Years ago I tried to put together a trip to a lodge on Ragged Key in the Bahamas. I couldn’t pull it off. No regular flights in or out and charter companies to sort though and, yeah, never got it to happen. I ended up diverting to Long Island, which had regular flights, and had a good trip. But Ragged has always kicked around in the back of my head.
It is isolated. It is small (~60 people live there, maybe less). It looks juicy.
Flats on the west and deep water to the east looks like a very good big bonefish scenario.
So, I was excited to talk to Will Blair, who happens to be making a go of it at the newly opened Lost Key Lodge. He was just about to fly out there when I got a hold of him for a few minutes to chat. Seems he might have the flight situation more or less sorted out, which is good. He’s keeping the numbers low, four anglers a week, and there’s a lot of water to cover. Sounds a bit like paradise.
I just checked, and… well… it might be going well. I stole this pic from his facebook page. Holy bonefish.
Yeah, this place is going to be stuck in my head for a while longer.
My 7 year old son is into wildlife. A lot of kids are at this age, but he seems REALLY into wildlife. Bugs, birds, mammals… he loves it all. It is fun, what can I say?
On our last morning in Central Oregon, on our way to drop me off for a couple of hours of fishing on the Fall River, we cam across a heard of elk stampeding across the road. The kid was elated. Fifty, or more, elk crossed before our eyes. It was the first time my wife had ever seen an elk as well. I had been trying to explain the difference between an Elk Crossing sign and a Deer Crossing sign without much luck, but now she gets it. Elk are huge.
A minute later a coyote crossed in front of the car as well.
That’s some Yellowstone-level wildlife viewing and all before we got to the river.
I was meeting Vinnie, a local guide, for two hours of guiding, some special presented through AirBnB Experiences. We found him easily at the Fall River Camp Ground and he led me to the river, which was a stunning little jewel. It was very easy to spot the fish in the totally clear water.
The fish were both large in number and in size. Deadfall gave plenty of cover for the fish, but it was clear whatever happened, I’d be able to see it all play out.
There was a midge hatch that started and then raged a bit and I decided to put on a #20 zebra midge, which fooled the first fish it encountered. It was a nice, healthy fish with a bit of mono extending from some deeply hooked fly (not this fish’s first rodeo). I got it on its way and looked forward to the next fish.
There was no next fish. The word was out and the fish shut their mouths and for the rest of the short session I just cast futilely at large trout who showed no inclination to eat and a very keen awareness of the artificial flies coming downriver toward them as they deftly slid out of the way of each presentation.
Really pretty place.
The highlight was the elk.
Then, it was the road home… back down 97 and by the grand lady of Mt. Shasta. That view never really gets old.
A good trip North. I saw my dad and gave him a hug for the first time in a year. Fish were caught. Memories were made. Old connections were strengthened. Beautiful country was seen and appreciated. Hard to complain.
The boy and I had a day of fishing on the books and so, we went fishing.
First, we went to a lake a neighbor told us about. The road in still had a bit of snow on it, but nothing that would keep you from getting there.
Now… I don’t fish a lot of lakes, but said neighbor had told me the general game plan and I followed it, complete with the fly he gave me to try.
Funny thing about the neighbor… we were staying at an AirBnB up near Bend and when I introduced myself to the neighbor it turns out he recognized me from a fly fishing message board that we were both very active on back in the late 90’s. So, that was fun. The old Northern California Fly Fishing Board was the source of a lot of knowledge, some lasting friendships and some great memories until the trolls took over and pretty much ruined the thing. Thanks trolls.
We managed to catch a couple nice rainbows under the watchful gaze of a bald eagle who was crying from one of the trees lining the lake. Pretty fun and a great bit of Central Oregon scenery.
Next we went to the Fall River (the Oregon one, not the California one) to the hatchery, where I was told there were fish in all the holes and, yeah, there were.
The hatchery is an odd place… people lined up at all the discharge pipes and fish (large fish) just kind of hanging out there. Unclear if any of these were wild or if they were all planters or what exactly the story is there. Someone probably knows, but I didn’t ask.
