Jul 22

My Mad Idaho Adventure

I’m just back from a grand adventure. I towed my raft from the SF Bay Area to Idaho and drifted the S. Fork Snake River from Palisades Creek to Byington, covering ~37 miles of river over three days/two nights, camping along the way, with two other anglers/friends (John and Mark).

The trip ticks many boxes on the “epic adventure” checklist:

  • ~1900 miles of road covered
  • Drove through 3 Western States
  • ~37 miles of river covered
  • New, renowned river fished

This sort of adventure has long legs… the stories will persist from here on until my memory fades. Things I saw, things I did, the conversations, the friendships deepened, the fishing… I’ll carry it with me for a long, long time. I love these epic adventures, be it a trip to East End Lodge to pursue bonefish in calf-deep Bahamian flats, or rowing a legendary Western river in search of giant cutthroat and browns.

To be clear, this trip really was madness. This fact started to come into focus about mile 4 when the immensity of the task ahead started to sharpen. I had rowed about 4 miles in the previous year and somehow I thought “Sure, I’ll row 27 miles… nah, make it 37.” I mean… what was I thinking? I did it… and we didn’t die… so, I COULD do it… but there were certainly times I was questioning my sanity. It felt like I bit off more than I could chew, but I didn’t choke on any of it and we made it safely down the river. My hands are a bit swollen and I have a few blisters, but that’s a small price to pay for what we got.

The craft that took us down the river, on the kit trailer that somehow survived the trip.

I had never fished the Snake and I’m unsure if I’d ever even seen it in person before. I had been thinking about it ever since I got the raft (Outcast PAC 1300), but it was a conversation with guide Kris Kennedy that pushed me to do it. From there, it went fairly fast as I collected gear, put the crew together and planned the route. Before I knew it was was pushing off and the river currents were taking us down river.

The way you have something in your head never maps totally to the experience and there is a certain danger in high expectations.

Our first day on the river was rough as we were figuring things out. We just weren’t fishing this great water very well and I’m sure if we went with a guide we would have all had fish-weary arms, but that isn’t how it shook out. We got to camp having covered 15 miles in a monster first day and we had very, very few fish between us. At camp I managed a couple more, including a nice brown I took a bit after the sun went down that was crushing salmon flies about two inches off the bank. That was a little shard of what I thought we’d be doing the whole time.

John’s Brown

Day two was a canyon day where we saw, roughly, 9 billion eagles. If you threw a rock in the canyon section there was a not-small-probability you’d hit an eagle. We saw both Balds and Goldens and they were with us the whole way.

We had our best fishing of the trip on this day, but it was also much different that what I expected. What I thought we’d have was consistently decent fishing along the drift, but what we actually had were a few spots where we got out of the raft and had great fishing in small spots/slots/buckets. We never really put it together in the raft as I think we had conflicting ideas about what was going to be effective and just needed more time to gel as a crew. Out of the boat though, we could throw what and how we wanted and that worked.

So, our productive water went from 37 miles to a hundred yards. That, I think, isn’t how it is supposed to fish, but that’s how it worked for us. That hundred yards was pretty cool.

We ran into the tail end of the salmon flies on the Snake and that was… fun. At one point there were so many of the big stones out there they were dropping from the trees and bushes onto the water where the trout awaited and any cast up along the bank stood a good chance of an orca-like attack. We called one spot Salmon Fly Alley and made a fair number of memories there.

The third day the weight of ~13 miles to cover, how exhausted I was, how little sleep I’d had, the drive ahead of us all looked like a lot and we decided we’d push through a lot of the water, pick our spots and get off the river early. That’s what we did and managed to pull into the Byington boat ramp about 3:00 in the afternoon and John and I managed to get almost 600 miles down the road by the time we pulled into a Super 8 for the night.

Of course, as we closed the trip out I felt like I was just starting to understand a bit of how the river fished, where to find the fish, how to get us where we needed to be. Takes some time for things to come together, but time and the river don’t really wait.

I learned a lot and I’m a better angler now than when I set off from home. My horizons are just that much broader and I have a few more tools in my tool box.

