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Archive for June, 2009

Swine, Scorpions, Margaritas….  and Permit

For nearly a year we have had this trip planned to Playa Blanca Lodge located on the north end of Espiritu Santo Bay on the Yucatan Peninsula.  The bearish economy, Mother Nature, and the World Health Organization did everything they could to keep us from going!  Nevertheless, Swine Flu or no Swine Flu, we were headed to Mexico… 

The Destination...  Lower Yucatan, Mexico:  Photo By:  David Leake

The Destination... Lower Yucatan, Mexico: Photo By: David Leake

Our unique group of gentlemen from all backgrounds actually melded to create one of the most enjoyable hosted trips I have done in a long time.  He was the crew:

David Leake – Dallas, TX

Dennis Hilton – Lantana, TX

Ron Gard – Dallas, TX

Rhodes Hamilton – Dallas, TX

Kent Hamilton – Dallas, TX

Russ Morton – Santa Fe, NM

Henri Wedell – Memphis, TN

Brad Clowe – Ardmore, OK

Scott Rodgers – Dallas, TX

Bill Miller – Dallas, TX

Loading the Caravan for Ascension Bay.  Photo by:  David Leake

Loading the Caravan for Ascension Bay. Photo by: David Leake

Owned and operated by the same outfit,  “Playa” is the sister property to Casa Blanca Lodge, located 15 miles to the north on the southern end of famed Ascension Bay.    Together these two operations represent what has become the branded standard in Caribbean multi-species flats fishing…with a particular emphasis on phenomenal opportunities for permit.   After 20+ years in operation, Casa and Playa have become a fraternal institution.  Hundreds of experienced flats anglers returning every year to enjoy their incredibly solid program. 

One of our oldest and most likeable clients, Scott Rodgers, actually headed down to Playa Blanca 5 days before the rest of the groups’ scheduled arrival.  Scotty is in the commercial real estate business in Dallas, and is very fond of the lower Yucatan (his successful development company is called Ascension Development).   This is Scott’s 7th trip down to Casa / Playa.  In addition to a stagnant real estate market, Scotty is also single with few obligations tying him down…thus the 12 day hiatus.  Needless to say, I love his style!

Scott Rodgers and 20+ pound Perm.  Photo by:  Scott Rodgers

Scott Rodgers and 20+ pound Perm. Photo by: Scott Rodgers

I knew we were in for some good luck when two days before the owner of Casa / Playa Blanca, Bobby Settles, emails me cryptically…  “Scotty says bring $400 and lots more flies.  4 permit and 2 slams today.  The permit are snapping”.  Either Scotty lost a bet or owes his guides a fat gratuity for something special.  Either way, the excitement level was growing.  (Scotty ended up his trip with a grand slam and two gorgeous permit in the bag…including one trophy in the 20lb+ range. )

 

We all arrived Cancun on time and in good spirits and made the easy 45 minute connection on board  the lodge’s Cessna Caravan to the Casa Blanca airstrip.  When on approach, you can look outward and see hundreds of square miles of gorgeous flats, mangroves, and secluded islands.  It is easy to see from the air why Ascension Bay is so special to so many flats anglers.  We are greeted with the traditional Casa Blanca margarita on the pier and load up for the 30 minute truck ride south to Playa Blanca.  Henri Wedell of Memphis shows up a few hours later with his incredible laughter and sense of humor.  His introduction to everyone was walking into the dining room wearing a medical face mask…  poking fun at the mass hysteria surrounding the swine flu “pandemic”. 

Rigging by headlamp.  Photo by:  Scott Rodgers

Rigging by headlamp and Corona. Photo by: Scott Rodgers

 

The Playa Blanca facility sits on a completely remote and tranquil white sandy beach.  Each of their 7 duplex style rooms overlooks the Caribbean Sea and are only a few steps from the sand.  Playa offers up the ideal atmosphere for total relaxation and is comfortable enough for low maintenance ladies.  It also lends itself well to a group of men wanting to get away and have a ton of fun.  No cell phones, no internet access….  Just incredible fishing, fine service and food, and a well stocked bar!    

