Sunday, June 27, 2010 Album: W500 Flyfishing Rig


Finally figured out how to get some pix up on here. To view the pictures/slideshow on full screen, move the mouse over the picture above and click the icon in the lower right corner. Comments welcome. Enjoy

What I Know

I have been walking the Earth long enough to know that I only know what I know. One of the things I know that I know is that there is a lot I don't know. The older and more experienced I get in all areas of my life, the more I discover, or am made aware of by others, that the scope and sheer immensity of what I don't know infinitely eclipses what I will ever know. I also know that what I know, or claim to know will always be evaluated by others according to what they know, or think they know, or perceive that I don't know. Ultimately, most people with at least a modicum of functioning grey matter can accept that whatever any of us knows or claims to know is always subject to qualified review by what we each and/or collectively consider to be the consensus of well informed opinion. The rest of you (and you know who you are) can go pound sand!

All of this is to say, that when I profess that the Wavewalk W500 kayak is "THE ANSWER", it is only my humble opinion, based on my own ranking of criteria for what is essential in a fly fishing paddle craft, and my own fly fishing and paddling experience. There are those with much more experience and skill than I out there, people I hold in high regard, that are of a different mind.
There is, however, a certain maturity, security, and comfort in one's own skin that is revealed by an expressed acknowledgement of the legitimacy of alternative points of view and a willingness to affirm, if not endorse, that what is best for one, may be something less than that for another. I would like to think that I am open-minded enough to be worthy of a tent in that camp.

Suffice it to say then, that it is my considered opinion that there may well be enough shore bound fly fishing participants of a certain age and level of physical fitness out there who are looking to enhance their access to more fish via a craft that they can comfortably and legitimately paddle, stand, and cast from, to constitute a consensus of some kind. What I know is, that I cannot ever remember being so favorably impressed by any product, of any kind, as I have by the Wavewalk W500 kayak. Part of that has to do with my passion for saltwater fly fishing and the degree to which the "W" has enriched my fly fishing experience. Part of it may be that my memory isn't what it used to be. Be that as it may, I find that I have to consciously temper my enthusiasm for the boat whenever I share its virtues with other fly fishers. I am constantly explaining that I am simply a satisfied customer of Wavewalk, and not a sales rep. Not yet, anyway. This is a boat with a design that is so beautifully simple and so inherently adapted to stand-up paddle fishing, that I find it almost impossible to believe that its creator does not, and to my knowledge, has never ...fished!!! And to top it off, he's from Israel of all places!! The whole thing is so improbable it's hard to get my head around! Add to that that he's right here in Sharon, MA, so I could readily water test the boat before I got one, and it's almost too good to be true! Since I've had a chance to fish the W500 several times now, I have devised some fly fishing specific rigging ideas that you can see pictures of in a slide show I've posted above. The next entry will be about the "thinkin' behind the riggin'".

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Here I Stand

The first time I ever tried flyfishing, or any kind of fishing from a kayak was back before Y2K on what has since become a nearly annual March trip to SW Florida to visit my father in Port Charlotte. These are always road trips as my wife does not fly, but we usually plan a side day trip somewhere along the route to break up the drive and get acquainted with a new part of the South and all of its rich culture and cuisine. As great as it is to see Dad, the truth is that the prospect of 80 degree sunny days and the tug of a fish in my stripping hand has become virtually vital to sustaining my psyche throughout the endlessly cold and often snowy months of January and February each year. Throw in a couple of Red Sox spring training games, and the lift these two-week Florida sojourns provide can carry me all the way through to late April, when the first outing for striped bass in the upper reaches of a Cape Cod estuary signals the beginning of the saltwater flyfishing season in my home waters.

I had tried wading some of the mangrove shorelines near Dad's place on prior visits, only to find that, for the most part, the soft bottom typical of these areas was not able to support my 200 pound frame. After twice having my flats booties sucked from off my feet in knee-deep mud, I figured there had to be a better way. So, purely out of frustration, and without enough scratch to hire a flats boat Captain, I walked into Grande Tours, an ecotourism and kayak sales and rental operation right on the water in nearby Placida, FL to rent a kayak. After recounting my wading ordeal, they set me up in a sit-on-top model and, after a short safety/paddling primer, handed me a map of Coral Creek and pointed me upstream toward its east branch where some snook had been obliging recent anglers. As I took my inaugural paddle strokes and began to glide silently along among the mangroves, I immediately got the sense that I was a part of this beautiful and exotic environment, rather than an intruder. Birds of all kinds and colors flew or roosted just overhead. Schools of mullet swam within a couple of feet of the kayak. Warm gentle breezes came and went in the same rhythm as my breathing, or so it seemed. This kayak and paddling thing was really cool!

