Monday, September 26, 2005

Fly Fish with Mel: One Fish Is All It Takes To Make My Day

Catskills Work on Peacock Bass

Third day in a row that I've been fishing. Back at 'White House' today but with a twist.

Today, I left all my heavy gear home and went with only my sidearm, my trusty Sage SPL 0-wt.

The reason: To test if Catskills style dry flies work on Peacock Bass.

Arriving dark and early, Jimmy and I went through the usual routine of rigging up as we walked down the slope to the water's edge.

Unlike yesterday, there was hardly a whisper of a breeze. The Water Striders were already up and about; gracefully waltzing across a mirror calm surface. In the pre-dawn, darkness, you can only see the gentle rippling of the surface as they skimmed around.

Unlike yesterday, there was not a single rise. I was about to begin fishing; blind. Not knowing where a fish might be lurking. I only wished for a tell-tale sign.

I placed the first probing cast to where I knew would be the best bet for a peacock bass to be hiding; close to the bank. As the tiny #16 Red Quill softly landed in the water, I retrieved my line till I saw my 4x tippet come tight to the fly and the smallest of ripples emanate from it. Then, I let it sit.

Silently, vulnerably it sat on the surface but not a hint of movement. Using a figure-of-eight retrieve, I worked the fly across the water then roll cast it a little further than the first cast. Again, all quiet on the waterfront.

By now, the sun had eased itself partially above the horizon. In the growing light, a shadow vaguely caught my sight. As the water refracted what little light there was, the shallow depth remained cloak in shadow; hiding all that knew how to be still.

Using my peripheral vision, I scanned the shadowy depth for that one minute movement that would give my furtive adversary away.

Then, there it was. Three faint, black bars against a lighter surface hardly moving a hair's-breadth but movement nonetheless.

I lifted the fly and sailed it back through the air. Flicking the rod at the end of my backcast, I shook off what water had collected in the hackles then propelled the fly towards the lurking shadow.

Landing 3 feet behind the fish, I twitched the fly back across its back but it did not even glance. A haul and cast placed the fly just beyond the fish. This time, it turned but not an inch closer. I waited for the ripples from the fly to dissipate then twitched the fly again. The shadow rose from the dark depths and the unmistakable form of a Peacock Bass revealed itself. Two more quick, successive twitches and the fish lunged at the fly.

My rod hand and line hand drifted apart in one swift motion to set the hook firmly. Now, the surface of the water reverberated with the struggles of the desperate peacock bass.

Though only a small specimen, the fish felt like a 5-pounder on my very well-seasoned rod. Each swipe of its tail telegraphed through the line and the rod bucked and bowed in response. In the end, the 4x tippet held out and I triumphantly raised the fly-weight fighter up for a few victory shots.

The fly was well and truly inhaled. It was set at the back of the mouth between the gills. With a pair of forceps, I removed the fly and attached it lightly to the lip of the fish for another shot before releasing the lovely fish back to its watery abode.

That was to be the only fish I caught the whole morning but it was one that really made my day.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Fly Fish with Mel: Newly Hatched


Just tried my hand at tying Catskill flies. I wonder if I will be able to use them tomorrow?

Hook: Tiemco TMC 100 #16
Thread: UTC 140 Waxed Tan
Body: Peacock Quill
Wings: Mallard Flank Fibers (dyed with Chartpak marker - Goldenrod)
Hackle: Dun
Tail: Dun Hackle Fibers

Fly Fish with Mel: Cracking the Peacock Bass Code

Branchu Turn On

After a 2 week hiatus, I woke up today with one thought. It's time to go fishing.

Shaking the remnant Z-monsters tugging at my eyelids, I took a hot shower that brought relaxation to a body tensed with anticipation.

As I stood beneath the constant flow of steaming water, my mind wrestled with the choice of bringing my 4-wt Coho rod teamed with a Scientific Anglers intermediate Stillwater line or my Sage SPL 0-wt, with a floating 1-wt line. As I mentally ran through the contents of my fly box, a single fly kept popping up. The Branchu. It had always raised me a fish regardless of how difficult the fishing was. Thus the decision was made.

I also enjoyed driving early in the morning. Being one of only a few vehicles on the road gives you a sense of solitude that is sorely missed in the hustle and bustle of city living.

Michael had already started fishing as I pulled alongside his parked car. I disrobed my rod and started assembling it while walking to the water's edge. Years of fishing on the run has honed our skills at rigging up while on the move. With only an hour or so to fish before we had to leave, we had to be rigged and ready to fish when we get to the water.

"G'morning! Anything so far?", I inquired.

"Nope.", came a short and sweet reply.

Michael was using a small popper as was Tan, whom, I could only make out his silhouette in the distance.

When I opened my fly box, a heavenly glow centered on the Branchu(Only for visual effect. The real Branchu fly does not glow). Tying it on with loop knot, the fly already looked a winner without having caught a fish.

Where do I cast?

