Sunday, April 30, 2006


When I was 9 and picked up that old Southbend fiberglass fly rod with a Bluegill sponge spider on it, I was hooked. At that time I didn’t know that I had a fly rod in my hand, it was just another fishing pole. However, from that day forward, when I would ride the 10 miles out to our friend’s lake to fish for Bluegill and Bass I would always use the Southbend fly rod. There was something about the way you worked the line back and forth, the challenge of getting the fly right where you wanted that to this day still intrigues and challenges me. With Tarpon on the brain, I’m back out to the pond trying to improve my casting techniques with the big rods.

Regardless of how the fishing is, one of the first comments upon most of our customer’s mouths upon returning from a saltwater trip, or for that matter most trips, is in reference to the wind. Rarely is it the lack there of either. I remember two years ago in Key West a cold front hit by days end. The wind blew constantly out of the NE at 20 plus knots. By each days end your head and body was numb from the noise and pounding that we took. It’s difficult to practice for such conditions, especially when you don’t know what direction your targets are going to come from and at what speed. Often times under such conditions everything happens incredible fast and most of your cast are rather short by saltwater standards.

Last year I remember making a statement about my casting, probably lack there of, and Capt. Ohearn remarked: “you can’t really practice for saltwater flats fishing because it is so difficult to replicate the variety of scenarios and conditions you encounter”. To some extent I would agree with him. One moment your making a cast 50’ over your back shoulder, which I’m not very good at, the next 20’ off the bow and before it’s all said and done your punching one up wind 60’to 70’. Its one thing to have a target that is standing still, but another to have a six foot moving object that is under most conditions is difficult to judge their speed. However, the challenges that saltwater fishing presents has an awful lot to do with what I like about saltwater flats fishing and fly fishing in general.

My first two outings this year in an effort to get off on the right foot in trips preparation was in the dark. I had just finished up with a lesson and brought my 12 weight to cast if by chance there was some light left. By the time the lesson was over there was enough light to get the rod strung up, but that was about it. My second effort was similar. After a long day at work, I stepped out in front of the shop shortly after the sun set and again flailed away into the darkness. Actually casting in the dark is a decent exercise. Since you can’t really see what you are doing, you must rely on the feel of the rod. For many of you the visual aspect of the cast supersedes the timing that is more critically triggered by the feel of the rod. I can only imagine what drivers by thought when they saw me form the lights of their car heave hoeing to imaginary Tarpon at such an hour.

Today’s a little different. It’s been raining, but at least it is light out. It does make a difference. I can see the ducks and geese on the water that I use as targets. Geese are Tarpon and Ducks are Bonefish, possibly a Permit if it happens to be a fat Duck. Before some of your think I’m harassing the waterfowl, it’s pointless in preparation to cast at your target, whatever you may choose. Remember saltwater fish are always moving and you need to lead them by three or four feet if you are going to get the fly down to a level where the fish can find your imitation. Our local park waterfowl make great decoys for preparing for such a trip. About the right speed and they’ll approach you from all angles in hopes of getting a hand out.

One thing I constantly get asked by customers when preparing for a trip; what do I need. Having hosted trips now for over twenty years the single most important thing you can do to help make your trip more successful, besides having he proper gear, is to learn how to use it. I don't know how many trips I've been on where anglers don't take the time to do a little casting in preparation for a trip and they waste half or more of their time trying to figure it out. It would be one thing if they didn't care, but in conjunction with their struggles is a lack of fishing success.

Having just about bonked Goose on the head trying to throw in a crosswind, I definitely need a little more pond time myself.

Friday, April 28, 2006

New Stuff

One thing about working in a fly shop, it’s Christmas everyday. I love how customers looking for something for the flyfisher who as it all and comment “They’ve already got everything”. I’ve been working in this business for over twenty years now and my list is still a very very long one.

In preparation for my upcoming trip to the Keys, my first box of goodies arrived from my buddies at RIO. These guys are great! They have pioneered so many great products since their introduction into the market. I remember meeting Jim about the time I opened the shop. One of his first products was two rubber vacuum cleaner belts that you fit over your Maxima spools to keep the unmanageable material from living a life of its own. If you’re a steelhead fisherman, you know exactly what I’m referring to. Anyway, of all the products I saw that year it was the coolest.

