Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Knowledge Webb Diaries- Part 3

How did you get into fishing for carp?

Mike Kuzma – A high school friend and Australian who lived in Poland for several years.  He showed me how to catch carp the European way, with spinning gear, chum, boilies and strike detectors.  Golf course ponds (snagging grassy’s) and local reservoirs (Cherry Creek, Chatfield) are where I first really got into carp fishing. While working at Discount Fishing Tackle on the South Platte River along S.Santa Fe Dr in Littleton and Denver, I fly fished for carp daily. I was also enamored with carp while trout fishing 11mile Canyon and on Spinney and 11mile Reservoirs. 

Photo courtesy of Kirk Webb

What is it about this fish that keeps you coming back?  Why carp out of all other fish?

The challenge of battling wits with such a regal and smart animal (fish).  I can’t say this is a scientific fact, but carp have the ability to retain memory.  They remember flies, locations, bad presentations and other facets of memory retainment.  Truthfully, I think that I enjoy carp and carp fishing because it reminds me of my childhood, coming back full circle; same reason I also am in love with bluegill and bass.  Plus, carp fishing returns on my radar in March, right after a long winter of trout fishing, light tippet and tiny flies.  I have solitude while carp fishing.  This is something that, besides fishing the high country, doesn’t happen much in this day and age.  The fact that I’m part Japanese also might play a role in my love and respect for carp.  The Japanese have long regaled the carp as the peaceful warrior (samurai), where it is said to represent bravery, strength and the ability to overcome obstacles, where when placed on the cutting board, it awaits the knife without tremble.  On another note, carp in my mind are the ultimate gamefish.  If you took the best qualities of every gamefish and blended them to make the ultimate gamefish, you’d come up with a carp. In my eye, they are most reminiscent of tarpon and redfish.  They live everywhere and in any environment.  They like to eat flies and spend time in shallow water where I can sight fish to them.  Lastly, they’re big.  Who doesn’t like pulling on big fish?

How much time and effort do you put into trying to catch this fish with no reward?

I spend a great deal of time and effort in my pursuit of carp on the fly, but as is the case with all species of fish, I learn more from my failures than I do in my successes.  That being said, there have been times when I have gone weeks – months – and in the beginning YEARS, without catching a carp.  Nowadays, with the popularity of fly fishing for carp, some of the more popular destinations are seeing the fish becoming increasingly more difficult to catch.  This is okay with me, as this is how fly fishing for carp is continuing to evolve, where anglers are forced to come up with new tactics, flies, gear etc.  Fly fishing for carp is still in its infancy.  In a way, this reminds me of how tarpon fishing and its early fly fishing pioneers might have been like back in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.  They were breaking new ground, just as I see carp fly fishing these days. 

Photo courtesy of Travis Lyons

How has the addiction to catching these fish affected your life?

It really hasn’t affected my life in any particular way.  Sure, I spend a lot of time in the field pursuing them, but I suppose carp have allowed me to introduce this awesome, fly-eating specie to others.  It did consume me for a period of maybe two or three years where I was trying to “figure” them out.  Now, I get more pleasure seeing others have success with them; I enjoy sharing my passion.  The pursuit of the hunt and the visuals of the eat are what continues to feed my love affair with the carp.

What is the hardest thing you have encountered carp fishing?

Hands-down, the hardest thing about carp fishing is being mentally tough enough to match wits with such a smart fish.  As a beginner carp angler, simply gaining some confidence that they will in fact eat a fly is often the biggest hurdle.  In thinking about this, that period of time when you finally get that first carp under your belt can often take a long period of time.  Again, having the mental fortitude to “never give up” is probably the hardest thing in carp fly fishing.  Once you’re able to break out of that initial slump, you get used to the extreme lows and highs of fly fishing for carp.  Like all fishing, a little luck never hurts either.

What do you gain out of fly fishing for carp?

Pretty simple; they make you better fly-fisherman.  They teach you so many things and there is no room for mistakes with them. 

How do you feel about people bow hunting and killing these fish.

I have zero issues with it.  It’s their God given right to do so.  Yes, there have been times when my own personal fishing has suffered due to a bow-fisher being ahead up me on the same piece of water, but that’s just a fact of life.  There are other places to go, so I just go somewhere where they aren’t.  The only issue I have had with the bow-fishers I’ve come across, is that they waste the fish, leaving them to die on the bank.  It truly breaks my heart to see any animal being wasted.  If you shoot it, you should at least eat it, donate it or use it for nutrients in your garden or something. 

Photo courtesy of Shannon Outing Photography

What are your thoughts on how invasive these fish are and what people are doing to stop them?