1/3 of Scotty's Grand Slam.  Photo by:  David Leake

1/3 of Scotty's Grand Slam. Photo by: David Leake

 

Guests are delivered fresh coffee to their rooms around 6:00am, breakfast is served made to order, and everyone loads up for the 10 minute drive to the boat launch.  The guides are awaiting us gringos every morning with the skiffs fueled up and off you head south into Espiritu Santo Bay.  Espiritu Santo is approximately 1/3 the size of Ascension Bay to the north and the boat run to the best permit grounds on the bay is close to an hour on average.  However, the trade off is total seclusion.  Our group of five boats did not encounter another boat from another lodge the entire week!  There are not many fisheries left on earth where anglers are guaranteed such solitude and opportunity for rested fish every day all year long. 

Heading out for day on Espiritu Santo.  Photo by:  David Leake

Heading out for day on Espiritu Santo. Photo by: David Leake

 

The Playa Blanca and Casa Blanca programs are completely dialed in.  Although I make a living representing and marketing fishing lodges, camps, and operations all over the world, and I still find it hard to convey the experience that these two lodges deliver week after week (year after year).  They have an intangible atmosphere and style combined with a huge amount of tradition that simply separates them from the rest…   Never mind the fact the fishery is perhaps the best in the Caribbean, the guides are stellar, the service minded staff works incredibly hard (always with a smile), the food is superb, and the accommodations are plush.    

Get'r Done.  Photo by:  David Leake

Get'r Done. Photo by: David Leake

 

The week was very successful for everyone in the group…  We had a lot of laughs, new friends were made, and the fishing was excellent.  Other than a few blustery days, we were more or less blessed with six days of excellent conditions.  Everyone had daily shots at permit in Espiritu Santo, baby tarpon in the backcountry, zillions of bonefish in Santa Rosa Lagoon, and some interesting encounters with the pet barracuda on the beach in front of the lodge.  We also had 4-5 good shots at migratory big tarpon in the bay as well. 

 

Dennis Hilton, a retired college professor from Lantana, Texas, fished with me on day number one.  As this was Dennis’ first time on the flats, I had been lecturing him for months on the difficulties and low odds associated with permit fishing.  Whatever progress I had made towards managing his expectations was completely thrashed when my first opportunity on the deck I hooked and landed a nice 10 pound permit.  After explaining that it NEVER happens that way, the bar was set high for Dennis.  I could sense he was going to be severely disappointed if he did not get one all week.  Luckily (and skillfully), on day five Dennis landed his first permit on the fly!

Mr. Dennis Hilton with First Permit.  What's the big deal about this Permit thing?  Photo by:  David Leake

Mr. Dennis Hilton with First Permit. What's the big deal about this Permit thing? Photo by: David Leake

 

A mixture of Mayan lore and a creative sense of humor are combined at Casa and Playa Blanca to create one of the greatest traditions at any fishing lodge anywhere…  I won’t ruin the surprise for you other than to say the events surrounding the celebration of a first permit landed at Casa or Playa involves a lot of tequila and a dead scorpion.  Mr. Hilton provided a lot of laughs when he continued the tradition and maintained good graces with the Mayan Gods of permit fishing. 

Traditional Dessert.  Photo by:  David Leake

Traditional Dessert. Photo by: David Leake

 

As the lodge was closing for hurricane season, our last night at Playa Blanca was also the last night for the guide staff.  Scotty and I offered up the bar tab for the evening and supplied plenty of booze for the crew to have some fun.  Somehow the evening’s festivities led to a round robin arm wrestling tournament.  It was quite fun to witness the dutiful and collected professional guide staff find themselves overserved and getting schooled by the soft gringos from Texas! 

Warming up to get taken over the top by the gringo pescadores.  Photo by:  David Leake

Warming up to get taken over the top by the gringo pescadores. Photo by: David Leake

 

Thank you to Mike and the entire staff at Playa Blanca.  Thank you to guides, Tacon, Rene, Carlos, Andres, and Jorge.  You all do excellent work and are fine guides and anglers.  I am looking forward to fishing with you all again soon. 

 Yo los veré el año próximo!

The group on the beach after a day in the sun.  Photo by:  David Leake

The group on the beach after a day in the sun. Photo by: David Leake

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On my last few days off, I’ve spent some time prowling the flats on Lake Ray Roberts, chasing carp around. The Hexes are out (hexagenia limbata, most likely, possibly with some rigida thrown in here), and I’ve seen some CRAZY behavior from everything on the flats. My inner bug geek couldn’t be happier!

