17
May 21

Getting back out there, with Jim Klug

My Facebook Memory today was me with a very nice tarpon on a trip I had with Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures and Jim Klug in Cuba. I wrote Jim just to thank him for that experience and we got to talking about fly fishing travel and where things stand now. I sent Jim some questions and he took the time to respond. Thanks for that Jim.

Awesome shot by Jim Klug.

For me it is going to be a while longer. I’m vaccinated and employed, so that’s good, but child care is much more complicated and my wife’s doctor schedule is unpredictable for the time being. We’ll need things to settle a bit before I find myself on a flat, but I am thinking a lot more about it these days… looking at pictures, going through my gear, thinking about what plans I need to set in motion.

Jim provides some insight and good advice in the answers below.

How did Yellow Dog weather the pandemic?

Well … We’re still here!  There is no doubt that 2020 was a difficult year for our business and for destination angling in general. We had thousands of trips that were cancelled or postponed 

What did you learn about the travel business and your own company as a result of the pandemic?

We had some interesting and important take-aways from 2020, and we learned some valuable and important lessons about both our business and our customers. All told, Yellow Dog navigated some tricky waters in 2020, and along the way, we identified some key take-aways from the past 16 months:

  1. We learned that for our clients, having a legitimate agent working on their behalf is incredibly beneficial – especially when things get difficult. We saw this play out time and again in 2020. While we were not always able to immediately fix things or deliver the perfect answer for cancelled trips, we worked tirelessly for our customers – operating on their behalf and looking out for their interests. Having an agent like Yellow Dog (the largest creator of trips for many of the lodges in the industry) often-times made a difference. For people that had booked on their own or through a smaller shop or hobby agent, the outcomes – and the solutions offered – were often-times markedly different.

  2. Patience is everything. We’ve learned that tenacity and persistence goes a long way when it comes to re-bookings, re-schedulings and other resolutions. In the beginning of the pandemic, many operators and lodges were unprepared or unable to provide optimal solutions for cancelled or affected trips. Over time, however, we were able to work with many of these operations – on behalf of our clients – to secure better solutions and improved offers. Patience pays!

  3. Being nice matters, and when the shit really hits the fan, you truly see the very best of people, and also the very worst. Luckily, the vast majority of our customers and clients were patient, nice and incredibly understanding throughout the pandemic, realizing that the world shutting down was not our fault nor the fault of the lodges or guides. The entire destination angling infrastructure took a devastating hit in 2020, and – unlike major airlines or cruise ship companies – there were no industry bail-outs or easy money. Every lodge, guide, outfitter and agent was hurt by this, and for every one of our clients who was kind, patient and understanding in the face of cancelled trips and disrupted fishing plans, know that it was very much appreciated!

  4. Trip insurance can help, but it is important to understand the fine print and details.
    For years, trip insurance was the security blanket that promised to make things right if a fishing trip was cancelled or disrupted. And when it came to work conflicts, illness, hurricanes or cancelled flight routes, these policies usually paid off. The problem with trip insurance is that – like all insurance products – the companies know how to cover their asses against big-time cataclysmic events, and way down the list in the fine, fine print of things that were NOT covered was … you guessed it … “worldwide pandemics.” It turns out that most insurance policies would not cover trip cancellations that were pandemic-related, which meant that travelers who seemingly did everything right (booking early, securing a trip with the right deposit, and of course covering themselves with a travel insurance policy) were left hanging when their trips were cancelled due to lodges (and the world) being shut down. Moving forward, we fully expect that travelers will remember this, and we hope that those companies and products that have failed to protect travelers in the pandemic will be replaced by innovative policies and new products which actually deliver. 
  1. Having a solid and healthy destination angling infrastructure is crucial to our sport. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve known that – eventually – things would get back to normal and we’d be able to get back to doing what we love most: traveling and fishing the world. Having a lodge to return to (or your favorite guide still around to fish with) is a big deal, so being supportive of this infrastructure matters. For everyone that accepted a trip roll-over, re-booking fee or new dates, and especially to those that sent along the equivalent of a guide’s tip or donated to industry economic relief efforts, thank you.

Are you seeing the pent-up demand from a year off?

Oh yeah!  Things are absolutely crazy right now. Once January 2021 hit, things started ramping up, and it has only gotten crazier since then. After a brutal 2020, Yellow Dog just closed out a record-setting first quarter of 2021. It was as if someone flipped a switch in early January, and people are now booking and reserving trips at a pace we’ve never before seen. Trip dates are being snatched up as quickly as toilet paper was selling out ten months ago, and the biggest challenges for the year ahead will unquestionably revolve around availability. If you are thinking about planning a trip for the near future – or even 2022 or 2023 – my advice is to start the process now. Getting out in front of the demand will ensure prime dates and great guides at the best lodges and destinations. “Last-minute” trip planning – while still possible – is going to be more of a challenge than in years past. If you know that you want to travel and fish in the near future, then get a jump-start on the planning process and get your dates and destinations on the books.

Many waters got an unanticipated rest over the last year. What are some of the benefits or silver linings after a year-long COVID shut-down?

