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Archive for the ‘2008 Trip Summaries’ Category

I recently returned from two weeks of Atlantic Salmon fishing on the Kola River system in Russia. I traveled there with a group of six great guys. The plan was one week of “exploratory” fishing out of a tent camp followed by a week at the adjoining Kola River’s main lodge. In short it was the best of times and the worst of times. I have often said that Russia comes with its share of drama but if you can handle it with grace, the fishing will likely prove worth it. This trip was no exception.
Located well within the Arctic Circle near the northeastern borders of Finland and Norway, the Kola River is the northernmost of the Kola Peninsula’s significant systems. It is a rugged, handsome river with numerous deep, dazzling, boulder-strewn tailouts, an impressive 20,000-40,000 returning fish, and some of the largest (meaning 40 plus pounds) Atlantic salmon in Russia. The river flows due north entering the Barrent’s Sea smack dab in the middle of the peninsula’s largest city, Murmansk. As you might imagine, this is a mixed blessing: no helicopters needed for access and in the same breath, little escaping the locals and the often bitter realities of their lives. Our first week of exploratory fishing was a major disappointment if not a complete bust. The Kola tributaries and headwaters we had intended to fish were getting pounded hard by local spin fishermen and net poachers. There were communication and alcohol based issues with guides and there was very little quality water for our group to fish. It was a seemingly endless week that we should have never been offered. Tempers and the weather ran hot and by the week’s end the water temperatures rose to 68 degrees. Week two, however, at the Kola main lodge, did a lot to make up for the first week’s suffering. We upgraded to tidy single occupancy cabins and we had new improved guides. The weather came in hard and cold, and we were tuned up and hungry for a crack at the Kola’s prime beats. The karmic payback was essentially instantaneous. Without driveling on, we had amazing fishing and “Team America” distinguished itself with high catch rates everyday amidst a skilled international crowd. The water temperatures steadily dropped to 50 degrees over the course of three days and the river bumped up about six inches. We had days where group members went 10 for 10, 12 for 12 and on our last day one of our party members actually went 14 for 14 with seven fish between 10 and 20 pounds! The Kola River was loaded with Grilse (very strong bright salmon that average 5-6 pounds) but there were good numbers of large adult salmon as well. Virtually every member of our group landed fish in the 20 plus pound class and there were plenty of big fish lost. One fish in the 35-40 pound class was lost after its fourth jump. I had the good fortune of watching the entire event unfold. Hooked by my companion after having seen it roll, the beast headed straight upstream making two low angle jumps along the way. I reeled my line in frantically so as to not complicate the affair and the next thing I knew the monster jumped right at me less than a rod’s length away. It appeared as though there was a case of mistaken identity and that the fish was trying to knock me off my rock! I could see it clearly; its actions severely slowed by it lumbering size. I can safely say that it was the biggest, darkest and most frightening salmonid I had ever seen. It was in excess of 45 inches and its leathery alligator-like head had to be 15 inches long. The fact that it neither growled nor roared as it passed me left me with a confused empty feeling. Next the creature turned downstream and made a desperate wallowing leap like a fat man being chased by hornets through waste deep water. Then it turned back towards the angler, rushing him until line and backing went slack and then he, and our ability to describe the experience, was gone. In camp the discussions surrounding fly selection were ceaseless, but in the end we caught fish on every conceivable technique and fly pattern possible. Effective flies ranged from tiny hitched surface tubes to big sunrays stripped through slack water. By week’s end, our group of seven had landed roughly 230 fish and the lodge had its highest catch rate ever with over 500 fish landed! How quickly the problems of the past can dissolve! So what is the upshot? The bottom line is that the Kola is a great river despite the prerequisite drama and semi-urban interface that it entails. Its awesome fish and exquisite structure are deeply compelling if not addictive. Now after having been there and knowing what to expect, I am eager to return. For the highest catch rates and maximum amount of dry line, dry fly and wade fishing, consider the dates we hold during the second week of July. For those willing to work hard from the raft for a few big, bright, hard to land monsters, consider some of the more expensive weeks in June. In either event, the Kola lodge is a great base for the hardened anadromous angler in search of the real Russia and the largest trophy salmon it has to offer

