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Just over a week ago, I had the pleasure of heading down to Port Sulphur, LA to FINALLY complete a Redfish trip that had been planned since January. Then re-booked due to weather. Then again due to weather. Then again due to weather. Then due to oil. My fishing partner Paul Wharton was starting to be convinced that I was in fact cursed when it comes to Saltwater. Well, the curse has been broken! With somewhere between 35-40 reds (and 1 Sheepshead!) in the boat over the course of 3 days, I’d call it a big success. There would be epic video of this trip to share, but someone whose name rhymes with “Cat Phones” left the camera’s power on when checking it for me prior to the trip. So, enjoy the still-photo fish porn below – not sure why WordPress insists on making our photos a bit blurry after they are uploaded, so I’ll apologize for that.

A big purpose for heading down to Louisiana was to gauge the mood and effect of the oil spill on the fishing. Well, after speaking with several guides and Woodland Plantation owner Foster Creppel, it’s confirmed – the worst thing for the area economy is the Media. Yes, the oil spill is certainly the worst ecological disaster we have ever faced as a country, and it will affect the Gulf region for generations, but contrary to what CNN would have you believe, the fish are alive and well, and fishing is great! The both the East and West Banks of the Mississippi are open to fishing,  and these guys (and our guide, Rich Waldner in particular) still know where those sneaky reds are hiding. So it is not all gloom and doom – the fish are there – go get them!

Please join us in supporting all the guides of Plaquemines Parish – book a trip to the Woodland through Tailwaters today!

Solid Gold. Photo by: Paul Wharton

Finally! It may be a little Rat Red, but the CURSE IS BROKEN! Photo by: Paul Wharton

Did I mention we fished 6-weights nearly the whole trip? Photo by: Bart Larmouth

These guys didn't fool around when they took our spoon flies. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

One of Paul's 6-pounders. *Moose knuckle omitted in order to retain our PG rating* Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Playing with the panoramic settings on my camera. Click the image to get a better look. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

More Pano love. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Putting my "carp spotting" skills to good use. I always knew they'd come in handy. Thanks Joel. Photo by: Paul Wharton

Are they related?? That is definitely the same expression. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Ok. Definitely related. Photoshopping by: Bart Larmouth

Trying to pimp Matt's hats. Photo by: Paul Wharton

Have I told you yet how much I LOVE my Winston BIImX 6? Photo by: Paul Wharton

Paul with his big boy from the trip. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

The Sheepshead - a.k.a. Shithead, since we saw so many and only caught this one. Photo by: Paul Wharton

This guy had some of the coolest purple iridescence . Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Can you say "Hillybilly Fish?" Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Nope. Not a hillbilly - he has all his teeth. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Flying the team colors on the last day. Photo by: Paul Wharton

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Jeff Dean sporting the team colors while packing his elk out. Photo by: Brad Dean

My good hunting and fishing buddy Jeff shot a very nice 5 x 5 Idaho elk this past archery season, and much to my pleasure was sporting our team colors on his way out. Obviously we love getting photos of friends from the shop with fish, but feel free to send your shots of Tailwaters Swag in various other scenes as well – the good ones will live in infamy on Somethin’s Fishy.

Brad Dean and Jeff Dean after a sucessful Idaho Elk Archery hunt. Photo by: Whoever set the timer on the camera

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Ron Foster and I just returned from an incredible trip to Unalakleet River Lodge in Unalakleet, Alaska.  Unalakleet is a small Eskimo Village located on Hudson Sound 400 miles Northwest of Anchorage.  We were invited by lodge owners Jeff and Sally Appel to visit the lodge to have a better understanding of their operation.  After a week of wonderful food, hospitality and of course great fishing, I can excitedly say we will be honored to be associated with the Unalakleet River Lodge.  The lodge sits on the bank of the Unalakleet River approximately 10 miles upstream from Unalakleet.  The river is home to one of the most prolific Silver Salmon runs in all of Alaska.  In addition to the tremendous Silver Salmon, anglers will also catch pink, chum and king salmon as well as dolly varden and world class grayling.  Stay tuned for an exclusive page on our website www.tailwatersflyfishing.com with more info on Unalakleet River Lodge.

Unalakleet River Lodge photo by. Brent Boone
Unalakleet River Lodge. Photo by: Brent Boone

Enough with the promotion!!!  Ron and I departed Dallas early Saturday morning July 18, short stop in Denver and on to Anchorage.  We rented a car in Anchorage and spent that evening and the next morning exploring.  I’ve heard tale of “Combat Fishing” during salmon season but have never had the opportunity to experience it.  See the picture below……no explanation necessary.

Combat Fishing. Photo by: Brent Boone
Combat Fishing. Photo by: Brent Boone

After our morning exploration, we were off to the airport to catch our flight to Unalakleet.  Although close to the arctic circle, the trip to Unalakleet River Lodge is actually quite easy.  There is a daily 1 and a half hour flight on Pen Air into Unalakleet.  Our flight was a little delayed due to weather but we made it safe and sound.

Once in Unalakleet, we were whisked off to the river for the 15 minute boat ride to the lodge.  As you get closer to the lodge, the surrounding area becomes increasingly more beautiful and as you round a bend, the lodge sits high on a hillside surrounded by trees.  Very majestic.  As I travel more and more, I’m continually amazed at how remote lodges are able to offer the quality of amenities they do.  The main lodge is built with huge timbers that were brought in by boat.  The kitchen is fully stocked, huge commercial stove, refrigerator, freezer etc…..every thing has been brought in by boat.  The logistics of running a remote lodge are mind blowing. 

After hors-d’oeuvres and dinner, its time to rest up for tomorrow’s fishing.  Being this far north, it never really gets dark so your internal clock is a little confused.  The long day has caught up with us and going to sleep is no problem and as the week progresses, the long fishing days with 100 fish days….very easy to sleep.

Ron  and I both are early risers in Texas so when we awake at our normal time it’s about 3 a.m. Alaska.  We manage to stay in bed until 5:30 but it’s time to get up.  Coffee, breakfast and off to the river by 7:30.  Our guide for the week is our good friend and Tailwaters employee Matt Jones.  This is Matt’s 3rd season and Ron and I could not be more exited to spend the next 6 days fishing with our buddy.  See Matt’s Alaska Journal on this blog (See tab at top of page).

I won’t bore you with a daily recap of the fishing….each day is very typical….60 pinks, 10 chum,  5 dollies, 5 grayling and 3-5 silvers.  We are a week early for the silvers this season but typically a day during silver season would look like this 100 silvers,  60 pinks, 10 chum,  5 dollies and 5 grayling.  The pinks are very fun to catch but after 30 or so, you are happy to land a hard fighting chum or a beautiful grayling.  The grayling in this part of of Alaska are world class….many in the 17 inch range and a few up to 20 inches.  (Check out some images from our trip below)

I forgot to mention, in addition to Tailwaters employee and Alaska fishing guide, Matt is a professional photographer.  Check out all the underwater shots below!!!!  www.mcjphotography.com

Here’s what we were ‘packing’ for all these different species: Sage Z-Axis 7136-4 Spey Rod w/ Hatch 9 Plus reel, Rio 550 grain Skagit. Sage Z-Axis 6126-4 Spey Rod w/Able Super 9 reel, Rio 450 grain Skagit Sage Z-Axis 6110-4 Switch Rod, Rio 400 grain ABS Outbound.  Sage TCX 10 Wt. w/Able Super 10, Teeny T-450 sinking line. Sage Z-Axis 691-4 w/Tibor Freestone reel, Scientific Anglers Sharkskin.   Simms Waders, Simms Guide Boot, Simms G4 Boots, Simms G4 Jacket, Simms Guide Jacket,  various layers made by Simms and Patagonia.  (Now that I write this down, we must have looked like walking billboards!!!)

After 6 days of fishing, it’s time to go home…..we are very disappointed about our return to Texas but I can honestly say I’ve never had some much fun at a lodge.  The host’s, guides and staff at Unalakleet River Lodge are second to none.  Everyone is so happy, friendly and accommodating.  I’m truly excited about the budding relationship between Tailwaters Fly Fishing Company and Unalakleet River Lodge.

