Monday, 14 October 2013

Big girls ain't easy By Phil Wakeford

Not only are Big Girls far from easy but they can prove very expensive to entice as well and many men have been chasing them all over the world without bagging one, though they may have seen a good many and tried to tempt them. They may even have had to suffer the indignity of seeing a competitor suitor make off with the big girl they were after and whom they had spent many a restless night dreaming of. Yes these girls have got it all and don’t they know it? They often flaunt themselves in the sun near some of the most beautiful beaches in the world for all to see, but when it comes to actual physical contact then suddenly they are all coy and may disappear altogether without so much as a wink. Yet like all of their sex there are also those rare days and the right set of circumstances, when they seem to throw caution to the wind and will literally force themselves on the first suitor that happens along and makes any sort of half hearted offer to them.

Yes big tarpon can be the most fickle fish in the world when they are “not in the mood”. I can’t exactly recall when I was first attracted to a big silver king/queen (as they are often referred to) but I can say that it was a mighty long time ago. Images of tarpon adorn many T shirts and can be found in any big game fishing book, together with impressive stories of their fighting capabilities, written by famous anglers like Zane Grey and Ernest Hemmingway. Sadly they do not swim in British waters, but whenever I have found myself in warmer climes, where they are to be found, my enthusiasm has been rekindled to have a go for one.

My first opportunity arose on a family holiday to Florida back in 1998. With our young son in tow, we had done the usual visits to Universal Studios, Bush Gardens and Sea World. We had travelled south in a hire car via The Everglades and Sanibel Island ending up in the Keys, for our second week at Islamorada, right in the heart of tarpon country. One afternoon, following a recommendation made in a bar the evening before, we visited Robbie’s CafĂ© on Islamorada to feed the fish, and what a sight they were. Perhaps a hundred tarpon milling around under and around the landing stages, with sizes ranging from about twenty pounds to seventy or more. For a buck we bought a small bucket of sardines to hand feed the fish, and these girls were certainly not backwards in coming forward, nearly taking my wife’s fingers off (only joking) so keen were they to take the free offerings before another in the shoal snatched the prize away from them.

Fishing for these semi-tame (but free to leave) tarpon was naturally forbidden, as they are a tourist attraction, but feeding them and seeing/touching them at close quarters certainly leads you to the conclusion that they can’t be that hard to catch and sure enough before long I was enquiring after a captain, with boat, to take me out after them. At the time my finances were not great, and as my mate Rodders told me I was “prudent” with my money. That said these days I am retired and he is working his socks off, but I digress. Anyway a trip was booked with a local captain and the cost shared with none other than a Vietnam War veteran whom I had befriended in the aforementioned ‘Safari Club Bar’ aka ‘The Dead Animal Bar’, which is still going strong today.

The fishing proved far from easy but despite this, and the session being temporarily interrupted by a thunderstorm, both the vet (David, who had some impressive bullet wounds in his lower legs) and myself, caught modest tarpon of around 20 lbs plus a mangrove snapper of perhaps 8 lbs on the small live-baits fished under the nearby bridges.

Even though I’d had a taster of tarpon fishing I didn’t feel as if I’d been there and done that sufficiently to tick off the species on my fishy bucket list. Interest was re-kindled some years later in 2001 when discussing the species with a mate at work, Andy Hunt. Andy was fresh back from a family holiday on the island of Tobago in the Caribbean, where he had hooked and lost big tarpon from the beach and caught some reasonable ones out in a boat with a guide called Kester, who I recognised as having fished with Matt Hayes on a program for Sky TV.

Now selling a holiday to Tobago to the Mrs was not altogether difficult, though we did end up booking into the Rex Turtle Beach Hotel in the month of August which as I later found out is not an ideal time of year to chase the Big Girls. The holiday was one great success all around, and having tracked Kester down I did manage four or five morning sessions after tarpon. Having done some homework regarding tackle I had taken quite a bit with me including an up-tide boat rod (previously purchased for Mahseer) and borrowed a big baitrunner reel loaded with 65 lbs BS braid.

On my first morning out with Kester, again using small lives as bait (known generically as jacks on the island), I hooked and lost the biggest tarpon encountered on the trip. We had used the small boat to get out to the sea side of the reef at Pigeon Point, and cast baits at a pod of cruising fish in about 4 feet of water. My first cast at this pod produced a confident take and as I set the small circle hook I experienced that classic tarpon performance as five feet or more of silver king took to the air in an impressive aerial display of silver and green all covered in sea spray. This is a common reaction of a tarpon upon feeling the hook and is the image captured on a million T shirts by artists such as Guy Harvey.

