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The Ultimate Bucket List Volume 1 2017 part 1

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t he ultim ate
Bu cke t l is t
the wor ld’s B e st fly fish in g dest in ations – volume 1
South Africa: R190 (vat incl)
By pj jacoBs
Published by: Tight Loop Productions (Pty) Ltd
Editor: PJ Jacobs
Contributors – Volume I:
• Brendan Becker
• Derrick Beling
• Jonathan Boulton
• Graeme Field
• Leonard Flemming
• PJ Jacobs
• Marcus Janssen
• Arno Laubscher
• Gerhard Laubscher
• Andrew Mayo
• Rasmus Ovesen
• Murray Pedder
• Dean Riphagen
• Keith Rose-Innes
Design: Tight Loop Productions (Pty) Ltd
Advertising sales: Lizelle Jacobs
Tel: +27 12 371-3914
Hard copy sales: JP Koekemoer
Tel: +27 12 371-3916
Digital sales:
• Magzter:
• MySubs:
• Directly from the publisher via the website:
All enquiries should be addressed to:
Tight Loop Productions (Pty) Ltd
PO Box 1777, Ifafi, 0260
South Africa
Tel: +27 12 371-3914/5/6
All rights reserved, including the right to
reproduce this book or portions thereof in any
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, or by any
information storage and retrieval systems,
without written permission from the publisher.
Editorial opinions expressed are not necessarily
those of the publisher. The publisher does not
accept responsibility for advertising content.
Brought to you by:
ly fishers are an adventurous lot,
it’s part of our nature. The thrill of
fishing new waters is undeniable,
the lure of the next bend on the river or a
flat never fished addictive and, at times,
all-consuming. It is what we do, and
what makes fly fishing the special pursuit
and lifestyle that it is.
I have been a fly fisher for most of my
life and for the past 24 years fortunate
and privileged to serve as Editor of The
Complete Fly Fisherman magazine. In
that capacity as well as in my private life,
I have travelled the world with the long
rod, targeting species from tarpon to
trout, and almost everything in-between.
This has enriched me as a person and as
a fly fisher in more ways than imaginable. For me the pursuit is as much about
the dream as it is about the experience, for where would we be if we no longer
dreamt about fishing somewhere spectacular, be it in our own backyard or halfway
around the planet? The thing is, dreams have a way of coming true, and the
harder you focus on your dreams, the better the chance of actually doing that
once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Part of TCFF’s policy is to regularly feature editorial on venues across the globe
and this we have done almost religiously. As a result, we have amassed a treasure
trove of information on some of the most desirable destinations on the planet. It’s
been in the pipeline for a while, but we have finally managed to sit down, evaluate
what we have, and whittle down the list to destinations that offer some of the
finest and most exciting fishing available today. We then redesigned the layouts,
standardised the content and added new and previously unpublished photographs,
the result of which is what you now see, an ultimate bucket list of venues you simply
have to fish!
This volume comprises 20 diverse fly fishing locations for several species from
across the globe. It will be published under The Complete Fly Fisherman banner
and our wish is that it will serve as an excellent source of information on these
venues to readers around the world, as well as providing exciting reading, stunning
photographs and a visual smorgasbord of the lifestyle and what we do best.
And, most of all, wherever you live, I hope to someday meet you on those
waters, for in fly fishing, our language is universal.
Tight loops.
africa’s fresh and salt water fly fishing magazine
On the cOver: seychelles permit PhOtO by: mark hatter/alphonse fishing company
the ULtIMAte bUcKet LISt | VOlUme 1
6. Alphonse Island, Seychelles: Tropical Fishing Paradise
Target species: GTs, bonefish, triggerfish, milkfish, permit
By Andrew Mayo
22. Quest for Argentina’s Monster Browns
Target species: Brown trout
By Jonathan Boulton
36. Iceland’s World-Class Salmon Fishing
Target species: Salmon
By Rasmus Ovesen
54. Jungle Fever: Bolivia’s Golden Dorado
Target species: Golden dorado
By Gerhard Laubscher
68. Florida: The Flats of Homosassa
Target species: Tarpon
By Arno Laubscher
82. Alaska: Beyond the Frontier
Target species: Salmon, dolly varden, lake trout, northern pike, grayling, char
By Jonathan Boulton
96. Jurassic Lake: Died and Gone to Heaven
Target species: Rainbow trout
By Dean Riphagen
110. Russia’s Kola Peninsula
Target species: Salmon
By Keith Rose-Innes
124. South Island, New Zealand: Land of the Long White Cloud
Target species: Trout
By PJ Jacobs
140. Piscatorial Perfection of the Spanish Pyrenees
Target species: Trout
By Marcus Janssen
the ULtIMAte bUcKet LISt | VOlUme 1
156. El Pescador, Ambergris Caye, Belize
Target species: Tarpon, bonefish, permit
By PJ Jacobs
170. DIY Exploration Madagascar
Target species: Trevally (kingfish)
By Graeme Field
180. Fly Fishing in Remote Mongolia
Target species: Taimen, amur trout, lenok trout, amur pike
By Rasmus Ovesen
196. Exploring the Dark Continent for Tanzanian Tigers
Target species: Tigerfish
By Leonard Flemming
210. Mexico: Barefoot in the Baja
Target species: Roosterfish
By Graeme Field
224. Costa Rica: Home to Monster Tarpon
Target species: Tarpon
By Murray Pedder
238. Henry’s Fork: Fishing the Railroad Ranch
Target species: Rainbow trout
By Gerhard Laubscher
254. Golden Mahseer of the Himalayas
Target species: Mahseer
By Brendan Becker
266. Christmas Island: Halfway Around the World
Target species: GTs, bonefish, permit, triggerfish
By Derrick Beling
276. Danubian Salmon on Fly
Target species: Danubian salmon
By Rasmus Ovesen
By stu apte
ime, the most precious thing we have, is like an ice-cream cone.
Enjoy it while you can; it won’t last forever. The colourful
expression “Bucket List” is a strong reminder that it’s important
sometimes to look out for Number One. Commitments to earning a
paycheque, running a business, family and friends – we all have them.
But we still need to step back at times and consider tasting our
ice-cream cone before it melts away.
Now at 87, with some aches and pains and a few body parts I wish
I could replace, I’m still creating Bucket Lists in my thoughts. Never
mind saying, “Been there done that.” Which I have done in countless
places over the years. I want to wake up in the morning on the bank of
a trout stream with the sound of rising fish or on a beach where the
sound of tailing bonefish or a rolling tarpon is the first thing I will hear.
PJ Jacobs, Editor of The Complete Fly Fisherman magazine for
more than two decades, and my friend and pen pal during all that time,
has come up with a way to tickle the Bucket List imaginations of anglers everywhere.
The pages before you have eye-catching photography and articles by trusted
authorities – who know how to cast good prose as well as their fly lines – on 20 of
the most exciting fly fishing destinations. The articles are from past issues of
The Complete Fly Fisherman, but they have been updated with the latest information
on the fishing today, along with travel and accommodations. The fantastic photographs
include many that were never previously published. As they say on TV: “There’s
more.” This is the first of five Bucket List round-ups to come, with 100 destinations
eventually covered. Already, there are places in this first 20 that have me itching to
buy an airline ticket.
For most of my life, during which I fly fished on every continent except Antarctica,
I didn’t have to buy a ticket. I flew the plane. When I left active duty flying in the
Navy in December 1955, ending my service career as a young fighter pilot on carrier
duty, I was happy to become a pilot with Pan American World Airways. Those words,
“World Airways,” did the trick that pulled me to Pan-Am. By then, fishing was a huge
part of my life, and I wanted to take a crack at the worldwide fishing places Pan-Am
could take me too. And I did. I am proud to say that I spent 34 years on the Pan-Am
seniority list, including some of the years I was laid off and became a backcountry
bonefish and tarpon guide in the Florida Keys. I could write a book about all my
experiences then. And have! Plus all my years in the 1960s finding new fisheries in
South and Central America, and in the 1980s on the Kola Peninsula in Russia.
From my first fish – a goldfish in my next-door neighbour’s fishpond caught on a
bent-straight pin and my mother’s sewing thread – to the snook I landed just the other
day, my fishing adventures have brought me a lifetime of memories. Because I believe
every fishing trip occurs in three parts. First, the planning and preparations always
filled with excitement over the prospects; then the trip itself; then the memories,
replaying them in your mind.
I’m looking at my ice-cream cone. What’s left looks too good to miss. With the
help of The Ultimate Bucket List, I’m making plans.
trOpical fishing paradise
alphOnse island
Although experience will get you halfway there, if the fishing gods
smile upon you, an ordinary day can turn into one you’ll never forget.
ANDREW MAYO describes one such red-letter day.
ometimes in fishing, things just come together.
You have a day when you are relaxed but alert,
in tune and focussed. This is a story about one
of those days. What makes it extraordinary
is that it happened on St François Atoll, part of the
Alphonse Island group and one of the richest salt water
fisheries in the world in terms of variety. A myriad
species swim the waters here, but five flats species are
the most sought after. This story is how, for the first
time ever, Matvey Ivanov and I landed all five species
in one day.
Milkfish are an enigmatic fish that inspire obsession. They are sleek and silver, the perfect shape for
a predatory game fish, but they feed on algae and
plankton. They can be caught on fly and the fight can
last for up to an hour or more. They never give up and
have effortlessly taken anglers well into the backing
after a long fight and almost being netted. Giant
trevally (GTs) are legendary for their sheer aggression
and brute strength. Stories of broken fly lines and
people being pulled off their feet are not exaggerated.
The slinky permit has been described as the Holy Grail
of fly fishing. Extremely beautiful and elegant, they are
also maddening as they are known to ignore perfect
presentations. The longest silence is a real malady that
the lucky few who have caught permit suffer from.
Bonefish are an often underrated wonder. While at
times there can be so many in the Seychelles that
catching them is almost too easy, these silver ghosts of
the flats are a very worthy adversary. Triggerfish are
“They can be caughT on fly and The fighT can lasT
for up To an hour or more. They never give up and have
efforTlessly Taken anglers well inTo The backing
afTer a long fighT and almosT being neTTed.”
in many ways the perfect fly fishing quarry. As spooky
as any fish, they require a delicate cast and a technical
presentation. They fight far more ferociously than their
size suggests and are dirty fighters who take every
opportunity to cut you off in coral or bite the hook off.
They look like brightly painted clowns though, which
makes some people underestimate their value.
The day in question – 5 November 2012 – started
with Mat and me discussing what he wanted to do for
the day. Permit and milkfish were a high priority for
him. The way he said “I know” when I explained that
permit were sometimes impossible to find, never mind
catch, set my mind at ease that I was with an experienced angler who didn’t have unrealistic expectations.
The tide was high, so milks were the logical target
species. While I was skippering to the western outer
reef, I took a small detour and headed for the Bijoutier
reef in search of them. A little splashing and a tail
fin confirmed that move to be the correct one. As it
was a small group and conditions were very calm, I
approached carefully and confirmed with Mat that he
knew what to do. On his second cast, the line went tight
and he hooked up. The fish tried all the usual tricks,
going deep a few times. We had a tense moment when
Mat had to plunge the rod deep into the water as the
fish went under the boat, but we both shouted with joy
and relief as it came to net. It was his first milk, which
made it all the sweeter. And it was not yet 9am!
Although the thought of a slam is always there, a GT
quest can eat away the day and I still wanted to try for
the permit he was after. However, we agreed to try for
another milk while the tide was high. We looked along
most of the west side of St François, but only found very
small groups and didn’t get too many shots into the
zone. So we decided to take a break from milkfish and
look for GTs along the surf line of Rattray’s, a small,
deep channel that allows access to the flats on the
southwest of St François. Shortly, Mat spotted some
and was quick off the mark with a long cast. The strike
was spectacular, the fish’s head and half of its body
coming out of the water, those big eyes intent on the
“Hit it! Hit it!” I shouted as the momentum
of the take brought the fish towards us. Mat
lifted his rod high to keep the line tight. The fish
went deep after that and Mat got a nice low rod
angle and began the slow slogging match of
regaining line from a stubborn opponent. By
10.55am, we had a GT on the boat.
“exTremely beauTiful and eleganT,
permiT are also maddening as They are known
To ignore perfecT presenTaTions.”
We were close to Rattray’s Channel which is a good
place to get a bonefish. We also had a good chance of
coming across a permit here, so, because the tide was
still relatively high, we drove through the channel and
I dropped him off near the beach of St François Atoll.
On the way back from anchoring my boat in the
channel, I spotted two permit and had to whistle to Mat
who was a good distance away. Unfortunately I lost
sight of the fish just as he was near, so we went on the
hunt again. He explained that he had lost nine permit
in the past at various destinations around the world,
and that it was the only fish that rattled him.
dipped its head slightly. My heart jumped and I don’t
think either of us could believe we had a permit on the
line! The fight was harrowing, as there were lots of
coral bits to break off on. The fish was also doing the
typical permit thing of rubbing its mouth on the bottom
in an attempt to dislodge the hook. My net was left
behind on the boat, and the thought of having to tail
the fish brought back memories of watching two friends
once falling over each other in an attempt to jump over
the fly line while the permit ran right between their
legs. I was praying for a better outcome and waited for
a good opportunity to go for the tail.
