Bucket-List Bahamian Bonefish

IMG_0275 My father Fred and I recently returned from an adventure to Mangrove Cay Club in the Bahamas.  We had planned the trip for over a year in hopes of getting him into his first-ever bonefish.  For me, it was a return to the flats after an absence of about 20 years.

Coming as it did on the heels of my trip to Brazil, I had spent the two weeks leading up to that trip wrapping up a box of sure-fire bonecrushers.P2170009After a reasonably uncomfortable red-eye, cross-country flight, we arrived in Nassau dazed and excited.  A short hop followed over to South Andros Island, and Mangrove Cay where we were to spend the next 5 days.IMG_0333Dawn broke with clear calm conditions and not a ripple on the water of the Middle Bight out in front of the lodge.IMG_9734In other words, conditions were perfect for good bonefishing!  We were paired with veteran Mangrove Cay guide, Kiki Adderley, for a crash course in the finer points of angling for the elusive “ghosts of the flats.”IMG_9752Fred and I took turns on the deck at the front of the boat. Kiki called out the incoming targets, and we each landed several nice fish from 3-4 lbs through the course of the morning.IMG_9746IMG_9743No matter how good of an angler you think you are, this fishing is challenging.  Fish are hard to spot (Fred admitted on day 2 that, even though he had landed a half dozen bones, he had only seen one before it was hooked).  Success was often only possible by the skill of the guides in directing the cast and retrieve when the fish were in range.

The next day, we woke to less-than-optimal weather conditions.IMG_9768After the morning rain squalls passed, we were left with a freshening wind from the southwest and intermittent clouds, making for much more difficult fishing than the first day.  Fred got a couple from the boat with Kiki, while I opted to wade some promising areas, leading to several shots at cruising fish and one landed.  We hoped for better weather the next day.IMG_9773IMG_9770We woke the next day to gusting winds and heavy rain buffeting the cabin.

IMG_0327Not good.  A couple boats from a neighboring lodge braved the conditions, the guests looking miserable in full rain suits and taking a beating from the chop.  Alton Bain, one of the owners of Mangrove Cay Club and the guides huddled and finally decided (after several false starts), that there would be no fishing that day.  Ouch!  I took some solace in remembering being weathered out on a bonefish trip to the Florida Keys 20 years before.  That experience taught me that bones are fair-weather friends: on days like this, bonefish action would not be good.  So we had a day in the lodge.  There are worse places to ride out a storm.IMG_9823IMG_9818IMG_9820IMG_9803The next day, the wind shifted to the east, and the rain abated.  Fred and I went for a long run to the cays of the western end of the Middle Bight with guide, Percy King.  On this day, I had several shots at bigger single and paired bonefish, but the clouds and chop, along with murk in the water often made it hard to see them before they were too close to the boat for a good presentation.  Even Percy had trouble picking them up.  So most shots were like, “2:00 – 20 feet!”  And when I did get a fish to respond to the fly, the unsettled weather had them even more wary than usual.  Lots of refusals. In the end, although we were on fish all day, including some very nice sized ones, we only got one to hand.

On the last morning, Fred and I opted to fish before our afternoon flight out of Mangrove Cay.  The weather was finally clearing, but the steady wind persisted.IMG_9788IMG_9787We fished this day in closer range of camp.  Our guide, Prince Moxey, was all-in on my desire to target larger fish.  Fred graciously let me have the front of the boat for the entire session.  Perhaps too, he didn’t relish the prospect of trying to cast in the steady 20-knot wind.

This turned out to be my favorite session of the trip.  Prince encouraged me to dig into my fly box for something meatier than the standard redhead Gotcha that most of the guides favor.  On the premise that big bones like big flies, I tied on Gumby’s Big Bone, a fly Scott had tied and given me for the trip.  It worked!  Bigger singles and fish from pairs ate it with confidence.  Soon I had landed 4 and lost a couple others, although none cracked the 5 lbs+ mark.IMG_9800IMG_9797We ended the session by poling a few passes on a giant flat in mid-channel of the Bight.  Prince said this area is rarely fished, and that the deepwater bones that are found here are bigger and stronger than elsewhere in the region.  I was on high alert at all times.IMG_9795On our last pass, I saw a big green-backed bone meandering along the edge of the drop-off at a good distance to get the cast to him.  Looked to be maybe 6 pounds and clearly would have been the best of the trip.  Alas, the wind and the whims of fishy discretion were not in my favor.  The big fly landed a little too close, the fish noted its presence, made a pulse-quickening feint in the direction of the sinking morsel, and then broke my heart by turning and bolting off the flat to the deep water.

