Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fish Wars IV - A New Hope

Warning!!! - This post does not contain any exciting fishing encounters. Just more of my ramblings.

A Year in Perspective

As 2007 draws to a close, it occurred to me that I have not updated my blog for close to 8 moons. And for the many who have watched these pages closely, I offer my sincerest apologies. My writings have never been about the big fish or the many fish but I write with feelings that I gather while fishing. And it is this feeling that I've been lacking.

In terms of fishing, this year has been for me the closest to 'wandering in the desert for 40 years'. This has been the driest spell for me not having enjoyed fishing for close to 10 moons.

With the increased surveillance around our favourite bass haunts, it has turned many off from attempting to even fish, unless one is suffering from a severe bout of 'Cichla monoculus-titis' and in need of a temporary cure. Why do we have to feel like criminals, hunted down and persecuted for pursuing a perfectly legitimate past time. Just because fly fishing is not a recognized Olympic sport, we get no endorsement from the local sport council. And now, with the Marina Barrage being constructed, even the Singapore River, a favourite haunt for saltwater anglers, has been declared off limits to all fishing as it will soon become our new water catchment.

How does fishing affect our water source? Especially since many of us are fishing with artificials. Why are powerboats allowed to ply up and down in our reservoirs dragging wakeboarders while we are not allowed to haul our poppers and sliders in those same waters?

Do we dirty the waters more than our fellow sportsmen? Powerboats inadvertently will leak lubricants and petrol into the water, wakeboarders cover themselves with sunblock and then soak in the water waiting to start or at the end of their run. The wakes of the boats and the boards do more to damage the embankments more than what a hundred or more anlgers do while walking around the reservoir? Do not misunderstand, I have nothing against others enjoying wakeboarding. I only question why the double standards. Has it got anything to do with the potential financial gains?

If we are not being persecuted for dirtying the waters then why are we still not allowed to fish and why do the officers who apprehend us still use that as an excuse to discourage us from fishing? It was a good 8 months between my 'apprehension' and my receiving of my 'ticket' from the authorities. Why the long wait? Why can't I pay in advance for a license to allow me to fish peacefully and with dignity.

It has been so long since I've got a chaffed thumb from lipping a peacock bass or smelled the pungent, yet comforting 'fragrance' of my green slimy friend.

2007 has also seen my failed attempt to run a 'Catch and Release' fishery in neighbouring Malaysia. After 8 months of effort, I finally decided to pull out of the partnership. It had been a fantastic learning experience and I hope to be able to fulfill my dream of owning a fishing lodge in the coming years. If any guide or lodge owners are reading this, if you don't mind sharing your experience, please drop me a note.

And to add to my blues, my application to Games giant, Electronic Arts, was rejected. Trained in animation, I was not adequately skilled to work as a Technical Artist. So now I must decide if I should head off to pursue my further studies.

What prompted me to update this blog was a lunch appointment with a South African friend of mine who will be returning home for good. He has kindly invited me to fish for my first trout near his future home next Easter. It was not the prospect of fishing for trout that re-ignited my passion. It was Jeff's enthusiasm that rubbed off on me. If you are reading this Jeff, thanks for the invite and for re-igniting my fire.

And for those of you who have supported this blog since its inception, I just want to wish each and everyone of you a very "Merry and Blessed Christmas, and Fish-filled New Year".

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Return from the North - Lake Kenyir (Prologue)

After a 2-year hiatus from fishing in the tranquil surroundings of Lake Kenyir in Terengannu, Malaysia, I was able to finally arrange a trip to revisit this favored freshwater fly fishing locale of mine.

Covering an expanse of 260,00 hectares, which incidentally is larger than the size of Singapore, Lake Kenyir is the largest man-made lake in South-east Asia. A myriad of fishing environs are scattered throughout the lake. Small coves with lots of overhangs, small streams, waterfalls, rapids and many more provide us with many different challenges with which we can test our skills. Many indigenous species and a few introduced species provide us with hours of enjoyment.

