Archive for March, 2009

Kola River: July 4-11, 2009 Discounted Rate 3,980 EUR per person
Yokanga River: July 17-24 and July 24-31, 2009 Discounted Rate 3,680 EUR per person.

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North Umpqua River  10/27/2008 by:  Ken Morrish

Photo of Morrish by Morrish was taken while his faithful business partner Brian Gies was cooking him breakfast.  It should also be noted that it was Brian’s birthday!

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Christmas Island’s economy, like most in the world, is going through tough times. But in this case the ailing global economy is only partly to blame. The major factor in Christmas Island’s downturn is the lack of angling traffic due to the cancellation of Air Pacific’s weekly jet service to the island. The airline cancelled its service back in September. Shortly thereafter the government started a weekly charter service but their G1 turbo prop only enables 17 visitors/anglers per week to visit the island. This reduction in flight capacity has been tough on all the operators including our partners at Christmas Island Outfitters. Thankfully we have been very successful in finding seats for our pre-booked anglers but additional and/or last minute seats have been hard to come by. But, as is often the case, this situation has its own silver lining. The combined effect of the new laws that make it illegal to net bonefish in the inner lagoon and the substantial reduction in the number of anglers visiting the island has been overwhelmingly positive for our anglers on the flats. We have had a number of long time Christmas enthusiasts reporting fishing as good as they had back in the early 90’s.

I was on Christmas Island over the new year (for my 8th time) with my long time friend and fishing partner Paul Imperia (his 9th trip). Paul and I were the only anglers on the island and we had a perfect week of weather. We fished the flats for four days and chased trevally on the outside reef for two. Three of the four days on the flats were absolutely unbelievable. With a cloudless sky, virtually no wind, and endless flats to cover, we were like two kids in a candy store. I remember telling him “I am not this good but they just keep swimming by and it seems no matter where I put the fly, they find it.” There was no reason to count numbers. If asked how many we caught our reply was, enough! More than enough actually. To make everyone feel better I will also say one of the days was quite tough. There were plenty of fish to cast to but the fly was always either too far away or too close. If you have spent much time fishing flats, you know what I mean by this.

Another bright spot for Christmas Island Outfitters has been the addition of Moana Kofe to the guide team. Biita Kairoi, the owner of Christmas Island Outfitters guide services, has made arrangements to have Moana join the rotation with long time guides Bea, TJ and the up and coming Pedro. Having quit drinking and smoking, Moana has spearheaded the recent push for the moratorium on netting as well as becoming deeply involved in the Island’s new Rotary chapter. Recent groups have reported that Moana’s guiding and wisdom have been a wonderful addition to the team. For those who do not know Moana, he is considered the grandfather of Christmas Island bonefishing and were you to pick one word to describe him, it would have to be “wise.” He may not have the eyes of some of our younger guides but his understanding of the island and its fishery, combined with his kind nature and teaching ability, make him an invaluable asset to the team.

So what’s the future of Christmas Island flights? To be honest we do not know. We have a number of sources telling us there is a good chance we will see a larger plane servicing the island sometime soon but for the unforeseen future we will work with the G1 and its limited capacity. So for the time being it is our recommendation that the lucky few who get to the island, relish the unforeseen benefit of this unique situation.

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Between March 15 and April 30, 2009: 30% discount on accommodations and meals.

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April 2009: 5 nights for the price of 4. Discounted Rate for a 5 Night / 4 Day Package = $1,625.00 (regular rate $1,850.00).

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June 1-10, July 20-27, August 24-31, October 1-10: Offering a 25% discount.

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From the outset, it sounded like the kind of adventure fishing opportunity that comes along only once in a blue moon. Fish some of the southern Yucatan’s best salt water—water that hadn’t seen a fly rod since Hurricane Dean slammed the entire area in August 2007. Bonefish, baby tarpon, permit and an occasional snook. We couldn’t say yes fast enough. High-five time.

It began with a call from Eric Hester, an adventurous Kansas City-based businessman who has been prowling Mexico’s coastal waters just north of the Belize border, eight-weight in hand, for a half-dozen years or more. About a year ago Eric partnered with a cracker-jack local guide named Carlos Castillo (former head guide at Paradise Lodge). They had spent the last year getting all the details of their business together and were ready to give their fledgling operation a trial run. All they needed were a couple of traveling fishermen willing to give it a go—warts, bumps and all.

Not a sweetheart deal, mind you. Regular commercial rates, booked through their exclusive agent, Fly Water Travel(www.flywatertravel.com). A risk, to be sure. Experienced guides and proven water but a untested program. The appeal was undeniable. The new operation was named Costa Maya Lodge. It had been built from the ground up, featuring brand new flats boats equipped with high-powered Honda motors and hand-built trailers. One of the boats hadn’t even touched water yet. Our job, in the name of fly-fishing camaraderie, was to fish hard all week and then give Eric and Carlos our unvarnished opinion of the good, the bad and the ugly.

