In the beginning of December 2016 I was fortunate enough to stay at the Crooked Island Trophy Lodge for five days and fish the beautiful flats, creeks and channels of Crooked & Acklins islands. I was together with a group of fly anglers from Canada and France, and once again I was amazed of how easy it is to get along with fly fishermen under the same roof; no matter of language, age, religion or other things.
I have been fishing the shallow flats of the Caribbean quite a lot of times now, but it is still a new experience every time I step into the water. I learn new thing all the time, most of the times the hard way…. And to be honest; sightfishing for bonefish on a shallow flat with a fly rod has gotten into my blood, and there is no single day I do not think about it!
A DAY ON THE FLATS
Every morning you get up at about 6:30 and stroll down to the restaurant for a cup of coffee and to watch the sun rise. This is such a great moment of the day as you have only one thing in mind; a full day of fly fishing in one of the best places in the world. After a delicious cooked breakfast the camp breaks out in full activity as everything needs to be packed and ready for the take-off to the dock. Fishing gear and coolers with todays lunch are all packed in the camp´s van and after a short drive on bumpy roads you reach the small harbor where the guides wait.
Every guide has his own skiff, equipped with 90- to 150-horsepower engines that will help you cover ground and fish numerous areas during your stay. The guides are all natives of the atoll and know the flats of this incredible lagoon that knows only a very little amount of fishing like the back of their hand.
Crooked Island and Acklin´s have a nice shallow-water biotope, home to bonefish but also to permit. These two species roam the huge sand flats and mangroves that can be waded all day. The average size of the bonefish is about 4 pounds, yet there are many big ones, too. Permit are also present on the flats, along the channels or following mudding rays. Triggerfish are also numerous, mainly on coral flats and will readily eat a well presented fly, barracuda will hold closer to the deeper water of the tide channels, some of them are really big, 45 lbs and better. Sharks, snapper, snook and jacks complete the smorgasbord of fish species present all year long. Tarpon are mainly found in spring and summer, even though there is a population of resident fish. Offshore, wahoo, tuna and dolphinfish are also present and can be fished for.
With nearly 20,000 acres of flats, the Bahamas is the largest fishing area for bonefish in the world. At Crooked Island Trophy Lodge the fish are larger than the average size as they enjoy the abundance of food that comes from one of the richest natural environments on the planet; the mangrove flats, irrigated and seeded every day by the rich waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. In the extreme southeast of the archipelago, less than a hundred kilometres from the Haitian and Cuban coasts, Crooked & Acklins form an atoll over of 230 square miles. It´s huge and shallow lagoon consisting of the islands of Crooked Island, Acklins Island and Long Cay and makes a perfect wading area for bonefish and permit. It is particularly unspoiled and beautiful and with its 350 inhabitants it appears to be lost in time.
The lodge is simple and comfortable. Its nice location makes it the only lodge that allows you to fish the best area of Crooked Island and Acklins in the same week. It is run by a very friendly couple and consists of 5 large double bedrooms, all equipped with air conditioning, bathroom, sitting area, refrigerator and TV. Another building serves as restaurant and bar where cold beer will be waiting your return from the flats. The food is made of fresh products and local specialties such as the famous conch salad. In all, you will find Crooked Island and Acklin´s to be the ideal atoll fishing that is well preserved and shielded from mass tourism.
The average size of bonefish is about 4 lbs but much larger fish can be found on the flats. The island record is 17.6 lbs. Permit have hardly ever seen a fly here and are present in great numbers both on the flats and along the channels. Often they can be found hovering around large stingrays. Nice Caribbean trigger fish are also common on the coral flats and are not reluctant to take a little crab or shrimp imitation. Resident baby tarpon can be found throughout the year in some lagoons but most of the bigger fish arrive mainly during spring and summer. Barracuda up to 45 lbs, sharks, snappers, jacks and snook are some of the other species that are worth a cast as well as pelagic wahoo, tuna and dorado. The guides are all natives of the atoll. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience of this huge fishing area which is still unaffected by fishing pressure.
