WINTER 2020 // #27
MILKFISH TARGETING THE FORK-TAILED DEVIL By Tarquin Millington-Drake
YOKANGA THE RIVER OF DREAMS By Matt Harris
NEW ZEALAND Spring Creek Salvation
OPERATION GT Searching the Flats of Kiribati #27
DESTINATION South Africa on the Fly, Bru!
Europeâ€™s free online fly fishing magazine
Photo by TARQUIN MILLINGTON-DRAKE
WELCOME... It’s going to be a long and dark winter. So, what do you do when you can’t escape? Well, you can resign completely and try your best to keep the gradually intensifying sense of desperation and depression at bay. Or you can be a little more constructive. You can delve into fly fishing literature, crack out the fly tying vise and start prepping a bit for next season. There’s always comfort in having something to look forward to even though, at this point in time, it’s not quite clear what possibilities will lie ahead. Or you can conquer the elements and turn to your home waters for whatever winter fishing possibilities await there. For us, it’s down to either pike and perch or seatrout. The former two provide great fun when they’re not being lethargic and finicky jerks, and the latter are sometimes found in big schools (mainly consisting of smaller specimens) that daisy-chain around shallow bays or deep inside some of the many fjords. (What we’re really looking for, though, is one of the big shinychrome singles that have skipped spawning in favour of another year of gluttony out to sea – but, damn, are they tough to find!). There’s always the next issue of In the Loop Magazine to put out and with it an excuse to bunker up inside and fiddle with texts, images and lay outs while winter rages outside. Time will tell what our priorities will be, but for now we’re happy to present you with issue 27 of our magazine, which has cut deep into our fishing time this fall. The winter issue features contributions from Tarquin Millington-Drake, Matt Harris, Jeff Forsee, Peter Lyngby, Nick Van Rensburg, André Pedersen, Steven Weiss, Paul Vecsei, and more. Stay warm and safe – and enjoy the read!
Photo by TARQUIN MILLINGTON-DRAKE
Targeting the Fork-Tailed Devil by Tarquin Millington-Drake The River of Dreams by Matt Harris South Africa on the Fly, Bru! by Nick van Rensburg Searching the Flats of Kiribati by Jeff Forsee Spring Creek Salvation by AndrÃ© Pedersen Unpredictable and Uncertain Times by Tarquin Millington-Drake And much much more...
Contributors MATT HARRIS
In the Loop Magazine C/O Cast Away Media Org no: 999 320 147 www.intheloopmag.com
Matt Harris has been shooting fly-fishing images since 1999 and has been commissioned to shoot images and write articles all over the world. He has shot in Argentina, Alaska, Australia, the Bahamas, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Cuba, England, Guatemala, Iceland, Ireland, India, Mongolia, New Zealand, Russia, the Seychelles, Scotland, the USA and Zambia. Matt loves any type of fly-fishing with a passion and is happy to fish for everything from trout to sailfish, but his favourite quarries are big Atlantic salmon and Permit. See more of Matt’s images at: http://www.mattharrisflyfishing.com/
By Warwick Leslie
VISIT US ON
Although he has fished and photographed extensively around the world through his work as the MD of travel company Frontiers UK, TMD’s heart lies with the Atlantic salmon. He has fished Norway, Iceland and Russia every year for the past 20+ years. He was also President of the Ponoi River Company for 10 years and is an international Director of NASF. He is lucky to be a member of the 50lbs + salmon club. You can follow his travels and love of photography at: www.blog.millingtondrake.com.
We choose not to print this magazine and we are happy not to use paper and harmful inks as used in a conventional printing process. No portion of this magazine may be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher.
André Pedersen is a trout fisherman roaming the mountains of southern Norway where he lives. Frequent travels to New Zealand have provided him with more than a fair share of good brown trout, but what really makes his knees shake is tailing permit on the shallow Caribbean flats. The destinations he picks for his adventures really show his passion for sight-fishing, something he loves to share through pictures and writing.
NICK VAN RENSBURG
Although Nick is a freelance photographer and guide, residing in Cape Town, South Africa. After completing a marketing degree at university, Nick has pursued his love and passion for fly fishing, seeing his 25th birthday mark the 15th year with a fly rod in hand. He has represented South Africa at World Championship events, where the drive to experience more international waters was exponentially increased. Now, his year consists of a season in Tierra Del Fuego, guiding for sea-run brown trout on the Rio Grande, as well as being at home, chasing good light, and guiding for some native species on his local waters. Open to adventure and opportunity, he is eager to explore the world, as its diverse fish-related prospects fuels his hunger, and drive to forge a career in the industry. https://www.instagram.com/nick.jvr/
Jeff Forsee is a flyfishing guide based in Wanaka, New Zealand. Originally from southern Ohio, he has fully embraced a life down under but still misses largemouth bass and can’t seem to shake that accent. His work and adventures have taken him around the globe from the remote islands of the South Pacific to Mongolia, where he has spent many seasons as a guide for Mongolia River Outfitters. These days, when choosing between capturing the moment and capturing the fish, he often favors the lens over the line. His work has appeared in The Fly Fish Journal, Fly Fisherman, FlyLife, The Mission, and many online publications. If you’d like to see more, visit www.jeff-forsee.com.
Having fly fished ever since he was a kid, Peter Lyngby has been working widely across the industry as editor, writer, photographer, film producer, host, instructor, product developer, publisher, webmaster and fundraiser. With a powerful passion for northern pike, salmon, and tropical gamefish, Peter has been traveling the globe for years and is now dedicated to making fishing dreams come true for anglers worldwide through the travel agency, Getaway Fly Fishing (www.getawayflyfishing.com).
Oliver White is an American fly fisherman, globe trotter, philanthropist and conservationist. A former fly fishing guide, Oliver now runs two fly fishing lodges in the Bahamas. He has experienced first-hand how angling can impact communities and offer new strategies for protecting indigenous homelands and fisheries. As a result, he is now deeply immersed in Indifly; an initative that promotes fly fishing as a means of developing sustainable local economies while empowering indigenous communities to conserve natural resources. For more info: https://www.indifly.org and http://www.oliverwhitefishing.com
Do you have any great fly fishing photos, videos, or stories that you would like to share with our readers? If so, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We are always looking for quality material for In the Loop Magazine, and we look forward to reviewing your material.
It’s All Home Water. As anglers, we believe it’s our duty to stand for the waters we stand in and fight for a fishable future. That fight requires inspiration, dedication and a love of wild fish and wild waters. It requires real people doing real work. It requires you. Wild steelhead are a lifelong passion for Patagonia fly fishing ambassador Jeff Hickman. In Oregon, where he volunteers for the Native Fish Society, wild steelhead are in trouble due to irresponsible logging, hatcheries and a changing climate. Hickman’s commitment to stand for the waters he stands in are giving Oregon’s wild steelhead a fighting chance. Join him. PHOTOS: JEREMY KORESKI © 2020 Patagonia, Inc.
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Targeting the Fork-Tailed Devil “It’s gone,” Toby said with a melancholy look on his face. We had been well and truly defeated. “Did we make the wrong call on which way to go around the coral head?” I asked. The answer was there in the expression on his face. Toby had just hooked and, thirty minutes later, lost his first milkfish. By: TARQUIN MILLINGTON-DRAKE Photos by: TARQUIN MILLINGTON-DRAKE and ALPHONSE FISHING CO.
“They are perfectly developed to do what they do” Veteran guide Wayne had repeatedly warned us that “milkfish play dirty” and that is exactly what had happened. We had already navigated one major coral drama and survived it. Then we were towed around the lagoon back to the school of fish and, truth be known, had probably relaxed at the wrong time. The fish turned away from the main threat but wrapped us round a deeper single coral head no bigger than a folded garden umbrella. We were napping enough not to be sufficiently alert to know which way the fish went around the head and we chose the wrong way. Sean dived in with vain hope, but the fish was indeed gone. The fish were feeding like trout. They would come up on the finger, or pancake, flats facing into the tidal current with mouths open supping in algae and plankton which had been building over recent days. Once they had reached the tidal side
of the flat, they would drop back and swing round to the other side and begin the process again. Chanos Chanos Milkfish (or Chanos chanos) are sole living species in the Chanidae family. It is one of the most highly developed species of fish that swim. Their range goes from the east coast of Africa through India and southeast Asia, where they are farmed for food, through to Indonesia and the Pacific Islands. They are perfectly developed to do what they do with massive caudal fins, a highly streamlined, hard-scaled torso with secondary fins next to the main fins which fill in the tiniest of imperfections in the otherwise perfect streamlined form. Their giant eyes can see the smallest organisms and have a very thick rubbery protective covering. The mouth opens wide like a whale shark to maximise intake of zooplankton and algae.
Despite their rather tame name, milkfish are a highly respected adversary among fly fishers. Battles which have gone on for three hours or more have ended in defeat. Rods are broken regularly, leaders snapped like cotton leaving anglers bereft. Hooking a milkfish is only 25% of the process. Once hooked, guide and angler need to communicate and work together constantly to navigate holding on to the fish. At first long runs have to be handled as the fish stays with its school which has spooked, then, as it breaks away, every feature on the bottom is a potential hazard and needs to pre-empted and negotiated. Then, the final battle of wills begins and this is when rods get broken as, in their desperate efforts to secure the mighty fish, anglers pull that little bit harder. They say that one needs to pull as hard as the tackle allows all the time and if you donâ€™t, the pain and anxiety just goes on longer. Battles of over an hour are commonplace but success rates less than 50%. A fish that never tires The milkfish now sits amongst the most revered fish that can be caught on a fly rod. They do not produce lactic acid when hooked, which means they do not tire as easily as other fish.
They also have a fused gill which goes around two thirds of the torso. This large rubbery structure allows the milkfish to pump vast amounts of water processing plentiful oxygen thus tiring less. Though some shrimps have been found in their stomachs they are predominantly algae and plankton feeders therefore very difficult to catch with traditional saltwater patterns. They come on the Alphonse flats in numbers and it is possible to catch them, sometimes with small Charlie-type patterns but more often with algae patterns with a tiny tungsten bead to get it down on the bottom in the milkfishâ€™s path. Milkfish are hoovers, so do not expect them to turn or follow a fly. I have seen it once or twice but those were blue moon days. The best way to catch them is when they are surface feeding on algae bloom or plankton. The flies have a tiny blue sparkle in them and rightly so when in a plankton situation because you can see the natural blue sparkle in the water. In this instance the angler needs to get the fly in the path of the group of fish and hope that the fly will be sucked in by one of them. The key is to keep the line tight to avoid sinking but not strip and stay in maximum contact for when the take comes. A sinking fly is far less effective than one staying hanging in the top foot of the water column.