Kester had told me what sort of bite to expect, how I was to let the rod be pulled down by the fish until it was pointing at it, before reeling in on a straight line and unbent rod to set the circle hook. According to him the fish would likely jump (as it did) and then head out to deeper water in its attempt to escape. Wrong! This one had other ideas and had clearly not read the book. Once the fish dropped back in the shallow water after jumping it was off at high speed across the reef. We did not have an anchor down as we had been sight fishing so we prepared to follow the fish along the reef. But as countless numbers of tarpon hunters will tell you everything is happening on fast-forward mode once you hook your fish. This is when the braid proved to be a poor choice for line as the fish ripped perhaps a hundred yards off the reel before we got underway. I felt a rasping sensation through the now fully compressed rod before it sprang, sickeningly back. The braid had been cut on the reef and my fish was again free. How big was she? Kester said 90 to 100 lbs and I had no reason to argue with his estimate.

Other trips were made during our stay which commenced with Kester picking me up at the hotel at some ungodly hour in order to launch the boat at Pigeon Point and be out on the reef for first light. We averaged a couple of tarpon per session plus some small barracuda to 20 lbs (remember the island record is 70 lbs plus!), some small tuna and Rainbow Runners and a single African Pompano.
My best tarpon from both this trip and another some 2 years later, was a modest 65 lbs but I enjoyed the sessions greatly and at 100 bucks for a mornings sport it was great value that I seriously doubt would be on offer today.

More years slipped by. Other holidays came and went, including a memorable one to the Maldives in 2010, when a single mornings fishing produced two impressive Sail-fish and a Wahoo. Jeez these big saltwater, tropical fish know how to fight and really do put our smaller freshwater species in the shade. With work out of the way (eventually) I started to think of that fishing Bucket List once again. 2012 saw an out and out, and very successful, fishing trip made to Texas after Alligator Garr in the company of Watto, Stevie Younger and Mark Gabriel, the trip written up by Steve for Pike and Preds magazine. But where to go in 2013?

The married readers amongst you will realise that being let off the leash as I had been for Texas could not be repeated on an annual basis, assuming you want to remain married that is. I considered the options for somewhere with good weather, good food and with perhaps good fishing thrown in for good measure too. Thailand was rejected following a previous holiday there which revealed that the coastal waters had been seriously denuded of many, many fish leaving some of the small, well stocked lakes on offer but they did not appeal. Antigua, Cuba and Mexico were all ruled out for one reason or another but what about a return trip to Florida?

Irrespective of what you think about the Yanks (who have many pros and cons) one thing you simply cannot argue with is the fact that they look after their fish and know the meaning of the word sustainable, which most of the world do not. To give you an example they had a very cold (for Florida) Winter a few years ago in the Keys which apparently killed off many of the Snook. So the taking of Snook for food was banned for a few years whilst the species recovered and now they are on the menu again. The taking of all species is regulated and tarpon are particularly protected. So you can fish in the waters of the Florida Keys in the full knowledge and indeed expectation of encountering good and protected fish stocks.

Exactly where and when to visit the Keys were the next questions that arose before making any booking. I had learnt from bitter experience that just booking a holiday, when it suits you and the family, is unlikely to result in good sport with the few exceptions to this for me being the fishing lakes in Thailand and my lucky morning in the Maldives. Some tarpon are resident in the Keys year round, with pockets I have seen at Robbie’s and other marinas such as that at Key West, but the main population migrate down the Atlantic Coast and pass through the Keys en route to the Gulf of Mexico during April, May and June of each year.

Having decided to stay in the Florida Keys during the month of May my wife got involved in exactly where we would rent and went searching on the internet having on-line conversations with numerous owners and realtors. Eventually a house was booked at a place called Key Colony Beach, which is part of Marathon Key, in the Middle Keys which I THOUGHT was in the heart of tarpon territory. This decision proved to be only partly true as I shall explain.

The tarpon migrate in their thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands for all I know, travelling down the east coast of America heading for the Gulf of Mexico. Much of their passage is blocked by the Keys themselves so that they are channelled through the passes between Keys and pass under the bridges connecting the Keys as the road runs from Key Largo (made famous by the Humphrey Bogart film of the same name) in the east and running out to Kew West some 100 miles away. The most famous of these bridges is without doubt the Seven Mile Bridge which connects Marathon to Bahia Honda, which on paper anyway put our holiday location in the right place.

All of the proper tarpon fishing takes place from boats as trying to control and eventually land a big tarpon from the shore is pretty much out of the question. I had intended to have a few trips with local guides/captains, to learn the ropes from them and then to hire a boat myself and do my own thing, which would obviously be cheaper and hopefully a lot more satisfying though no doubt more demanding.

By a massive stroke of good fortune I was given free use of a 22 foot boat fitted with a 90 HP engine, ideal for fishing for tarpon.
All I needed was a convenient bridge or two to head for. Problem, though we were close to a small bridge at Vaca Cut there was both heavy boat traffic through its narrow confines as well as very strong currents running either one way or the other between the Atlantic and the Gulf. My wife Maggie and I did fish here on several occasions catching barracuda, various types of snappers and grunts, some decent Nurse Sharks and a few tarpon, but none in the 100 lbs class that I was targeting.