The Hampala Barb, or known locally as the Sebarau, is one of the highly sought after fish by us, fly anglers. With a migratory habit similar to the salmon, it uses its great strength to swim up the fast flowing rapids and even leap up waterfalls to head upstream to spawn. Its range covers most of the lake but prefers to live and hunt near waterfalls and tree stumps. Even a juvenile, barely bigger than a palm can give a good account of itself on light tackle. It is the natural nemesis of the Giant Snakehead, picking of the young by using its great speed to avoid the protective parents guarding the school.

If patience is your virtue, another prized target is the Malaysian Mahseer (Tor tambra), or Kelah Merah in malay. One of the many Mahseer species around Asia, it is well-known as the King of the River. Favouring the clean clear waters of the upper reaches of rivers, an outing to fish this magnificent fish requires a long trek and sometimes, boat rides upstream. Camping out for a few days will usually increase the chances of hooking one. While teasing one to take a fly has been accomplished before, it is a very very difficult undertaking. The usual means of catching one involves chumming with a bag of oil palm fruit and then using stiff tackle, fish with a piece of the palm fruit. A stake out usually ensues with a close eye being kept on the rod, for it has been known to fly off the stand when the Kelah takes the bait. The powerful jaws can crush 5X strong hooks with relative ease and it's powerful runs can even break 40lbs tackle in a flash.

Other fish species we go for include,

the Giant Snakehead(Channa micropeltes),

Small Snakehead (Channa asiatica),

Giant Gourami,

Kelah Hijau (Neolissochilus hexagonolepis, not related to the Tor species mentioned above),

Clown Knife Fish (Chitala ornata),

Tinfoil Barb (Barbonymus schwanenfeldii),

Ikan Busoh (Oxygaster anomalura), just to name a few.

Taking a night coach, Hun, Liew and I endured the gruelling 9 hour overnight trip, traversing almost the whole of Peninsular Malaysia. With a couple of stop-overs for drinks to warm ourselves up from the incessant cold winds blowing from the souped-up air-conditioning (I'd recommend a good jacket or even blanket for anyone thinking of taking a trip up), we arrived, at around 6am, at the bus station in Kuala Terengganu. A short wait later, a familiar face appeared to welcome us. Our driver Rudi, helped us to load our gear into the 'well-used' van and drove us to, at my request, a shophouse in Chinatown that serves fantastic herbal Pork-Rib soup. Nothing like a hot bowl of soup and Chinese tea to wake the senses and loosen the well-jolted, frozen limbs.

After that, we loaded up a case of bottled water and off to the pickup point we went. From Kuala Terengannu, it is a 45 min ride up the mountain range to the edge of the lake where our host, Cheong, awaited our arrival by his 20ft fibreglass tender. Here on, it is only a 5 mins boat trip to his lodge, Musang Kenyir Lodge, located at the foothills of Mt. Tembat, in the northwest corner of the lake. I must add that this boat trip may take longer during the dry season as the water levels will drop thus blocking the most direct route to the lodge. Even then, it will only double the time to reach the lodge.

This lodge is as rustic as it can get but comfortable enough for us who like to travel on a tight budget. it used to boast a couple of floating platforms housing the chalets, a dining hall and a multipurpose hall.

However, the fragile handiwork of Man was no match for the fury of Nature. The floating chalets were washed away by a flash flood during the monsoon three seasons ago and to reduce the maintenance cost, the other platform has also been decommissioned.

Now all his chalets and facilities are located on terra firma. This small spit of high ground is straddled by two waters falls. But rest-assured, we are safe as all structures are placed well above the highest watermark. The wooden platforms are structurally safe, though I'd recommend watching your step as there may be a few loose planks here and there.

Activities for the non-anglers include karaoke, Cable TV (so you won't miss that all important soccer match), nature hikes and swimming at various waterfalls. For the fishing enthusiasts, bait fishing is allowed and there are floating platforms where you can spend the night in soaking a live bait.

However, Hun, Liew and I were there to enjoy a relaxing 3 days of fly fishing. And the plan was to fish from kayaks around the lake and also around the rock pools at the base of the waterfalls.

to be continued...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Heading North

It's been a really long holiday. Chinese New Year has always been a big thing in my family. The usual cleanup was enough to drain me. Perhaps I'm getting old. Or maybe it's just that I'm not getting enough workout time...with my rod.