The water was clear; devoid of weed. They must have just cleared out the weeds. Not a good sign. Along the banks, not a sign of movement betrayed the presence of fish.

Tossing the fly into the water, I started my casting stroke, remembering the personal training I had from Michael. "slow down your cast. Keep the rod moving in the same plane. Imagine yourself using a hammer." The words continued to ring in my mind as I tried my best to overwrite the bad habits I'd picked up in the past.

Though comfortable with casting, I wanted to bring my casting to the next level. I wanted to milk out another 20 feet and I wanted to improve my presentation of the fly. The conflicting instructions fired from my brains to my arms caused the fly line to trace wild loops in the air and then crashed ignominiously into the water. Numerous failed attempts finally led to me finding the correct rhythm to send the fly line and the Branchu out 50 feet.

The initial 5 minutes was disheartening, with not a single follow or take on my fly. Then, as the intensity of the morning light increased, I noticed a black shadow in the water not 10 feet from me. As the shadow turned, it materialized into a pair of Peacock Bass. I retrieved the line and with a gentle roll cast, placed the Branchu directly behind the pair. I waited for the fly to flutter down the water column and then with long, fast strips, worked the fly between the pair. The larger of two, lethargically moved out of the way. Seeing this, I lifted the rod to re-cast the fly.

As the fly sped up to leave the water, the other Peacock Bass, surged forward but missed the fly. One false cast and I relaid the fly behind the pair. This time, I changed the rhythm of the strip to a short but quick erratic retrieve. It wasn't long before I came up tight to a supercharged Cichla Monoculus.

This feisty little critter walked me all about for a good 5 minutes. Though it was no match for my 4wt outfit, it still did not give in easily. With a solid bend in the rod, absorbing each dash and headshake, I whittled away the raw power of the bass. It was no lunker but it sure gave a good account of itself.

By sheer luck, a long cast out got caught in a enormous bed of algae and weed. Snagged deep within it, I thought that I'd lost my fly. but slow and steady pressure saw to the return of my fly. The movement also revealed the edges of the weed bed.

So I sent the Branchu out again but this time on the periphery of the weeds. Waiting for the fly to sink, a PB burst out beneath a bulge and went airborne. If you've seen footage of the launch of a Polaris or Trident missile, you'll be able to picture this scene. The fish had taken the fly on the drop and catapulted itself entirely out of the water. Thankfully, the fish was not big and the shock of re-entry was handled by the 2X tippet. Having lost an enormous amount of energy in the jump, the fish did not take long to be subdued and released.

There were a few instances too when the takes were so ferocious that the PBs missed the fly but got fouled on it instead. There was the one that go hooked in the eye but while lifting the fish to release it, the hook popped out. I was worried at first but after a few tensed minutes, the PB swam away with such gusto that I am sure it will survive.

Another small 6" peacock got fouled in its pectoral fin. My line had been flowing with the wind and when the fish took off, I thought I had hooked a bonefish. The rooster tail created by the line cutting through the water was so similar to that of any saltwater fish taking off in skinny water. The initial shock gave the fish time to find cover and I was soon fighting both fish and a long trail of weed and algae. Again, slow pressure managed to detach the weed from the bed and the fish was dragged unceremoniously back to shore with a wig of green hair.

This morning, the Branchu accounted for at least 8 pieces of peacock bass. Have I cracked the Peacock Bass Code? I will have to come back and try it again a few more times to know for sure.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Fly Fish with Mel: In Case of Emergency, BREAK GLASS!

It's Fishing Time. Literally

Finished my clock 2 days ago. Finished waxing the frame and pieced everything together.

Brought it down to show the guys at Coho(That's the tackle shop; or more like a clubhouse cum watering hole, we hang out at). Most of them liked it while many of them questioned me on how I did the 3 flies on the glass. Unfortunately, there hasn't been another commissioning for a similar one.

Well, the design will be changed a little if I do the next one but I think I would like to make one that is totally out of cork.

So here are a few pictures of the clock for you to decide if you like it or not. Comments are welcomed.

The Back and the Clock Mechanism

The 3 Glass Flies

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fly Fish with Mel: Fishing might become a sport after all

A New Hope

Immediately after my posting on fishing not being recognized as a sport here in Singapore, an email was received by our friend, TY. It was from PUB (Public Utilities Board) asking for a meeting to discuss the proposal to create a World Class Sportfishing Environment in Singapore

The meeting is being scheduled for this Wednesday, 21st September. If you have any ideas or contributions, you may want to add your comments to the post in the forum. Perhaps your contributions might help pave the way to a brighter fishing future here on this tiny island. I think we will be needing all the experienced help and suggestions in starting up this fledgling fishing locale.

But whatever it may be, I wanna thank all who have come to visit my blog, either for the first time or have so kindly revisited time and again. I hope to be able to continue providing interesting anecdotes for your reading pleasure. If you have any comments and suggestions on my site, please drop me an email or just leave a comment on my blog. And if you would like me to reply, please let me know the best avenue to do so.

