And Backpacking Gear Review

October 20-23, 2017

Check out the fall colors on the Upper Kern

Check out the fall colors on the Upper Kern

I have backpacked the Forks of the Kern Trail to the awesome fly fishing of the upper Kern River over a dozen times since my very first backpacking trip 7 years ago in August of 2011.  I have been in the Spring a few times and in the Summer many times.  But, I had never been able to go in the Fall; until now.  The shocking thing for me and the group of 9 guys that joined me (ages 12 to mid-sixties) was the colors.  I was shocked to see all the yellow and orange in the trees…and not just aspens.  I had never seen anything in the trees but green in the many years of visiting the Forks.  So beautiful.

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The Upper Kern River crew:

  • Sean McElroy and my son Mark
  • Aaaron Eagleton and his dad (who’s story I featured in California Fly Fisher Magazine)
  • Steve Franco (Aaron’s uncle)
  • Me
  • Martin Loef and Steve Ray (backpacking and wilderness gurus)
  • Larry French (my cousin and life long friend of Martin)
  • Not Pictured: The world famous Warren Lew who took the picture

 The most fun for me was that my son Mark was part of the group.  I have not got to fish with him in a while.  He’s a stick, toning his skills a couple years in Bozeman.  He’s 22 now and I just don’t get as much father-son q-time as I’d like.  At 22 I didn’t hang with my dad too much either.  I regret that now.

As for the fishing this was one of those trips where the fishing matched Solunar theory perfectly.  The first day the fly fishing was good; the 2nd day was average; the 3rd day was not so good.

solunar-kern

These screenshots are from the app, “Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time Pro”.  I have mentioned this app in this blog before.  It’s a godsend.  The regular version is free.  The Pro version is worth every penny of its $2.99 cost.  I use it religiously….although solunar theory is not bullet proof, it does help.  It certainly helped on this trip matching up perfectly to the quality of fishing.  Get it in your apple or google app store.

Backpacking Gear Review

Before I get into the fishing report let me provide some guidance (from an old guy fly fisherman’s perspective) in terms of a backpacking gear review for my fellow fly fishers.  7 years ago when I started backpacking as a means to get to fly fishing I acquired gear in the exact same way many of us fly fisherman buy fly fishing gear when we start fly fishing.  When I started fly fishing 25 years ago I bought the cheapest stuff.  I bought a $60 Cabela’s rod with a $30 Cabela’s reel.  My waders were the cheapest neoprene Cabela’s waders.  As the years progressed, technology helped the fly fishing industry just like it has helped every industry. I started replacing my cheap fly fishing stuff with the latest and greatest stuff.  The best $100 I ever spent was on the Simms Waders that have the zipper.  If you are male over 40 you know what I mean…  Well, when I started backpacking I bought the cheapest stuff too.  And that means the heaviest stuff and the stuff most apt to break down quickly.  The difference, though, between backpacking and fly fishing is that the technology curve is on hockey stick growth in backpacking.  There is just only so much technology, especially electronic technology that you can throw at fly fishing gear.  But, in backpacking….the sky is the limit.  And I am a technology guy.  So I purchased 4 new backpacking gear items for this trip.  And now that it’s over I could kick myself for not doing it years ago.  Because this stuff was worth every penny.

Check out the colors on this monster Kern River Rainbow I fooled

Check out the colors on this monster Kern River Rainbow I fooled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a summary of the 4 items I purchased and used for the first time on this trip:

Osprey Aether AG 70 Backpack – The 7 years of hard use on my Gregory back pack and its eventual failure was the impetus of all these purchases.  I’d say I got my money out of that Gregory.  I bought it on SierraTradingPost.com for under $100.  The arm straps finally ripped to the point of giving out.  After doing the research I was pleased to see how technical the backpacks had become and how light they are.  From experience I knew I needed a 60-70 liter pack to handle the 1 to 5 night backpacking treks I typically do.  There was one pack and one company that really stands out at the leader in my research.  I convinced myself I deserved the top of the line so that is what I got: The Osprey Aether AG 70.  You can’t argue with “Winner of Outside Magazine’s Gear of the Year Award for 2017” … So light (5lbs 6oz); so comfortable.  I didn’t get the pain in my shoulders after an hour hiking like I always did with my old pack.  This pack balanced perfectly and has this special technology that keeps the pack away from your back so it ventilates.  It has tons of features and gets ridiculously good reviews on the internet.  But, for me, (and for you fly fishers) the best feature of this pack is the top lid that converts to a daypack.  Yes, you snap off the top of the pack and it’s a smaller backpack big enough for all your fishing stuff, food, water, a jacket and more.  I didn’t have to bring a separate lightweight fly fishing hip pack because of this feature.  The retail for this pack is $310 and it’s worth every penny.  I cannot tell you how pleased I am with this pack.

Big Agnes Flycreek HV 2 platinum Tent –  Ok, I don’t deserve this tent like I deserve the Osprey Aether AG 70 BackPack.  This tent is pretty much way too nice for me.  I’m officially backpacking spoiled now.  This tent is expensive at a retail price of $549.95.  And there is a reason for that.  Like my dad always said, “in life you typically get what you pay for.”  It’s huge for a backpacking tent: it’s a 2 man tent with a really high ceiling.  It’s super easy to set up.  But it’s number one feature and why I’m so pleased with it: The trail weight for this tent is 1lb 10oz.  I’m not kidding.  When I handed that tent to others…and I did it numerous times, it induces shock on how light it is.  And usually a shake of the head.  My cheapo tiny single tent I have used for 7 years weighs 4 times as much as this tent at 1/3rd of the size.  I cannot tell you how pleased I am to save almost 5 pounds with this tent.

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Katadyn BeFree Water Filtration System –  This little device is the best kept secret in the backpacking industry.  Buy the .5 liter version of this now at a retail price of $40 and you will thank me.  I have watched countless backpackers struggle with large bulky water filtration pumps over the years.  That is why I have been a Steripen fan for years.  I have owned two of them.  Their customer service is awesome and their device is awesome.  They even replaced the bulb in one of my older Steripens so I could get more years out of it.  I have used my steripens all over the world and will continue to.  But, for the Kern…and frankly many of the rivers in the US, the Katadyn Befree removes just as much bad stuff native to US waters like giardia.  But it also filters out everything but the water.  All the little pieces of plant material, dirt, etc. the SteriPen uses ultra-violent light to kill the bad stuff.  It’s a wand you wave in the water for 2 long minutes.  The Katadyn BeFree filters the water.  You just scoop up the river and start drinking.  No waving wands, no pumping, no hassle.  With the steripen I always carried around 1.5 liters of river that eventually got warm.  With the Katadyn BeFree you just scoop up cold water and start drinking.  That means you can literally throw away the water you don’t want.  It’s cleans really easy too. The Steripen weighs 5 ozs.  The Katadyn Befree packs down to tiny and it only weighs 2 oz.  There is a reason it won BackPacker Magazine’s 2017 Editor’s Choice Award.

Big Agnes Helinox Ridgeline FL135 Trekking Poles – The lord didn’t give me much, but, he did give me the “goat gene”.  I’m agile.  I always have been. It’s just in my genetics.  I always assumed trekking poles were for the non-agile that needed stability.  I met a young backpacker in a prior trip to the Kern, Kyle Focht, that set me straight on how trekking poles are more than that.  More than agility and stability, trekking poles also help you to power up hill.  I tried my wife’s trekking poles on a trip in august and was shocked how much they helped.  I knew then I had to get my own.  These FL 135s are my very first trekking poles, so they are good ones, but not the top of the line.  They are made from aluminum, yet less than a pound in weight.  Btw, they also serve very well as a wading staff.

When all was said and done with my new purchases, I had saved close to 10 pounds in load weight.  Like I said before.  I wish I had done this years ago.

The devishly handsome author using his trekking poles as a wading staff crossing the Little Kern River.

