It has been a bit hard to see so many icons fall these last few months. Some were folks that have been important to me (oh Louis…), but my discomfort is more than made up for by women maybe getting out from some of the absolute horse shite they’ve been dealing with for just about forever.
I’ve interviewed many female anglers here on the blog and I very much try to stay away from the “As a woman angler…” questions because they are anglers, not female anglers, they are anglers, most better than me, all more widely traveled, all with more interesting stories. Kind of ridiculous for me to try and put them in some side bucket, as if to say they are the best of that subset, when they are at the top of THE game, not just THEIR game. Ya know?
I was a guide for a very short time many, many years ago. I think I took away more that season than I gave, although I got to put more than a few anglers on their first trout, which is a pretty awesome thing to facilitate.
What I did learn from that one season on the water is that I’d prefer a woman angler over a guy, even if she was a first-timer. The reason for that is simple and known to all guides the world over.
It’s that simple. They listen to the guide. Their ego is set aside so they can learn and they take it in and they internalize it and they use it.
Men are often less easy to inform. They know already, they think. Or, they want to impress the guide with their prowess. It is an odd thing to hire a guide and then try to show off instead of learn, but it is something that happens again and again and again, on waters all over the world.
One thing I said back those years ago and still say, when explaining the right amount of power to put into a cast goes something like this…
I could likely out wrestle Joan Wulff and I could take her in feat of strength, but she can out cast me. It has less to do with power and more to do with technique and applying the right amount of power in the right place.
I think there is something there we can all learn from, although I’m still learning myself.
In this moment, when, hopefully, women get to cast off some of the crap they’ve had to deal with for way too long, I want to say, I see you and value you and hope to meet you on the water.
And since we’re on Patagonia… let’s talk about the Guidewater II Pants.
I have several pairs of these. I love them. After a day in the salt they sort of harden to be similar to armor. I love that feeling. I’ve torn a couple pairs at this point, but those were 100% my fault.
I also have this hat…
Trucker caps are cool… but if you are like me (a bit bald) the mesh doesn’t do what I need it to in terms of keeping me from burning.
Everyone NEEDS good sunglasses out on the flats. I prefer Costas, which is pretty much what 95% of the fly anglers I know fish with.
A trigger, and Costas
In terms of our feet… well… that is less about sun and more about coral/shells/urchins. There are two boots I’ve used lately. My heavy boots were from Patagonia, but a look on their website and they DON’T MAKE THEM ANYMORE! Crap!
Luckily, others do. Here’s the other pair of flats boots I have. The Simms Zipit Bootie II.
These pack down nicely to save room. I have these a size too small, sadly, which can make a day on the water a bit uncomfortable (I wear a 14 and it can be hard to get what I need in this department). It looks very much like Simms has you covered in their other designs as well. I mean… Simms… pretty solid.
You need a pack while you are out there, and I recently converted over to the Thunderhead sling pack by Fishpond. In addition to being just an awesome company (love their conservation ethic), the sling does a couple of things really well. It is waterproof. I can leave my phone in that thing without worrying. Second, it is big enough for me to carry everything I need without sacrificing. Third, with it sitting higher than a hip pack if I leave a zipper open in haste, it isn’t going to fill up with water with one deep step. I’m a fan.
Now… on to the rod and reel end of things.
Let’s start with the most important element piece of hard gear for the salt… the reel.
The best budget option out there right now, by far, is the Behemoth from Redington. I mean… at $129 you can pick up three of these for the price of one of the bigger named reels. They are not likely to fish for 20 years, but if you need a back-up or want to pick up a rig for your first trip without fully investing… this is a great option.
Other reels I think highly of..
I’ve always wanted a Galvan T8. At $430, this is what passes for a mid-range reel for saltwater. They are also a California company, which is cool.
It seems these days a lot of the top anglers I see are sporting the Hatch 7+. At $650, this is a solid high-end reel.
Now… on to the rods, which some would argue is just as important as the reel… maybe even more important.
On the budget side of things, the revamped Redington Predator is a good, solid option. Budget, for a saltwater rod, is about $300. I’ve got three Predators, an 8, 10 and 12. When you are going multi-species and are looking at three rods, it gets hard to fathom getting three $800 rods. The Predator helps get you around that.
For the top end of the market… I love, love, love my Orvis Helios 2. Now, they have a third version of this rod out now, so, you’d have to settle for an H3 (which is supposed to be even better).
In terms of fly lines, I’ve pretty much been a RIO guy for a while.
I like their standard bonefish line. They have a Quickshooter line as well, and I’d recommend that if you are going to primarily wading for your bones, or if you might need a little bit more loading on your rod. They also have a directcore line, which I haven’t fished, but seems really promising.
