Baja, Mexico

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With a spare week after heading to Kiribati, and brimming bucket list of species to catch, I headed to the east cape of Baja, Mexico to encounter a well known fly fishing adversary, the roosterfish. Teamed up with local guide, Josh Martz of Pursuit Anglers, we spent five days exploring the lower eastern cape in the hunt for the ultimate prize, a grande on fly from the beach.

Day 1

With rare cloud cover present, as predicted by the weather forecast we decided to fish the day from a panga which would hopefully overcome the visually limiting conditions. The skipper picked Josh and I up from the beach behind the house and we cruised south for a considerable time. We past empty beach after beach scattered with the occasional casa grande.

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South of the marine park we pulled up at bay with some sporadic surface activity, most likely skipjacks. We spent a short amount of time waiting and hoping for them to appear close enough to the boat for me to put a fly in front of them, but never quite got a shot. We moved in shore to look for roosterfish and cast around some rocks and reef. I had a nip from a solid orange fish, probably a snapper, but didn’t hook up. We continued cruising the shallows but we weren’t seeing much and before long the wind began to pick up, blowing hard on shore. Josh made the call to change the game plan and drop some flies deep into some reef. About a dozen casts in I felt weight and kept stripping. I could see the silver of the fish in the water but it looked a hell of a lot bigger than I expected judging but the weight. As it got closer we realised it was two triggerfish, the one I hooked and another trying to eat the fly out of his mouth. Landing the triggerfish was a great moment as I had just spent almost three full days trying to get one on the flats of Christmas Island only to ultimately fall short.

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The wind continued to rise and it wasn’t long before we moved from the reef to find some more shelter waters in and around protected points and the local harbour. Plenty of casts into this structure for not much action, until I hooked into what we agreed was a snook that I fought all the way to the side of the boat before the hook pulled. Tough going. We fished the rest of the protected water hard but didn’t get anymore pulls. With the wind continuing to gain speed we pulled up stumps and headed for home.

Day 2

The weather had improved with mixed clear skies and high scattered cloud which was good enough for us to load up the ATV and head down the beach to hopefully sight some roosters.

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Perched up we waited, constantly scanning the water as far along the beach and as deep as we could see. It took a couple of hours, but once the sun got high in the sky the water lit up. Not long after that we spotted our first fish cruising. We planned the intercept but things didn’t work out. Fish were few and far between for the next few hours, until Josh noticed some birds hovering on the drop off to deeper water, always a good sign. Sure enough within a couple of  minutes the beach was stormed but some big roosters. One even half beached itself chasing mullet about five metres away from where we were standing. A sight I’ll never forget. Unfortunately I had just been casting at another fish just to my left and took too long to notice, then put a dodgy cast out with the line still caught around my foot. I definitely learnt a few lessons from my first day chasing roosters from the beach. After that 15 minutes of mayhem the beach went fairly quiet again and so we left to check some other spots but were hindered but another afternoon ‘breeze’.

Day 3

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The weather was predicted to be cloudy again but we were keen to spend some more time fishing from the beach, so Josh came up with a plan to head north for a bit of a drive in the truck to hopefully find some clearer skies and fish. The drive from Los Barriles north took us through the Sierra de la Giganta which is amazing country, littered with 100 year old cacti, dry sandy river beds and mountains with ancient indian walls. The cloud was patchy up here but at least it wasn’t raining and as thick as it was back down south. We pulled up at a beach near La Ventana and rigged up. Josh worked the water with a hookless popper on a spin rod, while I waited to bang the fly in at any sign of a follow. After walking the length of the first beach we still hadn’t seen a fish.

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Just as we were about to head back to the truck a few baitfish skipped and a dorado slammed into towards the shore getting semi wedged in the shallows in the process. It all happened in the blink of an eye, but it prompted a fly change as we began searching for any more signs of dorado cruising.

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We headed north again to another beach and repeated the process. Almost the same thing happened, first no roosters then suddenly a wave of dorado. I was ready this time and second cast at the fish a dorado turned and nailed the fly. The set was solid, real solid I thought, yet three jumps later the line was slack. Devo. The opportunities to catch a dorado from the beach on fly are very rare and I’d just blown a couple of prime chances. We continued walking the beach, up and back, and didn’t see anything. We were almost back in the truck in the same spot as before when few baitfish jumped 20ft from our feet on the shore. Two false casts and the fly was there. The dorado lit up straight away and inhaled it. The hook set tight again. I don’t think I took a breath for the next few minutes as the fish charged towards the deeper water repeatedly getting airborne. But this time the tides had turned, the fish was beached and we got some snaps with the colours still in their prime.

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The pressure was off, after a few high fives and a cold beer we resumed our posts waiting for more fish to turn up. The clouds were slowly stifling the direct sunlight, but we did spot a couple more fish, including one that was surfing in the crest of a wave to sneak up on a school of bait.