The devilishly handsome author using his trekking poles as a wading staff crossing the Little Kern River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing Report

Friday, October 20 – We got an early start on the hike in.  We made it to camp late morning and set up tents, made wood, etc.  In the haste to set up all the beginners with dry dropper rigs and at the same time do a satellite text message to tell my wife had made it, I forgot to zip the pocket with my phone in my shirt.  When I bent over the river to put the food and booze in to keep it cold my phone popped out and sank 18” to the riverbed.  I cussed a storm because that would be the 6th or 7th iphone I have lost to a river or lake.  I was in no haste to pull it back out so I secured the food first and then fished it from the bottom.  It has happened to me so many times before; even twice in the Kern; that I knew it was toast.  At least at the time I thought it was…

We got camp set up and were fishing by lunch time.  I did well.  I swear I would have caught 20+ fish in 6 hours that day if I wasn’t guiding and tying lost flies back on the rigs of the 4 beginners we had on the trip.  In reality though, my most fun of the trip was guiding and doing exactly that.  I’d rather pull flies out of trees and guide a beginner to a fish than catch a fish myself any time.  In any event I caught a dozen quality fish in the 2-3 hours I fished.  I did get a few takes on my size 4 huck hopper.  But, I failed to hook any of them.  Most of my takes were on a large black stonefly nymph imitation.  That is a staple fly of the upper kern.

Check out the size 10 stonefly hanging out of this unlucky rainbow’s face

Check out the size 10 stonefly hanging out of this unlucky rainbow’s face

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, October 21st – what I remember most from this day was me hooking another fish and hearing mark from a distance say, “Damnit”.  That’s not like him to be frustrated.  He was mostly hanging with his buddy Sean, guiding him because he was a beginner, for the first day and a half.  btw, Sean caught two fish on this trip.  that is pretty good for a beginner.  Anyways I’m guessing the guiding had to weigh on the frustration a little.  So, that was my opening to help him out…and spend some q-time with him.  We spent the next couple hours together and I didn’t fish at all.  I simply did the “guide thing” and made a number of suggestions and changes to his flies and approach.  Thank God for me those suggestions worked for Mark.  Mark started catching fish and was the big winner that day.  He caught 3 quality fish with me while I was with him.  And for the rest of the trip he did well.  I learned at the end of the day when we all got back together at camp that some of the other guys did not do well.  I had that dwindling solunar performance in the back of my mind and feared what the next day would bring…or wouldn’t bring.

Sunday, October 22nd – We hiked for an hour up river, over the mountain, before we started fishing.  It’s something I have always wanted to do, but never had people with me that were willing to do it…and to go with it the brutal 5 mile hike back to camp after a long day of fishing.  Frankly it’s hard for me to do this because you pass miles and miles of awesome water in the process.  They say….well, I say, “the farther up river you go the better the fishing gets.”  And it makes sense since the fish up river just don’t see the artificial flies like the ones near the confluence.  Unfortunately my fear of the solunar prediction was realized; it was slow…  I think I fished and hour without a take.  And I was getting good drifts.  That is pretty rare for me on the Upper Kern no matter what the conditions.  I wanted to say I couldn’t understand what changed in terms of hatches, but I did have that solunar theory thing in the back of my mind.  I usually can figure out what the fish are eating if you give me a couple hours, but there were few bugs in the air and nothing rising and nothing being spooked and nothing worked for me.  I went hours without a single take.

I caught up to mark and that is when I saw it and laughed; an impressed laugh.  He was standing on a huge rock, close to 10 feet above the water level.  He was in front of a long deep bend in the river.  He had a gap in the trees behind him big enough for a back cast.  So, he was making 50 foot single hauls to the opposite side of the river with a dry/dropper rig.  I wish I was close enough to video it.  It was impressive.  Plus I could see him long distance mending so I can’t imagine the drift was easy.  He sure has become a great cast.  I was still 100 yards away when he hooked up on a big fish.  He battled it for longer than what I would deem normal and brought it to hand and showed me from distance after I screamed, “Woo!” from 100 yards away.  It looked huge.  I guessed over 20”. When I got to him he said, “17”.

 

Mark Huckaby doing the 50 foot single haul to the opposite side of the river with his buddy Sean fishing the head

Mark Huckaby doing the 50 foot single haul to the opposite side of the river with his buddy Sean fishing the head

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I still hadn’t landed a fish that day, though.  And slowly I found out no one but Mark had either.  So, slowly but surely everyone started their long treks back to camp except for me.  I found myself at Kern Flats (which I believe is over 6 miles from our camp) in front of the famous bend which is always good for at least one fish…and nothing.  It was getting late in the day and I knew I had at least a 1.5 hour hike back to the site, skunked.  That is when I said myself, “if I am going to get skunked I’m going down with size 18 dries.”  As I walked back I found Mark and Sean in “their hole” and told them to check in with me on their walk back so I wouldn’t worry. Half of the way back to camp was one of my favorite runs I walked by earlier in the day without fishing it.  It took me a while to get there.  Mark and Sean caught me as I tied on some 5x to the end of my leader, then a light colored size 18 mayfly imitation that was similar to a random handful of naturals I had seen during the day.  They moved on, hiking back to camp.  I moved into position to cast, which meant rock hopping my way closer to the middle of the river so I could get a cast.  I stared out in front of me at the run hoping to see rises where I had seen them so many times in years past….nothing.  From my rock I had to make a simple 30 foot cast straight up stream.  First cast…whack!  6” incher.  Nice.  I fished for 10 minutes and got struck on almost every cast.  I had landed 4 to 12” before mangling my leader because of my quickly tied poor knot when I tied on the tippet.  So, I cut it off and said to myself, “if I can catch my fifth on what is essentially a 6 foot 0x leader, I’ll call it a total success and head back to camp. I had to nip the leader at an angle just to thread the size 18 hook.  Success; 10” er.  I would have loved to stay and whack 20 trout after that full day of being skunked, but walking back that far to camp alone in the dark in that part of the sierras is not smart.  So, I took off happy.  And then it occurred to me.  We had not caught a single fish in front of camp yet.  And we had all fished it hard for 3 days. That that is one of the most prolific spots on the river.  I said to myself, when I get back to camp I’ll throw 5 casts to see if I can break the skunk there.  It was a long 45 minute brisk hike back up and over the mountain.  As I approached the camp all the guys already had whiskeys and were trading the day’s stories.  I looked at Mark with a smile and held 5 fingers up.  He said, “We heard you shout.  We knew you are on.”  I explained to the guys what happened and said, I have to try it here.  So I wandered 50 feet down to the river.  First cast, whack!  I shouted “Woo!” and some of the guys ran over.   After landing the fish I handed the rod to my cousin Larry French and said, “take over”  I headed for a backpacking chair with whiskey and he got a strike too with Warren guiding him.

Mark Huckaby with one of his big Kern River Rainbows

Mark Huckaby with one of his big Kern River Rainbows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

Through a matter of circumstances, I hiked out alone.  I like to do that at the Forks.  I like to push myself.  I made it from camp to the crossing of the little Kern in good time.  My goal was to hike the 2 miles and 1100 feet up and out of the canyon in under an hour.  With my new trekking poles I was pretty confident.  1:04 – that is pretty good for an old guy.

It was a great trip and fun was had by all.  The real bummer for me is November 15 and the winter looms.  That ends the fishing season for most of California until Spring.  It’s back into the man cave to tie hundreds of flies for the hundreds lost this season for me.

There were quality fish hooked, landed and there were frustrations with trees and slow times.  I honestly believe we learn from our entire experience on the river: from the most advance fly fishers like me to total beginners we are always getting better whether we are catching fish or not.

I believe a totally fun trip was had by all.  I’d love to make that an annual trip with that group.

The view of the flat water on approach to “Huckaby Camp”

The view of the flat water on approach to “Huckaby Camp”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My iPhone: You are not going to believe this.  On that first day we put my iphone in a plastic bag with the silicon desiccant packs from backpacking food and let it sit in the sun for 3 days.  It worked.  I didn’t even try to turn it on during the trip.  When I got to my truck after the hike out I plugged it in and it came right up.  When I finally got to signal an hour later in Kernville all the txts and emails flooded in.

Upper Kern and Little Kern River Fishing Report – August 25-28, 2017

Upper Kern and Little Kern River Fishing Report

Forks of the Kern Trail Head

August 25-28

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The Upper Kern River 3 miles upstream from the confluence of the Little Kern River

Upper Kern River Upstream from the Confluence of the Little Kern River

Well, the Fishing under 600 CFS on the Upper Kern is better than it was at 800 earlier in the month.  But it’s the simple fact that you still have to be a good, advanced or expert fly fisher to do well there right now.  In all my experience of fishing the Upper Kern from the Confluence of the Little Kern up river from the Forks of the Kern trailhead I’d saying it’s fishing at a 3 of 10 right now…. understand a 3 at the Forks is a 9 in most eastern sierras waters.  It’s that good.  And it’s my prediction that this upper stretch of the river will not fish well for everyone until it gets below 350 CFS.