St. Francois Atoll – Alphonse Island We were on St François Atoll, the main fishing area for the Alphonse group of islands, which includes Alphonse Island, Bijoutier and St François – it is where the milkfish story began and remains the best place in the world to catch them. Alphonse is the nerve centre of the company which has wisely re-branded itself from Alphonse Island Fishing Co to Blue Safari. It now operates the majority of fishing lagoons in the Seychelles including Alphonse, Desroches, Poivre, Cosmoledo, Astove and Farquhar. The Blue Safari brand includes all manner of water activities including diving, free diving and variants of same such as diving with manta rays and sailfish etc. Their portfolio of dive sites is world class with their atolls akin to marine parks they are so full of life. As outlined in a previous blog, Alphonse comes of age, it is no longer just a fishing destination. It caters for and looks after non-fishers and divers admirably to a very high standard. This is no longer a small, amateur outfit. Blue Safari now has over 150 staff including 32 guides or captains, 18 conservation/dive guides/instruc-
tors and operates 42 boats. The latest addition to the portfolio is two super-villas on Alphonse which, combined with world-class fishing and diving must be one the best private accommodation options out there. More on that another time. Both the fishing and the diving is world class and their branding is timely given the way the world is waking up to the value and vulnerability of the oceans. Searching for feeding fish It was my turn to go for a fish. We had yielded our spot to Barrie who was broken three times and had three others come off before success. We needed to find more feeding fish elsewhere. We worked a big group that were doing exactly as Toby’s fish had been doing, feeding their way up the current on the small flat and then circling back. We had multiple superb shots getting the fly right in amongst them but no takes and each time the group would melt away to reappear somewhere else. Wayne Haselau was our extra guestguide today with Sean Wampach, partly because we are friends and partly in his guide training capacity.
We had never caught a milkfish together and were keen to set that straight. It is fair to say that Wayne can be considered a part of the aristocracy of South African Seychelles guides. He was one of the first to guide Alphonse under the US-Fly flag which began in 2000. He is part of the first generation of a stable of guides that has been coming out of South Africa ever since. The pioneers were Wayne with his friend and co-conspirator on cracking the milkfish code, Arno Matthee and Vaughn Driesel in the Seychelles, Keith Rose-Innes who came to work with me on the Ponoi in 2001 and is now the MD of Blue Safari. Derek Manson who joined the Nick Zoll team at Bella Vista on the Gallegos and later came to me on the Ponoi and Mark Taylor who also went to Bella Vista before guiding in Norway and marrying and living there and running Osen Gard. These last three form a web of running fly fishing lodges as well as Shilton reels and Flyz Inc. Generation Two were the likes of Van Der Merwe (now General Manager Alphonse Fishing Co), Babich, Boyers, Mayo and Lucas. Gen Three might argue they were even better! The likes of Topham, de Bruyn, Marshall, Musgrave, Pretorius, Reid, Simpson, Webb and Christmas are all names that would put fear into any fish in the Seychelles.
These guys are slowly getting married and either bringing their partners into the industry or moving on, making way for the next generation which might be led by a Zimbabwean, Ashby, only time will tell. I will let these guys fight it out on which generation was the most talented but as an onlooker with perspective on many levels, all of them deserve recognition. More than any nationality these guides have taken saltwater fly fishing to a new level and made things possible that were thought not. Between them they have brought us the ability to catch milkfish, triggerfish, Indo-Pacific permit and multiple other species including the Giant trevally which was hitherto an occasional lucky catch at Christmas Island. They have brought us the NYAP popper, the Flexo-crab and Sand prawn, all patterns we take for granted today. It does not stop there. Guiding in these atolls is probably the toughest guiding job there is out there and requires skill and an acute understanding of the tides and habitat these fish frequent. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, it re-
quires a superb attitude to safety and aptitude for skippering boats not only in coral infested lagoons but on the blue as well and Seychelles waters can be as dangerous as anywhere. They have gone about their business with unwavering enthusiasm and skill despite being poorly equipped at times. As one said to me, he would meet the generation above in a tackle shop in South Africa and call them Sir and pray that one day they had the chance to follow in their footsteps. These are not the only guide legends of the Seychelles. Serge Samson from the Seychelles, Yousef Shaek from Bangladesh and Matt Solon, or â€˜Irishâ€™ as he is known, all match their South African colleagues and have put in many years and still do. The first but not the last It was Wayne who hooked and landed the first ever milkfish with a guest at Alphonse. He and Arno Matthee developed flies now called the Milk Magic and Milky Dream and their variants. I now found myself standing waist deep in water with him focused on a new group of milkfish hoovering their way up the tidal current on a 25-metre flat before circling back.
This was a group of large fish and Wayne wanted me to basically nymph them. The fly had a tiny bit of sheep’s wool in it to aid buoyancy and I was to send it ‘upstream’ give it a pull to get it below the surface and then manage my line to stay in touch but create no drag. We could not believe we were getting no takes but I felt I was not going long enough, the wind was tricky. I upped my game and went longer so that the fly would drop right into the zone where the fish were beginning their cycle working their way up the current. Finally, the line tightened and I was into a fish. One giant fish seemed to be holding in the current, it was so big Wayne and I found it hard to believe that of all the fish rotating through their feeding cycle, we had hooked the giant, rarely the case but it seemed that way. Sean and Toby came forward with the boat as we ran back to them bracing ourselves for what was about to happen. We were in a vulnerable position. It was a huge fish and off the flat was a sandy patch enclosed by coral heads and we knew we could be broken off easily - there was little we could do but get as close to the fish as possible with the rod as high as possible.
Obstacles, obstacles, obstaclesâ€Ś Thankfully, it seems like the fish did not really know it was hooked. As we approached, it was nonchalant and just casually followed its school which drifted off the flat, over the coral heads and into the deep of the lagoon. We followed with great sighs of relief, but it was not long until the fish picked up the pace and we were well into the backing. It was still following its school. Our next obstacles were more mini-flats and coral heads which we negotiated by placing the boat where we did not want the fish to go. It was necessary to head it off from time to time which meant some feisty acceleration and speedy winding. Twenty minutes passed in a flash and we could not believe we had survived and were still attached to this mighty fish. It was beginning to settle into a pattern. Thankfully it stayed on the surface pulling us across the lagoon with a fly-line and about 30-yards of backing out. Whenever it was headed in the wrong direction, we used the boat to steer it to safety. It was now becoming conceivable that we could take the fish all the way across the lagoon to the sandy flat on the other
side. What was required was patience and perseverance. On the hour mark, fish and boat had made it all the way across the lagoon. The big question now was would it go on to the flat or turn. We really felt no more in control than when we first hooked it. There was no sign of weakening, no rolling or anything, the fish just kept going and we followed. We hoped it would go on to the flat, it removed the depth dimension option for the fish and the threat of coral, but it introduced the ability for the fish to streak across the flat and leave us behind. We would lose the versatility of the boat and the ability to follow at speed. A glimpse of hope On the fish powered, there was no hesitation when it reached the flat. We followed by boat as far as we could, but it was time to leave the boat and follow on foot. All of us jumped off. Wayne with the net, Toby the camera and Sean in support. At about 200 metres on the flat Wayne, who had a damaged knee due to an accident at home, knew he could not continue so the net was passed to Sean.
If we reached that stage, this was going to be Sean’s first netting of a milkfish. We needed a much bigger net but that was a problem we would address later.
stincts of netting a fish but as I witnessed no sign of the fish rolling or losing power it became clear to me that that was Sean’s only option.
Still the fish powered on and we followed. Now we had a short line, maybe ten metres and getting shorter but there was still no ability to turn the fish. The tide was going out and the fish was headed for what would become a dry flat. We just needed to stay with it and be patient. However, we realised that the leader was tangled in the fish’s tail and with every smack of the tail, the leader was taking a beating. We began to feel that the leader had a limited life. We now felt we had to make our move.
With Wayne barking encouragement and instructions from a distance and me staying as tight as I dare, Sean began to dance with the fish deftly jumping over the fish or leader as it sought to avoid his net. How he did not make an error or get caught out by the fish I will never know. Finally, Sean was able to put the net over the fish’s head and stop its progress. He had to lift the rest and try and get as much of it as he could into the net. The cry went up and we had finally landed this mighty milk.
Desperate netting attempts As the water level reduced, so the fight began to turn in our favour, but the fish was still very powerful. Understandably Sean was at a loss as to what to do. The fish would not allow him to get near and when he did it was not as if the fish was rolling to be netted. It was still powering on across the flat. Wayne was shouting to Sean to put the net over the fish’s head to stop it. That was against all my in-
With the water dropping it was necessary to walk her back off the flat to a safe place before taking some photos and releasing her. We were all exhausted but elated and delighted to see the fish make its way off the flat safely. It is rare that those “we are going to need a bigger boat” moments actually end in triumph but this time it did. We did not weigh the fish, but it measured 130 cm from nose to the end of the tail. We guessed about 40lbs.
The River of Dreams The line draws up smartly through my fingers and a colossal salmon bursts up through the glassy surface, climbing into the late golden light of the afternoon.
By MATT HARRIS
All year I dream about this moment. Through the long dreary meetings, the rain and the traffic jams. All year. Now it’s here... I’ve been fishing the Yokanga River on Russia’s Kola Peninsula for twenty years, and it has given me some of the most memorable fishing of my life. For 51 long weeks, I dream about being back on its hallowed banks. However, not since 2001 has it given me a fish bigger than the 35 pounder that I wrestled out of Golden Reach with my old friend Vova after an unforgettable battle on a bleak, snowy afternoon in early June of that year. I’ve caught plenty of special fish to 34 pounds on the Kola since then, but the real “biggie” - the monster - has eluded me. Every so often, a chance comes along to top that 35 pound fish, but, like so many other Yokanga veterans, all I have to show for those epic encounters is a succession of bent hooks, bruised knuckles and bittersweet memories.