Main Lodge. Photo by: Brent Boone
Main Lodge. Photo by: Brent Boone
Happy Moose. Photo by: Brent Boone
Happy Moose. Photo by: Brent Boone
stokes in the Kitchen. Photo by. Brent Boone
Stokes in the Kitchen. Photo by. Brent Boone
First Morning Run. Photo by. Brent Boone
First Morning Run. Photo by. Brent Boone

 

Underwater Photos. Photo by. Brent Boone

Underwater Photos. Photo by. Brent Boone

Beautiful Dolly with Pink Streamer. Photo by: Matt Jones

Beautiful Dolly with Pink Streamer. Photo by: Matt Jones

Grayling Underwater. Photo by: Matt Jones

Grayling Underwater. Photo by: Matt Jones

Hatch Advertisement. Photo by: Matt Jones

Hatch Advertisement. Photo by: Matt Jones

Big Grayling! Photo by: Matt Jones

Big Grayling! Photo by: Matt Jones

Guide Matt Jones. Photo by: Brent Boone

Guide Matt Jones. Photo by: Brent Boone

Pretty Pink. Photo by: Matt Jones

Pretty Pink. Photo by: Matt Jones

One Spey, One Overhand! Photo by: Matt Jones

One Spey, One Overhand! Photo by: Matt Jones

Ron with nice Chum. Photo by: Matt Jones

Ron with nice Chum. Photo by: Matt Jones

It makes me dizzy! Photo by: Matt Jones

It makes me dizzy! Photo by: Matt Jones

Ron with nice Humpy. Photo by: Matt Jones

Ron with nice Humpy. Photo by: Matt Jones

Underwater Silver. Photo by: Matt Jones

Underwater Silver. Photo by: Matt Jones

Big Silver. Photo by Matt Jones

Big Silver. Photo by Matt Jones

Nice Chum. Photo by: Matt Jones

Nice Chum. Photo by: Matt Jones

Chum up close. Photo by: Matt Jones

Chum up close. Photo by: Matt Jones

See the bear tracks in the foreground?  Photo by: Brent Boone

See the bear tracks in the foreground? Photo by: Brent Boone

View from the Lodge. Photo by: Brent Boone

View from the Lodge. Photo by: Brent Boone

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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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Dennis in his Theodore Gordon best. Photo by: John Middleton

Dennis in his Theodore Gordon best. Photo by: John Middleton

We are back! After a week in the Catskill Region of New York state, our distinguished group of fisherman have returned! The group comprised of Dennis Burns (of Redfish fame), Phil Napolitan from Spring Valley Anglers, John Middleton from Duke, Randy Imel from Five Oaks Lodge in Tulsa, and yours truly as their host. With perfect conditions (those being overcast, cool and rainy at times) on the Upper Delaware River and Beaverkill, we were able to see some amazing hatches, beautiful scenery, and most importantly, land big fish – ALL ON DRY FLIES. No nymphing here. Big fish all on top – is there anything better?

Here’s how it went:

May 2 – Arrival in Rochester for Phil, Randy and me.

After a bit of a flight snafu (Phil’s early AM flight to Chicago being canceled), the three of us were able to mass at my parent’s home in Dundee, NY for dinner and a quick night’s sleep prior to our departure for the Delaware. A great meal of Dinosaur BBQ (best outside of Texas) greeted us, along with a peaceful night out in the farmlands of western New York.

Glenora on the Lake, Dundee, NY. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Glenora on the Lake, Dundee, NY. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Bailey, our 14-year old German Shorthair greeted us with a crazy run all around the house and property, and saw us off in the same manner the following morning.

May 3 (Day One) – Float with Phil, Randy and me on the Main Stem

After borrowing the family truck for the week, we headed down the 2 hour drive to Starlight, PA and the Delaware River Club (the DRC) to begin our trip.

The front of the Delaware River Club. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

The front of the Delaware River Club. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Upon check in, we quickly ditched our bags in our recently-remodeled rooms, and hooked up a Clakacraft so generously loaned to us by my friend and DRC guide, Wylie Paul. After arranging a shuttle with one of my best friends, Jeff White, and artist extraordinaire Flick Ford (illustrator of Fish, and Big), we were on our float of the Delaware.

Clacka on a Chevy. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Clacka on a Chevy, with Randy grinning ear to ear. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

The only unforeseen “issue” that we experienced on the trip was the lack of water. To be brief, the Delaware system is a non-power generating tailwater, with the water stored in the reservoirs used as drinking water for New York City, who through a convoluted process determines how much water to release into the rivers. There are two branches fed by these reservoirs – the West Branch of the Delaware (on which the DRC is situated), and the East Branch. They meet in Hancock, NY forming the Delaware River proper, or as we refer to it – the Main stem. For the past week, the release of 165 CFS from Cannonsville Reservoir left the only float fishing available for drift boats in the Main Stem. So, we launched at Fireman’s Park in Hancock, NY, and floated to Buckingham takeout downriver in PA – about 8 miles of river or so. This low water also allows wade fishermen unusual access to the river, so dodging the pylons that the waders presented made for an interesting day of rowing for yours truly!! The day was marked by spotty rises, and sporadic fish, but the bugs were there, and the guys got a good view of what the river is like, and some good tales (I hope) from my guiding days there.

Phil also brought his new ‘toy’ – an Abel Super 5N with a custom artistic graphic – see below. Phil played pro ball, and the reel was a birthday gift from a generous benefactor. Pretty damn cool, and it makes my ULA seem pretty dorky.

One Philthy reel. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

One Philthy reel. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

At the end, by the area known as The Wall, we had some sippers right at dark. I was able to land a BIG brown on a small Hendrickson (Ephemerella Subvaria for you fellow bug nerds) CDC emerger.

Big Brown on the Main Stem. Photo by: Phil Napolitan

Big Brown on the Main Stem. Photo by: Phil Napolitan

This is the way to break in a new rod! I had purchased a Sage’s brand new “big gun,” the TCX in 9′, 5-wt. (pic) What an awesome big water rod – I couldn’t be happier with it!!

My Sage 590 TCX wtih a Waterworks ULA 3. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

My Sage 590 TCX wtih a Waterworks ULA 3. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

As the night closed in, Randy and Phil each had takes as we slid into the dark, but the wily trout managed to avoid their hook sets. As the light faded, we hooked up the boat, headed back to the lodge, and then went on to have dinner at Lydia’s Crosstown Tavern, the big fisherman’s bar, where we met up with Dennis and John, and a gaggle of my old fishing buddies and fellow guides, including my former mentor at the DRC, Al Caucci, co-author of the definitive book on mayflies: Hatches. After the meet & greet, Dennis informed me that he had hooked a fish out front of the lodge shortly after he arrived, which promptly took him to his backing on a screaming downstream run, and gave him his fly back shortly thereafter. This brought a smile to my face as he now knew the caliber of fish we would be tossing to over the next week.


May 4 (Day Two) – Dennis and John float with Bruce, Phil and Randy with Joe wading, Bart with Jeff, Flick, Brad, Kenny, and Alan on the East Branch.

Our first “official” day began with a hot breakfast at the club, followed by introductions for the boys and their guides. Bruce Miller, a great guide and a great guy with decades of experience on the river would be taking Dennis and John out on the same float Phil, Randy and I had completed the day before. Joey Marinzel, one of the best fishermen, guides, guitar players and flint knappers I have ever met (and also someone who had help train me on the Delaware’s intricacies) took Randy and Phil wading on the West Branch. I floated the East Branch in Wylie’s (muchas gracias again!) raft with Jeff White and Flick Ford. One of my other great buds, Ken Grescek floated with us as well, accompanied by Trout on the Fly guide service owner Brad Yoder (another good fishing buddy), and his friend Alan.

Kenny with with his (in)famous Fred Baer hat with Brad Yoder. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Kenny with with his (in)famous Fred Bear hat with Brad Yoder. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Dennis and John had good luck with bugs, and much less crowded water than the boys and I had the day before. John was the big fish man for the day with an awesome Main Stem brown. I should also pause to say that catching ANYTHING on this river is a big deal. “Technical” just scratches the surface when it comes to describing how tough these fish can be, as everyone quickly discovered! (john fish pic) Dennis hooked up several times, and as these fish are wont to do, broke him off yet again!

