31
Jul 18

Christmas – 2019

It is happening. I’m going to Christmas Island at the end of January, 2019. I’m going with my friend Shane, who I haven’t fished the salt with since 2010.

I’m somehow not tying flies yet, but I will be.

Christmas… so… tell me your bits of Christmas advice.


26
Jul 18

East End Lodge 2018

Man… what a week that was at East End Lodge. It’s been a while since I’ve had 6 straight days of fishing and it was glorious. I don’t think I’ve had 6 days of such good weather in all my flats fishing life (only a decade of doing this, so others certainly have a longer time-span to compare).

The fishing was solid. We had days that were better than others, but overall there were plenty of fish around.

I was accompanied on this trip by Elliott Adler, a guy I had never met before. That’s a risk, fishing with a guy who you don’t know. It worked out well and we fished together well. He’s a good caster and easy to share a skiff with, and I’m not saying that just because he let me catch the first fish, although that helps.

We really got to explore the East End on this trip and I remain impressed with the size of the fishery. There really are a lot of options out there and Cecil, our guide for the week, had enough room to enable him to dodge the squalls and thunderheads that would loom, threateningly off in the distance, conjured from the afternoon heat.

A few memorable moments…

  • The permit shot – wasn’t expecting one. I had it… I missed it, but when you don’t permit fish often every shot is a memory.
  • Elliott’s first bonefish – always nice to be there for someone’s first bonefish. It is sometimes the start of obsession.
  • Paddling crabs – we found a bunch of crabs hitching rides and paddling on mangrove leaves. I had heard about that once before, but had never seen it. They were using tools! Somehow we didn’t get a picture of those.
  • Late nights with Rob – Rob was a great host and we spent many hours at the bar late into the night talking about everything from Rob’s childhood (which was very different from my own) to politics to Bahamian flats fishing regulations to life on the East End.
  • Some memorable fish – the cruisers along the shoreline the last day, the fish in the mangroves, the shark munched bone that was hit by both a cuda and a shark.

It was a wonderful time and I miss it.


21
Jul 18

The permit shot – Grand Bahama Edition

We were running along a sand/rock shoreline when Cecil spun the boat around and killed the engine.

“Permit, on the beach.”

Permit, by Juan Bosco. Click the pic to go to the art site.

My reaction to the news was not joy, but more a sense of dread. Permit shots are things to screw up. Permit shots become moments of second-guessing and regret. Permit shots almost never end well.

Elliott, a day after catching his first bonefish, gave me the bow and I got up to throw at the thing. I could see it, silver-bodied and black-tailed against the white bottom. The first and greatest hurdle had been cleared… finding the fish. Here was the fish. He was in range. He wasn’t running. I had no wind. The set-up was good.

I was worried about the fly. Was it heavy enough? I put on a tan shrimp with barbell eyes. It would get down to the fish, although the fish was maybe in 5-6 feet of water and it would take time.

In the back of my mind I had two thoughts about the fly. First… it wasn’t a crab. Aren’t you supposed to throw crabs at permit? Isn’t that how you are supposed to do it? Secondly, why don’t I have more good looking crabs? I don’t fish crabs often at all, but why is that? Has my avoidance of crabs handicapped every permit encounter I’m going to have for the rest of my flats fishing life?

Cecil told me to shoot at the fish and I did. The cast wasn’t bad. I was in the zone, but again, doubts crept into my mind. I went back to my first (only) permit from Belize, a small fish to be sure, which behaved in most ways like a jack, chasing down a fly stripped quickly and eating an inch below the surface. I also thought back to my one permit shot in Cuba where I again stripped the fly in quickly and the permit followed, putting his frigging nose on the fly without eating it before becoming board and blithely giving up on the chase. There was also the permit shot in Mexico where the fish lit up on the fly when stripped, but then gave up. But… aren’t permit supposed to eat only crabs cast 10 feet in front of the fish when the fly never moves an inch and the fish simply intuits the fly’s presence?