These are not little guys. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

These are not little guys. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Guide extrordinaire Joel Hays (check out his recent article in Southwest Fly Fishing) has made some comments about it on his blog. Most noteably how Largemouth Bass are now prowling the flats like a bunch of jacks looking for the nymphs. I witnessed about 8 BIG bass coralling hex nymphs and shooting into them like you’d see a sailfish do on a bait ball. I stuck one of them, and she promptly broke off my pitiful 4X leader, but what a hoot!

This picture is a handful of nothing except nymphal shucks, left from the en masse hatching of these giant mayflies. The beach had a layer of them, just like you’d see seaweed laid out – about 10″ wide, and 4″ DEEP in parts. Crazy.

This isn't detritus - these are the nymphal shucks of hundreds of mayfiles. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

This isn't detritus - these are the nymphal shucks of dozens of mayflies. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Now they all have seemed to have hatched out, and the trees are literally CRAWLING with the spinners (imago) waiting to fly over the water to mate. Here’s some video that hopefully will do it justice!

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Sorry for the delay in this post, but things have been hectic here in Dallas, including the temperatures!

I was fortunate enough, the first week of June to head up to Black Canyon Anglers in Austin, Colorado for a much needed trout trip on the Gunnison River. A two-nighter on the river turned out to be absolutely spectacular! The Black Canyon was made famous by the movie, “The Hatch,” about the INSANE stonefly hatch on the river. I was (knowingly) about 2 weeks early for the prime-time hatching of all the big players (pternoarcys californica, or Salmonfly), but knew the streamer action was going to be absolutely intense!!

After looking at flights, I opted to drive up to BCA, and after driving through the high desert, came down into the valley oasis (Gunnison River Farms) that BCA bases its operations out of.

The Lonely Drive in. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

The Lonely Drive in. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

The Patio at Black Canyon Anglers, complete with firepit. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

The beautiful Patio at Black Canyon Anglers, complete with fire pit. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

After meeting Ben Olsen, the assistant manager (and my guide for the weekend), I quickly put my gear up in cabin, located on site. The lower cabins are old mining shacks that the owners had brought in from Telluride, and updated on the inside – great little places to spend the night!

The outside of my cabin. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

The outside of my cabin. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

After a great dinner, I turned in early, as the 5:30 AM wake up call would soon follow. After a quick breakfast, we were on the “road” (i.e. four-wheel-drive only two-track across/into the desert) to the launch at the bottom of Chukar Trail – a 1.6-mile decent into the Black Canyon. Horses carry all the big gear in the night before, meaning boats, oars, food, coolers, etc., were waiting for us at the bottom, while we just brought our rods and dry bags in on our backs. A great (and pretty painless) endeavor.

Getting the gear ready at the top of Chukar Trail. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Getting the gear ready at the top of Chukar Trail. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Once we hit the bottom, Ben began to blow up and rig the raft for our trip, and I decided to throw a streamer or two in the pool above the first chute we would go through. On my second cast two rainbows chased my fly, right to my feet, just like a couple of pike. Speaking of pike, the first rainbow was just about the size of a northern – seriously (no guide lies here) in the 28″ range, and girthy to boot. The one trailing it was definitely over 24″, and my  blood was racing.

As soon as the raft and gear were set, Ben shoved us off, and we went through our first small bit of whitewater, a small class II riffle. I proceeded to start pounding the banks, which got a few decent follows. We stopped about 1/2 a mile down river to fish a nice ‘rainbow riffle’ as Ben called it, where he promptly hooked a nice little brown on a tandem nymph rig. My personal motto being “Death before nymphs!,” I was obliged to throw the streamer a bit more. We broke for lunch in a cave (so damn cool), then moved on down the river. Prior to lunch I hooked and landed my first Gunnison fish – an nice 17-18 inch brown.

The first fish of the trip! Nice 17-18 inch Brownie. Photo by: Ben Olsen

The first fish of the trip! Nice 17-18 inch Brownie. Photo by: Ben Olsen

This would be the typical story for the rest of the trip – tons of follows, and more cookie-cutter 16 to 18-inch brown trout than I could count! Absolutely awesome! The majority were on a tandem streamer rig comprised of a top-secret white fly a friend ties, and a black stonefly-looking bugger with legs. If they took the white lead fly, the hookup was guaranteed, as they just LEVELED it. I missed plenty on the back fly, with the fish short-striking pretty regularly.

