Category : Fresh Mud

Travel Log: Acklins


Angry Beach, Nassau

Day I
November 29, 2013
Orange Hill Hotel, Nassau, Bahamas

The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli.

I watch squalls pass to the north, unless that’s south. The overcast is so complete that I really can’t tell, but it feels north. Spindrift mists my glasses, blurring the horizon further.

I cross back over the low berm of sand and climb the concrete steps of Orange Hill. Tomorrow we’ll board a small prop plane and fly an hour and a half eastward in this crap. Our destination: a tiny island somewhere east of Bimini and north of Cuba. There, I’m told, we’ll find bonefish—lots of them and dumb as rocks (or rockets, which is a more apt description of that particular species).

This is a fish that, based on current evidence, will drive sane people from the comfort of their home to fly thousands of miles, endure strange food, stranger landscapes and bloodsucking creatures in their millions just for the opportunity to catch one, and then gently let it go again. What a weird and wonderful little world we live in.

I reach the hotel bar: dry, plainly furnished, with a quartet of anglers drinking in the corner. In place of a bartender there’s a ledger with a number of hash marks. Ah. The honor system. There’s a picnic cooler with an assortment of beer. A little digging surfaces a Kalik and after the first swig I feel my hopes rising. Surely the weather will clear to the east, right? Bound to. Surely.

I wonder if the cracked conch is any good here.

Flyting: Old and New; Something Purple, Something Blue.*


All in a row. Andros bonefish flies.

 

When I began fly fishing, tying my own flies was an obsession. It was the one thing I felt I could do with reasonable success. (Success defined here as wrapping materials onto a hook so they resembled something a fish might eat and didn’t disintegrate the first time I cast it.) Whether these creations caught bonefish was not part of the criteria. At that point catching bonefish was merely a dream, in the same class as the schoolboy daydreams of owning a small island with a secret location, building a lair inside its hollow volcano and carrying out “missions” of international espionage. In other words, unrealistic, but an addicting pastime. Nevertheless, I felt that finding the right fly, the correct fly, was the secret to one day unlocking the mouths of these fish.†

It’s romantic to imagine the sunburned guide, lime-infused beverage sweating on the table, reggae in the background, casually yet carefully tying flies in a cluttered tackle room as he plans the next day’s fishing. Reality is less glamorous; tying flies becomes a chore. I had to keep my hapless clients supplied.

In those early days we hooked fewer fish than now, but we still managed to lose an inordinate number of flies. Stray mangroves, jagged limestone shorelines and driftwood grabbed unguarded back-casts. Poorly tied knots returned as pigtails. Wind-knots parted unceremoniously mid-cast. And, the occasional fly was broken off in the mouth of an actual bonefish. It was a war of attrition and the ranks in my fly boxes bore the brunt. I began tying in bulk, using production-line strategies to shorten time spent on each fly. Finally, fatigued, I surrendered entirely and had flies produced wholesale to my specs. At eight bucks a dozen they allowed me to go years without tying a fly in anger.

Now I’m less of a full-time guide and perhaps that is why tying has once more becoming a simple joy. I like filling up those little plastic craft-box compartments with identical flies, ready to be loaded into the tiers of a pocket-sized fly box, like serried shells on a bandoleer.

I’ve also become more experimental with the colors and patterns I tie. I still think I could be given three patterns (in various sizes and weights) and fish 90 percent of the world’s bonefish successfully. But, variety, or more accurately unpredictability is at the core of this little game we play. I mean, fishing is a game of self-imposed rules and fly fishing is study in extremely stringent, not to say ridiculous rules. These are the only constant. Everything else is a crap shoot: weather, tides, seasons, migrations, hatches, and so forth.

