Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Snow's Off the Mountains

April 28, 2023

Chul had planned to drive in the morning but since he had a flat that he could not repair in time I drove.  Not planning on that I didn't realize I was nearly out of gas in the morning which meant I would have to divert to the gas station causing me to be 20 minutes behind schedule.  So I picked him up and went to our new breakfast spot for burritos.  We were on the lake by 10am.  Chul spotted a nice 3lber from the trail along the shoreline.  He stayed there while I made myself around the lake until I could start spotting them myself.  None were big.   I started with a micro jerkhanger but soon realized that even though it was turning fish, it didn't resemble any forage in the lake.  So I switched to an olive balanced leech and managed two until I came to the conclusion that the fly was sinking too fast.   I would get the fishes attention, turn them but once they came to inspect it I was already on the bottom before the fish committed.  The fly would annoyingly pick up moss.  Looking though my box, I switched to an unweighted olive damsel nymph.
Now that the fly would suspend longer in the water column I plucked out five or six more.  All bass were dinks none especially impressive but I was expecting that in this lake and that is why I chose to bring my five weight.  Chul made is way toward me and told me he hadn't gotten any so I gave him a damsel fly and he manged to get three before calling it a day.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

It's Finally Popper Season!

April 25, 2023

Morning water temps have reached 71°F so it's finally time to cast topwater.  It's about time.  Fishing sinking lines can be such a slog.  Now that the warm weather has arrived Luc has been killing it and he finally gave me the call up to the Bigs.  I was at his house by 5:30am.  After launching from the Main Lake we headed toward to the East side.  With popper season among us I wanted to test a few concept flies.  I would start with a variation of my Rattletail tied on a Ahrex swimbait hook to make it weedless.  I used to tie all my bass flies with a mono weed guard but ever since my buddy Webb pooh-poohed it, as it hinders hook ups, I never tied with one again.  Not until I met Luc who encourages the use of one at his lake.  The thing is since I've developed the memory of tying without them I always forget to add one until I'm just about to finish the fly.  Basically when its too late to add it.  I figured if I use a hook that is already weedless I wouldn't have to remember the mono.
It wouldn't be long, maybe a handful of casts until the fly proved its worth.  I was the first to hook up with Luc following suit soon afterwards.  He'd continue throughout the day getting several more and several misses.  Not until later on in the day would I be able to get another fish.  Luc seemed to have the magic touch this day; he could do no wrong.  He even accidentally caught a fish on his popper while "trolling" to the next spot.  This happened when he simple gave up on a spot quit fishing an kept his fly in the water and while we moved around a dock he had a fish explode on it.  Not sure why I didn't do as well as him but I was testing several new flies.  That could have been it or perhaps it was the fact that he was fishing 15lb while I was fishing 20lb.  Although I've never felt these fish were particularly leader shy but who knows.  Some days you're on some days you're not.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Return to Brownlining. Still hate it.

 April 15, 2023

When I got back from Taiwan I had a conversation about the crazy winter we had in California.  I missed almost all of it being in Asia at the time but Joel told me it sucked.  He was stuck home all winter and couldn't do anything.  Then for one brief period it cleared up and was sunny.  His entire street was outside in their front yards and enjoying the sun.  He told me, it was just like his days growing up in Pennsylvania, when once the weather broke the entire town would get outside.     I sympathize with those who live in areas that are snowed in all winter.  It must be so boring. Cabin fever is a thing.  That said we wanted to fish but with snow melt and cold condition fisheries were simply not productive. 

