close with better success.

SAF31SWSW_lg_535x535

JC’s Choice: The Scientific Anglers Sharkwave Saltwater Taper

Stay tuned for part two of my survival guide on how to pack for your saltwater destination trip. Please feel free to contact us at 877.773.5437 with any questions that you may have.

 

 

Orvis Tuesday Tip: The Ready Position

** This video is brought to us by the wonderful staff over at The Orvis Company. Mastering the “ready position” can make all the difference in the world when fishing the flats from a boat.  From my personal experience I can tell you that this was pretty difficult at first to conceptualize. However I had never come across this before but it can truly make all the difference between success and failure out on the flats. Enjoy!

Catch & Release

L1150291Every 4 or 5 years the tropical moisture of El Nino creates monsoons in the Rocky Mountains from late July through August and possibly September during enhanced cycles. This is a good thing. Typically August is the hottest month in the northern hemisphere and daily rain cools the air temperate, increases river flows and consequently also lowers water temperate. Cold water fish species endure less stress. The downside is the rivers tend to be more turbid from muddy runoff upstream. In times of plenty, anglers should continue using good techniques for catch and release. Fish mortality increases with stress and injury.

P1090376Stress factors that will kill fish are lack of oxygen in warm water, fighting a fish to exhaustion, poor landing and keeping them too long out of water. In addition, bringing fish, such as, grayling or lake trout from deep water too quickly to the surface can be fatal. Anglers need a balance of experience and good sense. Don’t fish in low water on hot days. A fish shouldn’t be out of the water longer than anglers can hold their breath. Higher test-strength line shortens the battle. Keeping the fish in the net and in the water helps insure a long life. Wet your hands before handling fish. A dry hand can wipe the mucus or slime from the skin and increase the possibility of infection.

P1060925Injury is reduced with artificial flies and lures. A fish will suck bait in deeply. By chance if your fly is hooked deep, simply cut the line close to the hook. It will typically deteriorate. Don’t worry about losing fish with barbless hooks, just keep the line tight. They are easier to remove from the lips, mouths and cheeks. Avoid handling your catch over hard surfaces such as boats and rocks. Fish wiggle a lot and are slippery. So, keep them in the net and if possible release them from the net. Neoprene nets are better than twine and bigger baskets hold the all of the fish. With wet hands, gently place your catch in slower water, facing upstream in a river, pushing them forward and pulling back until they swim from your hands. Practice good conservation in your piscaphilia purses. All anglers want to photograph their trophy, so just hold your breath and smile.

How To Video: Attaching a Braided Loop

People constantly come into the shop and ask us for instructions on how to attach braided loops, well the fine folks over at Rio have decided to make this sweet little video with instructions on how to do just that. Welded and braided loops are becoming an industry standard due to the ease of use associated with them. From Spey to Stillwater and everything in between these little  Braided Loops have a use in just about every form of fly fishing.

One For The Library: The Curtis Creek Manifesto

The Curtis Creek ManifestoMy copy of The Curtis Creek Manifesto is starting to look a little worn and tattered. Every time one of my friends or family is seriously interested in getting into fly fly fishing or need a bit of help after a rough day on the creek, I let them borrow my “well-loved” copy.

The Curtis Creek Manifesto, written by Sheridan Anderson, is arguably one of the greatest tools for the beginner fly fisher who is overwhelmed by the world of fly fishing. This fully illustrated guide takes a light-hearted and humorous approach to the main tenants of fly fishing. Don’t get me wrong. Even though funny and cartoonish, this book is packed with rock solid information, from tackle and fly selection to Sheridan’s famous “eleven commandments of fly fishing.”

One of the things that I like most about the Curtis Creek Manifesto is that it focuses more on what you as an angler should be doing, rather than gear that you should be buying. Anderson spends a good deal of time talking about stealth, casting, and other tactics that go a long way in improving the success of the angler.

By no means is The Curtis Creek Manifesto a definitive guide to every facet of fly fishing, but it is truly amazing that a 48 page book written in 1978 can so succinctly cover all of the basics of fly fishing. In my first year of fly fishing, I read and reread it’s pages over and over again, and each time I found some new bit of information that I could work on the next time I was fishing.
Whether new to the sport or a veteran fly fisherman, The Curtis Creek Manifesto deserves a spot in your fly fishing library.