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“I feel so blessed that I fish”- my fishing friend, Bobby Armor. I have to say that I mirror her sentiments exactly -– I get to fish for rising trout in beautiful places like the Elk River in Fernie, British Columbia. This past August, I took a group of six ladies to fish the Elk River and its tributaries.This was my first time to Fernie and my first time catching westslope cutthroat. The Elk River has an estimated 5,000 fish per mile and the fish are aggressive towards a fly. Most of the cutties are somewhere from 12-20 inches and are very chunky, beautiful fish. My group of ladies and I fished with the Elk River Guiding Company and they did a great job. The owners Paul and Ned run a solid operation and have a team of qualified and fun guides. They were all great with our group. August is prime time for dry fly fishing so we were happy we had locked in our dates almost a year in advance. Each day we enjoyed floating different sections of the Elk or wading one of its small tributaries. Our group casted green drakes, hoppers, and caddis on the edges of small pocket water and landed 15-19 inch cutties all day long on our favorite 5 weights. The Elk River is a popular place and though we did see other drift boats and anglers, it did not seem to affect the fishing. Overall I could not get over the quality of the fish in these waters. I was very impressed and just kept thinking that if I lived in Fernie – I would be out on the rivers every day.
To get to the fishing, part of the group chose to fly into Kalispell, Montana and drive 2 ½ hours to Fernie while the rest of my group flew into Calgary and had about a 3 hour drive to the lodge. Fernie is a charming ski town surrounded by the Canadian Rockies. There are a few options as far as accommodations go in this area. You can rent a cabin or condo, stay at a local hotel, or go for the all inclusive resort. There are local golf courses, mountain biking, and hiking for everyone to enjoy.
We picked Island Lake Lodge which is only 20 minutes from downtown Fernie. It is not the typical fishing lodge. It is not actually a fishing lodge at all. Island Lake Lodge is primarily a hiking and ski lodge tucked away up the mountain and gives you a wonderful feeling of remoteness. There are incredible views, wildlife, and very comfortable accommodations. For those who love to hike and trek, nothing could be better than Island Lake Lodge. Our lodge time was limited as we fished all day each day, but a few of us managed to take advantage of our surroundings by waking up early and hiking around the lake each morning. There are many hiking trails, including some through spectacular old growth cedar forest. The local lake has canoes and even trout fishing if time permits.
Island Lake Lodge accommodates up to 32 overnight guests and their restaurants are open to the public. The lodge amenities include their spa with yoga classes, massage, and hot tub. Next trip I will schedule a non-fishing day to take advantage of these things.
This is a great fishing destination for anyone who loves dry fly fishing plus it is a wonderful destination for couples or families.

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In an angling world that is growing smaller every day, it is rare to be involved in the exploration of unique new destinations. Over the past year Fly Water Travel has done just that and has hosted, facilitated and followed a number of missions to the giant freestone rivers that flow from the peaks of the Himalayas in Northern India. Our quarry was the mighty Himalayan mahaseer; a sport fish of great strength and mystery that seems part tarpon, part carp and part steelhead. Feeding on nymphs and baitfish, these exceedingly clever fish run from one to upwards of 60 pounds. After closely following six weeks of exploratory mahaseer fishing in India we at Fly Water Travel have a good understanding of the challenge, mystery and mystique of chasing these remarkable fish. Thus far the fishing has been a mixed bag and somewhat more challenging than we had hoped. Our target river, the Mahakali has proved too large, silty and unstable for fly anglers. However one of its tributaries, the Saryu, has shown good number of fish and predictable flows. The Saryu is a handsome freestone that could be compared in size and flow to the Rogue River in Oregon, but with superior clarity. When hosting a group on the river last November, I personally saw a number of fish that weighed in excess of 40 pounds and one that I estimated at over 60 pounds. On three different trips the river has produced from as low as .5 mahaseer per angler per day to has high as three mahaseer per angler per day. Most of these fish were under five pounds but a number of anglers have hooked into fish that screamed into their backing and broke them off before any semblance of control was gained. The downside to the system is the fact that there are fair number of people around and the big fish are more spooky than permit!
Several recent trips have also been run out of a fixed camp on the Western Ramganga River. To date this may be the most promising river on the roster. The Western Ramganga averages sixty to eighty feet wide and looks like a good trout river. It is hard to imagine but this small river holds monster mahaseer. Recently Jeff Currier of Wyoming stalked and landed a fish that weighed an impressive 27 pounds!
To date we have learned that these fish are very sensitive to water temperatures and are most happy with water above 60 degrees F. We have also found that the rivers that are most appealing to fish are quite clear and the fish in these clear waters are very sensitive to both light and sound. They must be approached with the utmost stealth. While spey rods are a great way to fish some of India’s more glacial rivers, the line tear while casting creates more noise than these fish will tolerate in the clear flowing systems. To date we have taken mahaseer while swinging mid- sized nymphs, streamers, wooly buggers, and sculpin patterns.
All of our trips have been with the Himalayan Outback headed by Misty Dhillon. Misty is a very competent, articulate professional with a deep passion for fly fishing. His staff has provided excellent service and everything from travel logistics to camp meals have been exactly as advertised. His equipment is good and the river camps are invariably comfortable and well organized. With that said, it must be noted that these trips are best suited to skilled anglers who can do a lot of walking over rough, hot terrain.We have two distinct and personal reasons for pursuing mahaseer fishing in India. The first is that we are always interested in being on the early wave of anglers trying to figure out the secrets of catching species such as the mighty mahaseer on the fly. The sheer size and strength of these fish is amazing and the rivers they inhabit are every bit as intriguing. The other reason is the travel itself. Kenny and I have both spent a considerable amount of time traveling in Asia (a year and a half combined) and have developed a very strong bond to the region. We never knew that quality fly fishing would enable us to return but it has. While not all of the anglers that have traveled there with us have shared the same connection with the region, they all agreed that the sights, scents, sounds, and culture of this country are undeniably unique and distinct. In our travels we have seen the raw poverty of Delhi and stared in awe at the Taj Majal. We experienced overnight sleeper trains, and some heart stopping 4WD rides through mountain passes. We drank tea in small roadside huts, ate an astonishing array of curries and drank cool Indian beers on warm evenings around riverside camp fires. All in all we were touched by the many scenes and people we saw and met along the way. For most people a trip to India pursuing the mahaseer will be a wonderful and unforgettable adventure travel experience but one that they will not need to do again. But for a few it will be a place that will become an obsession; a place that holds its own magnetic appeal, to say nothing of the huge crafty hard fighting fish that more often than not will get the better of you!

