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.

Friday, January 19, 2007

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

Fly-weight, Welter-weight or Heavy-weight?

The greatest enemy a fly angler might face while fishing the flats is wind. A mere 30km/h 'breeze' is enough to drastically reduce the distance you can fish; and any faster, ruin your fishing holiday.

In the Maldives, there will always be wind but between January and May, they are at their mildest. Even so, on the windward side of the island, where the pounding surf holds prowling GTs and Bluefins, you will need to contend with a constant, sometimes stiff breeze.

Typically, saltwater flats fishing requires a faster action-rod that has enough power to punch the line through a stiff breeze. Rods in the range of 6 wt - 10 wt are the norm for us.

A 6 wt rod is perfect for days of light breeze and for fishing in the lagoons (usually in the lee of the island). As the winds pick up or if you choose to fish on the windward side (the surf, as we call it), a 7 wt - 9 wt should help to give you a little more reach. The 10 wt, in our case, is used specifically to target big bruisers. Casting 4"- 6" synthetic Clouser minnows, huge GTs are the main target off the surf or in the deeper channels. A 10 wt rod comes in really handy to turn the fish from heading straight into the corals.

My arsenal of rods include a 5-piece Winston XTR5 6wt (9') , a 3-piece Sage RPLXi 8wt (9') and a 3-piece Sage RPL+ 6wt (10'), of which, the Winston is my favourite. With travelling restrictions on flights being so strict nowadays, The Winston XTR5 rod breaks down to 5-pieces that measure just below 24" and it comes with an aluminium tube which makes it packable into most luggages. However, since my other rods are of 3-piece configuration, I chose to make my own rod case but you can also buy them off the shelf. Perhaps I will write a "how-to" for the rod case.

The Winston XTR5 (XTR is short for extreme) is listed as having a 'very fast' action. Despite it being very light, this rod is capable of handling a stiff wind and heavy flies. I usually use a line one weight above my rod's rating. Over-lining the rod, I am able to really load the rod and make it work for me. This, of course, is a personal preference.

The 10' Sage RPL+ is a gem to cast. The extra length translates into, more distance for the rod tip to travel to build up line speed. This translate to less power on my stroke since the rod does most of the work for me. On this rod, I also utilize a line one weight heavier.

My Sage RPLXi is the only rod that I do not overline. Being an 8 wt rod, it is able to handle most wind conditions on the flats, except, maybe a howling gale. I match this rod with a Scientific Angler 8wt Bonefish Taper Intermediate line.

Some of the other rods that the group have tried using include:

Winston XTR 6wt - 8wt

Winston Boron IIx 6wt - 10wt (Ultra light and slightly 'slower' than the XTR)

Sage XP 5 wt

Redington CPS 8wt

In a nutshell, bring along a faster rod to handle the changing wind conditions but most importantly, bring the rods that will allow you to enjoy the targeted species without being overkill. If the biggies come and take your offering, pray hard and play hard. With a little luck, you just might land that fish, even on a small rod.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fly Fish with Mel: What You need to Know for a Successful Fly Fishing Trip to the Maldives?

Fly Fishing Season Begins

With the change of winds from the Southwest to the Northeast, the saltwater flyfishing season in the Maldives is about to begin in earnest. Traditionally, the months between January to May have been the best for wading the flats in search for bonefish, trevallies and a whole host of other tropical species.

So if you have booked a trip to the Maldives and are not not sure what to expect, you've come to the right place.

In these upcoming posts, I will try to provide, hopefully, an in-depth guide to Fly Fishing the Maldives.

Guiding Services

Quite unlike the posh and well-oiled guiding services in the Americas and the Caribbean, the Maldivians are not as well-equipped or as adept at guiding the flats but provide excellent guiding services for the fisherman interested in popping the reefs.

What you do get is a decent Safari Dhoni that serves as Motherboat for the duration of your trip. If you opt to pay a little more, it can even be an air-conditioned Dhoni. The crew will see to your every need. 3 regular meals plus snacks of biscuits and coffee or tea in-between will ensure that you maintain your strength for the long treks along the white sands.

Utilizing a fibreglass dinghy with a small outboard, the crew will ferry you and your mates to and from shore. However, once you are on land, you're on your own.