I encourage you all to get out there, wherever out there is for you… Bahamas, Belize, Christmas Island, Montana, Yellowstone, Wyoming, Idaho, Louisiana, Florida… wherever it is you have lodged in your head that keeps tickling your thoughts. Do the thing. Take the trip. Make the memories. In the end, that’s all we really have.

Jul 22


This Friday I’m packing up the car, attaching the trailer and staring off on a long, long drive which will (I hope) culminate with two friends and I floating down a river I’ve never seen in my raft for three days.

I’ve never done anything quite like this before and that has me full of equal parts excitement and anxiety. There has been a steady procession of Amazon trucks disgorging supplies and bits of gear for a month now and all of a sudden Departure Day is almost here. I feel mostly ready.

I won’t be chasing bonefish, so this is more of a “back to my roots” kind of adventure of the trouty kind. Even so, I just realized I’ve only fished a river like this one a few times in my life… a big, broad, fast tailwater not named the Lower Sacramento. These other Western rivers are different… dry flies while the sun is out just isn’t a thing we do out here in California. I’m much more used to rivers you get in and wade around in where a 60′ cast might put you 20′ up the opposite bank, a river where you consider whether you should have 2 or 3 split shot on (I won’t say euro-nymphing as folks have been nymphing with a tight line out here since the early 1900’s). This trip, this whole thing will be pretty new and very different from my usual trout days.

Exciting. This is where growth happens, right?

I’ll post some pics when I’m back.

Trying to find a fly that would work… spoiler… they didn’t.

Jul 22


I’m in the blanket…

So, I had an honest start to this whole fishing thing.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since that day. I managed to get my dad out on the water about a month or so ago and he even managed to catch a fish, something he hadn’t done in over a year. Every day is special now… never know how many more you’ll get.

Jul 22

Maui and Me

Family vacation, not a fishing vacation, but, ya know, I’m going to bring a rod along.

We stayed at a resort for a conference my wife has signed up for in the “before COVID” times and this was our chance to actually get there and do it.

Maui isn’t known as a hot bonefish location, or as much of a fly fishing location. Sure, you can catch bones trolling in a kayak or jigging a fly with a spinning rod, but for the most part, this just isn’t a fly fishing destination. I knew that going in.

I fished three of the days, wading out on some old pipes as far as I could and seeing what was what. I managed to get broken off by what I think was a blue fin trevally and then I started to see some black triggers. The triggers became my prime targets, as I could see them.

Even these little triggers bite hard enough to bend a hook, as I found out. I had some crab flies from Christmas and used those with much stronger hooks and they worked well. The more realistic, the better.

I managed to land one black trigger, hooked and lost another and had a hand full of grabs I missed.

Man… they are prety.

There was a big of surf to contend with and there were a couple days it felt pretty stupid to be standing out there. One set came in that knocked me down. Glad my wife didn’t see that one or she may never let me fish again. The waves really were something to contend with and I have to say I didn’t totally enjoy that aspect of it.

It was not productive fishing, but I still enjoyed it. I haven’t been able to get out in the salt for a while and I really enjoyed just being there and doing it… scanning the water, trying to see what was happening, looking for fish, sometimes finding them. That part felt good… really good.

All my gear still works. My flies were mostly correct and un-corroded. My cast was still there. My boots hadn’t fallen apart. And… I caught a fish. That one fish felt really, really good.

Jun 22

Dr. Mike Larkin on Bonefish – The Tom Roland Podcast

Dr. Mike Larkin once sent me a bonefish tongue. It was awesome. The guy has forgot more about bonefish than I’m likely to ever know. So, I invite you to listen to this episode of the Tom Roland Podcast, where he talks about, well, bonefish.

Not a licker
Tongue… bonefish tongue.

May 22

An odd parallel

Back in the pre-COVID world I got to fish Christmas Island. On the last day, on the last flat, I had a beast of a GT pushing water toward me. I made a cast, the fish followed. In my mind I was thinking “This is perfect! This is how you write it up! Victory at the death!”

