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...