Archive for December, 2008

Hi my name is Rachel and I’m addicted…to Tarpon. I guess I’ve always known this but as of lately the problem has reached new heights and it seems they are all I can think about. They are so inviting…they want to be fed…they want to show off…they get mad…I just love it! Most of all they inspire me to be a better angler.
My recent trip started on Marco Island, Florida. Traveling to Marco is relatively easy – I even fished an afternoon session on my arrival day. To get there I flew into Ft Myers, Florida picked up a rental car and drove 1 ½ hours to Marco Island. Anglers can also fly into Naples, Florida. Once on Marco Island I met my guides Kyle Giampoli and Wright Taylor. They along with their partner, Al Keller are some of the only fly fishing guides in this region.Kyle, Wright, and Al are the real deal. They live to fish and spend all their time on the water or tying flies. Each with their own personality, these guys are experienced, knowledgeable, and dedicated to finding fish. Their home water consists of the little pressured region of the 10,000 Islands and Everglades National Park where they enjoy year round fishing for snook, redfish, baby tarpon, and my personal favorite, big tarpon! The larger 50lb to 80lb tarpon are present mid-March through July, and the huge 100lb-200lb migratory tarpon pass by during a short window in late September.One of their favorite times is late fall. After the tropical storms pass, the offshore waters begin to cool while the backcountry waters remain warm. The baitfish are abundant and the redfishing really gets going with plenty of fish in the 6-7lb as well as a few big fish in the 15-16lb range. In late September migratory tarpon in the 100-220lb range, pass by seeking cooler water near the creeks to stay away from the sharks.

In my time with Kyle and Wright we saw hardly any other anglers amongst an immense amount of great water. We found tarpon rolling in the mangroves and snook crashing baitfish. We also had some great sight fishing for snook up to 30 inches over hard white sand flats.

The Marco Island program is a great venue for anglers interested in three to five days of serious no-frills fishing. For anglers fond of simple hotel based accommodations, uncrowded waters, straightforward travel logistics, and skilled motivated guides, this is the trip!

My next stop was Key West and Bahia Honda Sporting Club. Bahia is quite possibly the ultimate lodging / fishing experience in Florida. Owner Gordon Baggett has gathered a top notch guide team and matched them with an exquisite private home on sixteen private acres located just minutes from some of the best tarpon fishing in the world.

To get there I took the short flight from Ft. Myers to Key West where I was met by Doug Mayer, my guide for the next few days our of Bahia Honda Sporting Club. On this portion my trip I was joined by my dear fishing friend, Jerry. Once Doug loaded our equipment into his truck he poured us cold Pina Coladas which we enjoyed on the short drive to the lodge. This was Jerry’s first tarpon trip ever and he managed to hook /jump three fish and land one. One encounter that neither of us will ever forget started with a perfect lead and a super visual/violent take less than 30 feet from the boat!

I have to say Jerry is one of the luckiest fly fishermen I have ever met. It seemed that every time he had a rod in his hand the fish would come to our boat. One time he just stood up and said, “ There’s one” in his charming southern accent , plopped his fly out, stripped and wiggled his fly twice and the fish ate it. Jerry actually is an accomplished angler and though he made it look easy at times, we had our struggles.

Two of the days I was in high heaven with wads of fish rolling and daisy chaining all around me. Though my ability to consistently feed these fish was limited, I did manage to feed a few and fought my personal best on my last cast of the trip. I even missed my flight home due to fighting this beautiful beast. She took me on and off a flat, through a deep aqua blue channel, and ultimately broke me off due to reel failure.

Tarpon fishing in the Keys is not for everyone. You must be ready to hunt fish, face strong winds and take what nature throws your way. The stronger the caster, the better your chances are. Leading a moving fish with a 15 mph crosswind or hitting a laid up tarpon on the nose is anything but easy! I recommend allotting at least four days to such a trip taking into account that longer stays increase your chances of hitting the weather right. Most of the boat runs are from 5 minutes to about an hour. Some spots can be pretty choppy so be sure and let your captain know if you have any back issues.

The lodge itself is an exquisite private home which sits on 16 acres and within eye shot of some very productive waters. The rooms are tasteful and spacious and can accommodate up to eight anglers for a week. The private swimming pool, Italian marble floors, and vaulted ceilings make this Mediterranean style villa the nicest saltwater accommodations I have ever visited.

Staying at the Bahia Honda Sporting Club is really a fantastic overall experience. Not only were the guides qualified but the staff at Bahia Honda went above and beyond. Mike, our chef, served us fresh local masterpieces including stone crabs, frog legs, and crab cakes. His passion for food added greatly to our experience. Angie, our hostess, brought a special sweetness to the scene and was more than accommodating to each of the guests. They were a great team.

