Mar 13

Interview with Capt. John O’Hearn

John O’Hearn is a Key West Guide. That wild, beautiful little island has a reputation, some earned, some more folklore than fact, but it is an interesting place, for sure. I went there as a kid and remember fondly the Mel Fisher museum and my dad eating conch salad (and me thinking he was crazy). I loved it there, and I haven’t been back since. Reading John’s interview, I want to make it back there and I likely will.

John with a Redfish

John with a Redfish

Key West has a reputation for being a really colorful place. How deserved is the reputation?
Key west reputation as a colorful place is well deserved.  It all stems from the undercurrent of the island’s (and the whole lower keys really) attitude.  down here no one cares what you do with your life.  So long as personal decisions don’t greatly impact the lives of others, you are good to go.
This manifests itself in a variety of ways.  It might be the 60 year dude who jogs ever morning wearing only shoes tiny bright red shorts and a woman’s red sun hat.  Or it might mean that bartenders end up becoming close friends.  Or it might mean the city holds a week long party where all forms of debauchery are encouraged (Fantasy Fest).  Or might mean you wake up at ludicrously early hours, get in a tiny boat, run for an hour in the dark and try to catch prehistoric fish with a hook in a shrimp costume.   
I was in Key West when I was about 10. I wanted to be Mel Fisher and find sunken treasure. How do you think Key West is or has changed?

This same “I don’t give a shit what you do with your life” attitude is attractive to the larger world.  Many people just come here to have a week of it, before they return to their “reality”.  Sadly, this same attitude opened the door for some to “commoditize” this attitude and sell the place out.  Essentially, trying to make the place into some sort of Debauched Disney World.

Take for example a recent debate over the widening/dredging of the harbor in key west so that mega cruise ships can fit into port.  Despite the fact that the harbor is part of a marine sanctuary that prohibits dredging.  Despite the fact that the majority of lower keys residents are against the idea.  Despite the fact that dredging would displace or destroy endangered species of coral.  There is a very real chance it might get pushed thru.  It is the same old political story, that those in power stand to profit from it, so they are trying to make it happen.  
In Oct. of this year, there will be a referendum held to decide if the first steps (a feasibility study) should be taken in the dredging process.  This referendum only includes key west voters, despite the obvious effects it will have on all residents in the lower keys. This feasibility study, of approved would be paid for by the cruise ship industry. And this feasibility study will be done by the army corp of engineers, the masterminds behind the destruction of the Everglades and the Mississippi River gulf outlet (MRGO) that led directly to the flooding of New Orleans in hurricane Katrina. Troubling thoughts all.
I guess that is a long way of saying key west is perilously close to selling it soul.
Google Image Search says this is John with a Cuda.

Google Image Search says this is John with a Cuda.

When you are on the water a lot, you see interesting things. What’s something really odd you’ve seen out there on the water?

Weirdest thing on the water:  adults dressed in oddly colored shirts swinging expensive sticks, with line and costumed hook attached, at prehistoric fish and accompanied by micro managing masked fascist on elevated platforms holding bigger and even more expensive sticks.  
(Well played on that answer, by the way)
Also weird is that Google Image Search says THIS is John O'Hearn, but I'm thinking maybe not.

Also weird is that Google Image Search says THIS is John O’Hearn, but I’m thinking maybe not.

 You have a favorite bar in Key West?

 My favorite bar in key west would have to the the Conch Republic Seafood Factory.  It is on the water and had all the looks of a tourist trap, which it us if you eat there.  But slide up to the bar for happy hour, make friends with the bar tender and enjoy the 2 for 1 drinks.  Regulars get a lot of comps.  My favorite bar in the keys is Coconuts on Big Pine.  It is definitely not a tourist trap.  Mounted fish on the walls, drunk fishing guides, and pool tables.