Obviously, one of the biggest positives that has come from the pandemic is the environmental benefit that comes from literally shutting the world down for months on end. Global satellite images from space in late-2020 showed pollution levels that had dramatically decreased from those of only eight to ten months earlier, showing how nature can heal and recover when we simply reduce our footprint and let the planet do its thing (even for a relatively short period of time). For anglers, the effect of this “global rest” has been evident and abundantly obvious over the past several months in the quality of the fishing and the behavior of fish that we’ve witnessed across the planet. For many of the destinations that have already reopened (Alaska, Belize, the Bahamas, the Yucatan, Costa Rica, the Seychelles and numerous other destinations), we have already seen off-the-charts fishing and numbers that have not been seen in years.  

Were there any operations that didn’t make it through?

That remains to be seen. This is something that will likely play out in the year ahead, but sadly, we are going to see some lodge, outfitters, guides and agents that will likely be gone by the end of 2021. The travel industry and destination angling as a whole were absolutely crushed when the world shut down. People stayed home, lodges closed, and airlines stopped flying. Small business loans and programs designed to keep people employed provided some assistance here in American; however international lodges, guides, outfitters and support businesses were largely left to survive on their own. Many of the guides we’ve fished with and come to know over the years were dealt a serious financial blow, as there was literally no work and no income for most of the year. Some guides were forced to sell their boats. Lodges terminated large numbers of staff, and many in the fly fishing community left the fishing world all together. Every international operation (along with many domestic operations) was hurt by the shut-downs, widespread cancellations and the lack of sales, and it will likely take years to fully recover.

When folks are booking now, do they require proof of vaccination or testing or what is it that has to happen to get back out there?

Proof of vaccination is not required to actually book or reserve anything (at this time) but there are plenty of countries that are requiring proof of vaccination for entry as a tourist. Regardless of how you personally feel about vaccinations, the fact is that life as a traveler and as a traveling angler will for sure be easier in the months (and possibly years) ahead with proof of vaccination. This is going to be true for some time to come with many foreign destinations. 

Are there places that are still closed/highly limited?

For sure, and some that are likely to remain closed into 2022. Right now, New Zealand, Australia and the Cook Islands are all closed indefinitely. Argentina, Chile, India, Canada, Russia, Christmas Island and several other popular fishing destinations are all still closed as well, although we are hopeful that things will open in the months ahead. We’re thinking August for Christmas Island, although that is not a for-sure opening date!

Is there somewhere in particular you are excited to get back to?

For me personally, I’m really excited to get back to the Seychelles for the coming fall season. Honestly, any place that requires a passport stamp is going to get me excited at this point!

Any recent trips that you’ve been able to do?

I actually just returned from an incredible week in the Yucatan, fishing Xcalak and Chetumal Bay. An incredible fishery with some of the best permit fishing I’ve seen in years.

Jim with a permit from his recent trip to Xcalak… on first glimpse I thought it was a GT.

What would you say to the traveling angler who is still hesitant to get back out there?

You need to be comfortable to travel right now, and that is a personal thing for everyone. DO your homework, research what is involved in traveling to a destination, and above all have someone in your corner that can help if problems or unexpected delays pop up. But travel is possible right now, and there is a lot of great fishing that can be accessed and enjoyed in a safe, easy manner. Regardless of your destination, however, when you are ready to get back out there, we are absolutely recommending that anglers begin their planning and booking processes earlier than normal. As a result of losing the entire 2020 season, there are countless trips that have had to be rolled over and rescheduled for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, which means that availability for the foreseeable future will be tight. For those destinations such as the Seychelles, Cuba, prime permit destinations in the Caribbean, and others that were already in high demand, it will be even more important to look ahead and plan well in advance. Even destinations in Belize, the Bahamas and the Yucatan are likely to book up quickly for this season and well into 2022. Our recommendation for those that know they want to get back out there is to start the process now.


12
Apr 21

Lost Key

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.


10
Apr 21

The Road the the Fall

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.


09
Apr 21

Putting the “Ha” in Hatchery

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.

Pretty lake.

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.


08
Apr 21

There are no fish in this river

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.


18
Feb 21

A little hope – East End Lodge Reopening

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.

Here’s what you need to know about travel to the Bahamas in COVID times.

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.

Rob and Ceclie at East End Lodge

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.

Be safe and may you have good light.


01
Feb 20

Memories of Christmas

My buddy Shane just sent me a picture of his big Geet from Christmas. I think he’s still there, but he managed to send me a picture of him, smile stretching ear to ear, holding up a big GT. Pretty cool to see. Very happy for him.

It was a year ago I was in Christmas Island with him and I was looking for my own GTs. I caught a small one (a giant trevally the size of a small trevally), I lost a mid-sized GT to the coral at the Korean Wreck and I cast at and failed to catch a big one.

That last fish I can recall pretty well even now.

It was the last day and we were on our last flat. The light was fading and the water reflected a silvery gray making it almost impossible to peer into the water even a few feet ahead of us. I thought the guide was just running out the clock and I didn’t blame him. We’d been looking for GTs and we never seemed to quite be where the fish were. He’d put in a good shift, but we just hadn’t done it.

Then the guide points.