Now, once again it’s here. Another chance. But only a chance. Bent Hooks at Boulder Alley Boulder Alley is one of my favourite beats on the Yokanga River. It is tough work. This isn’t cast and step fishing. This is hard core Yokanga stuff. Boulder Alley involves repeatedly wading carefully out across strong currents and big, slippery rocks to fish a succession of small, almost insignificant pockets that can often be covered in between one and three casts. It involves discipline and watercraft. The innumerable pockets can change from day to day, as the river rises and falls. A perfect holding spot today can be a shallow, barren little gulley tomorrow, so judicious reading of the water is imperative. However, if in doubt, give it a try: It is easy to dismiss those little, table sized mirrors and persuade yourself that it’s not worth the effort involved in getting way out into the river to access them, but this is a double-edged sword.
If you DO make the effort, you may just find a big Yokanga trophy that is rested up, and that hasn’t seen a fly due to the oversight or, dare I say, laziness of the anglers that have preceded you down the beat over the last few days. Because of this, I always fish these pockets with exaggerated care, and always advise my fishing partner to do the same. Heartbreak Now, my patience had been rewarded, and I’m once again attached to one of the Yokanga’s true leviathans. However, as any experienced Yokanga fisherman will tell you, hooking the fabulous salmon of this savage river is the easy part. Make no mistake, Yokanga is a heartbreaker. And nowhere is it more treacherous than in the minefield of Boulder Alley, where the myriad rocks can break your leader - and your heart - in one wretched second. As a result, when fishing Boulder Alley, I employ bullet-proof gear. If I haven’t already done so, I scale up to 35lb Seaguar Fluorocarbon, and check the leader frequently. I use ultra-strong Partridge Patriots for my dressed doubles and Ken Sawada doubles for my tubes. I also employ an enormous Mako 9700 reel, and endure any amount of catcalls and ridicule from my compatriots, who often advise with a grin that there are no sailfish on the Kola Peninsula.
However, the 9700 holds a million miles of backing, and its huge spool retrieves line at a remarkable rate, which can be a life-saver. As it is right now. The fish comes rocketing upstream and the Mako does its job - picking up the line at lightning speed in a way that a regular salmon reel cannot hope to do. As a result, I stay tight to my prize. Playing It Right Concentrate, I tell myself. If you pull overly hard, the fish will panic and take off downstream. On the boulder-strewn Yokanga, where following in a boat is often impossible, that normally spells disaster. Arni Baldursson – one of the best salmon anglers I know - has taught me to play the fish gently at first, so that your adversary remains relatively calm and stays in the pool. Then, slowly, as the fish tires, and is less capable of charging downstream, Arni councils to gradually build up the pressure until the battle is won. It has proved an excellent tactic over recent years.
Another great friend, Alan Coad, has also been a great mentor in my development as a salmon angler. Alan is a brilliant angler, with salmon fishing in his blood. Alan grew up fishing for salmon in his native Ireland while I was winkling humble perch and gudgeon out of the Grand Union Canal. He is way further down the track than I am in understanding the alchemy of salmon fishing. Alan has taught me a number of lessons about catching salmon. One is to always get out of the river the moment you hook a fish, and to do your level best to get downstream of the fish as quickly as possible, to cancel out the big advantage that the current offers your adversary. Alan has coached me to do so on a number of occasions including an unforgettable evening when we landed two fabulous Yokanga salmon - a 31-pound fish for Alan, and a 29 pounder for me. I remember Alan’s words now, and I’m scrambling out of the river as quick as I can, and dashing downstream.
“The plan works: the salmon obligingly charges upstream against the resistance.” I recall another of Alan’s lessons, and pull hard downriver. The plan works: the salmon obligingly charges upstream against the resistance, losing its advantage and using up its precious reserves with a succession of bulldozing runs against the heavy current and another unforgettable cartwheel that confirms what I already know. Much at Stake This is the one: The fish I’ve waited for nineteen long years to catch. My guide Edvard has run down to join me. He sees the fish jump and whistles through his teeth. “Bolshoi Sayumga, Matushka!” he whispers. I glance at my friend “Bolshoi” I concur with a grin. I’m very fond of Edvard. I’ve caught some fabulous fish to 33 pounds with his father Sasha, one of the old guard of Yokanga’s veteran guides. When Edvard started working on Yokanga in 2011, we hit it off straight away, but a wrestle with the bottle meant that Ed-
vard was unable to hold down his job, and he disappeared from the banks of the Yokanga the following year. Now he’s back, and on this, our first day of the week, he has been an exemplary guide, handling the boat with sober and expert care and advising on how to tackle each spot with real passion. The fish powers upstream again and the reel spins furiously. We go at it for long minutes, but the fish is fighting the current as well as the deep bend in the steely 15’ 10 weight rod. I dare to believe that, slowly, I am gaining a semblance of control. And then we are in trouble. The big salmon takes off, and this time its not upstream - its down. And fast. “Poyekhali” cries Edvard. “Poyekhali” means ”Let’s go!!” It is a legendary exclamation that all Russians know.
Yuri Gagarin famously uttered the words as he first went rocketing skyward, marking perhaps the zenith of the Soviet Empire as they claimed their proud victory in the space race. It’s one of our favourites, and we’re off now, stumbling and spluttering and laughing in spite of ourselves as endless yards of line cascade from the big Mako. The fish goes tearing off downstream, rampaging between the boulders, and clambering skywards again before greyhounding for the sea. This is a proper Yokanga fish, make no mistake… The Sun Disappears Far below, I glimpse the big cliff at the bottom end of Boulder Alley. There’s no way past the cliff, and if the fish gets to the boiling rapid that passes under its shadow, I know it will be curtains and I’ll be just another Harry Hard-Luck story in the lodge tonight. The big salmon thrashes up into the late afternoon sunshine once again, and it looks impossibly big - I’m shaking now, I can’t deny it - I want this fish so badly. I curse as the fish gets a second wind and sets off downstream yet again, and Edvard catches up with me and cautions me to relax. I try to heed his words, but the cliff is getting nearer and nearer, and the fish seems to have found a new lease of life, and is ploughing on downriver, despite the heavy drag.
“It is a titanic fish – a classic Yokanga brute: muscular, broad-shouldered and remarkably deep-bodied” The sun disappears behind a cloud, and an icy shower sets in. I’d foolishly convinced myself that the fish was exhausted, but this is Yokanga. These fish are different. My prize stops momentarily and then it is away once more. We are off after it yet again, slithering recklessly downstream across the rain-slick boulders. This time there is no laughter. “Drowning” Salmon Then I see it - just above the cliff is a small bay. I remember more of Alan Coad’s sage advice. Back in 2011, Alan had shown me how to “drown” a salmon, an old trick that many experienced salmon anglers know. Drowning a salmon involves pulling a hooked fish into slack, de-oxygenated water. The lack of oxygen flowing through the salmon’s gills means that the fish tires much more quickly, and it is an ideal tactic to employ on a big fish, especially one of the Yokanga’s
seemingly indomitable behemoths. I shout to Edvard and gesture my intentions. He understands instantly. As the fish approaches the water adjacent to the bay, I tighten the Mako drag still further, and the fish stops, as I had prayed it might. If it goes downstream from here, it is over. Now I am sprinting breathlessly, winding in the long yards of line with the outsize reel, and closing the distance to the fish. The fish is sulking behind a rock, close to the bank, and as I draw near, I start to gently coax it into the bay. At first it resists, and the violent headshakes have my heart thumping hard in my chest. Then, slowly, it yields, and as I ease it into the dark, tannin-stained waters of the bay, I see it close up for the first time. It is a titanic fish – a classic Yokanga brute: muscular, broad-shouldered and remarkably deep-bodied.
Impossibly Happy! I want that fish so badly. My throat is dry as the fish wallows drunkenly in the slack water, but it is not done yet. The fish finds one last ounce of strength and rages wildly on the short line. I am terrified that it will tear out the hook. Then, mercifully, it rolls over, and the white of its belly shows through the golden water. Its great tail carves up through the surface, and I know that it is finally beaten. Edvard edges out into the deep dark bay, and waits patiently, as I gingerly draw the fish towards him. Gently does it… the last few feet are unbearably tense, and then, magically, the great fish is up and over the rim, and swallowed up by the vast net. Edvard is cheering and laughing and showing me perhaps the fish of my life: “Matushka!!” He splutters wildly “Bolshoi!! BOLSHOI!!!” There are larger salmon out there for sure, but I don’t care. This one is as big as a whale and as wild as the wind. I feel impossibly happy. My friend Phil Trask, who has been
fishing upstream, comes running down to meet us, and he punches my arm with a grin. As Phil fumbles the camera out of my rucksack, we quickly weigh the fish. The scales thump down to way over forty pounds, but once we subtract the weight of the net, we calculate the fish’s weight at between 37 and 38 pounds. I am utterly elated. Phil composes a quick photograph, and I insist that Edvard is in the picture. My arms are shaking as I struggle to lift the mighty fish for the camera. It’s not the icy rain or the lactic acid. Edvard is as thrilled as I am, and I catch his eye as he declines the stupid, reflexively offered nip from my hipflask. Good on you, Edvard! Releasing a Majestic Giant I ease the fish back into the water, and, gently holding the wrist of its mighty tail, I take a few moments to admire this majestic creature as it recovers in the shallows. It is simply magnificent. Then, with an abrupt flourish of its immense tail, the salmon kicks back into the powerful current of this singular river and is gone.
“Poyekhali!” laughs Edvard again, breaking the spell, and we start our climb back up the hill to the Lodge. That night I know I will celebrate with maybe just a drink or two with my great friends, Billy Drury, Henry Mountain, Jack Meredith, Martin Vainer, Roberto Trabucco, Phil Trask and all my brothers in arms who fish this formidable and mighty river. Later that week, I sit on the porch, sipping a glass of single malt that Phil has left for me on the bench outside our room. I am too tired to kick off my waders after another epic evening session with my good friend Jack Meredith that has yielded me another spectacular Yokanga brute of 32 pounds. I think of all the adventures this wild river has afforded me, and all the great friends I’ve made, especially the guides, Vova, André, Anatoli, Sasha, and dear Vassily and Sergei, now sadly departed. I look upstream to the wild maelstrom of Boulder Alley, gleaming in the perpetual golden light of the arctic midsummer. Steam is rising off of
the water. It’s a quarter past midnight. The Macallan lights a little fire in my veins and I feel the goosebumps crawl up my arm. Nowhere gets to me quite like this river. Yokanga really is a river of dreams. Long may it stay that way. Contact: Matt Harris has been fishing the Yokanga River for 20 years, and having fished many of the most celebrated salmon rivers of Northern Europe and North America, he believes it to be the most exciting Atlantic salmon fishery in the world. The Yokanga is under a new management structure for 2020. Passionate Russian fly-fisherman Alexey Strulistov is investing heavily in the operation, with a comprehensive conservation regime and an effective anti-poaching team that will sustain and nurture this special fishery. Alexey has appointed Matt Harris as General Manager for the operation. If you are interested in discussing the fishing on Yokanga, contact Matt at: email@example.com
South Africa on the Fly, Bru!