Boy, that’s a tough one to answer as there’s no one right answer.  I think Asian Carp are invasive and need to be dealt with more seriously than common carp.  Since I’m originally from Michigan, our Great Lakes had everything from carp to catfish, salmon to trout, bass to bluegill, pike to walleye – all coexisting in the same environment, with each one thriving.  Now if you’re referring to common carp in our part of the Lower Colorado River, all I can say is good luck.  The CPW has been trying to eradicate ALL invasive fish in efforts to restore populations of some native chubs and suckers.  I’m all for native fish and everything, but sometimes you’re fighting a losing battle with no chance of winning. This includes gamefish like smallmouth and largemouth bass and in particular northern pike.  I think the CPW forgets that rainbow and brown trout are also invasive (non-native).  Not to mention the fact that they are the ones who originally transplanted and stocked all these non-natives around the state in the first place.  All I know is that carp are like the cockroaches of the fish world; they will survive in practically any environment.  Even the CPW officers that I’ve spoken with, openly acknowledge the fact that they are wasting their time shocking the river trying to eradicate carp, bass and pike among other “invasive” fish species.  Simply put, the carp will continue to survive and thrive.  Should they be stocked in places where they haven’t existed before?  It’s situational; in some places definitely not, and in other places, sure.  These are tough questions to answer.  I’m a simple fisherman, not a politician or biologist.

What is your best story from carp fishing?

I really don’t have a particular favorite story.  For me, they all blend together where the carp become the story.  If you’re looking for a big fish story, here’s one that I’m proud of though.  About four or five years ago, I was teaching a friend and younger angler how to carp fish.  He had that “drive” for trying to figure these fish out.  He got his ass kicked for a few years, stuck with it, began unraveling their secrets and finally started to “listen” to what the fish were telling him to do.  I took him to a lake that had a few giants in it.  These big-boys very rarely come onto the flats.  In the course of an average year, I might see 2-4 fish of this size. To not cause the usual big-fish anxiety, I simply told him where the fish was and how and when to retrieve his fly; slide it, bump it, baby bump it – SET!  I never told him how big the fish was that he was casting to – it was a freakin’ giant.  Adjacent to the flat was a deep drop-off where he was able to fight the fish over 40’ft of water.  That makes for a long fight, but is also the reason why the fish never broke off.  Anyhow, when we finally boated the fish and I netted about a 40” inch carp for him.  It was the biggest fish of his blossoming career and was the longest fight I’ve been witness to for carp – about twenty minutes.  That fish exuded regalness.  Hell, it’s tail was nearly a foot in width.  Now that’s a motor! 

Photo courtesy of Kirk Webb

What is your worst story from carp fishing?

This is an easy one.  I don’t have one!  Like I said earlier, it can often be about just how much pain you can take before you give it all up.  My pain threshold is exceedingly high.

What is the carp fishing community like? Where do you see the sport of carp fishing going in the future?

I’ve often said that it’s like being a free-mason; like being in a sub-culture within a sub-culture.  The carp anglers these days are better than they ever have been, and it’s certainly gaining in popularity due in large part to social media and fly fishing films.  The younger generation has no disdain for carp like it was when I began fly-fishing for them.  I’m excited about that and am glad to see the sport evolving and accepting carp.  It continues to make for the never-ending clash of the class wars within fly-fishing, which I’ve always felt was a good thing.  Sure, the downside is that there are now more and more people fishing for “my” fish in “my” spots, but I’m glad to see the continued and increasing interest.  This increased pressure has really just allowed me to reach out to the beyond and expand my horizons, finding new water and new fish where there is no pressure.  Kind of like tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys versus tarpon fishing in the Florida Everglades…or something like that.  You gotta keep pace and continue to evolve as an angler and guide too.  I always want to have a few tricks (or places) in my bag that others do not have or know of.  I challenge myself to learn something new each and every time I’m on the water.    

Questions from TC Guide Shannon Outing
Answers from TC Shop Guru Kirk Webb
Photographs courtesy of Shannon Outing Photography, Kirk Webb and Travis Lyons

Monday, February 22, 2016

Fly Fishing and a Guide's Meditations

Recently I attended a seminar called “Developing Consciousness” at the Aspen Chapel. Consciousness and the potential to expand one’s consciousness has always been an interest of mine since I read “Captain Trips,” a biography of Jerry Garcia, in the eighth grade. “Either you’re conscious or not,” I thought as I pondered this enigma. I pursued this question of consciousness via numerous avenues including but not limited to short stints in an ashram, a Zen Buddhist monastery, and an intentional community in California, the Esalen Institute. I pursued it through literature, reading Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Alan Watts, Ken Wilber and Ram Dass. And I still pursue it as I stand in the frosty depths of the Roaring Fork River casting fly line to suspecting trout.