Given the potential headaches traveling these days, there’s merit in the saying, “Vacation starts when you get to the airport!” In that same vein, unless you are chartering your own flight, you should expect that part of your trip down to Crooked Island will include a night in Nassau.There are two scheduled flights from Nassau to Crooked & Acklins per week. One on Saturdays and the other on Wednesdays. Both flights leave Nassau in the morning at 8:30am and due to the early take-off there are no connecting flight the same morning.On the return the flights arrive Nassau just before lunch so you should have no trouble reaching your final destination on the same day.
Below I have collected a bunch of images from the area. Click one of the images and you can scroll through them in full screen size.
Crooked & Acklins Trophy Lodge
Major’s Bay – Crooked Island
Images & word by Lewis Hendrie – Guideline Power Team UK.
I’ve not long been with Guideline but I honestly feel it’s one of the best moves I’ve made within my fly fishing career. The growth of the brand across Europe and the forward movement of the new product range see an exciting future ahead and I’m proud to be a part of it.
I have spent many years revisiting New Zealand to escape the colder spell of the UK winters and to maximize my own fishing time on the water. Here is where all fly fishing gear really gets put through its paces and stands the test of rugged terrain, remote landscapes, wild rivers and of course seriously big, hard fighting Trout.
I was excited to get my hands on the New Fario reel to see if they were as good as they look. I confess, I, myself am a bit of a tackle tart, but then let’s face it most people enjoy playing with their fly fishing toys and for me this reel seems to put a smile on my face each time I assemble it to my fly rod. ‘This reel boasts beauty and concept.’
I know it’s far more important to have a sophisticated drag on a reel rather than how pretty they look. But the finish of this is without a doubt stunning. One thing I’ve learnt over the years about New Zealand Trout or just big fish in general, is that it’s pays dividend to have a good drag. Firstly to tire the fish out without over playing it and secondly so you don’t get snapped off when they take off downstream during the fight (especially when using finer tippets to wary fish). This is where a decent drag pays off.
The large arbor design allows for quick line retrieval when first hooking fish to get excess line out of the way during the fight but also stores the line well to avoid bad memory in the line meaning no more coils when pulled off the reel. The Super smooth drag offers maximum control making it handle with ease whilst playing powerful fish in fast flowing currents and compensates for those hard head shakes that the big trout were making. This prevented me from getting bust off many a times.
I for one like to hear the reel screaming whilst a trout shoots down the rapids but over the years have heard many people say they like the drag to be silent. The Fario FW meets in the middle and offers a smooth sounding drag that still gives you the pleasure of listening to your reel singing but without it sounding noisy or cheap.
A really cool feature of this reel that I’ve not seen on many fly reels before is the tippet keeper. Although this isn’t a life changer, I really like small distinct features and innovative ideas going into fly fishing tackle. This small clip certainly makes life easier when trying to locate the end of your tippet that previous would be embedded into the fly line. Also having a closed cage reduces the chance of the tippet slipping in behind the spool and getting tangled. (It’s the small things that can save the frustrations whilst getting ready for a day out on the water).
The reel is exceptionally light for its size and makes your outfit feel extremely light and effortless to cast when paired up with a light rod such as the RSi, LPXe or Fario CRS rods or many others in their weight category. (But not to light that it make your setup tip heavy. Giving you great balance and feel during casting).
For such a lightweight reel I was surprised at just how durable they are. During a backcountry mission into a very wild and pretty hard going bouldery river I managed to take a bad fall resulting in me landing hard on some rock and injuring myself and smashing the reel off the rocks. At this point I was more concerned about my fishing kit but I was shocked to see that the only damage done to the reel was a couple of scratches. No damage was done to the spool or reel cage and the reel still functioned as normal.
Combine performance with a ‘work of art’ and you have the Fario FW reel. I for one am very impressed with this cool new product.