Back at the lodge, Fred and I packed up and readied for the return to everyday reality.  Although the weather had made it tough for us, the trip was a success by any metric.  But as we left the beautiful lodge and the warm and attentive staff, heading for the airport,  I couldn’t help but feel that I had left some great opportunities on the table.  Hopefully it won’t take another 20 years to get my next shot.IMG_9815Two Dudes Fly Fishing is your resource for adventure travel off the beaten track.  Give us a call for information on hosted trips and details for adventures of your own.

Agua Boa Amazon Lodge Fishing Report, Spring 2014

IMG_8918I just returned from a 5-week fly fishing adventure in the Amazon Rainforest, courtesy of Agua Boa Amazon Lodge and Sweetwater Travel Company.  This fishery has always been on my radar, but this was the first time that all the stars aligned for me to make the trip.  And what a trip it was!  A true kaleidoscope of experiences at one of the best fishing lodges in the world.  Here is a virtual sampler of the action from the Equator:

The launching point for the adventure is the capital of the state of Amazonas, Manaus.  Located at the confluence of two huge rivers, the Rio Negro and Rio Solimoes, Manaus is the nominal head of the Brazilian Amazon.  P3290123

Hopping a Cessna Caravan and flying north out of Manaus, the transition from city of 2 million to untracked jungle is rather abrupt.IMG_0248After about a 2-hour flight into one of the world’s last great wilderness regions, the first view of the Rio Agua Boa quickens the pulse.P3290099 Unlike typical Brazilian “black-water” rivers where blind-casting with big lures is the norm, here the fishing is 100% fly fishing, and sight-fishing opportunities abound for the legendary “Tucunare Asu,” known to the outside world as trophy peacock bass.

P3040079The lodge is very comfortable, located right on the river, and surprisingly devoid of mosquitoes.  The acidity of the river doesn’t support larval growth, and therefore, Malaria, while endemic to the region as a whole is not found here.  That isn’t to say that there are no insects here.  This is the jungle after all.  A little caution (and some DEET) around dawn and dusk helps prevent discomfort from the no-see-ums, as an unlucky angler, who chose to wear shorts on the first evening in camp, learned the hard way.Piums But no-see-ums aside, you never knew what creepy-crawly would emerge into the light at any given time.  Here are some of the cool bugs that showed up:

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IMG_9040Then of course there are the birds.  This place is truly a birdwatcher’s paradise.  Even a rank amateur like me racked up nearly 50 new species for my life list. Toucans, macaws, storks, and some super weird stuff too.  Like this one, the hoatzin, which eats only leaves, has a predigestive fermentation chamber in it’s gut (like a cow) and thus smells like cow manure.  And they’re known to be social.DSC_1160Here are some more shots of just a few of the awesome birds:IMG_9438IMG_9474P1030427jacamar kingfisher macaws muscovy duck redbellied blackbird silverbeak tanager

And of course the jungle is replete with incredible critters of all stripes. . . and spots!

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ottersBut of course, what most draws anglers to the Agua Boa, when all is said and done, is the incredible fishing.  The Amazon Basin as a whole hosts more unique fish species than the Atlantic Ocean.  With 4 species of peacock bass, several species of piranha, dozens of species of catfish, plus arawana, giant arapaima, oscars, dogfish, traiera, stingrays of all sizes and colors. . . an angler’s mind is truly boggled by the diversity of fish.  One literally can’t so much as glance in the river without seeing fish of some sort.  IMGP0047

And one thing that truly sets this fishery apart, is the quality of the guide staff.  Hired from local villages, these guys are totally in their element on the water.  And yet, they are truly world-class professional fly fishing guides, skilled and versed in the game of big-game angling. Here is a sampling of the incredible fish and the guides and anglers who love them:

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IMG_9420 - Version 2IMG_9219P1030375TrairaIMG_6763As you can see, the Agua Boa is a real “Walk on the Wild Side” for any angler looking for something beyond trout.