The fish pulled up short, probably seeing me standing there, and just swam off. The script I was writing in my head of the last cast of the trip just didn’t play out the way I was hoping. There was a “wait, that’s not how that’s supposed to end!” thought in my head. The last cast in the low light on the last flat with the big opportunity in front of me… the script says that’s the one you are supposed to pull off… that’s what makes the story.

Fast forward a bit to yesterday. Here I am coaching U9 competitive soccer and we are playing our last game of the season. My son is on the team and he’s playing left mid. The clock is ticking down. A player on our team wins the ball back in the far corner and puts a lovely ball right in front of my son who slots a shot past the keeper. The last kick of the game. The last kick of the season.

One of my first thoughts was of that flat on Christmas Island and my last shot at a GT in the dying minutes of the trip, the last cast I’d get, and how I didn’t make it happen… but here, my son, a few thousand miles away and in a totally different context… well… he took the shot and scored.

A weird parallel maybe. Two things that are not at all the same, but that’s where my mind went, maybe realizing just a taste of how totally satisfying it is to see your kid do better than you.

Apr 22

Save the Slime

Over the years I have pursued bonefish I came to realize a few things about handling bonefish.

  1. A LOT of people, including my former self, have done it wrong. Just because a guide isn’t yelling at you for doing it wrong doesn’t mean they aren’t letting you do it wrong.
  2. These aren’t trout. When you put that fish back into the water you are are putting them back into a “Only the fit survive” kind of environment. It isn’t the air exposure or handling that kills them, it is the cuda or shark waiting for the weakened/dazed fish (from air exposure or handling) to wander across their path.
  3. Even when you do it right the fish can STILL be killed. That makes it important to do it right all the time.

Here’s a page on the BTT website that tells you exactly how you can best increase the fish’s chance of survival.

Mar 22

Interview with Joe Gonzalez

Sadly, Joe passed away in March, 2022. I never got to fish with Joe, although I tried a couple of times. Those who knew him speak of him fondly, both as a person and as someone who loved and worked to protect Biscayne Bay. This interview was from 2010.

When it comes to Biscayne Bay and bonefish a guy who will probably come up in conversation is Joe Gonzalez.  Joe has been a guide for a long time, he knows the water, he knows the fish and he’s tagged more bonefish than I will ever catch. Joe and I recently connected via the phone  for an interview.

Bonefish release with Captain Joe

What makes the fishing in Biscayne Bay unique and what’s your favorite thing about the fishery?

What makes Biscayne Bay fishing unique, unlike the mid keys or lower keys, our flats on the north end of the bay are not as large, not as big and you can jump from flat to flat with ease until you find fish, unlike most Keys flats and banks that are massive.  We also have a very strong winter time bonefishery here, even when the temps drop below the mid-60’s.  You can still find fish, usually in large schools and have a banner day with northerly winds of up to 20 mph.  We have a gargonian type bottom, lots of sea fans and basket sponges and gargonian sponges and for some reason the fish like to hang out in those areas at that time of year.  You find a lot of fish, but you break them off.

Biscayne Bay, being at Miami’s doorstep with three million people, you would think the ecosystem would be in a deplorable state, but actually it is a pristine environment with a healthy fishery and plenty of food stores for the fish.

Biscayne Bay is known for two things… big bonefish and tough bonefish.  Does Biscayne Bay deserve that reputation?

Yes, Biscayne Bay is not an easy fishery.  Many think of calm, slick water and sunny days to be the best conditions. But ask most guides and they would usually prefer some wind and low light conditions. I myself love fishing in strong winds. The fish drop their guard and eat flies well. They move better and feed hard.

If you look at the world record books, out of 187 world records, 127 of them were caught in the US, most of the world record fish were caught in the Florida Keys and Biscayne Bay area.  A lot more people fish the Keys than Biscayne Bay, but 10 world record fish have been caught in Biscayne Bay.

Most people go down to the Keys, Islamorada, to fish.  Most of the time, people don’t think of Biscayne Bay or Miami.  You usually get people when they are coming down on business and you get them on either end of the business trip.  That’s how the start to learn about the fishery, for the most part.

What is the state of the fishery?

