Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
As an author, traveler and professional fly-fishing guide, I had to cancel most of my 2020 projects, with only a curtailed guide season in Iceland surviving the global lockdown. But out of adversity comes opportunity—per ardua ad astra, as the Romans used to say. I’d spent most of the first two months of the lockdown at home, becoming increasingly frustrated with imprisonment, while dutifully trying to follow social distancing recommendations. When May arrived I knew two things: If I wanted to fish, I needed to focus on local waters; at that time of the year, the pike were just coming off the spawn. I made a few trips to the west side of the Czech Republic, near the German border, to try and catch a monster on a fly. That trip made 2020 my Year Of The Pike, culminating with a remarkable December day in Sweden when I caught eight big pike in the brackish archipelago waters not far from Stockholm. We were lucky—in other years those very waters were frozen in December. Instead, we enjoyed an idyllic day fishing some of the best water that Sweden offers. And my conclusion after this unexpected year pursuing these aggressive predators? Pike are the same no matter where you find them—thrilling to catch in shallow water, beautiful to study, and all capable of leaving a nasty cut with their razor-sharp teeth. I learned the latter at my own expense on several occasions. Here are some takeaways from 2020, my Year of The Pike.
By the time Belize reopened in October 2020, I’d held five sets of flight tickets, the travel date having been continually pushed back by changing border closures. The summer of 2020 was, essentially, spent watching flight delays and cancelations. So, when the border finally reopened and I stepped off the plane in Belize City on October 3, I was very happy. But the process of travel had changed. I’d taken a PCR test before leaving Montana, carrying the results with me to present during a new health screening process in Philip Goldstein International Airport. Upon arrival in Belize City, all passengers were ushered through a line for health screenings. I presented my negative test results. Had my temperature taken. Was asked details about where I was going and how long I was staying. After a successful jaunt through the health screening, then customs, and then immigration, I rechecked my bags for my in-country Tropic Air flight and took a seat on one of the many wooden benches lining the airport waiting area. I considered how grateful I was to be outside my home state of Montana.
It had been a long tough week on the flats. Back-to-back cold fronts replete with a savage easterly wind had churned the crystal waters of Cayo Cruz into a milky soup. Overhead, the towering thunderheads had crowded out the sun, further conspiring to make sight-fishing all but impossible. All week my guide Raffa and I stuck stubbornly to our task, and despite those wretched conditions, we’d had a couple of shots—gut-wrenching heartbreakers when a permit suddenly appeared, right in front of us, materializing from nowhere, and was already fleeing before I finally made it out. Somehow I managed to hook a fish, but tragically, it came unbuttoned, right at the boat. On the last day, as I throw open the big shutters on the windows of old Casona, I am met not with rain and wind, but a clear, sparkling sky, shot through with the rosy hues of the dawn. My old friend Tim and I squeeze into the old Russian truck, and bump down a rutted tarmac, past sugarcane threshers and field workers who are waving and laughing as they stroll down the main drag to another long day in the fields. We turn off the highway and head north. I’m upfront with Lucio, our driver, and I grin as he lights up a Popular and absentmindedly hums along to the incongruous old Adele CD that serenades us to the dock and back each day. I cadge a smoke and as I wind down the window, I catch the warm, salty air wafting off the flats. As we cross an old causeway, we can see that the wind has died and vast flocks of flamingos are tip-toeing in the shallows. Better yet, the spring tides have washed the sand suspension out of the water, rendering it clean and clear at last. As we pull up to the dock, I see that our dear old friends, Raffa and Nelson, are already preparing the skiffs. Today, at last, we have a chance.
Mahi-mahi have it rough—even fly-fishers, who often practice catch-and-release as if it were a religion, rarely let them go. You probably know why: Mahi is one of the cleanest and best tasting fishes in the oceans and it is abundant and relatively easy to catch. As a bonus, you don’t have to feel sorry for keeping a few. These fish are fast-growing, often stretching to 36 inches long or longer in the their first year, and the generous limit in Florida is 10 fish per angler, per day.
We knew something was up as my fishing partner and I drove along an increasingly snow-covered road to Peterhope Lake on a mid-November day. Not a tire track and certainly no evidence of anyone recently launching a boat. Then, why you might ask, would anyone want to fish with a good eight inches of snow on the ground and ice pushing out from the back bays of the lake. Here’s why: It was perfect—no competition, flat calm water and a bright, sunny morning meant we could cruise the shallow water and the edges of the longstem bulrush patches in search of big rainbows. And it wasn’t long before we spotted dark shapes swimming slowly along the marl bottom and other groups of fish disappearing into a maze of bulrush stems. Anchoring at the first good pod of bigger fish, we set up with floating lines and indicators and started suspending and wind-drifting micro-leeches and scuds, both go-to fall patterns. As always, the first fish landed in my boat, as long as it’s big enough, gets its throat pumped. Our first fish of the day was crammed with still-live, immature damselfly nymphs. A quick pattern switch made for an extremely productive morning bite.
Skeed Borkowski has lived in the British Columbia’s rugged Cariboo region for over 50 years. He’s a man of humor, wit, and endless stories. Along with his wife Sharon, Skeed owns and operates the iconic Northern Lights Lodge, located in the small town of Likely. When he’s not tinkering with machinery or entertaining guests, he can be found drifting down one of the local rivers, casting flies to his favorite quarry—big, yellowbelly rainbow trout.
The first thing to behold when clutching this two-volume set called A Passion For Permit, is the sheer breadth of work: combined, these two oversized and hard-bound books, which weigh about five-thousand pounds each, total 1,665 pages. In reality, their combined weight is nine pounds. Substantial, for sure, which means you will have to sit down at a desk or in an armchair to take it all in. And you’ll want to do just that if you are serious about fly fishing for permit, whether you’re a first-timer looking for a miracle fish or a globetrotting angler taking your shots wherever this fish is found. As you probably know, pain and suffering are part of the permit equation, but these books may take some of the mystery out of what you are doing. With chapters covering permit anatomy, permit hab-itat, permit food, best tides and moons for catching permit, essential equipment for permit, choosing the right fly for permit and how to present it to permit, you can head out on your first permit quest with all the intel you need for success—but it still comes down to you putting the fly right where it needs to be.
Ethan Markie takes a contemplative sip of beer and watches another group of Bozeman “bros” wander into the Rocking R Bar. We’re talking art, and for the Bozeman-based artist, fishing guide and former fly shop rat, this is a day just like any other. “I need to have the experience first, in order to get inspired to paint,” Markie says. “It might be just something as simple as the patterns witnessed on a recent trout caught and released. Sometimes it might be more complex; a whole general feeling I have about a certain river or stream that is the result of cumulative experiences on that water.” Markie grew up in rural Connecticut, the eldest of three brothers all very close in age. The brothers lived near several small trout streams, and spent their family vacations camping, hiking and simply being outside.
A friend lost a fly box on the Crowsnest River. It slipped out of an open vest pocket. We never knew where or when. All we knew was it was gone. I searched down one side while Richard splashed across and searched down the other until his progress was halted where the river rushed up against a rock wall. He waived me off, and pointed upstream, signaling I should meet him back where we started. “This sucks,” he said, wading out. “All my Stealth Caddises were in there.”