By: NICK VAN RENSBURG Photos by: NICK VAN RENSBURG and MATT GORLEI
When the average angler thinks about South Africa, tiger fish or tropical saltwater destinations are generally the direction that most conversations go. When guiding at international destinations, itâ€™s always really exciting to be able to describe, and chat about the various fish species, and varieties of fly fishing that can be done down there on the tip of Africa. Weâ€™ve been lucky enough to sample quite a bit of this, and can assure you, that there are some very cool fish in these waters.
The first thing that most people are caught out by, is the fact that we have trout in South Africa. Both rainbow and browns can be caught in many of our rivers. We have the well-known Cape Streams, situated up in the mountains, where a few crystal clear, freestone streams, harbouring mostly rainbow trout, and a couple of known rivers with the odd buttery brown. These rivers have some epic dry fly fishing, which is generally more focused on sighting the fish, and can prove to be somewhat of a trout fisherman’s dream. Further up, in Kwa-Zulu Natal, one could find some pretty damn good stillwater trout fishing, where the prospect of landing a fish over 10lbs is feasible, and stripping large streamers in and around weed beds can be the go-to technique. The river fishing here is mostly made up of brown trout, which can also reach significant sizes. The saying “Trout don’t live in ugly places” is more accurate than ever in South Africa.
Yellowfish One of the more fabled freshwater species, would be the large-, and smallmouth yellowfish. These radical fish live in the Orange, and Vaal river systems, and can be targeted with a variety of techniques. From nymphing through to chucking streamers into structure, and swinging long lines in tails outs. Whilst smallmouth are generally known to eat heavy amounts of caddis in the rapids, they’re more than willing to decimate a streamer zipping past them. Sight-fishing to them on sandbars is pretty cool too, and we’re convinced they hit a dry purely to see how hard they can kill the fly. Its nuts…! The largemouth yellow, somewhat similar to India’s mahseer, is more prone to holding tight in structure, demanding accurate casting, adequate fly and line selection. They say this is a fish of 1000 casts, but there are some places where a double figure fish can almost be guaranteed. A 15lb – 20lb largemouth yellowfish is a seriously epic fish, but the overall experience of targeting these magnificent creatures is what makes this one of the coolest fish to travel, and fish for.
Days spent drifting down long slow pools prospecting possible lies, and frothing for the line to go tight will never be old, it can totally pass as a world-class game fish, and again, they live in some radical places. Our favourite has got the be the Orange river, an oasis paradise flowing through the Kalahari Desert. It’s absolutely stuffed with fish! The coastline Of course, South Africa has 2,798 km (1,739 mi) of coastline, which offers a unique, and challenging prospect for chucking a fly. South Africa is also in the situation, where our Western coastline is surrounded by the ice cold Atlantic Ocean, the Eastern side is covered by the warm Indian Ocean, which pretty much allows us to access and target quite a number of warm-, and coldwater species. The most fun has got to be wading the mudflats of these southern estuaries, targeting a fish known as a spotted grunter. These somewhat bream-like fish can be found tailing on the mud flats, where the
most common technique is drifting a floating prawn imitation over the flat, in the hope that one will pull a sneaky, and inhale it off the surface. Other times you can sight fish to cruising fish, and tailing fish alike, dependant on the activity and tide. Very rarely is the fishing on fire, because grunter are generally assholes, so we receive the proverbial “middle-fin” almost every time we target them. Leerfish – a local favourite Another exceptionally exciting fish to target here, and one of our favourites, is the garrick/leerfish (Lichia amia). Similar to queenfish, but with less acrobatics, and more picky the bigger they get. The garrick is a formidable fish to target, and to land one over 1 meter on a fly rod is a pretty sweet experience. Generally, they’re caught stripping baitfish and popper patterns from 2/0 to 6/0 over moving, or hydraulic water. The eats are almost always extremely visual, but intermittent. So you’ll often find yourself casting for hours, and perhaps raise a few fish. But of course, when they eat, they delete.
Ambush predators The kob, aka. mulloway in Australia, is also a fairly popular target, but demand time on the water, and perseverance. Theyâ€™re a magnificent silver fish, with a strong spotted lateral line, and a violet sheen that make each encounter that much more addictive. They are very specific to the tide, and conditions. But, when youâ€™re lucky enough to find yourself at the right place at the right time, it can be a very special experience. These fish are just happy to engulf a large streamer stripped slowly through deeper water columns, as they are to destroying a surface pattern. These fish are generally ambush predators, making drop offs, rock shelves and sandy channels some of the more specific areas to target them.
Eastern coast fishing possibilities Further up our Eastern coast, the warmwater species start playing a role, where reef fish, pelagic and trevally species start making more of a presence in targeting on a fly rod. Aside from estuaries, much of the waters up here are quite turbulent, making for tough fishing.
The estuaries, of which many are hard to access, can make for an exciting trip. The Transkei region of South Africa is very special, having a very strong traditional and cultural feel to it. Often, the places we fish here are very remote, and can really make you feel like youâ€™re in a jungle of sorts.
Come to South Africa, Bru! South Africa may not be at the top of your bucket list, but there is most certainly some seriously cool fishing to be had. If youâ€™re an adventurous angler, looking for a very unique fly fishing experience, then this should definitely be something you should look into. Over the seasons, there is always something weird and wonderful to target, with our favourite species taking top priority dependant on conditions. Many of these places have vastly different landscapes and auras, and itâ€™s largely these small appreciations that keep bringing you back, keeping the passion, and lust for adventure strong. If youâ€™re not visiting for the fly fishing, then come for its vibrancy, and uniqueness, it truly is a spectacular part of the world and will be well worth the trip!
p: Mark Welsh
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T G n o i t a Oper
Searching the Flats of Kiribati By: JEFF FORSEE
I’d never caught a bonefish before I went to Kiribati. Of course I’ve always wanted to and I knew it was about to happen, I was on my way to the world famous Kiritimati Island after all. In the Kiribati language a ti is pronounced as an s so the word “Kiritimati” (a respelling of the English word “Christmas”) has a pronunciation far less exotic than it appears. Kiritimati is one of the most prolific bonefish fisheries on the planet. My first afternoon on the flats quashed any suspicion that the hype around the fishery was at all disproportionate.
“For the first time in my life I was standing on a bonefish flat” I kind of got the idea that Kiritimati was the real deal as we began our approach into the world war two era runway in our little prop plane. After hours of flying over the big blue by way of the tropical shores of Fiji we were told to fasten our seatbelts and stow away our tray tables, which I took as my que to start looking out the window to my right.
Bonefish everywhere I didn’t catch a single bonefish that first afternoon and it certainly wasn’t due to a shortage of fish or opportunities. After driving a distance too far to cover again on foot we happily waved goodbye to our driver and a few moments later I realized that I had left all of my bonefish flies back at the hotel; all of them.
The atoll is the world’s largest and from the plane it was hard to make sense of what was land and what was flats. Kiritimati has a maximum elevation of about 43ft above sea level on an isolated hill in the southern corner of the atoll. If you’re not standing on sand you’re standing on coral when you’re on the ground there. The pancake flats are a sight to behold from the vantage point of an incoming plane. The deep blues of the inner lagoon and the maze of bleach white sand flats that infiltrate it have an almost hypnotizing effect if you stare for too long.
By the end of the week I could empty my backpack and find at least a half dozen Crazy Charlies and Christmas Crackers crawling around the inside of the bag but not today, not on day one. It turned out my guide Aaree was fresh out too, I couldn’t help but to laugh. I’m sure he was about as impressed with me as I would have been had the roles been reversed but the sentiments quickly wore off as the laughter continued to flow. It really didn’t matter, for the first time in my life I was standing on a bonefish flat.
I had a rod and a reel and a fishing guide with almost as many years guiding experience as I had life experience, it was going to be a good afternoon. Plus, I did have a box of Giant Trevally flies and as it turned out G.T.â€™s happened to not only be at the top of my list of fish to catch but they also happened to live pretty nearby to where we were standing. We spent that afternoon walking across flats and casting a trimmed down clouser minnow to bonefish who knew better while Aaree schooled me on the finer side of sight-fishing in the salt and respectable presentations. I was feeling pretty contented by the end of the day but as the story tends to go, it was then that I saw a fleeting flash behind my fly. My guide and my instinct instructed me to cast again and after a few short strips I came tight to my very first Giant Trevally. Topping the scales at only three or four pounds the fish had some growing to do before it earned the prefix that it was titled with. My guide and my 12 weight were almost brazenly underwhelmed, so I tried to play it cool but my ear to ear grin was a dead giveaway.
A tropical version of Groundhog Day A week on Christmas is almost like being in an episode of the Twilight Zone or a tropical version of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. Most of the atoll is as flat as a table top with the highest features being coconut palms. The sun sets and rises at more or less the same time every day and the temperatures and precipitation are mundanely predictable. Mid-century military infrastructure is still widely utilized on the island and is slowly being reclaimed by groves of beach naupaka. A small shrub that has tightened the undulating roads to only just passable in some places. Allied forces occupied the atoll during the second world war, and it became a nuclear testing ground for the US and UK militaries over the subsequent decades. Apathetic frigate birds, boobies and an army of land crabs give the place an almost Galapagos feel. Kiritimati functions on the IIT (International Island Time) Standard so you can for-
get your watch and your schedules when you’re there. The variety of water and species on the island are enough to keep even the most distracted anglers’ attention. I spent the week casting at a steady flow of happy bonefish on endless flats that gave true meaning to the terminology “Fish Factory.” It wasn’t long before I learned to appreciate the allure of the trigger fish either. Spooky, weird and frustratingly difficult to hook and land. I have a collection of crushed and broken stainless hooks on my tying bench at home from the unforgiving beaks of the Christmas island trigger. A short boat ride through the entrance of the lagoon and you’ll see free jumping yellowfin tuna and schools of milkfish so vast it’s almost unfathomable that you don’t hook one on every cast, it’s just the contrary in fact. I had caught quite a few giant and bluefin trevally throughout the week, both on the flats and on the inside edge of the reef.