Desperate times calls for desperate measures. We decided to check out some local brown water for carp.  I've done my fair share of this and if you've read the early posts of this blog you'll know I've spent a lot of time urban carpin'.  Quite frankly I grew out of that stage and really came to dislike this style of fishing.  I haven't done in in over a decade.Given this was really the only option we decided to check out how the local urban river was doing.  We spotted a few but not as many as we'd hoped.  We only made a few casts and realized it was not worth anymore effort.  There simply was too much material in the water for a decent drift and without waders we couldn't get a proper angle or drift on them  Water visibility also made it near impossible so we gave up rather quickly.  The outing only proved once again why I stopped doing this type of fishing.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Scouting the Alpines

April 7, 2023

Fishing options are extremely limited due to the crazy winter.  Trout is out of the question so we decided to take a look at a high elevation lake for some bass.  With snow still on the mountains, we hiked to the lake.  The lake is quite full.  In fact I never seen it with this much water.  Bass were sunning themselves.  None were on beds though.  Still too cold for that.
Dead juvenile bass were everywhere.  I saw at least five or six.  Alive ones were lethargic and unwilling to eat.  We didn't spend too much time here as this was more exploratory than anything else.  Casted a few flies but these fish were unmotivated to do anything.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Long Time No See

April 4, 2023

All summer my buddy Luc would text me if I wanted to stop by the lake and fish.  I couldn't and after a while and multiple declines I told him I hate declining so much and it would be best and wait for me to ask.  Unfortunately I never had the chance and soon the year passed.  After my return from Taiwan I was getting cabin fever and wanted to fish.  I texted Luc and we made plans.  Still with the haze of jetlag I didn't realize the date we chose a family member's birthday so I had to cancel.  With rain in the forecast and a full calendar I couldn't get back to the lake until much later.
Once the weather stabilized we set the date.  By 7am I was at Luc's home and we set off to launch the boat.  Popper season has yet to commence.  We needed the water temps to increase a few more degrees.  Probably a couple more weeks.  So that meant full sinking lines until then.  I've had a few experimental flies I wanted to try out and this was the time to give them a shot.  Unfortunately none seemed to produce.  So I switched to one of Luc's EP shad flies after he managed a few.  All in all he ended the day with at least nine.  I did manage one at the end of the day.  Takes were super subtle.  As Luc described it it feels as if you finger flick your line.  Barely fishing last year, I'm completely out of practice and have lost the "feel."  Reaction times are slow and my casts are poor; I'm completely out of my groove.  Need to change that.


Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Taiwanese Mahseer Part II: Trophy Hunting

March 11, 2023

When I arrived in Taiwan in January, I contacted my friend Danny to see if he was available to fish.  He was preparing for a trip to New Zealand and wouldn't be available until the later part of my trip in Taiwan.  When he came back we set up a time to fish.  With my last trip with Cash a bust due to the cold weather, I was hoping for better weather and a better outing.  Days prior to our planned trip, we checked the weather and the forecasts called for rain but luckily as the date approached the front seemed to move and it looked as if we may get an ideal day.

On March 11, the plan was to meet Danny and his friend Jarro at the Haishan Station at 6:30am and from there we would drive the two hours east on the Pacific side of the island.   I woke up at 5am and got out of the house to make the 6:03am train.  I arrived at the Haishan by 6:27am and met Danny at Exit One.  After some pleasantries we walked to met Jarro at his car parked just outside the station.  Whenever I go abroad to fish with someone I bring a small gift.  For the Donny, Cash and Danny I gave them each a mini game changer kit and body wrap.  I didn't have anymore since I didn't intend on fishing with anyone else.  Luckily I brought a Simms hat (still with tags) with me and decided to give that to Jarro.  It seemed to work out as he was stoked about it since he was going to buy a new cap anyways.  

One the long drive we'd talk fishing of course and about Danny's NZ trip.  And when we reached Nan'ao we'd stop for breakfast at a local stand for the local take on the danbing which is an egg omelette pancake.  The difference here is its made with rice flour that gives a chewy texture to the batter.  To wash it down sweetened soymilk.  These are staple Taiwanese breakfast items.  After the meal we headed off back to car but not before Jarro picked up some fantuan (Taiwanese rice balls) to pack for lunch.  

We drove into the mountains.  We'd fish the same location I fished with Cash but this time we'd head further up the mountain.  The plan was for Jarro to drop us off a kilometer ahead of where he planned to park.  From there Danny and I will fish together while Jarro would be behind us and far enough that any fish we disturbed would have plenty of time to reset when he finally reach them.  And eventually since he could move faster as a solo angler he'd eventually meet up with us.  Once we hooked back up at the predetermined destination we'd get off the trail and onto the road and hike the hour or so back to the car.