You’ll do well if:

  • You are a good or better fly fisherman who can get a tough cast to soft water with a good drift.
  • You know how to and have the skills to drift a big deep hole and eddy.
  • You are fit enough and are willing to bush whack and rock hop and climb to precarious places to get that perfect cast, risking flies to overhanging trees
  • You are willing to hike the 3.5 miles upstream from the confluence over the mtn and up stream of rattlesnake creek.

You’ll do poorly if:

  • You are not an experienced fly fisher: Intermediates or beginners are still going to struggle in the high water
  • Losing flies pisses you off
  • You do not take risky casts…which ultimately means you will lose flies to overhanging trees.
  • You aren’t good at reading the water
  • You can’t get a drift in the seams of fast current
  • you don’t have a handful of casts in your arsenal
  • you don’t know what “soft water” means.

I hooked up about 20-40 times a day in the upper kern depending on the hours I put in and the hiking I was willing to do to find the soft water.  I had a dozen or so rises to my Huck hopper.  I landed a good amount of small to medium sized fish.  I lost a bunch of big fish.  Anyone who says fishing with barbless hooks doesn’t matter is fishing stockies.  When you fish barbless in the upper kern you will get shook  on multiple jumps or you will simply lose fish that bolt straight straight down stream through rapids into your backing where you have no resort but to tighten and lose them.  In this high water there is no way to chase them downstream.  You’d have to swim.  And only brad pitt does that well in movies.

I hooked a lot of these....landing them was rare. notice that black rubber legs in the shot. they do well on the upper kern year round

I hooked a lot of these….landing them is special. notice that black rubber legs in the shot. they do well on the upper kern year round

a Big Kern River Rainbow with a size 10 rubber legs hanging out of it's face

a Big Kern River Rainbow with a size 10 rubber legs hanging out of it’s face

I did, though, catch something very rare at “the site”.  I caught a 20” brown.  Browns are rare in the upper kern.   I have never caught a big one.  It was after dinner and a couple whiskeys.  It was almost dark.  I made a couple casts w’ my hopper / dropper in the big hole and my hopper went down slow.  I tightened and felt weight.  But, there was no jump.  8 times out of ten the kern rainbows jump.  It was dead weight…no head shake.  My buddy mike and I both said, “it has to be a sucker.”  When I got it in we were shocked.  I big male brown with many years behind it.  It took a flashy rainbow warrior I tie which is weird.  I must have totally lucked out and drifted it right into his face.  Clearly this was a rainbow eater to get that big.  Mike wanted me to kill it because it’s not native, but I couldn’t.

Very rare in the Upper Kern: A Big Brown

Very rare in the Upper Kern: A Big Brown

 

The Little Kern River Upstream from the Confluence

The Little Kern River is fishing really well right now; really well.  And it’s no wonder since it has been a trickle for over 4 years of drought.  I pulled multiple fish out of the tailout just 200 feet up from the Forks of the Kern crossing.  Quality fish too.  not just little ones. But, I did not and still have not caught any goldens out of the little Kern above the confluence.  They have all been rainbows.  I wonder how far you have to bushwhack to get to the goldens from there.  I’d love to talk to someone who knows.

But, in fishing the little Kern right now, all the bullets from above apply…. Even more.  There is no little kern river trail.  It’s a complete bushwhack, frequently requiring river travel as the only means to get up stream.  It’s small water, but raging and deep in spots.  The rocks are much more slippery than in the main fork of the Kern so fishing your way up stream is slow even for the most agile and fit.  And because of the canopy it can be dark…great for fishing, but not so much for walking upstream in current in 2+ feet of water.  I went down….water to my neck….almost broke it and my Winston rod in the process.  Was it worth it?  totally….  But, I was alone.   That is not a place to be alone.  No river trail.  No humans.  No nothing.  A bad accident there could really be bad.

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I don’t have a lot of success or experience in this section of the Little Kern River because I chose not to fish it, on guidance and common sense during the 4 years of drought: warm and low and too stressful on the fish.  But, I spent 2.5 hours fishing it and absolutely killed.  I fished about 1.5 miles up from the confluence.  I had takes in almost every stretch of castable water.   There are a lot of tailouts, pools and pocket water.  I had multiple fish runs (which I did not have on the Kern).  And I hooked some big fish in that little river.  notice I said hooked.  i am no beginner.  I have caught thousands of trout on a fly rod in my close to 30 years of fly fishing and I have never found harder fish to land than the kern river rainbows.  I hooked 4-5 big fish in that little river and landed zero.  The behavior is pretty much the same: set the hook.  The fish jumps.  Then the fish either jumps multiple times going ballistic until the barbless hook gets shook or bolts downriver into the backing.  I even had a big rainbow go so fast so far down that little stream that after snapping off, I had to walk it backwards untangling most of the 100 feet of my fly line from all the rocks and willows it tangled on it’s run.  One day I’ll hike the Forks trail and dedicate a full day or more to the little kern.  It’s not safe to do that alone.  It takes a unique fisherman to want to do the bushwhacking in small water that I love so much.

Gunpowder River, Hunt Valley MD

July 11-13, 2017

Through the years I have had so much east coast business travel.  I had totally given up on finding a river within driving distance of DC that support wild trout and is fishable year round.  The area gets hot and the rivers that are within striking distance like the Rose and those in West Virginia flow low and warm in the summer and many of them close.

Another nice brown from the Gunpowder River....with a bullethead skwalla sticking out of his face.

Another nice brown from the Gunpowder River….with a bullethead skwalla sticking out of his face.

Well, when the world famous Harmon Cabins on the North Fork South Branch Potomac River told me no way in July I almost gave up.  That would have been a 2.5 hour minimum drive from DC.  I just couldn’t look outside that radius.  It would have been too much.  2 months before my trip, I totally lucked out on an internet search and found the Gunpowder River in Maryland.  The Gunpowder River is a tail water that supports reproducing trout (Browns, Rainbows, Brooks).  Most of the river is not stocked; it doesn’t need to be.  The Gunpowder runs cool all summer long because of a “below dam” release.  The river is small, but even in low flow there are many spots where the river is not crossable.

It’s located in Gunpowder Fall State Park, which is a public recreation area comprising six non-contiguous areas covering 18,000 acres in northeastern Baltimore County and western Harford County, Maryland.  The area is absolutely beautiful.  And low flows of summer means easy wading, but a stealthy approach and long casts will reward you.

After finding the Gunpowder River on the internet, another targeted internet search yielded Backwater Anglers fly shop located just outside the park border.  I immediately contacted them and arranged for a guide for me alone on Wednesday and then for my buddies Tom and Loren on Thursday.  I got a reservation at a cheap local hotel in the Hunt Valley and started to get excited.  I was going to play hookie from work for a couple days and fly fish.  It was an 11 day business trip so, I wasn’t feeling too guilty about doing it since I work the early mornings, nights and both weekends anyways.

The Gunpowder River

The Gunpowder River

Well in DC, on Tuesday my keynote demo went really well and my afternoon meeting postponed.  I looked at my watch, 2pm.  And that is when I decided to try to beat the traffic out of DC and make it to the river for a couple hours to catch the evening hatch.  It was slightly tricky figuring out where to park my rental car, but with a little research, I found the closest place to the fly shop.  It was a huge paved parking lot and the State Park signs identified it.  But, there was no guard shack to take my money.  I wondered if I was in the right place.   It was.  I walked the trail down to the river and was the only sole there.  I stepped into the river and as I was slowly getting into position I saw a rise.  My first cast produced a 8” brown.  I knew it was going to be a good evening session.  When I staggered out of the river a couple hours later I had landed ~15 fish and easily lost twice that.  It was getting dark by the time I exited the river; the fireflies let my path back up the trail. “Tomorrow, guided, “ I said to myself, “was going to be a good day.”

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My guide, Gene Howson from Backwater Anglers is a 27 year old Scotsman.  With that Scottish accent he sounded so old on the phone.  I was a bit surprised he is so young.  Gene suggested an early start, 630am because of the weather; hot and humid.  I’m glad he did.  We did well.  Gene took me to a lot of places.  When we first entered the river there was a mist that gave it kind of an eerie feel.  I had not fished in the East in so long I forgot about that mist.  We didn’t see a single other angler.  We caught a lot of fish, but it definitely shut down mid day just like Gene predicted.