No big. Tomorrow night I'll be leaving for Lake Kenyir in Terengganu, Malaysia. It will be my first trip as an organiser of a fishing trip. Will be looking forward to some quiet time fishing the lake in a kayak and also taking photos. I'll be sure to write something to post up when I get back next Monday. So, do come back and check it out. Cheerios.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fly Fish with Mel: Happy Valentine's Day!

Love is in the air and it's thicker than a summer morning's hatch of Pale Morning Duns. And like our winged counterparts, its all about finding a mate in the cloud of millions.

It's amazing how a tiny six-legged creature that has only a few hours of adult life, find that which many of us spend a lifetime searching for, cannot find.

So what will I be doing on this day of Love? Well, I did think about heading down to the waters to see if I could find any of my finned friends snuggling up to each other. Then again, I wouldn't want anyone crashing my date if I were to be so fortunate.

Valentine's Day is also a celebration of friendship, or so says He who did not have a date. And with friends, I will be spending my time. In fact a friend of mine has just returned from his working stint in Shanghai for the coming Chinese New Year Celebrations. Who knows? We may end up by the waters in the end.

Que Sara Sara! Whether you'll be spending time with you special someone or like me, spending it in the joyful company of good friends, I wish you all a very Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Fly Fish with Mel: Bass-ic Instincts

It has been almost 2 full months since I went looking for peacock bass. Jesmond, who will be on leave for the next 3 days, so kindly offered to pick me up for a spot of PB hunting.

The day was HOT! At the zenith of its arcing path, the sun beat mercilessly down upon us. The small canal that we were to fish glistened like a hundreds of diamonds scattered across the rippling surface of the water. Of the fish, there was no sign.

Out in the distance, a floating weed harvester was dredging hydrilla weeds and hauling it onto a floating barge. As the mechanical grazer munched lazily away, bits of dislodge weeds floated in towards us, pushed along by a stiff North-easterly. It was not going to be easy to cast my coho 4wt.

Walking to the mouth of the canal, my hair was ruffled despite the copious amounts of hair gel I had used. In the lee of the boom that kept floating debris out of the canal, I could see a few dark green patches that had the words Peacock Bass written all over it. Tying on my #12 hairless Woolly Bugger, I tried to lay the line across the canal, along the boom. The stiff breeze and tall grass behind, My fly went nowhere. It clung on tightly to the 3m tall grass and had to be coaxed down with a stern hand.

The North-easterly was blowing along the canal and thus wrecked havoc on my attempts to cast across the waterway. So angling my cast 45 degrees to the mind, I aimed the fly at the boom. As the rod unloaded, I could see my fly line shoot out but rapidly lose speed. The fly trailed the loop and as it tried to roll itself over, the wind pushed it back. Using the last of its built-up energy, the fly straightened out but was blown back over the boom to land nicely broadside, in the lee.

While I waited for the lightly weighted fly to descend the foot or two, I could see ominous shadows lurking beneath. When I felt that I had the fly just above the weeds, I worked the fly back in stuttered strips. The shadows worked into a flurry and my rod arced as the fly line surged forward. The assailant felt the resistant but it was already too late. The hook struck home and all peacock bass could do was to surface and try to shake off the fly.
Despite its valiant effort, the beautiful Cichla was soon raised. A few quick shots and our greedy little friend returned home safely and hopefully a little wiser.

Jesmond soon got in on the action too with his enticingly wobbly spoon lure. After warming up on a few small 3-inchers, Jesmond saw a hole open up beneath his dancing lure only to have the connection broken when the lure was spat back at him, stamped 'Return to Sender'. Ducking to avoid the lure, he could only gasp at the close encounter of the smart kind. 2 hours of fun on tiddlers, we took a break to fetch Jesmond's daughter from school and to grab a bite, we returned to an adjacent canal.