About Lewis Hendrie – Guideline Power Team UK;
Lewis started fishing at the early age of 4 and by the time he hit 11 he discovered the world of fly fishing. From there he went on to represent England in both youth and senior levels and fished in numerous European and world championships. His passion took him down the route of becoming a full time fly fishing guide and casting instructor for the pass 12 years where he has taught many new comers to our beloved industry. Lewis specializes in river fishing for trout and grayling and saltwater fly fishing and is an avid photographer which has resulted in him traveling around the globe to fish destinations throughout Europe and New Zealand.
Our annual trip to fish the Rio Grande was again upon us, I had spoken to the guides and to Jim Curry “ GUIDELINE UK “ who had fished the first week on the river and both said that the river was low and clear, even lower than last year but our head guide Federico said smiling, the river was LOADED. A report from Estancia Maria Behety, Rio Grande river, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina 22-27 Jan.
Images & text by Dave Parkes.
First fish of the trip with head guide Federico Molinolo.
There was a lot of hastily tied small nymphs to combat the conditions and Jim had said they had also taken quite a few fish on small traditional salmon flies. So they were added to the luggage.
The journey to Tierra del Fuego is always a tedious operation, we have a thirteen hour flight from Heathrow to Buenos Aires, then another four hour flight to Rio Grande city, so we have an overnight in Buenos Aires to sample the fine City and our usual steak restaurant. Lawrie Hickman “ GUIDELINE UK “ had joined us for this trip, and we have to thank him for the extortionately expensive bill we received because he asked for the restaurants finest Malbec wine, we drank six bottles at around sixty five US dollars a bottle, thanks Lawrie, “ but it was very nice. “
So the following day we arrived at the Lodge and prepared our tackle, my usual outfits were 13ft 9in Lxi 7/8wt with a Vosso 7/9 reel coupled with a long belly full spey line for complete control of the fly, and a single hand 10ft 7wt LPXe and Vosso 6/8 reel and 4cast floating line. We had a reasonably early night and waited for the fishing next morning.
We were greeted by the guides and old friendships were renewed, we were soon on our way to our allotted pools. Our first day was to be spent on very good pools. The small nymphs were put to good use and we got a few good fish, but we only caught fish in the head of the pools in fast water, although there were fish in the lower, slower section of the pools we could not tempt them with anything, we soon found out the low, clear water didn’t suit our usual method of fishing in the slower water. Again on the evening session the fish we got were all caught in the faster headwaters of the pool.
The last thirty minutes of the evening session as the light fades has always been the prime time to catch sea trout on the Rio Grande, we use big black streamer type flies and strip them back as fast as possible to induce the take, but during the week this was nowhere near as effective as usual. What did work for the last ten minutes was my favourite method I use back at home, “ the surface lure “ or wake fly, It doesn’t work at home until its very dark, but here it works in the gloaming, the good news about this is you can still see the fish attacking the fly and sometimes I had many strikes at the fly on the same drift before one would hook up. This is really frustrating but great visual FUN!!!
Because of the low, clear water pools were not fishing well because of the lack of flow, the guides were trying to think of ways of catching these fish in the slower pools. One guide in particular is a very good brown/rainbow trout angler, and his methods of dead drift fishing with a floating line and long leader with a heavy nymph worked very well, casting upstream and keeping in touch with the fly and as the fly drifts level with you and then downstream, line is paid out to enable it to continue its journey past the fish. Takes vary from vicious pulls to subtle twitches, so concentration is most important, not the same heart stopping pulls as traditional down and across but exciting all the same.
The whole group had a lot of fun fishing, learning new methods in the low water conditions we were rewarded with about 140 fish for the week averaging more than 11 pounds each. In short; “THE BEST SEA TROUT FISHING IN THE WORLD “
The rods as usual performed very well and coped with all the big sea trout landed, most impressive were the Vosso reels, they were perfect and well up for the situation.
“A GREAT EXPERIENCE “ and a great time had by ALL!!!