We are working on securing dates at the lodge for our Fly Water Travel clients. Space is extremely limited so let us know as soon as possible if you are interested in next season.

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For several years I have been haunted by photos and stories from anglers who had fished a place called Jurassic Lake. Located in the desolate heart of Argentina’s Patagonian steppe, the lake was reportedly loaded with football shaped wild rainbows that averaged 10-15lbs and were thought to top 30lbs. If this was true, I needed to know. Being an avid steelheader (i.e. a masochist), I also needed to know the truth about the Rio Santa Cruz and the world’s only established race of Atlantic Steelhead.

I knew full well that both of these trips worked well as a combined week, but to be honest, I was not brave enough to initiate this trip myself. That changed though when friend and client Ken Dayton committed to making the journey. I knew that hooking an Atlantic Steelhead on Southern Patagonia’s second largest river was going to be tough. As I reached out to Dave Mitchell and Dale Jessup to join in on our adventure, all I could promise them was massive glacial water, high winds and possibly an Atlantic Steelhead merit badge. And after three days of steelhead fishing I promised them a grueling drive into a barren lake that would forever change what they knew about fishing for trophy trout.

As for the Rio Santa Cruz and the sprawling no-frills Estancia San Ramon, it was much as we had expected. The water was massive, semi featureless and an intriguing milky blue. The landscape was harsh, the winds strong and the steelhead were harder to come by than in previous seasons. During our three days my crew of four landed three, lost three and had roughly six other “pulls”. From the tentative elastic nature of the takes, the fish were clearly on the move and there just seemed to be very few of them around. Typically anglers catch 1-2 fish a day on the river with additional takes but for us that was not the case. Does that sound strangely familiar?

As for the fish that we caught, they ran from 8-14 pounds, and they were bright, handsome and hard-fighting. While many of the guides encouraged that we retrieve or strip the fly during the swing, we chose not to and are happy to report that fishing the way we enjoy at home also works in Argentina. Lastly, while a massive river, the Rio Santa Cruz is an interesting place and there were several key runs that were laid out in such a way that you could really recognize and feel the potential. Is a week there too much? For most anglers I would say yes, but three days in March or April is just right especially when coupled with a sure thing like Jurassic Lake.

So, what is Jurassic Lake? In simple terms, it is the most prolific trophy rainbow fishery in the world and a tough place to get in and out of. The infamous and aptly named “Drive from Hell” takes 10.5 hours from the Rio Santa Cruz and 8.5 hours from Calafate. The last four hours of the drive are very intense 4×4 travel and provide a core workout that you will never forget. Measuring 20km by 20km the lake itself is like a massive inland ocean complete with a rocky shoreline, deep blue cuts, high winds and white caps. The lake has no outlet and a very small but important inlet where our camp is located. Fish spawn in this inlet throughout much of the year and great numbers of fish tend to congregate in an area about twice the size of a football field where the little inlet enters the lake. The last note of significance is that this lake has an overabundance of scuds and was first planted with rainbows less than 15 years ago. As a result, the growth curve has been exceedingly steep and the lake has not yet reached its carrying capacity. In simple terms what this means is that these are the good old days of Jurassic Lake and that things will in all likelihood, continue to improve (if that is possible) for an unknown number of years to come.

So how good is it? Let me start by saying that we hit it under poor conditions, meaning that there was a brutal cold snap, complete with ice in the guides, multiple inches of snow, and temperatures so cold that the diesel jellified in the truck engines. Yet with that being the case what we experienced blew our minds and exceeded our expectations. We hammered fish that averaged 11-12 pounds and the vast majority of them were HOT! All of us landed at least 12-15 big fish a day and our top rod landed closer to 30 a day. In two days of fishing I was personally broken off twice on 15 pound Maxima (which I would have previously thought impossible), I snapped a #4 heavy wire hook in half, witnessed countless blistering runs, spectacular aerial displays, as well as a number of fish landed by our group that were in the 20 pound class. There were larger fish lost (some which I would bet beat 30 pounds), there were fish hooked while the spey casters swept into their D-loops, and throughout the days, sometimes as far as the eye could see, there were massive trout free jumping in the middle of the lake like sailfish. Everyone caught more than their fair share and for a driven angler, landing 300-500 pounds of truly wild rainbow trout a day would not be a problem. What made the trip for me were a few sessions where I was able to stand on the bank and sight cast to dark forms and nervous water and hook monstrous fish on a super short line in shallow water. I can still hear the mono snapping as those fish cart-wheeled away!