It seems like with the cold blast we had in January the fishery suffered a bit. We found that most of the affected areas were the back country parts of both Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay.  The exterior parts of both Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay didn’t suffer as much as far as bonefish depletion.  I fished hard for two weeks after the blast and the fishing was really good.  It was somewhat of a relief to me and to others that there are still plenty of fish around.  The press got a hold of some of the bonefish stories and exaggerated.  Most of our outside fish ran offshore, probably to the Hawks Channel area and or deeper areas to take refuge when the surf temps dropped below 60.

So yes, the fishery is not as strong as it used to be, but we’ll always be talking about how it used to be.

You’ve been involved in bonefish tagging for the University of Miami with over 1,300 fish tagged.  What have you learned about bonefish through that work?

It has helped understand their growth rates and movements.  Working with Dr. Jerry Alt and Mike Larkin from the University of Miami Bonefish Research Program, we do an annual bonefish census and it gives us the number of bonefish.  We learned that they live up to 20 years by taking the odilith and counting the rings, much like counting the rings of a tree. The oldest fish ever documented was about 20, according to Mike Larkin. 70% of the recaptures are within 2 miles.  The tagging program gives us an idea about the number of fish, but it is more useful in letting us know about the movements of the fish.

Mike Larkin putting in an acoustic tag.

I have also helped with acoustic telemetry, which is putting transmitters into bonefish and setting up receiver fences and every time a fish comes by it records which fish has come by.  We have learned that maybe

I don’t know if you are aware, there is a bonefish I tagged on February 11th, I believe, 6-7 years ago… the fish was at large 10 months and it was recaptured January 31st and it was recaptured in the middle bight of Andros.

I’m very familiar with that fish.  I didn’t know that was you!

Everybody thought that Florida bonefish were only found in Florida and that the Bahamas fish were only in the Bahamas and the Mexican fish were only in Mexico. They thought all these fish were different, separate bodies of fish. With that one fish being found down in Andros (and Kenny Knutson our of Islamorada tagged a fish 2-3 years after my fish and it was also found over there in the middle bights of Andros), so there may be a genetic link between Florida bonefish and Bahamas bonefish with that fish making a trans-Atlantic crossing… it was the longest recorded migration at 187 miles, but it was a trans-Atlantic crossing, the fish had to cross the Gulf Stream.  The closest point to where this fish was tagged is Bimini, which is 48-50 miles across the ocean and once the fish is in Bimini it is up on the Bahamian Bank.

I was invited by Venezuela, through the University of Miami, to fish in Los Roques and introduce the same tagging program we have here in Florida.  The asked me to go, I packed and went.  The fishery down there, the different camps and lodges and guides, it isn’t a happy place… folks don’t get along.  I was able to go down there as kind of an ambassador.  I speak the lingo, I speak Spanish fluently and I was able to go down there and make some peace between these guys and help everyone get on the same page and help everyone realize that by tagging bonefish, it is making the whole business down there a little bit more environmentally friendly.  They were very receptive and with me being a guide they were able to relate to me. I was on their same level.  It was a real good experience.  The main guy that pioneered the bonefishing down there is a guy named Alex Gonzalez.  People either like him or hate him.  They’ve started a tagging program and they are starting to be able to estimate numbers, get growth rates, and do what we’ve done here.  It was great being down there.

When I went down there I thought it was going to be easy.  I’ll tell you what… it was hard to get the fish to eat.  When I was on my own… now, I know how to strip, I know how to feed a fish… I thought, but I’d try it and they’d spook and I’d work with one of the guides and they knew how to read their fish better than I did because they were their fish. It was crazy.  It’s like starting all over again.  It showed me that there are things you know from being on the water that are special and unique to each place.

The more you are on the water, the more odd and unique things you get a chance to see.  What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen out there?

One of the weirdest things I’ve seen is bonefish being prayed on by porpoise. I’ve seen propose corralling bonefish up on the flats and it’s not a pretty sight.  It’s interesting, because it is nature taking its course.  It is the only time I’ve seen bonefish coming out of the water and not bibbling, as they do in the Bahamas (kind of a rolling thing that bonefish sometimes do).  When a pod of porpoise were chasing a school of bonefish and I saw a couple of bonefish go airborne trying to escape.