Dave Parkes – UK Power Team
Text & images by Helge Dahlen – Guideline PowerTeam Norway
To fish sea trout in Argentina had been a dream for me as long as i can remember, so when the question came if i wanted to take a test trip to a newly opened river in Tierra del Fuego i said yes immediately, even though it was on a short notice. Two and half months later I was there, at the end of the world in Rio Irigoyen.
The Irigoyen is quite different from the more well known rivers in Argentina, its a lot smaller so its no point in bringing anything else then singlehanded rods here. It also runs through a forestry landscape so its a bit more sheltered from the massive wind that Patagonia is so well known for, but the old forrest also creates a lot of logjams in the winterflods that is characteristic for the rivers and the pools. It´s not a river you go to land plenty of fish per day, but its a river you go to to be challenged. Challenged with your casting, challenged with cracking the right codes about the flies and when you face those challenges the right way you get rewarded with the sea trouts of your dreams! Its a river for the feinschmeckers in fly fishing.
The primetime which is in January and February was over when i got there, I started my first day of fishing the 12th of march. So i was prepared on having not the best conditions. I hoped for rain, but didn’t get it. Instead we got low and clear river and frosty nights. As challenging as possible in other words. The fish are hidden underneath the logs and in the deeper pools when its like this, and very shy as the sea trout is known to be in the rest of the world as well. I spent the first days adapting to the river and the pools, and having the guide Patrick «Packet» Green there to give me the right advices was the difference between failure and success. He knows this river better than anyone.
I use a 9ft #7 LPXe RS v2 with a Bullet wf floating line for nymphing and a 10ft #8 Lxi with a Ultra compact shooting head and a short sink-tip in the front for the large weighted streamers. I always cover the pools as light as possible first as that is the most memorable way of succeeding, and then i go heavier and deeper afterwards.
The first few days i enjoy the river and seeing new stretches every day. And i do catch some nice trouts already from day one. The first real nice fish is a 7 pound colored male that hits my enormous streamer with full force. By judging of the aggressive take the trout is angry and provoked when the streamer comes swinging in front of it. It had started to get quite colored. Another sign that the autumn was setting in.
It took me 3 days to brake the 10 pound bounder, but when it happened it was all worth it. I was fishing high up in the system together with Packet, and on a nice run it took my small bullethead nymph and went straight in the air when the hook was sett. When back in the water again it started running downstream in high speed. The run was shallow so i think it panicked cause of that. I had to run a bit after it to get control. Fortunately it stopped, rested for a few seconds, but i was quick with putting pressure on it again. One more jump and then it started going up again. That is more struggling for them so it tires itself out more. In this shallow water with fish on these since I am happy that I am using strong leaders with fluorocarbon. After a few more runs from the fish it gives up and i am the winner. A beautiful golden sea trout is in my hands.
I keep on enjoying life at the end of the world. The conditions stay the same the whole week, and I even had some minutes with wet snow coming down. But with the calm atmosphere at the lodge, good food and wine, and with a few trouts every day taking my flies I feel that I have the trip I have dreamed of.
The biggest fish of the trip came on the last day of course. We where fishing one of the most famous pools in the river, the «Black eyes pool». It´s a real holding pool, one of the deepest in the whole river with both a nice run into it and a classic tail which is perfect for the sea trouts. We went trough it first with the nymphs with no result, but halfway trough it the second time with a big streamer my rod is almost ripped out from my hands. A classic sea trout take followed by a classic sea trout fight. The fish stayed in the pool the whole fight but i still had moments when my heart almost stopped as it had full speed towards the tail. Fortunately it turned every time and went either to the top to the run in or down in the deep middle part. In the end though it had to surrender and i had won the fight. This fish was almost fresh and a real silver beauty. And the memories it gave me at the end of the world gave me a smile on my face the long way back home again.
I have to say thanks to Packet for the days we had together there, and off course the rest of the staff at Worlds end lodge. Together with the wildlife, the surroundings and the big tricky fish at the Irigoyen you made the trip to something i will never forget.