OK. That’s not IT. There is a ton more. There is tippet and leaders and flies and fly tying material and boat bags and then the actual boats… kayaks, SUPs, skiffs. Nippers, pliers, tippet holders, coolers… so much gear to have so much fun. The gear is half the fun (OK, maybe 10%, but still, you need this stuff to get out there and get after it.)
Every once in a while I’ll catch a window. Last weekend I had one, bookended by dad duties, and I snatched it.
I drove the 5 minutes to my new home water and realized I picked up the wrong boots, but crammed my feet into then anyway, and I set about the methodical duty of searching for unseen fish with a fly.
The wind had laid down, something it seems to do rarely in the SF Bay, and the casting was easy, rhythmic.
There was some sort of seal party going on as I saw one pop up 40 feet in front of me, give me a quick glance and then slide below the surface again. Then I saw another seal heading in, back to San Leandro Bay. Then I saw another, and another, just heads poking above the water, wakes in their path. There was a commotion further down with loud splashing and snorting, but I was too far away to see what was happening there, and besides, I found some fish.
Cast, sink, strip, strip, strip and then the pull. Such a great feeling. I managed three stripers before I had to retreat back to adulthood, but it was really nice to get some time on/in the water, getting some stealthy nature in hand amidst the million dollar homes and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Always worth it to get on the water.
Oh thanks Facebook Memories. I saw a pic today from seven years ago of me holding a tarpon from Belize.
There it is. Amazing.
That fish capped of a really wild day of fishing out of El Pescador with my friend Shane from The Fly Shop in Redding.
That tarpon was the final piece of my grand slam, made even more special because it was with my first (and only) permit and my first tarpon.
What a wild day that was. I know, looking back, and I knew at the time, that the biggest factor in all of that coming together was my tremendous skill luck. Really, I had no business tying into a grand slam. My friend Shane certainly did have a claim to one as he’s one of the best anglers I know. He actually hooked both a permit and a tarpon that day (as well a mess of bonefish… it is Belize after all). He already had a grand slam to his name and he is good enough to catch a grand slam on skill.
The permit. Not a big permit, but a permit.
Me? I needed luck.
Now I’m a much better angler than I was back then. I’ve put the time in. My casting is better. My understanding is deeper. I’ve now been spurned by a few permit and understand on a better level than, basically, permit are jerks. I’d be more likely to catch a grand slam on skill now, but back then, it was luck.
I’ve been traveling, so haven’t posted more about this, but I’m sneaking a few minutes here at work to get some more news out.
The Bahamas regs put into place earlier in the year are still on the books, but won’t be enforced until a thorough review can take place.
I’ve seen this from two sources and am trying to get an official confirmation.
So, you can go to the Bahamas and fish however you are used to fishing. For the short/intermediate term, things revert to how they’ve always been.
This makes me want to put the Bahamas back on my travel list for 2018. The uncertainty caused by the regulations have hit the Bahamas hard. Business is down, for most lodges, between 25-50%. That’s a big hit for some places that eek by to begin with. What the govt. of the Bahamas wants to do now is encourage their anglers to come back. So… consider it. I know for me a cold Kalik would go down pretty well.
Here is Beau Beasly’s recent article from MidCurrent.
It is almost certain a license will remain part of what happens down the road, but not until you can get that license on-line, easily, and without having to go to a govt. office that isn’t even open on weekends.
I think most everything else is up for review and I hope it is a thoughtful, inclusive process and produces an end product that puts the Bahamas at the top of resource management. One can hope.
You want your bonefish to live long and prosper after you release it? Well, here are some thoughts. You’ll notice I’m not immune from making bad decisions. I do, from time to time, but I want to be better. That’s the goal.
The risk to the fish by our poor actions is not insignificant. Here’s a postfrom years ago about that very thing.
For best results, the angler should minimize two things.
Air Exposure – How long the fish is out of the water.
Handling – How much you touch the bonefish.
This is important because when you release a bonefish back into the salt, there are other things waiting to eat them. They don’t get a chance to catch their breath or recover. A bonefish survives because it can swim faster, react quicker than the sharks and cuda’s trying to eat them and if they are impaired when you let them go they stand a decent chance of becoming food for one of those predators.
Here are the grades of handling for bonefish.
You have hooked the fish and fought it to the boat. You admire the fish while it is in the water, still swimming, on the end of your line. You reach down with your pliers and simply pop the fly out of the fish’s mouth (since you are fishing barbless).
Air Exposure = 0.
Handling = 0.
(This is WAY easier to do after you’ve caught about 8 fish.)
You have hooked and fought a bonefish. Getting the fish to the boat you reach into the water and cradle the fish in your hands. Maybe you take a picture of the fish in the water, maybe even underwater. You unhook the fish and let it swim away.
Air Exposure = 0.
Handling = A little.
You hook the fish, fight it in and you quickly bring the fish out of the water for a picture. The fish is out of the water for just a few seconds.