I called Zach the other day to talk about some leader and shock tippet material to try. Zach tollerates me, don't know why, but I'm greateful for his patience. What Florida Key guides like best about Fluorocarbon is it’s small diameter. It makes tying knots, especially blood knots, for shock tippets very easy. Monofilaments generally run a little larger for the same pound strength. However, looking through their catalog I found some 60lb monofilament that was the same diameter as its counterpart in Fluoro.

The box arrived today along with some fresh 22 lb for class tippets. Since I’m not interested in World Records the larger class lets you put a little more wood to them and get your partner up on the bow a little sooner. It also is a little more forgiving. Not being near as skilled as those who do this thing on a regular basis, I need all the help I can get.

Anyway, as soon as I opened the box I started tying a fresh batch of Tarpon leaders. I use a Bimini Twist looped to attach they Class tippet to the Butt of the line. I’ll tie a number of these up, I call them cartridges, and leave the final assembly for when I’m on the water. With just a blood knot I can add the shock tippet of the size that is needed quickly. Nothing fancy, but it does the trick.

Also in my little box of goodies were several new fly lines that I ordered. For the rods I fish, I prefer the RIO Clouser line. To try this year I ordered RIO's new Quick Shooter line. I’ve fished this line in the past, but switched to the Clouser after going through a similar trial and error process as I will put the new Quick Shooter through. Zach convinced me that the new configurations for the Quick Shooter would be more to my liking.

I’m trying a new rod for the first time, the Winston BiiX in the 12. Usually I get pretty set in my ways when it comes to rods and when I glom onto one I like I stick with it. My favorite trout rod for example is 22 years old. Rod companies love me!

In the past I’ve fish several of Winston's other Boron rods, but never the 12. It’s been hard to get. Having put an hour or two into it already, I think I’m going to like it. Although I have only had a chance to cast it at night so far; don’t ask.

Last year I took Winton’s BiiX down for a permit rod and ended up laning about a 70 lb Tarpon. As light as it was I was surprised by how well it cast and handle the Tarpon. Can’t wait to put the 12 to the test. That is if conditions and Murphy’s Law don’t interfere with our opportunities. Having had several fishless trips to the Key’s in my earlier days I know the challenges that may lie ahead. In checking the weather, so far it looks good. The bad new is the fishing right now is great. Could be one of those; you should have been here last week. Regardless, it won’t matter for after all I’m going to Key West.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Preparing for the Silver Kings

One thing about getting ready for a trip, being in the fly fishing business I'm sure the sympathy is going to pour out at this point, is they cut into my time on the water locally. With good Blue Wing and Stonefly hatches taking place now, I refrain from partaking. When trout noses are up, it can be distracting to focus on tasks at hand. In particular on those days when it’s spitting a little rain, which lately it does quite frequently. However, with a Tarpon trip ahead there is plenty of incentive to get all my ducks lined up so I can head south without any trepidations.

Not having time to sit at my bench lately and tie a few flies, I’ve begun to assemble my leaders. If I used Fluorocarbon this task would be rather simple, but due to the impact this stuff has on our resources I prefer to use standard monofilament materials. For those not familiar with Fluorocarbon, it last thousands of years. Although as fly fishers we use very little, collectively however our use and impacts are extensive. Also through our purchases we support an industry whose material is used for ocean drift nets….etc. Catch my drift(no pun intended)! We forget sometimes that our purchases have impacts that are far reaching. Enough said for now.

My first tarpon experience was with one of the best, just by happenstance, Capt. Jeffrey Cardenas. I was in the Key’s with my family and he gave me a call one evening to see if I wanted to go catch a Tarpon. That was an easy answer. We met after he finished work and headed out. It was a rare time on the water of no wind and smooth silvery surfaces, which later I was to find was the reason for his venturing out on this spectacular evening. Having made Jeffrey's acquaintance several times over the past years, we had discussed of hooking up. His call surprised me given how busy these guys are during their season.

My son of 12 was at the wheel of Jeffrey’s Maverick as we left the Marina. He was having fun know doubt. The first few places we checked were void of fish, but it was still early and the tranquility of the evening was worth the price of admission regardless. By the time we found our first Tarpon Key West’s evening migration of tourists to famous Mallory Square was in full swing. They gather hear each evening to witness sunsets green flash. Like many things here I think this particular phenomena is alcohol induced.