We set up camp the first night in Ute Park, at a fantastic campsite, with Filet Mignon for dinner, and tons of birds and blue-tailed Skinks to keep us company.

The not-so-elusive Blue Tailed Skink. Cool. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

The not-so-elusive Blue Tailed Skink. Cool. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Breakfast was equally impressive, with the best AM spread I’ve ever had on a river.

A great way to rise and shine. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

A great way to rise and shine. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Day two saw more of the same action, and some fantastic scenery to boot – Ben didn’t lie when he said it would only get better. He actually was the first (again) to stick fish this day, and caught a brown with some real cool coloration – very German-looking:

Ben Olsen holds his first fish of the day. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Ben Olsen holds his first fish of the day. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Ben's fish, up close and personal. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Ben's fish, up close and personal. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Although it does sound like a typical fisherman’s lie, I truly lost count of how many fish we hooked, moved, and/or landed that day. Any trip when you say, “eh. We have enough photos of 18″ fish” is absolutely incredible! My favorite type of streamer fishing is putting a fly in a pocket about the size of a bucket, and having a big boy come up and smack it. Typically, if you miss a shot, you get ticked, b/c there are only so many ‘good’ little pockets like that on most rivers. Not on the Gunny – pocket, after pocket, after pocket, after rock, etc. Unbelieveable. When a streamer fisherman dies and goes to heaven, this would be it.

I also had my ‘fish of the trip’ on day two – a 24″ brown that assassinated my white fly off a sheer cliff wall that I rapped it off of. What impressed me more than his size was the take and the fight – one of the best I’ve ever gotten out of old Brownie McGurk.

My biggest - a 24" (measured) brown trout, with a real mean streak. Photo by: Ben Olsen

My biggest - a 24" (measured) brown trout, with a real mean streak. Photo by: Ben Olsen

Is it just me, or do both the trout and I have the exact same expression in this one? Photo by: Ben Olsen

Is it just me, or do both the trout and I have the exact same expression in this one? Photo by: Ben Olsen

The second night we camped out at the location known as “T-dyke” campground, so named for the huge granite inclusions on the cliff walls forming the letter “T.” This was without question one of the most beautiful spots I have ever camped in my life. Sheer walls rising all around, with the water crashing over some good sized rapids below. Absolutely breathtaking. I could have filled about 7 SD cards with photos and still not captured all the beauty this place has.

The view from my tent at T-Dykes. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

The view from my tent at T-Dykes. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Another view from camp. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Another view from camp. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Day three saw us hitting the most rapids in succession over the course of the trip. We hit three class IIIs, and a class IV all right together. Definitely a good time, and a great way to cool off! I managed (as BCA owner Rick put it) a “rodeo fish” at the top of one rapid – I threw into the pocket about 6′ above where the whitewater started, hooked up, and ‘relocated’ the fish all the way through two rapids downstream. Definitely one of the more memorable fish I have ever caught, and even though he wasn’t a big guy, he had a pretty cool adipose fin, and I couldn’t resist snapping a shot:

After a wild ride, we got this cool pic of my "Rodeo Fish." Photo by: Ben Olsen

After a wild ride, we got this cool pic of my "Rodeo Fish." Photo by: Ben Olsen

After the last run, we were in fairly quiet water for the rest of the trip, and I took a turn at the oars to let Ben toss some streamers for awhile, sticking quite a few nice fish on his black string leech. We took our time heading out to Pleasure Park take out, making sure to have a hike up the canyon where the Smith Fork comes into the Gunnison – there were some great swimming holes, but it was still a little high to take a dip, but what a beautiful trek up and in!

Overall this was a fantastic trip, and I cannot say enough good things about Black Canyon Anglers, Rick and Ben in particular. A third fishing, a third camping, and a third whitewater rafting make this a tremendous experience, and I truly look forward to working (and fishing!)with them going forward! Anyone interested in fishing the Black Canyon, feel free to get a hold of me at the shop! Tight lines!

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Surfing Padre? No thanks…

My friend in Buenos Aires, Rob McAndrew, sent us this photo of a large tiger shark caught by his cousin while surf casting on South Padre.   This brute is 11.5 feet long and weighs over 1000 pounds. 

According to Wikipedia: ”  The tiger shark, which generally hunts at night, has a reputation for eating anything it has access to, ignoring what nutritional value the prey may or may not hold.

We're gonna need a bigger boat....

We're gonna need a bigger boat....

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