Air Exposure = A little.
Handling = Not that much.
South Andros Bonefish. Photo by Andrew Bennett
You hook that fish and get it in. You bring the fish out of the water and hold it, mid-air, out of the water, maybe sitting in the middle of the boat, while your friend or your guide snap a bunch of pictures.
Air Exposure = Too Much.
Handling = Too Much.
That’s an o’io.
You hold that fish up with a boga, in the middle of the boat for a bunch of pictures.
Air Exposure = Too Much.
Handling = Way, Way, Way too much.
That green hat, my first decent bonefish and some horrible fish handling.
We all can do better. As I looked through my own pictures I was bummed to see my picture from Hawaii, just recently, that was poor handling. I think it was faster than it looked like, but I could have done better. It is harder to always be in the A camp. I think as long has you have an A- average, you are doing pretty damn well.
Other considerations you should keep in mind are to limit the duration of the fight (get that fish in as soon as you can) and never touch a bonefish with a dry hand (or dry anything).
It really is about education and the more we spread the word and encourage other anglers to learn about how to do things right, most will opt to do things right.
This part of the story will have fewer relevant photos for two reasons. Firstly, my GoPro battery died, because that seems to be the alternative purpose of the GoPro and the second reason is we missed the shot of the hand-caught redfish.
So, that story.
James and I were paddling into some really skinny water and finding fish to cast at. Sometimes their backs were out of the water, sometimes they’d just disappear, which seemed impossible given how shallow this water was.
James had just pulled up along side me and was saying something like “You wouldn’t believe how shallow these fish get.” when it all went down. As he came up to me, his kayak effectively blocked the outlet of a very small branch of the bayou. A redfish was sealed off and kind of freaked out. It tried to charge past James’ kayak and you could hear the slap-slap-slap of the tail against his kayak but we were too shallow to get under it and it was too long to get past. The thing was just trapped.
James reached down and just picked up a decent sized red. There was a fair bit of laughter at this, but before I could get the camera on, the fish flopped out of his hands and was on his way.
I ended up picking up a couple more fish, which was great.
I picked up my first redfish on a top-water fly. At some point we had turned back around and were heading back toward the water we had started on and I went back to the little cut where I had seen the giant bull red. In that pocket I found more redfish and I put on a fly that is part shrimp, part Gurgler. I wasn’t really sure what speed or action to put on it, but I figured it should be shrimp-ish, whatever that is. I saw the red follow on the fly and then he opened his gullet and tried to eat it. He missed or I got over-eager and pulled it away. Either way, I missed the first eat.
Further down the cut I saw water moving around and I cast again. I made a cast and was retrieving when something distracted me. I looked away, but heard the take, and came fast to my second red. It was a decent fish, unrecorded for posterity due to my now dead batteries in the GoPro.
I later picked up one more red, in the same cut, but on a Kwan (which may actually be the first fish I’ve ever caught on that particular patter as I just don’t tie or fish many of them).
By the time we got back to our starting place the current was ripping back in and the wind had picked up slightly (so, from 1 mp to maybe 5 or 6 mph). James and I wound our way through some more skinny water on our way back out, but the light was getting harder and the water muddier and I didn’t get another fish.
I ended up with three redfish and one trout for the day and James ended up with 7 reds to and and one BY hand. That’s some Jedi level stuff there.
Don’t you love the hazey GoPro pictures?
The paddle back to the launch was not too bad, despite the current and the light wind.
I got back first and got some beer for the guys. I subsequently left the beer at the launch, thus donating to the fishing gods.
We loaded up the trucks and headed back to the house, avoiding the speed traps and thus refusing to contribute penalties to the local economy.
It was only one day of fishing in the marshes of Louisiana, but it was a good one. I learned I can, in fact, stand up in a kayak and get it done. It was a great experience.
I have been to NOLA a lot over the last 16 months or so. My average is about once a month, all for work, and the trips are packed pretty full of meetings with a quick return flight. In on Tuesday afternoon, meetings Wednesday, meetings Thursday and then the last flight out of MSY that evening (7:40 PM gets me into OAK at about midnight). Not a lot of time for fishing in that mix.
I did get out last December with guide Ron Ratliff for a half-day. That was my first trip for reds in Louisiana and it was pretty awesome.
Part of the work crew, doing work at the conference in NOLA.
This year I had a big conference in NOLA (#KidneyWeek2017), so I was going to be around for a while. On top of that, my wife had a conference in Indianapolis. So… I had a day in play to find another fishing opportunity.
Guides were pretty booked, it is prime time after all, so, I called upon the power of the internet and asked if anyone wanted to split a boat with me. I got a response fairly quickly from James who said he had ~20 guys coming from Alabama to DIY it, an annual gathering, from kayaks. He could get a kayak for me if I was interested. It was an experience I couldn’t pass up, so I took him up on the offer.