It wasn’t long before we spotted another three fish
cruising along. After we’d made a couple of careful
presentations, the fish turned towards us and Mat
delivered the perfect cast. One of the fish broke away
from the group and I whispered, “It’s close, close,”
while trying to remember to breathe. Mat showed his
experience once again by setting the hook as the permit
As I grabbed it with both hands,
Mat and I shouted in disbelief.
After a brief modelling session, we
released the beautiful fish. It was
only 12.15pm.
“we were boTh in The zone and fished hard,
buT didn’T feel any pressure eiTher.”
While walking back to the boat, we were looking for bones and talking
about how surreal the day had turned out thus far. Mat was chuffed that
he had landed his first milkie and finally a permit – a fish that had eluded
him many times – on the same day. We were both in the zone and fished
hard, but didn’t feel any pressure either. After quickly landing and
photographing a small bonefish, we headed back to the boat. It was now
12.30pm. At that stage, neither of us knew about the Golden Grand Slam.
Ironically, that had only been discussed the night before by management.
I just commented to Mat that I was sure no one had caught all five species
in one day and we now had the perfect opportunity to try. The enjoyment
of the fishing was more important to us than the result, something that
I believe also contributed to our success. We were detached from the
outcome, but were very focussed and up for the challenge.
“whaT makes iT exTraordinary is ThaT iT
happened on sT françois aToll, parT of The
alphonse island group and
one of The richesT salT waTer fisheries
in The world in Terms of varieTy.
a myriad species swim The waTers here, buT five
flaTs species are The mosT soughT afTer.”
“i have losT many fish close To The end
and have had To shrug iT off because ThaT is The
only Thing one can do, buT i don’T Think i’ve
ever wanTed To land a fish ThaT desperaTely.”
Walking the surf near Rattray’s, we had a few shots
at triggers but our offerings were either ignored or the
fish spooked. I decided we needed to move to Wayne’s
Bay to catch the last of the dropping tide. After an
intense boat ride from Rattray’s to the inner lagoon of
St François, we started the 30-minute walk to the surf
where we again took up the hunt for triggers. We had
one or two shots at fish before we saw a beautiful yellowmargin trigger sitting in a hole in the turtle grass. Mat
definitely had his A-game on as he made a few presentations. The fly entered the water with a barely perceptible plop. The unmistakably favourable reaction to the
fly was easy to see, and I barely managed a, “It’s on it,
keep tight.” I’m sure neither of us was breathing as the
fish’s head went down to eat and the line went tight.
From an outsider’s perspective it must have looked
like some sort of inelegant ballet with a dirty-fighting,
clownlike fish and line-breaking coral for props. All I
was interested in was to stay close enough to the fish to
clear any snags and land it as soon as possible. I have
lost many fish close to the end and have had to shrug it
off because that is the only thing one can do, but I don’t
think I’ve ever wanted to land a fish that desperately.
When the opportunity came, I grabbed the trigger and
lifted it clear out the water. Relief flooded over me and
we both shouted with joy. Although it was only 3.10pm,
we decided to call it a day and took a chilled walk back
to the boat on the now dry sand. All Mat could utter
was, “I have too many emotions.”
But there were many more emotions later that
evening when we found out about the newly formed
Golden Grand Slam and that the lodge had put up a free
trip to Alphonse for the angler who got it. We’d had a
day where everything came together, we were in sync
and our mojos were working.
“when all These Things occur in a
specTacular seTTing, magic happens, and i’ll
remember ThaT day for The resT of my life.”
qUest fOr argentina’s
monster Browns
Patagonia, Argentina, has a reputation for big brown trout.
However, it was further down south in Tierra del Fuego’s famous Rio Grande
that JONATHAN BOULTON finally connected to his trout of a lifetime.
Main photo: A solid brown trout from southern Patagonia’s Rio Grande.
t’s great catching weird and wonderful fish on the fly
such as warm-water predators, toothy critters that peel
off line and leap for the skies, or denizens of the salty
deep, but I cannot deny that trout hold a very special
place in my heart. It is, after all, the trout that lured
the first anglers to dress a hook with fluff and feathers and
delicately present the imitation on carefully prepared silk line.
For me, when it comes to trout, the wilder the better, and, given
a choice, the challenge of flowing water over still water is a
decision that never requires too much consideration. Like
many, I made the pilgrimage to New Zealand, paying those
school fees stalking the elusive browns of South Island, but
never landed a fish over 10lb (81/2lb the closest). Consequently,
I have always felt I had unfinished business with the noble
Salmo trutta.
“... The challenge of flowing waTer
over sTill waTer is a decision ThaT never
requires Too much consideraTion.”
Two years ago, I fished northern Patagonia, again choosing
to exclusively fish rivers. The scenery was breathtaking, the
company superb and the wine, well, the wine… Floating the
pristine rivers in comfort while casting dries to fin-perfect
browns and rainbows visibly feeding in back eddies was magical.
But a change in tactics and mind-set was required to try to
achieve that sought-after 10lb-plus wild river brown. Stepping
up to a 6-wt and full sinking line with a braided extra-fast sink
tip and pitching a humongous, weighted Woolly Bugger downand-across the deepest, fastest water at dusk was the order of
the day. By the end of our second week, my biggest brown only
topped 5lb.
On our last day, our guide took us to a section of river
reputed to hold big fish. It was by no means the prettiest piece
of river (it was featureless and wide), and blind-casting in the
dwindling light not the most stimulating. With each cast, I
would throw in a big upstream mend, then take between three
and five paces down as the line dropped in the water column.
I knew it was time to call it a day when I saw my wife Sarah pack
up her camera gear and start the walk back to the truck. “Just
a little further for me,” the guide urged. I shuffled two paces
forward and reached that nerve-racking moment when you feel
your weight neutralising, the dislodged gravel slipping from
beneath your wading boots, and you know you could be bobbing
away into the distance very quickly. Casting the full sink line
was a nightmare as it dragged away in the current, and exaggerated double-hauls had to be used to lift it up and into the
guides before shooting line. As the line swung and tightened,
I started an erratic retrieve to impart an attractive action on the
large purple-and-black Woolly Bugger.
The take that followed was solid – I lifted and the fish tore
away downstream. Three times I managed to get the backing
knot onto the reel. As the braided leader joint neared the rod
tip, I would lean into the fish, trying to get a glimpse of what we
were dealing with. But the fish would not budge; it just turned
in the current and blistered off again.
The fourth time I got near the end of the fly line, Mario
positioned himself downstream with the net. Although he did
not lunge, Mario’s proximity to the tiring fish spooked it for
a last time and it bolted, the 10lb Maxima parting from the
braided loop of the leader like a shot. Mario cursed loudly as
he saw the fish roll and kite away in the current – and broke the
news that he thought it weighed 12lb to 15lb! We walked, heads
down, back to the vehicle. The nauseatingly bitter feeling of disappointment that washed over me could not be lifted, and even
my favourite Argentine Malbec that evening was unpalatable.
Well, in the immortal words of Monty Python, one should
“always look on the bright side”. Of course that would mean
another trip in search of that elusive monster river brown. To
finally nail this nemesis, I wanted the banker destination, the
banker time of year – no excuses. After hearing about the
legendary sea-run browns of Tierra del Fuego from colleagues
Derek Manson and Mark Taylor who had guided there for many
seasons, it was clear that, this time, far southern Argentina it
was going to be. They secured a prime week in mid-February
at the renowned Kau Tapen Lodge and I headed off with an
excited group of South African anglers, all with their personalbest trout set firmly in their sights. Kau Tapen was started in
1985 and owned by the De las Carreras family and is run by
Nervous Waters, owners of an impressive portfolio of fly fishing
lodges throughout Argentina, Chile and the Bahamas.
The Rio Grande, running practically on its doorstep, is not
a huge river – most pools coverable with a long cast of a singlehanded 8-wt and a relaxed, easy cast with a double-handed
equivalent. The modus operandi is swinging large Woolly
Buggers and leech patterns, but unusually dry conditions this
year required small flies like Prince Nymphs and rubber-legged
Bitch Creek Nymphs bounced on the bottom on fine tippets.
You may have heard that the wind blows hectically in Tierra del
Fuego – and it is indeed no exaggeration!
When the guides drive down to the pools, they carefully
point the vehicle into the wind before parking, as the drive back
to the lodge can be a little breezy if the doors are blown off their
hinges when they are opened the wrong way, apparently something that still happens each season. But the long, lazy meanders
of the Rio Grande mean that it’s only the guide who really needs
to worry about unwanted modifications to his truck; there is
always a pool where the wind conveniently blows away from
your right shoulder.
Typically, we started at the head of a pool and cast short,
gradually lengthening our casts and allowing the fly to swing
temptingly in the current. We found the outside bend on the
far bank – where the current was fastest and the bank the most
undercut – to be the sweet spot. Satisfyingly dropping the fly
tight to the lush green grass on the opposite bank, and a quick
upstream mend to try to hold the fly there a bit longer, was often
rewarded with an arm-wrenching take and line peeling off the
reel. The fishing timetable was about the most civilised you
could imagine: up at 7am, a leisurely breakfast before heading
off with our guide, fishing till 12.30pm and returning to a log
fire raging, for a lunch of perfectly cooked beef and lamb dishes.
The ubiquitous glass or three of wine meant that an afternoon
siesta became an easy cultural adjustment. We headed back
out again at 3pm and fished until well after sunset, which is
often the session when the bigger fish are taken. Sea trout the
world over are far more aggressive in dwindling light and pitch
“a change in TacTics
and mind-seT was
required To Try To
achieve ThaT soughTafTer 10lb-plus
wild river brown.”
“To finally nail
This nemesis, i
wanTed The banker
The banker Time
of year –
no excuses.”
Although La Niña produced a harsh drought and consequential low-water conditions, everyone in the party landed
their biggest trout ever during the trip. But I felt particularly
sorry for the Californian gentleman in his golden years, who
brought his trophy second wife with him. She absolutely hated
every moment of his trip of a lifetime and, as Murphy would
have it, after he landed his best fish of well over 20lb on the
third day, she announced at dinner that night: “That’s it, guys,
we are out of here!” She rebooked their tickets on her iPad and
the following morning we bade farewell to the luckiest unlucky
angler of the week. Well, I suppose you can’t have it all...
• Like South Africa, summer is from October to April, with
February regarded as the prime fishing month.
• Being that close to Antarctica, it is cold even in midsummer.
So technical layering and quality breathable jackets and
waders are a must.
• Rubber and felt-soled boots are permissible, but wading is
easy on the uniform-sized tiny gravel.
• Single-handed 8- and 9-wt rods will do, but, as with many
anadromous river fish, double-handed spey rods just equate
to fewer calories spent trying to achieve more distance.
• Floating, multi-tip lines allow you to fish different depths and
water speeds with a quick and convenient change of the tip.
• Flies for high, coloured water include: Collie Dogs,
Strip Leeches and large Woolly Buggers.
• Flies for low, clear water include: Prince Nymphs, Brassies
and Zug Bugs.
$&-"/ %=4
wOrld-class salmOn fishing
Iceland boasts some of the globe’s most beautiful and unspoilt salmon rivers,
and the Stora Laxa is among the very finest, says RASMUS OVESEN.
Stora Laxa’s Beat IV is incredibly beautiful, but also very remote.
As a result, it requires some agility and stamina to fish.
send another expectant cast out over
the river’s glasslike film. The small #14
Sun Ray Shadow lands with a plop near
the opposite bank and weighs itself down
in the water column, before the current
and the first retrieves hitch it up towards
the surface. Although I am surrounded
by a green river valley, blue sky and dramatic
volcanic landscape, I cannot fully appreciate it
– not yet, at least. My ailing salmon fly fishing
career that has never really got off to any kind
of fair start requires my full dedication, and
every cast with the light 5-wt single-handed fly
rod is charged with the greatest of concentration
and the most intense hopes imaginable.
Above and below: In June and July, most of the migrating fish
are all silver and chrome, but as the migration intensifies more
and more coloured fish will appear.
After several fruitless trips to more or less
doubtful Norwegian and Swedish salmon rivers,
I’ve ventured to the river Stora Laxa in southern
Iceland to realise my chrome salmon fly fishing
dreams. It is still rather early in the season but
already impressive numbers of fish are heading
upriver – numbers so massive that I can hardly
believe they are going to intensify. But they
undoubtedly will, especially later this month
(August) and all through September. By then
every pool will be teeming with activity.
A crosscurrent cast followed by a quick line
mend now guides the fly through a riffle where
the water accelerates over big boulders. My
gaze is firmly fixed on the end of the line, and I
can see how it suddenly holds back a bit, defying
the water’s flight downstream. Lifting the rod,
I instantly feel the weight of a fish that has just
clamped its jaws around the fly. Hectic flashes
of silver follow as the salmon attempts to throw
the hook with slaps of its tail and violent rolls.
It doesn’t help much, though. The fish is solidly
hooked, and I guide it into the rocky shallows.
It is no monster fish, but my euphoria is unmistakeable. My first Icelandic salmon is a reality:
a compact Stora Laxa fish of about 3kg, its
chrome skin dotted with black spots. A more
elegant fish is hard to imagine.
“for The nexT five days,
my buddy marTin and i fish
some of The mosT specTacular
rivers we have ever seen...”
In most places the Stora Laxa can be crossed in a pair
of waders. But in the canyons the river can be rather deep.