Simple (Puffy?) Sculpins

When I look at a sculpin, I see a bottom dweller with a huge head, big pectoral fins, and a long, skinny body.  I always wondered about an easy way to incorporate these characteristics into my sculpin imitations. One day, while looking at a pink Puff bonefish fly, I had my answer…

Use brass or lead eyes to get it near the bottom.  Add a long body of bucktail or squirrel tail.  Tie in some nice, round hackle tips for the fins.  (Hen hackle works great!) Lastly, build up an oversize head with chenille. The pictures below should give you the general idea:

Brown is my “go to” color and the two brown patterns are tied using natural bucktail on #4 and #6 hooks – my “go to” sizes.

The version with the orange head is for high, dirty water.  It is tied on a #2 hook with squirrel tail.

The green version gets dunked in spring creeks – or wherever there is an abundance of weeds. Olive bucktail covers its size 8 hook and bead chain eyes help swim it over submerged growth.

I usually cast Puffy sculpins slightly upstream and let them sink a bit; then I give them a bit of action with the rod tip as they drift downstream.  I try to keep a tight line and don’t worry too much about drag. Occasionally, I fish them under an indicator like a nymph with a twitch here and there.

Yucatan Baby Tarpon

Baby tarpon react to a hook like their oversized parents; they try to put as much air as possible between themselves and the water.  However, they are far more accommodating.  When fishing for adults, a great day is 5 fish jumped and 1 landed.  With babies, jumping 15 and landing 5 is definitely not out of the question.  And the babies aren’t exactly puny – 5 to 10 pounds is a common size.

I am by no means a seasoned tarpon hunter, but over the last few years I’ve managed to visit some of the Yucatan’s premier baby tarpon fisheries.  Although not definitive, my impressions might be helpful if a trip is germinating in your brain.

It should be noted that all my trips took place in July or August.  Visiting the Yucatan in the heat of summer sounds a bit twisted but it’s actually prime time for baby tarpon.

The gear for baby tarpon is simple – an 8 or 9 weight rod, a floating line, and a reel with a smooth drag.  Most baby tarpon will not take you into your backing.   Some veteran baby tarpon fishermen recommend stripping them in without putting them on the reel.  A decent fly selection would include baitfish patterns, poppers, and Seaducers – all on 1/0 or 2/0 hooks.  A very functional leader looks like this:  5 feet of 50 lb mono for a butt section, 2 feet of 25 lb mono for the tippet, and 2 feet of 40 lb fluorocarbon as a shock tippet.

Now, here’s a look at some baby tarpon destinations…

Tarpon Cay Lodge in San Felipe (Rio Lagartos)   www.yucatanflyfishing.com

San Felipe, about 100 miles west of Cancun, is a sleepy, pleasant village where walking around gives your camera a taste of real Mexico.

The baby tarpon fishing starts after a 5 minute boat ride.  It’s mostly blind casting the mangroves off points or in the rios, which are saltwater creeks.  Oftentimes, rolling fish provide targets.

Once you’ve shaken the jitters when fishing to babies, San Felipe can give you the opportunity to come unglued in front of much larger fish.  A boat ride of an hour or so will take you to a spot offshore where migratory adults up to 100 pounds hang out.  This is sight casting to rolling fish over deep water.

Isla del Sabalo at Isla Arena    www.yucatanflyfishing.com

If San Felipe is sleepy, then Isla Arena is comatose – in a good way.  Even though you are only 100 km north of Campeche, it’s like the edge of the world.

The fishing is very similar to San Felipe with the addition of sight fishing on the flats in front of the mangroves.  (N.B.  Tarpon are much easier to see than a bonefish.)  Some of the guides like to go WAY up the tiniest of creeks.  Bring a mosquito repellant and don’t forget to duck under that mangrove branch!  I found a Sage bass rod a great tool for such close quarters.

You will likely fly into Merida, which is an incredible colonial city.  It’s like being in Europe, but the tarpon are much closer.

Paradise Lodge on the Costa Maya Coast   www.tarponparadise.net

Between Chetumal Bay and Espiritu Santos Bay, Paradise Lodge has a breathtaking variety of fishing opportunity.