GT’s seem to have a reputation of being fierce and reckless predators. Sometimes they live up to that reputation but after a few flighty encounters I found myself reacting with the same caution that I would on a clear South Island trout stream when I came across them. I had two days left on my trip. I had caught bonefish to my heart’s content and enjoyed a tropical paradise that not a lot of people get to see. I was going home a happy man. However, I did still have some unfinished business. Operation GT in full effect I really wanted to catch a big GT. Big is a relative term with these fish of course but I wanted a fish that required two hands and a bit of “oomph” to hold onto. My initial approach was pretty blasé but time was at a premium now and I had no idea when I’d have another shot after stepping foot on that plane in a couple of days. I decided it was time to shape up before I shipped out and I dedicated my last two days to searching for a single fish. Operation GT was in full effect.
My guides were fully on board with the program and it was great fun poking our way around the island and revisiting the places they had seen big fish in the past. I could imagine the experiences they’ve had in those locations over the years as we passed through them. I love watching a determined and experienced angler work a fishery that they know so intimately, it’s a true testament to the hunter that is rooted within all of us. We came across some pretty big fish on that second to last day, but it never quite came together for us.
“We encountered aggressive singles and a school of trevally as ravenous as a pack of hyenas” We went deep into the backcountry of the atoll on my final day. The backcountry is a protected area in which the lodges rotate their fishing days.
It’s a similar concept to our beat systems here in New Zealand, which are designed to reduce pressure and give fishermen an undisturbed experience when they are on the water. The final morning was off to a productive start, landing three or four fish in the first couple hours of the day. We encountered aggressive singles and a school of trevally as ravenous as a pack of hyenas. It seemed like the planets were aligning but it was unclear if we were going to get the opportunity that we were hoping for. Making it count It wasn’t long after we turned around for lunch that my guide Ioran spotted a big fish staunchly cruising the edge, like a warden patrolling the yard in a prison and every bit as intimidating. He was heading directly towards a coral point that wasn’t too far behind us. I hustled down to the point and laid out a cast to intercept the Trevally’s path. I couldn’t see anything from my new location because of the glare but Ioran said the cast was bang on and this wasn’t his first rodeo. The plan was to wait for the fish to come to the fly and we were in the ideal situation for that to play out.
“The fish followed through my fly like a linebacker making a game saving tackle” After a painfully long wait and just as I was able to make out the fish through the glare, Ioran gave the go ahead. I made my first strip and the GT closed the gap between himself and my fly quicker than I could blink. The fish followed through my fly like a linebacker making a game saving tackle. I couldn’t keep up with the follow through, so I quickly started moving backwards. For a brief second I wondered if maybe I had missed him. That theory was quickly laid to rest as I frantically cleared my line from catching on anything as the trevally made his dash for the lagoon. This was it; this was exactly the fish I came here for and he was currently in the process of ripping backing off of my reel at an increasingly discomforting rate.
The finish-line victory I followed him out to the drop off to keep my line clear of any edges and nervously watched as my reel keep spinning. I was eventually able to coerce him back to almost the same place he made his little slip up and Ioran was able to get a firm grip on the narrow wrist of his pitchfork tail. We knew that this was â€œmission completeâ€?. There was a mutual respect for the fish and the effort that went into catching him from both of us. Any other week on Kiritimati, that could have happened on day one and again on day two but I almost prefer this outcome. There is nothing sweeter than a finish line victory that seemed more tangible two months before the moment than it did two hours before it.
Spring Creek Salvation A season that seems to already have peaked is what awaits us this year. Weeks-on-end with high temperatures and hardly any rain have taken their toll on many of the local New Zealand trout streams. The small rivers are too warm and its inhabitants not too keen on feeding. We learn this on the first day. The decision to move south-west to a colder climate is taken already before we explore the last pool in an almost dried out mountain riverâ€Ś
By ANDRĂ‰ PEDERSEN, Images JOAKIM ANDREASSEN
A bird-like life is about to be lived, moving with the weather covering enormous distances to reach rivers scarred by floods and droughts for thousands of years. From north to south, the colossal mountain ranges rising from the edge of grassy steppes make a scenery that shortens a five-hour drive to a heartbeat day by day. As we move further south along the west coast, things are greener. The trees leaning across the road make a dense and living roof as we drive through the tunnels of mossy stems with leaves covered in fresh dew. The sound of cicadas compliments this jungle image that the west coast emanates. The rivers we cross rise in the mountain range that defines what is east and what is west on this island. They are all trout rivers, but down here, just a hundred yards from the Tasman Sea, they look nothing like it. Not before the big rivers braid out in smaller streams a few kilometers from the coastline do they appeal to people looking for trout.
The song of the bellbird is subdued in this dense and flowery forest, but we still listen to its melody for ten minutes as we stretch our legs a few miles outside the township of Whataroa. Where we are heading is a place I’ve been before. A secret little spring creek just as far south as this road goes. It’s not actually a secret. Nothing on New Zealand is anymore, but I kind of feel like it’s mine. This creek has everything as long as the angler doesn’t ask for too much. It’s narrow and short, but what it lacks in size it surely makes up for in charm. A sheltered stream in the most rural of places, winding its way silently through its meanders, never in a hurry, but calm and steady. It’s kind of mysterious this little creek of mine, even though the water is way too clear to leave anything at all to the imagination.
As the sun rises the next morning, the sharp and chilly air still has a hold of the little valley weâ€™re in. There is not much being said as we boil a pot of coffee, waiting for the sun to clear the fog and fill the first pool with light. Even Tommy is quiet at this time of day. Itâ€™s been a few years, but nothing about the river has changed. As the beautiful morning colors flatten out with the rising sun, a trout rises behind a willow. Not long after, Joakim brings his first of many New Zealand trout to the net.
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Ahrex: FLEXISTRIPPER The Flexistripper is a versatile, comfortable and easy-to-use line management system, which is extremely lightweight. It fits comfortably around your waist and you simply drop the flyline on the tray as you retrieve it. The pegs will catch the loops of line, keep them from tangling and release them again with very little resistance when you make the cast. It’s a super compact line tray that takes up very little space, so it’s easy to bring on your travels. For more information, please visit: https://ahrexhooks.com/products/flexistripper/
Nautilus Reels: X-SERIES American made Nautilus Reels represents the pinnacle of innovation, durability and excellence. With the design of the X–Series, Nautilus Fly Reels were focused on making a lightweight reel with the sublime drag power and smoothness that Nautilus has become known for. Furthermore, the rapid line-pickup and the timeless design make the X-Series stand out in the crowd. The X-Series comes in sizes from 3 to 9 covering a wide range of possibilities for fresh- and saltwater applications. The reels comes in two standard colours; brushed titanium and anodized black.
Besides the standard colours, Nautilus Reels offer custom colours on the X-Reel models, which provide a personal touch to the appearance. For more information, please visit the European distributor, The Fly Company, at: https://flyco.dk/int/
The Brand Buffet DropJaw Flies: BABY WHITEY STREAMERS DropJaw Flies is a US fly tying company that produces extremely life-like fry imitations with an immense attention to detail. We’ve had a closer look at the Baby Whitey streamers: a range of tandem-streamers designed to imitate rainbow trout fry. The flies come with a hand-painted head and a body design that incorporates extremely lively and well-matched materials. These flies look extremely convincing and they fish really well too. If you’re looking for hucho hucho, pike or big brown trout, you should check out the Baby Whiteys and the rest of DropJaw Flies’ assortments. For more information, please refer to https://www.dropjawflies.com
Pro Sportfisher: ADULT STONEFLY WING Stoneflies are fun to tie, and during spring and early summer they’re a steady part of the trout’s diet. There are numerous stonefly species in different colour nuances, and if you’re into real imitation fly tying, Pro Sportfisher offers a really cool and durable wing material. The Adult Stonefly Wings come in sheets ranging from size XXS to LG and they can be coloured with a marker pen to perfectly imitate the stoneflies at your local river. For more information, please refer to: https://www.prosportfisher.com/adult-stonefly-wing.html
Simms Guide Waders: NOW AVAILABLE IN SHADOW GREEN The legendary Simms G3 Guide Stockingfoot Waders have been upgraded and fine-tuned over the years, and weâ€™ve recently seen a new Riparian Camo-edition. Now, Simms are launching a Shadow Green version, which tie up nicely with their new Shadow Green version of the Tactical G3 Guide Jackets. The G3 Waders have all the in-river essentials you need, with Gore-Tex performance and durability that can stand up to heavy use in rugged conditions. For more information, please refer to the European distributor, Flyfish Europe A/S: www.flyfisheurope.com/simms/
Spawn Fly Fish: CRASH TEST YUMMY FLY HEADS Spawn Fly Fish produces high-quality fly tying materials and among their offerings are the Crash Test Yummy and Crew Boss Fly Heads, which are perfect for providing bulky streamers with a face that will make big predatory fish go nuts. There are three different sizes to choose from and a whole array of different colours and colour variants to help you match whatever prey items are on the menu in your local river or lake. More information can be found at the website of the European Dealer, The Fly Company: https://flyco.dk/int/
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Fulling Mill: NEW SALTWATER RANGE READY FOR LAUNCH Fulling Mill is set to release their 2021-range of flies. It will include a new series of saltwater flies, which consists of innovative new patterns for species such as permit, bonefish, tarpon, triggerfish, GTs and lots more. We’ve used Fulling Mill’s flies on lots of different tropical destinations and have found them to be among the toughest, most durable and catchy out there. For more information, please refer to: https://www.fullingmill.co.uk
Outcast: OSG CLEARWATER New for 2021 is the OSG Clearwater frameless inflatable raft featuring a clever open oarlock system, a trampoline style cargo space in the front and back, a high-back seat and an open bottom design for using fins. The OSG Clearwater measures a little less than three meters in length and 1,4m in width – and it weighs in at less than 16 kilos.