Five days of fishing on the river’s four beats await. I have
just started warming up, and still have no clue about the extent
to which this river will end up spoiling me. For the next five
days, my buddy Martin and I fish some of the most spectacular
rivers we have ever seen, and we catch more salmon than even
the most persistent Scandinavian salmon fisherman is likely to
catch in a season. We also have close encounters with some
brown trout and arctic char, fish that throw themselves at our
flies when we least expect it. From Beats I and II’s numerous
pools, where everything from river access to wading and fishing
is unproblematic and convenient, we journey further upstream.
By now we have become relatively experienced in controlled
drifts with small hitch tube and standard tube flies, and are
ready to try some of the more challenging pools on Beats III and
IV. Up here the numbers of salmon are moderate and, as a
result, we will not only be climbing steep cliffs and canyons,
hiking through rolling terrain and wading in heavy currents, but
will also attempt to locate the fish and actually induce some
heady strikes. Not surprisingly, we struggle quite a bit with the
latter, because the pools in this remote area are as difficult to
read as they are enthralling. The fact that Stora Laxa salmon
are generally quite aggressive is what saves us.
Even though we are treading uncertain waters, we still manage to find some huddled schools of salmon in a few seams,
pools and eddies. One of the spots where we find great fishing
is the Heljathrem Pool on Beat III. Here a monumental cliff
towers above a fast run with relatively deep water and lots of
cover. The pool itself is rather small, but it must have a special
attraction for the fish because, even though the fish on Beats III
and IV seem especially keen on travelling further upstream
towards the spawning grounds, this pool consistently holds
smaller schools of fish. Why they defy their urges to push upstream and instead settle here is difficult to say. It’s definitely
no interval of rest though; the fish are constantly chasing each
other around and becoming more and more aggressive.
In order not to disturb the pool too much, we only fish it
early morning and late evening. For me, fishing this pool comes
to epitomise the essence and allure of salmon fly fishing. No
mysticism or hocus-pocus is involved, no underlying uncertainties or unresolved speculation. As long as we swing our small
tube flies crosscurrent at a slow pace, the strikes follow. For
our last three days we hook up with several salmon in the
6kg range that push our light single-handed equipment to the
Stora Laxa, which is undoubtedly among Iceland’s most
beautiful rivers, does not have a reputation for delivering
catches of downright monster salmon. Instead, there are
substantial numbers of fish from the beginning of August until
October, when the season comes to a close. The average size
of the fish is usually somewhere between 3kg and 4kg, and
when the fishing is really good, you frequently connect with
bundles of muscle in the 6kg range. Catching these fish is
extremely entertaining, and even catching them in generous
quantities never gets tiring.
Above: While some anglers prefer double-handed
rods, the Stora Laxa is actually perfect for
single-handed fly fishing.
Right: Martin Ejler Olsen with one of several
5kg-plus fish landed during the week.
The Stora Laxa boasts large numbers of fish,
and while the average size might not be
comparable to Norwegian rivers, there are some
real lunkers to be found here.
The Stora Laxa is also home to some fully grown brown trout and arctic char, and occasionally they would hit the salmon flies.
However, if you’re one of those salmon fly
fishermen who have a propensity for big fish,
it is comforting to know that, with a bit of
luck, Stora Laxa salmon of up to 15kg can be
caught, and 10kg fish are landed with regular
intervals in the high season. Salmon of this
calibre put up a heated fight, and that is exactly
what I get when I fish a promising pool on
Beat I and come into contact with one of the
river’s big fish.
After just a handful of casts comes the
strike, like lightning from a clear sky. A
chrome shape flashes behind the fly, and suddenly the fly line becomes taut. I lift the rod
tip, set the hook and feel the weight of a fish
that surges back towards its holding spot
along the river’s craggy bottom. A series of
strong pulls is followed by a sudden stop. The
fish won’t budge and I find myself worrying
about it being foul-hooked. No matter what,
I need to force the fish away from the sheltering bottom and into the open water, but the
question is whether or not my 5-wt gear,
0.30mm tippet and frail #14 treble hook will
be up for the task.
Main picture: Beat III has some interesting pools such as this
one – the Heljathrem Pool. It produced fish on a regular basis.
Right: The author with an average salmon from Beat III.
It was caught on a new Bomber pattern from Fishmadman.
Below: Martin with a beautiful female salmon that took a
#14 Sun Ray Shadow. The fish in the Stora Laxa seem very
prone to hitting small flies fished sedately crosscurrent.
I apply whatever side pressure I can and pull back on the
fish until the cork handle squeaks and the line sings in the
guides. And finally, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, the fish
yields. It moves into the main current, heads downstream and
throws itself out of the water, the small Sun Ray Shadow firmly
lodged in its gums. Now the fight is truly on!
The fly line cuts through the water with surgical precision,
carefully mapping the fish’s escape route. After having given
up the false security of the holding spot, it hurtles downriver
with me in hot pursuit over slippery rocks. Further downstream, the river and the terrain suddenly drop, the water
accelerates dramatically, whirling and gushing over rugged
boulders. It is pivotal that I prevent the fish from getting there!
To avoid this potential catastrophe, I need to apply some
serious side pressure, so I opt to run swiftly downstream while
doing my best to pick up slack line and keep the fish on a tight
leash. Immediately above the cascade, I manage to turn the
fish around, but it now changes tactics and starts rolling in the
surface film. Slowly but surely I bring it towards land, where
Martin is ready to assist with the landing. A lot can still go
horribly wrong because the fish isn’t really tired yet, and every
time it rolls, it is being carried further downstream where the
frothing water of the cascade awaits.
“for me, fishing This pool comes To epiTomise The
essence and allure of salmon fly fishing. no mysTicism
or hocus-pocus is involved, no underlying
uncerTainTies or unresolved speculaTion.”
It is now or never, so I push my gear to its limit, bring the
fish into the shallows where Martin grabs it by the tail and hauls
it onto the bank. Here we celebrate and marvel at an immaculate
97cm hen, which has to weigh 10-plus kg. I carefully lift it up
for a quick photo and then release it back into the water.
I am left with a sudden appreciation and understanding of
what salmon fishing is really about. All the work, every neat
cast, every tense retrieve, and every watchful glance. I have lost
my soul to salmon fly fishing and not least to the Stora Laxa,
where even the most disheartened salmon fisherman can find
renewed self-confidence and get to experience the essence of
salmon fishing.
This spread: Fishing for salmon in crystal-clear pools requires a bit of skill and a stealthy approach.
Luckily, the fish are aggressive, and they’ll hit a wide variety of flies.
“i’m lefT wiTh a sudden appreciaTion and undersTanding of
whaT salmon fishing is really abouT. all The work, every neaT
casT, every Tense reTrieve, and every waTchful glance.”
• Where and when: A tributary of the
massive glacial river Olfusa, the Stora Laxa is
a medium-sized and extremely clear river that
is well suited for light, single-handed and double-handed fly fishing. Situated in the southern
corner of Iceland, it is among the ten most
productive salmon rivers in Iceland, and in the
2013 season an impressive 1776 salmon were
landed (about 2.5 salmon per rod/day). In the
main season, which stretches from August
to the end of September, daily catches of up to
15 salmon aren’t unusual. At this time of year,
there are huge numbers of fish in the river, and
if your trip coincides with some downpours
and rising water levels, the fishing oftentimes
explodes completely.
• Who to contact: The river is administered
by Icelandic salmon fisherman Arni Baldursson
and a company called Lax-A, the latter managing
over 40km of the river. Ten rods are available
on the four beats: four on Beats I and II, which
are rented out together; two on Beat III; and four on Beat IV.
For additional information, you can contact Lax-A by e-mail:, or visit
• Cost: Depending on the beat and the season, a rod costs
between €490 and €990 per day, which includes accommodation in one of the big and well-equipped self-service cabins that
belong to each beat. These cabins sleep up to 12 guests and are
right on the riverbank.
Above: The author with the biggest fish of the trip –
a massive female that provided some hectic action
on the 5-wt single-hander.
Watching the migrating salmon from a good vantage
point is something really special. Stora Laxa is
crystal clear and, especially on sunny days,
one can spot fish in most pools.
“This journey has been a fantastic fishing experience for us. truly, every part of the trip was great: the staff at the lodge, the guide and the organisation.” - Pierre Martini
Invest in your soul – go fishing!
iceland, greenland, scotland, russia, argentina
1987 - 2017
t e l +3 5 4 5 3 1 6 1 0 0 / e m a i l : i n f o @ l a x- a . i s / w w w. l a x- a . n e t
Bolivia’s golden dorado
Fishing for golden dorado in the Amazon jungle is an experience
not easily forgotten, says GERHARD LAUBSCHER.
“i would almosT go as far as saying
ThaT The Trip is worTh doing even if you Take
The fishing componenT ouT of iT.”
This pristine rain forest section forms part of
the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous
Territory and is home to the finest golden dorado
fishing we know of. Sight-fishing opportunities
are the order of the day, the fish are really big
and we were as far away from civilisation as was
possible without leaving the planet.
We were finally there. The humidity was
palpable, and we knew it was going to be hot
among those trees. The Sécure River was our
first stop. We were scheduled to fish four different rivers on this expedition, two of which had
been operational for a few years and the other
two unfished. Standing on the banks looking
into the Sécure, we could see fish rolling on the
surface not unlike tarpon, big fish that slowly
and purposefully pushed their heads out of the
water. Dirk and I fished together on the first
day. We drifted down the river in one of the
small wooden canoes made by the local Tsimane
people. Being in a rain forest means that there
are lots of dead trees in the water, massive old
trees that once formed part of the forest canopy
and which now create the perfect habitat and
holding water for dorado. During September
each year, there is a substantial upstream migration of sabalo, a black-and-silver baitfish that
roughly resembles our mudfish in shape and
feeding habits. They grow to about 6lb, and the
huge dorado follow the run of bait upriver. We
were hoping to be in the area at the height of the
run and, as the guides reported seeing extensive
shoals of fish migrating upriver, we were hitting
it just right.
“... massive old Trees ThaT
once formed parT of The foresT
canopy and which now creaTe
The perfecT habiTaT and
holding waTer for dorado.”
We caught many fish on the first day, two of
which would have gone over 20lb, and enough
others close to that mark. Drifting downriver,
we fired casts at structure, and by reading the
current lines, we could soon start identifying lies
as our strike rate increased. The deeper we were
able to get the fly into the structure, the better
our chances of pulling a monster out of it. The
trick was not to get the fly stuck, either underwater on submerged logs or branches, or by
overcooking the cast and getting the fly snagged
onto the tree. We were in a rhythm and worked
together to try to cover all the lies. In certain
sections, the river looked like a tree graveyard,
the banks covered for a kilometre with dead
trees. Drifting through these sections was eerie
and a testament of how quickly the water levels
can rise. As we continued on the trip and learnt
more about the rain forest, we came to realise
just how harsh the environment can be. It is
constantly changing, and around every corner
there is something that can bite, sting or eat you.
There is even a certain tree and a frog that could
kill you by just touching it.
Photo: Bernardino Moye
“from Time To Time, you jump huge
golden-yellow fish, and aT ThaT momenT
life really couldn’T be beTTer.”
At one stage, we made it to a small tributary
that joined the main river. A stream of clear
water was flowing into the slightly discoloured
Sécure River over a shallow sandbar and we
caught a string of good fish over the drop-off.
My most exciting fish of the day came when our
guide instructed the local boatman to let the
boat drift a few metres downstream and anchor
with his pole just upstream of an enormous dead
tree in the middle of the river. I had the downstream end of the boat, which meant I had the
best casting position. A few smaller fish and one
decent fish came out from in front of the tree,
but the really interesting lie was on the downstream section of the root network of the old
jumbo. At a 45-degree angle, I fired a cast half
over the tree. It was a risky cast that could easily
get snagged but I was happy to take the chance.
The roots curved into the water, so the fly line
would just slide down into the water and the
current would swing the fly out of the lie. Well,
in theory, at least. As it was, the front half of the
leader and the fly landed perfectly in the lie
immediately behind the tree.
The moment the fly hit the water, there was
a huge boil as a 20lb+ fish attacked the fly and
exploded into the air among the roots. I was
fortunate in that the current pushed the fish
away from the tree and I could fight and land the
fish in open water. Golden dorado are not the
hardest-pulling fish, but I found this style of
fishing really appealing. You driftboat in one
of the most pristine and remote environments
on the planet and fire casts at structure while
sharing the experience with a friend. From time
to time, you jump huge golden-yellow fish, and
at that moment life really couldn’t be better.
About a week later, we were on the Pluma
River, fishing the lower beat just before it joins
the Sécure River. The upper sections of this beat
are still rocky, with a few rapid sections. In one
pool, we could see about six fish hunting sabalo.
They were big, probably in the 30lb region, and
we quickly identified a pattern: they would herd
the baitfish by circling the pool, and then when
they reached the head of the pool, they would
slowly punch them onto the shallow bank. Once
the sabalo were stacked onto the bank, the
dorado would take turns slicing into them and
Photo: Barry Beck
“The ecosysTem is unique and prisTine and
i can highly recommend The experience To any
advenTure-seeking fly angler.”
all you could see were sabalo exploding in every
direction. I could see the fish cruise past me, hit
the tail-out of the pool and circle up the far bank
to start the process over again, each cycle taking
about ten minutes.