John Middleton with a nice brown - Bruce Miller crept into this one. Photo by: Dennis Burns

John Middleton with a nice brown - Bruce Miller crept into this one. Photo by: Dennis Burns

Phil and Randy had a fantastic day with Joe (who is also an MMA fighter, FYI), wading the West Branch in various spots. The fish were a bit tougher going, but the bugs did not fail to impress either of them with their sheer numbers and sizes as they covered the river. Randy was the ‘winner’ with several fish landed….

Joe Marinzel closely observes Randy's hold. Photo by: Phil Napolitan

Joe Marinzel closely observes Randy's hold. Photo by: Phil Napolitan

The East Branch is a fickle lady, and today was no different for us. Giant Chubs inhabited some of the best trout lies, tricking us with regularity. After seeing a HUGE explosion of a rise in one hole, I quickly threw a big cast over to the fish, only to have it miss my size 12 March Brown (Stenonema Vicarium) on another vicious take. One more toss to it, and BAM! A football of a brown with a big body, and the strangest little head of all time. What a good fight!!

Is that a brown trout or a Humpy? Photo by: Jeff H. White

Is that a brown trout or a Humpy? Photo by: Jeff H. White

Flick also had some great shots – check out this video on YouTube of an awesome cast, drift, and set. Be sure to watch the whole thing, as there is a good surprise at the end!

Later in the afternoon, we found some rainbows slashing in heavy riffles near the highway, which we set up on for about 2 hours. The fish were moving around a good amount, which made timing the biggest factor in hooking the buggers. Each of us had a few misses, and I finally got one to eat, landing a nice 19+ incher after a few screaming runs.

A healthy bow from the East Branch - look for the blue stripe. Photo by: Jeff H. White

A healthy bow from the East Branch. Photo by: Jeff H. White

As we were sitting in the riffles, we kept noticing “rises” and rings below us in the slack water / tailout of the run. What we found out later was that Kenny and Brad had purchased a wrist rocket sling shot, and were hurling rocks up at us to make us think fish were coming up. Revenge has not been dealt out yet, but don’t worry – victory will be ours!!

Dirty Dirty Bastards. THAT'S using your dipstick Jimmy!

Dirty Dirty Bastards. THAT'S using your dipstick Jimmy!

We had a great southwestern style dinner at the club, and after another late night of BS and laughter (some generated by John acting as our waiter for the evening) hit the hay.

"...do you find the wine to your liking sir?" Photo by: Bart Larmouth

"...do you find the wine to your liking sir?" Photo by: Bart Larmouth

May 5 (Day 3) – Dennis and John with Joe on a Wade, Phil and Randy with Bruce. Bart with Jeff -wading at the campground.

Dennis and John hit the stream with Joe today, and we rewarded with several fish, with the most notable being a 24” MONSTER that Dennis landed at Hale Eddy on an Hendrickson comparadun that he had tied specifically for the trip. Here are some photos:

Dennis' fish in Joe Marinzel's capable hands. Photo by: Dennis Burns

Dennis' fish in Joe Marinzel's capable hands. Photo by: Dennis Burns

Not spawning time, but a nice, scarred-up kipe on this big male. Photo by: Dennis Burns

Not spawning time, but a nice, scarred-up kipe on this big male. Photo by: Dennis Burns

Phil and Randy headed out on the river with someone in good rowing shape for a change, and had another good day with reasonable targets, and a few smaller fish. Randy broke off a few bigger ones, which is actually the norm, as everyone quickly discovered!

I waded the Campground with Flick and Jeff, which also constituted some palaver with former DRC owner (and one of my former bosses) Jerry Wolland. With spotty fish and few decent shots, Flick managed one of the only big fish of the night, whacking a BIG colored-up German Brown. Don’t be surprised if this one ends up as a painting.

Flick needs a bigger net. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Flick needs a bigger net. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

The colored-up tail of Flick's Fish. One of my favorite pictures from the trip. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

The colored-up tail of Flick's Fish. One of my favorite pictures from the trip. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

I managed a “small” 18″ brown, but have no photo evidence to back up this claim aside from a lame “in the net” shot that I won’t bore you with.

Another piece of gear that I acquired prior to this trip was a pair of Simms Guide Boots with the new Streamtread Vibram sole, and I was able to put them to work today. They are definitely comfortable from an ankle support and squishiness point of view, but how do they perform in the water? Supposedly they are stickier than felt, and will not carry/transmit waterbourne scourges such as didymo. Well, I told Corey before I left exactly HOW I would know if they were as legit as everyone said: if I wore and did not think about or even realize that I had them on, they are winners.

My new favorite boots. Simply Awesome. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

My new favorite boots. Simply Awesome. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

That is the way it worked out, and then some. I DID notice that I had them on, but in a great way – I have never had so much control when wading, and will never wear felt again. The grip you get with those things is absolutely spectacular. On flat slippery rocks, Jeff was slipping in his new felt, and I was rock solid. Even more so, when walking on loose gravel (freestones, if you will), I had tons more feel for the bottom, without that slippage you feel with felt. The pattern of the Streamtread lets you grip around small rocks, just like a good hiking sole. Also on dry land (and sand) you actually have grip. In case you can’t tell, I’m in love with these things.

Dinner at the lodge consisted of BBQ ribs – a big chance taken by chef Chris with the crowd we had, but a home run for sure! The guys also got to experience a very OLD Pennsyltucky tradition – Yuengling (prounounced Ying-Ling) beer. The oldest brewery in the US. Needless to say, they were happy campers.

Phil's new best friend. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Phil's new best friend. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

May 6 (day 4) – Everyone to the Beaverkill. I fish Stockport with Jeff, and have dinner at Fabio’s.

Today was the “heritage” part of the tour – fishing on the Beaverkill River, one of the birthplaces of American Fly fishing. This day was interesting, with fish being on far banks, and uncharacteristically deep water, forcing the boys (all of them) to wade deeper and deeper. Three swims ensued, but paid off with good fish, and Phil landing an excellent 20-incher.

Phil's really nice Beaverkill brown. Photo by: Randy Imel

Phil's really nice Beaverkill brown. Photo by: Randy Imel

It is with great humility and in the interest of full disclosure that I mention some poor advice that Dr. Dennis Burns received from his trip host regarding this water. Dennis, I publicly apologize for sending you to the Beaverkill with a 4-wt. I see large amounts of Single Malt Scotch in your future as a mea culpa for my misdirection.

Jeff and I met the boys in Roscoe to discuss their trip, and then headed over to the Main Stem for some scouting, eventually fishing the Stockport area of the river. Of course, the only consistent fish were on the far bank, unreachable by wading or casting. That being said, Jeff set the hook on what he perceived to be a dink, but after a few HUGE bump-bump-bumps, realized he had erred, and was promptly broken off. I found a fish rising enough to target, and was rewarded with the biggest brown I have ever caught on a dry, and the largest I’ve ever caught (size-wise, not length) on the Delaware.

The kipe is big, but check out those HUGE pectoral fins! Photo by: Jeff H. White

The kipe is big, but check out those HUGE pectoral fins! Photo by: Jeff H. White

And I didn't even need to extend the arms and make it bigger. Photo by: Jeff H. White

And I didn't even need to extend the arms and make it bigger. Photo by: Jeff H. White

Letting the big boy go. Photo by: Jeff H. White

Letting the big boy go. Photo by: Jeff H. White

For dinner, I arranged for a “family-style” meal at Palmi in Equinunk, PA. The restaurant is owned and operated by Fabio Chindamo, from Lake Como, Italy. I know Fabio from my days at th DRC, where he was responsible for the 10 extra pounds I packed on every school season. An amazing chef, and a definite “character,” we were able to meet him late after our day on the river for an amazing feast, where we were joined by Al, Jerry and Jeff. The food was amazing, blowing everyone away, and the floor show did not disappoint – Fabio and Al are ALWAYS entertaining when they get together!

From the left, going clockwise: Al Caucci, Steve Schwartz (hidden), Randy Imel, Phil Napolitan, John Middleton, Dennis Burns, Jeff White, and Jerry Wolland. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

From the left, going clockwise: Al Caucci, Steve Schwartz (hidden), Randy Imel, Phil Napolitan, John Middleton, Dennis Burns, Jeff White, and Jerry Wolland. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

We retired to John and Dennis’ room for some commiseration and Scotch (my first mea culpa), which ended up lasting until 2:30 AM – well worth the pain the following morning when 7:30 rolled around!!