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PROFILE OF A FLY FISHERMAN: Full name: Oliver White Born: North Carolina, USA Home Country: USA Website: www.oliverwhitefishing.com Instagram: @oliverwhitefishing Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ oliverwhitefishing/ Twitter: @oliverfishing
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How did you get started fly fishing and why? I always loved to fish. As a kid it wasn’t fly fishing but as a teenager I shifted to fly and never went back. The real turning point for me was when I was in college. I had a skiing accident and broke my back. When I was recovering, I would go out in the grass and cast my fly rod, it was therapeutic and really took over for me as I healed up. What is it about fly fishing that intrigues you? I love the infinite curve. You can keep pushing along this curve forever, there is always more to figure out and learn. The travel also really resonates with me, fishing is the reason but there is so much more to it than just the fishing. You’ve travelled all over the world. What’s the most exciting places you’ve fished and why? I love the far flung and unique stuff the most. Sometimes it’s the concept of the sheer remoteness of where you are standing and waving this “stick” we call a fly rod. That idea that maybe you were the first one. Other times it can be the unique culture and people you surround yourself with.
From a pure fishing perspective, my absolute favorite is sight casting on the flats, and nothing really comes close to the Indian Ocean. My next favorite is the jungle – Bolivia, Guyana, that experience of fishing and culture is really hard to beat. My top five fishing adventures all time – Seychelles, Kamchatka, Bolivia, Tanzania, Guyana. What are the most memorable fish you’ve caught? I think I remember the ones I lost even more than those that I’ve landed. A few real memorable ones would be golden mahseer in Bhutan; mainly because they are so uniquely challenging and there was so much energy and time put into catching a couple of them. Arapaima in Guyana, one of my first big adventures in cracking the code and helping develop a fishery. There was a free swimming sailfish I caught with Jako Lucas. And my recent anak permit in Australia with Josh Hutchins – who was talking me into the fish he could see as I was wading chest deep with zero visibility. In your opinion, what characterizes the most special and memorable moments in fly fishing? For me it’s all about the connections, in every sense of the word. Everything from the connections you make with people –other anglers, guides, clients, random people you meet in your travels
- to that connection with special places and moments of time, that moment of perfection where it all comes together. Ultimately, all of it is driven by the simplest connection of being tied into a wild fish with a piece of string. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way as a fly fisherman? Don’t rush. Be humble. Give back. You’re now a father. Is it a difficult balancing act being a family guy and a globe-trotting fly fisherman at the same time? I have a unique life and it has helped shape me into the person that I am. I’m not willing to give that up but at the same time I have a desire to be home now that I’ve never wrestled with before. I expect my travels to slow down a little and hope to incorporate bringing Huckleberry with me around the world more and more. Early school in Rewa Village in Guyana could be amazing. Has fly fishing taught you anything that translates into being a better father and husband? I’d like to think so. Patience at the very least. A desire to be present and in the moment. Grateful and appreciative, and hopefully some worldly perspective and experiences to share.
What are your aspirations for the future as a fly fisherman? To do a little good in the world. That can be lots of things. Sharing my love and passion with others does this, in my opinion, and on a grander scale protecting both places and fish - but also providing a better livelihood to others, whether indigenous cultures through Indifly or just helping other guides and people in the industry figure out a better path to make this a career. In these times of environmentaland climate emergency, do you have any advice for fellow fly fishermen across the globe? We all have an obligation at this stage, so give back. With your wallet or your time or both - but do something, be active.
”REPYOURWATER | MENTAL BABY POONS” By LIVITFILMS
Keep these habitats healthy, so everyone can enjoy days like this! #RepYourWater
Artistic Down to
c Skills a Science
Paul Vecsei is a Canadian fisheries biologist and fly fisherman, who has turned his passion for wild fish species into a way of life â€“ both as a professional in the field and as an avid artist. Having specialized in scientific illustrations of fish species, Paul has documented fish in painstaking detail for more than two decades, and over the years heâ€™s illustrated hundreds of different endemic fish species, sub-species and variations. To put things in perspective, Paul has done more than 100 illustrations of brown trout alone.
Full Name: Paul Vecsei Born: 1966 Home Turf: Northern Canada and coastal British Columbia Occupation: Fisheries biologist, scientific Illustrator, underwater photographer Website: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fishasart/albums Social Media: https://www.instagram.com/fish_as_art/
Paul does illustrations for science projects, but it is a relatively recent development that he has started doing commissioned work for fellow fly fishermen and fish enthusiasts. And to this date, Paul is mainly preoccupied with fish illustrations in order to raise awareness of the miraculous species diversity out there and the acute need for us to conserve and protect the habitats that sustain this diversity.
Being an artist what is it about fishing and fish in general that intrigues you? Itâ€™s simple, shape and pattern. This could be applied, just the same, to when I was a child drawing WWII aircraft, I always loved doing side views, showing the different versions of the same aircraft and how the shape and camouflage changed over the years.
Can you tell us a little bit about your art, what it means to you and how it ties up with your passion for fly fishing? My limited fly fishing ability (only use two-handed rod), does not tie in with my art. I have real pro fly fisherman who factor in more because they land some amazing fish and often send me photos that I can use for creating upcoming Illustrations.
Itâ€™s the same with fish. Thatâ€™s why I have done over 100 Illustrations of just brown trout. Brown trout are so interesting since they can evolve into unique and bizarre creatures when allowed to evolve in isolated habitats.
You do extremely meticulous scientific illustrations of fish. How much time does it take you to finish, say, a life size brown trout? People are ALWAYS asking me that question. Irrelevant. What you need to know is that I spend more time sitting, pacing around the room and just thinking about the next steps as an Illustration takes shape. So, for every 5 minutes of actual drawing, there is maybe 20 minutes or half hour of hesitation and thinking.
Fishing has always served merely as a means to connect with these fish, to hold and photograph them, to record their appearance. And fishing is important for me because I eat fish regularly.
How do you find the peace and quiet needed to sit down and go into such incredible depth, as you do, with your artwork? It’s not as Zen as people might think. I need background sound like radio of tv while I draw, otherwise It becomes too lonely of an experience. You replicate the beauty in nature with a stunning degree of detail. Have you ever done more expressionist works of fish art? (Why/why not?) No, never, remember, this is not art, It’s scientific Illustration, with a rigorous set of rules. I’m not much of an artist but I am certainly one of the best scientific fish illustrators of our time. I stick with what I’m good at. Are there certain fish you find more interesting than others to illustrate? And are they the same fish that you like to fly fish for? Up where I live, we are able to fly fish for inconnu, as called sheefish in Alaska and nelma in Russia. These fish make great drawing subjects. At the same time, any of the salmonids are appealing. I especially love the grotesque shapes taken on by spawning Pacific salmon. If you like dinosaurs and monsters, spawning salmon is definitely for you.
Do you see any commonalities between fly fishing and doing art? None, I am an amateur at one and a master at the other. But the commonality, I guess, can be that it is all part of the fish world. Angling puts us on the water, right in fish habitat, and the drawings are a means of recording and describing our fish biodiversity. Has fly fishing helped you become a better artist or vice versa? Absolutely not. How do you split your time between fly fishing and artwork? I would say 99.999% drawing and 0.001% fly fishing. But I do lots of netting as a fisheries biologist so I’m always handling fish. What are your dreams and aspirations as an artist – and as a fly fisherman? As a scientific Illustrator, I would love to participate as a by-standard at a lodge where fly fisherman land prespawn Atlantic salmon. I want to spend a year drawing these fish and I need good photo source material. I use a fish cradle to make distortion-free photos. As a fly fisherman, anything to do with enormous brook trout in Quebec or Labrador. If any of our readers would like to get their hands on some of your art, where do they start? Facebook me, call me, I’m easy to reach.
THE ALL-NEW LITESPEED MARINE The Marine version of Litespeed is equipped with a hybrid drag system, sharing some elements of the Cobalt drag; fixed spindle, large heat wicking conical surfaces, click stop drag knob. The LS M incorporates close tolerance composite bearings, and comes equipped with the same linear spring set found on LS F, optimized for each reel size. Like our Cobalt reel, it holds an IPX8 waterproof rating to 100 ft. LS M frame and spool share the same open structure as LS F, with emphasis on greater stiffness and stability. The art of the fly reel derives from the science of the fly reel, but at the end of the day both art and science, when held in balance, serve to make us smile. Manufactured in the U.S.A. and assembled in Boise, Idaho.
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ORANGE’N’GRIZZLY PIKE FLOATER:
Floating Winter Flies for Pike Floating pike flies are normally used for explosive surface fishing during the summer months, but floating flies are, sometimes, just the right medicine for lethargic winter pike that cling to the bottom. Fly tyer, Søren Flarup, has designed a special floating pike fly for the winter months ahead.
By: PETER LYNGBY
Most people, who have fly fished for pike, have had the same experience: The pike follows the fly in a hypnotic state, but it doesn’t strike. And the colder it gets during the season, the worse the problem gets. When fishing clear and relatively shallow water on sunlit days, one might experience frustrating amounts of followers – but no contacts. However, when fishing turbid waters over dark, silty bottom in low-light conditions, one might simply get the feeling that there are no pike around at all – even though there might have been quite a bit of actual interest in the fly. This is the plight of the pike fisherman, and when winter really sets in and the temperatures plummet, convincing a pike into striking can be a difficult task – especially when using traditional pike flies. It’s not uncommon to experience pike that follow the fly all the way to the rod tip, park and stare at the fly for a long time before finally submerging and laying down on the bottom – or sedately taking off.
Why they do this is a bit of a conundrum, but there are solutions to the problem. If, for instance, you use flies that can be fished slowly enough; hovering flies that can be waved enticingly in front of the pike’s nose for long enough, the most winter-depressed pike will eventually lose its cool. Hovering above the Bottom Floating flies fished on sinking lines with short tapers is a great method for connecting with pike during the winter months. The Danish fly tyer, Søren Flarup, explains the principles like this: – Normally, the idea of pulling a fly towards the bottom will cause concerns about getting snagged, but when using a floating fly you can fish it right above all the bottom structures. Luckily, most of the tricky bottom weeds wither and fade away during the winter, and what’s left of it is brittle and can be pulled up- or apart. – Remember that sinking lines aren’t just sinking lines. They come in many different densities, and it’s not always recommended to use the ones that sink like rocks.