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Given my love of small streams and any fish that go to sea, the call I received last fall seemed providence.
The message was from Alex Trochine, a young Argentine fishing guide I had met on the Rio Grande a few years prior. The note was brief and said he had found a small river south of the Rio Grande. It was intimate, interesting fishing, with decent numbers of sea-run browns and best of all they were BIG. Along with the note were a dozen images from their scouting trip in the fall of 2007. After reading the letter once or twice and then flipping through the photos once or twice (actually it was more like a dozen times), I knew this was a very special place that I needed to see.

After a series of messages that bounced between Argentina and Iceland, where Alex and his twin brother Nico guide as well, we were able to set dates and come up with a plan. 2008 would be a full exploratory season on the Irigoyen and on March 1st – 8th I would lead the 5th group to get a shot at the system. All I had to do was find a few hearty souls who would follow me to the end of the world, quite literally, too see if the river was all that the initial report made it out to be.

After making a handful of calls my group was set. The small group of competent anglers would consist of Paul Martzowka, Cary Pugh, Andy Horowitz and me. We would all meet in D.C. on Thursday Feb. 27th. From there we would fly to Buenos Aries, Argentina and finally to Ushuaia, the southernmost town on the South American continent. In Ushuaia we would be met by a member of the Far End Rivers staff who would drive us three hours by four wheel drive to the end of a dirt track and the quaint Irigoyen Lodge.

The lodge consists of a small refurbished rancher’s cabin for dining and sharing the days fishing tales as well as a new three bedroom guest cabin. The facilities were completed just hours before the first guests arrived in January. The dining cabin was complete with new furniture and satellite internet and each bedroom had new beds, storage shelves for gear, and on-demand hot water. The guides and co-managers, Alex and Nico Trochine, took great care of us on the water while the rest of the staff took care of us in typical Argentine style, serving us great meals, delicious wines, and a never ending supply of warm hospitality.

The river itself is just steps from the front door of the dining cabin and truth be told, it is as perfect a trout stream as I could imagine. Flowing 28 miles from source to sea, the river winds relentlessly through a forest of mossy Lenga trees. The river bed is small cobble, with grass banks, smooth runs, and countless deep pools created by downed trees and log jams.

The nature of the river made all of the fishing quite interesting. All week long we swung small nymphs on single hand rods with floating lines on a virtually windless river. And the big question everyone wants to know is, did we find fish and were they big? The answer is yes we did and yes they were. We each landed good fish every day and by the end of the week we had hooked 58 and landed 39 sea-runs that averaged just over 10 pounds. Of these, three pushed the 20 pound mark. For the statistic conscious, this was to be compared with a earlier week where four anglers hooked over 120, but only landed 44 sea runs with the same average weight.

I would say that our trip as well as the whole exploratory season was a great success. The river is a true winner and absolutely holds solid numbers of fish. Moreover the fish are big, with the largest of the season conservatively topping 24 pounds. In our opinion the Irigoyen may well win top honors as the smallest stream with the largest trout on the South American continent. And as a topper the river is absolutely beautiful and completely private. Needless to say we are looking forward to the system’s future and all that it will bring!

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Having known, fished with and promoted Mark Kniprath for many years (as a long time pilot guide for No-See-Um Lodge and owner of Chile’s only fly out operation Heart of the Andes) I was struck by the fact that Mark had sold his lodge near the Rio Baker and relocated to Chilean Tierra del Fuego. With aid of his float plane, Mark has long been the leader in Chilean exploratory fishing and the fact that he had given all that up for TDF was hard to understand. The one thing that we did know was that Mark knows what good fishing is and he (as well as some of his guides that we spoke to) felt that this was the best and most interesting fishing that had seen in the country. So in mid-February I packed my bags and made my sixth trip down to Chile for a closer look.

So what exactly did I find? Well, in short I found a place that I was not ready to leave. There were trees and lots of them. The wind was very reasonable and we saw condors, guanacos, rheas, beavers, and Magellan geese. There were small spring creeks and rivers with big resident brown trout and there were intimate wadeable lakes loaded with big cruising browns which would tail like bonefish. In all honesty in three days of fishing I never caught a single fish under 16 inches and I had fish upwards of 24 inches. In short, it was incredible!

Is it sea run brown trout fishery? Well yes and no. Despite having access to 27 miles of the upper Rio Grande (where I did boil a great big sea-run) and several other adventuresome sea run venues, I really consider the fishery to be based on resident brown trout. Sea runs can figure into the equation (especially after February and through March) but they should be seen as a dessert option rather than the main entrée. Where this place really shines is for intermediate to experienced anglers who want to fish on foot and in complete solitude. If you have good walking legs and like big fish in smaller water all the better!

The lodge itself is simple and comfortable with food to match. Nothing fancy here but everything is solid and well thought through. Is the destination worth the long trip south on its own fishing merits? Absolutely and it also makes a great addition to a week on the better know Argentine side of the Rio Grande.

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