Why not let the fly itself be a part of that complex equation? Since I don’t actually know I’m fishing the best fly at a given moment, I like to have the option of trying something different. So I carry way more flies than I need. As a result about twice a year dig through the boxes and remove an embarrassing number of unproductive (and possibly un-fished) patterns. I can’t say I remove many flies, as most have transformed into unrecognizable tangles of salty fur and flash, each leaving a dark rust spot on the once-clean Styrofoam lining. And yet after I salvage the usable bits—lead dumbells and hand-burned mono eyes—I sit at the vise and concoct something new, something never before seen in the history of the universe.  Maybe it will be purple, pink and brown, or something yellow and blue. And maybe one day I’ll go down to the water and toss that thing at a tailing bonefish and that fish will eat that thing.

I dig the thought of that.

 

____________________

* Post originally inspired by the ramblings over on BonefishOnTheBrain.
† I still think like this some days, when the fish are being particularly stubborn. In truth, when fish won’t they probably won’t bite anything we throw at them. But, changing flies at least gives you something to do.

UPDATE: Lionfish Invasion Reaches New Depths


Ok, so here we are. First, the highlights:

  1. Lionfish eat pretty much anything smaller than them. They also breed a lot more than native species and out-compete them for food.
  2. Lionfish have been confirmed at 300 ft., in “large populations”. Nice.
  3. The whole invasion has been trace (genetically) to just a few releases off South Florida.
  4. We, human beings, started it with saltwater aquariums.

If you want to read more about the deepwater lionfish invasion please do so here.

The Fly Fishing DIY Debate


A younger WindKnot & the Fishing Padre scope out an (empty) Bahamian flat.

 

I write this not as a guide or an angler, but as both. Cards on the table (in case you haven’t read the About page), I am a bonefish guide. I’m also a fierce advocate of DIY flats fishing. As such I feel in a unique position to offer an opinion that considers both the perspective of the guides and the adventure angler.

Let’s be honest, we DIY’ers might start with the best intentions: We’re going to explore, man, drive around and fish the whole island. But then, of course, we have no idea how the tides affect fish in that area, so (barring good luck) we’ll likely hit it wrong and (often) erroneously conclude that a fish-less flat is fish-less because it’s a bad flat, when it’s just a bad tide.

On the other hand a guide has to think about tomorrow, and next week, and next month. So if the fishing is tough, they’ll still move around, trying to spread out the pressure while still getting the best shots at fish. It’s a balancing act they have to do every day—considering the wants/desires/dreams of the client vs the health/longevity of the fishery (and their career).

I’ve heard it said that it’s not the casual DIY angler that’s pressuring the fish. I’d definitely have to disagree with that.

See, the psychology of a DIY angler is one I completely understand, having been there myself. I mean, if I’ve spent all that time planning a trip, scouring the forums, browsing Google Earth, and arranging all the flights, rental cars, lodging, etc, and coordinated all that with my buddies, and then the fishing turns out to be tough I get desperate to catch fish. We all do. Especially if (as is probably the case) that’s going to be my one exotic flats fishing adventure for the next year or two. So if I only find one flat that reliably has fish I’ll be sorely tempted fish there every day.

We tend to live in a myopic world of our own wherein we are the only anglers clever and adventurous enough to step off the map and do it ourselves. The truth is there were many before and they’ll be many afterwards—all desperate to catch fish with no real incentive to consider the ramifications to the fishery.

If I can slip back into my guide boots for a minute, I can attest that I’ve seen a flat take over 2 weeks to recover after being pounded every day for a week by a single DIY angler. It was one of the two weeks I was resting that flat and when I returned with a paying client expecting willing fish, I found spooky, closed-mouthed ghosts. So, I guess in the final analysis I’m echoing Dr. Addams and Bjorn on ThisIsFly when I say, DIY is great, just don’t be an A-Hole. But, in fact, I’d go farther and wonder if it’s possible for a normal, respectful angler turned DIY-angler-on-the-edge-of-desperation to be anything but. To be honest, the jury is still out for me.