The whole point of using a floating fly is to be able to fish it ultra-slowly immediately above the bottom, keep the fly in the “strike zone” for as long as possible and thereby provoke otherwise winter-dwelling pike into striking. The thing is; during winter, pike salvage all the energy reserves they can, and they don’t take any unnecessary chances hunting small prey items. However, with mobile materials and a slow but lively movement pattern that’s in the pike’s face, there’s a good chance the pike will think your fly is an easy and meaty meal – and that’s high up on the pike’s menu card during the cold winter months, says Søren Flarup.
Find the Pike When the water temperatures drop, the prey fish (and with them the pike) are typically found along the drop offs. As winter progresses, both preyand predatory fish will move into the deeper areas where stable and moderate water temperature pockets are found. Søren Flarup further elaborates: – The coldest winters practically exclude fly fishermen from targeting pike on big and deep lakes. Not because the lakes might start to freeze over but because the pike settle at depths where they simply cannot be successfully targeted. – Using sinking lines, it’s possible to fish effectively at depths of up to six meters, but if the fish are found in deeper water it becomes an uphill battle that requires more than good-will and patience. I’d recommend targeting pike in small and medium-sized lakes throughout the winter, preferable in places where depth charts exist and where you can get a rather accurate idea of where to find the pike.
– Also, don’t forget about the big, slow-flowing rivers around. They are a good bet – even when the lakes start to freeze over. Here, the pike are a bit more mobile too. Quiet parts of the rivers with back eddies, undercut banks, and contradicting current lines are good places to start. The floating fly can be particularly effective when it’s being pulled down by the sinking line, while it quietly swings cross current or stops and hovers for a bit where there’s lee from the current. Even the smallest of bumps can be a pike hitting the fly, so stay focused and strike resolutely, Søren eagerly explains. Solid Strikes on Sinking Lines As previously mentioned, sinking lines are a complex phenomenon and they can be anything from slow-sinking intermediate lines to heavy grain, fast-sinking lines. When fly fishing for pike it’s all about finding the right line for whatever body of water you’ll be fishing, so the floating fly fishes effectively. Søren provides the following pointers:
– Even though the Orange’n’Grizzly Floater is designed to hover just above the bottom, it can actually be fished in the whole water column. If you use an intermediate fly line, it will slide in- or just below the surface film, depending on how fast it is retrieved and how long you let the fly line sink. As such, the fly can be used throughout the season at varying depths. However, in order to get to the bottom when the water is at its coldest, you’ll need regular sinking lines. I typically recommend Sink3 or heavier fly lines, when probing the depths. – The leaders I use run between 0,75 1,5 meters in length, including a thin wire trace. A good rule-of-thumb is that the colder and deeper the water, the heavier the fly line and the shorter the leader. You’ll just have to experiment a little, but if you snag up too often, your fly line is probably a bit too heavy or your leader is too short. Conversely, if you never feel the bottom, you’ll need a faster sinking line and a shorter leader. With short leaders, the retrieves should be both slow and short.
If you do long and relatively fast pulls, you’ll risk dredging the fly across the bottom. When fishing rivers, you can let the current do most of the work and simply provide the fly with a few tugs and twitches here and there, says Søren. Tying Tips Orange’n’Grizzly Floater is designed by Flarup to have just the right amount of buoyancy, but you can vary the pattern according to your own preferences and favourite colours. – Pay particular attention to the Booby-foam at the back end of the fly. It’s tempting to leave this out as it’s easy to find a popper head that will provide the necessary buoyancy. The Booby-foam, however, provides the fly with the right balance and makes it hover and swim in a more life-like way. If your local pike venue is littered with snags you can tie the fly with a weed-guard. – Winter pike like big prey items, and it you know where the biggest pike typically hold, don’t be afraid to use really big versions of the Orange’n’Grizzly Floater. Just be careful about adapting the amount of foam to the size of the hook and use the required rodreel-and-line setup to handle the flies, Søren Flarup concludes.
ORANGE & GRIZZLY FLOATER By PETER LYNGBY
Material List// Hook: Ahrex PR350 Light Predator # 2/0 Thread: White Veevus 150 D Floater (back): Red Booby Foam Support: Orange Palmer Chenille Tail: Orange schlappen feathers, grizzly flatwing saddle hackles and gold holographic flash on top Body (back): Orange Palmer Chenille Floater (front): Yellow Foam Popper #L Body (front): Orange Palmer Chenille Sides: Orange schlappen feathers with grizzly flatwing saddle hackles and gold holographic flash on top Collar: Yellow Ghost Hair and Orange SLF Hanks Head: Red varnish
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Unpredictable and Uncertain Times 10 November 2019, Remembrance Sunday. I am in the USA, and when I woke up this morning, I checked the BBC headlines: Woman dies and dozens evacuated as floods hit. When I returned from lunch the headlines had changed: Sydney area faces ‘catastrophic’ bushfire threat.
By TARQUIN MILLINGTON-DRAKE
Wind back to 8 June. The opening of one of the most prestigious rivers in Iceland, and all the guests are drawn to one picture in the lodge. It shows two men holding a fresh salmon each, all rugged up in huge jackets and balaclavas, with great big icebergs behind them, standing in what is clearly several feet of snow. The picture is dated 8 June 1974. Why did this picture attract such attention? The answer is because Iceland was well into what was to be the longest drought in its recorded history which began in early May and broke in late August. Some rivers had no water flowing between their pools. What little water there was, was flowing underground. Early July. Guests at Ryabaga Camp on the Ponoi bathe in a superb summer run. Those that have not fished this time of year before are blissfully unaware of how lucky they are that there are no mosquitoes in camp, a phenomenon never before experienced.
26 July. The Norwegian Flyfishersâ€™ Club bravely announce that the Gaula has closed due to drought and will reopen once better conditions prevail. August. Clients are calling from Alaska needing help to rebook accommodation because they cannot reach their destinations by road due to bush fires. Some of the rivers were the lowest veteran guides of over twenty years had ever seen. The reality was that Alaska was experiencing its own drought. Early September. Back to Ryabaga Camp, this time guests are loving the warm weather and are fishing in shirt sleeves but there is one problem, when the wind drops the mosquitoes move in. In September? Mosquitoes? October. A time when many are planning their fishing trips for the following year: I have participated in this planning frenzy for over thirty years. A new client contacted me.
He was impressed that I had listened to his objectives and liked what I had suggested. It seemed confirmation of his plans was imminent but then communication slowed. When that happens, one knows there is wavering. A counter suggestion had been made to him. I love my fishing no matter what but having fished the real Iceland with tiny flies and riffled hitch, the river counter-suggested did not appeal. However, the client had not experienced the magic that is a salmon taking off the surface in crystal clear water and just wanted to be sure of catching something for his investment of time and money. I finally convinced him of how much more of an experience I was offering but before confirming his booking his final question was to ask if I could guarantee him some fish. A simple â€œyesâ€? would have signed him up. A few years ago I would have had that conviction but that was then. Now, in October 2019, after the drought and everything else that was going on, I could no longer give him that assurance with total belief. He went elsewhere.
A time of uncertainty Things have changed so much in my thirty years that I believe that what used to be as certain as certain can be, with nature as the caveat, can no longer be so. Those 100% prime weeks, no matter where they are, salmon, trout, saltwater, jungle fishing… they are no longer the rock steady certainties they were. On the positive side, the fringe weeks, the weeks that perhaps we would rather not fish but sometimes our purse demands, those weeks are seeing magical ‘unusual’ moments of prime time like they never have before. These changes have led me to question whether we fishermen have to change our perspective and expectations. In 1991, the salmon fishing community was blessed with a reprieve. Although the outlook seems a lot worse now, the feeling then was of impending doom and gloom for Scotland’s Atlantic salmon. Iceland was not a source of lamentation but it did not feature as highly on people’s radars as it does today. Two big
changes happened. The first was the evolution of Atlantic salmon farming which we all believed would save the day for wild Atlantic salmon. (How wrong we were!) The second was the Kola Peninsula burst on to the fishing scene and travelling salmon fishers were blessed with fishing the likes of which only their fathers and grandfathers could have imagined or experienced. Many people were able to learn and take up salmon fishing who had barely set foot in Scotland. Not only did the Kola bring salmon fishing back to life but it encouraged a whole new generation on to the river. On the basic principle that experience makes a very large contribution towards the skill level of a salmon fisher, the Kola also yielded a generation of good fishermen who were broad and open-minded about techniques which were rarely, if ever, tested at home. Scotland and Iceland probably owe the Kola a debt of gratitude because it breathed new life into what appeared to be a dying sport.
Parents were able to take their children fishing in the knowledge that they would catch something which I think we all agree is the key building block to making or breaking a fisher. More and more women began to fish like they never had before and have since proven to be far more effective than their counterparts just as they were in the 1920s. There may have been many bumps in the Kola road but there is no denying the contribution it made to salmon fishing and fly fishing in general. It took fly fishing travel and propelled it forward to what it is today with fishermen venturing far and wide to catch species that people did not even know existed back then.
Salmon fishing in Russia It may have taken fifteen years to settle down but there is now no denying that June is the time of plenty for the Kola rivers from the Ponoi river southwards. Vast numbers of fish were caught during the late May and early June weeks. No matter what the river, take a week during these prime weeks and catching good numbers of salmon was a near certainty provided that one was prepared to adapt to prevailing conditions. I remember years when there was ice along the Ponoi and we were digging snow and clearing pathways in order to prepare the camp while all the time worrying if the guests should come to open the season or not. There were years when the river would come good on the Saturday the first guests arrived and they would catch 150 to 200 fish on the first day of fishing as if by magic. There were the odd years when the first week did have to be cancelled because of a late spring, especially on the Varzuga but it was not long until the extraordinary numbers were back to normal.
Then 2017 happened. Conditions nobody thought possible. Spring just did not come. When I arrived in Norway that year on 28 June, there were no leaves on the trees except in the towns. Nobody believed it possible that the bullet-proof bumper Kola weeks of early to mid-June could fail but fail they did - and further north was even worse. Some rivers never came good, others did and some got lucky such as late June and July guests on the Ponoi who could not believe their luck catching 600 to 800 fish for their week. For me, while I still view those bumper early season weeks as the most reliable salmon fishing on the planet by a long way, there is now that tiny seed of doubt. But equally, the less favoured weeks have undoubtedly proven that they should be approached with much greater optimism than they might have been in the past with 2019 another example. My point is, nowadays, one simply does not know what is going to happen.