This time, the sky threatened to open up on us but was pushed back an ever stiffening breeze. had I not been wearing my real hair, my toupe would've been blown halfway around the world. I struggled to lay even 40ft of line straight. Even Jesmond was struggling to control the flight of his lure. It was his turn to draw first blood. Twice for that matter. The little critters nailed his lure practically at his feet. We battled the relentless wind and raised another half dozen peacock bass before we decided to call it quits. A gratifying outing for two friends out fishing with each other for the first time.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Fly Fish with Mel: How to Equip for a Trip to Maldives - Apparel (3)

To the uninitiated, a take from a saltwater predator usually leaves a lasting impression, literally. Many a times, I have been so mesmerized by the visual excitement of tracking my piscatorial foe to my fly that I forget to let go when my quarry decides to scoff down my offering and head straight out into the wild blue yonder. You can imagine the agony when plastic line rubs into tender water soaked flesh.

Fortunately, humans have developed the ability to learn from their mistakes. Better yet, they designed solutions for these problems. Nowadays, you'll hardly see me fly fishing for any saltwater quarries without my Waterworks-Lamson Stripper Glove.
These gloves have an extension over the index and middle finger to protect them from abrasion. They are sold individually but I bought a pair so I have full cover for both hands. Since I hold the fly rod in my right hand, the glove protects my index and middle fingers while I control the line in-between strips. The left glove protects my stripping hand but it is more for preventing me having different coloured hands at the end of my fishing trip.

These Boots are made for Walking

Since I'm on the topic of protection for limbs, I must say that the feet require the most protection. It is not the coarse grains that cause the inconvenience. On the contrary, it is the fine powdery stuff that causes the greatest damage. Add to that, all the jagged corals that lie hidden beneath the foaming waters at the surf, you may just find yourself with a pair of battered feet.

On my virgin trip to the Maldives, it is an understatement to say that I was ill-equipped. I was only wearing a pair of Teva Sandals. It was a miracle that my feet were not cut to shreds by the razor-sharp corals. On my next trip, I bought a pair of Simms Flats Sneakers that were an exact fit. I wore a pair of cotton socks confident that the shoes would keep the sand out. It did but only the larger grains. Vents in the sides of the shoes allowed powdered sand swirling in the turbulent water to enter. Building up over time, it got in-between my socks and the shoes. While sand on it's own will, at most, cause you a little discomfort; when it gets between your shoe and your feet, it starts to cause abrasive damage whenever you are walking. By the end of the first day, my feet were sore and bruised. Every subsequent day, I was left in a predicament; to bear with pain and discomfort and put the shoes back on or enjoy the comfort of bare feet and stay aboard and forgo fishing.

It took me a good long while of trial and error before I settled on a pair of Orvis Saltwater Wading Boots at the recommendation of a friend. In fact, about five of us were wearing the same design on my last trip in 2006. The boots come with a neoprene sock that has a flap that folds over to act as a sand guard. The neoprene sock acts as an effective barrier that prevents the sand from rubbing against your skin.

The hard toecap gives you peace of mind as you walk amidst the serrated edges of the coral skeleton. In fact, my toecaps still bear the scars of my last trip.

It is quite unfortunate that Orvis has seemingly discontinued this particular model of Wading Boots so I am unable to provide a link to you. However, there are many other brands of wading boots available in the market. The Simms Flats Sneakers does provide you god protection but you may want to buy a size larger and wear a neoprene sock to prevent the abrasions. As for the neoprene socks, you can try using a pair of Seal Skinz Socks.

Orvis has since released another model, the Premium Christmas Island Wading Boots. I cannot comment on this as i have yet to try it on or even see it up close. So if anyone of you who's reading this and has tried it, drop me a note on how it performs.

I must maintain that while we walk the flats and consequently the coral patches, we do so with caution even though it is usually coral skeletons that we tread upon.

During one of our forays, Gerard and I chanced upon a small patch of LIVE coral in thigh-deep waters. It was a fantastic sight.

I hope that such a revival will become a more common sight in the Maldives in the coming years.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fly Fish with Mel: How to Equip for a Trip to Maldives - Apparel (2)

One other important part of our anatomy that requires adequate protection in this harsh environment is the window to our soul, our eyes. The same UV radiation that is so damaging to our skin is also a bane to our eyes. Add to that, long hours of staring at bright, shimmering reflections off the water surface looking for that elusive bonefish can fatigue our eyes to the point of causing headaches.