So… strip or not to strip?

In the end I managed to pick the middle road the satisfied neither type of permit.

The fly landed about 5 feet from the fish and the permit saw it and moved toward it, looking interested. At this point I simply gave it a slight twitch and that was enough for the permit. It moved away and started ambling leisurely away from us.

We followed, waiting to see if it would turn. I asked some follow-up questions of Cecil like “WHAT SHOULD I DO!?” He was in the “leave the fly alone” camp. Noted.

Mostly, the fish showed us his back. I made a couple more casts when he turned slightly, but to no avail. The last cast was too close and it moved away, disappearing over a darker bottom.

The shot had passed.

As friend Nick Denbow told me, “The permit you catch is easy, it is all the other ones that are hard.”


20
Jul 18

The last cast of the trip – East End Lodge

The day had been pretty good and this our sixth and final day fishing out of East End Lodge on Grand Bahama.. We had waded a couple of lakes you couldn’t get a boat into, although there is no way I could point you to them on a map. Cecil knows where they are.

I had caught a few fish, the winds were low, the sun was high and the clouds were few and far-between. Basically, it was a great day for bonefishing.

The third to last spot we were fishing from the skiff and found a small school of really picky fish. The lead fish would spook easily and the rest of the school took their cues from those spooky fish. Eventually, I got the cast in well ahead of the fish, waited for the jittery fish to pass over and then gave a couple slight twitches and got an eat.

I lost that fish.

Next spot and it was the kind of bottom you have to have bionic eyes to see the fish on. Cecil had me casting at fish and often I only had the vaguest notion of where they were. Still, I got eats. Three, to be exact, and every single one of them came unbuttoned.

Last spot and it was a nice looking flat with a small island in the center. As we drifted I told Cecil to give it 20 more minutes and then we’d get back. It was the end-of-season party at three and we’d be getting in close to that time. I didn’t see any fish and my mind was starting to go through what I needed to get packed up and how long it might take to get to the airport. After ten minutes I told Cecil that we should pack it up.

He said “Just wait. Let me pole you for a couple minutes here.”

About a minute later he had me casting to a bonefish. One strip and I was tight. I landed the fish.

Last cast of the six days of fishing was a fish. Hard to argue with that.


19
Jul 18

My favorite fish from Grand Bahama

It was the second to last day and we were on the skiff with Cecil. The tide was coming in, the fish heading up into the mangroves, some hanging around the edges. I was up on the bow and Cecil called out two fish cruising in and out of the mangroves, just 40 feet away. It seemed they might move further in and the shot would be gone.

I had a window to make a cast. There were two mangroves about five feet apart and a dinner table sized area of white sand. The fish were cruising left to right. I made the cast, didn’t hang up in the bushes and the fly (a tan shrimp) landed well.

In cases like this I figure you hook the fish and then see where things go from there.

The fish jumped on the fly, I managed not to trout set or pull the fly out of the fish’s mouth and the game was on.

The fish ran back into the mangroves, line screaming off the reel and I tried to lighten the drag to give the fish less to pull against.

We could see the fish thirty feet from the mangroves, back over the sand, unable to move any further. We tried to find the leader or line, but couldn’t see either, so we went back to where the line went into the jumble of roots and twigs. I put on my boots and jumped out of the boat to trace the bonefish’s route back to open water.

It worked. I followed the backing back to the line and then back to the open water. The fish still had some gas, but not much. He came to hand moments later, a nice fish, about 5.5 pounds (maybe 5).

The cast, the fight through the mangroves, landing the fish, the good release… that was my favorite fish of the trip.


17
Jul 18

That time Rob tried to kill me with rum

Back from a week of fishing at East End Lodge and my liver is thanking me for the respite.

The set-up at East End Lodge has a bar in the common room/dining room where you can normally find Rob, co-owner of East End Lodge, working away at his laptop in the morning as he pours over weather reports, or in the evening as he mans the bar pouring a cocktail or two.