For more information about Rio Irigoyen press the link http://www.aardvarkmcleod.com/destination/irigoyen
Text & images by Alex Jardine.
This summer has seen exceptionally little rainfall in Iceland, an odd occurrence in a country where the saying goes “if you don’t like the weather just wait five minutes”. The lack of rain has left the salmon rivers steadily dropping throughout the prime July runs, and made me nervous about the conditions we were going to face during an August visit. In between rain dances I packed my bags, everything went in from the standard Icelandic salmon outfits through to light weight nymphing setups. I was not going to let a lack of rain stop this trip from being a success.
Soon enough the Iceland Air flight touched down on the Keflavik runway and I was greeted by a familiar sight… The grey lava scape of southwest Iceland and rain! I was noticeably one of the few, or maybe the only one, to be excited at the sight of the rain. It was coat on, bags loaded and time to head to my first stop, Laxá Í Dölum. Dölum has seen some major changes in recent years. A river that was showing the signs of overfishing and poor practice is now excelling thanks to a reduction in the number of rods and a restriction of fly-only. Through July the river is only fished by four rods, and August and September see up to six rods per week.
As we approached the lodge the rain clouds welcomed us and after a brief orientation by the fantastic chef and host Ricardo it was time to don the waders and head out for the first session. My setup of choice was the Guideline LPXe 10’ #6, Abel super 5, weight forward floating line and 12-14’ 13 lbs fluorocarbon leader (a #7 or #8 setup would have also have been suitable). Our first evening was to be spent on the lower section of the river. Our drive down descended us into the valley, across the river twice until we pulled up at a large lava structure create two fast runs and a large bowl shaped pool. Within moments the first salmon were showing themselves, some coloured fish and others fresh silver.
With the low cloud and the nights drawing in the light was fading on us quickly, I therefore went with the black and red of a size 16 executioner. The fly proved effective almost instantly, a couple of sharp takes although they resulted in no hook ups. Undeterred I fished on down the pool, watching fresh fish work their way into the pool from below. Sure enough, as the run flattened out the line drew tight. The line tapped once, twice and then I set the hook. The tip rattled with a nerve jangling head shake before the line shot upstream. Quickly getting the fish on the reel the fight soon became a tug of war. After more head shaking and the fish boiling at the surface I began to make ground. Eventually I was able to subdue the fish and slide him into the grasp of my fishing partner, a beautiful piece of Icelandic silver.
Over the course of the next three days we used our 12 hour fishing days to the fullest exploring the river from the upper sections down to the sea. Along its course the Dölum offers a wonderful mix of lava-shelved pools, sliding grave runs, rock pockets and slow meandering pools. The varied water keeps angler thinking tactically about fly selection and cast placement.
Fly choice in Iceland is key and it is important to put faith in small flies. Whilst it is possible to catch on big flies, inch tubes, size 8 Ally Shrimps and so on quite often these flies actually spook the Icelandic salmon making them very difficult to catch. With small flies however it can sometimes be possible to fish through a pool 4 or 5 times, even taking a fish each time. This particular time in Laxá Í Dölum the flies that proved most effective were; Haugur hitch ½”, Executioner #16, Black & Yellow #18, Diablo #16 and a Sunray ½”. The river this season was having another great season, despite the poor rainfall. Early season there had been a run of bigger spring fish, boosted by summer grilse runs and then in August a run of autumn salmon and grilse had begun. Over the course of the three days six anglers landed 124 salmon, this was made up of a mix of 50-70 cm grilse and a good number of fish between 80-95 cm, the largest of which was a coloured cock fish of 101 cm. In amongst the fish there were fresh sea lice fish being caught as well as more coloured early runners.