As we motored up on the flat a Tarpon rose to take a drifting shrimp a little over 100’ in front of our path. To this day its massive silhouette is still etched in my mind. The engine was killed and we silently drifted into position for what we hoped would be a chance hook up. Jeffrey asked if I knew how to poll a skiff. I was embarrassed to answer no, as several more Tarpon rose to dine while we prepared a rod. That telltale sucking noise ominous in the still evening air. By the time we had line out the guides and on the deck there were fish within casting range. Jeffrey offered, being the gracious host he always is, the first shot. Having never done this before, I yielded to observe and learn from one the wise one.

Just to be on the flat and listen to one of these giants feed was worth the ride. To hook and land one, not expected given all I have heard about fly fishing for the Silver King. After casually laying out several beautiful casts, Jeffrey was soon fast to about a 70lb. Tarpon. To watch a video of Billy Pate catch a Tarpon is exciting in its won rite. To witness this act takes the experience to another level.

By the evenings end Jeffrey and I had hooked and landed a number of Tarpon. While he chatted with several other guides who shared this evenings flat with us, I landed my first. Like my first steelhead in BC, I haven’t been the same since. I would later learn that Tarpon feeding on drifting shrimp that commonly occur on such placid nights is called “Splooshing”. After dark sitting in the boat hearing those prehistoric beasts and having a cold one, you could still hear death on the flats all around us.

Little did I know how good that night was. The following years trip back to the Keys however put it in perspective. My fishing partner Ken Louder and I, other than a few eats got blanked. This was more like the Tarpon fishing I had been hearing about over the years. This shut out it was got me going. I figured if I was going to learn this game than I need to do as I had done with trout and steelhead fishing. Read the books, tie the flies, learn the knots, and even learn to pole the boat. It’s paid off.

So as I begin to prepare for this years trip by tying Bimini Loops into my class tippets then attaching the variety of shock tippets I’ll use I reflect back on past trips, their success and failures. I pulled my tying stuff out last night and began filling in the holes. Then there will be the new patterns. Creations from past experience and the patterns I almost always tie on first. Like most trips, the more I put into them the more I seem to get out of each adventure. It seems the same goes with life.

To be continued….

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Not a Good Day

One of my first days out in a while proved to sour my attitude towards those who I share our water resources with. It's not often that a day on the water will taint my mood. It was what I would call a perfect day; our power was out from steady rains and wind, knowing that I wouldn't get much work done I headed out to possibly catch a trout or two and the Blue Wings. These are the days that are worth fishing since weather of any kind tends to really keep the traffic down. One thing that mayflies and I have in common, most mayflies, is we prefer some weather to the fair blue skies overhead.

I headed to a small spring creek that joins the Provo River. Lately this section has been fairly crowded, but today there was only one other car here. Quickly donning waders and putting the finishing touches to stringing my rod I head to the water. Before I got to the rivers edge the litter strewn about had distracted my purpose. As the day progresses, which was short lived, matters seemed to get worse. My attitude definitely did.

Moving up current, a fair number of discarded bait containers littered the bank. Strands of mono lay twisted and tangled in the brush. Beer and pop cans added to the mess. The dead Mallard lying in the mud however is what finally did me in.

You would think that all anglers would appreciate the privileged of fishing such and incredible resource as this, or any for that matter given they are becoming more difficult to access. Today as users scream for access however, I seem to find more and more areas of such abuse. We don’t deserve to have access to such incredible resources as this if we are to threat them as such. The old adage; one doesn’t appreciate what one has until it is taken away. It’s frustrating that in this day and age we still have such attitudes and tolerate such practices.

To try and salvage my sour mood, I hit a little hippie bakery in Heber for a good cup of coffee and a fresh warm scone. It helped.

My next walkabout is to Key West. May is tarpon season and like their migration a group of us from Salt Lake follow them to the southern most region of the US. Having made this trip now for 7-8 years you would think I would start to figure them out. Like steelhead, another migratory fish that I follow, their habits and behavior can be elusive and mystical. I can't wait to go. It's one of the few times that I use a motor when fishing. The morning runs under a sky of starts is always exhilarating.