A big consideration dawned on me now that I had tarpon fishing literally on my doorstep. Pretty much all of the guides took their clients to the larger bridges either anchoring directly under them or drifting in the vicinity of them. If I ruled out Vaca Cut, for the reasons given above, where was the next, more suitable one. Well even though we were staying on Marathon I found that the start of Seven Mile Bridge was about 7 miles away by road and considerably further by sea/boat due to shallow water. OK, you might say it’s just more time and expense for fuel and that is correct but also we need to remember when the tarpon bite best i.e. at first and last light, meaning that at least one of the journeys to and from the bridge would have to be conducted in the dark. This has it’s own problems of navigation etc as well as being in somebody else’s boat and I am a renowned prop bender.

The waters around the Keys are shallow for the most part. The boat I had available was not fitted with an echo sounder and even if it was you needed to know what the underwater topography was like and you don’t learn that overnight. The ever present risk of getting grounded, damaging the boat or more likely the prop or having a close encounter with a bridge support (remember those fast moving tides) or with a power boat “controlled” by a drunken Yank made such journeys even less attractive.

Having asked around the local bars (another tedious but necessary task) I tracked down a guide based right next to Seven Mile Bridge by the name of Bobby Manskey and Maggie and I met up with him one evening to try for a big tarpon. Bobby had been out and about earlier in the day with his cast-net and had a dozen or so prime mullet waiting for us in a cage near his mooring. I should add that mullet are the prime bait at this time of year as they too use the Keys for their migration and the tarpon feed on them heavily. But you can’t catch the mullet on bait and also they don’t last well in a net before getting in poor condition or keeling over so you need to get them within 24 hours of your trip. Not something that the visiting angler can easily do especially if they are not skilled in the use of a cast-net.
Bobby Manskey 

It was not long before we were dropping, or rather positioning our anchor at a known good spot between the new and old bridges. The tide was running fast, about as fast as the Wye flows at Ross in the Winter, and the water had masses (no exaggeration) of floating weed streaming through with it, meaning that the line had to be mended on a regular basis. Tackle consisted of a one piece 7 ft rod suitable for 20 to 40 BS line and a Shimano 6500 Baitrunner loaded with 30 lbs mono and a fluorocarbon, rubbing trace of 50 lbs. A float (known locally as a bobber) and finally a good size (7/0), good quality, circle hook on which to lip hook a live mullet, completes the set-up.

Getting the anchoring just right, so that the boat ends up between the bridges, does not rub on the bridge supports and most importantly holds in the tide can take a few attempts but without too much trouble we were soon set and sent out a couple of hapless mullet to await their fate. We were not alone and there were ten or so other boats fishing the same general area but though a couple of fish were hooked it appeared that these were lost after various periods of time being fought. So clearly we were in the right area and Bobby had hooked up a tarp here the previous night. Would I get my chance?

One of the things I like about fishing (even for carp) is the suddenness you sometimes get when a bite happens. With pike a run is often preceded by a few bleeps of the optonic or dips of the float to pre-warn you of a pick-up. Well it ain’t like this with tarpon, or at least it wasn’t with the bite I got that evening. The mullet was taken in a huge, powerful spash and associated impressive vortex. The rod was pulled down and I successfully set the circle hook by winding on a straight, pointed rod. At this point all hell broke loose as the tarpon decided to put as much distance between itself and us in as short a time as possible.

Time is now of the essence as line is leaving the oversize spool at an alarming rate and if you are not quick on your toes you would soon be spooled. There were four of us on-board (but only me fishing) and Bobby’s little helper Liah, ran to the bow of the boat to cast off the anchor line, complete with buoy, to aid location later. Quite a while later as it happened.

With the boat free and under power we were able to follow the fish, retrieve some of the lost line and indeed got the fish on a short line, where it was jumping and wallowing after about 15 minutes. Bobby shouted something to Liah and she came along-side me trying to touch the line, which I was none too keen about in case she broke the line or pulled the hook out. Apparently if you can touch the leader with the fish on then it counts as a “caught fish”. However this was not something I had in mind and wanted to fight the fish to a stand still and if possible get her on-board for a photo. Nevertheless Liah did touch the leader and I could have claimed my catch there and then and cut it off. No thank you.

At this point the tarp got its’ second wind (or was it still her first wind?) and decided to tow the boat, first in and out of the bridge supports and then way out in the Atlantic for a mile or more. I’m hazy about how far we were towed because though we had hooked up the fish in daylight it was now pitch black. Fighting a strong and largely unseen monster of a fish in the dark brings its’ own problems. Where is it? How far away? Keep it away from the prop. Get that sea grass off the line. I hope the hook holds and the line doesn’t fray. What if the commotion attracts one of the massive Hammerhead Sharks known to inhabit the area that literally eat the tarpon off the line?