A final morning session on Dölum drew to a close and it was time for a quick bite to eat and on the road back south to Laxá Í Kjós. I always enjoying driving around Iceland, the quiet undulating roads offer spectacular views across mountains and glaciers to only moments later offer similarly impressive views across the sea. The approach to Laxá Í Kjós is one that will get any angler excited, the beautiful lodge sits overlooking the confluence of the main river and its largest tributary the Bugða. Shortly below this confluence the river enters a series of rapids, small pools and waterfalls before running immediately out to sea. On pulling into the lodge our group were welcomed by the wonderful Kjós lodge team, Johann the chef, Arní the hostess and the highly experienced guide team. The small river had experienced very low water conditions through mid-July and into early August but two days before we arrived a spate had brought the river up and it was now settling nicely. The flow was now 25 cm higher than before the rain and the water temperature had tumbled from 16/17⁰C down to 8/9⁰C. The extra water had stirred up the salmon and sea trout and all were excited to see what the river had to offer.
The group picked their starting beats by selecting a face down playing card. In august the river offers a rotation between four beats, leaving the meadows section open to all anglers. Beat 4 was the highest in the river, running through a beautiful mountain stretch above a large set of waterfalls and a canyon. Beat 3 ran through the canyon section and out on to the top of the meadow. Beat 2 was fished along the entire length of the Bugða. Lastly Beat 1 fished from just above the confluence of Kjós and Bugða right down to the sea. My rods were to start on Beat 4, the drive up into valley also took us up into the clouds where we were greeted by misty rain and streaks of rich orange sunlight catching the wet hillside grasses. The air temperature was noticeably cooler in this part of the valley and our first few pools proved unsuccessful using the small trebles and hitch tubes that had worked on Dölum. With the water and air temperature so cool we changed tactics and went to a ½” cone head Sunray and on its first run down a pool it tempted a nice grilse. A few pools later the fly proved its worth once again, locking this time into a much larger salmon only to unfortunately come off just short of the net. The successful evening session drew to a close and we were treated to a wonderful evening meal in the lodge.
Over the course of the three days the rotation saw us explore every beat of the river as well as spending time hunting big sea trout on the famous meadows section. The upper part of the river offered fast bottle neck runs and scoured out pools home to a mix of large resident salmon and new fish looking for a refuge ahead of the autumn spawning. The canyon at this time offered an unusual mix of salmon and large fresh sea trout that had moved up from the meadows during the higher water, this led to some wonderful fishing.
In the canyon it was possible to spot salmon and sea trout hiding out in the pools from small cliff tops, one pool in particular display several large blue backs of freshly run sea trout. The technique for these was upstream nymphing underneath a dry fly or indicator, very similar to trout fishing in New Zealand. The advice was called down to the angler from above, “left a bit” “right a bit” “That’s it! That’s it!”. It was incredibly exciting fish and then the shout comes, “he’s looking…” and before you know it the indicator draws away. We had several shots at this over the course of the trip hooking two beautiful sea trout of 3 lbs and 8 lbs but failing to lure one we estimated at between 12-15 lbs…..
You can read the full story at -> http://www.aardvarkmcleod.com/blog/iceland-rain-salmon-and-tiny-flies-report-by-alex-jardine
The new Guideline catalog 2017 in digital format is now live! We have loads of new products for next year and we really look forward to the new season. Happy reading! The paper version of the catalog is printed and will be distributed to our dealers in the beginning of next year.
Text & images by Kieran Conlon – Guideline PowerTeam Ireland.
I’ve spent over 20 years fishing for Atlantic Salmon, becoming totally addicted from my first experience when I caught three Grilse one evening on Trout gear. Since that day I have caught many Salmon both home and abroad and have captured many great memories. However this June saw me spending a week in northern Sweden fishing a few of the large powerful rivers native to this region in pursuit of my first Baltic Salmon. It’s fair to say that all previous experiences have paled somewhat after this trip and it has left me with a deep desire to return.