Let me just say, I’m pretty sure Rob tried to kill me one night with rum. Every time I looked away (and even when I didn’t) my glass was magically re-filled, an impish grin on Rob’s face. Luckily, his plot failed and I survived, able to fish the next day with no ill effects.

OK, that may be a bit of an overstatement.

Truth is, the place had a great vibe, Rob and Cecil (business partners and friends) are great hosts. The whole staff was friendly and accommodating.

Missing these two right about now.

Rob and Cecil

 


15
Jul 18

The joys of July

I got back home just a few hours ago from East End Lodge. This is the second week of July and it closed out their season. After six days of fishing this last week, here’s what I can tell you about fishing the Bahamas in July (experiences may differ).

There are trade-offs in everything… opportunity costs. To get thing A you give up thing B.

What you get by fishing in July is silky smooth conditions, the only breeze being the boat ride from one spot to the next. Previously, I think I had seen one day of flat conditions and in the six days of fishing I had there was only a half-day of light wind.

Glass is forged in heat.

I didn’t know it could be like this.

The last morning

That’s what you get, but what do you give up?

The July sun without wind is a baking kind of heat. It is a “Your phone is too hot to properly function” kind of heat. If you can deal with the hydration-stealing, sweat-dripping heat, and there are those who simply can’t (I’m looking at you dad), it may be the most wonderful time to fish (I’ve heard conditions are similar in October, but I haven’t fished that month).

You also have storm cells which build in the heat of the day and can unleash torrents of rain and sheets of lightning. We were driven off the water a couple times, ending the day an hour or two early, but that seemed a small price to pay.

We did find some water which was simply too hot. When water temps get to 85 bonefish will find cooler, usually deeper, waters. There were plenty of places still getting a good flush of tidal water.

The geography of Grand Bahama and the alertness of our guide, Cecil, meant we simply dodged the storms. We could go North or South and weave our way around the dark clouds. We got rained on for a grand total of about 45 seconds, which is all credit to Cecile.

If the fishing is so good and the conditions so inviting, why do pretty much all the fishing lodges close down? Hurricane season? Maybe, but while we were there Rob, co-owner of East End Lodge, turned down several trips for August. People are still willing to come. So, what is it?

One word… lobster.

It’s pretty much about the lobster. All the guides will be out checking their lobster condos come August 1. I’d be surprised if there was a guide in all of the Bahamas who won’t be out collecting lobster once the season opens. It is a critical component to a Bahamian’s income and even more so a part of Bahamian culture.

If you are a wind hater and enjoy hobbies like smelting or glass blowing, July just might be for you.


07
Jul 18

OMG… Grand Bahama is NEXT WEEK!

I didn’t fully fill up my new fly box, but I did put some good Grand Bahama meat in there. I have the rods and the lines and all my gear. I have my sunscreen and my Body Glide to prevent that inner thigh chaffing that can straight up ruin your trip.

I’m ready to head to Grand Bahama and East End Lodge.

It’s happening.

Sometimes the anticipation of the thing is better than the thing itself. I’m betting this is NOT one of those times.


26
Jun 18

Florida’s Red Tide Taking a Toll

Approximately 140-pound tarpon photographed by Capt. Tommy Locke outside Cayo Costa

Things are not going well in Southwest Florida… not well at all. Below is BTT’s press release about what they are seeing.