The group had two houses rented about a 2 hour drive from New Orleans. After the exhibit booth and flooring was pack up I hit the road. I managed to get down in time to steal some of their dinner (I brought rolls though). I met the crew, saw the kayak I’d be fishing out of, got attacked by mosquitos, had a couple of beers and managed to harass all the white trout under the dock lights (which was more fun than was reasonable).
A bit of serendipity next, as my friend Peter from Copenhagen happened to ALSO be right where I was going. After leaving the AL crew, I made my way over to where he was staying with Jesse and Brody. We put some additional hurt on some white trout and caught up a bit.
The next morning I got back to the Alabama crew an hour later than intended, because, see… the clocks changed and my alarm got me up at 5:45, which was more like 6:45 the day before… so… I was both late and on-time. After breakfast, we headed off.
Heading off was short-lived, as I left my rod at the house and we had to return to get it, because I’m sometimes forgetful. This would be a fast trip were it not for the obvious speed traps and the ever vigilant police (sheriffs?).
Now, the only time I’ve ever fished out of a kayak was in Maui a couple years ago, and that was a peddle kayak and you didn’t have to stand up in the thing (I mostly got out to fish, although we did throw some spinning gear sitting down and trolled some flies). Turns out you DO need to stand up in these kayaks, at least when you get where the fish are. I was… not steady. I have a high center of gravity and a lot of other excuses if you are interested, but man… I just felt like I was going to fall in pretty much every time I stood up for the first couple of hours.
Amazed I’m not falling in. Photo credit James Eubank
While there were about 18 guys, only four of us took to the trucks to hit different water. It was James, Ben, Drew and me. We launched and paddled out over some open water to some islands not far away. James and I went one way, Drew and Ben the other.
I need to point out I was just plain lucky on conditions. The wind in the morning was non-existent. In saltwater fishing I just expect there to be wind, sometimes a lot of it, sometimes too much of it, but very seldom is there none. That’s what we had when we started the day. The fishing gods were smiling down on my. Thanks buddies.
Within minutes of reaching the first island I immediately saw some sheepshead, but was way too close and WAY too unsteady to get a shot in at them. It took me a while to figure out where everything needed to go. How do I get my rod ready? Where do I put the paddle when I reach for the rod? How do I do all of this without flipping over and sinking to my waist in the muck? I had questions and it was going to be a trial-and-error kind of day.
One of my favorite sayings is “Sucking at something is the first step to becoming good at that thing.” I was at the first step toward kayak fishing greatness, very much in the sense of that quote.
I soon started seeing redfish, but I was not all put together yet and the fish would either be gone by the time I got sorted out or the kayak would have drifted on top of them when I was ready to cast. I’m glad I took my spinning rod out of my gear bag because it would have been really, really tempting to just sit down and fling things without risking tipping over and feeling foolish. Sometimes it feels like we can live our lives in a pretty much constant quest not to be embarrassed. Glad I took the chance.
I found a little cut out of the main channel that had some identifiable redfish in it. There was also something sticking out of the water in the middle of this side pocket which I took to be a log. As I got the kayak in the side pocket the log started slowly swimming out. It was a bull red. It was just massive. Biggest red I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. I was going the wrong way by the time I realized what it was. No casts were made at it and I’m sure that salty old beast was way too smart for my novice redfishing skills (and meager kayak fishing skills).
Out in the main channel and in some slightly deeper water I was seeing fish-sign. I cast at it and was tight to a fish. This was to be my first ever speckled trout. A decent fish and nice to feel the tug of something to compensate for my feelings of inadequacy in the kayak.
That there is a crappy, gopro picture of my first speckled trout.
Soon thereafter I got on the redfish board. As I was paddling along a mangrove edge I saw water pushing, coming toward me. I could see the shapes of several fish, moving deliberately. I managed to get the rod ready (minor miracle), to get the cast made (also minor miracle), before they were on top of me. They were REALLY close when they ate, but ate they did. I was tight to my first DIY redfish.
My first DIY redfish
It was a nice fish. I was feeling pretty good after that. I had picked up a red on my first day really fishing out of a kayak and my first day DIYing for redfish and I was dry.
This whole time James was working up the other side of the cut from me and he was getting into fish as well. He’s been doing this a while and never looked like he was about to go in the drink. James was a pleasure to fish with and I’d do it again.
This is now one of the longer posts on the whole blog, so I’ll pause here and put up Part II in a day or two, which will include the story of James catching a redfish with his bare hands (no kidding).
On a side note… thanks guys. The Alabama group welcomed me in straight away, made me feel comfortable, lent me their gear, let me snag a couple beers and fed me and, overall, were just a solid group of guys. It reminds me of the Northern California Fly Fishing Message Board Bashes we used to have, way back in the day. Nice to have a fishing crew.