After the fight of my life, lasting over an hour, we got my prize along-side and Bobby was able to lift her into the boat with the use of a hand-gaff placed in the bottom jaw and me lending a hand. With a great sense of urgency, as none of us wanted to keep this beautiful and massive fish out of the water for longer than necessary, I eventually held up my Big Girl for the camera.
Phil holds up his first 100 lbs plus Tarpon up for the camera assisted by Bobby Manskey

Admittedly the pictures we took are not the best, but I hope the reader can get a good impression of the size and beauty of my estimated 120 lbs tarpon and I have a permanent image to remind me of that special evening afloat in the Keys. A dream had been realised after many years of trying. I had done battle with one of the World’s greatest sporting fish and won. During the rest of our stay other great fish were hooked. Some came off, for one reason or another, but other monsters were brought to the boat (no more brought on-board though) including several other hundred pound plussers up to an estimated 165 lbs. At that stage I had learnt a bit about how to tame the Big Girls in less than an hour by really taking the fight to them and constantly trying to throw them off balance with side strain.

I could go on even longer about fishing for these magnificent creatures in fantastic surroundings but I don’t want to spoil your day more than I probably already have. Go on, save up your pennies and convince the Mrs that you should spend some time in the Florida Keys chasing some of the local Big Girls.
A Strong Tarpon est' at 140lb swimming away

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Sixteen hours and seven in the kitchen revisited by Stewart Laws

                        Sixteen hours and seven ... revisited

The accommodation was telling just by pulling up on the concrete apron, who has 5 boats parked up in the backyard... well it seems just about everyone in Castlerock does ! Add to the American dream  the obligatory big truck, nothing is understated here.
Challenging for any able bodied 6' plus let alone someone with a propensity towards dwarfism.
A fact not lost on a 5'8" short legged tea swilling psychotic Englishman, my manliness will never again attain such heights back on this side of the Atlantic.

Mines bigger than yours

I could of parked my discovery in the back of this thing and space for the rocking chair
The house we were to spend our week in resided on Lake Silver and in the garden sat in  rough grass unceremoniously a 15' portabote like an unloved toy, looking round there was 4 other forms of craft and in the garage ( Aladdin's cave ) was an assortment of engines and electric props.

                                                       View from the house

Every boat on the lake  bristling with horsepower, slow was not an option whilst moving swims,Fuel comes in at $ 4 a Gallon,and they bemoan that... ( come to boomtime Britain boys ).
The fishing style was frenetic, with surface lures been stripped at breakneck speed by  some of the locals,largemouth Bass the target primarily.
                                              A very small section of Lake Silver

The main fishing on this lake was the Bass though it would seem that the timings of my visit was not to be in my favour, a few diehards  that were stripping surface lures and failing ( Americans have an affinity to lure fishing )  while the float and worm guys were catching, the fish movement was colossal yet takes on lures mythical, I seen one fish taken on a lure, plenty using bait though.
Lake Silver holds some specimen Bass, and they hold  big money tournaments, big prizes and serious sponsorship, to it would appear every angler.

The 3 days I spent afloat was rather one of hope and perseverance.... the early mornings paid dividends in fish location, find a lily pad and sure enough a fish would be there, see the above photo and you get the picture.
This was going to be fish in a barrel surely... the views were stunning, the calm surroundings belied the turmoil around the lake under the surface, even I was going to bag up.... how wrong, every cast was the one, the one that was going to haul up a specimen fish, the Blankety blank cheque book AND pen awaited me.

Time for a rethink.

Prior to the spells afloat we visited Cabella's the Mecca of anything or anyone who hunts, shoots and fishes.
Now as someone who has always gravitated around such places back home, and for those of you who are similar in your habits,you may have made the assertion that women do not enter these testosterone fuelled places, in America they made up a large percentage of customers, in fact the whole place was more akin to a family day out with women and children handling rods, guns and looking at the latest boat or ATV.

Now I liked this place

                                                                  A Tiger Musky

The Fish tank was amazing with 2 tanks around 30 - 35 ft long, with every type of freshwater fish to be found in the USA.
The location of the tanks were under the display of trophy animals that made up a mountain scene, with a river running through it, all this in the entrance hall, so as you walk in you are greeted not only by a salesperson but what appears a 1000 pairs of eyes, all peering at you, this was awe inspired.

                                                          God Bless America

This pose nearly warranted an armed response unit from the Cabella's customer awareness focus group to intervene, thankfully when they seen me head to the gun section they relaxed...... I know what you're all thinking ...... British Beef..... or for those that do know me BSE.

Several hours passed and with several carrier bags we departed, rather overwhelmed by sheer choice, trying to think of a suitable analogy to describe the experience but suffice to say it was a semi erect experience.


By now local knowledge was going to be king.... A little bit about Castlerock, it has 2135 inhabitants and 12 churches of various denomination, every household bears arms and they all fly the stars and stripes, look at the bike in the picture below ( no one was immune to patriotism ).