Oban at the end of the day. Lovely. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Oban at the end of the day. Lovely. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

May 7 (day 5) – Dennis and John wade with Stevie Shen, Randy and Phil float the main with Kevin.Bruce and I float the lower Main Stem.

Dennis and John had the opportunity to fish with Stevie Shen, one of the club’s younger guides, and also one of the sharpest and passionate on the river. While at the PA State Gamelands, Dennis had multiple shots (and hook ups!) but none made it to the net, in typical Delaware fashion. Afterwords a trip to Home Pool (in front of the DRC) yielded great hatching, and a great leaper for Dr. Burns. Although not the most productive day, perhaps the most memorable!

Stevie Shen guides Dennis Burns. All those spots on the water? BUGS!!!! Photo by: John Middleton

Stevie Shen guides Dennis Burns. All those spots on the water? BUGS!!!! Photo by: John Middleton

Slippery little bastards, aren't they John? Photo by: Dennis Burns

Slippery little bastards, aren't they John? Photo by: Dennis Burns

Phil and Randy floated with Kevin, another younger guide, and also one of the most patient- if he sees fish, he will put a stalk on like nobody’s business. They floated the Main Stem, and stuck a few fish, but saw plenty of bugs and rises throughout the day. Phil had a nice one take right before evening.

Phil and Kevin pose with a nice Main Stem brown. Photo by: Randy Imel

Phil and Kevin pose with a nice Main Stem brown. Photo by: Randy Imel

I floated the lower Main Stem with Bruce, heading farther south than I had ever been. After some SERIOUS takes and follows on streamers, the day slowed down a little bit for us. Brucie managed to hook an awesome rainbow, and a decent brown by the time the day was over – not bad for his birthday, huh? I would have included the photo of the brown, but Brucie’s “moose knuckle” isn’t an image I thought I should share.

Bruce Miller with a great rainbow caught on his birthday. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Bruce Miller with a great rainbow caught on his birthday. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

I managed to set new tippet class world records for River Chubs, one of which was sexually assaulted by several male American Shad as I brought it in – very strange behavior, and one that neither of us had witnessed before. Pretty dang cool, and an amazingly beautiful float.

King Chub!! Photo by: Bart Larmouth

King Chub!! Photo by: Bart Larmouth

May 8 (day 6) – Museum tour where we meet Joan Wulff, Randy and Phil leave, John, Dennis and I fish the campground with Big Al.

Today was the day we went to the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, also the home of the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame. Prior to our arrival there, we took the time to drive down the winding forest road to Delaware Delicacies, a local (and very famous) smokehouse situated on the East Branch. Ray, the owner, catches Freshwater Eel in the the only licensed and operational eel weir left in the United States. An eel weir is basically a funnel in the river made of rocks, that sends the majority of the current into a central chute, where a wooden slat-trap allows water to get through, but not the eels. Trout are supposedly strong enough swimmers to get out if they find themselves in the trap. Ray then smokes the eels with applewood, creating a very unique, and desired product. Just about every Asian tour bus that comes to the area makes a stop there! Randy got some good pointers on smoking salmon, and after helping capitalism along, we headed over to Livingston Manor and the museum.

The crew outside of Delaware Delicacies. Photo by: Some dude passing through.

The crew outside of Delaware Delicacies. Photo by: Some dude passing through.

As we drove in to the Catskill Center, we saw a slight, white-haired woman walking up to the gift shop at the museum. Dennis and I quickly realized who it was, and he exclaimed, “Holy shit, that’s Joan Wulff!!” We quickly headed into the shop, and after introductions, were able to get some photos with the First Lady of Fly Fishing. She is incredibly sweet, and was very accommodating to a bunch of hooligan fly fishermen looking for a picture!!

If she doesn't seem to feel uncomfortable, she should. Photo by: Museum Staff Member

If she doesn't seem to feel uncomfortable, she should. Photo by: Museum Staff Member

After a nice slow tour of the museum (where we saw a fly tied by Theodore Gordon, and one of the first fishing vests ever (invented by one Lee Wulff), we parted ways with Phil and Randy, who had to drive to Syracuse to catch flights back to the central time zone.

John, Dennis and I headed back to the DRC, where we went to the campground to fish for the evening. Al was fishing there, and after kick-seining some bugs, and an informal entomology class with the master, we focused on the river.

Al and I have a 'debate' as John looks on. Photo by: Dennis Burns

Al and I have a 'debate' as John looks on. Photo by: Dennis Burns

Stenonema Vicarium: March Brown. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Stenonema Vicarium: March Brown. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Fish were few and far between, but I was lucky enough to hook a fish, at which point my rod tip broke, and the fish threw. Awesome. I assure you no cursing was involved. Kinda. After switching back to my new TCX, and about 30 minutes later, the fish came up again. At least I hope it was the same fish – it was in the exact same lie, and just as big. After all, I had a score to settle. A big toss later, a slight little rise (the big guys rarely make much noise), and a rod lift, and it was game on, with another awesome West Branch Brown. I need to buy a bigger net.

Big. Fat. Revenge. Photo by: John Middleton

Big. Fat. Revenge. Photo by: John Middleton

A final dinner at the lodge was quite nice, although we missed Randy and Phil’s always amusing input. I said farewell to John, as he was leaving at the crack of dawn, and hopefully I will have the opportunity to fish with him again in the near future.

May 9 (day 7) – Departure day.

Dennis and I said our goodbyes (not for too long, as I am sure I’ll see him in the shop on Monday for his daily “decompression”), and I headed out to fish with Brucie and friend, Bernie. We decided to fish just downstream of the lodge, to avoid the wade crowds that a Saturday can bring. As we walked down to the river, we came to the edge of an island, where I saw a brown that had to be close to 26” in a lie that I would NEVER have expected. I could see all his color, hook jaw and all. He just moseyed away as we approached – no chance of catching that one.

After not seeing many rises, Bernie went up into a riffle, and promptly hooked his first fish for the year – a big, fat brown. Not a sucky way to start a season, that’s for sure! Nearby was a nice, flat rock, not unlike a drift boat in size. We all took advantage of it to sit and watch the water (while we BSed), and as we sat there, Bernie and I saw a rise about 20ft off of our perch. I got up to cast, and Bruce said,”Where was he?” I replied, “Right there.” His response: “was he over there by that rock?” To which Bern and I replied pretty much in unison, “NO! RIGHT THERE!!”

I threw two casts over where it had risen, and on the second shot, we saw the fish move from about 6 feet away from my fly, come up and take it. I have no idea how the hell I kept my nerve and didn’t just rip the thing away from the fish. That usually happens when you see the sucker coming a mile away. It was a beautiful fish, smaller than Bernie’s, but still another fat, West Branch brown.

Hunchbacks of the Delaware. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

Hunchbacks of the Delaware. Photo by: Bart Larmouth

After a bit more watching and waiting, I had to call it a trip, and headed back to the Finger Lakes, and eventually Dallas.The trip was a tremendous amount of fun, and definitely a humbling experience for everyone – basically a typical Delaware scenario! Good fish, good food, good friends, some celebrities and a little bit of history – what more could you ask for?

Randy Imel sent me his thoughts on the trip, and I thought I would share them in closing. I think he truly ‘got’ what the Delaware is all about:

Embrace It

“I cast my first fly line only four years ago, but I read almost daily about the sport. Three months ago I was reading an interview with Nick Lyons, author, publisher and lifelong angler. He commented that at this stage of his fishing career, the thing that excited him most was not the big numbers, but difficult fish that challenged him as an angler.

I simply love to catch any trout and spend time in their environment, difficult, easy or just plain luck. The “tug is the drug” for me and I am not ashamed to admit it.

Going ‘back east,’ where American fly-fishing was born, was a trip I had eagerly anticipated for about two months. The hatches (March Brown) can be epic on the Delaware, and if you are fortunate to be there, 30-fish days are common that include monster Browns.

I traveled there to throw dry flies (Hendrickson Caddis and March Brown) to rising fish. My biggest fish was a fat 18 inches, while Phil, Dennis and Bart had a 20  and 22 inchers respectively; and Bart’s personal best, a 24. We earned every fish we caught.