 

*

REDACTED: August 29, 2013

So, to review:

 

  1. Guide.
  2. Fierce advocate of Do It Yourself Fly Fishing.
  3. Everybody stop being A-Holes.

Sincerely,
WindKnot the Angler

FlatsWalker goes carp fishing


My good buddy over at Fr. Fish took me carp fishing in his new hand-built wooden skiff/drift boat. We found “cloopers”, whatever they are, and I caught one.

Actually, I caught two and popped off another bigger fish cruising the shoreline, but none of that was on video so it may not have happened. For an island boy it was cold, which is why I’m wearing two hats… and several shirts. It could also explain my abnormally high voice on this film.

Normally I’m way more manly. Swear.

The Most Interesting Guide on iPhones & Facebook


Some say, if he ever joined Facebook
it would crash the internet.

And that he is adamant the i-phone was invented by Rastafarians.

Others have heard him say, Meh nuh unahstan bonefish, seen?
But meh 
ovahstan dem, meh ovahstan dem feh real.

All we’re sure of is he’s the most interesting guide in the world I-world.

*

I don always geh to fish mysef, but when ah do I-an’-I prefer bonefish, mon.

Stay saaalty, mi friens.

RIO Bonefish Quickshooter Fly Line Review


The RIO Bonefish Quickshooter in its element.

 

WHAT MAKES A GOOD BONEFISH LINE
(and why this line fits the bill)

 

  1. RIO Bonefish Quickshooter Fly LineIt floats high. This seems like a simple thing but it’s about the most important consideration for wade fishing, regardless the species. A line that sinks, even a little is much harder to pull off the water for a quick cast, forcing you to make more false casts and modify your casting action. This line simply glides off the water, making the whole thing more effortless and enjoyable. RIO says it floats high because it’s got something in it called AgentX Technology. (I think that means it’s the line a spy would use, which is pretty cool.) Whatever; it works.
  2. It cuts through the wind. This is critical whether wading or from skiff. The tropical Trade Winds are legendary and ever present. Lines that are too limp tend to get blown around. A stiff line cuts through the wind giving more control and accuracy. The stiffness also helps eliminate slack in the presentation, which is good. On the salt slackness is a bad thing. You want to make the cast so the first strip you do moves the fly. If your shot is on the money, that first strip could be the strike and hookup. Any slack means the fish will have spit your stupid little fly long before you get your s*** together. This line lays out straight and tight at the end of any decent cast.
  3. It loads the rod quickly. I can’t stress how important speed is in bonefishing. It’s one of the bigger shocks to the trout angler, first time on the flats. On a trout stream one has time. The fish are there, in their lie, holding in the current. You can consider the presentation, maybe even sift the stream to see what’s hatching and perhaps make a cup of camp-coffee as you contemplate the poetry of it all. Bonefish are never still. Many times you need to make a cast immediately or your opportunity is gone. But the trouble with bonefishing is that the environment is so soothing, so relaxing. I mean, there you are floating/wading the turquoise waters, feeling the soothing salt breeze, listening to the rustle of the ocean when all of a sudden the guide calls, “Fish! 60 feet. 11 o’clock. See them?” “Um. No.” “Ok, 50 feet, same direction.” “No.” “Ok, 40 feet, cast now!” This takes about five seconds and if you’ve got to add a half-dozen false casts to get to 30 feet then you’ll miss that shot. It’s as simple as that. The heavy body of this line loads the rod almost instantly and lets you feel the rod for greater accuracy. During the course of this test I noticed anglers shaving false-casts off their presentations, dropping from 3 or 4 casts to 2, and simply shooting it out there. At the end of the day we reached more fish and missed fewer shots. You can’t ask for more than that.

 *

MY FLY LINE PHILOSOPHY
(Why Anyone Should Care What I Think About Fly Lines)

During season I’m on the water 4-8 hrs a day, 4-5 days a week. I’ve been doing this for about 12 years now. That’s a lot of sun and salt… and bonefish. Nevertheless, I don’t think I expect much from a fly line. It should be able to cast, withstand the tropical sun and float. Basic stuff. Of course, it should do that with a minimum of fuss and maintenance—spray it off at the end of the day and maybe I slap a bit of line lube/cleaner on it once a fortnight, but that’s about it.