Every homestead has various signs up with reference to trespassing or violations and with overtly threatening meanings this is what greeted us when we went to meet a neighbour on the hillside.

Bravado or meaningful, I was unsure at the time, but my mind was erring on bravado, lets just say trespassing in America can take on a whole different meaning to here for sure as I was to discover.

Dick Gloria and Steve

Local knowledge meant knocking on the door to our kindly neighbour, Dick was a largish chap, age undetermined but around 65 plus, wife Gloria a kindly soul and their son Steve, outback cutting up wood.... all 6' 6" of him.

I explained to Dick the fishing I wanted was Tiger Muskie or the Northern Pike, sucking of air and shaking of head....Not round here came the reply, now Dick had a fleet of crab fishing boats that was hauling Dungeness crabs, not unlike the 'Worlds Deadliest Catch' and he still fishes every week on the coast, though the boats now gone save for recreational use ( 3-4 boats dotted around the place confirms the American's Love of boats in this family ) 

Dick said we had best speak to Steve who was sawing up timber outback, well a quick introduction with a few vague words mentioned, I finally got an offer to fish with Steve, now he was either preoccupied or just pissed at having to saw timber in 30deg I walked back bemused and unsure at how concrete the offer was..... All of a sudden Steve came charging round like a man possessed, as he was cutting up wood he had inadvertently gone through a bee nest,  some American bee's are a particularly vengeful type ( a non native type of african bee ) and he had been stung several times in the face, he was wild.
I stood there bemused at the whole episode, and made an intimation at dropping the trip today and rescheduling, NO I will pick you up at 1.30 pm  came the reply amidst much profanities.

We made our way out of the property silently.
Dick's Homestead


The time arrived and I met up with Steve we cordially shook hands again and his demeanour appeared somewhat more relaxed.
He decided to drive and the first words from him in the truck was 'do you want a beer and I'm an alcoholic'  ......................

Well the trip was interesting we chatted a lot and a lot of questions from myself ensued,the culture difference is spectacularly wide in their hunting side of things, which did not surprise as having come across Americans hunting in the UK.
The scenery was on a different level to normal and quite breathtaking and mostly on the logging roads that we travelled we seen little traffic...... we encountered a few empties though

Don't fuck

The river we were going to be fishing on was a tributary of the Toutle river, and a well known Salmon Haunt for Coho,steelhead, Chinook,Chum,Pink and Sockeye.
There is a salmon hatchery that have an ongoing hatching policy, that is state run and massive in what they achieve. 
The general rule... make it up as you go along but you don't fuck with the hunting or fishing regulations, infringements will mean impounded vehicles, boats, fishing gear and hunting gear. 
Drink driving who gives a damn... the environment 'hey man respect it' a contradiction... maybe but it works here.

Part of the state run hatchery
These salmon are harvested for the eggs etc and then put into a food bank to help feed poorer families, nothing is wasted in the hatchery programme.


The Toutle River has sensors on it, that counts the salmon running, give or take a few I'm sure ....65'000 had passed through on the run!!

One from the bin

The river was spectacular, clean and running well, we waded the bits we could to cross various sections, mostly ankle deep, so nothing heroic and temperature was pleasant, although the sun was hot.

I would love to say the method was fly but reality was when in Rome etc.
The method was to ledger Salmon eggs or rather corkies as they call them ( artificial eggs ) greens, pinks, blues in fact any colour, the fish are not actually feeding, they are coming up to spawn, whereby they are in an aggressive nature, knocking at anything on the way, this resulted in tentative knockings on the rod tip at which point you strike, in all honesty its almost a foul hooking concept, out of the 4 fish I had only one was fairly hooked.

You cast to the fish and could see every salmon running
Steve and myself after finding some soul to take a picture of us together

Steve Seine my host
The fishing was fast and furious, my host Steve was in my world a curiosity he was what we might term a 'redneck' when we came out of the valley he proceeded to drink and stoke his pipe full of mary anne, he drove the truck with his knee's and between huge intakes of herb and copious beer we made our way up the mountains. 
He regaled me with several stories along the way and likewise of my world to him, he was not an angel by any means he has has various convictions and his world is in the hills and valleys hunting and fishing, but that one person stands out not only as an individual but also a humorous and kind person who see's things for what they are, his wit was acerbic and brutally honest, he suffers no one I'm sure but I felt blessed to have met him.
We did meet up again a few times and each time I was in tears at his comments and observations, a better host you would not find.

If I lived in America I would find no better neighbour, and on that note I will leave you with steves parting words still ringing......BOOOOOMMMMMMM !!

Steve's Philosophy 

'the best neighbours are those that don't trouble ya'....... Amen Brother.

If some of you are wondering why 'seven more in the kitchen' came about then it was a pre conditional trip, the wedding present came in the form of various things, I made a vanilla and single malt fudge with double cream, an apple chutney with spiced fruit, homemade raspberry jam and some fruit cake made with a litre of tawny port..... enjoy. 