Gene Howson, Backwater Anglers Crossing the river through the mist

Gene Howson, Backwater Anglers Crossing the river through the mist

The next day Gene took all four of us to another new spot on the river.  This place was the most beautiful of all.  It was in a canyon and took a hike down to the water.  I took my high school buddy Dan Cerniglia with me.  I hadn’t seen dan in a couple years.  We got into a habit of fishing at least once a year together, but when he went back to American Airlines to fly 737s his schedule became unpredictable.  I totally lucked out that my trip to DC was on a couple days when dan was off.  Gene lead Tom and Loren, my buddies from the msft .net partner advisory council.  It was such awesome trout water.  But it was slow.  Still a totally fun day.  and we did burn some calories.

Dan Cerniglia, keeping that tight loop while smoking a cigar

Dan Cerniglia, keeping that tight loop while smoking a cigar

I have been studying solunar theory for over a year.  I have disproven it numerous times by getting skunked on good solunar days…and the exact opposite, killing on days that should have been poor fishing.  http://fly-fishing-blog.timhuckaby.com/solunar-theory-as-applied-to-fly-fishing/   Solunar theory basically says animals are more active when the sun and moon are closest to the earth.  Anyways, I did look at the scoring (I used an app called “Fishing and Hunting Solunar Time” )  and the scoring for Tuesday (out of 100) was 64, Wednesday was 33, And Thursday was 13.  That would explain why Tuesday afternoon / night I did so well.  And it was slower Wednesday and really slow Thursday.

The gang: me, Dan Cerniglia, Tom O'Connell and Loren Goodman

The gang: me, Dan Cerniglia, Tom O’Connell and Loren Goodman

All in all I fished 4 different locations on the Gunpowder and found every type of water: runs, pocket water, pools, riffles, tail-outs, heads, steep canyon water and water falls.  The fishing was really good at times and challenging at times.  I caught a lot of brown trout.   I even had a sucker rise on me.  Nothing huge….although I bet the Gunpowder has some exceptions.  Most of the fish I caught went 4” to 14”.

It’s a beautiful place.  I can’t wait to get back.

If you are on a trip in the DC area I strongly suggest you contact Gene Howson of Backwaters anglers.  He’s a great guide and a great kid.  Contact Gene by phone at 410-357-9557 or by email

 

Seven Tips and Tricks for Fly Fishing in the Fall

This guest post is from my buddy Jon Holman who runs the No See Um Lodge – a family-owned Alaska fishing lodge on the Kvichak River.  John has been guiding and flying since the age of 19 and is licensed and certified as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, AI (Aircraft Inspector), Coast Guard Captain First Aid and CPR First Responder.  When not running the lodge during the Alaska fishing season, he can be found flying, hunting, fishing and scuba diving around the world. No See Um is truly a bucket lister for any fly fishing enthusiast!

Fly fishing in Alaska

Fly fishing in Alaska

Seven Tips and Tricks for Fly Fishing in the Fall

by Jon Holman

Spring and summer always get great press. Both promise beautiful weather, productive waters and fish that almost volunteer to hit your fly. Where does that leave September through November? It leaves fall fly fishing in Alaska to anglers who look forward to the change in seasons because they know this last stretch of action rocks.

Honestly, we don’t try to keep it a secret. On the other hand, we can’t complain about having the riverbanks all to ourselves. If you don’t mind a little chill, shorter hours and big ‘bows, get that rod ready for one more trip. You still have plenty of time to enjoy the tail end of some of the best fly fishing on the planet.

Trophy trout catch with the help of John Holman

Trophy trout catch with the help of John Holman

How to Finesse Fall Fly Fishing: Seven Simple Tips

You know temperatures are going to be colder than usual. The seasonal salmon egg smorgasbord is just about over. It’s time to switch up flesh patterns and throw some leeches and sculpins too. The steelhead and dolly varden may work you a little harder, but you have an advantage they don’t. You have this list of seven smart fall fly fishing tips.

Rainbows put up a healthy fight!

Rainbows put up a healthy fight!

  1. Don’t Get Up at Dawn

Sunrise isn’t really a big part of fall fly fishing and neither is sunset. Trout and salmon handle the cold better than we do, but even they take it easy until mid-day. Once the water warms up a little bit, they’re a lot more interested in your flies, so don’t set the alarm clock for daybreak.

  1. Watch Your Shadow Casting             

Those long shadows that make our autumn landscapes so beautiful can get in your way when you’re sneaking up on fish. Actually, they give you away. The fall sun throws shadows farther, so keep your silhouette from frightening potential catch with some distance casting.

  1. Try Long and Light

You can also minimize scaring the fish by throwing a long, thin leader with a light tippet. It doesn’t make casting easier, but it really helps especially when you’re working low water.

  1. Get Their Attention

Sometimes, it seems like you’re trying to see through a carpet of fallen leaves and twigs. All that stuff on the water surface makes it harder for fish to see you too. Put a little action in your fly with a small twitch. Try short, slow strips. If nothing works, consider the setting as an opportunity to sharpen up your target skills.

  1. Pack Plenty of Streamers

You can’t go wrong with streamers in the fall. Whether you give them a standard swing, bang the banks or go with a dead drift, big streamers catch big fish. We nominate sculpins and leeches as the official autumn patterns for fly fishing. They’re that productive.

Fly fishing flies used in Alaska

Fly fishing flies used in Alaska

  1. Fight Ice With Cooking Spray

Iced-up guides happen when you’re fly fishing in the fall. We wish they didn’t, but a little cheap cooking spray goes a long way towards keeping them clear. If you’re concerned about rod resins and line coatings, just dip your guides into the water. They’ll freeze up again, so be prepared to rinse and repeat.

  1. Buck Tradition With a Tenkara Rod

Move past moving parts. Find out what fixed line fly fishing is all about. Get into the zen of focusing on technique instead of equipment. Yes, we’re definitely Tenkara fans. No, it’s not for everybody, but it’s a great way to enjoy fly fishing in conditions that give reels and guides cold-weather headaches.

Take Time to Enjoy Your Time

If you like the idea of landing 15-pound rainbows and chasing the last of the coho runs, why let a chilly forecast stand between you and an unforgettable fishing experience? Our incredible backcountry takes on a special glow in the fall, and you practically have the entire place to yourself.

We’re here of course, and we really enjoy sharing this time of year. Now that you’re armed with smart tips for fall fly fishing, come on up, and join us in our Alaskan fishing lodge. Don’t worry about the weather. If an afternoon gets too cold, we’ll just wait it out in the hot tub. There’s always plenty of time to enjoy your time here at No See Um Lodge.

Landing Rainbows in Alaska

Landing Rainbows in Alaska

Solunar Theory: As Applied to Fly Fishing

For the last 4 months, I have been studying Solunar Theory.  There is plenty of information on the internet and countless books on it.  My infatuation with solunar theory started when I fished in the Ecuadorian Andes with Eduardo Campuzano, owner of Campuchoca Lodge near Quito, Ecuador.  That adventure is detailed here.  My amusing / eye opening experience was Eduardo using an app on his android phone, staring at it for a period of time and then saying, “Tim, you have come on a below average stretch of fishing days.  You should have come next week.”  At first I thought a storm must be moving in with the barometer falling.  However, the weather was perfect, sunny and even some clouds for potential hatches.   I asked him what he was staring at and he basically said, “The solunar score for today’s fishing.  It’s only a 44 and tomorrow is 43.”  Amusingly I said, “out of 100?” and he said yes.  Now, I was really skeptical, but intrigued.   I stared at his application on his phone and he showed me how the week coming the scores were in the 80s and 90s.  He told me it was based on science.  And that statement is what got me motivated to learn more about Solunar Theory.

I did pretty darn well in hot creek on a poor solunar fishing day

I did pretty darn well in hot creek on a poor solunar fishing day

Well, we went out fishing and I did well.  After practically every fish I caught, I teased Eduardo with the statement, “Below average fishing.” with a smile on my face.  He always retorted, “You should come back when it’s good.”  So after two, what I would call good days of fly-fishing and some cocktails, I decided I needed to learn more.

Since then I have tested Solunar Theory “in the field”.  This is about my findings and conclusions.

a big spawing rainbow caught on the upper owens river on a good solunar fishing day.

a big spawing rainbow caught on the upper owens river on a good solunar fishing day.