Watching them closely, it became apparent
that they held behind some huge submerged
boulders close to the far bank for a minute or
two before starting the cycle again. I positioned
myself a little higher upstream and patiently
waited for the fish to circle around me so that
I could have a shot at them. It was a long cast
and the current dragging on the fly line made it
difficult to cast the big fly all the way across to
where it needed to be. As the shoal passed me,
I kept an eye on them, and sure enough they
reached the bottom of the pool, turned and
headed up the far bank again. When they
reached the boulders, they stopped and I could
see the gigantic fish sitting inches below the
surface in the current break. I took my shot and
for once all went to plan: the cast was slightly
long and high but just enough so that I could
swing the fly down and across right in front of
the fish. As the fly swung into the lie, I gave it a
couple of quick strips and a fish immediately
pounced on it. I only realised how big it really
was when it jumped for the first time. A few
minutes later, I landed what the guide called a
30lb+ fish. We didn’t ever weigh it, so it really
is hard to say, but it didn’t matter to me. These
fish are exceptionally wide and stocky, and this
one was in prime condition. It took some thinking
to outwit the old beast… just the way I like it.
As if that wasn’t enough, an hour or two
later, just upstream of the confluence of the
Sécure and Pluma rivers, I got another fish of
similar size. We were drifting at the time when
she rolled downstream of the boat. Dirk had the
front of the boat, and even though he made a few
casts at her as we went past, she didn’t show any
interest in his fly. I made one last upstream cast
to where the fish had rolled, just to be sure – and
lo and behold, it jumped on the fly! It was one
of those fish that you feel a little guilty catching
as you know your boat partner should have
caught it… Fish like these seem to come in
waves, and when they’re given to you like this,
you need to take them.
A few days later, Dirk made up for it when he
landed a similar-sized fish in the headwaters of
the Agua Negra after a 12km hike and camp-out
in the jungle. I don’t think I have ever seen him
more proud of a fish and with good reason. He
caught the beast in what could best be described
as a North Island trout stream, barely 30ft wide
and running crystal clear. We saw diverse and
different sections of the Amazon, and according
to the guides, the upper reaches of one of the
headwaters we visited had only ever seen 15
Westerners before we got there. We caught more
big fish than we could ever have dreamt of.
I would almost go as far as saying that the
trip is worth doing even if you take the fishing
component out of it. The ecosystem is unique
and pristine and I can highly recommend the
experience to any adventure-seeking fly angler.
“sighT-fishing opporTuniTies are The
order of The day, The fish are really big and we
were as far away from civilisaTion as was
possible wiThouT leaving The planeT.”
Photo: Val Atkinson
Photo: Walter Ruiz
Photos: Ian Davis
Photo: Mark Murray
• It is a long way from anywhere, so be prepared to take the time – it is worth it.
• Make sure you fish with felt-soled wading boots, not rubber soles or flats boots,
as these will ruin your trip. You need the grip of the felt on the slippery, wet rocks.
• Take spare rods and enough flies. Like most first-class destinations, it is
extremely remote and hard on gear, and you don’t want to be stuck there without
a rod or not enough flies.
• If catching huge numbers of fish is your thing, then make sure you go in prime
season when the migratory fish have arrived. There are resident (monster) fish
all year round, but it really hots up once the migration arrives.
Tsimane project
tsimane is located within a national park and indigenous territory, where the amazon jungle meets
the andes mountain chain. the operation is located on the northwest side of this magnificent park –
an area that's reachable only by air or by boat. the landscape is incredible and the rivers are streams
of clear water running through the jungle and the mountain, with wading- and sight-casting-friendly
banks. tsimane is the first operation in the fly fishing world developed as a joint venture between
a private enterprise and a group of native people to set up a project which
involves great social and environmental responsibility.
The fishing experience
tsimane blends, like no other destination on earth, the best aspects of fly fishing:
sight-casting, freestone wading, light tackle, floating lines, majestic scenery, mountain rivers
with clear, virgin waters; and four extremely sportive species reaching very significant sizes.
the favourite fly rod target by far is dorado – the king of the jungle rivers – and you will
quickly find out why as their explosive takes and hard fights will test the best.
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the flats Of hOmOsassa
For tarpon addicts, there are only two fish in the ocean –
tarpon and other fish. ARNO LAUBSCHER journeys to Florida’s
fabled flats of Homosassa to relive the passion.
“Tarpon, 20 yards, three o’clock!” came the words from Captain Dan Clymer,
this after three days of standing on the bow of his skiff while drifting the flats
of Central West Florida, the very same flats that the late Billy Pate fished for
decades, chasing one tarpon world record after the other.
ccess to these vast flats is through various waterways, from
Crystal River south through Ozello and Homosassa. In his
books and articles on tarpon fishing, Pate repeatedly refers
to the flats of Homosassa, which, although he lived in Islamorada in the south of Florida, he regularly fished. This never
really made sense to me because there is endless tarpon fishing from Islamorada itself all the way north to Homosassa. But having fished for tarpon
on the western Florida coastline for the fifth consecutive year, and the flats
of Homosassa and Crystal River for the last three, I wouldn’t even consider
an alternative.
Five years ago, Oscar Feliu and I
fished the Pine Island area south of Boca
Grande. At the time, Pine Island was also
home to the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust,
and Dr Aaron Adams was its director of
operations. I have fished with Dr Adams
in the Pine Island area on more than
one occasion, and although tarpon are
plentiful, it is not a place you want to fish
over a weekend or on a public holiday. I
had the same experience this year when
Oscar and I travelled to Boca Grande, a
couple of miles north of Pine Island, for
a day’s fishing with a guide friend of his.
The entire west coast of Florida is densely
populated and has beach houses on every
single beach and island: from Naples in
the south, bordering the Everglades, all
the way through Cape Coral past Boca
Grande, Tampa and St Petersburg to
Tarpon Springs. From there the coastline
changes into a jungle of islands covered
with mangroves and a maze of rivers and
canals that opens into the Gulf of Mexico
and an area commonly known as the flats
of Homosassa. These flats are accessible
from only a few places, including two
major waterways: the Crystal River in the
north and the Homosassa River about 11
miles south.
I am sure that the major reasons Billy
Pate travelled more than 300 miles north
from Islamorada to Homosassa in search
of tarpon are that there is less traffic on
the water here, very favourable conditions for tarpon to rest during their
migration, and great conditions for resident female specimens upwards of 180lb.
I can remember my excitement at the
prospect of fishing these flats for the first
time three years ago, knowing that this
had been Pate’s favourite spot, had produced 29 tarpon world records (including
Pate’s record of a 188lb specimen on 16lb
class tippet), and that in a few hours I
would be in the very same position.
The night before heading out from
Pete’s Pier in the town of Crystal River,
Oscar and I were tying flies, checking
tackle and drinking Scotch until the early
hours, but we were on the flats by 8am.
I had a picture in my mind of tarpon
all over the place, but that was until the
guide killed the engines and said, “This is
the spot.” There was a totally different
atmosphere hanging over the flats. It was
dead quiet. Oscar and I took turns standing on the bow. There was absolutely no
wind, not even a breeze. The water was
so smooth and the sky so clear that the
horizon was invisible. I could feel beads
of sweat rolling down my neck and all
the way down my back. Had I not been
so passionate about this sort of fishing,
I wouldn’t have the patience for it. It is
definitely not for everyone.
“... unTil you find yourself on The bow of a
flaTs skiff wiTh your fly rod in hand and eyes peeled
over miles of mirror-flaT waTer, unTil you have
spoTTed ThaT very firsT fish, made a casT To iT,
hooked iT and landed iT, unTil ThaT day,
you will noT undersTand whaT iT is all abouT.”
Generally when you read articles and books on tarpon fishing, or watch
movies and speak to people about it, you remember the exciting parts, the
parts about the perfect cast, the fish eating the fly, the strike, the first jump,
a successful landing and then the photos and release at the end. What you
don’t hear, see or talk about is the silence and the wait, the days of standing
on the bow of a flats skiff where you cannot even see the horizon, never
mind a tarpon. The games your eyes play with your mind, when you think
you see something in the distance. You look and look again. The sudden
excitement and then disappointment when a dolphin breaks the surface
after hours of nothing. I can remember watching the time, as the day drew
to a close, knowing that the guide would call it quits at any moment. That
was my first day of tarpon fishing on the flats of Homosassa. Day two was
no different.
Day three followed a similar pattern.
Just before packing it in on the third day,
Dan suggested we try one last spot, but
three days and no fish makes you wonder,
especially when it’s also the last day.
Then suddenly the water changed, baitballs started showing, and Dan said,
“There’s a cobia at your 12 o’clock; take
the shot.” It was a nice big cobia, but
my reply to Dan came quick and simple.
“I’m here to fish for tarpon, not cobia.”
I would rather go home empty-handed
than try to get some sort of satisfaction
out of a fish I hadn’t come to catch. And
I know Murphy’s Law, it’s not on my side.
If I made the cast to the cobia and hooked
it, a great big tarpon would pop up and
I wouldn’t be ready.
The words were barely out of my
mouth when Dan shouted, “Tarpon, 20
yards, three o’clock!” I could not believe
my eyes. There were two laid-up fish, one
about 5ft below the surface facing the
boat, and another above it facing our
six o’clock. And big fish they were! I
launched the fly and made two false casts
before shooting. The line wrapped around
my index finger and fell short. “Cast again!
Cast again!” shouted Dan and Oscar. I
knew I had enough line out the rod tip to
load the rod, so I picked it up and with
one back cast launched the line straight
to the fish closest to the surface. The fly
dropped 3ft in front of it, and it was as
if the fish suddenly woke up and opened
its eyes. I knew I had its attention before
even starting the retrieve.
With short strips and pauses, I kept
it focussed on the fly. “Strip, strip, pause,
strip… she’s going to eat! Strip, strip,
she’s eating, hit her, hit her!” came the
instructions from Dan. At this point the
fish was less than 10 yards from the boat,
and I could clearly see the fly disappearing into her mouth. Luckily she turned
towards the bow, making her first jump
right in front of us. As she hit the water,
Dan shouted, “Hit her again!” I made
sure the hook was properly set and then
watched a spectacular performance consisting of a series of jumps and a wailing
reel with backing peeling off at incredible
speed. An hour and 20 minutes later, she
was at the boat and Dan had the leader in
his hand. We estimated her to be around
150lb. What an experience!
Last year, we fished with Dan for four days. In the first two days, there
were tarpon all over and we had 16 fish eating flies, and landed a couple of
about 130lb. In one day, I had four fish eating flies within 12 yards of the
boat, jumping straight at the boat before I could set the hook. One nearly
knocked me off the boat, missing me by only 3ft. The next two days we
didn’t even see a fish. This year, we saw fish rolling but not staying close to
the surface in order for us to present a fly. We tried various spots, and our
patience was tested to its limits. Until that moment when everything
changed, and Oscar and I each hooked and landed a fish.
If you are lucky, you might only have one cast when you are tarpon fishing,
so you must make it count. It needs to be quick and accurate. When the
fish follows the fly, keep its attention on that fly at all times until it eats it.
And, when it does, make sure you set the hook properly. All of this happens
in a couple of life-changing seconds, and once the fish is running, you will
be praying that your gear will not fail, knots will not break and hooks will
not pull. Believe me, I have missed my fair share mainly because of not
being able to set the hook when a 120lb-plus fish jumped straight at me.
“sTrip, sTrip, pause, sTrip… she’s going To eaT! sTrip, sTrip,
she’s eaTing, hiT her, hiT her!”
I have fished many destinations around the globe, maybe not as many as
others but I do get around. And although I have always fished (and will always
fish) for a large variety of species, I know that the saying is true:
“once you have caughT your firsT
Tarpon you realise ThaT There are
only Two fish in This world:
Tarpon and
oTher fish.”
Billy Pate once wrote: “I choose the long rod to pursue fish. I
am a member of a fraternity of people who live with a passion
for fly fishing and a love of life more intensely lived. I do not see
it as a game or a sport; I see it as a connection to the universe.
Someone once said that there are matters of life and death; then
there is fly fishing. Passion drives people like me.”
I am a member of that fraternity. It’s
the very same passion that drives me
to Homosassa every year to experience
tarpon fishing in the same way Billy Pate
did. You can read about tarpon fishing as
much as you like, watch movies and talk
to people about it for ever and a day. But
until you find yourself on the bow of a
flats skiff with your fly rod in hand and
eyes peeled over miles of mirror-flat
water, until you have spotted that very
first fish, made a cast to it, hooked it
and landed it, until that day, you will not
understand what it is all about. Only then
will you know that you, too, have become
a member of that fraternity.
-"4, "
beyOnd the frOntier
JONATHAN BOULTON takes fishing remote destinations
to a new level – travelling deep into the Alaskan wilderness.
f the amount of time spent travelling to reach a distant fishing destination is proportional to how good
the fishing is, remote Alaska is as good as it gets. Recently overheard at a tackle dealer in Toronto: “If a
visit to Alaska is a religious journey of fly fishing, then the Royal Coachman Lodge in Alaska is indeed
the Vatican.” Seven intrepid anglers embarked on their own quest for the Holy Grail, departing OR Tambo
International Airport in early July. They were dedicated disciples, unmoved by the daunting prospect of 16
hours of in-flight entertainment on Emirates Airline, quite willing to give themselves over to the arduous torture
of economy-class seats to complete their pilgrimage to Anchorage and beyond.
“hell, so much To do, so liTTle Time!
i simply love reTurning To This seTTing each year...”