My fishing partner on this venture was a 39-year-old buck named Jarrett Sasser. Jarrett happens to be one of the most skilled casters and all-around anglers north of the Mexico-U.S. border. He also is the owner of High Desert Angler, a fly shop in Santa Fe, N.M. As for me I’m at the opposite end of the yardstick—just a moderately decent caster who has been on salt water only four times and a yahoo who admits to celebrating his 70th birthday last June. So it was a March-November pairing, but we’ve fished together a fair amount—in both North America and South America—and we get along fine, or at least well enough to refrain from spitting in the other’s soup very often.

Getting to Costa Maya was a breeze. An early morning flight out of Albuquerque, via Houston and then non-stop to Cancun. A pal of Carlos’ meets us at the airport and we pack our gear into his small but comfortable SUV. Costa Maya, or more precisely, Majahual, the coastal resort village where the new lodge is based, is five hours by vehicle south of Cancun. It’s a long ride, obviously, but we celebrate the fact that we can get our travel done in a single day. And local towns, markets and people along the route provide endless gawking opportunities. The time passes swiftly and easily.

Eric and co-owner Carlos have yet to build the Costa Maya lodge itself. However, Eric has purchased seaside land in Majahual on which he intends to build the lodge. Meantime, an arrangement has been struck with a local lodging outfit, the Hotel Arenas, to house Costa Maya’s clients. The Arenas is right on the beach, an appealing and fairly new operation. Like most hotels and eateries in the area, dining is open-air, under thatch-roof structures called “palapas” that provides ample protection when it rains. As we discover the first night, the Arenas’ food is simple but excellent in quality. Grilled fish (so tasty we elected to have it again on our second night), fresh vegetables, rice, tortillas (with every meal) and a nice bottle of red wine. A comfortable, air-conditioned room with two extremely inviting beds and plenty room to spread out. Not the Ritz Carlton, mind you, but precisely right for the occasion. Now, if only the fishing measured up.

Fishing is indeed what Costa Maya is all about. The lodge is strategically located in the middle of one of the world’s finest stretches of coastal waters. To the far north lies Bahia del Espiritu Santo, a huge, fish-rich bay located just south of famed Ascension Bay. To the far south is Chetumal Bay and through its mid-section, the border with Belize. Along the coastline, barely inland, lies a series of roughly a dozen lakes, surrounded by impossibly dense mangrove thickets. These lakes are salt water, fed by ancient underwater limestone caverns called “cenotes” by Spanish-speaking locals. Fish move into and out of the lakes via the cenotes. The supply of juvenile tarpon, mostly in the five to 15 pound range, seems inexhaustible. Larger tarpon, in the 20 to 50 pound range, are present, but less numerous. Trophy snook can go up to 30 pounds.

According to Eric and Carlos, Costa Maya has all the necessary government permits to fish all the water stretching from Espiritu Santo southward along the coastline for more than 100 miles to the Belize border. Eric also says he has purchased property on the shore of Espiritu Santo on which he plans to build over-night lodging for Costa Maya clients. As anyone who has been there can attest, Espiritu Santo alone is, in fact, seriously vast. The entire bay lies within the “Reserva de Biosfera San-Ka’an Uaymal,” commonly referred to as the Sia Kaan Reserve biosphere, a protected area where mankind’s footprint needs to be and is carefully guarded. The bay offers an abundance of bonefish, permit, tarpon, barracuda and other species.

Chetumal Bay, roughly an hour south of Majahual, is equally vast and equally fish-rich. Endless bonefish, an occasional permit, clusters of baby tarpon, jack, barracuda and other species are found. Chetumal also features a series of back bays, mangroves and creeks that offer immense diversity and come in handy, particularly when the wind kicks up. Carlos and other Costa Maya guides are careful to observe the border with Belize, which essentially divides Chetumal Bay.

At breakfast on day one, Jarrett and I are greeted by a moderate wind and high clouds. A perfect day to hit the cenotes, as the inland lakes are generically called. Carlos, a gregarious and exceedingly knowledgeable man, joins us for coffee. Carlos, as previously mentioned, formerly was head guide at Paradise Lodge, which was essentially destroyed by the 2007 hurricane and is currently in the process of rebuilding. Paradise, when it’s back in operation, will be the only other lodge located along the Yucatan’s entire Mayan Coast. Carlos tells us our guide for day one will be David, who also formerly guided at Paradise. Costa Maya’s third guide, Nacho, is yet another ex-Paradise guide. All three have laser eyesight, know how to pole a flats boat and can find fish as well as anyone on the planet.