Crossing into the article circle you get the sense that things are about to get truly wild. A sparsely populated region with spectacular landscapes where the locals are welcoming and friendly. Reindeer roam the streets of small towns in the region and life here seems to have a slower pace despite the sense of urgency apparent in nature trying to make the most of the short summer months. This was a trip that had been playing in my mind for while due to a friend’s previous experiences and his tales of large unstoppable Baltic Salmon. I had been warned many times that Baltic Salmon were as brutal as the rivers they migrate to, getting them to take the fly could be at times far more difficult than with Atlantics. Even if you were lucky enough to get a hook-up, often as not on the large powerful rivers we were to be fishing the odds were generally considered to be in the Salmon’s favour. These fish fight long hard and dirty and were accredited tackle busters. The more I heard of how difficult it would be the more the idea appealed to me.
Armed with plenty of great advice from a good friend and the guys at Guideline the trip was planned, gear sorted and expectations checked. This was not going to be a week about numbers which it never should be but with perhaps favourable conditions there was the possibility of a chance or two to tangle with one of these infamous Baltic Salmon. This is fly-fishing at the extreme end of the scale and its worth looking at the gear I took with me. It’s not just the Salmon that are powerful but also the environment in which your fishing takes no prisoners. Big rivers carved out of the bedrock with powerful glides interspersed with daunting rapids all of which a hooked fish will take advantage off. For me the choice of rods was easy. Two powerful LXi T-Pacs in 13’9 #9/10 and 14’9 10/11 both casting machines but easy to fish with fish with for long periods and well able to deal with any of the Triple density sinkers I was taking with me. Not having to check in any oversize luggage was a bonus. A 10/12 Quadra and the new VOSSO 911 reel to match the rods were perfect. Both spooled up with 400 meters of Guideline Extreme PE backing. I figured that if I was lucky enough to the see the backing going out through the rod rings I didn’t want to be unlucky enough to see and they call this low water…………the end of it. 50lbs Compline and a couple of spools of 0.52 Egor Fluorocarbon tippet along with size 4 & 6 extra strong tube doubles saw me kitted out and ready for battle. Great gear that I’d trust with the fish of a lifetime.
Arriving late in the evening I got my first sight of one of these magnificent rivers. Having been told levels were low due to early snow melt. I guess it’s all relevant as all I saw was an enormous river with large amounts of white water with half kilometre long rapids. All this left me wondering wether my Triple Density S3/S5/S7 going to be enough. Still upon closer inspection you start to pick out the softer water along the edges of the rapids where running fish would surely pull in to briefly rest and put them in reach of the fly. The long smoother glides at the end of the rapids and tail outs all looked very inviting too. The first morning on the river saw me fishing a lovely long even paced run at the end of some hard white water. Mind you this run still needed a S1/S3/S5 to get the fly to the required depth. The lower water levels also meant the fish were not hugging the edges requiring large amounts of 50lbs compline to follow the shooting head out across the water. I loved it already as here was an environment that required me to get the most out the gear and my casting. Not something I come across back home very often. It was challenging and it was great. Next order of business was to get the presentation right, which in a word meant “FAST”. Long casts just shy of ninety degrees, hold the rod out & high for a second or two to allow the head to dig in and then bring the rod back around and down to about 30 degrees from the bank bringing a taught shooting line in contact with the water. This gives you not just a fast fly but an accelerating fly presented broadside without the slack or slight downstream angle associated with the initial part of the drift with a standard 90 degree cast and letting the line swing. Only bringing the rod around to 30 degrees means you can repeat the process as the fly starts to lose pace in the later stages of the swing. Concentration was key here as it wasn’t just a case of getting it out there and letting it swing you had to have an awareness of what the fly was doing throughout the swing, Ensuring tension was maintained though-out, feeling the line and therefore the fly accelerate during the swing and being mindful of any tapering off of the flies speed and correcting when necessary through repositioning of the rod’s angle.