On arrival in the picturesque and intriguing frontier
town of Anchorage, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and “Bear crossing” signs planted everywhere, you
might be forgiven for thinking the journey has ended.
However, when you are fishing at the Royal Coachman
Lodge (RCL), the most remote lodge in the WoodTikchik State Park (the largest national park in the
USA), there is still some travelling to be done. An
internal flight on Alaska Airlines, which is indeed as
parochial as it sounds, takes you to the town of Dillingham where liquor and cigarettes are sold out of the back
of convenience stores in paper bags with a
wink and a nod. From Dillingham, an hour’s
drive in dated 1970s trucks gets you to a
picture-perfect lakeside village that time has
long forgotten, where the residents own more
boats than cars, and then, guess what – yet
another flight! RCL owns two de Havilland
Beaver floatplanes; no reclining seats, armrests or drinks holders – just well-worn bucket
seats, gaps in the windows and a huge packet
of orange foam earplugs passed around like
Niknaks at a three-year-old’s birthday party.
This last leg is an hour’s noisy flight over the
wonderfully textured tundra, soft rolling hills bisected
by clear creeks and lakes that you just know hold fish
that have never seen a fly. Then, just as your butt and
hamstrings feel as though they are ready to snap and
render you unable to walk upright ever again, the
engine tone of the big Beaver changes, the wings dip
and you descend over the home river and onto the
water so lightly that you’re not actually sure whether or
not you’ve landed. Sidling up to the lodge-side floating
dock after nearly three days of travel could not come
at a better time.
These pages: Alaskan unspoilt beauty at its finest.
“... sofT rolling hills bisecTed by clear
creeks and lakes ThaT you jusT know hold
fish ThaT have never seen a fly.”
“... you soon realise There is a lifeTime
of fishing in remoTe alaska.”
At dinner, RCL owner Pat Vermillion lists the
options: mountain lakes for lake trout and dolly varden;
the Holitna River for possible monster kings if they are
in; sloughs or backwaters for pike; the coastal fishery
for salmon just entering the system if the tides are
right; or a chum fest on the Nushagak River. Hell, so
much to do, so little time! I simply love returning to
this setting each year, a world-class fishing operation
with staff that rarely change and, while there are many
ways to fish Alaska, to me there is only one – a lodgeowned aircraft that flies you out daily to access waters
that are otherwise unreachable on foot. No worries
about whether or not the salmon have migrated up the
river you’re on; it’s simply a matter of break down your
rod, load the floatplane, and up and away you go –
dropping down over the neighbouring mountain range
into another river system.
Top right: Jan Nelson with a dolly varden.
Above right: A rainbow on a mouse pattern.
Below: A bus king salmon.
“leT’s be honesT, we all enjoy hunTing fish,
sTalking and geTTing To a good vanTage poinT...”
Above: Sockeye salmon spectacle.
Above: Sight-fishing on a small feeder stream.
Above: The author with a pike caught on a NYAP.
Let’s be honest, we all enjoy hunting fish, stalking
and getting to a good vantage point and allowing your
eyes to adjust to the glare so that you can spot your
target before planning an assault. Doing it from a floatplane, however, has its advantages. Flying upstream
with the sun behind you, the pilot slows the aircraft to
what seems like a near stall, drops the wing, and gives
you a chance to get a glimpse of what can be expected
below: large groups of chum salmon swimming in
tightly packed shoals up the edge of shallow gravel bars.
Strain your eyes a bit more and look into the deeper
water, out from the gravel bars and up against the
steeper outside banks. There they are – big kings, in
pods of one to four. The guides’ necks stiffen as they
crane for a better view. Confirming the quarry, they
feverishly tap the pilot’s shoulder, giving the thumbs
up to put down as soon as possible. After searching for
a straight section clear of shallow gravel bars and dead
trees, the pilot touches down perfectly, upstream of
where the kings were spotted.
Primed and raring to go, we bail out of the doors like
Gore-Tex-clad combatants ready to assault the front
line. The chum salmon here attain weights of between
6lb and 12lb; they fight hard and are highly aggressive,
hammering either a dead-drifted or swung fly. Even
pre-spawn their colouration changes the minute they
enter fresh water – from chrome silver to a spectacular
mottled pattern only Mother Nature’s canvas could
fashion. And, where there are chums, there are often
kings. Out a little deeper and requiring longer casts,
this is where a spey rod comes into its own. As the
fly comes around, the deep thud of the take and the
searing run of a salt water fish in a fresh water environment confirms you are into a king. One particularly
memorable day out with my roommate Andrew, we
went piking on the Holitna. The guide rowed our boat
into the network of oxbow lakes and shallow backwaters of no more than a few inches deep. Casting deer
hair mice and gurgling them purposefully along weed-
beds and grass mats, we solicited a take of a 42-inch
pike that was so impressive it had us whooping and
screaming like kids. Then there are also the sockeye
salmon, which tend to congregate at the mouths of clear
creeks. They are generally smaller and far more difficult to catch, but come out of the corner slugging well
above their weight class. A rather unusual Alaskan fish
is the shee, often referred to as the tarpon of the Arctic.
This aggressive fish attains impressive weights but is
difficult to fool on the fly. Throw into the mix some
arctic char and gloriously marked rainbows, and you’ll
get a new understanding of the term fish fever!
Combined with some of the most breathtaking
wilderness scenery and the thrill of the ever-present
possibility of walking around a corner to find a bear
enjoying your pool, you soon realise there is a lifetime
of fishing in remote Alaska. I rate it as one of those
must-do trips, and I hope to see you there one day.
Below: An exceptional chum salmon.
offering hosted fly fishing destinations throughout the world, as well as bringing you the best gear from two fine fly shops!
Est 1997
with 20 years in the game, we have only ever been on the water!
having managed and guided at fisheries throughout southern africa and across the globe, the water is what we know and love.
join us as we book our favourite destinations, at only the very best time of year, with all the right gear.
For further information, contact Jonathan Boulton at
Tel: + 27 11 268 5850 or +27 13 254 0270
jurassic lake
died and gOne tO heaVen
DEAN RIPHAGEN takes a trip to southern Argentina and discovers
rainbow trout fishing that is simply out of this world.
’ve had the great privilege of fishing some of the
world’s most famous fly fishing destinations, and
while many like New Zealand have lived up to
their reputations, others haven’t. Jurassic Lake
is an Argentinian lake (with a small feeder
stream) that I’d read and heard much about. When
we put our reconnaissance trip together, there was a
niggling concern at the back of my mind that the venue
might not live up to expectations. How wrong I was! It
not only lived up to them but exceeded them beyond
our wildest dreams. A trip to Jurassic Lake is a special
journey. Aside from trout fishing that will blow your
mind, you get to see a truly beautiful part of the world
and interact with people who are both friendly and
Arriving in the small town of El
Calafate, after a nine-hour flight from
South Africa to Buenos Aires and then
a second, two-and-a-half-hour flight, we
packed our gear and provisions into three
vehicles and started the seven-hour overland journey to the lake. The trip took us
through varied landscapes, the majority
stark and arid. Once the vehicles had
turned off the sealed road, it became a
tortuous track across a barren plateau
before descending to the lake shore. The
final 20km took a grinding three hours!
This and the fact that the majority of the
lake shore is privately owned, ensure that
the fishing is truly remarkable, and will
remain so for the foreseeable future.
From a transportation viewpoint, much
has changed since our first trip there
in 2007. The long trip via vehicle is no
longer a reality for visiting anglers. A
recently built airstrip on the plateau surrounding the camp means that the travel
time from El Calafate to the camp is cut
down dramatically. Once the charter flight
arrives on the airstrip it’s now just a 30minute drive to the camp.
Southern Argentina and specifically
the Tierra del Fuego region falls within
the latitudes known as “the Roaring
Forties”, and the wind is an ever-present
consideration for anglers armed with fly
rods. Fortunately Jurassic Lake lies just
north of this windy belt, although our
first sighting of the water was of a lake
streaked with white caps. The wind lasted
only a day, and then we were blessed with
a further three days of idyllic fly fishing
conditions. After about an hour-anda-half of negotiating the dirt track in
low-ratio four-wheel drive, we caught a
glimpse of the stream that feeds the lake.
I would guess that at this point we were
approximately 20km above the lake,
and there was probably another 10km of
water upstream of the spot where we
forded it in the trucks. The water was
crystal clear and in many ways resembled
the Nevis River near Cromwell in New
Zealand. Driving along the track that ran
parallel to the stream we saw something
in the water which we wanted to believe
was a trout, but were too embarrassed
to ask the guide. When someone did pipe
up and ask whether it was a fish, he
confirmed that it was. Then we realised
just what we would be casting to in the
days to come.
“driving along The Track ThaT ran parallel To The sTream
we saw someThing in The waTer which we wanTed To believe was
a TrouT, buT were Too embarrassed To ask The guide.”
We finally arrived at the camp which
is located a stone’s throw from the water’s
edge. The sight that greeted us was like
nothing I have ever seen before! Hundreds of giant trout were stacked up in
the first pool of the stream above the lake,
with hundreds more loitering around at
the point where the stream feeds into
the lake. Added to this, the water had a
clarity that would make the clearest New
Zealand lake look dirty.
Although a map will identify the lake
as Lago Strobel, most anglers know it as
Jurassic Lake. Most of the land surrounding the lake is owned by three
farmers, but Señor Rodriguez owns the
most productive part of the lake where
the stream enters it. The lake is huge –
an inland sea almost – with its eastto-west bank stretching 20km, and many
parts of its north-to-south banks almost
as long. To put the lake in perspective,
it’s larger than Sterkfontein Dam, making
it a substantial piece of water and certainly the largest lake I’ve ever fished for
The lake and its stream are situated
just 2000km north of the Antarctic, and
the water temperature therefore does not
exceed 5º Celsius year round. Because
the water is always so cold, the fish have
a natural urge to spawn throughout the
year, irrespective of season. The problem
is that they cannot all spawn together
in the stream because there simply isn’t
enough space. So the fish have learnt to
take it in turns and there is a permanent
concentration of fish in the vicinity where
the stream enters the lake, as well as east
and west of the stream inlet.
“hundreds of gianT TrouT were
sTacked up in The firsT pool of The
sTream above The lake...”
Above: What they eat – scuds occur in abundance.
En route to the lake, we passed two
dilapidated caravans with several 44gallon drums strapped to their sides.
These caravans are used by commercial
fishermen who farm fish in the smaller
lakes surrounding Jurassic Lake. It was
from these commercial fishing ventures
that the fish apparently found their way
into the stream that feeds the lake. Ten
years ago, the fish got into the stream,
then bred and drifted down to the lake
where they populated it, growing fat on
enormous populations of scuds (small
fresh water shrimp found in alkaline
spring creeks and lakes in certain parts of
the world). To all intents and purposes,
this is the only food available to the fish
and, judging by the condition of the trout,
there seems to be an abundance of them.
They cause a trout’s flesh to turn bright
orange in the same way that a salmon’s
flesh turns orange from feeding on crustaceans while in the ocean. I’ve never
tasted trout so delicious in all my life.
Thanks to the abundant scuds, we
never caught an under-conditioned fish –
in fact, those we caught could only be
described as obese! One in particular
stood out from any trout I have seen
worldwide. Caught by Stuart Grant, it
was 20 inches long and under “normal”
circumstances would’ve weighed around
4lb, but instead weighed 7lb.
Jurassic Lake is unlike anything that
anyone in our party of six South Africans
had fished before, and I can say with
conviction that there is no other fishing
for rainbow trout like this in the world.
Period. On our first afternoon, all the
anglers made their way to the lake shore
directly in front of the camp. A stiff wind
was blowing so everyone was rigged up
with 7-wt outfits and intermediate lines.
It was chaos the moment John’s third
cast hit the water. Everyone was fishing
large leech-type patterns, and within five
minutes every angler had landed a fish,
with sizes as follows: John Anderson –
10lb, Stuart Grant – 13lb, Andy TyndaleBiscoe – 10lb, Andre Hamman – 13lb,
Tom Lewin – 9lb. The scene can only be
described as manic, with every angler
getting his personal best trout within the
first five to ten minutes. I did not fish
on the first morning, choosing rather to
shoot video footage and photographs.
But during the late afternoon when we
found ourselves wandering along the
stream bank, Tom insisted I have a cast
or two. Well, it was my birthday after all,
and it would have been a waste not to
have a throw. In two casts I had two fish:
the first 12lb and the second 13lb.
Above: The author with a solid 13lb rainbow.
Below: Tom Lewin with a monster of 17½lb taken from the stream.
While blind-fishing the lake using
large leech patterns and 7-wt outfits isn’t
the most exciting method, it certainly is
productive – and if the wind blows there
really is no alternative. Three days of
calm weather, however, allowed us to fish
floating lines using 5- and 6-wt outfits,
and then we experienced fishing that I
can only describe as unforgettable.
The guides had an inflatable raft at
their disposal and use this to ferry anglers
east and west of the camp along the
shore. The anglers would then make
their way back to camp, sight-fishing as
they went. The shoreline is made up of
jagged rock bluffs and outcrops which
enable anglers to climb onto vantage
points, allowing fish to be seen in the
“... and i can say
wiTh convicTion ThaT
There is no oTher
fishing for rainbow
TrouT like This in The
world. period.”
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I 7 ;9 : 7 6 >7 E E F: 3 @
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“where are The smaller fish you ask? i’ve no idea.”