Red Tide is Causing Unprecedented Fish Kills in SW FL

Once again, Florida’s fisheries are suffering from the legacy of long-time mismanagement of Florida’s water resources. Southwest Florida is plagued by an unprecedented red tide that is causing kills of gamefish. Reports from those on the water estimate that tens of thousands of snook are dead – all of them adults in the peak of spawning season. Breeding-size redfish, as well as tarpon, which usually seem to avoid red tide, are also being reported dead. The ongoing red tide is a sign of the ‘new normal’ in Southwest Florida because too many nutrients are entering Florida’s estuaries and coasts due to water mismanagement. Here are the facts:

  • The organism that causes red tide, Karenia brevis, has been present in southwest Florida as far back as written records go – the Spanish wrote about it.
  • Karenia brevis does not benefit directly from the extra nutrients flowing down the Caloosahatchee from polluted Lake Okeechobee, or from the extra phosphorous entering Charlotte Harbor from phosphate mining. This is because other plankton organisms are better initial competitors for those new nutrients.
  • Karenia brevis DOES benefit secondarily from the extra nutrients – once the nutrients have been used by those other plankton species, and then are cycled back into the ecosystem when those organisms die and decay, Karenia brevis goes to work. Consider this the Legacy Effect of water mismanagement.
  • The ongoing red tide is unprecedented in modern times in intensity and duration.
  • Although red tide has always been in the region, the frequency and intensity of red tide events have increased, and red tide events last longer. This is becoming a new pattern, which means events like the ongoing red tide will become more common.

The excess nutrients in Southwest Florida waters are from two sources. First, they are from the high-nutrient water from Lake Okeechobee that is discharged into the Caloosahatchee River as part of water mismanagement in South Florida (the same mismanagement that is killing the Everglades and St. Lucie River). Second, the phosphate mining industry in the Charlotte Harbor watershed produces runoff high in phosphorous, which feeds red tide and other plankton organisms.

Southwest Florida is home to Boca Grande Pass, part of Charlotte Harbor, the Tarpon Capitol of the World. Tarpon gather in Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor during May and June in association with spawning. It is likely that this red tide will negatively impact tarpon spawning.

Charlotte Harbor is also home to an amazing snook and redfish fishery. During summer months, snook spawn in passes and along beaches. This red tide is impacting spawning snook directly, which will impact the region’s snook population.

This red tide event is the new normal unless the state’s water management policies are changed. This is about the future of Florida’s $8 billion saltwater recreational fishery.

We urge readers to contact their political representatives at the local, state, and federal levels and tell them that policy change is needed immediately.


25
Jun 18

Simon’s Revenge – A post by Nick Denbow

(This post is written by guide Nick Denbow, who I had the pleasure of fishing with in 2017 down in his home-waters of Mahahual, Mexico)

I first met Simon Chapman over 25 years ago Carp fishing in the south coast of England. Even in my youth, it was obvious to me he was a thinking, methodical and patient angler respected by all of the local angling community for his fishing accolades. I was thrilled, after our lives had taken us so far apart, when he got back in touch. Simon, now living in Canada, had a gap in his work schedule and had picked up a copy of my cowritten book as he was planning a trip to the Yucatan. He recognized my name, picked up the phone and we were planning his trip immediately.

Simon’s trip coincided with one time client now friend for life Ryan from Colorado. We met the evening of Simons arrival which coincided with me buying a large Cobia from a local spear fisherman. Over the ensuing banquet we hatched a plan to fish that next morning on a lake I hadn’t launched in for 15 years. I knew the put in would be bad, far worse than I could take most clients, but I also knew these guys were the ones to do it with me.

How Nick gets it done.

It was far worse than I feared. It took 3 trips each. Mud to the knees, a Mangrove tunnel the prefect height to hurt anyones back and hungry Mosquitos intent on getting inside your ears. Finally we launched just after dawn. We all drank a beer. I motored until i saw a shoreline that was more pole worthy. Only one cruising fish in 200 yards and I wanted more. We were in the wrong place. I knew they would be there in numbers and didn’t want to waste the early morning advantage. We motored to the southern end of the lagoon. We quickly spotted fish rolling off the shorelines in open water and poled out to investigate. The light was still too flat to spot beyond 20 feet from the Jon boat. We poled passed them and turned our back on the rising sun and were quickly rewarded by a rolling fish coming at us at forty feet. He was visible. Simon led the fish, an immediate and aggressive response, a visual grab and after an explosive fight the first fish came to the boat.

Nice lagoon tarpon.