The highlight of the trip, other than getting into my backing twice, was  a private dinner with fly-fishing legend Al Caucci. With the restaurant door locked and the room to ourselves, eight anglers had an Italian feast by Chef Fabio, half Robin Williams, half Mario Batali. The only way to duplicate the event would be to charter a jet, fly everyone to Tuscany and hopefully have some connections with a top Italian chef. The food, wine and camaraderie with AL combined to be one of the top five dining experiences of my life.

When asked about the demanding nature of the fishery, Joey a local guide, said you just have to “embrace it.” His words were so correct and my mantra for the rest of the trip. When you fish the Delaware, it reminds of the line in the Frank Sinatra song, “New York, New York“ — If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”

If asked, ”Would you go back?”, my answer would be yes with the following conditions:

I’m a better caster.

  1. I’m a better mender
  2. I’m a better “big guy”
  3. I’m ready to throw at some of the most challenging trout in America.

Bart, thank you and Tailwaters for including em in this memorable trip. I’m not quite at the same stage as Nick Lyons and the Delaware trout are safe for now.”

Randy Imel, humbled angler

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Yea baby!   Photo By:  David Leake

Yea baby! Photo By: David Leake

One of my favorite benefits of being in the fly fishing industry is having the opportunity to revisit epic fishing spots. In this case, my visit to Alphonse Island and the St. Francois Lagoon in Seychelles was my fourth. Unlike first-timers, the feeling of fresh exotic newness is replaced with a feeling of “home” that nostalgic guys like me cling to. Anyways, that was the case this year as well.

 

Our group of 10 anglers all set out from the USA on Thursday, March 26, 2009 bound for the tiny archipelago nation of Seychelles… 1,000 miles of the east coast of Africa deep in the guts of the gorgeous Indian Ocean. Included in our group of eager sports was a mix of guys and one gal as follows:

 

David Leake

Brent Boone

Cody Bell

Julia Hopson

John Bass

Todd Moncrief

Scott Matthews

Jim Cochran

Stuart Cochran

Roy Washburn

 

Some of the group booked their travel through Europe, while several of us elected to take the interesting route to Seychelles via Dubai, United Arab Emirates. After a hectic beginning with lousy weather in Texas (Cody, Julia, and Scott actually missed their connection — really long story), Brent and I departed Houston (IAH) on the 15 hour direct flight with Emirates Airlines to Dubai. Although I was fearful of going mad on such a long flight, the amazing in-flight entertainment system on the Emirates 777 kept me sane watching a couple of Bond flicks, Marley and Me, Revolutionary Road (terrible), Benjamin Button (pretty interesting), Yes Man, and a handful of others. Brent played Battleship a lot. I also sent a couple of emails to my girls and to my brother, John, as we flew over his home town of Vienna at 42,000 feet. I was even able to sort out (via email) a rescheduled charter flight for Scott, Julia, and Cody while on the Emirates flight to Dubai. The advent of email service on a trans-Atlantic airline flight was not as impressive as the fact that the flight attendants with Emirates speak Spanish, English, Arabic, Chinese, Hindu, German, Italian, and Dutch. Seriously?

 

We arrived Dubai around 7:00PM, met up with Jim and Stuart Cochran (father – son) who arrived a few minutes later with Delta, ate at the buffet in the hotel (curried chicken and Stella Artois), watched the Road Warrior with Arabic subtitles, and set off fast to sleep.

The Long Haul.  Photo By:  David Leake

The Long Haul. Photo By: David Leake

Dubai is sort of a microcosm of today’s world economy… grossly overleveraged real estate development, credit card millionaires in Italian sports cars, and over the top lavishness everywhere. I have never been to an Arabic land before, and I must say that Dubai is as far from home as I have ever felt. From the language to the dress to the flat sandy landscape, Dubai struck me as extremely bizarre. Brent summed it up well by saying, “Man, this is really some foreign shit. You know that?”.

 

The following morning we flew 4 hours to Victoria, Mahe Island, the capital of Seychelles. Other than wanting to drop kick the ugly French dude who cut in front of us in line during immigration, Mahe was very uneventful.  Next was a quick connection on board a twin turbo Beechcraft for the 50 minute flight to Alphonse Island. The island is shaped like an arrow head with the runway running down the center. When you are on approach you can see the huge surrounding reef systems that protect Alphonse and the neighboring islands of Bijoutier and St. Francois. On the interior of the coral system are the flats that meld with the reef to create the ultimate habitat for the most incredible mix of marine life. There is nowhere on earth like it….I was told this year that there are over 300 species of fish that inhabit the lagoon. That does not include all the turtles, whales, dolphins, birds, eels, insects, crabs, etc.

 

The arrival into Alphonse is always a bit surreal. You are greeted by the head of the fishing program (this year it was the young and enthusiastic Devan v.d. Merwe) and the manager of the resort, Tonya. You cruise in a golf cart through dense palm and coconut trees, avoiding the occasional coconut or Giant Land Tortoise on your way to the central resort building for orientation. The property has been developed to meet very high standards and is super plush and polished. Having personally spent nearly a month on the island, I have decided Alphonse actually may be the inspiration for the Dharma Initiative from the TV show “Lost”. It is so strange to see such sophisticated infrastructure and accommodation on such a remote tiny little island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Truly the most impressive fishing operation anywhere. After getting situated and the gear rigged, we head for dinner and a night filled with sleepless anticipation for the first day in the greatest saltwater flats fishery in the world.

A beautiful Seychellios Beach on Alphonse.  Photo By:  David Leake

A beautiful Seychellios Beach on Alphonse. Photo By: David Leake

Before I hit the daily breakdown, it is worth noting that the long trek half way around the world is well worth it. The bonefishing here is by far the most impressive on earth, but it is the diversity of species and stunning beauty of the place that makes it so incredible. You just have to see it to believe it.  Needless to say the folks in the travel department at Tailwaters can make that dream come true! 

THE GROUP...  Photo By:  David Leake

THE GROUP... Photo By: David Leake

Day 1 – “Milky Dream”

Here is the daily routine: Wake up at 5:30AM… eat breakfast at 6:00AM, board the mothership, TAM TAM, at 7:00AM, and sail 45 minutes to the skiff moorings inside the St. Francois Lagoon. The boat ride out to St. Francois is one of the most memorable parts of the trip. Everyone is strapping on gear, rigging equipment, and game planning while caffeine and beautiful ocean wake you up. Often you will encounter yellowfin tuna or milkfish feeding, whales, manta rays, dolphins, or other sea creatures on the way out past Bijoutier (“Gilligan’s Island”) and into the lagoon. St. Francois Lagoon is a labyrinth of flats, reef, coral heads, channels, etc…. tailor made habitat for bonefish, permit, trevally, milkfish, triggerfish, sharks, rays, turtles, etc. After a full day of fishing you return to Tam Tam at 4:00PM, arrive at Alphonse at 5:00PM, dinner at 7:00PM, and off to bed at 9-10. This regimented routine makes the week fly by.

 

One of the most sought after species on the flats is called the Milkfish (Chanos chanos). Although we have learned a lot about how to effectively hook and land these brutes, Milks still have lore about them. There is a common misnomer that they are herbivores or vegetarians exclusively. They feed on tiny invertebrates such as plankton as well as algae. They are not filter feeders, but they do skim along with mouths wide open inhaling their food (kind of like a whale shark). The hardest part about catching a milkfish is simply being in the right place at the right time for a predictable, surface feeding event with a large enough school of targets to increase the odds (which oftentimes won’t happen for months on end). Most often during large spring tides, milkfish will set up almost like trout feeding into the strong tidal currents flushing food off of the flats. Lucky anglers encounter them feeding on or near the surface with mouths wide almost mindlessly vacuuming everything in their path. Although they will certainly move to avoid your fly, they will definitely not move to eat your fly. Anglers fish with algae-like deer hair or craft fur patterns tied on a #2 Gamu hook and long slow strips through a school of milkfish. If the planets align, your fly will incidentally get sucked in and off to the races you go. Such was the case for lucky me on day one.

 

On the third or fourth presentation the line came taught, and one hour nine minutes later we brought this beautiful 25-30 pound specimen to hand. Pound for pound there is no stronger fish in the sea. It is almost like they a super evolved or are stuck in the Jurassic period. Either way, their physiology is different from all other fish I have encountered in that they simply do not ever get tired. Even when you land them, you must maintain a death grip in order to get a few photos. Our guide for the day, Mattieu Cosson, is from the Burgundy region of France and did a wonderful job for us. Matt is serious but was very amused by our silly American / Texan humor.