Background on Solunar Theory

John Alden Knight created the Solunar Theory.  Essentially Solunar Theory is that fishing is best when the sun and moon are closest.  Mr. Knight was an avid fly angler and wrote many books on fly-fishing.  He wrote three important books on Solunar Theory:

In 1926, while fishing in Florida Mr. Knight analyzed some local folk lore that which inspired him to evaluate 33 factors that seemed to influence behavior of fish.   The theory was that these 33 factors caused fish to be periodically more active.  One by one each factor was disproven until 3 remained: sun, moon and tides. It was from this field research that Mr. Knight created Solunar Theory.  Sol for sun; Lunar for moon.

It is also commonly accepted that Solunar Theory applies to all living things.  from www.solunar.com:

“It is now known that the sun and moon are the two major sources of the astral energies that daily bombard the Earth and all her life forms. The closer they are to you at any given moment, the stronger the influence. The day of a new or full moon will provide the strongest influence in each month.”

You can learn a lot more about Solunar theory from Mr. Knight’s books or www.solunar.com.

We've had a record winter in the Sierras this year and water temperature definitely affects the fly-fishing.

We’ve had a record winter in the Sierras this year and water temperature definitely affects the fly-fishing.

Field Testing Solunar Theory

After i got home from Ecuador i intended to immediately buy the Solunar Theory app that Eduardo uses.  Well, i thought i bought what i thought was the app.  The app store is so saturated now that i bought a solunar theory fishing app, but it was the wrong one.  i was really disappointed with it.  Turns out I bought the wrong app.  After some investigation, I bought the right app; the app that Eduardo uses, called “Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time Pro” from the iphone app store for $2.99.  It’s a really well written app.  I’m a software guy.  I know a good piece of software when I use it.

You can download the app in the apple store here.

You can download the app in the google store here.

I reached out to the developer of the app, Anton Nikitin, anton.nkt@gmail.com, and he was very responsive to a few questions I had on the use of the app.  I now use the app all the time.  It’s one of, if not the only app I use with fly fishing.

An excellent Solunar Fishing day on the Lower Owens River as reported on the Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time Pro app

So, I started my testing of Solunar Theory fishing on excellent solunar fishing days.  My first fishing day was in the surf in Carlsbad, CA….skunked.  The solunar app told me it was a “93” day and I caught the rising tide perfectly in the morning.  I only fished for a couple hours.  Skunked.  Why?  Because the waves were huge.  It was impossible to get a cast and the line down with enough strips to make it effective.  That was my first lesson on solunar theory: so many other factors can screw with it.

But, I did have 2 back to back weekend trips to the lower Owens River in the eastern sierras just weeks later.  The first weekend was 3 days where the app showed excellent Solunar fishing days above 90.  The following weekend it showed the exact opposite solunar fishing days: poor, in the 20s and 30s.  Surely that would be a good test: fishing the exact same place on both good and poor solunar days.  It was not.  Why?  The river was blown out.  But, I did go to the upper Owens river for a single day each of those weekends where the river was not blown out.  The problem was that I did good on both weekends there.  Not great; good.  I caught big fish on both those days.  I even caught a handful of quality fish in Hot Creek on a bad solunar day.  Hot creek has not fished well in a long time because of the drought.  I did slightly worse on the bad solunar days, but, not enough to blame it on solunar theory.

An poor Solunar Fishing day at the beach in Carlsbad as reported on the Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time Pro app

An poor Solunar Fishing day at the beach in Carlsbad as reported on the Fishing & Hunting Solunar Time Pro app

Summary

I believe Solunar Theory as applied to fly-fishing does help.  I am going to continue to field test Solunar Theory.  If I was guiding full time I would use Solunar Theory religiously for the way I fished; not when I fished.  In good weather and good river conditions, I’d be much more apt to dry fly on excellent solunar days and much more apt to fish “under the bobber” on poor solunar days.

However, as contrasted to hunting or fishing conventionally there are so many other factors that affect success in fly-fishing: Weather, the Barometer, river flow, water temperature, time of year, hatches, spawning, etc.  Nothing, including Solunar Theory replaces skill, knowledge and a little luck: a good cast that puts the bug in the right water at the right time and even a little luck is still the best prescription for fly-fishing success.  But, if Solunar Theory can help your chances of success, then why the heck not leverage it?

 

 

 

Guest Blog – Choosing trout flies simplified: 2 super-easy methods

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For this post, I invited Bill Bernhardt, a professional guide and instructor with over 15 years of fishing experience to share a method he developed to drastically reduce the number of flies you need to take with you when you fish.  And Bill’s guidance speaks exactly to my weakness: I am “that guy” that takes 5 boxes of flies backpacking when one will do.  I am “that guy” that has the ultra fishing vest so i can carry 15 fly boxes to a river when one will do.   i carry 10,000 flies and typically use 4 or 5.

The original version of this post can be found at http://www.fishfindersource.com/trout-flies-choosing/   Bill can be found on his website at www.nc-flyfishing.com

Introduction

From today onwards, you’ll never have to take multiple fly boxes with you when you go fishing anymore.

In fact, you’ll be able to fit everything you need in your fishing vest, without making it feel like a backpack!

And all the while, you’ll still be able to catch just as many fish, if not more.

How the Three Color Attractor and Six Color Imitator method lets me catch trout anytime of the year

15 years of experience has taught me that there are a few specific colors of attractor and imitator flies that trout will just jump at. I was able to drop so many flies from my tackle box this way and it made my fly fishing so much easier and more relaxed. I no longer have to manage those pesky aquatic insect charts, either.

The three attractors and six imitators are pretty much what you need to get trout to bite all year round.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty, then, shall we?

How we ended up with so many flies(a short history)

Although we have records of the art of fly fishing dating back as far as the Roman Empire, most fly fishing historians agree that the art of fly fishing was truly developed by the English who observed large brown trout feeding on mayflies in their local chalk streams.

Being the inventive and enterprising folk they were, the English people used hand-forged, iron hooks which they then wrapped with bits of fur and feathers in an attempt to create an artificial insect that appeared enough like a real insect to fool the trout into striking it.

From there, they eventually developed long “spey” rods made from multiple types of wood along with silk fly lines and leaders made from animal intestine as outlined by Dame Juliana Berners in her Treatyse on Fysshynge Wyth an Angle which was published in The Boke of St. Albans in 1486.

This heritage is still with us today and, in fact, most any modern book you choose to read on the topic of fly fishing will instill in you the mantra of “match the hatch”.

Consequently, this has led biologists to develop long lists of the family, genus, and species of aquatic insects that inhabit the trout streams in many regions of the world which enterprising fly fishermen have used to create local hatch charts.

Novice fly fisherman today are taught to consult these local hatch charts and choose a fly selection accordingly and then, once on the stream, to choose a fly from their selection that “matches the hatch” according to the species, size, and color of the insects that are hatching in that area during a given month.

However, this often leads to fly fishermen carrying multiple fly boxes in their fly fishing vests stuffed with all of the various fly patterns listed on their local hatch chart; many of which they never use.

But what if there was a way to simplify the approach to fly selection such that a fly fisherman could carry a single fly box containing generic patterns of dry flies, nymphs, or streamers that would enable him to catch trout anywhere in the world at any time of the year?

A fly fisherman’s odyssey

Like many novice fly fishermen, I too followed the time honored method of obtaining a local hatch chart and then set about collecting the many different fly patterns listed which, of course, also made it necessary for me to purchase numerous different fly boxes to hold them all.

Then, each time I would go fly fishing, I would approach the stream and spend some time observing the air above the stream as well as the streamside foliage and the current to see if I noticed any flies hatching and, if so, I would then capture one and note both its genus, size, and color.

Next, I would attempt to choose a fly from my extensive fly collection that would closely match the fly I had captured just as I had been taught.

Consequently, I eventually ended up carrying four or five different fly boxes stuffed to the brim with numerous different dry fly patterns which made my fly vest so heavy and bulky that I often felt like I was wearing a backpack rather than a fly vest!

However, as I gained streamside experience, I began to notice that there were numerous fly patterns in my fly boxes that I never used despite them being listed on my local hatch chart.

After spending fifteen years or so as an avid (or should I say fanatical?) fly fisherman as well as learning everything I could about the sport by reading every book on the topic that I could get my hands on, I eventually decided that I should endeavor to pass my knowledge and experience on to others who were interested in learning the sport.