Weather was warm and sunny, much better on this day than when I came with Cash.  In fact it was consistently warm and sunny for the few days prior.  So I hope high hopes things should be good.  When Danny and I reached the water I only made a few casts before I got my first rise.  Unfortunately I was unable to connect.  Despite missing the fish, the early rise gave us hope and Danny said it should be a good day if we are already getting a response.  Water temps were 20°C (60°F) in the morning.  According to Danny it needed to be warmer than that for lights out fishing.  I was fishing a black beetle size 12 that Jarro gave me on a 3x leader.  This combo is the most productive for mahseer in Taiwan.  I would eventually connect early with a fish in the 12 inch range.  I didn't even bother taking a picture as I've caught several of those before in past trips.  Danny's goal was to guide me on a fish in 50cm range (20 inch).  Throughout the morning I would miss several more fish including ones in the 40 and 50cm range.  I was getting frustrated.  I was having a hard time seeing my fly and so I was slow whenever the fish took.   Danny would call it out and even then I was slow to set the hook.  Most Taiwanese fly tyers I've notice do not add any indicator on their beetle flies.  Jarro's was the same.  Personally I don't know why they don't.  The fish is unlikely to see it and it makes the fly so much more visible.  I tie mine with a white calf tail wing for that purpose.  I didn't bring too many as I thought most of any fishing I'd be doing would most likely be subsurface as I was there late winter, early spring.  Not that it mattered anyways as I fished Jarro's fly the whole time.
Fishing wasn't as red hot as Danny had anticipated but it was good.  Danny is known for 100 fish days but on this day it was only a fraction of that.  According to both Cash and Danny water levels are extremely low compared to previous years.  This obviously had an effect on the fishing.  As the day got warmer so did the fishing.  We'd catch fish here and there.  Danny was waiting for it to really turn on but unfortunately it never really did.  There were enough fish here and there to make things interesting though.  We took a break around noon for a stream side lunch of fan tuan (a Taiwanese rice ball)  in the hopes the sun would warm up the water a bit more.
After lunch we came across a pair of conventional anglers, a father and son duo that were fishing for another species.  We hiked past them and starting fishing.  When they came across us again they warned us that above on the cliff of the far bank in the trees was a nest of Asian Giant Hornets.  As it was late winter early spring the colony was dormant.  These little rascals are not to be reckoning with.  I commented to Danny that I've never seen one.  His response was " YOU NEVER WANT TO MEET ONE!"  These vicious little things with mark you with a pheromone and colony will attack you and chase you for miles.  Once disturbed thy will indiscriminately attack anyone in their way.  Given the boulders and the tough terrain you wouldn't be able to out run them here.  Danny told me he was chased once and had to dive in the water and hide head to toe swimming away from them.
Eventually we would reach a spot where Danny usually starts his fishing adventures.  There was a big hole that he told me to take and told me there should be some big fish in there.  I casted into a pool were I thought they'd be and sure enough I managed a fish under 40cm. 
Fishing for Taiwan Mahseer is quite different than for fishing for trout.  Your mentality needs to change.  Spots that you are inclined to fish as a trout hunter is completely opposite when trying to catch a mahseer.  Slow dead water are your target particularly behind rocks or boulders.  Unlike fishing for rainbows swift currents or foam lines rarely produce.  It's best to take the mentality as if your fishing for cutthroats or big browns. These fish tend to like the lazier areas. 
Eventually Jarro caught up with us and let us know how he did.  Jarro, like Danny, is capable of 100 fish days but that would not be the case on this day.  Although he did do better than us.  Danny hypothesized that when he reached the early waters we fished the water temps were beginning to increase getting the fish more active.
Danny was still on the quest of getting me on a 50cm mahseer.  I had a few opportunites up until now but had failed to connect on those occasions.  It was getting late in the day and in a big slow pool on the far bank over a rather swift rapid, I launched my fly in that directions.  An explosion erupted almost immediately and I was on.  Danny screaming 50! 50! He finally guided me on the trophy.  In a rather precarious spot with little room to room and rapid at our feet I fought the fish trying to get him to avoid the rapids as best I could.  Danny grabbed the net off my pack and we waited for the fish to tire so that Danny could land the thing.
After landing the fish we fished a few more holes before it was time to start our hour long hike back to the car.  First we needed to get out of the canyon, bushwhacking through the jungle up the steep side of the mountain.  We'd get onto the road above an make the long walk back. 