The lodge staff, the facilities, the fishing, and the Amazon Rainforest itself combine to make this one of the best fly fishing trips out there. IMG_9214IMG_9159 - Version 2IMG_9321I can’t wait to go back!

Special Thanks to Taff Price and Carlos Azevedo for use of photos and for spiritual guidance.

 

 

 

Chrome Moments!

IMG_8575Great fishing for winter steelhead has persisted through the first month of the year.  I recently shared a day with a talented young angler named Max, who applied his naturally fishy nature to the task of catching his first steelhead on a fly rod.  Suffice to say, he succeeded!  Congratulations, Max!

IMG_8579Although we’re finally getting some decent rain, it should only make Homer happier. Catch you on the dropping side of the storm!

Swing in for Winter Steelhead Season

The recent run of dry weather has led to historically low river levels across Western Oregon.IMG_8382

Steelhead fly fishing has been very good at times on the larger systems in our region.  When (if?) the rains of winter do come, steelhead will be ascending all the rivers of the Oregon Coast Range.  Dates are filling now for what should be a great 2014 winter season.

Here are some shots from the run so far. Let’s go chase some chrome!IMG_8311 IMG_8344 IMG_8371 IMG_8379 IMG_8323

Winter Kings heat up the Frozen NW

We’ve had a bit of a cold snap here in the Pacific NW this week, to say the least. With temperatures dipping below zero farenheit at the Eugene Airport after a strong front dropped up to a foot of snow, most everyone has hunkered down to wait for the thaw.IMG_8279

Over on the coast, however, the weather was merely crappy and cold, and the rivers were in perfect shape:  low enough that the bait and gear guys had given up, but high enough that fresh fish were still coming in on every high tide.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnglers who braved the white-knuckle road conditions were rewarded with uncrowded fly fishing for ocean-fresh chinook salmon.  And the fish were biting.  Meeting up with my buddies, Barrett and Chris, for a day of “test fishing,” I was encouraged to see that Barrett’s previous day guiding had been successful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe day was dynamic: sun, wind, rain, sleet. You had to time your lunch for the right weather window while keeping flies in the water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the end of it all, we had piled up a blizzard of chrome encounters that left us all dazed and sore.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next two days guiding old friend and ace angler, Craig Smelter, were also great.  We barely noticed the bitter wind at our backs as Craig made the most of his opportunities, bringing some magazine-cover-worthy kings to hand (despite having been impaled by his fly rod).

IMG_8282Bottom line: kings were biting flies, if you had the right patterns down in the right spots. Craig found some evidence that some obviously frustrated “fisherman” had been tying his own special flies.

IMG_8290Returning to snowbound Eugene, bruised and happy, the roads slick and treacherous, I heard from everyone about how much fun they had had weathering the storm: sledding, snowball fights, 7-car pile-ups on Willamette Street.  Heading out to the local sled hill with the neighborhood kids, I was warmed by the glow of hot fishing during the historic cold snap of 2013.

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Salmon Season in Western Oregon

The 2013 salmon season has been one to remember. Fly fishing for Fall kings has been fair-to-good since early October. We’re looking ahead to another month of action before the transition into winter steelhead season. Here are a couple of images from the front lines:

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Mongolia Taimen Fishing Report, Fall 2013

photo 1Another season in the wilds of Outer Mongolia has come and gone. Every year is a unique adventure, leaving one with indelible memories and new friendships. Case in point: the 2013 Fall season was marked by volatility, star power, and fresh appreciation for the opportunity to pursue the world’s largest salmonid.

Week 1: Noah was too busy to make the trip.