Baby tarpon are the backbone of this fishery; they hang out in cenote lakes, which are land-locked lagoons connected to the ocean via underground channels.  Each day starts out with a truck ride as your boat is trailered to one of these lakes.  Bring your casting arm – you’ll blind cast the mangroves like crazy.  Nevertheless, you’ll probably see enough tarpon to keep your motivation in high gear.  One of the lakes has a good population of both snook and barracuda.

During your stay at Paradise, you’ll probably drive south to sprawling Chetumal Bay to chase bonefish and permit.  I caught my only permit in Chetumal Bay.  I’d like to say I made  a 70 foot cast to a tailing fish but I actually flipped a crab pattern about 30 feet into a HUGE mud.  The permit that popped out was VERY small.  At dinner that night, I downplayed my catch and was promptly chastised by the lodge owner.  “A permit is a permit!” he insisted.

If baby tarpon are the backbone of the Paradise Lodge fishery, then Espiritu Santos Bay is the jewel.  It’s a long, pre-dawn drive to the north.  Punta Huerrero, an obscenely picturesque fishing village, guards the bay’s entrance.   Once your skiff ventures into Espiritu Santos Bay, you’re not on the edge of the world, you’ve actually gone over it!

Very few people fish Espiritu Santos. Its flats are beautiful, wild and abundant, just like its bonefish.  Chances are you’ll see permit, too.  My guide even pointed out a few wily snook underneath the mangroves.  I didn’t believe they were there until he chased them out with his push pole.

Isla Blanca by Cancun  www.yucatanflyfishing.com

Cancun, as you probably know, is fueled by thousands of beach and bar-seeking tourists.

However, 30 minutes north of the sunscreen-slathered hordes lies Isla Blanca and its tremendous variety of fishing environments – hidden lagoons, picturesque bays, mangrove tunnels, small flats, large flats.  Is your boat careening towards a solid wall of mangroves?   Relax, the guide knows exactly where the opening to the other side is. Baby tarpon, a few bonefish, and smallish permit roam all over these waters.  The permit, although small, are numerous.

If you want a break from fishing, and perhaps Cancun’s frantic pace, there are loads of guided excursions to Mayan ruins, traditional villages, and cenotes.

Isla Holbox   www.holboxtarponclub.com

Isla Holbox is comfortably touristed but in a golf-carts-on-funky-sand-streets sort of way.   It is about 60 miles northwest of Cancun; the last part of the journey is onboard a ferry.

Although Holbox is noted for big, migratory tarpon in the open ocean, the backcountry flats and channels in the lagoon behind it have excellent populations of babies.  Tired of slinging 500 grain heads on a 12 weight?  The babies chase poppers and streamers and put on a great show when connected to an 8 weight.  I found sight-fishing for the babies to be excellent.

Another attraction at Holbox is the opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks.

Nichupte Lagoon (Cancun) and Campeche

These are a couple places I have yet to visit.  The former is the lagoon directly behind the Cancun hotel strip.  The latter is a colonial city.

Jump Starting Someone at Flyfishing

(Notice I didn’t say flycasting…)

My girlfriend loves the look of a trout stream and flyfishing intrigues her.  Although a talented half-marathoner, she freely admits her athletic ability does not extend to false casts and shooting line.   She is busy with 4 teenage kids and has no desire to spend a lot of time lawn casting.
Enter the roll cast – a quick and easy way to get someone started in fly fishing.  Think about it…  If someone can roll cast 10 feet of line with a 9 foot rod and a 9 foot leader,  their fishing range is 28 feet.  I know I’ve caught a lot of fish within 28 feet.

Get your budding Lefty Kreh into a shallow run with a moderate current.  Their rod should be rigged up with an indicator, split shot, and your favourite nymph.  The split shot is important because it helps turn over the leader.

Have your student strip off about 6 to 10 feet of line and show them how to roll cast it upstream.  (Make sure they forcefully push the rod tip in a horizontal line towards the target; many people rotate the rod around the elbow, moving it in a circular path.)  As soon as the fly lands, they should get their hands in the proper stripping position.  At this point, don’t worry about actively stripping line or mending.  Just get their hands positioned correctly and have them follow the fly with the rod tip.