The Mouth of a Milkfish.  Photo By:  David Leake

The Mouth of a Milkfish. Photo By: David Leake

Got Milk?  Photo By:  David Leake

Got Milk? Photo By: David Leake

Day 2 – Mixed Bag

Brent and I fished with Devan v.d. Merwe today and had a little taste of everything. From chasing milks early to a nice bonefish session, to a walk to the reef looking for Triggerfish and GT. It was a fun day, but also most memorable for the education received on the politics, racial, and social issues that confront the continent of Africa today. Devon, a 23 year old from a small town in South Africa, is perhaps one of the most enthusiastic and optimistic guides I have ever been with. A good looking and capable outdoorsman, Devan and his equally attractive girlfriend, Ubre, have guided, hunted, and fished all over South-Central Africa together for their entire lives. He is the definition of a glass half full kind of guy… With 2 minutes left in the day, Devan would say something indicative of the eternal optimist such as, “Okay man… we’ve got 90 seconds left before we have to head back, but place a blind cast at 2 o’clock. I am absolutely certain that 80 pound Geet is going to be there”.

Jim Cochran, Roy Washburn, and Brent Boone on the TAM TAM en route to St. Francois.  Photo By David Leake

Jim Cochran, Roy Washburn, and Brent Boone on the TAM TAM en route to St. Francois. Photo By David Leake

Devan provided an interesting take on the racial conflict in S.A., and painted a real clear picture of his childhood growing up in the gorgeous yet extremely raw and dangerous, Dark Continent. He also indulged us with his native tongue, Afrikaans (a mix of tribal mumbo jumbo and Dutch), as well as several tribal languages such as Swahili. I confirmed that the images from the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, ‘Blood Diamond’ are actually a very accurate portrayal of the diamond trade in southern Africa.

 

Although we had cloudy conditions today, Brent managed a nice 20 pound GT on the Lollipops Wreck a few minutes before we headed back to TAM TAM. The weather began to clear on the boat ride back, and we never saw any rainy clouds the rest of the trip.

 

Day 3 – “Oh Shit….. G.T.!!!!”

Today I fished with Scott Keller, an American who currently calls Sun Valley, Idaho home. Scott is a 49 year old veteran of the guiding profession, and is without question the worldliest angler I have ever encountered. He has guided in several countries with multiple seasons in places like Tierra del Fuego, Alaska, and Mongolia. His laid back charisma is very cool, and he oozes with confidence and experience. Scott has guided everyone from Jimmy Carter to Jack Nicklaus, and quietly tells interesting stories of his angling exploits. My fishing partner was Stuart Cochran, the 35 year old son of long time client and friend, Jim Cochran. Stuart is an extremely funny guy and I really enjoyed fishing with him. We predominantly cruised for GTs all morning before making a spur of the moment decision to head back out to the reef and to “Little Wreck”.

 

Note: One night back in the 60s a bunch of Japanese commercial tuna fishermen wrecked three of their boats on the reef surrounding St. Francois. It is kind of odd fishing next to their massive rusted out hulls. (I think they are haunted by Japanese sailors feasting on their spoiled catch of yellowfin.)

 

As soon as we made it to the reef following the 45 minute walk, we began fishing for bonefish. After catching a few nice bones I decided to take my 12 weight from Scott as we waded closer to the surf and the likelihood of encountering a Giant Trevally. I had my 12 weight on my pack as I cast to a school of bonefish that spooked abnormally… What was that all about? Low and behold, the old bully GT presented himself at about 60 feet and closing. “Oh Shit…. GT!”. Hurriedly, I chunked down the bonefish stick, unhooked the 12 weight from my pack, stripped off some line, dropped the fly, and boom, he ate it.

 

Words cannot describe the power of a large Giant Trevally. The only way to appreciate it is to get your hands on an Abel Super 12 reel and crank down the drag to 100% and try manually to pull of some line. You are lucky to pull off one foot of line without breaking a finger. Now, consider that an 80 pound Trevally completely spooled Devan the day before with this same reel cranked down 100%. You fish for GTs with super heavy gear… 80-100 pound straight fluorocarbon for your leader, 5/0 – 8/0 gamugatsu hooks, and 50 pound gel spun backing is the norm. Devan’s monster took his fly line and 350 yards of backing in just a few seconds. Devan badly bruised his hand on the handle of his reel trying to palm the spool in vain trying to stop the beast. GTs over 50 pounds require you to be chasing them in a skiff as landing one of foot is nearly impossible without a 14 weight. They are incredible fish.

 

My fish cooperated nicely after a huge run into the backing (with an Abel Super 12 cranked down 100%) and we luckily avoided all the coral heads, sharks, and razor sharp reef. When he came to hand a few minutes later he tipped the scales at 45-50 pounds and 103 centimeters (40 inches). Poor Stuart was turned into a pack mule with our cameras, packs, rods, and gear while we chased him around. After some great photos we exchanged high fives.

45 Pound GT on the Reef.  Photo By:  David Leake

45 Pound GT on the Reef. Photo By: David Leake

The Giant Trevally (Caranx Ignobilis) is the true bad ass of all game fish in my opinion. His round head, monster shoulders, and elaborate fins are built for speed and power, and he has no predators other than large sharks and humans. He literally eats everything, and his incredible eye-sight combines with his quickness to make him a lethal hunter. While adults spend much of their life in deeper water, fish well over 100 pounds often feed on the flats in skinny water or cruise in riding the waves on the reef to ambush unsuspecting prey. There is nothing more impressive than watching through the face of a wave as a big GT surfs his way inside the reef. The combination of hurried panic to cast and huge dosage of adrenalin is very addictive. There is also no eat more impressive than the mighty G.T. The deliberate and crushing speed of the monster when he zeroes in on your fly is scary to the point where you almost don’t want him to eat it! Once you witness the spectacle that is the “GEET”, it gets in your blood, and you become obsessed with trying to find one a bit bigger than the last one.

 

Day 4 – “The Bataan Death March”

Today I fished with John Bass of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Brent and I met John in December 2007 at Casa Blanca Lodge in Mexico. We have become fast friends and he has booked a few trips with us, including his second trip back to Alphonse. “Big John” is a very tall man. A retired educator, John is also one of the most kind and humorous gents you will ever meet. The consummate story teller, John always has me rolling with laughter. He is a diehard University of Arkansas fan, and likes to reminisce about the glory days of the Longhorn / Razorback rivalry. John is a ton of fun…

 

Our guide today was James Christmas of South Africa, the pack mule of a guide who showed us the back side of St. Francois at low tide en route to the most remote reef section in the fishery. We caught several nice tailing bones in no more than 5 inches of water before trekking further to the reef. We also saw the home of “Boris” the 7 foot barracuda who resides on a very distinct coral head. (I like to think he was named after the Russian Mobster “Boris the Blade” from the Cohen brothers film, Snatch.) Although we saw a few nice geets in the surf, we had no viable shots. However, wading through the stunning aquarium-like tidal pools was worth the effort. Hundreds of species of fish, eels, rays, and turtles (not to mention lemon and nurse sharks) swarm around your feet.

John Bass on the backside of St. Francois.  Photo By:  David Leake

John Bass on the backside of St. Francois. Photo By: David Leake

Unfortunately, the walk back at dead low tide with a high sun was a lot less leisurely than the slow, fish filled easy wade out to the reef. Both John and I each felt the sun big time on the death march back to the boat.

 

Day 5 – “Stuck on Your Hard Drive” Bonefishing Session

My fishing partner on day five was Scott Matthews of Horseshoe Bay, Texas. Scott is the type of angler who simply enjoys catching bonefish with the proper conditions. He is self admittingly not interested in the trophy species, but would rather be entertained by racking up the numbers. More than once (in Alaska and in Louisiana) we have had the philosophical debate over the stages a fishermen goes through during his angling career. Stage one is to simply catch lots of fish… Stage two is to catch only big fish… Stage three is to simply go fishing. In my opinion, it is only when you reach stage three that the trophy fish become a more regular occurrence. It is almost like the fishing gods feel like you have paid enough dues so they put you in the right place at the right time to catch the big one as a result. Anyways, Scott will attest that he is still in stage one (despite having traveled the world throughout a very impressive angling career).