The previous day on the Metolius I had seen a guy who looked like he knew what he was doing fishing a large streamer under an indicator. I don’t know that I had ever seen someone do that and I watched him for a bit and I decided to try it out. I didn’t get any love on the Met, but then, no one else was catching either. I tried it out again on the Fall and, ya know what? It worked. Had this fish take on the first pass with the good ole’ wooly bugger. It turns out I rather enjoy big fish, even if they might, possibly be from a concrete river. I don’t know if this fish was wild or not, but it sure looked clean to me.
The boy and I had a good day fishing. Weather was nice. Fish were caught. We created some memories. He worked a lot on his casting and he got to reel in most of the fish I hooked. We were all smiles at the end of the day and that, I’m pretty sure, is what it is all about.
I, a fly fishing expert, thought I should check to see if there were any fish in this river. I caught fish there years ago (a decade ago?) and thought I’d give it another go.
Turns out… there are no fish there anymore. See, if there were, I would have caught them, because I’m such an expert fly fishing angler. So, ergo, thus and so forth, there can’t be any fish here. You get it. Flawless logic.
This river is known by some, and by those who decide what things are named, as The Metolius and what it lacks in fish it makes up for in just jaw-dropping beauty. Man… this place is pretty. Of course, there are no fish. I checked… and there’s not really a way I can think of I could fish for hours and not catch a fish. I mean… that’s crazy talk, right? Ha.
I stopped by The Fly Fisher’s Place, in Sister’s, to drop some knowledge on them, to grace them with my experiences from 10 years ago. I think they were pleased to have been so graced (really, they were very nice and gave good advice and I dropped some coin).
It is a humbling place… beautiful and difficult. I didn’t see anyone else catching and there were plenty of anglers out. Blue, cloudless skies are great for bonefishing, but not as great for trout when you want a hatch to come off. Who knows… maybe the few fish in the river (about 600/mile) were frisky and had moved to other areas of the river to spawn. I don’t know.
I got skunked. I didn’t see a fish and I didn’t feel a fish and I didn’t hook a fish and I didn’t land a fish. Zero. Nadda. Nothing. Damn pretty place though.
This river is in my top ten of most beautiful places to fish.
A cool article from Fly Life Magazine lays out some of the findings when the question gets asked about what removes bonefish slime, does sun screen deter fish from feeding and more.
There is a lot of superstition around questions like this and not all of it stands up to rigorous examination. Ah… science.
Here’s something I know… keep those bonefish wet. Don’t pick them up if you can help it. If you are catching a bunch of cookie-cutter bones, no need for the 12th photo. It is a violent place out there if you are a bonefish, and a fish that is lethargic will simply become a meal for a predator.
It seems a million years ago I was at East End Lodge in Grand Bahama. Rob, owner of the special piece of paradise, tried to kill me with rum, but was otherwise a perfect host. In-between here and there Dorian came through and smashed the lodge to kindling and then COVID settled down over the land stopping most travel and much commerce and generally throwing the world for a loop.
Well, today, there is a little hope on the horizon. East End Lodge reopens on March 1st.
It feels like the light on the horizon to see this happening. I know it is important to the folks out at McLeans Town, the guides, their families, and I find it being important to me as well.
I know many of you are old as dirt and hopefully you are finding that comes with some advantages when it comes to getting in line for your COVID vaccine. I’m one shot in, getting my second next month and looking forward to getting a little bit back to normal.
2021 for me is likely to not see me in tropical places doing tropical things, but I have my eye on 2022 and East End Lodge is on that list of possible destinations.
I’ve fished the East End of Grand Bahama more than I’ve fished any other single location for bonefish. I love it there. I can fly out of SFO on the West Coast at midnight and fish a flat in the afternoon in Grand Bahama (ya know, back when I went places). I love it more than is reasonable.
I hope some of you make your way out to East End Lodge, catch some bonefish, have some cracked conch, maybe some of Rob’s very nice rum, and have an excellent time.
This is where I’d normally reflect on the year that has been and there would be maybe a couple saltwater trips in there… bonefish caught, memories made.