Therefore, one absolutely indispensable piece of gear, is a pair of QUALITY, polarized sunglasses. Notice that I emphasize 'QUALITY'. Any simple pair of dark glasses does more damage than not wearing sunglasses. This is because the darkness of the lens causes your pupils to dilate, thus letting in more UV light. It is then imperative to make sure that you choose sunglasses that are labeled as having protection against UVA and UVB radiation.

Polarization is the cutting down of glare from the horizontal plane. This means that reflection off the water's surface is reduced dramatically, allowing you to peer through the water in search of your quarry. Without this property, you will find it almost impossible to spot the fish. The extremely bright environment of white sand and reflective waters will also tire your eyes a lot quicker as you squint to reduce the glare.

As always, there are many makes of quality, polarized sunglasses. Personally, I use Costa Del Mar and Maui Jim. I prefer wrap-arounds as they cover up most of the spaces on the sides and on the top where light can enter and still create glare. The quality of the polarization is also very good in the two pairs that I own. I haven't had much problems with de-lamination of the polarized coatings and since the models I use are all plastic, I don't really have to worry about rusting. I just give it a good rinse in freshwater at the end of every day and leave it to dry indoors.

My Costa Del Mar Fluid sunglasses have interchangeable lenses allowing me to change from sunrise (yellow) lenses ,for low light conditions; to amber (orange), for high contrast against the light sand; to grey lenses for deep blue waters. Other coloured lenses can be bought to suit other conditions too. It originally comes with 3 sets of lenses but I bought an extra set of sunrise lenses for use during my early morning forays.

My Maui Jim MJ Sport is of a one-piece construction but fits my asian face shape very well. Its lightweight frame makes it my sunglass of choice for everyday use. It sports a rose lens (reddish-brown) makes it universal for use at anytime of the day.

For daily maintenance, we carry a piece of lens cleaning cloth and solution in a waterproof bag whenever we go to shore. Since we apply loads of sunblock, you can be sure that there'll be oily smudges on the lens every now and then. A quick spray and wipe and you're ready to go hunting again. A simple ritual for us is to rinse the sunglasses in freshwater to get rid of any salt and when dry, clean the lenses with the solution once over before we replace them into their cases. In this way, we make sure that our sunglasses are where we can find them the next morning.

to be continued..

Monday, February 05, 2007

Fly Fish with Mel: How to Equip for a Trip to Maldives - Apparel

If you think that fly fishing the flats is idyllic, it is except for one fact. Being in the tropics means one thing....IT'S HOT!

A typical day starts with the sun stirring from its slumber at about 6.30am. As the great orange orb crawls from beneath its shimmering sheets, we too start to prepare for our fishing day. A fragrant hot cup of coffee and a fulfilling breakfast stimulates the body to get up to running speed. Then it is off to hit the beaches.

At around 8am, the water is still a little chilly and you're thankful you had that hot cup of black, aromatic brew to warm your body up. It will take another hour or two for the water temperature to rise. But even now, you start to feel heat of the rays that shoot out from behind the low clouds. You know that soon, you will feel the fury of that rising sun.

Of course, you can opt to take the cool option of sitting in the shade or head back to the mothership but we usually search relentlessly for fishable waters throughout the day. That's why it is imperative that we choose suitable protection gear.

The clothing of choice for us is a set of quick dry, long-sleeved Casting Shirt and pants. The reason for choosing quick dry Clothing is so that when we return from a day's fishing, we need only to rinse them in fresh water and hang out to dry. The wind will have your suit dry, ready for the next day's fishing. As such, we normally bring only 2 sets of fishing clothing to last for a nine day trip. The long sleeves will protect your arms from being burnt to Lobster Red. The long pants are necessary to protect you legs. Even though you're feeling cool in the water, the sunlight is actually being magnified by the water. You'll only realize it when you toss and turn in bed later in the night, feeling the burning sensation.

I will also recommend that these clothes be made of UV-protective materials. In the open flats, direct sunlight and reflected sunlight constantly bathe you in UV radiation so besides he sunblock, you would want to be additional protection from those scorching rays.