Since my first fishing outing this trip I knew my boots were on borrowed time.  I've kept a pair of Korkers in a family residence since 2018.  I knew I would not want to lug wading boots every time I came here to visit. But since 2019 due to the worldwide lockdowns I was unable to return during those four years my boots have been in a closet in a home that is uninhabited and so it had degraded in the humid conditions.  From day on arriving I knew the glue keeping theses boots together was starting to delaminate.  It had always been on my mind every outing.  By this my third outing I knew I may be pushing my luck.  I keep a roll of gorilla tape on my pack and before fishing I taped the boot together.  This was only a stop gap but I hoped it would hold enough for the day.  As expected after constantly being in the water it began to fail.  I would redress the tape every so often until I ran out.  Keeping elastic shock cord in my pack as well, I wrapped that around my feet too.  This in combination with the tape seemed to work out well enough.  I had to made some readjustments every so often but it got me off the mountain that day. 
We logged about seven tough miles for the day and when we got into town we headed to a local seafood restaurant for various dishes.  Most interesting was something I never had, pufferfish fried then spiced.  Its a tasty fish but a very boney which probably wouldn't please too many westerners.  With the boot now done for, this would be my last fishing outing on this Taiwan trip.  My desire to catch a snakehead and an Indo-Pacific tarpon went unrealized.  I guess that will have to wait until next time to try cross those species off my list.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Taiwanese Masheer Part I: Not Today

March 3, 2023

I was supposed to meet my friend Cash to fish the eastern part of Taiwan on February 9th but I got a text that morning saying not to forget my waders and rain jacket.  After a few texts it was concluded that it would be best to postpone the trip until the weather improves.

We wouldn't be able to get together until a month later and we fished March 3rd.  While conditions were slightly better it still was not ideal.  At least there was no rain but it was cloudy and cold.  I took the Express bus out of Taipei and met Cash in his hometown of Luodong.  We would fish for mahseer in the mountains and on the way back we'd head into the city to try for tarpon.

Fishing was poor and Cash managed two mahseer and while I got a couple rises I missed all my opportunities.  We tried dry flies the whole time but in retrospect conditions really called for fishing subsurface.  After a couple hours of surface fishing I decided that was the proper course of action was to go deep, I dug through my backpack only to realize left my streamer box in Cash's car.  After fishing most of the day we left and returned back to the city to attempt to land a Indo-Pacific Tarpon.  We'd fish a river located within the city for about an hour but my heart wasn't really into it as I felt rushed as I got a phone call earlier that day stating I needed to be home by 6pm for my father's doctor's appointment.  While we timed our fishing adventure to coincide with bus schedule to allow me to make that appointment. It made me feel pressured and I simply couldn't get in the zone.  We left after about an hour and I was on the bus home to make it on time.

To Be Continued...