Although the fish in the stream were
marginally smaller than those in the lake,
taking fish up to 14lb on small Glo Bugs,
Krystal Eggs and Flashback Nymphs
was a great experience. The water was
low and clear on our arrival, but later
coloured with the melting snow as the
days warmed, which meant the sightfishing wasn’t what it could have been.
This didn’t stop us – it just made it more
difficult to pick out the real trophies from
the smaller fish of up to 10lb. With the
water remaining low and clear during the
first 36 hours after our arrival, it was
possible to single out the trophies and to
drift our flies right onto their noses. If a
cast was wayward and it looked as if the
fly was going to drift onto a smaller fish,
we simply pulled it away and re-cast at
a larger one. Just about any fly worked,
but to make things interesting we started
using smaller patterns. Some of the very
large fish we caught were taken on #16
nymphs which was an amazing experience. The stream continues from the lake
into the catchment area and is perhaps
25km - 30km in length, although the
fishing was so frenetic near the camp that
we only really explored the lower 2km of
the stream.
We were advised to take rods in the
5- to 7-wt category, and although we used
our 7-wts on the first day to combat
the wind, for the rest of the trip we used
5- and 6-wts. Lines designed for use in
tropical conditions will coil and frustrate
your fishing efforts, so we took along
Scientific Anglers’ Striped Bass lines for
our 7-wts, which are designed for the cold
water found off the eastern American
seaboard – just the ticket for the water we
fished. Floating lines are essential while
sight-fishing in the lake and stream, and
we really had a ball with the lighter
outfits. Tom Lewin managed to take an
11½lb rainbow hen on his 30-year-old
Orvis bamboo fly rod – a personal best
for him on that particular rod. Because
the fish are so large, it would be foolhardy
to fish light tippets. I stuck to fluorocarbon throughout the week, fishing 0X
on my 7-wt outfit and 3X on my 6-wt.
I was occasionally broken up, but this
was always in the stream when the fish
charged downstream. Clothing and technical gear are an important consideration
when visiting this part of the world,
because you really need to be prepared
for every eventuality. Waders are a
necessity and without them you simply
would not be able to fish. Good wading
boots are also a must, since a great deal
of walking is done over jagged rock.
There was scant reference material
available regarding the flies required for
Jurassic Lake and the stream that feeds
it, so I went with my gut feeling and tied
lots of large leech-type patterns. I also
took eight other fly boxes that I use
for stillwater and stream trout fishing in
South Africa, and they proved to be a
godsend! The large leech patterns were
effective, but we only really needed them
on the first day when the wind blew and
fishing 5-wt outfits was out of the question. On calm days, we were able to catch
fish using egg patterns and reasonably
small nymphs fished in combination,
suspended below yarn indicators. The
water in the lake is so clear that there
is no way the fish are going to miss your
patterns. This means you can fish small
flies to make things interesting, as we did,
but there will always be the chance that
a real bus will come along, and your
chances of holding a really big fish on a
small hook simply aren’t as good as if the
fish were hooked on a larger one.
“if a casT was wayward
and iT looked as if The fly
was going To drifT
onTo a smaller fish, we
simply pulled iT away and
re-casT aT a larger one.”
On the afternoon of the second day,
while enjoying a cold beer lounging in the
camp chairs overlooking the lake, Alberto
asked us to go and “catch two 5-kilo
fish for dinner”. Within five minutes we
had two fish of 11lb apiece on the bank!
Naturally we were interested to see what
the fish had been feeding on, but the only
food form we found in their stomachs
was scuds. For future trips, I would
definitely tie up loads of scud patterns,
which would without doubt be supremely
effective for the large lone fish patrolling
the lake shore. These crustaceans are
about half an inch long and most are
either burnt orange or dark olive in
colour. Another pattern which would be
very effective for these fish is something
like Andy Burke’s Stillwater Nymph. This
pattern, like a scud imitation, could be
cast ahead of a patrolling fish, allowed to
sink and then retrieved with short strips
or a hand-twist. They could be fished
without an indicator, which we found to
be a huge distraction for many of the
larger fish.
The fish in the stream were suckers
for egg imitations and small nymphs.
There are loads of spawning fish in the
stream, and along with these come a heap
of fish in a variety of sizes that feed on the
eggs. In the clear water it was easy to see
the spawning fish paired up, and there
would usually be one or two fish lying
downstream of the spawning fish, feeding
on the spawning female’s eggs. Then it
was simply a case of pitching the patterns
upstream and to the side of the spawning
fish, and allowing them to drift onto the
fish hanging below. The spawning fish
would be too preoccupied to eat the flies,
so the patterns were always taken by the
fish hanging downstream.
We had a number of fish rise to our
indicators in the stream, so as an experiment we tried a drift with a Club Sandwich dry fly. The pattern didn’t drift more
than 6ft before a large head appeared and
sucked down the dry. The fish weighed
9lb and was the largest I’ve taken on a dry
fly anywhere in the world. When I go
back to Jurassic Lake and its stream,
I will definitely take a selection of large
dry flies and give them more time on the
water. Our Finnish angling companion
Esko fished dry flies quite often on the
stream, and his largest fish was a beauty
of 15½lb.
The season runs from the beginning
of November through to the end of April.
I was pleasantly surprised by the camp,
given the logistics of getting all the materials to the site. The guides built the
camp on a raised bank overlooking the
lake, ideal for sundowners in the late
afternoon. It was a 50-yard walk from
the camp to the lake or stream, making
its location ideal. When we first visited
Jurassic Lake, the camp consisted of four
large domed tents for clients and guides,
plus a very large dining tent. That has all
changed, however, and the newer camp
is far more upmarket, with solid wooden
structures replacing the tents. All bedrooms now have en-suite bathrooms.
Today there is even a permanent dining
area and a whisky bar. The chef cooks
three meals a day, and the odds of an
angler losing weight on this trip are slim.
There is a good chance of seeing Patagonian foxes and pumas around camp,
which really adds to the experience.
Kola Peninsula
Have you ever really thought about what makes a fishing
trip memorable? Keith Rose-innes explains why he keeps
going back to Russia’s Kola Peninsula and the Ponoi River.
or me, a fishing trip is not only about what you catch; it’s one thing to
catch the fish of your dreams, but it’s an entirely different experience to
remember that fish along with the amazing journey you took to the point
at which you caught it. Rivers such as the Alta in Norway, the Vatnsdalsá
in Iceland, the Cascapédia in Canada and the Tweed in Scotland have
fascinating angling histories that greatly add to their allure. I have always found the
history that surrounds the hunt for the Atlantic salmon intriguing, and this species
has always been high on my catch list.
My infatuation with the Kola Peninsula in far northwest
Russia and its different rivers started 12 years ago, when I spent
five seasons flying around the area while guiding on Russia’s
Ponoi River. During the winter months, this magnificent peninsula is blanketed in a layer of impenetrable ice and snow, but
summer induces a complete melt to reveal a vast maze of fish
habitats – river systems that would make any seasoned salmon
fisherman’s mouth water. As the Kola is surrounded by the
Barents Sea in the north and the White Sea in the east and
southeast, there is endless seafront for Russia’s anadromous
species to enter the rivers to complete their spawning cycle.
Fly fishermen first started exploring the Kola when it was
opened to foreigners in the late 1980s and, since then, a number
of Russian rivers with their different runs of Atlantic salmon
have become famous. The first man in space, Yuri Gagarin,
fished the Ponoi with the local Sami people decades ago, and
today the Ponoi is widely regarded as one of the best Atlantic
salmon rivers in the world (and the current Russian president’s
favourite fishing spot). Located just above the Arctic Circle at
a latitude of 67 degrees north, the Ponoi flows roughly from
west to east, entering the Barents Sea on the southeast coast of
the Kola Peninsula. It is 426km in length, varying from 60m to
more than 150m in width, and has 244 tributaries of the first
order, some of which are 190km long.
The area is also shrouded in war history. Murmansk was
the last city founded by the Russian Empire during World War I
when there was a need for an ice-free port in the Russian Arctic
to which Russian allies could ship military supplies. During
World War II, Murmansk was a badly needed supply link with
the Western world, so much so that German forces launched a
massive offensive against the city in 1941. Later on during the
Cold War, Murmansk was the centre of Soviet submarine and
icebreaker activity and, to this day, the nearby naval base of
Severomorsk remains the headquarters of the Russian northern
fleet – and home to the world’s only fleet of nuclear-powered
icebreakers and also, sadly, a graveyard to the Soviet Union’s
nuclear submarines.
“There is no polluTion,
no poaching, no obsTrucTions
or neTs in The river, and no
encroaching civilisaTion.”
Atlantic salmon is the only species of salmon that can spawn
and survive the ordeal. Their numbers are currently in drastic
decline and there are not many rivers where the population is
healthy, but since the Ponoi River Company took over the
fishing rights of the Ponoi and introduced recreational fishing,
they have installed a catch-and-release fishery and a scientific
programme that calculates stock abundance. This programme
has led to the removal of a counting fence in 1994, which for
decades was run by the Russian government who put nets
across the river, effectively forming a fence and blocking the run
of salmon. These fences were operated on a commercial basis;
one day they would be closed and all fish taken, the next day
they would be opened again, letting the fish through to spawn.
This, in theory, allowed the government to harvest half the run;
but since the removal of the counting fence, there has been an
immense increase in stocks.
There are three different fishing camps on the Ponoi, but
I would suggest Ryabaga Camp that holds the best fly fishing
water and is the best camp too by far. From the camp at the
confluence of the Ryabaga and Ponoi rivers, anglers fish a
stretch of river on both banks which extends 67km to a point
where the river enters the Barents Sea – and they also have
access to a very good tributary, the Purnache. The main reason
I favour the Ponoi is for its numbers of fish and its strong fall
run of Atlantic salmon. It is one of the few rivers where
catch statistics are recorded in thousands and where, even in
its slowest weeks, numbers might exceed an entire season’s
catch on certain Canadian or Scottish rivers.
Why do salmon take the fly? Many may argue that it’s
because the salmon are deceived into believing that the fly is their
next meal, but this is not true because Atlantic salmon do not
feed once they have entered fresh water. Unlike most Atlantic
salmon rivers around the world, the Ponoi has two distinct runs
during the year: the summer run and the fall run. My favourite
time of year is during the fall run in August and September. Expectations are high as these large, silver, sea-liced bullets start
coming in from the sea. Since they enter the river with unformed
gonads and have to wait for these to form before they can spawn
the following October, they spend up to 18 months in the river
without eating, and leave the river as kelts (spawned-out fish)
when the ice breaks the following May or June.
“in Two weeks during The augusT/sepTember
period, we Tagged 34% of The world’s aTlanTic
salmon ThaT are Tagged annually.”
This makes differentiating between the summer and fall fish
pretty easy. The fall fish are noticeably fatter because they feed
up while at sea in preparation for their long stay in the river,
and the summer run is the smaller grilse (having spent one
winter in the sea and weighing under 6lb) and some big female
fish up to and over 20lb. This run enters the river in late June
with gonads formed and ready to spawn later that fall, and
leaves as kelts the following spring. To hit the prime fishing
period of any salmon river, research the river and pay particular
attention to the type of run and the time of year it occurs, as
runs vary from river to river.
In the four-and-a-half months that make up the season,
tactics will vary considerably as the season progresses. During
the first ten days, most fish are taken down deep with the high
and cold water; the favoured technique being to cast square
with heavier tubes and sink-tip lines. Anglers often mend upstream to slow the fly down and sink it further; this is usually
when the greatest number of fish are caught because the high
water concentrates the fish and the river is still full of the
previous year’s fall run. The fish are bright in colour, but would
have entered the river before it iced over so they do have a slight
tint of tannin.
As the water warms up during spring and summer, it is
mostly floating line and excellent smaller fly or skated/bomber
fishing with very visual takes and follows. During this period,
the summer run enters the river, allowing anglers the joy of
catching both fresh silver fish and darkies. Mending down and
even stripping with a skating fly or dry fly occurs on a regular
basis. Often a salmon will make a number of attempts at taking
a skated dry fly, creating a chance for the angler to try new
things and win the challenge by hooking up. It’s an exciting
time as you can see every fish that you catch on the dry first. I
remember one particular fish that came for a dry fly 12 times
before finally falling to a change of fly. All too soon, it is October
and anglers are heading home. Once it gets very cold, the
fishing switches off as the temperature drops below freezing
and the fish start filling the deep pools. The entire experience
is something that you will never forget. The only reason you
will want to go home is to tell your stories and show everyone
the photographs of the one that didn’t get away.
“why do salmon Take The fly?
many may argue ThaT iT’s because The
salmon are deceived inTo
believing ThaT The fly is Their nexT
meal, buT This is noT True because
aTlanTic salmon do noT feed
once They have enTered fresh waTer.”
New Zealand
land of the long white cloud
Looking back and taking stock after several trips Down South,
PJ Jacobs comes to the conclusion that if trout fishing is your thing,
New Zealand’s South Island is a hard place to beat.
hen I wrote the introduction to fishing New
Zealand in 2001 for The Complete Fly Fisherman, I knew that we had barely scratched
the surface of the fishing available in that
country. Now, 16 years and many trips later
(and a little wiser perhaps), I am certain that in my lifetime New
Zealand will never lose its fascination. The purpose of this
article is to see if what I wrote back then still holds good.
To date, we have done a total of 18
trips to New Zealand’s South Island, each
between four and five weeks in duration.