Also, a nice wide-brimmed hat or a duck-billed cap would do nicely to keep your cranium nice and cool. Another advantage is that it keeps the glare from straining your eyesight from above.

Should you want to keep you neck from getting burnt, you can choose to buy a hat with flaps that are detachable. These flaps help to cover the ears and the back of your neck and prevent these sensitive parts from charring.

Bandanas can also be a useful piece of clothing to pack. It's small, light and versatile. Use it under a hat or cap to add additional coverage for your neck or just use it to tie over your head.

When it gets hot, dip it into the cool water and drape it around your neck to bring soothing relief from the sweltering heat.

to be continued...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Fly Fish with Mel: How to Equip for a Trip to Maldives - Flies

Now that we've covered our weapons, we need ammunition. Just what kind of flies do you need for a trip to the Maldives?

If you brought just 3 types of flies, you'd still be able to enjoy a successful trip. Crazy Charlies in the sizes of #2 - #8 will catch you just about any reef species including groupers, snappers, wrasse, flute fish, etc...and of course, the grand prize, Bonefish.

#2 - #2/0 Clouser Minnows, will get you the same specturm of fish as a Crazy Charlie. Yes! Even bonefish. But you should be able to illicit strikes from much larger giant and bluefin trevallies.

Crustaceans form a major part of the diet of the many creatures of the flats. So a crab fly from #2 - #1/0 will draw the attention of many a hungry piscatorial adversary. And if the stars are shining on you, perhaps even a chance to hook up the highly regarded Permit.

These are but just 3 patterns that a proven on the flats of the Maldives. Our group has used a whole gamut of fly patterns except the very first fly to have ever caught a bonefish, a Royal Wulff. Some of our industrious members have even designed some original patterns.

The Carrot, a fly that is basically a Crazy Charlie with an epoxy body. Thus named for it's orange body and green wing. Used in exactly the same way as a Crazy Charlie.

I tied a Sea-bugger and even caught a squid with it. It is a derivative of a woolly bugger. I tie it with a red conehead and red and white chenille and hackles. I got the idea from the successful red-head trolling lures.

Some of the other flies that have been used include: the Bonefish Special, Surf Candy, Deceiver, Whistler, Pink Thing and the list goes on.

The next question is..."How many flies do I need?"

As a norm, we will bring along about 100 - 200 flies for a 9 - 11 day trip. All of them are packed into a few boxes that we keep aboard the motherboat. Each day we pick out a winning combination and pack them into waterproof fly boxes. These are the ones that we will work with through the course of the day's fishing.

So if you are adventurous, bring any fly pattern that you'd like to try and see what you can pull from the depths. But you can still always pack a few dozen of the proven flies to make sure you have stories to tell when you return.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Fly Fish with Mel: How to Equip for a Trip to Maldives - Leader and Tippet

It is common practice for American anglers targeting bonefish to use the longest leader they can to avoid spooking the fish. The classic bonefish havens have been under so much fishing pressure that the fish have graduated with a PhD in Capture Evasion. So it isn't wrong to say that long leaders and light tippets are a must.

In the Maldives, the bonefish may not be as plentiful but they do not spook as easily. These fish are normally caught by the locals using worms and crabs. And during any fishing season, the Maldives see probably around 200 - 300 fly anglers. I must quantify that these are purely my own estimates based on the number of anglers leaving for trips from Singapore and Malaysia and from the information gathered from the Maldivian captains. It is more common for visiting anglers from Japan and Europe to go for popping and jigging or big game fishing. Even if my numbers are underestimated, I am very sure that the fishing pressure on the flats is significantly lower than that of the Caribbeans or Florida. Thus, a long leader is considered a good to have and not a necessity.

Twisted Leader

My leader is usually between 9' - 12' long ; shorter, if I'm using a very heavy fly; even longer if there is not even a hint of a breeze. It is constructed out of 25 lbs monofilament line. I twist the line so that it technically doubles its breaking strength. This also makes the butt of my leader stiffer so that the transition from fly line to leader is gradual. It aids in turning the whole leader and therefore, the fly. Another added advantage of using such a leader is that it acts as a shock absorber. The twisting causes the line to bunch up, effectively becoming a spring, that when pulled, stretches even more than when it was a single strand.