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Not only do I get to fish for a living but I get to fish with wonderful people. I recently returned from the John Day River here in Oregon.
Our group of six ladies ranged from rank beginners to experienced anglers and we spent three days and two nights floating and fishing for smallmouth bass. All and all it was a great trip. The first day we all met in Condon, Oregon (only 2 ½ hours from Portland) at the historical Condon Hotel. This is a charming hotel in the center of town complete with a nice bar and restaurant. Marty and Mia Sheppard and their staff came by to check in with us to determine the next morning meeting time.
The day started early with a hearty breakfast at the Condon Café. Our first day on the water was tough, as we were the first group of the year and spring had come late to the Pacific Northwest. The river was still relatively high and cold, far from ideal for bass, but we managed to land a few fish. Each consecutive day improved greatly with warmer weather and water temperatures. We fished olive wooly buggers most of the time and lost count of the numbers of fish we caught days two and three. It just kept getting better and better. While most fish ranged from 10-14 inches, Nikki landed a 6lb bass that was heavily photographed and spoken of for days. She had a lot to be proud of – it could be the fish of the season. We are rootin’ for her.
The John Day River curves and twists through vertical basalt cliffs with breathtaking views of incredible rock formations. There were painted hills, sagebrush and juniper, ospreys and eagles, deer, and the occasional snake. It was still early enough to see wildflowers in bloom including lots of lupine. We were in the middle of nowhere but we had what we needed. A tidy camp was always waiting for us at the end of each day. Our tents were fully set with comfortable cots and there was a nice kitchen, a dining table in the shade, a hand washing station, and a camp toilet. Each morning we had hot coffee and tea along with fresh fruit, pancakes or French toast, and sausage. Lunches were fresh salads and sandwiches while dinners included pasta with smoked salmon, grilled asparagus, teriyaki chicken and vegetarian sushi! Mia even brought a birthday cake for our friend Kate who celebrated her 22nd birthday on the trip. Marty, Mia, Kaitlin, Spanny, Kate, and Clabe were an amazing team. They were knowledgeable, fun and they worked well together taking care of every detail.
This is a perfect trip for those who enjoy continuous action on a fly rod in a remote wilderness setting. It is great for kids, families, novices, and those just looking to enjoy one of the nation’s longest undammed rivers. All I could think about is how I could get my nieces and nephews on this trip next season. I hope to figure it out. Space is limited due to having a short season (June and July) so if you are interested let us know soon!

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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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JURASSIC LAKE SLIDE SHOW
RIO SANTA CRUZ SLIDE SHOW

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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TIERRA DEL FUEGO LODGE SLIDE SHOW

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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