Almost every day is spent fishing, inclement weather being the only deterrent.
Conservatively, that adds up to roughly
24 months of solid fishing and, bearing
in mind that we travel between 4500
and 6500km each trip, we have certainly
covered a lot of ground. But have we seen
the best of it? Not by a long shot. The
last trip firmly brought home the fact
that, although the fishing may have been
better in some years than in others, the
quality of the experience only increased
as we came to understand more about the
country and its fishery.
Well, for starters, measured against
other international destinations, it is still
surprisingly affordable. We compared
our most recent budget (2016) to that
of the 2001 trip (my third), and were
pleased to find that it is still very much
in line. Although the accommodation
was more expensive, our original budget
still catered for all our current needs,
mainly because we had discovered how
to spend it better.
As a trout venue, its equal will be hard to find anywhere in
the world, but I have fished long enough to know that to a large
degree the quality of the experience depends on the expectations. I prefer uncomplicated fishing, and for me New Zealand
fits the bill perfectly. By that I mean you can have a true wilderness experience without having to fight bears or other dangerous wildlife for a spot on the river, and you do not necessarily
have to resort to using a helicopter or floatplane to get there
either. (Not that I mind a bit of adventure now and then, but
I’d rather pack for comfort than protection, if you know what
I mean.) Also, I like wild fish and the opportunity to sight-fish
them. Throw in the odd trophy (which isn’t the main focus,
mind you) and you are talking first-class trout fishing – equal
and mostly better than almost anywhere else.
“... we have cerTainly covered a loT of ground.
buT have we seen The besT of iT? noT by a long shoT.”
If you are into numbers, there’s that too. Some of the rivers
and other waterways do support high numbers of trout, but
these are usually smaller than the fish I like to target when
sight-fishing. By smaller, I mean anything from 1lb - 4lb;
certainly nothing to sneeze at. Even in these (densely populated
for New Zealand) rivers, fish numbers are nowhere near that
of some North American rivers. However, the fish here are
generally larger and there is always the possibility of a doublefigure fish. Most anglers do not sight-fish these rivers and
employ the same tactics used to fish blind for trout elsewhere
in the world with good success. If you are up to the challenge,
some rivers do offer double-figure fish for the taking, but a word
of caution: those fish don’t get to be trophy size by being stupid.
Also, the rivers that hold numbers of trophy fish have very low
fish numbers, and usually entail a lot of walking and stalking.
Catching them takes hard work, lots of physical exercise, dedication and a reasonable level of skill. Even then you may only
get one or two a day, but it will be well worth it – if not for
the fish alone, then for the total holistic experience.
Although nymphing accounts for most fish caught, some of
the rivers are eminently suited to the dry fly and produce outstanding top-water fishing, especially the spring creeks of which
there are a good number in the South Island, although they can
be hard to find. If fishing stillwaters and lakes is your thing,
you also won’t be disappointed, for there are simply too many
to mention. Some are huge – one in the South Island in particular has a shoreline in excess of 500km (310 miles). Several
offer good sight-fishing, and although a few of the large lakes
require a seaworthy boat to properly explore them, you can
always find a spot to throw a fly with good prospects for a hook-
“if you are up To The challenge, some rivers do offer
double-figure fish for The Taking, buT a word of cauTion:
Those fish don’T geT To be Trophy size by being sTupid.”
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If there is one thing over and above the fishing that is
plentiful, it’s accommodation. The South Island relies heavily
on tourism, and this shows in the numerous options available
as far as accommodation is concerned. From camping to B&B,
self-catering and hotel accommodation, there is a wide variety
to choose from. A simple Internet search will answer most of
your questions. For fly fishermen, first prize will obviously be
a fishing lodge. Most lodges offer guiding services, which can
include helicopter, floatplane or jet boat options. Some even
have private access to rivers – a rare thing in New Zealand –
ensuring that your beat won’t be disturbed on the day.
Back when we first started fishing New Zealand in 2000
there was little or no crowding on most rivers. As can be
expected, the situation today is different: name rivers definitely are more crowded now, and it requires planning and
sometimes an early start to secure a beat on some of these.
With a few exceptions, rivers do not have an official beat
system, and even if you arrive early you may find other anglers
getting onto the river in front of you. However, this will be
the exception and a friendly conversation will usually sort
out the situation. Bear in mind, crowded in New Zealand
terms is hardly crowded compared with almost anywhere
else, and while you may not get your preferred spot on the
river on a given day, chances are that you’ll find undisturbed
water in another section of the same river. One thing though,
although access to rivers is mostly free, there is still some
protocol that needs to be observed. Much of this simply boils
down to good manners, but always assume access to be a
privilege, and not a right. Fish & Game accesses are properly
marked, but rather ask when in doubt. In fact, it’s good policy
to ask for permission everywhere you fish if the river is on
private property. Close all gates, don’t disturb livestock,
leave only footprints and respect and protect somebody else’s
property as if it were your own. That way, you’d be welcome
almost anywhere. Finally, treat other anglers with respect
and courtesy, and you’re likely to be afforded the same.
“i like wild fish and The
opporTuniTy To sighT-fish Them.”
“... you are Talking firsT-class TrouT fishing – equal and mosTly
beTTer Than almosT anywhere else on The planeT.”
When I made my first trip to New Zealand in 2000, I took a
5- and a 6-wt rod on the good advice of some friends who had
done the trip and that advice still holds good. Throw in an 8’6”
4-wt for spring creeks and you will have the bases covered. It
makes sense to take spare rods anytime you are fishing a worldclass destination, so double up if your baggage allowance caters
for it. A (good) floating line will get the job done for most of the
river fishing. I prefer a grey or olive line, and leave it up to you
to argue whether it works better than a brightly coloured line.
An intermediate will be an asset if you are fishing stillwaters
and lakes, as will a fast-sinking line. I buy two boxes of goodquality, 2X 10ft leaders, and step them down to the desired
tippet diameter. Typically, I’ll add 4ft to 6ft or more of 2X, 3X,
4X or 5X, all depending on the weight/size of the fly.
The point fly is attached to the dropper with 4X or 5X.
Normally long leaders are called for: anything from 12ft - 20ft,
with 14ft being more or less the standard. As far as tippets are
concerned, when you have to strike a balance between big and
wary, strong fish, fast rivers and enough strength in the tippet
to actually land them, 4X is the norm, although 3X will still fool
the odd trout and give you the chance to muscle up on the fish.
I like double rigs New Zealand-style, but that does not mean
I use them exclusively or that other terminal set-ups won’t
work. I have caught enough fish fishing single flies to be able
to vouch for that.
What flies? No simple answer to this
one! South Island fish are generally not
too fussy and the truth is that almost any
correctly presented, drag-free pattern will
take fish. However, getting the fly to the
fish in that fashion is a lot easier said than
done. Later in season, fish become more
educated, and especially in spring creeks
having the right fly can make the difference between success and failure. I have
my preferences as far as patterns are
concerned, but more important to me are
size and weight. Getting a small fly to
fish at the right depth is a good recipe for
success – provided all other criteria are
met. Sometimes big fish want big flies
too, but generally flies in #10 - #18 will do the trick. If you are
fishing with a guide, he’ll have that covered. If not, take your
standard trout box, but make sure you have plenty of small
nymphs that are properly weighted. An Internet search will
quickly identify popular NZ patterns, but, as I’ve said, I place
more store on presentation and getting down to where the fish
are than a specific pattern. These days I also fish a lot of CDC
patterns, especially dries and they seem to work exceptionally
well. Mostly because, I presume, the fish don’t see them that
often. Throw in a couple of Hair and Coppers too, they still work
surprisingly well.
Long-sleeved shirts and long pants – preferably of quickdrying material. Stick to neutral colours like browns, olives and
greens. A warm jacket and lightweight raincoat are essential,
as are polarised sunglasses, a woollen beanie and good-quality
wading boots with rubber soles. I prefer a hat to a cap, and
waders come in very handy at times, but are not essential.
Whatever else you wish to take clothing-wise is up to you, but
remember – you have to carry it on your back most of the time.
Four Seasons in One Day is a popular local song, and I guess
that says it all. So, go prepared.
This depends entirely on where you stay and what you do.
Apart from the annual licence fee (NRL) which is around
165NZ$, the fishing is free (excluding a guide), but prices for
accommodation vary greatly. Depending on location, you can
usually find pretty good self-catering digs almost anywhere
between 120 - 200NZ$ for two people, and even less if you are
not too particular.
Is a 4x4 essential? If this is your first trip or if you will be
making use of a guide most of the time, the answer is no. As
you get to know the rivers and the access to preferred spots, an
off-road vehicle certainly does come in handy and in some cases
can be indispensable. Transport can also be costly if you hire
new vehicles, especially a 4x4. Shop around since there are
quite a few firms specialising in this, but be wary of cheap deals.
This can leave you stranded with a bad vehicle somewhere
remote with no backup.
Initially our budget was pegged on 240NZ$ a day (two people,
all in, no guide), and that included vehicle hire of around 75NZ$
per day. Until about three years ago, that was sufficient but we
have found it necessary to increase it slightly during our last
three trips. Bear in mind that we self-cater and rarely eat out.
If you are taking your wife or girlfriend, budget on around 280
- 300NZ$ per day (all in), and you’ll be very comfortable, eat
well and maybe even fit in a few meals in restaurants if you are
careful on how you spend. If you like roughing it a bit, you
could easily knock 50NZ$-plus off that – but then buying good
wines and single malts won’t be for you.
surroundings that are a blessing to both eye and soul. If you
happen to be a photographer as well you might forget the fishing for a while, captivated as you will be by the images floating
through your camera lens.
For the sceptics among you, what are the downsides? Not
many. You need to be in relatively good physical condition
since some of the fishing involves quite a bit of walking. The
sand flies can be rather fierce in some locations, and if you want
guided fishing all the time, it will certainly put a strain on the
budget. The fish can become fussy, especially when fished over
a few times, but in my book, that’s a plus and, apart from
unpredictable weather, there’s not much else I can put my
finger on.
It’s a fallacy that you need to be an accomplished fly fisher
to enjoy a trip to the South Island. Okay, so there are rivers and
lakes where even highly skilled anglers achieve scant success,
but there are more than enough others that cater to intermediate
skill levels. Being able to cast into the wind is a definite plus,
but once you realise that not all the trout are a country mile
“... new zealand offers almosT everyThing a dedicaTed TrouT
fisher could wish for – and probably more sTill.”
Aside from the obvious, there are other things that draw us
to New Zealand’s South Island. It is sparsely populated (even
if you throw into the mix the hordes of tourists that frequent
the island seemingly all year round), and peace and quiet is on
offer almost everywhere. It is hard not to be impressed by the
countryside, and superlatives are normally used to describe
most of it. When not in spate, rivers run crystal clear amid
away, a moderate caster should be able to cope with all but the
dreaded nor’wester – which can literally blow you off your feet
at times (as my wife and I can bear testimony to).
Finally, bearing in mind New Zealand is a first-world country
with free, quality trout fishing, it sounds like a trout fisher’s
heaven, doesn’t it? We’ve certainly come to that conclusion,
and, I suspect, so will you.
Stonefly Lodge offers the complete package for any fly fishing
enthusiast, providing expert guiding and instruction for the
novice or experienced fly fisherman.
The 5-star luxury lodge on the banks of the Motueka River in the South Island,
offers access to world-class brown trout rivers, spectacular New Zealand scenery
and wilderness activities, all within an hour’s drive from the lodge.
Heli-fishing in remote, pristine backcountry rivers is our speciality.
For the non-fishing person, the region offers a wide variety of spectacular
tours from hiking, wine tasting and kayaking, to exploring one of New Zealand’s
recognised boutique arts and craft regions.
Ph: +64 3 522 4479 |
Piscatorial Perfection of the
Spanish Pyrenees
MaRcus Janssen finds there’s a lot more to Spain than
vineyards and towering mountains.
once went to a rock concert in Joburg back in the days when I was still inclined to do such
things. I wish I could tell you who the headline act was, but I’m afraid I can’t. Don’t get me
wrong, I’m sure they were very good because I clearly remember having a whale of a time. It’s
just that when the curtain-raisers (Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu) for the international
superstars came on stage and the first distinctive beats of Great Heart reverberated around
the stands of Ellis Park, euphoria erupted as though we had just won the Rugby World Cup all over
again. It wasn’t long before it became abundantly clear that the
big-shot rock stars and their enormous entourages had just been
upstaged by a local band they’d probably never even heard of. That
sort of thing happens every now and then, and you can’t help but
smile when it does. Indeed, it happened to me again on a recent
fishing trip to the Spanish Pyrenees.
Above: Fishing a hatch in the late afternoon. Page left: Truly magnificent Pyrenean scenery:
flooded, glacial valleys set amidst a backdrop of rugged alpine wilderness filled with sparkling lake waters.
You see, having skied, fished and hiked in the
Austrian, French and Swiss Alps, I fully expected to be
underwhelmed by their lesser known and somewhat
less glamorous European cousins, but I was in for a
very pleasant surprise. Running in a fairly straight line
from the Bay of Biscay in the west to the Mediterranean
Sea in the east, the Pyrenees mountain range is sandwiched between Spain in the south and France in the
north, with Andorra making up the garnish in the
bocadillo or baguette, depending on which side of the
border you’re on. I spent five days in July fishing both
the rivers and lakes of the central and western region
of the Spanish Pyrenees, a stone’s throw from the
French border, and a mere amble from Andorra and, if
the truth be told, I really didn’t know what to expect.