On the way to camp, this year, I rode with my good friends and longtime camp managers, Odkhuu and Mogi. We enjoyed the freshly laid asphalt highway for the first 75 km out of Muren, before getting back to the bounce and grind of standard Mongolian travel for the last 5 hours of the drive.
photo 2Though you’d be hard pressed to find a local who feels the same, I couldn’t help feeling more than a twinge of disappointment at the inexorable taming of the wildness of the place. And the scars on the hillsides, where the builders had excavated the material for the roadbed were jarring to the eye.
photo 3Once back on the good old Mongolian country highway, we stopped often to enjoy the scenery.

photo 4
photo 5Before I came over this year, Big Fish Bayara had warned me that the rivers were still running high from late summer rains. So I was somewhat prepared for my first view of the river the next morning.
photo 6I called Sweetwater Travel Company’s Dan Vermillion to give him the news: we might be able to pull off a half week of fishing for the first group of guests, but might want to let them know that conditions are, shall we say, “sub-optimal” for taimen fishing. Dan was able to reach the guests, and they all decided to take a rain check until next season.

So suddenly, we were without guests for the entire week. First-year taimen guide, Matt Podobinski, and I spent the week tying flies, hiking around, reading, running the boats up and down the river, poking around in the springs and creeks adjacent to the main river.
photo 7photo 8photo 9 photo 10We found some cool fishing here and there and even managed to catch a taimen towards the end of the week, but conditions on the main river were actually quite dangerous.

photo 11Throughout the week, the river dropped steadily but remained stubbornly brown.

Week 2: How to party like a Russian.

The next Monday, our first group of guests arrived on the chopper.

photo 12This was a group of Russians from St. Petersburg, who spoke a range of “some” to “absolutely no” English. No worries for us though as the group had only a couple of serious anglers among them. The rest lost no time in busting into the cases of vodka and whiskey they had brought to soften their landing. The party most nights would go until 6 or 7 in the morning followed by a half-day of sleeping and maybe a couple of hours of fishing in the afternoon (for a few of the guys).
photo 13Even with steady improvement in the conditions, the high water made for even tougher than usual taimen fishing. Some anglers fished hard all day, and were rewarded for their efforts.
photo 14
photo 15A couple of non-fishermen decided towards the end of the week that their time would be better spent elsewhere, so they took a jeep to the airport in Muren and flew off to new adventures. Last we heard they were happily installed in a brothel in Kiev.

Around the time that the two Russians defected, Dan Vermillion arrived in camp with a detail of U.S. Secret Service agents. They were in camp to suss the place out in preparation for the imminent arrival of some very special guests.

Week 3: Don’t count your chickens. . .

The chopper pilots seemed to land with a theatrical flourish this Monday, and out onto the prairie stepped two of the world’s most well-travelled anglers: President Jimmy and First Lady Rosalyn Carter. Accompanied by an entourage including several good friends, a bevy of Secret Service agents, and U.S. Embassy personnel, the Carters were in camp to try their hands at catching a giant taimen or two. It fell to me to guide them for the week. *Gulp*.
photo 16 The first evening, we caught some lenok and grayling before a rain squall brought us back into camp. Just as I was taking off my waders, I got word that the President would like to go back out for some bonus time. I ran him across the river to wade the home pool, just the two of us. Despite being a very accomplished angler and fly caster, President Carter was having a bit of a time with his 8wt trying to huck muppets into the wind. I suggested he try one of the camp Spey Rods. Even though he had never used one before, he took to it like, well, a fish to water. He instantly understood how to make a roll cast and water haul into a powerful overhead cast that soon had him burping the reel and pulling out ever longer strips of line. He was like a kid in a candy store, and was clearly wondering where this rod had been all his life.
photo 17For any fly fishing guide, there are special experiences that remind you why you are lucky to have chosen this path. The week with the Carters was just such a time. I got to stand shoulder to shoulder and thigh deep in the river with President Carter for the entire week. And one thing I learned is that you don’t get to be President of the United States by being a wuss. This guy just turned 89 on October 1st, and I am not exaggerating when I say that he out-fished and out-efforted every other client at the lower camp this year. He would cast the entire nine-hour day, fish or no fish, with a grit and determination that were frankly intimidating. And while others in the party would grouse about the slow fishing, he truly relished the process and punishment of hard-core taimen fishing.
photo 18President Carter caught several nice fish in the 2-to-3-foot class, and had a few chances at trophy class taimen through the week (more, in fact, than any other angler for the season), but as often happens, these eluded capture.
photo 19However, the President did catch one fish that will be remembered for a long time. It was around midweek at the end of a long day punctuated by only a couple of strikes in the afternoon. Bayara and I were tag-teaming the guiding duties for the day and we both agreed on the last spot: Fred’s Bend slough mouth, where my father had caught his best taimen many years ago. In the evening light, and at the end of the run, last cast. . . finally: a solid strike from a heavy fish on the Cyclops. The President struck hard and the rod bent deeply. Fish On! After a stout battle, with several leaps and head shakes, Bayara slid the net under a broad-shouldered taimen of 36-38 inches. Clearly the best fish of the week.