Friday, 20 September 2013

Sixteen hours and seven in the kitchen By Stewart laws

             Sixteen hours and seven in the kitchen 

The Brief

Off to America to attend a wedding and get some fishing/hunting in the bargain, my jottings and musings below are taken from my daily events based over the 7 days away, and some of the events that unfolded along the way, some memorable some not so.                                                        

And a few surprises in life that changed my perception to people along this path we navigate

Stewardesses Graveyard

Delta airlines the place where ageing airline stewardesses go to retire or stop off at Dignitas en route. With twin sets and pearls, serving a plethora of liquid masquerading as beverages and reconstituted food that begs the question 'what is it', the packaging belies how many ingredients can go into such a small item, alchemy at its worst it would appear, spying the word 'Transfat' I feel my bowels involuntarily spasm, maybe we are guinea pigs in a great social experiment (for the duration of my stay I seem to be drinking more and more fluid, to counterbalance the salt or sweetness of an American diet) I pick at various items of food accordingly to the list of ingredients, water is a staple throughout.
The service friendly and smiles starch like... 'Enjoy your flight' is the mantra it seems, Americanism or Irony, I'm unsure as yet.

16 hours in a space that my dog would describe as cramped 

If you do have the choice on long haul turn left, into business class... right invariably means cattle class,it's at this point you wish you'd done better at school.  
A variety of American 'comedy' and 'action' films spills from the screen in front of you, should you choose to engage it then the auto cue for the canned or should that be contrived laughter tells you when you should follow suit. 
As much as I wish to laugh its contained as I feel they would take me off in a straitjacket failing that the supposedly ever present air Marshall may just taser me, weighing it up it may not be such a bad option.  

Note to oneself never long haul 

Anyone for Zander

Holland looked interesting, the waterways a preclude to some serious roaming with a rod and line, and only a 55 minute flight. ( hope you're reading this crooky and fentiger ) and the zander capital I believe of Europe, effectively on our doorstep chaps.
It's from Holland we catch the connecting flight, by this time I'm already regretful of the prospect of 16 hrs in transit. 

I sit wondering if the Americans are going to seriously suit my demeanour nor mine there's! 


The trip started well, a massive debate on the merit of going (a euphemism of my sudden explosive nature)  that appears to be played out at each stage of the airport merry go round and more so in my head, I realise I love the English countryside and what I'm leaving behind... Selfishness is a strong trait of mine and its played out in full,my knife edge looks precarious. Without further details I relent inwardly brooding.And one of knowing guilt from within myself.


Culturally I'm ignorant to the world, I have travelled  a lot though within the EU, nowadays I find solace in rivers, fields, woods and valleys, the ringing of church bells...... not  16 hours of a low reverberation and continual hum of an airplane. 
Besides I read a lot could I not just had picked up the National Geographic again I wonder, as I gaze out beyond and through the clouds.
As we cross America the dimensions looks huge, the landscape is forested but the surroundings dry and arid. 
                                       Mount st Helens that erupted in 1982 with the loss of 57 lives,everything within 10 miles was left like a moonscape in volcanic ash.

Bodies of water huge and numerous.
I realise the above statement seems at odds I assume they have aquifers here. 
As the rainfall seems non existent from the picture above in terms of grasses and greenery save the trees.

The landscape changes in 30 min to one of smaller fragmented lakes and what appears even drier conditions, airspeed is 542 mph so 250 miles in difference, quite feasible then really when I consider it. 
The lakes become more elongated the further we fly, amazing to see really, but wish I was bankside not 32000 ft up. 
Kidding myself here, lakes looking smaller ?  probably the size of a ' shire ... a Small lake here would make chew at 1200 acres look like a village pond.  
There is cloud structures close to the ground, small dense areas that look like smoke, the colour though is dust coloured as though whipped up in an otherwise clear sky. 
Another observation albeit rhetorical. 

Lullabies to paralyse 

iPods and classic rock magazine saved my sanity, but my ass may take a bit longer, payback for some of my extra curricular activities possibly.


It's impressive the vastness, flying over the mountains, canyons et al  But it's not the English countryside .  The sparseness appeals in terms of population, we see large farm spreads yet few settlements.  Curmudgeonly springing to mind, lumby would like it here for that reason I'm sure... Now there's a thought a pikers commune in the middle of nowhere and no one to trouble you, feeling myself drifting into utopia, until my realisation that lumby and Crumpster would bring the whole leftist view to the party, second thoughts I would buy a vast Scottish estate and keep all the rabble off it, whilst allowing my ghillie to feed fresh run springers to the pike population in a pre feeding campaign.


The security entering America was rather surreal and overbearing, with a menacing demeanour and slow........ fingerprinted and photographed and scanned all in good time, their time !The Americans are either thorough or rather paranoid, think I'll take the latter, though world policy means they really are careful who they take tea with nowadays. They really do question in a way that seems rather hostile, imagine the school bully then rounding on you and topping it off with 'Y'all have a good stay and a nice day'.