Fast forward an hour. My back was killing me. My ass was wet. I had seen several snook under the kayak but not until I was right on top of them. Finally, as the sun angle got lower behind me, I was able to spot three snook moving along a deeper mangrove edge 60 feet out ahead in the back of a lagoon. As I attempted my first cast with the fly rod from a seated position with my legs outstretched and braced against the foot rests, nothing felt right. I got the floating line and the brown over yellow Clouser out there around 35 feet, but where do I strip the line? Into my lap, or overboard into the water!? I opted for my lap. Wait...where do I put the paddle? Better strip the line overboard. Miraculously, a few fumbled casts later, I actually hooked a 24 inch snook, which towed me right into the mangroves. I was able to land and release him. But the thrill of my first fly rod fish from a kayak was tempered by the discomfort I was feeling. After paddling back to the launch ramp at Grande Tours, I was so stiff and sore, I could barely climb into the seat of my truck for the drive back to Dad's place.

Years have come and gone since then. I still very much enjoy the economy, exercise, stealth, access to water and fish that flats boats cannot reach, and feeling a part of your environment that kayaking facilitates. Over time and with more experience, I have gotten a little more efficient fly fishing out of a variety of sit on top kayaks, but I have never been able to get really, truly comfortable in any of them. Being so low to the water, sight fishing is next to impossible, even with good sun. Although I can, on a good day, if I am very careful and deliberate, actually stand up in a couple of sit on top kayak models, in no way am I comfortable enough to flycast while standing in them without worrying about falling in the drink. And then there is the stiffness and soreness that always accompanies being confined to that confounded "L" position. The only choice one has to counteract the inevitable discomfort is to beach the kayak, assuming a beach is available, and get out of it to stretch for a few minutes every so often. Once again, I figured, there had to be a better way.

The kayak and canoe market has tried several approaches to address the stand up issue for fishermen, as it is this element that is so integral to fishing from any watercraft, and particularly to fly fishing. Over the past several years, we have seen various styles of outriggers and pontoons to retrofit existing designs. You have the Stand n Fish add-on apparatus which frankly defines the "Rube Goldberg" approach to the problem. Then came Freedom Hawk, with their integral deployable pontoons, their levers and cables and grab bar and pull rope to help you up and out of the dreaded "L" position. Can you comfortably stand and fish from it? Absolutely. But that capability comes at the expense of almost everything else you want in a paddle craft. Try paddling while standing to scout for fish with the pontoons even partially deployed. Even with the pontoons retracted completely, the boat paddes like a log. It comes in three pieces and has to be assembled each time you launch, broken down when you transport it, and reassembled the next launch. And I don't know how others feel, but, save for some adaptive devices that have utility for those with physical limitations, the only moving part in my paddlecraft should be me. Too complicated. Too many moving parts. Too many trade offs. I was still holding out for a better solution. The challenge was huge. A simple, sleek design that was comfortable to paddle, stable enough for anyone to easily and comfortably stand up and cast from, tracks well, and has plenty of dry storage. Then, one day, while searching the web for just such a paddle craft, I found what I have since become convinced is "THE ANSWER". I found Wavewalk.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In the beginning.....

Near as I can remember, I think I walked into Jim Bender's fly shop in Worcester, MA sometime in 1990. I had been a saltwater spin fisherman for many years, going back to my pre-teen summer vacations with my family near Scusset Beach at the east end of the Cape Cod Canal. I cut my teeth fishing 1/2 ounce diamond jigs for mackerel and pollock off the end of the canal jetty with Zebco 202 spincast outfits. One morning, during the summer of my 21st year, I awoke early at the summer cottage we rented on Sagamore Beach to see a school of mackerel finning the surface of a glass-calm Cape Cod Bay. I grabbed a light 6 foot Mitchell 300 spinning outfit on the deck and sauntered down to the water's edge and tossed the 1/2 oz diamond jig out into the middle of the school. I reeled in the jig to within 35 feet of the shoreline where I promptly snagged bottom.... or so I thought! The line was still moving sideways, and within a few seconds, I saw the swirl of a large square tail!! Fast forward ten minutes, after my yelling and screaming "It's a f#'!k??g striper!!" had awakened everyone in our cottage as well as everyone in the cottage on either side of ours. By the time they all got down to the beach to see what the comotion was all about, I was holding, no, hugging a 16 lb. striped bass in my arms! That was it. From that moment on, saltwater fishing would always be a part of my life.

By the mid 80's I had bought a 13 foot Boston Whaler, despite being married with two of my eventual three children to feed, and without telling my bride, (initially) about the purchase. (BIG mistake!! Not recommended!) I was hooked on casting surface plugs to the ravenous bluefish that showed along the south side of the Cape every spring, like clockwork, on or around the 17th of May. They still do. The striper fishery had completely crashed during those years, so blues were the only game in town, until sometime in 1987 or 1988. Striped bass were starting to reappear along the coast in fishable numbers, and I felt like I had the spinning thing down pretty well, and the fishing mags were all touting fly rodding in the salt. So, I went to the only flyshop in the area looking to get into the sport. Jim was patient with my questions, generous with information, and outfitted me with a Sage DS series 9 wt rod and a Lamson reel spooled with an intermediate slow sinking line. I fished the hell out of that outfit, even after I sold the Whaler in the mid 90's. It took stripers on the Monomoy flats, Pleasant Bay, Brewster Flats, and Pomponesset Bay, all on Cape Cod. I took it to Florida with me in 1994 and caught my first snook and redfish on it. Soon after that, I invested in a vise and fly tying tools (thanks again Jim!) and began to fashion my own flies to help me pass the long cold winters and to experience the added satisfaction of catching fish with my own creations. In all the years since, Jim Bender has been a mentor and outfitter without peer IMHO, and remains my go-to source for quality gear and sage (excuse the pun) advice. One of Jim's friends and long time flyfisher both in the salt and the sweet water, Bob Thunberg, was also very helpful to me in the beginning, and to this day will always chat when we meet on the street or at the shop.