So how do you know where to go to find the fish? For us, we have been going to the Maldives for the past decade. Combining knowledge gathered from reading periodicals and publications on flats fishing and sheer hard work, we've accumulated a wealth of knowledge. Thus we have become our own guides.

Location! Location! Location!

Not all islands are created equal. Just as, not all atolls are created equal. Maldives is blessed with many small islands grouped into atolls. Male, the capital of Maldives, is located in North Male Atoll. The majority of resorts are situated on various islands in North Male Atoll, making it a short journey by fast ferry. Seaplanes provide a faster, albeit, a more expensive mode of transfer to the resorts. It is also the only mode of transport feasible to reach some of the other resorts situated much further away in other atolls.

Our past experiences have been concentrated mainly on two atolls, Lhaviyani and Noonu. Buying a map of Maldives (refer to me previous posts) will show you which islands are suitable for fly fishing. A yellow island with a sizeable band of green will point to a large area of sand flats that should be accessible for most parts of the tide; except, perhaps the highest. Unfortunately, that's where the info trail ends. Of course, by talking to the captain and the crew of the charter, you should be able to gain some local knowledge of where and how to find the elusive Bonefish or locally known as Meemas.

However, I should add that fly fishing in the Maldives is not all that difficult. You should be able to find fish on the flats rather easily. I dare guarantee that any first timer to the Maldives who can throw forty to fifty feet of line in moderate winds, will be able to enjoy a good time with bluefin trevallies and darts. As for the bonefish, they're not called 'Ghosts of the Flats' for nothing.

For more info, here are some contacts for guiding services:

Mario Tagliante (Maldives):

William Han (Singapore):

Or just drop me an email if you can any questions.

Next: How to equip yourself for a trip in the Maldives

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Fly Fish with Mel: First Post for 2007, First Post in a year

It's been a year since I last posted my series on my Maldives trip. Since then, I've been on another "pilgrimage". In the last year, new ties have been made while some old ones were severed. In a small country like Singapore where the fly fishing community is small and the number of fishing holes even lesser, it never amazes me how difficult it is to unite ourselves for a greater cause.

I hope that 2007 will be a better year for us. There are rumours that another reservoir will be opened soon for fishing.

"Isn't that good news?"

Maybe not.

" Why not", you may ask?

Well, there are a few simple reason.

For one, if the idea of opening up the reservoir for fishing with artificials is to restrict us to a 50m wooden fishing platform, as was the case at Bedok Reservoir, then it might be better off that it remains closed. Not only was the platform not conducive for lure or fly fishing due to the awkward height of the handrails that flank the platform, it was also built above land instead of over water. I can go on and on about the flaws of the design but I guess, I should keep that as a separate post on 'How to design Platforms for fishing with Artificials'.

Besides the inadequacies of the facilities, there is a serious lack of proper rules and enforcement to maintain a productive fishery to keep the fishing interest going. What good does it do to have rules that ban the use of livebait when hordes of fishermen are still using 6" live catfish, live shrimp, live goldfish, chicken liver, etc at 'legal' fishing areas while lure and fly anglers are stopped by enforcement officers for fishing just 500m off the legal areas.

Personally, I've tried calling the authorities to report the use of livebait. But instead of getting an immediate response, I was told that they would have to call the 'relevant' authority to send their officers. Leaving my contact number, I went for breakfast and after two hours. When I passed by the fishing jetty on my way home, there they were, the same bunch of fishermen happily dunking their live and wriggling offerings.

In the US of A; in Europe; downunder in Australia; fishing is good because there are proper rules that dictate what can be taken and what has to be returned to maintain the fish stocks. Fishing licenses also provide finances to employ and train qualified rangers to enforce the rules. the money also contributes to re-stocking programs that ensures that there will always be a good supply of fish to keep anglers happy.

Indiscriminate keeping of under-sized fish and also potential breeders by local recreational fishermen, add to that the audacious use of drag nets by Thai and other foreign workers have worked together to greatly diminish a once fantastic fishery.

So it really remains to be seen, if the opening of yet another reservoir is going to be a boon or bane for our local sportfishermen.

Well, it pains me to have to re-start my blogging with such a negative note but perhaps, in my coming updates, I can provide some insights into what a fly angler or sportfisherman is looking for in the earnest pursuit of our passion.