The idea of consciousness and how it pertains to fly fishing is worth giving some thought to. These days it seems there is a “Zen and the art of” just about everything; painting, motorcycle maintenance, even underwater basket weaving. Yet, it seems more of a marketing ploy than a match made in heaven. I would contend that Zazen (Zen Buddhist meditation) is closely aligned with techniques employed in fly fishing. Zen and the art of fly fishing is apt.

In Zazen, one sits in a focused state allowing thoughts to drift by without participating in the drama that these thoughts might incite. Allowing your flies to drift down the river while intently focused on them produces a state of mind similar to Zazen. The clutter of the work week recedes and leaves you more present in the river. You can choose or not choose to react to a cluster in your line, a lost fish, or a slip in the river that has left you cold, bruised and on your ass.

I think it follows that meditation can facilitate the expansion of consciousness. When your mind is free of the stress-inducing chatter of everyday life, the environment and your participation in it comes into clearer focus. You notice the bald eagle perched in the evergreen evaluating your fishing technique. You appreciate the winter snow pack as it runs coldly over your wading boots. You’re conscious of the source of the river and where it flows. You are aware of how your participation in this environment is impactful and how it may contribute to or detract from the experience of future generations.

So next time you find yourself with laser-beam like focus on a little plastic bubble or tuft of fuzz floating down the river, consider the possibility of expanding consciousness and give a little nod to good ol’ Jerry Garcia.
Words by Nick Ferraro, Taylor Creek Guide
Image of Jerry Garcia and Zazen courtesy of Omharmonics, Photographs courtesy of Scott Spooner
Reprinted from "Fly on the Wall" 2016

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Hitting the Hard Water

Fly fishers can get a little cagey this time of year.  Ice on the banks, ice in their line guides, ice in their beards.  Sure, tying flies for next season and planning a few trips can break up the monotony, but sometimes we need to step outside our comfort zones in the winter.  One of my favorite distractions is hitting the “hard water” and doing some ice fishing for pike and trout.  From Granby to Twin Lakes, and Ruedi to Lake Dillon, conditions are perfect for punching a few holes and seeing what is down there.

Can you simply go on the ice with a bucket, rod and an auger?  Sure, but we like to get a little more sophisticated with our excursions.  Snowmobiles, gasoline powered augers, shelters, heaters and grills producing hot food take our ice fishing up another notch.  Keeping beverages cold is as simple as setting them on the ice.  Lure selection can get as involved as matching the hatch on the Fryingpan, but simple white tube jigs get the job done on most days.  Rods vary from short and wispy for smaller trout to lengths of forty inches for deep jigging to large mackinaw and toothy pike.

Quite frankly, huddling up in a warm shelter with a few buddies can be a lot more fun than river fishing day in and day out.  The real allure for most of us is that you never know what you’re going to pull out of that hole.  It could be a kokanee salmon or arctic char if you’re fishing Lake Dillon, a monster pike if you are over on Harvey or Rifle Gaps, or the lake trout of your life on Granby or Twin Lakes.  Smaller lakes produce excellent brookie and cutthroat action as well. 

Variety is the spice of life, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy our abundant waters all year long.  My program is being on the ice on the cold days, and in the river on the warm ones.  Before we know it, we’ll be fishing the strong spring baetis and caddis hatches, but for now I’m having some fun on the hard water!

Words and Photographs by Scott Spooner
Reprinted from the Aspen Times

Monday, February 1, 2016

Christmas Island Bonefish, Part 2

Now that we have covered the bonefishing at Christmas Island, let’s get into all the other species you will have a chance to pursue.  For many repeat visitors to the island, bonefish begin to take a back seat to the exhilarating giant trevally, barracuda, milkfish, sharks and triggerfish lurking nearly everywhere.  Black tips are the prevalent species of shark found on the flats, with other species preferring to hang out near the deeper reefs.  Like any saltwater destination, some guides don’t want anything to do with casting at sharks.   Others say, “I can handle.”  It goes without saying that these creatures can totally mess you up if you give them a chance.  There is no hospital to speak of here, so exercise your best judgement and err on the side of caution.  In my experience, Go Like Hell flat has sharks cruising it nearly every day.   
The same flies you throw at giant trevally are generally fine for sharks.  Ten to twelve weights and 100 pound tippet are the norm, and you can certainly throw a steel leader into the mix for these toothy brawlers.  When casting at sharks, match your retrieve to the speed of the fish.  Keep the fly on their nose, speeding up when they do, slowing down when they do as well.  Most of the time black tips will follow the fly the whole retrieve and then sulk away, but other times, it’s game on!  Let your guide handle the shark, but if you’re by yourself, use a hook release and stay behind the shark, moving quickly.  Just cut the tippet if things get too hairy.