Over the years, in order to learn new fisheries in Florida and shorten the learning curve, I have engaged the services of a few guides who have helped me immensely in my growth as a fly angler.

In the Charlotte Harbor area of SW Florida, paddle fly fishing guide Dave Loger has been an excellent resource and has consistently put me on fish using a variety of paddle craft. Dave is a consumate professional, meticulously prepared for anything you may encounter on the water from flies, to fish, to first aid. I suspect this comes from the discipline learned during a 6 year stint in the armed services and his subsequent years as a commercial aviator, where attention to detail can mean the difference between life and death. When you fish with Dave, you just know that you are in excellent hands, and that his focus is entirely on you and your time on the water. A first rate guide, and a first class guy!

In the Everglades, Capt. Ned Small has consistently gone the extra miles to show me as much of that incredible resource as he possibly can on each charter. We'll cover 70 or 80 miles on a typical day, leaving the dock behind his house in Everglades City by 6:45am and returning as late as 5pm. He'll point out shell mounds, birds of all kinds, vegetation, eagle rays, and sawfish. Sometimes we'll skirt the outside islands. Other times we'll fight our way up narrow creeks and mangrove tunnels to a hidden spot. He has an easy, relaxed demeanor about him, a unique and entertaining writing style in the "Reports" section of his website, and an uncanny sixth sense about flyfishing what I consider to be the most beautiful, complex, alluring, and compelling fisheries and ecosystems in the country, and perhaps the world. To illustrate this point, Ned guided me to an early May encounter with my first fly rod tarpon a couple of years ago. He spotted the fish laid up tight to the mangroves. I would never have seen that fish on my own. After repeated casts to that tarpon , I swear I heard Ned yell "Take" a full two seconds BEFORE I saw the fish flash as he finally turned and ate the fly. It was as though Ned was operating in a time warp two seconds ahead of Everglades real time. Spooky, but impressive. Once a redfish, snook, or tarpon is hooked, that easy-going manner gives way to an intense focus on the business at hand. I try and fish with Ned at least once every year. He makes it fun, enjoyable, and educational, and he does it all in one of my favorite places on the planet.

In Biscayne Bay and/or the canals south of Miami, if you want to get up close and personal with this fishery, if you are up to staying on the water for 10 to 13 hours a day, if you want all fly fishing, all the time, all day long.... then you want to fish with Cordell Baum. If there is a more overtly passionate flyfisherman walking the face of God's green Earth, then I have yet to meet him. I love Cordell's intensity, and his all-out approach to guiding. If he feels he needs to pole you over 10 miles in his canoe to put you on problem! If he has to wait out a thunderstorm tucked up into the mangroves so you can get a shot at some tailing bonefish or permit in its aftermath..... no problem. Born on the outer banks of North Carolina, raised in Alaska, and transplanted to Miami where he learned that fishery completely on his own, Cordell has a compelling personal story, very reasonable rates, and several fishing packages to offer. After 3 days of fishing the westerly shore of Biscayne National Park with Cordell, you'll learn alot about that beautiful fishery, and be inspired by his passion for what he does.

I want to thank all of these fine professionals and good people for all they have done to enrich my education and experiences as a saltwater fly angler. The next entry will cover what I consider to be the best and most exciting and innovative human powered flyfishing platform I know of. Intrigued? Stay tuned!

Here We Go

Ok. After endless procrastination and in spite of a seemingly visceral reluctance to embrace yet another element of the still daunting world of computers, cyberspace, and social media, I have decided to tip-toe into the 21st century via the creation of this outlet for my own thoughts and ramblings.

The title of this effort comes from what can be best described as my "status"(to borrow a term from Facebook). As a fifty-something guy wrestling with all of mid-life's issues and challenges, I find that simplicity, and the incorporation of it into as much of my life as is possible, has become my own holy grail. For me, the feel of the cork handle of a fly rod in my hand as I stand among the elements of a Cape Cod estuary or a Gulf Coast mangrove ecosystem, seems to distill all life's complexities down to what is truly important. For me, fly fishing brings clarity of thought, reveals my life and my loves in context, orders priorities, and, in so doing, enables the pure joy of simpicity. As a result, if I am not fly fishing, I am thinking about fly fishing, or something that will help me do it better, and more often.

All this thinking has filled my skull with more than its limited capacity can retain. So, from time to time, I'll spill it out here. If anyone inadvertently stumbles across this cerebral outwash and can find some use or amusement from anything in it, all the better!