With a 50lbs butt leader that tapers to 25lbs, with no knot to weaken it in the middle, I tie on 4' – 5' of 15lbs - 20lbs fluorocarbon bite tippet. The fly is then tied on using a loop knot and I'm ready for business. If I keep changing flies, I'll use the tippet till I am left with about 2' before I change the whole leader with one fresh from a Zip-loc bag.

I use fluorocarbon tippets as it is said to be near invisible to fish when in the water. It is also more abrasion-resistant making it suitable for use around the rocky outcrops. There is a downside to fluorocarbon tippets though. It is a lot stiffer than most monofilament leaders however, this is resolved by using a loop knot that retains the fly's action.

Even though I've followed convention and used a tapered leader, I must add that on our last trip, a mate of ours used 6' of 60 lbs leader and caught a 5lbs bonefish using a #2 Clouser Deep Minnow.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fly Fish with Mel: How to Equip for a Trip to Maldives - Fly Lines

If you thought that selecting the rod and reel was confusing enough, brace yourself for another headache.

Fly lines now come in a myriad of colours from translucent to downright gaudy. They float, sink, sink slowly, sink very quickly, sink partially and now even have multiple personalities. Fortunately, for us saltwater types, we need only pick from a small selection of an otherwise almost infinite choice.

Hot! Hot! Hot!

The Maldives bask in the sweltering heat of the tropics. Though water temperatures generally remain in the 20s(degree Celsius), the ambient temperature and some parts of the shallow flats may reach the high 30s at noon. This kind of temperature will cause traditional trout or coldwater lines to become useless. These lines typically use a single-strand monofilament core that will soften in high temperatures rendering the line unable to cast properly or turn a heavy fly.

So what you will need is a warm water or tropical line. These lines, unlike their coldwater cousins are built around a braided mono core that is capable of withstanding the incapacitating heat. Conversely, if you were to use this line in colder climates, it would stiffen to the point that the line may even crack.

Sink or Swim

So now that we've decided to get a tropical fly line, do we get one that floats or sinks? On my trips, I would take along and then choose one of three; floating, intermediate and a sink-tip.

I would normally choose a floating line if I'm fishing the surf or over very rocky drop-offs. This is to prevent the fly line from fouling in the rocks when I'm struggling with the waves, as the line remains on the surface. It also facilitates an easier pickup for a quick forward cast when a target of opportunity suddenly appears. A floating fly line with a heavy fly, for example, a deep clouser minnow, tied on will tend to lift the fly up when stripped. A 'strip-and-pause' retrieve will impart a more vertical jigging action to the fly. By changing the retrieve to a doublehanded straight retrieve, the fly will leap off the bottom and then swim straight, usually, nearer the surface. With this setup, I'm usually targeting the coral species like wrasses, groupers, emperors and GTs. My choice is either a Monic Tropical Floating Line (clear) or a Scientific Angler Bonefish Floating Line (Horizon)

If I am to be fishing mostly sand flats with scattered coral patches, I'd go for the intermediate line. The intermediate line sinks but at a slow rate of 1.5 - 2.5 inches per second. When targeting bottom feeders like bonefish and permit, you would want the fly to reach the bottom fast and for the fly to work near the bottom when stripped. A Crab fly or Crazy Charlie used with an intermediate line will quickly descend to the bottom, ready to attract the attention of a passing bonefish. If a streamer like a Deceiver is used, the line will keep the fly in mid-water even when stripped rapidly. should you be interested in using such a line, I'd recommend the Scientific Anglers bonefish taper.

As for the sink-tip, it's a combination of a floating line and an intermediate line. The main part of the line floats while the tip, translucent, sinks at a rate of about 1.8 - 2.0 ips. As I only have 6wt sink-tip, a Scientific Anglers Wet Tip Clear, I use it when I'm using my Winston XTR5 6wt. I normally use it near very deep drop-offs by the surf where I want my line to be floating but still want the fly to reach a deeper depth.