Not too surprisingly there are many lines out there that meet the criteria. What is surprising is there are still those that don’t. I mean, we’ve still got lines that cast well but have to be cleaned daily with soap (but never detergent), in warm water only, and soaked for exactly 5 minutes to dissolve the salt, and then dressed it at least once every 3 days… and I suppose all this under a full moon on midsummer’s eve while mumbling a few sacred spells, preferably in Latin. Frankly, who has the time?

Then there are the lines that say they float, but don’t. These really get me going. When you’re wading a line that doesn’t float is only marginally better than having no line at all. No. I retract that. It’s worse, because if you had no line you wouldn’t be spending all your time frustrated by a line that’s tangled around your ankles, turtle grass, conch shells, coral or lying peacefully two feet below on the ocean floor where you have to struggle with might and main to get it out of the water and into the air. With no line you’d be back at the beach bar telling fish stories, eating conch chowder and generally having a good time. So, a line that sinks when it should float is actually worse than not going fishing at all.

Basically, a line should do what the box it came in advertises. It doesn’t have to have some trippy nano-texture copied from a Jesus Lizard or slide through the rod guides faster’n a greased up snake. It just has to not tangle, load the road and not fall apart too soon.

So, when I find a line that not only ticks all the right boxes but also makes my rod a better casting machine, I’m truly impressed.

Let me clarify. Very often my guests that don’t bring their own tackle get to fish with my personal flyrod, a 9’ 6” 8-weight R.L. Winston BIIx and the best casting bonefish rod ever made. Period. It’s basically the Stradivarius of flyrods. Yet, I might get one client a week that comments on this rod. Usually it’s so understated and businesslike they never notice it. But since I’ve been using RIO’s new Bonefish Quickshooter the comments have been non-stop:

 *

[1] ACTUAL TESTIMONIALS

Wow! What kind of rod is this?

Sorry I lined those fish… I didn’t think I could cast that far. This rod really shoots!

Well, the fishing was tough today but I’ve learned that the rod and line really matter. That rod and line combo is amazing.

Of course, most folks don’t realize that I’ve been fishing with this rod for several years now and while it’s done its job brilliantly, I’ve never heard the profusion of praise before, and it started the first day I strung up this new line.

*

FULL DISCLOSURE

I was asked to test this line, for free. This is SOP in the industry; tackle companies seek out individuals who can simply put in more time on the water than they can. If they’ve made a good product they’re willing to take a bet that the tester will like it. If that tester has access to a media out let of some kind (website, blog, facebookthingy) then so much the better.

I’ve only occasionally been involved in product testing before—several reels and a couple lines, with mixed results. My main hangup has always been feeling a bit leery about taking free stuff from someone yet needing to maintain absolute, stone-cold frankness when it comes to reviewing that stuff. The simple fact that I get it free means I’m already influenced. I mean, if I have to shell out my hard-earned cash for tackle and it’s even marginal, I’ll feel like I didn’t get my money’s worth. However, in the case of most industry reviews (e.g. fly fishing mags, fly shops, etc.) my own money is never an issue and I can’t help but wonder if I subconsciously factor that into my review. You know, something subtle like, “Well, for a free line it’s pretty good.”

I’m reminded of an incident a couple years ago during my annual Keys tarpon trip. On my second cast I hooked a nice fish that ran off the flat into deeper water. We started up and had just begun to give chase when the line went slack. I reeled in to find my fly line gone. Completely. The last couple feet of backing had been shredded down to wisps. We figure a small cuda hit the line-to-backing knot. Anyways, the line was gone so I had to grab a new one. Being on a budget I opted for the store brand instead of dropping $30 more for the top-shelf line. I regretted it. Sure, the line worked but I couldn’t help thinking about how much nicer the line I lost cast and handled. Even at 2/3rd the price I thought my new line was pretty much crap. However, had that line been free I may have felt differently.