There is a lot of history out there when it comes to saltwater fly fishing. How does that history influence you as a guide?
I am fascinated by the history of this place, but your average keys guide/fisherman is pretty tight lipped.  I love the code names for places; the eccentrics, the snack bar, the monkey box, the animal farm, the bongos, the list goes on.   As a tip of my hat to those who laid the foundations of this sport, I am religious about fishing igfa legal ( more a concern with poon leaders than anything else).  I licked into an old wood tarpon stretcher box owned by billy pate, that is a prized possession, and used daily.
In a place where the fish see a lot of flies, do you think the Gotcha still works or do you start to need to start throwing other patterns?
For everything but the largest of the downtown Islamorada, most any pattern will work, provided it is weighted correctly for the water being fished and it is drab-ish in color.  I have caught many bonefish on Gotchas.  The only drawback, it is too hard to tie.  Lead eyes, a tan ring and a colored head is all you need.  Strip them right and most flies work great.
 What’s your go-to rod/reel for bonefishing?
My all time favorite setup is a 4px G Loomis cross-current glx 8wt, a Loop speed runner and a Sharkskin line.  Cherry!
 What are your concerns when you look at the KW fishery from a conservation standpoint?
My biggest concern is for the future of the fishery.  Literately I am concerned that we are running out of bonefish to catch.  We had an historically cold winter in 2010, and our fishing has not been the same since.  Bonefish are managed well (catch and release only) but I fear habitat loss and water quality issues might prove to be insurmountable obstacles.  I hope I am wrong.
Thanks for your time John and I hope the Keys remains a magical place for years and years to come.

Feb 11

NRX – A review from Angling Trade

I saw the review of the NRX in the latest email from Angling Trade (anyone can sign up for these emails, and you probably should if you have more than a passing interest in what’s happening in “the Industry”).  The rod got top marks from Kirk Deeter as he field tested an NRX down in Argentina.  The review doesn’t talk about what weight the rod was, but I assume it was a bit lighter than would be used out in the salt, and indeed there is an NRX Trout and NRX Saltwater, although I’m not sure what the difference in those rods is, action wise.

I got a chance to cast an NRX at the California Fly Shop back in November and I recall liking what I felt/saw, but 10 minutes in the parking lot doesn’t tell you a whole lot in any way that is useful.  My impression, casting the 9 weight, was that it felt like I was casting a 7.  It was light and crisp and bristled with power… or so it seemed.

I’m sure the NRX is a great rod and I’m sure it is comparable to the other great rods out there… the Helios, the Xi3, the BIIIx, the S4S.  If you got 10 anglers together and asked them which was the “best” you would likely end up with 12 answers.  So much in what makes a rod great is down to the angler.  I’d say it is easy to tell when you have a great rod, but sorting out something like “the greatest” becomes a very subjective affair.  Still… I’ll bet it is pretty sweet.

The price… the price is steep.  I know that these folks have done the research and figured out that there is a market for a rod that is $760.  I’ve cast some of these rods and caught fish on some of these rods, but I’m not “there” yet in my mind.  Maybe it is just too far from where I was when I first fell in love with fly fishing… when a ball-busting rod was $400.  Those were good days and I saw a lot of water and I caught a lot of fish (just none of them bonefish).

If you’d like a tour of the G. Loomis factory, you can check out the YouTube video below.


Jan 11

Bones of Costa de Cocos

This thing made the rounds, showing up on both Midcurrent and Moldy Chum… still, if you missed is somehow, here is a little vid about a couple guys getting into some pretty virgin skinny water somewhere near the Belizean/Mexican border (slightly on the Mexican side, it seems). Costa de Cocos lodge is down that way… I’m guessing it is nearby.


Nov 10

Shout out to the California Fly Shop

Today (actually, yesterday as you read this), my wife broke me off a little free time.  I could have grabbed a rod and gone in search of bass or carp, but instead, I headed up 101 to the California Fly Shop in San Carlos.  I’d never been there before, although I had seen some announcements from them over the years and I may be on their email list.

I needed help and I needed a full fledged fly shop to get that help.  We have an Orvis about 10 minutes away, but, ya know… the retail experience at Orvis is very uneven.  The fly fishing side of the store is often left in the hands of folks that don’t know a sink tip from a lead sinker.  Every once in a while you find some real quality folks there, but if they aren’t working that day you are SOL if you actually need some advice or something unique.  I have heard from a couple people that their actual gear has come leaps and bounds, but sometimes you just need a real fly shop.