“GT”

A fast moving bulge of water, 80-90 feet out, heading our way, pushing water like a snow plow. I made a good cast in front and beyond the fish so I’d pull the fly in front of its nose. The guide was in my ear yelling “FASTER! FASTER!” and I was stripping as fast as my top gear could manage. I swept the rod to add some speed as I’ve done from time to time with cudas and you could see the fish light up on the fly. He was close and you could see the open mouth and see the eye and the water sheeting over his back.

In my mind I was thinking “THIS IS IT! LAST FLAT! LAST DAY and damnit, it is going to HAPPEN!”

Except it didn’t. The fish saw us and just turned off and away and that was the end of it. I was just left there shaking, wondering how this crescendo somehow managed to fall flat. I had seen the fish in my hands, but it had only been in my imagination, a brief projection of what success and joy would feel like.

Shane had that look on his face today in that picture. It isn’t a great quality picture (he’s going to send better pics when he gets a chance as he’s still there), but you get the point, don’t you? Victory. Success. A dream realized.

Awesome.


07
Jan 20

I’m headed to Abaco is 2020

I was going to skip my annual saltwater trip this year. The beating that Grand Bahama and Abaco took kind of hollowed out a piece of me and it didn’t seem there’d be much “there” there anyway. I got a new raft and figured maybe I’d head to Idaho for that week instead.

However, after watching the trials and tribulations of the folks out there via social media (Cindy, I’m looking at you) I had another thought… maybe this is when I actually should go to the Bahamas. Maybe this is where I should spend that money and time. The Bahamas has maybe never really needed me, but, maybe now they do.

Abaco Lodge. Photo Credit Anna Stromsness A place that doesn’t exist anymore… but will again.

So, this May I’m going to head to Abaco. Probably over Memorial Day weekend with most days falling the week before. I’ll look at getting an indy guide and maybe trying to convince a few others to come along.

Marsh Harbor was hit very, very hard, but the further south you go, the better the island starts to look. Power and water are a concern in lots of places, but not in the south. I’ll be able to crack a cold Kalik at the end of the day and enjoy some Bahamian grub. Flights are starting to come back on-line and if you go, you’ll be taken care of and your business will be appreciated.

I’m happy to share details if you are interested in making the trip yourself, or if you’d like to come along with me as I try to figure out this post-Dorian trip.


01
Dec 19

Day Saver in Oahu

First off, I didn’t expect that much traffic. I was staying at the Aulani with the fam for Thanksgiving and needed to get to the airport flat to meet Kenny at 7:00 AM. I thought 40 minutes would do it. I was wrong.

The bell staff were also wrong that it would be “about the same cost” for a taxi and a Lyft… it was, in fact, not about the same cost at all. It cost me $128 to get to the flat (vs. $38 to get back) and I got there 15 minutes late. I hate being late.

The flat, when we got out there, was glassy clam. No wind rustled the mangroves or the water and it took about 10 seconds to see my first tail waiving at us to say good morning.

Now, it must be said, these fish are kind of assholes. They are so very, very spooky and they’ve seen some stuff, man… they’ve seen it all. They were super skittish in the sheet of skinny water and Kenny let me know it wasn’t ME they were rejecting, but more an overall disposition. Having an almost teenage daughter, I understand the mentality.

We worked hard and didn’t have too much to show for it. I had maybe 10 shots through lunch and I had maybe another 5 after lunch. The shots decreasing as the wind came up and the tails stayed down with the changing tide. I hooked one nice fish that must have run around one of the many, many coral obstacles and cut me off. It was good to feel the tug, but I was still off the board.

The day was waning. My dinner reservations were on my mind as well as questions about exactly how much traffic I might have on the way back West. I told Kenny that, ya know, if it wasn’t going to happen, we didn’t need to keep after it. Kenny said he wanted to try one more spot.

The breakers weren’t being totally blunted and so the ride out on the last flat was a little wild, a confused jumble of swells from different directions meant everyone had to hold on from time to time. To make it a bit more challenging the water was both a little deeper and the bottom seemed to be the EXACT color green of a bonefish. I was seeing phantom fish everywhere. Luckily, Kenny was seeing actual fish and had me cast toward a fish he had picked out.

“Strip long.”

“Strip long again.”

Tight to a fish and it was lightning, streaking across the flat. Backing exposed and recovered. Smiles all around. When I saw the size of the fish I wondered if I had hooked it in the ass, but it was just a strong, ocean-side fish. Not the 10 pounder, but the right species in the right place and sometimes you just need to take what the fishing gods give you.

What a Day Saver looks like and what a relieved guide looks like.

It was a day saver and we were both pretty relieved.

You can find guide Kenny Karas here, and I recommend a day on the water with him. He’s good people and knows his stuff. This is a solid recommendation, not an ad.


07
Oct 19

Deep Water Cay Closes

The first and oldest bonefishing lodge in the Bahamas is a casualty of Dorian. Deep Water Cay is ceasing operations.

Here’s the story.

I got to visit DWC a few years back and can attest to how nice the place was. The facilities and the guides and the boats were all top notch. Such a lot of history has come through that little island on the East End.