Thursday, September 16, 2021





Life. Death. And Permit.

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.

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Tips For Euro Pike

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.

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