So I decided to become a professional fly fishing guide and instructor which, in turn, enabled me to spend numerous hours each week on the stream observing the habits of both trout and the insects that they consume.

As I gained additonal knowledge and experience, I began to realize that so much of what I had read in all of those fly fishing books simply did not seem to apply to the southern Appalachian trout streams where I fish.

I eventually decided to discard all of the conventional knowledge that I had gained from reading all of those books and instead use my experience and streamside observations to develop my own method of fly selection.

Now, instead of carrying a whole fly shop’s worth of flies in my vest, I instead carry only four fly boxes which contain my dry fly patterns, my nymph patterns, my terrestrial patterns, and my streamer patterns.

The Three-Color Attractor System

So, in an effort simplify my approach to fly selection, I started with the basic knowledge that trout flies are commonly divided into two different categories consisting of “attractors” and “imitators”.

For those of you who are not familiar with these terms, an “attractor” fly is a fly pattern such as the Royal Wulff (developed by a fellow angler named Lee Wulff) that is tied.

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It uses bright colors that “attract” the trout and cause them to strike the fly even though it does not closely resemble any natural insect that exists in any trout stream anywhere.

On the other hand, an “imitator” fly is a fly pattern such as the Light Cahill that is instead tied using a much a more subtle color scheme that is designed to closely resemble a natural aquatic insect.

I combined this knowledge with the observation that trout in our local southern Appalachian trout streams seem to be highly attracted to the colors red, yellow, and green which, in turn, led me to develop something that I call the Three-Color Attractor System.

As the name implies, my Three-Color Attractor System consists of fly patterns that are predominately red, yellow, or green such as:

  • the Royal Wulff (one of the most effective attractor fly patterns ever developed) which uses red floss combined with green peacock herl for the body and white Polar Bear fur for the wings,
  • the Carolina Wullf which uses yellow floss instead of red, and
  • the Tennessee Wullf which uses green floss or, the Humpy pattern in red, yellow, and green.

I combine those patterns with red, yellow, and green Elk Hair Caddis flies and red, yellow, and green Stimulator flies (even though both are technically considered to be imitator patterns) in sizes 12, 14, and 16 to complete my Three-Color Attractor System.

I use my attractor flies during periods when there are no insects presently hatching in order to entice the trout to strike my flies. In addition, it is helpful to realize that my three-color system can also be applied to nymphs in order to help you locate actively feeding fish that will not respond to a dry fly.

For instance, in order to create a three-color attractor system using nymphs, you could choose a Royal Wulff nymph, a Pheasant Tail Sulphur nymph, and a green Golden Ribbed Hair’s Ear nymph or, perhaps, a Firebug nymph, a Tellico nymph, and a Prince nymph.

Also, if you have Caddis Flies in your local waters, you might want to add a selection of Serendipity nymphs in red, yellow, and olive as well a selection of Copper John nymphs in red, copper, and green.

The Six-Color Imitator System

Although attractor patterns are very effective at catching trout during non-hatch periods, because trout are sight feeders and, because of a concept called the “Food vs. Energy Equation”, they quickly learn to differentiate between the family and genus of the various aquatic and terrestrial insects that occur in their locale.

They tend to become highly selective during periods when insects such a May Flies, Caddis Flies, Damsel Flies, Dobson Flies, or Stone Flies are hatching.

They then tend to ignore any fly that does not closely resemble the insects that they are presently feeding on in shape, size, and color. Therefore, many frustrated fly fisherman have endeavored to develop realistic fly patterns that closely resemble these insects which are called “imitator” patterns and of which there is a seemingly infinite variety.

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Rather than consult a local hatch chart and then purchase several dozen different fly patterns in order to imitate the various species of aquatic insects that inhabit the trout streams in a given region, I have instead developed a second fly selection system that I call the Six-Color Imitator System.

Again starting with the observation that the very large majority of the flies that I see on our local trout streams regardless of family or genus tend to predominately display one of six different colors consisting of cream, yellow, green, grey, brown, or black, I developed my Six-Color Imitator System to include the Light Cahill, the Sulphur Dun, the Blue Winged Olive, the Female Adams, the March Brown, and the Black Gnat fly patterns in sizes 12, 14, and 16.

In addition, most swiftly flowing streams here in the Southeast harbor large populations of Caddis Flies and thus, a selection of Elk Hair Caddis patterns in cinnamon, yellow, olive, gray, brown, and black is also very handy to have. Plus, my Six-Color Imitator System can also be applied to nymphs by including a Light Cahill nymph, a Pheasant Tail Sulphur nymph, a green Golden Ribbed Hair’s Ear nymph, an Adams nymph, a March Brown nymph, and a black Golden Ribbed Hair’s Ear nymph.

By observing the family, genus, size, and color of the flies that are hatching on the rare occasions that I actually run across a hatch, I can usually select a fly from my Six-Color Imitator System that resembles the hatching insects closely enough to fool the trout without having to resort to carrying enough specific fly patterns to supply a whole horde of fly fishermen.

Terrestrial and Streamer Fly Selection

It has also been my experience that despite the plethora of May Fly nymphs, Stone Fly nymphs, Dobson Fly nymphs, and Caddis Fly larva I see inhabiting the substrate in our local trout streams, I very seldom see a hatch of any insect coming off during the day on our local waters.

In fact, on the rare occasions that I do see a hatch coming off, it’s usually either just after dawn or just before dusk. In addition, when I seine the current during the day, I very seldom capture either May Fly, Stone Fly, or Dobson Fly nymphs or Caddis Fly larvae.

Consequently, this leads me to believe that there is commonly very little nymphal drift present in southern Appalachian trout streams during the day and thus, terrestrial insects, forage fish, crustaceans, and even mollusks are an important food source for trout in our local waters.

So it is also a wise idea to carry a small fly box containing grasshopper, cricket, yellow jacket, cicada, beetle, ant, and inchworm patterns in addition to the Three-Color Attractor System and the Six-Color Imitator System mentioned above.

It should also be noted that both the Black Gnat and black Humpy patterns serve as a passable imitation of a common House Fly which seems to be present everywhere.

In addition, trout also feed avidly on forage fish such as Darters, Dace, Sculpins, and even juvenile Trout. I would suggest that you carry Black Nosed Dace patterns to imitate Dace and Darters, Conehead Muddler Minnows to imitate Sculpins, Royal Wulffs and/or Spruce Flies to imitate juvenile Chubs, Enrico’s Trout Streamer to imitate juvenile Smallmouth Bass, and both Dark and Light Edison Yellow Tigers as well as Black Ghosts and Mickey Finns for use as attractor flies.

Last, it should also be noted that trout tend to view crayfish in the same way that humans view steak and thus, carrying a selection of small crayfish flies is also an excellent idea.

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Conclusion

So, if you are a novice just now entering the sport of fly fishing and are confused by the myriad of fly patterns available or, if you are simply one of those fly fishermen who has more flies than you know what to do with, then you might want to give my simple approach to trout fly selection a try.

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The entire dry fly system can be contained in a single 18 compartment box for the larger flies and a single 12 compartment box for the smaller flies. Also, by applying this system to nymphs and steamers as well, you can drastically reduce your fly selection to a simple, compact, system that occupies far less room in you fly vest than the traditional approach of carrying specific fly patterns to imitate specific species of aquatic insects.

 

 

Amazon Basin, Ecuador

December 9-11, 2016

A baby Capuchin Monkey i shot while waiting for a river taxi (by pango)

A baby Capuchin Monkey I shot while waiting for a river taxi (by pango)

This trip was an adventure I’ll remember forever; mostly because I’m so lucky to be able to have visited the Ecuadorian Amazon.  And since there was a little bit of fly fishing and some guiding I say it qualifies for my fly fishing blog.  I was coming off a great weekend of fly fishing at Campuchoca Lodge near Quito and a successful business week with my developer team at Logic Studio in Quito.  The Founder of Logic Studio is a good friend of mine I have known for almost 20 years, Edgar Sanchez.  When I told him I’d be looking for adventure the weekend before and after the business trip, he immediately said, “You are coming with Carmiñia and me to the Amazon Basin for the weekend.”  So I was excited to spend a long weekend below the Equator.  I also immediately asked, “Will we see Capuchins?”  Every one said, “Absolutely yes.”  But, I had heard that before.  In Costa Rica.  And we saw lots of monkeys, but we didn’t see any Capuchins.  The Capuchin monkey is that smart one you see on documentaries that has learned to clean its food along with a number of many other ingenious hunting techniques.