I’ve always felt this was the problem with industry-sponsored gear reviews: they’re typically written by industry insiders. It’s a catch 22; on the one hand a buyer on Amazon or wherever can review all the same stuff as a pro, but unless they choose to share them, you have no idea of their credentials. Does, for example, This line doesnt cast very well actually mean I can’t cast this line very well? On the other hand, they presumably have no incentive to be generous or cruel in their review [3], so they actually have more credibility in the honesty column than industry types.

But, it’s more than that. For me a review seems the last example of the persuasive essay and we are not only convinced by facts, but by rhetorical argument. In fact, reviews are examples of the practice of rhetoric, in the classical sense. The casual buyer has a more firm moral footing than the industry insider, because they paid their own money for the product, and moral footing is no slight issue as far as rhetoric is concerned. In fact, it’s nearly everything. When an Amazon customer displays righteous indignation because a product performed poorly, as readers we can feel that emotion and empathize. And we know that they’re holding nothing back, because they have no fear of retribution; there’s no nagging thought What if I’m never asked to review this brand again? behind a regular review.

Much of this was on my mind when I accepted this request. Here is an excerpt of my reply to the nice person representing RIO:

Just to be clear, our niche is very specific: we are a strictly wade-in, fly fishing service for bonefish and tarpon. Our gear gets seriously abused and our lines must perform. I am not generous in my assessment of products, nor do I need free (or discounted) gear. I will honestly and clearly review products I’m asked to and you can be sure that if they meet my standards then I will endorse them. For example, I currently boycott [redacted] saltwater lines because they can’t seem to make a floating line that actually floats. I’ve tested product lines from 5 or 6 years (including the [redacted] line) and given many chances. They all failed the basic wading test.

I don’t want to sound too harsh but I just want to be clear about expectations. First, I would run the review by you to OK whether I should publish or not. Second, the review won’t be quick. I can’t assess the quality of a line in a week. What I can offer is an extended use review over the next couple months and provide potential customers with a real review as to the products longevity and quality.

Sincerely,

WindKnot the Angler

 

I was ready to hate this line. I was ready to ridicule. I was, but RIO’s Bonefish Quickshooter fly line is actually very good. I’ve seen fish lost with other quick-shooter style lines. The Achilles of these lines has always been the ultra-thin running line which seems forever prone to tangle. I’ve seen monster tangles jam half-way up the rod-guides on double-digit fish. I’ve seen anglers desperately trying to untie knots as the guides desperately pleaded with them to cast at approaching fish. I simply don’t like shooting-head style lines. I think for bonefishing they’re stupid. But, this one works and works well. Time will tell how long it lasts, but even if it only lasts one season it’s worth it. Even if it only lasts a couple months I’d buy another.

 

On the water,

WindKnot the Angler

*

[2] THE BORING STUFF

Front Taper_________6’6”
Body (Belly)________31’6”
Back Taper__________11’6”
Running Line________50’6”
Full Length_________100 Ft / 30 m
Temp. Range_________75 - 100° F / 24 - 38° C
Welded Loops________Front & Back
Colors______________Duotone: Aqua Blue Body, Sand Running Line

 

 


1 Poorly recollected from real conversations with clients, but the gist is there. Also, they sound like they’re actually praising the rod, not the line, but you can’t cast a rod without a line. In fact, a line can make or break the feel of a  rod. Most folks think the main player is the rod itself, but the line has an equal part to play. [back]
2 Copied pretty much verbatim from the box the line came in. I could have fact checked this stuff, but, hey, they made it, they should know the stats. [back]
3 Unless you consider the subtle and insidious subconscious motivations provided by brand loyalty and consumer-driven identity, but to attempt to unpack those here would be a whole other article, which I’m not even remotely qualified to write. Suffice to say that we all know that stuff is in the background of all reviews and, as modern-day internet consumers, are pretty savvy at factoring that into how much weight we give any one review. [back]

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