Backing the flats boat through the low-slung mangrove tunnel to the cenote is no easy task, but David knows his business. Soon we’re on the water, loving the vastness of the cenote, the perfect mangrove coves (ideal for laid-up tarpon) and feeling the power of an 8-weight shoot big, wind-resistant surface flies that we call “snookeroos.” Jarrett is up first. Cast three—a big hit, but not a take. Two more hits before his 20-minute turn is up. Then it’s my shot. A half-dozen casts and then wham! A hook-up! Two spectacular jumps. A breathtaking fish, probably in the 15 to 18-pound range. Of course, I fail to bow and the line goes slack. “He’s gone,” mutters David. “You gotta bow–bow way down,” says Jarrett. “S…,” says me.

Toward the end of day one, we decided that we each had at least a solid hit or a tarpon on during each of our 20-minute turns. (We’re reasonably Nazi-like when it comes to time on the bow.) By day’s end, we had each landed a half dozen tarpon. Jarrett picked up the biggest one—we estimated the fish conservatively at 18-20 pounds—on a small underwater fly similar to a cockroach. We both missed more fish than we caught.

Day two: David, again. More wind than yesterday, and more clouds. Cooler. Jackets feel good early in the day, then it gets warmer. Another cenote. An even tighter mangrove tunnel—and clearly visible through the tunnel, a big tarpon slowly rolling 10 feet from the water’s edge. Jarrett tries a bow-and-arrow cast. Mangroves are too tight. Can’t get a fly to the fish. David shrugs. We force back the overhanging mangroves as David backs the boat into the water. The boat’s half off the trailer, sliding easily, when we stop dead in our tracks. A little further out, another mangrove tunnel—but this one’s blocked by an overturned and battered “panga,” which is a larger boat commonly used for fishing all along the Mayan Coast. Clearly, the panga had been brought in by the sea swell during the hurricane; the mangroves now had it laced in so thoroughly there was zero hope of getting past it without hours of serious ax or chain saw work. (Do we score this down as a bump or a wart?) The blockage, however, verified what Carlos and David had been saying. The cenotes hadn’t been fished, literally, for roughly two years. Some probably hadn’t been fished in five or more years. As for this particular blocked cenote, to hell with it. Plenty of others, not far away. Day two turned out to be a duplicate of day one. Plenty of tarpon. Bountiful opportunities. Lots of cuss words.

Better weather on day three. Cheutmal Bay, an hour’s drive, our flats boat on a trailer, from Costa Maya. Carlos today. Some wind, nothing serious. After a short boat ride through the bay, we’re at spectacular bonefish flats. Jarrett’s up first. Again. Carlos poles the boat effortlessly. “Bonefish, a nice one, 11 o’clock,” says Carlos. Jarrett’s cast is perfection personified. Fish to hand, and we’re off for another memorable day, fishing from the boat some of the time and wading some of the time. We agree that the Cheutmal Bay bonefish—averaging somewhere around three pounds–are bigger than the ones we’ve caught in Belize on earlier trips. We see permit, but don’t get a shot. Mid-afternoon and Carlos spots maybe 20 to 30 tarpon, all schooled up. We ease up to them and both get clean shots. They swirl around, take off, then come back. Visibility is unbelievable. Jarrett hooks up briefly, and they finally spook. Alas. We finish the day wading, pursuing tailing bonefish that are eager to take just about any fly that lands close to them.

Carlos again on day four. Eric, the co-owner with Carlos, decides he will fish with David as his guide in a second flats boat. Back to Cheutmal Bay. The motor on Eric’s boat decides to be contrary. Starts okay, but chokes down. A bump. David works on clearing the lines of air, water, debris or whatever. At length, Carlos and David are both working on it. Now it’s looking more like a wart. Finally, the lines get cleared and the motor hums. We peel off with Carlos and head to bonefish water. As we’re having lunchtime sandwiches, Carlos eyes a distant panga headed our way. Nothing alarming. Just odd that it’s coming straight toward us. Turns out to be park rangers, attached to Bacalar Chico National Park & Marine Reserve, the phenomenal national treasure just across the border in Belize. Carlos was born in Belize, is naturalized in Mexico. As a Belizean—and for that reason alone—he’s allowed to take clients into “the Park,” as it’s usually called. To guides in the know, the park offers some of the world’s finest salt-water fishing.