Note to oneself never long haul (again)

Sub;mission accomplished

The reason for the trip is not one purely of fishing nor of sightseeing, it's green card time... That's all I will say albeit tongue in cheek I may add. The ceremony was wonderful and the bride looked fabulous in her surroundings, I declined the family photo opportunities as one who vehemently opposes a smile on request routine, I try not to replicate a performing dog via voice commands, maybe I'm just a miserable bastard, smiling on the inside is my forte, surely that's enough..... 
The drink flowed, and I downed several bottles of water to accompany everyone's champagne as a tag team of protagonists tried to foist drink on me, the memory  of which became more blurred on them as time passed.
                                           The blushing bride

uninvited guests were made to feel welcome

Note to oneself, why I don't do family events.


Cabellas is of interest... 'Manshack' is another term for it, I do wonder if it will be full of stereotypical Americans I remember 'king of the hill' I wonder if I'll meet a Bobby or Luanne, along with the local propane seller bound to be some stuffed heads on show surely ( little did I realise ). 
I  have been reading up on the fish species I hope to encounter, it was with interest to see that from 2012 the northern pike will be culled in certain areas of the state of Seattle ... Persecution never seems far away for this species and geographically knows no boundaries, thank goodness for the PAC in the UK though Ireland still seems intent on an own goal where this is concerned ( maybe one day they will see the folly )
 I've afforded myself some traces in my luggage as all the gear will be supplied, not quite knowing if the advent of fluorocarbon trace will lure its head, I play it safe and come prepared.

The trophy shots with the obligatory boga grip throws up little in the way of decent fish whilst 'net browsing, many shots are single figure pike, though clean looking with it. 

Facetiously I wonder, maybe they all sport some kind of jaw injury and find feeding difficult.  

Tiger Muskie a fish with the ignominy of been labelled ' fish of a thousand casts' I will be counting, surely this would test anyone's resolve on a cold winters day.
But imagining a 20 plus in that livery on camera... 16 hour flight.... redemption awaits me.
                                   The fish tank was appx 60 ft long
                                 I hope Mr Muskie has read the script    

I will mention the pit whilst away, as the chaps have done so well it would be a shame to keep it to ourselves ( I wonder what the shipping rates for Neville's smelt would be ).

Maybe the problem of immigrants will be an issue .. There again they still expone a burning cross and bed sheets with cigarette burn holes ...... pre baiting with mexicans, just what is the state record I ask myself ( tongue firmly embedded ). 
Forewarned on the food, they like large servings and massive calorie counts, with a tomato as an adornment that is visual and not to be eaten.  
The concept of food without vegetables is alien,I may have to take to the hills and forage for relief, though on the day before we flew, my youngest son Mackenzie and myself picked 4 1/2lb of blackberries 2lb sloes and a 1lb of elderberries to freeze for jam making on return, this thought may sustain me.

Bears are rife in the wooded valleys and rivers so I was informed and had been told to wear bear bells .... Mmmmm Morris dancing in Seattle , sounds like a ruse to grown men dressing up ( upon getting there, the bears are few and far between and a healthy respect to the native population of hunters I discover and with good reason ).
                         Cabella's entrance hall and only a small part of it
                                                 I'm free..........

Max Lightrailway system

In Portland Oregon the public transport is in our terms a tram system, it runs uptown and downtown.
As we tried to figure out which way we needed to board, I proceeded to ask an older lady, upon enquiring she 'jumped and recoiled away in the most frightful way, panicking in doing so', the information needed to proceed  I returned to my seating area, with a short interlude she ventured forth and explained she was watching 'livetime' last night and that I looked very much like someone on the TV 'someone who was very bad 'and with that she scurried off..... Charming I thought!! 

The last time I seen a female so horrified it was 'twinpeaks at Chew, if you wish to know more just direct your questions at Andy Chalmers  aka Pred, needless to say the girl in question is still traumatised.

In conclusion to my American adventure I will tell you the events leading up to these last few pictures I will leave you with. 
                                            A young Coyote cub

                                               My back yard

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Ozzie Kings, John Stephenson