 My personal favorite fish of the Christmas Island flats is the trigger.  Triggerfish can get as big as all get out, they fight hard, love to jam you up by burrowing under coral heads, and no two look alike.  For starters, triggers are coral munchers, so finding taller coral is the first thing you have to do.  Taller coral presents a few issues, of course.  Leaders, tippet and flies will be abused when casting at triggers, no way around it.  A perfect shot gets hung in the coral more often than not.  From personal experience, you’d better be sure your hooks are strong and your knots are bombproof.  Blood knots simply won’t hold up to the tremendous pressure these fish will exert.  Cheap hooks will be flattened instantaneously. The triggers shown below are on the small side, but even these are quite powerful.  We hooked a few that were much bigger, but read on to find out why they're so hard to get to the hand.

 If you are out chasing bonefish and a trigger presents itself, rebuild the whole leader, tippet and fly before casting at it.  Crab patterns are what they like best, and the presentation is a bit different than casting at a bonefish.  When taking your shot at a trigger, first determine if the fish is happy and browsing the coral for food.  Most guides won’t recommend even casting at it unless it is in the right mood.  Secondly, you need to cast close to, but past the trigger.  You want to strip your fly right under it’s nose and encourage it to follow.  Most triggers will inhale that crab once they notice it, but others want to follow it a ways first.  My best trigger eats have happened when I stopped moving the fly after they initially notice it.  Once you hook up to the trigger, your real problems start to become evident.  First and foremost, they always run for the shelter of deep water or the closest coral head.  If your knots and fly hold up, you need to steer them away from danger immediately.  If it can go wrong, it will, and usually in the first few seconds after you set the hook.  Setting the hook is a whole other issue, as these fish have long teeth and small mouths.  The best hook sets seem to be in the corner of the mouth or right between the two front buck teeth. 

 The best triggerfish guide on Christmas Island is Kau Kau, also known as Tim, who usually works for Ikari House.  Tim is young and enthusiastic.  Sighting, hooking and landing triggers is his true pleasure in life.  While trigger fishing with him this year, I screwed up after the hook set trying to get the fly line unwrapped from my legs, and the fish (of course) retreated under another giant coral head.  Tim valiantly handed me his glasses, pack and hat and swam under the coral to attempt getting the fish out.  We didn’t end up with the trigger to the hand, but Tim won a client for life with his effort.  Guides in Christmas Island are a notch above the rest, and Tim’s notch goes all the way to eleven.  Trigger flies are primarily crabs in tan colors, and I can’t stress enough that they be tied on the best, strongest salt hooks you can find.  The body shape of the trigger is perfect for fighting you, and they will use it against you. 

Milkfish are probably more abundant than any other species on the flats of Christmas Island.  For the first few days of your trip to Christmas, learning the difference between milks and bones will present its own set of challenges.  If you boil it down, milkfish suspend, bonefish hug the bottom.  If there is a shadow under the fish, it’s usually a milkfish.  Many anglers come to Christmas solely for the milkfish, and catching one is no small feat.  Milks eat algae, which presents the first challenge.  The second challenge is finding a leader and fly that suspend, like the milkfish do.  Flies comprised of foam and sponge fit the bill, and bringing along some monofilament tippet and floatant will aid this endeavor.  Huge milkfish can be found outside of the flats behind commercial fishing boats, which kick up large amounts of algae and plankton. 
Pound for pound, milkfish will fight you like there’s no tomorrow.  Few fish can bend an eight weight like these fast fish can.  If you are targeting bones on the flats, don’t overlook the massive schools of milkfish.  Bones and milkfish focus on different food groups, but they can easily work together since they work different levels of the water column.  More often than not, a few nice bonefish can be picked out of a pod of milks.  Milkfish are the hardest thing to catch on Christmas Island, with the only exception being the venerable giant trevally.  GTs eat the fly just fine, but getting one in front of these fast thugs is a whole different deal.

Giant trevally make fly fishers salivate the world over.  They are ridiculously fast.  They come up on a flat like a drive by shooting, and most of the time it’s too late for you to react because they’re already gone.  Christmas Island boasts excellent numbers of giant, black, bluefin and golden trevally, but the giants are the true prize fish and prize fight.  Bluefin are practically everywhere, and provide a good fight, but rarely exceed a pound or two.  More than once a rascally bluefin has snatched a well presented fly to a bigger golden or giant in my experience.  Golden trevally are beautifully banded across their backs, and can get pretty big at Christmas.  Goldens seem to tail more often than their cousins, I have hustled across flats a few times after seeing one tailing at a good distance away.  Giant trevally, or GT, can push 100 pounds at Christmas Island.  You will see them up to twenty pounds every day, and when the true bruisers come in to play, your heart rate will give you a run for your money.