Everyone was stoked! The “chase boat” with the Secret Service detail aboard swooped in for the photo shoot. I handed my camera to guide and chase boat driver, Ganzorig. Backing the President into a golden beam of evening sunlight, I knelt to pull the great fish from the net. Gripping the wrist of the tail, I took a moment to pull the mesh of the net from the taimen’s teeth before lifting it up for the assembled paparazzi. To borrow from another former president, at his moment I was picturing the banner unfurling at the lodge and me in my flight suit arriving back in camp to declare, “Mission Accomplished!”

You know how in life, there are certain moments where you’d give anything to have a do-over, a mulligan? Moments that play over in your mind as you lie awake at night staring into the dark? Scenes where you run through all the possible and obvious ways that things could have been different? Yes, it’s true: I dropped President Carter’s best taimen before any photo was taken.

The fish bucked as I cleared the net from its teeth, and the tail squirted from my grip. I sprang to all fours and scrambled after the escaping taimen as it threw a rooster tail across the shallow gravel bar. Twice I touched it, but couldn’t cup the nose. In a final desperate effort, I dove headlong into the water like grizzly on a sockeye. Completely submerged, I wedged head and torso under the chase boat, felt the fish under me, felt it bump and squirm past my clutching arms, and it was gone.

Returning to the surface, waders full, hat and glasses askew, I encountered a very different scene than the one from which I had momentarily departed. The President’s trademark grin had been replaced by a look one might have after accidentally biting into a cat turd. Ganzorig and Bayara stared off into the mountains in the distance completely avoiding eye contact, the Secret Service agents’ mouths hung agape as they looked alternately at the President and at me.

Sitting numbly on the bow of the chase boat, I said something like, “I’m sorry, sir. That was a great fish.”
And President Carter said to me, “Shake it off, Matt. Now we can say it was any size we want.”

Week 4: Back to “normal” taimen fishing.

We bid farewell to President and Mrs. Carter and all our new friends, and the entire circus climbed aboard the helicopter. As they flew off out of sight, I had a lump in my throat, but I may have breathed a sigh of relief. We had a fresh crew of eager anglers in camp, and for the first time all season, everyone was keen to do some serious fishing.
photo 20photo 21As the fall colors painted the mountainsides, the week fell into the comfortable rhythm that comes with any good fishing. Towards the end of the week, the taimen fishing actually started to get pretty good. The river level had dropped into still high but entirely reasonable shape, and the taimen were there.
photo 22photo 23And though we didn’t land any giants in that last week, the boys up at the Upper Camp, put us on the map once again. First year taimen guide and Deschutes savant, Matt Carter, was there to represent team Oregon, landing several fish over 45 inches including one beautiful big taimen of 51″.
photo 24And then, “Golden Boy,” Jako Lucas (who you’ll remember from last season’s report) waited in the weeds all season, fought through the high water conditions on unfamiliar water, and finished strong by finding the fish of the year (again!) on the last day of the week.
photo 25All told, the 2013 Mongolian Taimen Season at both of Sweetwater Travel Company’s Camps, was one to remember; they all are. I think back on all of the life experiences, friendships, and memories I have enjoyed over all these years in this special place. And through it all swims a fish. The taimen of Outer Mongolia cast a potent spell on the anglers and guides who chase them. They compel us to undertake the long and arduous journey to encounter them in their home waters. May they swim there forever.
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