Not this year.
There was no trip to the salt (the warm salt) in 2020 as COVID-19 screwed up plans all over the place. I was going to be fishing Abaco with friends in May, but, alas… no.
Who knows what 2021 will hold? My wife will get her vaccine in the next couple weeks, as an MD. Last I checked I was about 260,000,000th in line for mine. There won’t be a saltwater trip until that happens, so, 2021 may, or may not be my return to the salt.
I hope all of you are safe, getting some fishing in, and that you get your vaccine when and if you are able to.
All that said, it has been a good year for me, considering. I got my boy into a bunch of trout on one trip and a bunch of sharks near our house. He’s been willing to get up at 6:30 to go fishing in the cold. His interest in nature is exploding and I’ve been able to feed into it.
I haven’t seen my daughter as much as I’d like this last year due to COVID, but she’s started surfing, which is her own thing, and makes me really excited for her. She got to fish with us a couple times as well, which was really, really nice.
Work has exploded on me. The lab I work for is doing COVID testing and I’ve pretty much sold 100% of our capacity, which is good and stressful.
We’ve been healthy. My 78 year old dad has remained healthy(ish). We’ve been hold up on our little street and have kept our world as small as possible and I feel confident we are going to get through this.
I hope you have survived 2020 and I wish you health and happiness and maybe a bonefish or tarpon in 2021.
There’s not much that can substitute for local knowledge. That point was driven home over the weekend when my fishing plans went all pear-shaped.
I had planned to go fish the McCloud for the season closer, but got concerned the winter storm warning would shut the pass I needed to cross and generally prevent getting there, as well as maybe resulting in the three of us having a pretty rough day on the water.
The plan was altered. We decided to float the Lower Sac instead. Weather looked decent and so we made a go of it.
Here’s the thing… while I’ve fished that river many, many times, I don’t fish it often. This was my first day on that river this year. I know it enough to have a “Plan A” but not well enough to have a “Plan B.”
Plan A didn’t work. We managed ONE FISH between the three of us (I caught it in the first hour and we didn’t touch a fish after that). It was my buddy John’s first time getting skunked on a float trip on that river in 20 years.
Our guide sucked. I was our guide.
If I had fished the river 40 times this year, I bet I’d have had a better idea where to set up the raft at those flows and what flies we should have cycled through. But… well… that’s not the life I have. The opportunity cost of living the good and fulfilling life I have in this place is losing that local knowledge. Maybe we still would have headed to the Mac if I was more in touch with what was happening or maybe we would have had a better third or fourth option.
My friend Shane was guiding a slightly lower section of river on that same day. They boated just shy of 20 fish. Shane knows the river. That’s the difference between knowing a place and having a casual acquaintance with it.
It was good to share the water with friends, but I refuse to say the fishing was good and the catching was bad, because every time someone says that a trout loses its spots.
My first fishing memories are of dunking worms for bluegill in a little creek not far from where my dad grew up in Corning, CA. The little creek, Hall Creek, moved slowly past almond and walnut orchards and resembled a series of ponds more than a creek. I love those memories.
We would get worms and an orange soda (the secret weapon and special treat for when we’d go to Hall Creek). I loved it. I even caught a bass one trip that was the biggest fish I caught for years.
I always wanted to take my kids to Hall Creek to fish for bluegills but things don’t stay unchanged and the few times I checked on Hall Creek it was dry as a bone. A combination of drought and agriculture are probably to blame, but where there is no water, there are no fish. My dad keeps hoping the kids will be able to fish there some day, but it seems an idea from a different age.
This last weekend we stayed at an AirBnB while my wife was doing a virtual conference. It was rough, two adults and one kid trying to access the internet at the same time, but the highlight was the pond. The pond had bluegill and bass. It was like a dream come true.
Ponds are few and far between in the Bay Area, at least so far as I know of them. So, this was special.
The boy… he liked it. He caught some bluegill and he loved everything about the place. We saw a Great Blue Heron and I ass-hooked a turtle, he found a Praying Mantis egg sack and there were loads of deer. Victory.