Inside the park, almost immediately, we muscle our way through another mangrove tunnel. Quietly. “As soon as we’re in the open, look to your right,” says Carlos. Jarrett is up. Again. “They should be there,” Carlos adds. And they were. Man, were there ever. Maybe 20 of them, big rascals, lazing around—but a very, very long cast away—and behind a sort of mangrove tangle dam. Jarrett fires off a splendid cast, but it falls a bit short. The tarpon get nervous and start to move out. No matter. It’s a big park. A short time later, I’m up. “That cove,” Carlos says with a nod of his head. I shoot my best cast deep into the mangrove nook. Jarrett and Carlos grin and roll their eyes as the wind carries my fly another five feet, into the perfect spot. “Strip. Leave it. Strip. He’s on it…on it. He’s got it,” says Carlos. The water explodes and a tarpon of perhaps 25 pounds seems to gyrate in mid-air for an eternity. I try to bow, clumsily, and at the same time execute a solid strip set. Two more big jumps and it’s over. “S…,” I mutter again. “S….”

Later in the day, Carlos poles us into another tunnel, this one not quite so tight. Jarrett’s up. Again. The water’s crystal clear. Maybe six to eight feet deep. “Be ready…a short roll cast…just a flip or a bow and arrow,” Carlos says. Sure enough, as we’re pushing through the tunnel, we see them coming. Big tarpon. Lots and lots of them. Maybe more tarpon than I’ve ever seen, all put together. It’s a river of tarpon, swimming straight at us, right under our boat, as if we aren’t there. Jarrett tries a little roll cast. It’s impossible; too tight. A flip. Still doesn’t work. The fish stream by. Jarrett’s fly gets a couple of serious looks. I feel sure he’s going to get a take. But nope. Not this time, buster. We push on through the tunnel, into an open stretch. We wait a while and start out. I’m up. Half way through and here they come again. A river of fish. I get off a couple of feeble, inept casts, but they pass right by, probably spooked. Amazing. Tarpon so close you think you could reach out and touch them.

To delve into days five and six would be unnecessarily repetitious. Well, maybe not. Day six—our last day on the water–turns out to be chilly, especially early on, with intermittent wind and rain. David’s our guide today. Definitely rain jacket weather. And back to a cenote. As we ease the boat off the trailer, David and I declare the water to be definitely colder than on previous cenote days. Poling along the edge of the mangroves, the sort of places where we’ve been catching (and missing) lots of tarpon, it’s as if someone turned off the spigot. David decides it’s time for us to fish a “cenote” itself. This is the spot where the water comes into the lake via the cave from the Caribbean. These cenotes are usually recognizable because the water is clearly much deeper and bluer than elsewhere in the lake. Cast a fly into a cenote itself, let it sink for a 12-count and you’ve no idea what you’ll come up with. More often than not, if you get a hit, it’s a tarpon. But you never know. Pure blind fishing.

Jarrett lands a fine tarpon, in the 10 to12-pound class. I’m up next and manage to miss two fish with my trout set. The cenote surfaces right at the edge of a large “island” of mangrove. David poles us—against a stiff wind—around the mangrove island. No hits, except for the spot where the cenote is surfacing at the edge of the mangrove thicket. There, we can see and hear what seems like a dozen or more tarpon churning just inside the tree-line. We decide to move on. David knows where another cenote surfaces in this lake. We work the second cenote pretty hard. We both get small tarpon, but that’s it. Back to the first cenote, and I’m up. When we arrive, the water is boiling with fish on the edge of the cenote, even more-so than when we left. First cast. Bang! Nice four or five pounder. Second cast, bang! Slightly smaller. Third cast, bang! I offer to trade off with Jarrett. Nice guy that he is, he defers.

Now a morsel of background: the previous day, while Jarrett and I were fishing Cheutmal Bay with Carlos, Eric had been fishing with David in another cenote. Eric claims—and David soberly verifies—that Eric landed 16 tarpon, and missed numerous others. Eric adds that one fish, which he had on for a good long time, was in the 65-pound class. “Got to beat Eric,” David mutters as I haul in my fourth straight tarpon. Fine by me. I finally trade off with Jarrett after landing my 18th tarpon. Jarrett then goes on to catch six or eight more. What a way to finish off the trip. Stripping finger looks like it has tangled with a cheese grater. But no matter. Tomorrow’s a travel day. Sad to leave Costa Maya, bumps, warts and all. But man, it’s high-five time again.

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June 8-15 and September 21-28: Discounted Rate $5,750.00 per person (regular rate $8,000.00). Additionally they have had the entire week of August 3 -10 open up and are offering a discount to full groups.

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Offering a special promotion for week of June 12-19. This week includes fishing for the hottest, brightest kings of the season, and Dec Hogan will be teaching the spey instruction program. Any guest who books during Dec’s week will receive the fly rod of their choice as well as a copy of Dec’s book, “A Passion for Steelhead”, signed by him at camp during the week. 

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