I must warn you that when it comes to beautiful
scenery, I’m a bit of a polygamist, and a pretty shallow
one at that. I’m afraid, for me, looks are everything,
especially when it comes to rivers. Lead me to a river
that is discreetly tucked away among majestic, snowcapped mountains, the riverbanks and foothills sprinkled with wild flowers like hundreds and thousands on
a fairy cake, its waters running as clear as mountain air
over a freestone bed, and the first exciting throes of a
new love affair will instantly render me useless for anything that isn’t fishing related. Go one step further and
reveal the spectacle that is a hatch of Ephemeroptera
and a suitably rising trout, and I’m infatuated. And so,
by the time the sun dipped behind the western peaks at
the end of my first day in Spain, I was already beguiled
“i musT warn you ThaT when iT comes To
beauTiful scenery, i’m a biT of a polygamisT,
and a preTTy shallow one aT ThaT.
i’m afraid, for me, looks are everyThing,
especially when iT comes To rivers.”
by the stream in which I stood and the 360-degree
panorama of Pyrenean splendour that surrounded me.
The following days of guided fly fishing in search of
wild and indigenous brownies only served to crystallise
my feelings towards this relatively unknown trout
fishing destination.
My guide and host was Iván Tarin, the owner and
head guide of Salvelinus Fishing Adventures, a wellestablished fly fishing outfitter based in Santa Cilia – a
small farming village set on the banks of the Aragón
River. With a total population of less than 200 residents – most of whom enjoy daily afternoon siestas –
to say that the village has a somewhat sleepy feel to
it would be an understatement. Once home to 15thcentury monks, the building has been converted into a
very comfortable fishing lodge, its attractive stone walls
and floors and wooden-shuttered windows giving it a
typically Spanish atmosphere. The en suite bedrooms
are smart by fishing-lodge standards, and offer cool
respite from the relentless Spanish heat. The lodge also
boasts a wader room and drying room, a well-equipped
in-house fly and tackle shop, the all-important fishermen’s bar and lounge area, as well as a cosy dining
room where mouthwatering provincial Spanish cuisine
is served up at breakfast and dinner. When it comes to
lunch on the river, I’m typically one for wolfing down a
quick sandwich between false casts and gulping down
a quick drink of water while applying floatant to my
dry. My attitude changed when I was called to lunch
on the first day. Set in a small ravine where a cool
breeze ruffled the checkered tablecloth and legs creaked
under the weight of the spread, the lunch that awaited
us was like a photograph taken from a country cookery
book. I’m not sure whether it was the Mediterranean
pasta salad or the accompanying fine bottle of local
Rioja that did the trick, but my fishing definitely improved after lunch, having been thoroughly converted to
this continental style of fishing where eating is not just
a necessary sustenance, but an event in itself, leaving
you enveloped in a warm epicurean fuzz of Huescan
flavours and spices.
Variety, the proverbial spice of life, is available
in great abundance too and, when it comes to the fishing, this is perhaps the greatest Pyrenean drawcard.
According to Iván, there are over 1000km of fishable
river and over 300 enticing mountain lakes within
a 50km radius of Santa Cilia, and all are inhabited by
native brown trout. In addition to the brownies, the
upper reaches of several local mountain streams are
also home to Salvelinus Fishing Adventures’ namesake,
the North American brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis),
while other rivers and lower reaches hold both wild
and stocked populations of rainbows. Native Mediterranean barbel (Barbus meridionalis) complete the
list that makes up this veritable fly fishing cocktail,
and with such a range of options available to visiting
anglers, it really is up to you as a guest to prioritise and
decide what tickles your fancy.
The remote mountainous upper reaches of these
outrageously picturesque and gin-clear streams offer
wonderful opportunities to catch feisty little brownies
and brookies in quite astounding numbers, almost
exclusively on dry fly. One particular mountain stream
I fished was narrow enough in places to be forded in
no more than three steps; and yet, in pools no bigger
than a large bath, there were incredible numbers of
fin-perfect and achingly beautiful brook trout of up to
14 inches. A sociable little fish is the brook trout; they
seem to enjoy each other’s company and tend to hang
out in groups of five to ten fish. So, when a dry fly is
presented to a hungry pod of these voracious fish, you
may as well strike immediately as every fish in the pool
perilously competes for your Royal Wulff. Perhaps it’s
a security-in-numbers thing, but on several occasions,
I managed to land no fewer than half a dozen trout in
as many casts – and all from a pool the size of a Ford
In the same way that a mother worries that her child
might be bullied at school, I tend to worry that fish this
easy might be taken advantage of by indiscriminate
anglers who think that all fishing ought to be like
shopping from the fish counter. Every time you catch
one, you kind of hope that his mates might have been
watching and that the next time a #8 Chernobyl Ant or
Big Ugly crashes onto the surface of their pool they will
be a bit more discerning and only respond to sparsely
dressed and finely tied dries, preferably in #14 and up.
Arrogance certainly isn’t a virtuous trait, but when a
fish the size of your hand hits a #8 Dave’s Hopper with
the aggression you might expect from a tigerfish or
hungry mako shark, you simply have to smile.
Above: The upper reaches of some mountain streams are home to the
pretty North American brook trout – this one did not hesitate to
take a blowfly imitation.
As a rule of thumb, the further downstream you
go, the bigger and trickier the fish tend to be, although
bigger and trickier are both relative terms. Bigger than
ten inches doesn’t exactly constitute a leviathan, and
trickier than a brook trout doesn’t exactly constitute a
match-the-hatch-Caenis-feeder. Indeed, one particular
evening, amidst a substantial hatch of caddis on a lower
section of the Aragón River, the resident brown trout
population began rising accordingly. Where one might
expect a degree of selectivity to be observed on a section
“... our six-hour hike inTo The lake valley was an experience
ThaT i would happily repeaT – wiTh or wiThouT a fly rod.”
of water that is no doubt fished fairly regularly, trout
were still readily taking nearly anything you gave
them with gay abandon: from mayfly emerger, dun and
spinner patterns to hoppers, beetles and ants. I should
perhaps mention, though, that these aren’t Kiwi or
Patagonian trophy browns, so if you tend to carry a tape
measure and scales with you, and keep records in kilos
rather than inches, then Pyrenean trout probably won’t
be your bag. But if, on the other hand, your favourite
fly rod is a 3- or 4-wt and the idea of leaving your
nymph and streamer boxes at home appeals to you,
then the next time you’re in Europe, you should give
the Pyrenees a second glance.
Something else you might find interesting is the fact
that they have a brown trout in the Pyrenees that has
evolved a distinctive dark-coloured vertical banding –
a bit like a perch. With the Spanish/English language
barrier, it was difficult for me to find out more about
these banded trout but, from what I could gather, they
are endemic to this particular central and western
region of the Pyrenees.
You’ve probably noticed by now that, like Jolyon
Nuttall, I, too, am hooked on rivers. I’m simply
mesmerised and beguiled by the very nature of them,
and they seem to exude an irrevocable force that draws
me closer and further upstream. Presented with the
choice between river and stillwater, it would take a
pretty special lake to get my vote over water that
gurgles and purls. The Pyrenees, however, is one place
I’ve been to where this dynamic is turned on its head,
and spectacular high mountain lakes take precedent in
my book over their flowing counterparts. These are
truly magnificent, flooded, glacial valleys set amidst a
backdrop of rugged alpine wilderness and filled with
sparkling waters. Griffon and bearded vultures soar
above you in azure skies and below you in deep,
glaciated valleys as you trek your way along cliff edges
and through narrow, wooded ravines that are a natural
pantry of earthy forest mushrooms, chives, garlic, mint
and wild strawberries.
“... The valley opening up before you To reveal a lake
of vivid Turquoise fringed by haphazard wild flowers
of almosT every colour imaginable.”
Deeper into the towering mountains and above the
7700ft tree line, you emerge from the mountain pine
forests, the valley opening up before you to reveal a lake
of vivid turquoise fringed by haphazard wild flowers of
almost every colour imaginable. Before you’ve had a
chance to string up your rod, good-sized browns are
spotted from higher ground as they languidly cruise
along lake margins and drop-offs, making for perfect
sight-fishing fodder. Carefully presented and wellplaced terrestrials like hoppers and beetles tend to be
met with aggressive and assertive takes, displaying no
evidence of any scepticism or alarm, which unsurprisingly suggests that these lakes experience low fishing
pressure. Indeed, by lunchtime I had brought several
good fish to the net, all of them giving a very respectable account of themselves.
I messed up quite spectacularly on a fish that was
nudging 5lb, my overcooked cast lining her as she
casually finned her way along in no more than a foot
of translucent water. Although there didn’t appear to
be vast numbers of fish in these high mountain lakes,
the breathtaking scenery, low fishing pressure and
sight-fishing opportunities made the trip worthwhile.
The valley is normally accessed by helicopter, but
our six-hour hike into the lake valley was an experience
that I would happily repeat – with or without a fly rod.
And despite the respective shortfall in my Spanish and
my Patagonian guide Marcello’s pidgin English, he
was nonetheless great company and a skilful and adept
guide. Later that evening, having hiked back out of the
valley, Marcello and I stumbled across a grubby little
pub with a bedraggled garden a few hundred yards
from our pick-up point. Even with the obvious language
barrier between us, I’m pretty sure Marcello could tell
that I’d had a good day as I sat on the grass with my
head resting against my pack, the last of the evening
sun on my face, an ice-cold San Miguel in my hand and
a maniacal grin plastered from ear to ear.
“Ah, halcyon days,” I uttered as I took a sip from my
frosted glass. “Si,” responded Marcello with a smirk on
his face, “a hell-of-a-days.”
“... well-placed TerresTrials like hoppers and beeTles Tend
To be meT wiTh aggressive and asserTive Takes...”
These pages: The gin-clear streams of the Pyrenees offer wonderful opportunities to catch feisty brownies – almost exclusively on dry fly.
Above: Salvelinus Fishing Adventures offers typically Spanish-style
accommodation set in the picturesque little farming town of Santa Cilia.
In a nutshell, the Pyrenees is not a trophy trout
destination and it doesn’t rival other better-known
trout fisheries for the size of its fish or the amount of
backing they’ll remove from your reel. It does, however, offer a spectacular backdrop for a fly fishing trip
and will afford you wonderful opportunities to present
a dry fly on both river and lake to wild, naive, fin-perfect
trout. If you don’t speak Spanish, I’d recommend taking
a Spanish/English dictionary with you or, like me, you
could get your Woolly Worm mixed up with your Woolly
Bugger. The nearest airport to Santa Cilia is Zaragoza
(2.5 hours’ drive). Ryanair flies direct from London
Stansted Airport to Zaragoza. Alternatively, you can fly
to Barcelona and catch a train to Zaragoza, where you’ll
be met by one of the Salvelinus team. Like all good
outfitters, Salvelinus Fishing Adventures takes a lot of
the guesswork and admin out of the equation for you,
puts you up in idyllic lodgings throughout your stay and
provides you with the expertise, local knowledge and
continental hospitality of its guides.
The Spanish Pyrenees, with its glacial mountain lakes and teeming with spring-fed creeks, is one of fly fishing’s best-kept secrets!
SALVELINUS is an exceptional organisation in Spain,
understanding fly fishermen and their companions’ every need.
– 2015 • 2016 • 2017 –
Iván Tarín and his team of highly professional guides have the know-how, expertise and
hospitality skills that only come from spending decades on the banks of fly fishing waters
so that the anglers who fish with SALVELINUS have a unique experience.
Experience Spain like you have never before
with our fly fishing tours and bespoke programs designed for families and couples
• Authentic travel experiences in Northern Spain
• Food and wine tours
• Fly fishing school
• Pyrenees fly fishing lodges
• Cultural tours
• Photo safaris
• Heli tours
• Wellness therapies and spa
• Multi-activity packs
El Pescador
ambergris caye, belize
Situated just off the mainland of Belize, PJ Jacobs rekindles
fond memories of this popular Caribbean resort.
he Caribbean drums up quite a few pleasant
memories for me and always creates the
urge to go and visit one more time – it
seems I just cannot get enough. And in
that, I am not alone. Many of the world’s
exotic destinations are found in this part of the planet
and places like Cuba, Bermuda, Barbados and Belize
and many others conjure up romantic visions of white
beaches, palm trees, azure calm seas and, of course, lots
of margaritas. It is also known as the playground of
wealthy jet-setters, but for me the Caribbean has a
different meaning. It is where I caught my first tarpon
back in ’93 and became besotted with the species. It is
also where my wife and I later got married and where
we cemented our lifelong quest for targeting fish on fly.
Those memories, too, remain fresh and vivid, almost
like it happened yesterday.
The jetty in front of El Pescador Resort was our aisle. Woven palm leaves
created an arch for us to walk through,
two local mariachi following behind
strumming their guitars, the Caribbean
sounds filling the air. With the ocean literally at our (bare) feet, the local minister
saw to it that we were married proper and
legal. It is also where I dropped the ring,
only to watch in horror as it disappeared
into the soft sand beneath the jetty.
When the lodge dive master managed to
find it again, it felt like a miracle – and
it was. I married the love of my life, my
best friend and fishing buddy, all in one.
And that, in one of the nicest fishing
destinations you can hope to find.
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The Ultimate Bucket List, journal
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