The usual program on Christmas is for your guide to carry the trevally rod while you bonefish with your seven or eight.  The true guide test presents itself when the GTs come by, and their ability to see them, ready the heavy rod and pull line off in time for you to make a shot.  This rarely goes the way it’s supposed to.  When you combine their speed and your case of the yips, a general shit show usually prevails.  Chumming these big fish is becoming more and more popular, and to each their own, but we generally refrain from doing this.  Chumming doesn’t do these magical fish any favors, but for many anglers this is the way to do it.  Milkfish are usually netted and roasted for chum, but bonefish are often an unfortunate by-catch when netting the milks.  As mentioned, to each their own, but you won’t see me out there chumming fish in.

Christmas Island has thousands of volcanic shelves along the flats, and every one of these has small yellow snapper using them for shelter.  Seeing trevally rooting around underneath them is commonplace.  Trevally will eat practically anything they can catch, be it bonefish, milkfish, grouper, whatever.  Again, fly selection isn’t nearly as important as just getting the fly in front of the fish in time.  Tim Heng employs a good trick for these quick presentations by simply hooking a baitfish GT fly onto the hook of his bonefish fly and recasting.  This can present a problem if the fish is huge and you’ve got 10 pound tippet on, but at least you gave it a college try!  There’s one general rule on how to strip the fly for GTs.  Fast as you can.  You simply can’t strip it fast enough.  Once in a great while, true giants want the fly slowed down a bit, but this is pretty rare.  

 One of the best advisors around for GTs in Christmas Island is Sean at Nervous Waters in Honolulu.  His tiny shop is the only one in the whole state of Hawaii, and he really, really knows his stuff.  He is a strong proponent of 100 pound tippets and has a terrific assortment of bonefish and GT flies to choose from (ask about his special triggerfish flies too).  Sean’s fly shop is not far from Waikiki Beach, and you can reach him at 808-734-7359.  He’d rather catch bonefish in Hawaii (and I recommend joining him for a bonefish trip), but he’s been to Christmas Island many times to chase giant trevally.  Sean’s shop is funky, tiny, and chock full of everything you need to fly fish around Hawaii. 

 I love Christmas Island.  The people, the surreal scenery, raw nature and remoteness make this one of the most unique places on earth.  The best guides I’ve encountered are Otea, Nareau, Kau Kau, Kabuta, Eckus, and the famous Mowanua.  Some guides are “better” than others, which is relative.  Just like trout guides, some excel at certain species or methods.  What these guys have over some other guides is a complete absence of ego.  Treat your guide with respect, have a sense of humor, and tip appropriately.  When he keeps you out late when the fishing has been slow or takes you to a little-known area, make it worth his while.  They bend over backwards to get you on the fish at Christmas, so treat them just as well on the slower days as you do the ridiculous ones.  Buy them a beer back at the lodge, ask about their families, and send them a care package once in a while.  Wading boots, rain gear and fly tying materials are always scarce for these islanders.  I consider some of these guys very good friends.  I care about what happens to them, and like to think that they feel the same.

When you catch a big bone or manage to wrestle in a triggerfish or trevally, getting a bit emotional comes with the territory.  My guide Kau Kau gave me a little ribbing for the tears in my eyes after we released a gorgeous seven pound bonefish in October.   “Like a virgin,” he said.  We laughed about it all week, and he promised not to tell anyone except his wife.  Well, I’m not too embarrassed to admit beautiful fish in beautiful places make me a little weepy.  So be it.  Preparing for a trip to Christmas can be stressful (and a big part of the fun), and when the whole plan finally comes together and you’re holding that mirrored bonefish in your hand on a fly you tied yourself, I challenge you to not become a little overwhelmed and 20 shades of thankful.  That will never change for me, and I hope Christmas Island changes very little in the years to come. 

Words by Scott Spooner

Photographs courtesy of Scott Spooner, Cameron Scott, Rocky and Janet Mangini, John Marlow, Randy Hughes

Monday, January 25, 2016

2016 Fishpond Delta Sling Pack Review

When I picked up my new Delta Sling Pack from Fishpond, it was like Christmas morning.  Fishpond put a lot of love into this innovative new sling.  The bag is symmetrically designed, so a lefty or a righty can both use this bag all day long, or you can switch shoulders from time to time to combat fatigue.  Looking for gear attachments?  Try over forty different straps, tabs, loops and attachment points!  With a well thought out “work station” on the shoulder pad, there are a myriad of places to attach your nippers, hemostats and all the other stuff we all carry on the water.  Most of these items are easily reached without having to turn the bag around.