The changes are global This is a global change and it is not reserved for Atlantic salmon or the Kola Peninsula. Just this year I have witnessed clients suffer near cyclone conditions in the Seychelles, drought in Alaska, very late spring run-off in the American West, unexpected high water and still rising in the Amazon basin. 2017 was a very poor steelhead year. I took the precaution of shying away from advising clients to go in 2018 to see how things went. It was one of the very best steelhead years ever! 2019 was one of the worst. It is rare that whole seasons are ruined and wiped out. More often results are simply more extreme, similar to the weather. In many cases the same number of fish are caught on average, particularly on the Kola Peninsula, but the bumper weeks are suddenly proving to be less predictable.
My main message is that this sport of ours that we love so much is offering ever greater experiences as the boundaries of destinations and wonderous species are rolled back but, as things stand today, there is no doubt that we are all going to have to be more tolerant of unsuitable conditions but with the potential for red letter days and bumper weeks. Things are changing and as fisherfolk we are going to have to roll with the changes and learn to adapt and make the best of them. We are going to have to understand that the best times are still likely to be the best timesâ€Ś probably, and the less prime times will likely remain the less good times, or will they?
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The Fight for Europeâ€™s Last Wild Rivers Continues The Dam Tsunami in the Balkan region, which involves more than 3000 projected dam constructions, is still set to lay a vast number of pristine rivers in ruin. It has, however, lost a bit of momentum. NGOâ€™s such as RiverWatch, EuroNatur and Balkan River Defence have mobilized against the EU, the banks, the entrepreneurs and other profiteers involved in the hydropower-axis, and with the aid of charities, donations, crowd funding and the unyielding help of passionate volunteers and activists, some progress has been made. But is it too late and too little?
Steven Weiss works at the Graz University in Austria and has recently done a new study on the conservational status of the Balkan fish species and the threats posed by the projected hydropower plants in the region. We’ve hooked up with Steve to have a chat about the report, the future of the Balkan rivers and the ongoing work to protect them from irreversible harm. Can you please tell us a bit about your background and how you’ve gotten involved in RiverWatch? I have been interested in rivers and fish since childhood as we were a bit of an angling family. My interest in trout began in my teenage years with family vacations to the Catskill Mountains in New York State (USA). From there, as a young adult, I became interested in conservation work related to NGO’s, which then further led to my University studies in ecology. In Austria, where I have been living since 1994, my research and teaching focus has been on river ecology, freshwater fisheries and the evolution of salmonid fishes (trout, salmon, grayling, etc). During my time in Austria I have witnessed an explosion of hydropower expansion and the continuous degradation of rivers in general. As my research activities spread to other countries, I noticed the same trend, especially on the Balkan Peninsula. Final-
ly, my expertise was called for during a battle over a dam right here in my home city, Graz, Austria. It was through my involvement in a local citizen’s movement here in Graz that NGOs became aware of my interest in- and commitment to river conservation. I started serving as a scientific advisor or spokesperson at various press conferences and other media-based activities for a number of organizations, including RiverWatch. I co-authored one study for RiverWatch on the Danube salmon and eventually was contracted to conduct a study on endangered fish species in Balkan rivers. You’ve recently done a new survey on the conservational status of the Balkan fish species. What are the most important findings in that survey? Firstly, the study showed that nearly all of the river fish that live only in the Balkans (i.e. the endemic species) will either lose a large portion of their habitat or even become threatened by extinction if all of the planned projects are carried out. Species that are currently endangered will likely go extinct, while many others will become endangered based on IUCN criteria. We also showed that a handful of priority projects are planned in the most beautiful and biologically rich river reaches of the region, including those containing the largest remaining habitats for Danube salmon left in Europe.
“The habitats are disappearing faster than we are able to properly describe them” In some cases, projects will negatively impact National Parks and Nature Protection Areas, which were specifically created, decades ago, to protect rivers and their wildlife. What can you tell us about the current status of the endemic trout species of the Balkan region? The Balkan region is the global diversity hotspot for trout, and probably the region where trout (i.e. genus Salmo) first evolved. Some of the most unique species, the softmouth trout, for example, are already endangered, and exist in only four river systems, the largest of which (the Neretva River, in Bosnia-Herzegovina) is threatened by a large EU-backed project. For other species, we are still trying to learn about their behavior, their distribution and other aspects of their biology, but their habitats are disappearing faster than we are able to properly describe them. What are the biggest threats to the trout species in the Balkan region? Trout in the Balkan region are primarily threatened by measures that destroy their habitat, including water abstraction, river channel regulation, gravel extraction and hydropower expansion. Of these, hydropower expansion is the threat that is increasing most intensely, throughout the mountainous regions of the Balkans where trout live. This increases the conflicts concerning water use in general, and overall demand for water is becoming more intense with the changing climate. Regions from Croatia and further south to northern Greece are predicted to lose up to 40% of their annual rainfall over the next decades – this trend combined with hydropower expansion will drive trout as well as other stream fish populations to widespread extinction.
There are lots of dam constructions projected in the Balkan region. Can you tell us a bit about the current status and what the implications of these dam constructions are – if they’re not stopped? There is a large number of small to medium scale projects already in construction. Some of the largest and most damaging projects are in the initial stages of the permitting process or in some cases have been politically approved, but not yet begun. A handful of projects have been initially stopped, as some funding sources have pulled back due to pressure, for example, from the IUCN for projects in the Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia. But even here, the state government wishes to proceed if they can find alternative funding. Most alarmingly, the European Commission has stated their support for a number of the most damaging and controversial projects that we can imagine, despite several years of concerted effort by various NGOs to work with the Commission in order to find compromises or more scientifically based planning. If these plans are carried out, I view it as the most systematic, rapid and widespread destruction of aquatic habitats on European soil during the post-war era. In addition to the direct effects on fish populations, I have tried in my study to
outline a number of long-term concerns dealing with various costs down the road, such as water-use conflicts, large-scale erosion and infrastructure instability. You’re part of RiverWatch – an NGO aimed at protecting Europe’s last wild river and their fish stocks. What has happened over the course of the last year? I support RiverWatch together with EuroNatur through consultations and media-related activities, voluntarily, and occasionally through a contracted study. I have watched them invest a great deal of energy into reaching out to the scientific community for advice, insights and additional knowledge and information, and they have continuously spread this information and their concerns directly to local governments, local NGOs, the IUCN and directly to the European Commission. Several campaigns have been initiated over the last year in order to raise awareness and engage with decision makers in the EU. Has any progress been made? Starting from near zero, there has been a great deal of success in building a network of interested organizations as well as activists. There has been increasing media attention at the international scale and where local interests are strong – for instance along rivers with an established tourism industry or fishery.
Occasionally, such as in the Mavrovo National Park, we have been able to convince the IUCN that the core goals of a National Park are under threat, and their acceptance of this resulted in the withdrawal of international funding for the projects.
At a larger-scale, over periods of decades, networks of dams lead to changes in the local availability of surface and groundwater supplies, the natural movement of sediments, and the stability of river banks, roads, and bridges due to the deepening of river channels.
Overall, however, there is tremendous frustration due to the lack of success at the European level, as the commitment of the European Commission to broadscale environmental protection seems to further erode.
Most of these processes are relatively well-described and understood from other regions, where dams have existed for centuries.
Hydropower has been deemed green energy by the EU. RiverWatch obviously disagrees. What is it about dams that is so destructive? One could start with the simple notion that there is no such thing as â€œgreenâ€? energy. There is a range of options and technologies, and all have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the scale and local needs and conditions. In academic literature, hydropower is viewed as the most environmentally destructive form of renewable energy. Primarily this is due to the direct physical destruction of aquatic habitats. But, to put it more simply, the rivers themselves are not renewable. Additionally, dams promote the spread of alien species (a major driver of extinction rates in freshwater habitats); they fragment the landscape, even for terrestrial species.
What are the most important factors in influencing and reversing the trends in the Balkan region? It is important to understand that we do not have an energy crisis, we have an environmental crisis. The major factors promoting these projects are financial (international investors favor centralized development with large-infrastructure) and political â€“ in that decision makers at the highest levels have become deaf to local environmental- and socio-economic needs, and instead primarily promote large-scale industrial interests. The overall degradation of democratic processes in connection with fear of political instability also erode both the confidence and interest of higher-level decision makers in making decisions that may very well benefit local communities, or long-term regional interest but do not serve the immediate interests of the financial and industrial lobby.
Balkan Freshwater Fish and Molluscs in Numbe
113 28% 40 69 FISH ENDEMIC FISH
listed in one of the three IUCN threat categories and/or listed in one or more of the annexes of the European Habitats Directive or Bern Convention.
ARE FOUND HERE
and nowhere else on the planet, making it one of the highest concentrations of endemic fish species in Europe.
OF EUROPE’S ENDANGERED FISH SPECIES ARE FOUND HERE
OF EUR ENDAN
making the Ba hotspot for thr molluscs whic vulnerable to development.
ARACHTHOS SPINED LOACH
49 10% APPROXIMATELY
IF DAMS ARE BUILT:
are faced with either the threat of extinction or loss of between 50 and 100% of their Balkan distribution, 11 of these are endemic so will be globally extinct.
of all of Europe’s freshwater fish species are threatened by Balkan dams. (There are around 500 freshwater fish species in Europe).
are the two most threatened taxonomic groups in Europe.
alkans a reatened ch are highly hydropower
108 113 OUT OF
fish species would become either extinct or assigned to a threat category.
What can people in the fly-fishing community do to help save the Balkan fish populations? Without a doubt, the fly-fishing community can help if better mobilized – to raise awareness both for the general public and up to the European Commission, but also for local communities. The best defense against river destruction is local community interest and that is usually based on a well-established local tourism industry centered, for example, on fishing, rafting, sight-seeing, etc. It is no secret that some of the top, or bestknown fly-fishing destinations, in the Balkans are already providing the best wall of defense, as local politicians cannot completely ignore the community’s interest. Unfortunately, many of these beautiful rivers do not have such well-developed infrastructure or a history of international tourism. Most recently, some fisheries in Montenegro, for example, have rapidly developed their connection to the international fly-fishing community, and these developments are providing an unexpected (for local politicians) form of resistance. It is not the solution for every river, but where the potential exists, it should be explored. Every individual voice can help, but we also need to explore some more concerted efforts with the fishing community. For more information, please visit: www.riverwatch.eu www.facebook.com/riverwatchAUT
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