Day 4

Day 4 saw the arrival of world traveller and fisherman June from Japan at the lodge. With some clear skies (finally!) the three of us loaded up the ATV and hit the beaches to hunt down a grande. The visibility was good and we didn’t drive far before we saw some small fis that looked to be a mix of small rooster fish and jack crevalle, herding bait along a beach. We got the bonefish flies out and spent half an hour casting but things slowed down pretty quick and we couldn’t get a hook up. We pushed on, found a prime spot and perched up waiting for some fish to appear. It was slow for the first hour or two, then they came. We scrambled for each fish, waiting hoping they would come into range. We got a couple of shots including to a pair of fish that fought over and around my fly without eating it. Most of the roosters we did see were big, real big, with some up towards 70 pounds. Unfortunately we couldn’t get an eat before it was time to head back to the lodge.

On the way back we found a school of pompano eating bait on a beach, so after a quick rod switch back to the bonefish fly I hooked up to one of the feisty little fish followed by a small jack crevalle.

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Day 5

Last of the trip and the pressure was on to land a grande. Josh and I headed south and hit the beaches. Almost as soon as we arrived on the sand and bust up of small roosters exploded 30 metres along the shore. I grabbed the rod and ran but only got there as it was ending. No dice. We headed further up the beach and staked a spot on the beach and waited. The action for the morning was slow, we found a snook on the shore which vanished before we even cast.

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Late in the afternoon birds appeared on the edge of the deeper water and sure enough within minutes big roosters stormed the beach. The action was frantic for what must have been close to 10 minutes, with a handful of fish getting a good look at the fly but not taking it. During a momentary lull in sighted fish Josh changed my fly to a white popper and soon after another fish appeared. I cast and he followed and had a good look before pealing off the pursuit. I think its safe to say Josh and I were both shattered at this point in time, having had so many shots at big roosters, with nothing to show for it. Still the action was intense and my respect and admiration for these shallow water brutes had grown considerably. I will be back to get my grande.

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If you are considering a trip to Baja to chase roosterfish check out Pursuit Anglers and get in touch with Josh.

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Christmas Island, Kiribati

Christmas Island, in the central pacific Republic of Kiribati, has long been on my target list of fly fishing destinations. So when I got word from Jesse Cheape there was a empty spot on a trip to Crystal Beach Lodge I was quick to sign up. The trip was hosted by Joe Willauer of Evo Anglers and scheduled for the 29th April – 5th May, which coincided with prime GT tides.

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The lagoon is an amazing sight from the air

After a few false starts our group of 6, consisting of 5 Seppos and myself, arrived from Hawaii to blue skies and a glassy ocean. Perfect weather for flats fishing, unfortunately however our six days of fishing were to begin the following day. The weather during the trip remained good for the most part with rain a couple of nights and a couple of cloudy days that just encouraged us to chase trevally rather than bones.

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Great beach front accommodation at Crystal Beach

The newly finished accommodation at Crystal Beach is simple and practical making it a perfect angler base. Of course CXI is almost as remote as you can get in the modern world but still has the comfort of air conditioning.

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The flats taxi moving across the lagoon

The size of the lagoon and the incredible number of flats has to be seen to be believed. Each flat is unique and with varying fishing options to keep all anglers busy no matter the tide or target species.

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CXI lagoon flats map

CXI has a reputation for having a multitude of small sized bonefish, and we did catch bucket loads, however there are also plenty of big ones as well. According to some locals and guides the average size has been increasing since they became protected. The biggest I landed for the week was 7lb, but bones of any size are all worth catching.

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Solid 4lb bone from the first flat of the week

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No matter the size, the bonefish are always a pleasure

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One of the better bonefish of the week at 6lb

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Picturesque backcountry

The other main draw for anglers in CXI apart from bonefish are the trevally, including the highly sought after giant trevally or GTs.

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Clouds and storms shutdown the flats and turn attention to hunting trevally in the backcountry

Fish up to and exceeding 100lbs roam the shorelines looking for prey, usually milkfish or mullet, and can be legitimately caught on the fly. During our trip Joe Willauer nailed a monster that was estimated to be ~110lbs on his 12wt in a remarkable afternoon in which he landed 5.

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Was a deadset workout getting this ~80-90lb GT on the 12wt

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Back to harassing the milkfish and mullet

Golden, Blue and Bluefin Trevally cruise the flats and shorelines ready to eat a well presented fly.

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Trevally will eat bonefish patterns, sometimes even if you don’t want them too

Surgeonfish are common across the flats but aren’t normally a target as they rarely take the fly. However for some reason one took a liking to a GT deceiver and fought exceptionally hard on the 12wt.

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Yellowfin Surgeonfish, Acanthurus xanthopterus

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Only saw one skinny ladyfish for the week

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Plenty of one-spot snapper around the rocky outcrops and reefs

Yellow Striped Goatfish that took a fly destined for a Bonefish

Finstripe Goatfish that took a fly destined for a bonefish

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There seems to be endless shoreline in the backcountry

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Greedy little brownspotted grouper that nailed a fly presented to a triggerfish

Triggerfish are another main target on the fly at CXI, and we definitely saw our fair share. We spent the best part of two days targeting them but I still didn’t land one, while my partner Jesse nailed a nice one on the last day. They definitely aren’t easy, and interceptions from small trevally and snapper often spook them.