The only bummer about this trip was that Kelly was not with me.   She loved the Costa Rica trip and would have absolutely loved most of the Ecuadorian Amazon.  I really missed her at many points of this adventure and yet a handful of times I said to myself, “God, Kelly would hate this.”   But, I must have told Edgar and Carmiñia 20 times during the trip: “Kelly would love this.”

So, we set out Friday morning from Quito in Edgar’s Ford SUV.  Edgar warned me that it would be at least four hours to the confluence of the Napo and Misahuallí (also called Tena) rivers where we’d catch a boat to the Misahuallí lodge.  And after we plowed through the morning Quito traffic he told me it would be a beautiful drive East, over the Andes, past the volcanoes, by numerous waterfalls, and into the Amazon Basin on the other side; it was.

Carmiñia and me on the Quijos River

After a few hours of driving we made a sack lunch stop Carmiñia had prepared before the trip at Pena Pivico Park on the Quijos river.  After lunch we checked out the river….and I was jonesing hard to fish because it looked like the perfect trout habitat – cold, fast water running down from the Andes.

Edgar and Carmiñia found each other later in life.  Edgar is my age and they have only been married a year or so.  So, it was like being with newlyweds.  That really made me miss Kelly although she won’t even hold my hand because “It’s sweaty”.  And Edgar and Carmiñia found each other through running.  They are totally fit.  In fact, they both just completed a marathon in Brazil.  So, in that respect, as couples we are really similar and in terms of fitness, but, I’d be the weak link of the four of us, which is motivating.

When we finally got to the small city of Misahuallí we got out of the car so we could figure out how we arrange the boat across the confluence of the Napo and Misahuallí rivers to get to the Misahuallí lodge.  And sure enough, there they were right in the town!  Capuchins!

Mother and baby Capuchins just walking the town of Misahuallí looking for mischief (food)

Mother and baby Capuchins just walking the town of Misahuallí looking for mischief (food)

In Spanish too fast for me to understand Edgar talked to the locals and got everything figured out.  Carmiñia and I waited down by the river while Edgar navigated the car down to the “beach” to drop off the luggage.  And we were surrounded by Capuchin Monkeys in the trees.  There had to be 30 of them.  It was awesome.  We hadn’t even got to the lodge yet and my number one goal was accomplished.

Three Capuchin Monkeys playing in the trees

Three Capuchin Monkeys playing in the trees

Jonas was to pilot his long skinny panga boat with an outboard motor that are native to the amazon basin.  And Edgar not only found out that Jonas was the “great fisherman of the town”, but soon we had arranged a full day of fishing and exploration with Jonas the following day.  And I didn’t feel guilty at the time because it was going to be ~ a half day of fishing and the rest a touristy boat ride with adventures.  I wanted to do an adventure where all 3 of us could have fun.  Jonas said in Spanish – You will see a lot of animals.  That was good enough for me.

Jonas loading the Pango with Edgar. Notice my 60 lb duffel bag filled with fly fishing equipment

Jonas loading the Pango with Edgar. Notice my 60 lb duffel bag filled with fly fishing equipment

The boat ride was only 5 minutes or so across the river to the Misahuallí lodge.  And the lodge is awesome…beautiful… on an island up high with a great view surrounded by 3 rivers.  As we walked up the stairs I was shocked to see a wild Scarlet Macaw hanging out at the lodge.  Well, we were to learn quickly that Paco the Parrot was wild…but, he wasn’t a parrot and he didn’t really enjoy the wild.

Paco the Scarlet Macaw after sneaking into the restaurant with the Napo River in the background

Paco the Scarlet Macaw after sneaking into the restaurant with the Napo River in the background

Our rooms were bungalows on stilts.  No TV; no A/C; no internet in the room; great by me.  It wasn’t long before we were having a snack and the local beer, Pilsener, while enjoying the view of the river from above.  After that we got a boat ride back to town to have a few beers and watch the Capuchins.

The bungalos at Misahuallí lodge

The bungalos at Misahuallí lodge

We were watching the Capuchins again standing in the town square.  They were up in the trees.  And we were talking to Jonas arranging the big adventure in the morning.  Everything was going perfect.  I took sunglasses off to see the Capuchins up in the tree better and that is when it happened: like it was in slow motion, this big ass bug flew out of nowhere right into my left eye and clamped on.  It took me 3 attempts to get it out of there and it stung really badly.  Jonas was fairly panicked and told Edgar to get me water to flush my eye immediately.  We walked briskly across the street and I started flushing.  My eye stinged like hell.  Jonas explained to Edgar that it was the “Choncherro”.  A flying beetle which lays it’s eggs in your eye and if successful it could be bad.  You can imagine me thinking, “ok, I have been in the Amazon 3 hours and I’m going blind because of a bug laying its eggs in my eye.”  Well, long story short it took 3 days, but my eye finally stopped hurting and the redness went away.  Beers really helped the pain that night, though.

A big male Capuchin just hanging out in town

A big male Capuchin just hanging out in town

We were really exhausted and went to sleep early.  Which means I rose around six AM, with the sun, left eye slight red, swollen and stinging.  And what was seemingly with thousands of birds doing their thing around my bungalow.  I walked the property with my camera, but the birds are so fast and so high it’s hard, if not impossible to get shots of them.

The view of the Napo River from my bungalo at Misahuallí Lodge

The view of the Napo River from my bungalo at Misahuallí Lodge

I met Edgar and Carmiñia for breakfast at the lodge (eggs, bread, fruit) and soon Jonas moved his boat across the river and we were ready for the adventure.  We took off down the Napo River.  The Napo is huge and it’s a feeder to the Amazon River.  What surprised me about the Napo was how much current and rapids the Napo had.  And this was the lower river point.  It must rage in spring.  And it must be a very dangerous river in Spring.

Our first stop was to arrange lunch for later in the day.  Honestly, I thought we wouldn’t see anything civilized on the boat journey, but we arrived at a ferry crossing where cars are shuttled across.  At the ferry crossing there was a small open air restaurant.  The owner of the restaurant came running out to take our order.  In Spanish he said, “Tilapia, Chicken or meat”.  It’s not the nasty farmed tilapia that we get in the states; the ones that live on the bottom of the salmon pens and eat the salmon pellet leftovers and excrement.  In Ecuador it’s the real fish caught by nets in the rivers and lakes so the tilapia is pretty good.

Edgar and Carmiñia at the beginning of our big boat adventure

Edgar and Carmiñia at the beginning of our big boat adventure.  Notice the official Timex Iron-man hat that Carmiñia is wearing.  That hat was worn in Ironman Kona by “legendary” triathlete Will Garratt.  i ended up having to give that hat to Carmiñia she liked it so much.

Anyways after making the order and agreement to return around 2pm we cruised on to the first fishing stop.  It was a really deep froggy pool on the inside of a bend in the river.  This is where I learned our fishing guide, Jonas the great fisherman of the village was targeting catfish in hugely deep water with bait.  And he was hand lining instead of using a rod.  As you well know that is the exact opposite type of water that a fly fisherman would fish in for predators.   No problem.  I’d just hop out of the boat and walk up river to find some decent water and it wasn’t far.  So, I did and fished my way back to the boat with no takes. Carmiñia and Edgar did a little exploring.  Well, I decided to fish near Jonas and the boat waiting for Edgar and Carmenia to come back and I stepped in what appeared to be quick sand.  I sunk to my thighs.  I didn’t really panic because Jonas was within site.  But, I lost my sandal to the amazon in the process.  It was over 3 feet down and there was no way to find/retrieve it.  If I was alone that was have been a bit scary.

My lone remaining sandal along with my fly fishing bag on the ponga.

My lone remaining sandal along with my fly fishing bag on the ponga.

The real problem was that Jonas was not guiding.  He was simply fishing.  I assumed he was going to teach Edgar and Carmiñia how to hand-line fish.  But, no, we were paying Jonas to fish by himself.  That bugged me.  And of course he got skunked.  So, I intended to teach Carmiñia how to cast a fly rod anyways so I called her over and that is what I did for the balance of the fishing day: worked on Carmiñia and her cast.  Which really pleased me because at this stage in my fly fishing life, I would rather teach beginners to fly fish than to fish myself anyways.  We wandered a few miles downriver and into a different river called the Arujiuna where the fishing was supposed to be better. The trick was that Jonas kept picking really deep froggy water backed up against a cliff and parking the boat in it – the exact wrong type of water for a 4 wt and a floating line.  But, Carmiñia and I kept trying.  And her cast was getting better and better and she was really loving it.  And guess what?!  She hooked two fish!  I even hooked a fish that I had on for a few seconds that looked like a piranha.