The Delta Sling has a slim profile, but can be loaded to the gills if you choose to do so.  Fishpond’s tippet cords and Headgate tippet rollers attach perfectly to the bag in a few different configurations.  Four main compartments are set up to hold all of your fly boxes with room to spare for lunch and a rain jacket.  A Velcro attachment found in the main compartment can be set up for a pistol holster, and the small zippered pouches found below the shoulder strap attachments are perfect for dry shake, fishing license, and the like.

Many sling packs don’t offer a net slide or attachment, and this is where this bag really shines.  A generously wide net slide keeps your net right where you need it, and is perfect for the “big boy” nets anglers tend to haul around these days.  When the net is in the slide and you need to access the bag, simply lifting the net a few inches and rotating it 90 degrees makes getting into the zippered compartments a snap.  Long handled nets as well as short ones stay safely secured and out of the way while actively fishing. 

 A simplified belt strap keeps the sling pack situated in the middle of your back, and can be switched from left to right shoulder configurations for comfort.  Fishpond gains credibility yet again with their “Cyclepond” materials, which are 40% to 100% recycled fishing nets.  The Cylclepond material is great looking and long lasting.  The main compartment allows light through the material, which makes finding what you’re looking for super easy, especially if it’s rolling around in the bottom of the bag. 

The comfort of the Delta Sling is undeniable.  The wide and soft shoulder strap distributes weight evenly, and the bag stays out of the way of casting motions.  The straps offer maximum adjustability for different body types, and ventilation is much better than traditional hip packs, as the bag sits on your hip instead of the middle of your back.  The meshy back panel and foam padding are very comfortable for day-long use.  If you are in the market for a new fishing pack, swing by your local Fishpond dealer and check this bag out.  You’ll like what you see, enjoy the variety of setup options, and look good on the water, too. 

Price:  $149.95

Words and photographs by Scott Spooner

Monday, December 28, 2015

Hunting Fish

Fish get into rhythms, so do humans.  If you grew up hunting, you were probably taught how to stalk, how to sneak.  This translates to our fishing, or at least it should.  I remember my Dad teaching me to walk softly through the woods, with plenty of pauses.  Nothing alerts deer to the presence of humans better than our rhythmic footfalls in the crunchy leaves.  This can apply to our fishing as well.

We all get excited when we find a big fish that is feeding, whether you’ve been casting at rising trout for a lifetime or only a few weeks.  After repeated casts at that fish of the season, we often notice that we “put them off their tea,” so to speak.  The usual reason for this is that we have been casting every six seconds for half an hour, and we have successfully alerted that fish to our presence. In other words, the fish noticed your rhythm.  

If that fish hasn’t sulked away in utter disappointment after busting you, take a break and watch the fish.  Have a snack, add a new fly or fresh tippet.  Stay low, stay relatively still.  When the fish gets back into its feeding rhythm, stay low and make one cast count.  I’ll bet that fish will eat!  Just watching fish is more fun than the actual fishing sometimes. 

As our rivers begin to drop and clear, hunting fish becomes easier but can be challenging.  Sight fishing is very similar to hunting.  You need to stalk, creep, and tiptoe around.  If you can see them clearly, they can usually see you too. You've all heard Kirk Webb preach the gospel of "Getting Your Stork On," and he is right.  Watch that Heron or Crane fishing next time you come upon one.  Slow movements and watching the water with an intense gaze will clue you in on the rhythms of your quarry.  Sooner or later the trout will betray their hiding spot, all you have to do is be still and notice.

Words by Scott Spooner
Photographs courtesy of Danny Frank, Glenn Smith and Scott Spooner
Reprinted from The Aspen TImes

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Christmas Island Bonefish, Part 1

Taylor Creek has considered Christmas Island our second home since the early 1980's, a place near and dear to many hearts here in the Roaring Fork Valley.  Christmas Island is located 1,300 miles south of Hawaii, part of the Phoenix and Line Islands.  There is only one flight per week that runs between Fiji and Honolulu for travelers originating from the US.  Christmas is the world’s largest coral atoll and the Pacific’s largest bird sanctuary, offering a place to relax to frigate birds, phoenix petrels, boobies, shearwaters, terns, and many other species of far-ranging birds.  Seemingly there is life everywhere you look on Christmas Island, whether it be land and hermit crabs, birds, geckos, and of course, millions of fish!   Located only 150 miles from the equator, the weather is the same in January as it is in July.  Fishing tourism is strongest November through February but possible year-round.  