Seeing the odd fish moving through as I worked my way down the run only helped heighten the anticipation, would it happen? Again remembering those words of warning as to how difficult Baltic’s could be to tempt at times. Having fished my way down that run for about twenty minutes all of a sudden the loop of line I had been holding was just gone, no warning no bump prior to the draw, just gone. My Quadra screamed into life with the rod taking on a particularly flat angle as the fish took off on the first of quite a few runs. At one point I saw a fish cartwheel two hundred meters out from the bank only to realise it was the fish to which I was attached. The run was so hard and fast that the angle the line was going into the water at bore no relation to where the fish actually was. At these distances with such powerful flows between you and the fish keeping the rod high doesn’t really do a lot. You just have to trust your tackle, knots and hooks and hold on. When he wants to run let him and gain line when you can. Some fish you can bully but with these I think the harder you try to stop them the more line they take. Ten minutes later after several more runs and cartwheels along with some heart stopping minutes under the rod tip I was finally able to get the fish into shallow water where my friend was able to tail and hold it. I don’t think I was ever so grateful not be fishing on my own. It was somewhat of a surreal moment, a few photos quickly taken, a quick release and my first Baltic Salmon was back on its way. I remember thinking “did that really just happen”.
The following days saw day time temps well into the twenties and water temps climb into the high teens. It’s amazing how fast such big rivers can drop when the sun only barely dips below the horizon for a couple of hours every night. Fishing became real tough at this point and while there where fish present they difficult to tempt. In these circumstances you start to experiment in the hope of provoking a reaction from big Sunrays to small doubles, floaters to the fastest sinker in the bag. We were meeting fish on the small flies but the takes were only half-hearted plucks and I suspect from resident fish that had been in for a while. When fishing gets tough and chances are few and far between it’s vital to be able to make the most of any chance that does come your way. It here that I feel I definitely made a mistake. At this time of year in these northern climes there is the possibility to fish on through the night is real temptation. Yes it can be the best time when conditions are tough but lack of good sleep leads to mistakes due to poor concentration levels. This occurred twice with two good takes that I should have taken advantage of. I was too quick on the uptake which just led to a few good head shakes and gone. You have to give these fish lots of time and then some more time. Fish late if you have to but take a break in the middle and get back on the water early. After a few days of fishing silly hours resulting in two lost chances more sensible heads prevailed and we decided to get some proper night time sleep rather than a few hours during the middle of the day.
As is often the case with such trips it was the last few days when I started to get a feel for the river. You begin to get a sense of the rhythm and habits of these Baltics. When they were most active, which types of water to concentrate my efforts on, what flies were getting the better reactions and the presentations that provoked the best responses. In other words I was becoming more confident in what I was doing. The last day saw us on the water bright and early. Rain and cooler temperatures had taken hold and fresh fish were running. The first run down the pool yielded no results but there was fish present and it felt right. Instead of joining the guys around the fire I went back to the start of the run again and worked my way through once more. Working my way through I could see fish coming into the bottom of the run though they were out a bit. Running fish for sure but just maybe.. Pulling another few yards of compline of the reel I covered the line the fish were running. Cast, hold and let it swing fast. A couple of meters into the swing saw the fly meet with a violent take followed by immediately by a long run downstream. Not where I wanted him to go, the only choice was to turn and walk upstream in the hope he’d follow which thankfully he did. What followed was a tug of war. I’d walk him up only for the fish to turn and head back down each time. Each run finished with spectacular cartwheels which seems to be a signature of these Baltic Salmon. All the while I was hoping he didn’t land on the leader. Probably ten minutes later though it seemed much longer, one of the most perfect Salmon I had ever seen came into the shallows and was duly landed. A fresh Baltic Salmon in pristine condition. The shape of these fish is just incredible, powerfully built with an almost green back and chromed flanks. Built by Nature. I felt and still do feel privileged to have caught that fish. I don’t think anyone has the right to catch these, you have to earn it and even then all your earning is a chance. It couldn’t have been a better end to a spectacular trip and yes the fish are awesome but its more than that , a chance to disconnect from the day to day life and briefly touch upon another. To share great experiences with like minded friends or just to spend a few hours in solitude. It changes your perspective almost like a reset button. A person could loose a lot of time in places like this and if you go there and accept to for what it is you might be even get to land a fish or two and who knows maybe that fish of a lifetime………
Text & images by Kieran Conlon – Guideline PowerTeam Ireland.