 

 

Day five presented perfect bonefishing conditions. Our tide for the week gave us three spring tide days (perfect for GTs and Milks) and three neap tide days (ideal for St. Francois bonefish). Scott and I just had one of those days where it all comes together. A light breeze was off the left shoulder, the sun was at our backs, and the bones were happy. This was the type of bonefishing session that earns Seychelles the title of “best bonefishing in the world”. For several hours we enjoyed the falling tide and thousands of bonefish coming into easy range. Although you will find schools of bones in St. Francois, the ideal bonefish sessions occur when singles, doubles, and triples funnel off the flat towards you at a steady pace. You have plenty of time to scan the hard, white sand for the biggest fish in view, and present the fly. As soon as you release him, all you have to do is look up and find another one. Absolutely incredible! This kind of day offers an opportunity for the most novice casters to have great success, and the more experienced anglers a time to hone skills and learn something new about bonefish behavior. These type of fishing experiences make you a better angler and are the most memorable. As the guide Devan said, “Today’s memories will be stuck on your hard drive for a long time”.

Scott Matthews and Your's Truly with nice double.  Photo By:  David Leake

Scott Matthews and Your's Truly with nice double. Photo By: David Leake

We wrapped up the day with a late lunch and a move to the “hologram flat”, named for the myriad of mixed water colors that converge there. We tagged a few more bones, had a run in with a 6 footer lemmon shark who nearly ate my foot as I cradled an exhausted bonefish (long story involving me stepping in a hole and falling down while Devan beat the shark away with the butt of my 12 weight), and had a lot of laughs. Our other goal at hologram was to find a permit. Although we did not land one, I had at least 50 good shots at interested (but not interested enough) permit in skinny water. We moved to TAM TAM flat (couple hundred yards from where the TAM TAM is moored) and Scott hooked a monster trigger with one minute left in the day. Even though he came unbuttoned, it was truly a great day… a day that will indeed by saved on my C: drive forever.

 

Day 6 – Why I will one day return to Seychelles….

The last day of our trip was not as epic as the previous, however Scott and I again enjoyed a nice morning bonefishing session before cruising over to a channel for lunch. The idea was to stake out and wait for a big GT cruising through on the falling tide while Scott and James waded around looking for bones and triggers on a nearby finger flat.

 

What was learned was never to question the guide when he suggests blind casting a bit… James indicated he had seen a “100+ pound” GT cruising said channel twice before at a similar tidal stage. Scott and I rolled our eyes simultaneously as we busted out the lunch. Not five minutes later, James exclaimed, “100 pound GT! On that Ray! Get Ready!”. I looked at him like he was pulling my chain when he said with his South African accent. “Dude, no shit… Get up he is right there!!!!”. A fire lit under my ass and I was on the deck ready to cast when we caught a glimpse of the beast cruising lazily off the flat disappearing into the depths. It was as if the bastard knew it was my last day and wanted to give me the bird as he sauntered away laughing. Needless to say, that is also an image I will never forget, and I will be back to stick him next year.

Bonefish representing Tailwaters Fly Fishing Company.  Photo By:  David Leake

Bonefish representing Tailwaters Fly Fishing Company. Photo By: David Leake

Coming Home… The trip home was uneventful. We made it back to Love Field as tired puppies.

 

Cheers…

A lot of the guides are new since my last trip in 2007, but the level of experienced competence exuded by the entire staff is as tip top as ever. It was very nice to see my old friends, Jude Morel and Sergio Samson, two of the saltiest Seychellois dudes you will ever meet. Both have been there since the “early days” of Alphonse starting back in 1999 — and each have 18 month old kids on the ground (Julius & Sergio Jr).

 

I regret I did not get to fish with the infamous guide, Wayne Maselau, during this trip. Wayne is also one of the fishiest and most interesting guys you will ever meet. Wayne helped pioneer the flies and techniques used for the milkfish, and helped name numerous landmarks in the infamous lagoon. He is close friends with many of the big trevally at St. Francois as well. Wayne is the poster boy for the “man crush”, and has the knowledge, experience, and South African machismo to back it up. Everyone loves him.

Sergio, Jr.  Note the family dreadlocks.  Photo By:  David Leake

Sergio, Jr. Note the family dreadlocks. Photo By: David Leake

Captain Sergio at the helm of the TAM TAM.  Photo By:  David Leake

Captain Sergio at the helm of the TAM TAM. Photo By: David Leake

Jude and Young Julius.  Photo By:  David Leake

Jude and Young Julius. Photo By: David Leake

I raise my glass to the entire Alphonse crew of guides and staff… the old ones and the newer ones. Here’s to Vaughn, Devan, Scott, Jude, Sergio, James, Mattieu, Wayne, Tonya, Ubre, Sharon, Jusef (sp?) the bartender, the chef (cant remember his name) and everyone behind the scenes. Thank you for taking care of our group and the rest of our clients all season. You are fine people and I cannot wait to see you all again.

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This time of year traveling is a bitch….our original itinerary was to leave Dallas at 3:20 for a one hour flight to Houston and a 6:30 departure for Dubai.  Well, after sitting on the runway in Dallas for two hours and multiple sub-plots in between, we finally left Dallas at 4:50, landed in Houston at 5:50 did the OJ through the airport and made it to the gate with 1 minute to spare.  The flight on Emirates airline was incredible….that is the best airline I’ve ever flown, 15 hours but it seemed like 5.  Overnight in Dubai and early morning departure to Victoria, Seychelles.  1 hour layover and 1 hour flight to Alphonse Island.

Upon arrival, you realize quickly you are in paradise.  Coconut trees, white sand beaches, tropical birds, everything is green and beautiful.  The weather is typical for the tropics, warm and humid but very comfortable.  We are quickly whisk away to our chalets which are very nice and comfortable, after unpacking we head to the fishing center to get geared up.

David rigging up. Photo by: Brent Boone

David rigging up. Photo by: Brent Boone

Day 1:

The days are very regimented, wake-up 5:45, breakfast at 6:00 meet at the fishing center by 7:00 load up on the Tam Tam by 7:15 and off for the 45 minute run to the skiffs.

Relaxing aboard the Tam Tam. Photo by: Brent Boone

Relaxing aboard the Tam Tam. Photo by: Brent Boone

David and I are fishing together today….when we arrive at the skiffs, the weather is somewhat questionable.  Thunderstorms in the area and very bad light for the flats.  We head out for a morning bone fishing session and quickly hook up with several 4-6 lb fish.  After about 3 hours, the sun comes out and we head out to look for Milkfish.  Milkfishing is an art unto itself.  Milks don’t actively feed, they slurp algae from the surface.  We quickly locate a school of fish on the surface and David takes the first shot.  It takes no more than 5 casts and he’s hooked up.  After an eventful 1 hour and 9 minute fight, we land a beautiful 25 lb fish.

After a short break we search for more Milks.  We find many more schools and have several great shots but no luck….I couldn’t coerce one to take my “algae fly.”  At 4:00 we meet  back at the Tam Tam and head back to Alphonse.  On the back of the Tam Tam we notice several big GTs (Giant Trevally), Trigger Fish, Surgeon Fish and Bat Fish.  They love bread!

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Giant Trevally eating bread behind the Tam Tam. Photo by: Brent Boone.

David with a Batfish. Photo by: Brent Boone

David with a Batfish. Photo by: Brent Boone

By the end of the day, the 24 hours of travel, the long fishing day, and the heat have caught up with everyone.  We are all ready for dinner and a good night’s sleep.

Day 2:

David and I again fish together and our goal for the day is a big Geet.  Our guide for the day is the eternal optimist, Deven.  Early on we search the edges for GT”s and about 11:00 we embark on a 3o minute walk to “Big Wreck”.  The wreck is a Japanese tuna boat that ran aground during the 60’s.  Again, the light is poor and spotting fish is difficult.  David fishes the surf and sees several big GTs but no luck.  I fish for triggers and other reef fish while waiting for the tide to push.  Once the push begins, the big GTs come in behind the surf and look for baitfish in the holes.  Deven points out one of his favorite spots for GTs and on the first cast a huge Geet crushes my fly….he comes straight at me and I’m not able to get a good hook set.  I re-cast into the same spot and again a big Geet crushes my fly….I get a good hook set and it’s off to the races.  I have to negotiate coral and pieces of the wreck but land the fish relatively quickly.