Christmas Island was first visited by Polynesian explorers as early as 400 A.D., the Spanish in 1537, and was visited by Captain Cook on Christmas Eve, 1777.  Captain Bligh of The Mutiny on Board the HMS Bounty fame was Captain Cook’s first mate on that expedition.  Nuclear tests were done near the island in the 1950s by Great Britain, and again in the 1960s by the United States.  The Captain Cook Hotel, the oldest lodge on the island, is located where a British military base stood.  The Allies occupied Christmas Island during World War II to prevent a Japanese stronghold. The island was never evacuated during these tests, which resulted in sickness and death for soldiers and island residents and their progeny, which is a shameful thing.  Radioactivity on the island now barely registers, higher levels are found in any metropolitan city here in the US.  The environment has truly rebounded, but at one point in time the coral on Christmas Island would turn to dust when touched. 


The population hovers around 8,000 people.  Most are employed harvesting coconuts, in commercial fishing operations, and rotating government jobs available from time to time.  The best occupation is being a fishing guide, of which there around 50.  There are four lodges here, The Captain Cook, Ikari House, The Villages, and Crystal Beach.  The people of Christmas have few needs, happy children, and socializing is the preferred pastime.  There are three major villages on the island; London, Banana, and Poland.  People live simply here, many are Catholic and Protestant converts.   Technology has come a long way in recent years, many now access the web in Internet Cafes, some are even on Facebook!  Vehicles are rare, but there are noticeably more every visit.  Most locals get around on motorcycles and scooters.  Many church-sponsored elementary and high schools are found in the villages, and for higher education, most travel to the capital city of Tarawa, found 2,000 miles to the west. There is much pride here in keeping up traditions and the old ways, despite the world becoming more accessible and smaller every day.


Taylor Creek has always enjoyed staying at the Captain Cook Hotel, a government-run lodge with cinder block hotel rooms and cabanas, far from the bustle of the villages.  Nareau is head guide, and his staff are keen and a pleasure to fish with. Christmas Island is not a fancy destination, which is the allure for most repeat visitors.  There isn’t much to do outside of fishing and bird watching, and there are no fly shops or malls, which is a good thing!  The flora and fauna on the island is quite unique, exploring after a long day of fishing (or taking a day off) will bring many sights and delights.  If you learn a few local Kiribas phrases, big smiles of appreciation will come from the locals.  The Captain Cook has always done a terrific job introducing local customs and culture to visitors, with “luau” nights of roasted pig, fresh lobster, and traditional costumes, songs and dance that are first-rate.  The death-defying knife dance is always a hit. The breakfast and lunch food isn’t anything to get excited about usually, but dinners are generally quite good. The staff at CCH are warm and eager to please, just keep in mind they don't have much to work with.  Relax while in Christmas Island.  Nothing is super organized and there is always a language barrier.  Go with the flow and everything always seems to come together after some initial confusion. 

Most fly fishers visiting the island opt for a mix of truck fishing and skiff fishing, usually three days of each.  Many areas on the island are much easier to reach by truck, such as the Korean Wreck and Lone Palm flat.  Other areas are conveniently reached by skiff or panga, where roads don’t exist or when the tide is high and covering roads.  Most of the famous flats on Christmas Island are reached by boat, such as Go Like Hell, Paris, 9 Mile, Poland Channel, Orvis Flat, and so on.  The amount of flats to choose from is staggering, and the surreal colors and beauty that await you are like nothing else on earth.  Other anglers are specks on the horizon, with the norm being total solitude and no other anglers in sight. You will encounter flats of fine sugary sand, pancake flats surrounded by blue water, areas of taller coral growth, reefs teeming with every kind of fish imaginable, and “blue water” fishing for tuna, wahoo or even billfish.  A nice yellowfin caught on your first day can feed your group (and more) for your whole trip.  You’ll rarely encounter sashimi as fresh as this!  Mantis shrimp are a local delicacy, be sure to let your guide know if you want to try these huge shrimp for dinner one night.  Foster looks pretty stoked to tuck into that tuna!

When it comes to fly fishing options and target species at Christmas Island, the sky is the limit.  Obviously, bonefish are the major attraction, but you have shots at bluefin, golden, black and GIANT trevally, black tip sharks, queenfish, barracuda, triggerfish, milkfish, and the list goes on.  What makes Christmas Island the world’s top bonefish spot is the variety of flats and raw numbers of fish.  In many other bonefish destinations, the fish come and go according to the tides, escaping to deep water when tides are low.  At Christmas, there really is no reason for the bonefish to leave.  Between the myriad flats are thousands of deeper cuts and channels for these fish to take refuge in, so there isn’t much reason for them to roll the dice out in the deeps among the sharks and other predators waiting to make a meal out of them.