The California Fly Shop is about a half-hour drive away and is tucked away in an industrial park, although it is next door to an REI.  I finally found the shop and the lack of cars out front made me wonder if they were open… which they were.  I walked in and found it to be a pretty nice shop… well stocked with gear, rods, flies and fly tying materials.  I picked up a few things and when Steve asked if I needed any help, I confessed to him my frustration with the Bimini Knot.  Fifteen minutes later I had learned the knot, gotten pretty sorted on what my tarpon leader needed to look like and I was out in the parking lot test driving the G. Loomis NRX in a 9 wt. and chatting with Steve about Baja.

Thanks Steve.  I appreciate the time you spend helping me out.  You guys have a great shop and I’ll certainly be back. My first and second Tarpon Leaders are now done.

The NRX 9 wt. was LIGHT but powerful.  It really felt like casting a 7 wt.  I was casting with a Rio Outbound floating line, which makes it pretty easy to cast, but I have to say, first impressions were very positive.  I still won’t be buying one unless they knock about $500 off the price tag, but if I found one in the Orphanage for Abandoned Rods, I’d probably rush through the adoption papers.

A nice shop with helpful people

Mar 10

Interview with This is Fly Editor, Paris Fleezanis

This is Fly is known to pretty much anyone in their 20’s or 30’s who puts in more than 20 days a year with a fly rod in their hand.  One of the guys behind TIF is editor Paris Fleezanis.  Here are a few questions and some great replies from Paris.

I'm guessing Seychelles with the GT stick.

Paris, This is Fly has become the gold standard for fly fishing e-zines.  What do you think has made it so widely embraced?
Thanks for the compliment I appreciate it.  When readers write in and say they love the magazine it charges me to make each issue better and better.  I started fly fishing in 2007 and became absolutely fanatical about saltwater fly fishing.  I searched for information and media about the sport and culture but I couldn’t find the type of material that I craved.  I’ve always related to the skate, surf and snowboard culture and was searching for a similar progressive voice.  I think This is Fly filled a void that was missing in the industry.  Most importantly I feel it speaks to a wider demographic and even attracts non-anglers and introduces them to the sport.
One of your TIF bonefishing stories had a line that went something like “…bonefishing is something that shows up on more “To Do” lists than obituaries.”  That prompted me to get out and make my own bonefishing experience happen.  Do you have a favorite story about bones from TIF (beyond your own)?
I enjoyed Coach Duff’s recent story in issue 22.  Duffer is intense and takes his hunting very seriously.  I love that type of focus and passion especially since the fish he’s targeting are monsters.  It was also great to see that you can catch big bones in populated areas in front of hotels and condos on the beach.

Zee Bone

The fisherman’s lament is “So much water, so little time.”  What are some of the places high on your list for future trips?
In the last 3 years I have covered the globe pretty well and hit most of the popular bonefish destinations.  I have been fortunate enough to visit most of the Bahamas, Mexico, Florida, Kiribati and the Seychelles.  I’m heading to Los Roques this month and excited to experience that fishery.  It will be bizarre to see bones crashing the surface eating minnows.  Future trips that I’m hoping to take are Hawaii, St Brandon’s Mauritius and western Australia.  These places hold huge fish.
From your recent trip to North Andros, did you have one fly that was a clear winner?
The cold front we experienced on our recent trip to Kamalame Cay made the fish very peculiar.  We had to down-size our patterns and ended up fishing gotchas and pink puffs.  My favorite fly right now is Borski’s fur shrimp.  I fish Grand Bahama often and have had awesome results.  Others would be McKnight’s Crimp and a Bonefish Deep Minnow.
When I think of bonefishing I also think of Kalik and cracked conch.  What non-fishing image do you associate with stalking bones on the flats?
A slower pace and lifestyle.  I live in New York City and the pace is both invigorating and exhausting.  The pace keeps you alive and sharp but you do need a break.  Everyone is frantically headed somewhere and that focus can wear you down.  I cherish each trip that I take when I can escape my rigorous cycle.
You have a go-to rod/reel?
G Loomis GLX 8wt and Abel 7-8 QC, the ultimate bonefish outfit.

Just your typical New Yorker.

Thanks Paris.  Keep up the good work.