My choice of line thus depends on where I would be fishing that day. This, of course, means that prior knowledge of the terrain would be very helpful. In the absence of such information, I would go with the sink-tip as it is the most versatile.

Staying Connected

I use a braided loop on all my fly lines. This makes it easier for me to change my leader. If you don't want to be meddling with spools of leader and tippet, I would recommend using a braided loop and loop-to-loop connections. I keep pre-tied tapered leaders in small ziploc bags and change the whole leader whenever my tippet gets too short from changing flies.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fly Fish with Mel: How to Equip for a Trip to Maldives - Reels

Large Arbor or Small Arbor

With so many manufacturers coming out with large arbor reel designs, you would start to wonder if it really makes a difference. I sure did.

On my first fly fishing trip to the Maldives, I was using a Lamson 3 with my Sage RPL+. The combination was fine but when a few nice sized GTs and Bluefin trevallies took me into my backing, I had to reel really hard to gain line. After I got back from the trip and was planning another, I started to think that perhaps, I needed another reel to better handle the conditions and the fish.

Reading up on the subject, I came across the Ross Canyon series. It was one of the first large arbor saltwater reels back then. I received the CA2 just prior to my return trip to the Maldives. Packed with 120yds (110m) of 20lbs Scientific Angler Standard Backing, I was ready to do battle with the denizens of the flats. This time, I found that even when I was taken way up into my backing, I had a much easier time retrieving line. With lesser turns of the reel, I was gaining more line than I had with the Lamson 3's standard arbor. Combining rod work with relentless constant pressure from the superb drag of the reel, numerous bluefins and GTs were to succumb to me.

As good as the Ross Canyon was, it was heavy. It weighed in at 5.5oz(155g). This made it a little heavy to balance my 6 wt Winston XTR but used with my 8wt Sage RPLXi, it balanced out. This meant that I had to remove some of my backing to accommodate the thicker 8wt Bonefish taper.

On the flats, sand tended to get into the grooves on the inside of the reel and the Canyon need to be stripped to wash the sand out. This was time consuming and thus became frustrating espescially when the fish were on the bite.

Despite all these, the Ross still remains a good reel to use on the flats.

The Ultimate Saltwater Reel

In February 2005, 2 months after the Dec 26 Asian Tsunami, we planned another trip to revisit the Maldives. This was to be the trip that got me interested in another reel which I was to fall in love with and that has become my main weapon of choice on the flats.

Gerard and I paired up for most of the trip. He was using his Able Super 6 reel, anodized a brilliant red, yellow and orange; or 'Fire' as we call it.

Matching the the reel with his Winston XTR 5 7wt rod, he went on to subdue many a marauding GT and in the process, landed a whopping 29.5 pounder off the shallow flats. Not only was it's stopping power awesome, the simple design meant that the reel could be dropped on the sand and with dunk in the water, be ready for action again.

With only a single nut holding the drag knob, the whole reel comes apart to reveal 5 main seperate parts. The only real concerns are the nut, the pawl and two springs. As such, it makes maintenance in the field mere child's play, not that it requires much though. Sand got in the reel? Dunk the reel in the water and give the fly line a firm tug and the spinning reel will expel the invading grains in a flash. At the end of the fishing day, a short soak in some fresh water and up it goes onto the rack. No extra maintenance until you get home.

Despite a great blow to my pocket, I bought myself a Super 7 and used it to great satisfaction during my 2006 trip.

The Super 7's drag is a simple cork drag but boy does it pack stopping power. The way to use the reel is, upon setting the hook, let the fish take up the line to the reel. Once the reel kicks in, slowly turn the drag knob click by click until the fish slows down. if the fish slows almost to the point of standstill, you can start to pump the fish in with your rod. However, as you retrieve line, remember to loosen the drag when the fish nears you. You can count it to try and bolt the moment it sees you. It will take a while for you to understand your Abel reel but once you know its latent powers, you will start to really appreciate it as not only a thing of beauty but quality engineering.

Spoilt for Choice

Now, in the market, there are so many large arbor reels available for you to choose. It all boils down to what is the best you can afford. Most importantly, make sure that the reel you choose balances with your rod, for to fish all day, comfort is paramount.