For pursuing bones, seven to nine weight rods are the norm.  I enjoy the fight on lighter rods, but there is typically a stiff trade wind on the flats, which can leave you under-gunned when the breeze is blowing the “wrong way” for you.  You typically bring a few extra rods on your fishing days that are left behind on the truck or boat, so experiment when you can and find the right rod weight for you. The Cross Current from G. Loomis, TCR and One rod from Sage, and Scott's formidable S4S get the job done quite nicely.  Ten to twelve weights are a must for throwing at GTs, and be sure they have huge reels with miles of backing on them. Leaving the drag loose is a good tip for the big rod, it eases getting line off quickly and you just tighten down before casting. Tippets up to 100 pounds are not uncommon, especially if you are serious about landing a GT.  Floating lines are all you need for Christmas Island, simply use heavier flies over sinking lines, which are super grabby on the coral bottoms.  You can employ sinking lines off deep drops for blind fishing, but you'll lose a lot of flies that way.  Religiously stretching and dressing your fly lines after fishing is a real difference maker, and a good habit to get in to.  Monofilament bonefish leaders in 10 to 12 pounds are perfect, and fluorocarbon tippets from 12 to 20 pounds are the norm.  I usually put on a fresh leader every day, especially if the leader has that “curl” kinked into it from transport or sitting all night. 

You already know your bonefish flies must be tied sparse if you’ve done your homework on Christmas Island.  If you look at commercially tied Christmas Island Specials, Gotchas and the like, tie yours with about 20% of the material you see on the ones in the bins.  Colors are key here, bring a full range of pearl, pink, rootbeer, green, yellow, and most importantly orange in sizes 4, 6 and 8, tied light, (no weight) medium heavy, (bead chain) and heavy. (brass or lead eyes)  Some guides fire a particular fly after only one refusal!  Otea, one of the best guides at the Captain Cook, likes the fly to be heavy enough to see the plop of the fly entering the water, thusly knowing where it lies on the flat in relation to the fish. Conversely, they can't be so heavy they send shock waves out either.  Some beautifully presented casts send bonefish running, and sloppy ones are sometimes pounced upon... You never know what will happen!  Learning to spot bonefish is always challenging, especially your first few days, but by the end of the trip you will be calling out fish before the guide here and there. Watch your first few fish to the hand closely as they swim away and disappear, it will pay dividends.  Even if your guide can see the bonefish 100 feet away (and they will), wait until the fish is in your casting wheelhouse and you can see it. Many times, if you are patient, the bonefish come to you.

It's all about the strip for bonefish at Christmas Island.  Guides are usually very clear (especially if you are new to bonefishing) about how they want you to retrieve the fly, mimicking the strip they want to see with their free hand.  Some days the fish want it long and slow, other days short and fast, and yet other times sitting still after they initially notice it moving.  Just like streamer fishing for trout, vary the retrieve until the fish react positively.  Tuning in to your guide's body language will pay off for you.  When they walk slow or stop suddenly, you do the same.  When they speed up or start crouching low, follow their lead.  After a few observant hours, you will start to notice when your guide starts getting excited or sees something.  Listen to your guide.  If you follow directions and stay relaxed, they make it seem pretty easy.  It's not.  When they are off with your fishing partner, you feel a lot less fishy.  Until you get the hang of it!  You'll be pretty proud of your sighting and stalking skills by the end of the week.

If targeting bigger bonefish at Christmas Island is your modus operandi, there are a few things to keep in mind.  In my experience, when you are surrounded by six inches of water in every direction, bigger fish are scarce.  Having a deep cut, open water, or a ledge to disappear into seems to comfort big bones, but this isn't a hard and fast rule.  Larger, sexually mature bonefish spawn each and every full moon, and timing your trip to coincide with the full moon (especially the next few days after) pays off bigtime.  Keep in mind the tide gets pretty squirrely during this moon phase, which can present its own set of challenges.  Big fish pair up and show up much more during this period, and despite being harder to feed, your shots are increased exponentially.  Relax if you stick a big bonefish.  The death grip after hook set will get you every time!  Let 'em run and get out of the way.  You can be choosy about which fish to cast to, opting not to thrash the water, and sometimes just watching these curious and furiously fast fish browse the flat can make you laugh out loud.  

Coming soon, Part 2.

Words by Scott Spooner
Photographs courtesy of Scott Spooner, Cameron Scott, Rocky Mangini and the US Navy