Bibbling, I’ve seen that down in Los Roques too.  Bonefish sometimes, when they come off a flat and they are in a deep channel, they’ll do what they call in the Bahamas “bibbling,” kind of a rolling on the surface.

Another thing, they say that bonefish are really spooky and guides and anglers get upset when boats run close by and spook fish.  Believe it or not, there are flats that have a lot of boat traffic, especially on the weekends, but the fish have evolved to get used to the noise… believe it or not, I’ve caught fish on flats despite having boats up on the flats because the wakes from the boats loosed the bottom and it makes it easier for the bones to find shrimp, crabs and crustaceans   I’ll tell my anglers to look for the muds in the muds.  I’ll be on the edges of the channels and the boats will come by and create a lot mud, but the fish are in the mud making mud.  You are in fresh mud looking for new puffs of mud. It’s kind of weird telling my anglers to look for mud inside mud, but when you find it, it’s a gimme.

One really weird thing… and this was real… I was out with a friend of mine off of Key Largo in the early 90’s and I saw a bonefish with its head out of the water. It looked like it was walking on its tail.  We approached it slowly, thinking it was dying or dead, but when we popped up next to it, it swam away… and no, I wasn’t high or drunk. Never, ever have I seen a fish doing that.

What’s your most memorable bonefish?

My most memorable bonefish… I was fishing with a guy named Mike Swerdlow, who’s been doing it forever with some of the best guides in the Keys since the 70’s. Mike’s the kind of guy that, when fishing together would screw me up a bit because he wouldn’t let me get close to the fish so he could make a 70-90 foot cast and usually that isn’t a high percentage shot with most of my clients, but Mike is different. He wants the hero shot, at 100 feet, and what’s funny, is that he can make it. We were fishing an area in Biscayne Bay called Feathervit Bank in the early 90’s when there was a fair number of big fish in that area and we spotted a single fish, up on the bank, tailing.  We had been fishing deeper water for mudding fish so he had on a relatively large epoxy fly that was popular back then and was too heavy to throw at tailing fish, but he asked me pole up to that fish and give him a try. It was a small window of opportunity and we didn’t want to lose it. So, I went ahead and polled up to the fish, but I told Mike the fly was inappropriate, but he insisted on not changing the fly that would have been far better in 2.5 feet of water as opposed to 12 inches. He made the cast with that big epoxy fly and put it about a foot from the fish with a big plop and the fish jumps on the fly, runs 100 yards west on the bank with the line making a bonefish rooster tail all the way. I wish I could have videoed that fish.  It is still vivid in my mind.  It is moments like these that we live for, dream about and spend countless amounts of monies and time for that feeling.

The tailing fish…. One solo fish… back out of the water fish… that’s the highest, the pinnacle… and to do it with the wrong fly on a long cast… it was that scenario… never in a million years would I think the guy was going to catch the fish… and to have it happen and it was probably an 11-12 pound bonefish.

What’s your favorite rod/reel?

I’ve been using the Nautilus Featherweight.  I love those reels.

As far as rods, I’ve been using the S4S in an 8 wt. with a matching Nautilus reel.

A Nautilus from Sam Root at Salty Shores

Thanks for the great interview Joe. Great stuff.

Additional thanks to Sam Root of Salty Shores for some of these pics.

Feb 22

Drugs R Bad, mkay.

Drugs er bad… right? Well then, why are so many bonefish doing drugs? SERIOUS QUESTION (kind of)!

BTT recently released a story about trace amounts of chemical-life-enhancers found in bonefish in Florida. Seems wastewater carries enough of it to tip the flag on the assays used to check for pharmaceuticals in these fish.

Old friend and man whose hair I envy, Matt Smythe, recently wrote about that story here in Free Range American.

We just don’t seem to have a good grip on the many, many impacts we have on the world around us.

South Andros Bonefish. Photo by Andrew Bennett

Feb 22

Mighty Waters – A Bahamas Story

I’ve written about this story before, but here it again. A good film about a good people and a good person in Ansil Saunders. Good on ya SIMMS and COSTA.