Once that is mastered, introduce stripping to control slack.   With younger kids, it might be time to start some serious trout hunting.  Generally, I would recommend a brief lesson on how to avoid drag by mending.  Finally, teach feeding line as the fly goes downstream.  This last step lengthens the drift and helps set up for the next roll cast.  At all times, keep the length of line manageable, perhaps adding a few feet if the pupil can handle it.

Spend about 10 or 15 minutes on each step – first demonstrating and then having the student practice a few repetitions.  After 30 to 45 minutes of instruction, it is definitely time to go fishing.  Location is key.  Someone shouldn’t wade onto a bonefish flat armed with only a roll cast.  Or stalk sippers on a spring creek.  A roll-casting specialist needs the proper water!

Small, bouncy streams hold many fish within the reach of a roll cast.  But don’t overlook larger rivers.  Places like the Elk River in B.C. and the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley have a lot of fish close to their bank.

My girlfriend’s first fish on a fly rod actually came from the St. Mary’s River in B.C.  This is a large freestoner  but the cutthroats love to hang out in the boulders in thigh deep water – 10 feet from the bank at most.

After some experience with an indicator rig, the new flyfisher can start roll casting dries and streamers, too.  High-stick nymphing is another technique they can pick up quite easily.  Before you know it, your new partner might not be outcasting you, but they will certainly be outfishing you!  The cutthroat in the picture was the biggest we saw from Racehorse Creek, Alberta.  I didn’t catch it…

High-Water Fishing Tips for the Wading Angler

Spring run-off in the west and heavy rain storms in the east cause rivers to rise quickly and often without warning, raising the cubic-feet-per-second by many times, on occasion resulting in water levels reaching that particular river’s flood stage, which is when a river is commonly considered “blown-out.” While many anglers consider fishing high water to be hopeless, in actuality this situation can grant you the opportunity to catch fish you might never have a crack at otherwise. Before reading the following tips, however, remember that fishing high water presents safety risks. Therefore, it’s a good idea to fish with a friend and to not only know your limits as a wader, but to understand how the high water will affect the river’s “wadeability.” For example, if you usually wade a certain spot up to your thighs in normal cfs (cubic feet per second) flows, don’t attempt to wade it in high flows, as the current there will likely be too forceful to safely stand in and cast from. The three tips below will help you turn the tables to your advantage during high water flows.

  1. Up the diameter of your leader and tippet. When the water is high and off-colored, there is no need to fish 5x or 6x fluorocarbon in most rivers. A general rule of thumb is to downsize by at least 2x. So if you usually fish 6x, try up-sizing to 4x, or even 2x fluorocarbon if the river is dingy (some anglers I know use 12 pound test and higher, which you can often get away with). When the water isn’t clear, the trout can’t see your line well, so you should take advantage and use a heavier pound test, which will help you fight a fish out of a blown out river’s stronger than normal currents.
  2. Target the banks and secondary currents. When the water is up, the main current is often too strong for the trout to lie in. As a result, they tend to push toward the banks, where the flow isn’t as strong and the water isn’t as deep. Here, they can comfortably face upstream or circulate through the current and pick off food items. Trout often seek refuge in eddies as well, which is another spot to try. In large rivers, try targeting back channels or river braids when the water is up. You’ll be amazed at how many fish will stack in what looks to be just a small riffle along the flooded bank. If the eddy is suitable, you may even see trout facing downstream in the current, waiting for the eddy current to wash food up to them from below. If this is the case, you want to get a high-stick drift in the current, so your flies will be sucked down by the eddy and circulated back upstream.
  3. Give them the Good Stuff. When the water rises, the proverbial trout buffet opens for business. All kinds of goodies are washed into the water for the trout to eat, not to mention the various hatches that a rise in water will sometimes set off. High water is a classic time to fish a big, nasty-looking streamer (such as a double bunny or sculpzilla), but it is also time to fish heavily weighted nymphs (such as stoneflies and prince nymphs), as well as San Juan worms in a wide array of colors—just think of all the worms and grubs the high water dislodges from the banks and river bottom. For nymphing, be sure to put on a lot of split shot (so much that your cast may look kind of clumsy even) and move your indicator high up on your leader to adjust for the high water. Then try to find an eddy or a smaller offshoot of the main current and fish away. When you see that indicator twitch, give a firm hook-set to the downstream side, then hold tight…big trout are notorious for eating when the water is high and off-color.