Ryan took over and raised many small fish to a gurgler until it was flushed into a bigger mouth and Ryan brought a cookie cutter 20lb fish to the boat.

Ryan’s poon.

Having located the cenote (cave entrance) we found it to be alive with fish. The guys went on to land two more nice fish each though the real story was when a huge push of water came up behind Simons fly, was engulfed by a fish in the 60 to 70lb range that jumped, blitzed twenty yards, jumped again and spat our Clouser Minnow high in the air. This was the key moment. That fish threw down a gauntlet Simon’s way and he was going to pick it up. He said nothing at the time apart from sharing the obvious jubilation of having such a close up, visual fishing encounter with a fly rod, but it turns out he was already planning a return.

Both Simon and Ryan went on to land more fish that day amongst the birds and Crocodiles who were as surprised to see us as we were delighted to see them after a 15 year rest.

Simon fished Chetumal Bay and the Mahahual coast catching Jacks, Snappers and many, many Bonefish for the next few days. He had time to plan and the lake had time to rest, it worked both ways.

Simon was staying in my guest house next door and, as he often does, after fishing he came round for a chat. He told me what was on his brain. He had unfinished business in that lake. I should have seen it coming. He had a score to settle and knowing that I was working (and unwilling to go through that launch again) he asked to rent a paddle board and go back solo. With two other boards out, I set him up with everything except an anchor. I said “it doesn’t take much to stop a paddle board so take this spool of 50lb line and find yourself a rock”. He was happy with that. We both thought it would work.

I heard Simon leave at around 4.30 in the morning. I didnt see Simon until 6pm. He had a smile on his face and beer in his hand. The story began well. He carried all the gear on his own in just one trip down the muddy Mangrove tunnel. He fished around, caught a couple of fish and ended up back at the cenote where the one that got away was last seen. He hooks a fish of similar size and as he clamps down to set and begin the battle the 50lb anchor line gives. He’s not free floating though, he’s being dragged. Ive been there to help many people in my boat with fish that size but really don’t know how it must be on a personal watercraft with nobody to help to stop or position the boat and above all without an anchor. After a great fight recorded on Simons GoPro video he gets it board side and they part company on good terms. He had done it. The battle won, the score settled he is now free to move on feeling triumphant. A really big fish to catch from an SUP, another memorable accolade well deserved. Simon is now at the down wind end of the lake time 11.30.

After a long upwind paddle it was 1.30pm when Simon approached the take out. Happy with his achievements but exhausted nevertheless after the paddle. Feet from the gap in the trees he needs to go through, a Tarpon comes cruising casually yet purposefully through the gin clear, 2 feet deep water along the tree line. Whats an angler supposed to do? He swaps the paddle for his rod. Casts, feeds the fish at close range and is attached once more to another good sized fish. Once more he is at the mercy of the fish on his personal lightweight and anchor-less watercraft. In moments the fish runs into open water and Simon and his SUP are back in the wind in water too deep to wade to try to put any sort of meaningful brake on the fishes numerous charges and runs. He’s back to the wind, sailing and being dragged so its not too long until he finds himself all the way back to the bottom end of the lake again. Every yard he paddled hard for on the way back up was stripped from him in seconds on the return. It wasn’t until the water shallowed again at the down wind end of the lake until he was able to take more control. The fish came onboard for a couple of quick selfies and was measured at 44” to the fork before it kicked back off into its domain.

The tarpon that pulled Simon allllll the way back down the lagoon.

Simon, almost out of water in the cooler, now had to make the paddle back up wind to the take out. I am sure the adrenaline from the fishing had worn off before he was even half way back. He arrived to the exit exhausted at 3.30pm. This time it was not guarded by a Tarpon but a Crocodile which he needed to persuade to leave before he could drag himself and the kit back out. Question is… if he had seen a Tarpon instead of a Crocodile, would he have cast?

 

__

Thanks for the story Nick. Going to have to get back down there!