Tight lines and happy fishing!

Sneak preview of my clock in progress

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Fly Fish with Mel: Immortalized Flies

Flies on Glass

No fishing again so it's back to craftwork.

Just found a couple of glass beakers I bought from Ikea.
Using diamond-tipped bits for my Minicraft rotary tool, I tried my hand at engraving a fly, a Royal Coachman, on the beaker.

And after a few apprehensive minutes, I started to get a hang of controlling the whirrring tool. With each grinding stroke, I gained confidence and line by line, the fly started to materialize on the once empty glass.

This is end result, with the Royal Coachman immortalized on the glass.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Fly Fish with Mel: Fishing is NOT a Sport. Cybergaming IS!

What a sad turn of events!

A recent Straits Times report has cited that a new National Sports Association may be created to govern cybergaming yet a recent proposal for the creation of a Singapore Sports Fishery was given a cold shoulder as Fishing is not considered a sport.

You can follow the post in our local forum Proposal For Singapore Sports Fishery

So what is considered a sport here? Any event that leads to economical gains or that, which brings fame to Singapore?

Why is it that no one sees a potential gold mine sitting in our water resources? With freshwater species like, Peacock Bass, Snakehead, Jungle Perch and Giant Gourami, and saltwater species like, Tarpon, Barramundi, Ladyfish and Mangrove Jacks; we have the resources to effectively start a sport fishery.

The only thing we lack is a proper governing body to set out the rules and legislation, and to enforce these rules. Proper education will ensure that participants of the sport will learn to appreciate and care for the natural environment they are in. Catch limits can help to ensure a self-sustaining fish crop. Or a regular re-stocking programme can be instituted with funds from the sale of fishing licenses.

Fishing is one of the most popular pastime in the world. It is also one that contributes greatly to the economies of the United States, Australia, Bahamas, Maldives. It boosts the tourism industry, the retail industry and the hospitality industry.

So with all these justifications, can we now be considered a SPORT?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Fly Fish with Mel: Another Beautiful Morn

A Royal Treat

A week has gone by without me wetting a line.

My hands twitched involuntarily at the thought of spending a hour or two this weekend at my favourite fishing hole, nicknamed the 'White House'.

The past week had been spent tying up new flies to be used in a clock that my friend had ordered from me. These belonged to a royal family of flies - The Royal Wulff, the Royal Coachman and the Royal Trude.

Since I started fly fishing, I've never caught a fish on any of the royal family of flies and so have placed them on the shelf than on the water. However, on his last visit back, my friend, Hun, showed me that these classics do work even on our local waters.

So armed with a couple of flies, fresh out of the oven, I went afishing.

Showers over consecutive days had created a cool, misty morning and as I stepped out of the car, the fresh morning air jolted the last of the slumber out of me.

In the demi-darkness, I could already hear and see the splashes made by the fish.

Around the bend on my left, I heard a loud splash and immediately made my first reach cast there.

As the Royal Trude landed, I anticipated an explosive reception but that was not to be. I waited for the ripples to dissipate before I twitched the fly and waited some more. Still no action. Stripping back quickly to recast the fly, I saw a huge bow wake surge up and chased my fly. It then gave up the chase and receded back into the shallow depths. With one back cast, I hauled the fly forward and laid it two feet from where the wake emerged. Waiting patiently, I had to hold back my natural instinct to move the fly.

Then, a vague black shadow appeared behind my fly and it disappeared in a little whirlpool.

The fly was well and truly inhaled and all I had to do was to lift the rod to set the hook. My 4wt Coho rod bucked with every head shake as the fiesty little peacock bass displayed its fighting prowess.

Now the sun was beginning to creep over the treeline to cast a slight orange hue over the water.

With each blitz, my adversary depleted its reserve of energy and over time, technology was to triumph over sheer brute strength. The strain on the rod eased and I slowly led the fish back to the bank.

What greeted me was a regal sight. 3 distinctive black bars set atop its golden green flanks, the defeated bass let me lift it out of the water with a comfort cradle.

Though conquered, it still maintainted an air of defiance as it looked me in the eye.

Not wanting to humilate a worthy opponent, I slid the barbless Royal Trude out of the mouth, took 2 quick photos and released the fish safely back into the water.

Having regained its strength lying motionless on my palm, the peacock bass bolted straight into the weeds the even before its body was fully submereged.

This was the only fish I caught that morning but I needed no more for I had come to prove that the Royal Trude did work and I had. Though the fly worked only during the short period of the magic hour when the sun was still struggling to climb above the horizon. For when the sky is lit with the warm of the sun, the bass will gladly ignore the dry fly.

Time and again, I have felt that the true satisfaction of fly fishing lies in the actual seeing of a fish rise to a fly and inhaling it and when it swims safely away when it is returned to its element. A joy that can only be understood when you have experienced it in person. A different, yet greater joy than when the fish is lying motionless on a plate.