As it was my first trip to CXI I took a large array of flats flies to cover myself for the week. However in hindsight, a standard assortment of Christmas Island specials in pearl, orange and pink in varying weights from size 4-8 will cover most of the flats fishing for bones, triggers and trevally. Similarly half a dozen large (6/0) deceivers tied to imitate milkfish and mullet would probably cover any GT action.

Already I can’t wait to return and continue exploring more of the flats and species of Christmas Island.

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11 Signs You’re a Dodgy Guide

1. You tell clients whatever they want to hear

Don’t manage clients expectations. Talk up the fishing to potential customers, telling them whatever they want to hear. You know there aren’t any stripers around yet, but you won’t tell them until you’ve left the harbour, until it’s too late.

2. Communicate as little as possible with the client

Leave organising gear, meeting time and location to the last minute. Make the client call and email you. After all its the client that wants to fish with you, they should have to chase you up.

3. Pickups are best when they are as convenient as possible for you

The harder it is for the client to get to the meeting spot the more relief they will feel just having had made it. After all the journey is more important than the destination. Tourists? Without transport? They’ve come half way around the globe, another $100 for cab fare isn’t going to deter them.

4. Make it hard

If a client finds the fishing too easy they’ll wonder why they even hired you.  Therefore you need to be creative with your boat operation. When on the flats, loudly jamming the pole, kicking the gunnel and last minute boat movements during the presentation cast are the key.

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5. Carry limited flies

There are a few ‘go-to’ flies that you use for 90% of the fishing. Only take 1 or 2 of each per day. Once these are gone insist on using experimental or prototype patterns that have never caught fish before, unless they want to use their own. This will save you money and time at the tying vice. Also make sure you clip the fly off the clients line at the end of the day. You don’t get paid enough to let each client take home a used fly as a souvenir.

6. Don’t carry a net

Whether wading, poling or rafting, these $20 pieces of gear are too efficient at landing fish and keeping them healthy while removing hooks and posing for photos.

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7. Grab the leader

Once a client has hooked a fish, and since you don’t have a net, make sure you grab the leader as soon as possible into the fight. If the hook pulls it was because of a bad set and not your fault. The tippet may also break, lucky you’ve already got the client using their own flies.

8. Any photo is a good photo

So the client wants a photo, you’re a fishing guide not a photographer. Get this over and done with as fast as possible. If the angler and fish are both in the photo, you’ve done too well.

9. You leave fish to find fish

So the client has just landed one. Give yourself a pat on the back, then relocate to another part of the river, lake or fishery. Catching one fish after the other gets boring. This is also a good point to change flies.

10. Have a fish yourself

Whenever possible, carry a fully rigged rod. Tell the client that it is a backup or so you pretend to fish in order to protect more water from other anglers. Once the client is busy fishing further down the pool have a crack yourself. Make sure you get the client to stop fishing and take a photo of you with your steelhead, but don’t release it immediately. Check the photo first and make them retake it until you are satisfied.

11. You regularly quit early

Never mind that you told the client you’d fish all day if they wanted to, and you haven’t even had lunch yet.

Believe it or not, these are all situations I have experienced first hand. While there are plenty of good, hard working fly fishing guides out there, there are plenty that don’t deserve your time and hard earned dollars. Being able to tell these apart is sometimes difficult, especially when travelling.

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South Creek Bass

If a million fish die in a creek and no one sees it, do they make a sound?

No. They don’t.

At South Creek in Western Sydney a group of passionate anglers act as the eyes for this small but unique fishery. And it’s just as well too, otherwise the devastation caused to this waterway might never have come to light and nobody held accountable.

For those that haven’t already heard about the disaster on South Creek and the lack of recognition from the authorities, you can catch up here.

In short, a factory fire adjacent to the creek in January and who knows how many other incidents have resulted in a critical amount of pollutants entering the waterway. Tests and visual inspections have detected large amounts of oil and a pungent acidic chemical smell was present throughout a extensive length of the creek, with dead fish, estimated to be in the 100’s found floating in the slick and washed up on the shoreline. To this date the council refuse to acknowledge a problem or even send inspectors to sample the water. It was easier to just blame a ‘black water’ event and try to flush the creek to get rid of any evidence.

The South Creek Bass Club have created an online petition in order to try and get a proper investigation initiated to prevent this kind of event in the future. The petition can be found here. Whether you have fished South Creek or not, are an angler or not, you need to sign this. We need some accountability for actions that damage our waterways.

The passion and hysteria about the lack of response to the South Creek catastrophe does prove one thing; the importance of anglers as the gate keepers of their local waters. Without these eyes and ears on the water the damage could continue unnoticed with no follow up or consequences.

The simple fact is that recreational anglers protect waterways.

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A healthy Australian Bass

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