Carmiñia stripping back a streamer after another decent 30 foot reach cast. She's a natural.

Carmiñia stripping back a streamer after another decent 30 foot reach cast. She’s a natural.

One of our stops was an animal sanctuary (not a zoo) right on the Napo river.  That was a pleasant surprise and explained the “you are going to see a lot of animals” thing.  The sanctuary had 3 types of animals:

  • Wild animals that had been domesticated and then abandoned or confiscated, unable to return to the wild.
  • Injured animals on the rehab to be released back into the wild.
  • Wild animals whose offspring are released into the wild.

Our guide, Camilla, was a Danish scientist doing a 3 week volunteering effort at the sanctuary.  I couldn’t help but notice the thousands of mosquito bites she had.  She took us through an 1.5 hour tour of the sanctuary and it was pretty interesting.  I also got a number of good pictures.

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Another one of our stops was to a Kichwa viliage to see how the indigenous people of the Ecuadorian jungle lived.  We saw the genius natural traps made by the native people for catching animals.  The Shaman who did our tour did a crazy ritual on Carmiñia to rid her of evil spirits or something like that.  Right after that he told us for a dollar we could take a picture with his Caymen – so depressing.  The poor thing was put in a narrow deep hole of muddy water with his mouth bound.  No thank you.

Overall it was a really fun day of adventures.  We covered about 5 river miles.

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We didn’t pull back into the lodge until after 6pm, showered up, took the “boat taxi” across the river, had dinner, beers, “boat taxi” back and crashed early again.

It was now Sunday morning and like the day before I woke up with the sun and the sound of all the birds….and Paco

But, I was staring at a red eye that night.  and the six hour drive back to the Quito airport.  the trip went so fast because I had so much fun.  Little did I know my biggest adventure in Ecuador was still ahead of me…

We ate breakfast at the lodge again.  Took the boat back across the river and Edgar retrieved his car parked right on the “beach” again.  We loaded up and off we went.

First there was another resort by way of one lane bridge across the river that Edgar wanted to check out for his next visit.  It was an awesome place with many small lakes.  And I bet Carminia and I could catch a lot of fish on the fly rod in those lakes.  There is no river view, though… which explains why it’s $20/night.

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We were told that the resort held a giant special fish.  Called a Paiche in the Amazon, we call it an Arapaima.  Anyways the lodge owners clapped their hands and splashed the lake and sure enough a seven foot Arapaima swam up.  Amazing.

a seven foot Arapaima acknowledging the call of it's owners

a seven foot Arapaima acknowledging the call of it’s owners

Somehow Edgar got a hold of a map that had identification of caves he had never been to in the province.  And somehow on the way out he called the town and got us a “guide” and after 3 or so hours in the car navigating back a different way to Quito we met Robinson Sanchez in Mera.  Mera is a tiny town in the eastern foothills of the Ecuadorian Andes.  Before we knew it Robinson was in Edgar’s car sitting next to me and we were on a nasty dirt mountain road headed for the caves called Cavernas Rio Anzu; a mountain road that demanded 4-wheel drive, which Edgar’s car did not have.  We finally made it to a gravel parking lot with an official government sign for the caves.  That was somewhat comforting because there are many caves in the US in the state and national parks that you can visit and do guided tours in.  But, what I was quickly to learn is that is the US where everything is indemnified and made easy on the tourist.  This is the Andes in Ecuador; I was to find out quickly you were at your own risk and surprises are just part of the deal.  I have a weakness in my personality in that I’m an ultra-planner that needs his expectations set.  Robinson did not speak English and I could tell that in Spanish with Edgar and Carmiñia that it was like pulling teeth getting information out of him.  I was dressed in the clothes I intended to wear on the airplane home.  What I gleaned was that there was a short hike to the cave entrance.  And that I should change to long pants because our legs might touch the plants on the hike.  Ok, fair enough.  It was a pain to dig my jungle pants out of my bag for a short hike, but ok.

Surprise #1: It wasn’t a short hike.  It was a 3-mile downhill death hike through the jungle, often sweltering on swampy ground; steep and slippery.  By the time we got to the cave we were already sweaty and dirty.

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Surprise #2: At the cave entrance Robinson handed both Edgar and me a flashlight.  Mine was a 50 cent Chinese piece of crap flashlight that was cracked to the point pieces were falling out of it with the batteries barely working – Useless.  And I left a high end professional backpacking head lamp in my bag at the car!  Uggg….  No problem, I’ll use the flashlight on my phone.

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We entered the cave and within 10 yards we had to climb and duck because there was no head room.  That just wouldn’t happen in the US.  In the US you’d walk with defined paths surrounded on both sides with ropes or guide rails.  I assumed it would just open up after that so we could walk around and explore in the cave after that.  Well, that first little climb took some agility so that was cool.  And you had to use your hands on the climb; it was dirty.  And since we only had one flashlight with Robinson carrying two candles the climb was mostly in the dark.

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Surprise #3: As we entered the first chamber I was looking forward to standing up and looking around.  Not a chance.  It was 4 feet in height at most.  I injured by back falling in the Upper Kern River just two weeks prior and sure enough I aggravated it again.  Now, my back was killing me and I was hunched over because there wasn’t enough room to stand up.  Yet, the stalagmites and stalactites were pretty awesome.  But, the cave was really muddy and wet.  My hands were already muddy so taking pictures with my phone or camera were out of the question.  The good news was that Robinson brought a camera and was willing to get his muddy.

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Surprise #4: I assumed that was it.  We’d take pictures and head out. Because there wasn’t any clear path large enough to go any farther.  Oh, was I wrong.  Robinson, in Spanish, said, “we keep going.”  And I said to myself, “you have to be kidding.”   Those who know me know I have done some crazy ass climbing just to get to the good fly fishing so I wasn’t going to be the one that said no.  At the same time Carmiñia (“Carmiñia Extrema”) was good with it so I was not going to be the guy that said no with her willing to keep going.  So we kept going.  And it kept getting harder and harder and the entrances kept getting skinnier and skinnier and required more and more effort to get through.  I turned to Edgar and said, “Do you see the irony of me being the tallest of the four of us in a place where it is advantageous to be short?”  he laughed.

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At one point I had to pull myself up through an entrance just big enough to squeeze my hips through…sideways.  In fact, I was stuck for a few seconds.  And it kept getting muddier and muddier.  And I kept thinking we must be getting to the large chamber where we can stand up.  But, no, the space kept getting smaller and smaller.   The cave was lined with a thick clay that at points that grabbed your shoes too.  So, I figured we were about 100-200 meters into the bowels of the mountain and we were completely muddy head to toe.  Finally, we could go no further and started the long process of heading back to the cave entrance.  At one point Robinson took a wrong turn!  I could help but think, “we are the first people he has ever taken in here.”

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Upon exiting the cave we were all smiles because it was a crazy adventure we’d remember for the rest of our lives.  It’s now 4pm and I’m sure that we are going to hike all the way back to the car.

Surprise #5: There’s another cave.   You have to be kidding me.  So, we hike another ½ mile down a treacherous and slippery “trail” to its entrance and do it all over again.

That's not a trail; that's a climb

That’s not a trail; that’s a climb

The 3 mile uphill jungle hike back to the car seemed simple compared to what we had just been through.  On the way I washed my hands, arms and watch in filthy puddles of rainwater.  My shoes and clothes were covered in mud.  Upon reaching the car I stripped down and put clean clothes on my dirty body…. Fully knowing I was going to have to fly from Quito to Houston like this.  My sole relief was knowing there was a shower at the United Club in Houston after the 5-hour flight.

You know the trail is treacherous when everyone has their heads down

You know the trail is treacherous when everyone has their heads down

On the long car journey to the Quito airport I fell asleep a number of times I was so exhausted.  On the plane I was in the row all by myself so I laid down over 3 seats and slept the entire way.  I slept right through the flight attendants coming with food and drinks.   As I showered in the club I smiled…until I felt my back killing me…noticed the hundreds of mosquito bites, and the big welt on my head from bonking it in the cave – totally worth it.dsc00079