Before the "main course" a brief factfile about myself would seem to be appropriate.   I am a 61 years young Geordie living in Whitley Bay on the Northumberland coast.    I come from a scientific background   and was lucky enough to be able to take early retirement at the age of 57.   My main interests are angling , photography and following Newcastle United FC and also my local team Whitley Bay FC.
My good lady and myself spend most of the summer over in our static caravan in Drummore, Mull of Galloway, Scotland.   The scenery there is amazing and the wildlife is quite varied.   From our caravan veranda we have seen basking sharks and otters out in Luce Bay.   The shore fishing can be very good at times with bass, pollack, wrasse, conger and mullet being my normal targets.   The area is also a mecca for tope fishermen.
My given name is John Stephenson but the angling nickname I acquired at an early age was "Snatcher".   In my youth I did take salmon/seatrout out of the river by fair means and foul including "tickling fish" - a dying art today !!!   Nowadays I am too old to outrun bailiffs and even buy permits and licences.
Well thats enough drivel about me so lets head towards the main event.   Back in 2008 the wife and I headed out to Australia to visit our daughter in Sydney.   Being a keen angler I intended trying to catch a few Australian species whilst there.   With this in mind I took over a fair amount of terminal tackle and once in Sydney bought a spinning rod and reel .   I was not expecting or intending to target big fish so I loaded the fixed spool reel with 15lb mono.
We travelled quite extensively during this 2 month trip.   Hugging the coast we had a slow drive down to Melbourne and then onto Adelaide.   From there we flew to Ayres Rock and then onto Cairns and finally had a few weeks staying at Port Douglas.   My trusty fishing gear went with me and I managed to catch 20 species during that time.
Whilst on my 2008 trip I struck up a friendship with a few Australian anglers.   Chris Tyler was my main mentor in Sydney and what he did not know about the fishing in the harbour was not worth knowing about.   He had us fishing from ferry landings that were off limits to anglers and also had me fishing from the Opera Bar of all places.   We managed about 5 minutes fishing there before security spotted us and asked us to leave.
Oops - starting to digress a little but getting there I assure you.  On my last fishing trip with Chris back in 2008 he tried his best to get me a kingfish from Sydney harbour.   On that occasion Chris managed to catch one but I got busted off by a good kingie.   He promised to get me one on my next visit.
Sadly Chris very suddenly passed away last year.   It really knocked me for six I can tell you. I was determined to catch a kingfish during my 2012 trip in his memory.   Through a Sydney Fishing Forum I had struck up another friendship with Ollie who was to be my main fishing mentor on this trip.   What an expert he proved to be - a fish magician if there is such a thing.

On this trip out Ollie told me that kingfish would be the main target.  We set out in Ollies tinny from Sydney North Harbour and rowed the short distance out to where we were hoping to catch some squid.  Live squid is the optimum kingfish bait.  We set up shrimp rigs on our rods and drifted close inshore by Forty Baskets Beach.   Ollie really is a top angler and managed to get six squid to the boat.   All I managed to catch was one!!!!!   I blame being put off by the bikini clad paddle boarders that frequently passed the boat.
The squid were carefully popped into a large bucket which had a portable aerator clamped to it.   Ollie rowed us a bit further out and we tied up to a buoy.   Ollie showed me how to rig up a live squid and we cast them out a short distance, hoping for some kingfish action.

While the kingfish rods were out we tried to catch some yellowtail, also to use as livebait for the kingfish.  Ollie crumbed some bread into the water and soon a shoal of yellowtail were under the boat.  We baited up some very small hooks with pilchard and dropped them over the side.  True to form Ollie caught five and I caught one.  These also went into the aerated bucket.   I was well chuffed as the yellowtail was a new species for me.

After a wait of about an hour a kingfish finally grabbed Ollies squid.   What a scrap it gave Ollie, making several good runs before I managed to net it for him.   After a couple of photos the fish was carefully returned to fight another day.
The next two kingfish also fell to Ollies rod and these were also released.   I was beginning to give up hope of getting my fish when a kingie eventually took my squid.   The fish was not big but what a scrap it gave me on light gear.   I had caught my kingfish  and was well pleased.   A quick photo and back it went.
Ollie suggested trying livebaiting with yellowtail next and no sooner had he cast out then a bonito grabbed it.  Once again another great scrap.  He kept this fish as he was going to use it for shark at a later date.
Before the end of the session he managed to catch another 3 bonito which he also kept for shark bait.   For good measure he also caught two tailor which were returned.  During this period I did not have a single bite !!!!  Ollie is simply a top angler and knows the harbour like the back of his hand.
Well what a great day it had been.   Fishing in a great location with a top angler/mate and catching that elusive kingfish.  That one was for you Chris Tyler, I hope you enjoyed it.   On the way back in we saw a hammerhead shark being caught by another boat.   It looked about four feet long and what problems they had trying to unhook it.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and the supporting pictures.  Did my mate Ollie manage to catch that shark from the shore?   I will stay tight lipped on that one as there may be a follow up article.   I will say that I caught 13 new species during this current trip, one of the captures making the headlines in the local paper.   I also struck up a friendship with Steve Pope whilst in Sydney.   I believe Steve is quite famous in the UK as a top barbel angler.   We also had a few fishing trips together in the harbour,  including one that saw me get totally spooled.
We are now looking at a 3 month return trip to Australia in January 2013 to see our daughter and grandson.   Bring it on and I will be hoping to add to my 33 species tally.   If anyone wants any information/advice on fishing in Australia feel free to get in touch.   This also includes fishing around the Mull of Galloway.
John Stephenson aka Snatcher