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20 lb Geet at the Wreck. Photo by: Deven

At dinner, everyone is beginning to get rested up and acclimated to the new time zone.  The food is incredible: “Catch of the Day,”  Typically tuna or grouper or mahi mahi.

Day 3:

Today my fishing partner is Scott Mathews and our guide is the infamous South African, Wayne.  Our goal this morning is Bonefish with the occasional opportunity for a Permit.  We arrive on “prawn beds” flat at about 8:15 am.  Wayne told me on the way that he routinely sees permit on this flat early in the morning.  We get out of the boat and immediately see two permit heading our way.  I take the fish on the right and Scott takes the fish on the left I have about 15 seconds to get my line out and make two false cast before I lay the perfect 50 foot cast about 10 feet in front of the permit.  I strip it one time and he’s on it.  He tails, and it’s on….I’m using a 7wt Sage Xi2 with and Abel Super 7.  It handles the fish just fine and I land the fish in about 15 minutes.  Check out the cool new hat from Twintail Clothing Company!  Could it be more fitting?

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Indo-Pacific Permit. Photo by: Brent Boone

While I was busy landing the permit, Scott caught 12 bones with the biggest being around 7 lbs.  After the permit, I joined Scott on the flat and we wore out the Bonefish.  Scott caught about 25 in two hours and I must have caught 15 including a big barracuda that cut my line after about 15 seconds.

After lunch Scott and I fished a flat known as “Guantanamo Bay”….Wayne says this flat has the largest concentration of Permit in the entire atoll.  He’s right…we’re immediately on Permit.  Scott has a great shot, the permit eats his fly turns to run and breaks the 25 lb leader.  Over the next 3 hours we have at  least 15 shots at picky permit.  Along the way we see a 6 ft Lemon Shark that is a little too curious.  We conclude the day with some more Bonefishing and it’s back to the Tam Tam by 4:00.

Day 4:

My new fishing partner is Dr. Roy Washburn, our guide is Matthiew the Frenchman.  Our goal for the day is Geets and Milkfish.  We spend the first 2 hours looking for milks, we find several feeding pods and Dr. Washburn makes 40 good casts but no luck.  After a while, it’s time to look for Geets.  We head outside of the reef to the west side, along the way we see two huge Green Turtles mating.

Sea Turtles mating. Photo by: Brent Boone

Sea Turtles mating. Photo by: Brent Boone

We are fishing about 400 yards outside the reef in about 25 feet of water.  The waters is so clear you can’t image what we see, green turtles, hawksbeek turtles, barracuda, rays, sharks, parrot fish, surgeon fish, milkfish, and I must not forget, the most important: Giant Trevally.  I’m on the deck and Matthieu say’s “Huge GT at 2 o’clock.”  I turn to my right and see a huge GT sitting at about 40 ft.  I make 2 false casts and land the fly 5 feet in front of the fish.  The image is still burned into my mind.  As the fly is falling to the water, the fish sees the fly in the air and meets it as it hits the surface….it is an incredible collision.  I feel the Geet and make 3 big strip strikes and he takes off, burning line off my reel.  As I clear the slack line, I can feel the power in this fish, but all of a sudden…..there’s nothing there –  he’s gone.  What did  I do wrong?  Did I give him too much slack?  I’m completely dejected but what can I do?  By this time its time for us to walk to the surf.  We park the boat in an area called “Ratrays”, eat lunch and then head off to the surf.

Dr. Washburn fishing in the surf. Photo by: Brent Boone

Dr. Roy Washburn fishing in the surf. Photo by: Brent Boone

We’ve been at the surf for 30 minutes or so and have seen 3 or 4 GT’s but nothing close enough to cast to….Roy casts to several trigger fish then all of a sudden, Matthieu says “Tiger!!!”  There is a huge tiger shark in the surf about 100 feet away.  GT’s are known to follow tigers so we immediately start to follow the tiger looking for GTs.  The tiger is riding the wave so he’s getting closer all the time….luckily the tiger never sees us but there were no GTs on him.  We continue our trek down the reef and all of a sudden I see this GT riding the surf right towards us…he ends up in a small pool write in front of me about 25 ft.  I make a short cast and once again I’m hooked up to a big GT.  He runs and takes all the slack line and then all of a sudden, “Snap!!!”  my fly lines breaks.  Again, I’m completely crushed…I go to my knees in disgust….mistake, I’m standing on coral, I cut both my knees but that’s the least of my worries.  What have I done wrong this time?  Turns out, the line caught on the frame of my reel…..my mistake!  We fish for another hour and then head back to the Dolphin Skiff for the short trip to the Tam Tam and then back to Alphonse.

End of the day on the Tam-Tam. Photo by: Brent Boone

End of the day on the Tam-Tam. Photo by: Brent Boone

Day 5:

Again my fishing partner is Dr. Washburn, our guide is the legendary Scott and our goal is a big GT.  We spend the entire day searching the deep coral edges of the flats.  Roy and I take turns on the front but it turns out to be a long day.  We see several fish and have a couple of good shots but nothing seems to be interested in our flies.  The most exciting part of the day was a HUGE barracuda that I hooked and fought for 4 jumps before he cut the line.  He was at least 6 ft long and weight probably 50 lbs.  I sure wish I would have had a wire leader on!!!  No fish landed but a great day non the less.  Great companions in the most beautiful place in the world.  Who could ask for more than that?

Scott and I chasing down some rays. Photo by:

Scott and I chasing down some rays. Photo by: Dr. Ray Washburn

Day 6:

The final fishing day of the trip and again I am fortunate to be fishing with Dr. Roy Washburn and our guide is Wayne.  In the morning we decide to have a bonefishing session and go to a flat known as “The Highway”….true to bonefishing in the Seychelles there is an endless supply of large singles.  We each catch 12-15 fish and we decide it’s time to look for GTs (sense a theme?).

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I was out-fished again! Photo by: Brent Boone

For lunch we go to a spot called “Coral Gardens.” I snorkeled there earlier in the week and Roy had to check it out.  We anchored the boat ate lunch and had a quick 15 minute snorkle.  The place absolutely comes alive when you stick your head under the water.  100’s of species of fish and the most beautiful coral you can imagine.

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Dr. Washburn and I at Coral Gardens. Photo by: Wayne

After a short break we head off in search of GTs.  After and hour or so, we see two huge black spots about 250 feet ahead of the boat.  Waynes speeds up the boat slightly to get ahead of them so I can make a cast.  No pressure but Wayne says “Brent, these are two 100 lb fish, you have to make the cast of your life.”  I’m anxious but very calm, we approach to within 120 feet and I begin to make some small false cast to get some line out….I’m just about to try a 90 foot cast and they make us!  They turn left and it’s all over.  Easily the biggest fish I saw all week.  We’ll it’s time to go home, we head back to the Tam Tam.

Day 7:

Our plane doesn’t leave Alphonse until 5:00 pm so we have time to fish in the morning.  David and I head out early on the North side of the island to look for GTs in the surf.  It’s early and there’s not much light but on the way out, we see some wakes.  We assume it’s bonefish so I make a cast in front of one of the wakes and hook up to a Trigger Fish….it’s a great fight on a 7 wt.

Triggerfish. Photo by: David Leake

Triggerfish. Photo by: David Leake

Look at those chompers! Photo by: David Leake

Look at those chompers! Photo by: David Leake

We make our way to the surf and look for GTs for about 3 hours…we see several big GTs and make a few casts but no real good shots.  We finally decide to call it good and go back and get ready to go home.

We rinse off all our gear, lay it out to dry and relax until our plan arrives.

Rigging

Packing to go home. Photo by: Brent Boone

Our long journey home begins once we leave Alphonse at 5:00.

Photo by: Brent Boone

Boarding the plane at Alphonse. Photo by: Brent Boone

We have a 6 hour layover in Victoria, Seychelles, a 4 hour flight to Dubai, 2.5 hour layover then a 16 hour flight to Houston, 2 hour layover and a 1 hour flight to Dallas.  All in all, I would endure the travel again – for the fishing.  Without doubt, the best fishing on the planet.

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