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Barbel Steed In Taiwan

February 13, 2023

After a month in Taiwan I was able to finally go out and fish with my friend Donny Wang.   Donny was one of the first fly anglers I befriended in Taiwan and he's been kind enough to take out several times.  On this trip I wanted cross off a couple new species off my list.  For a long time, after discovering them  I wanted to catch a barbel. In Japan they are referred to as nigoi.  When I learned about them I emailed my friend Koji to ask about fishing for them.  He responded in Japan you can't really target them and catches are more of a chance encounter.  So when I learned that Taiwan had a healthy population of them and were regularly caught and targeted on a the fly I asked Donny if he could take me out.  He gladly responded in the affirmative and we set a time and date.  From there he'd take me on his scooter down the road to fish.
The date was set for February 13 and I would met him in the southern part of Taipei.  He couldn't pick me up since his car was being used by his son.  That meant that I would need to get a taxi to get down there.  The problem was hailing a taxi at 5:40am would not be easy.  So the night before I tried contacting the taxi company to schedule an early pick up.  After three attempts and being put on hold and then disconnected I gave up.  I then downloaded the taxi companies app and would try to use it the next morning.  When morning came the first attempt at the app was fail as the hailed cab ended up having engine problems and told me to rehail another cab.  That one worked fine and in no time a cab was in front of the building.  After a 20 minute drive I met Donny at 7-11.  The cab fare was a $240NTD roughly $8USD.
Donny took me on his scooter down the road and we parked and off loaded our gear to make our walk down to the river.  Once there we wadered up, rigged our lines with dry flies and made our way down to his favorite fishing point.  Once there we began fishing.  I was told to fish the slow edges and not to bother with the faster current.  We stood far from the banks made our casts into the water.  Donny was the first to be on with a Barbel.
The night before Donny recommended a three or four weight for these fish.  I had both rods with me in Taiwan,  a nine foot four weight that I keep in country and 7'9" three weight I brought in case I was able to fly over to Japan and fish for yamame.  But since he mentioned that we could possibly run into carp I opted to fish my 5 weight. Tilapia and barbels would be most of the fish we'd run into.  While I've only tried for Tilapia once here stateside at Mission Viejo Lake, it was a half-hearted attempt and I failed to get one.  My first fish of the day was a tilapia, a fish smuggled into the country from Singapore back in 1946.   This was my first tilapia I've ever landed but not the first I caught.  On one of my previous trips to Taiwan I managed to catch a large fat platter sized tilapia and got it to my feet before it popped off.  This time I'd actually land a few but none as big as the one I lost.
I would manage several more before I could actually get a barbel to bite.  Initially I'd either lost or broke off on every barbel I'd hook.  It took several attempts to finally land my first but not before adding new tippet to my leader.   I'm not quite sure why I kept breaking off.  I think the leader I was using was past due.  I was about to change the leader completely when Donny  told me not to and he just added some new tippet.  It seemed to hold from then on out and didn't have a break off from then on out.   Barbel  typically were slightly further from shore than the tilapia.  So you'd have to cast past the tilapia to reach our desired target.  We stood far off the banks and the drifting angle would often times drift into the tilapia zones.  After some adjusting I'd start landing some barbels.
These are a weird fish.  First they're spooky but not at the same time.  Donny said not to let them see you as they wouldn't bite if they did but at the same time you could line them and they wouldn't care.  On several occasions the fly would stab the body and they didn't seem to care.  Of course I wasn't doing this intentionally but they were podded up so densely it was almost impossible not to.    These barbels look like a freshwater bonefish but they are far from bonefish at least from a gamefish standpoint.  They have very little fight in them  They will give a very weak initial run and then quit.  They just become dead weight afterwards.  I landed my first and after taking pics I let him go.  It swam two feet from me and just stood still.  Perplexed I tried to scare him off but he wasn't moving.  I'd never seen such a thing.  I soon realized that the fish was still hooked as I didn't remove the fly and I was standing on the the leader.  I dragged him back and released him properly.  After a while fishing the slow edges of the current I  started seeing fish rise in the swifter parts of the river.  As my fly would drift into the zone barbels would rise and cloop like  a carp but would miss almost every time.  Even after missing the fish would chase the fly down the river clooping along the way trying to slurp the fly.  It looked like pac-man eating dots trying to get to the power pellets.  I never did get get one of these fish to actually eat my fly this way.  I think they just gave up after a foot or so.  This behavior I hypothesized is because the fish can't actually see the fly.  These barbels are bottom feeders and their mouths are located on the bottom of their heads.  When they rise for a fly I don't believe they actually see it and they probably use some judgement and other senses to estimate the location.  If they fail they just continue gulping until they reach the intended target.  At least that's the story I'm going with.

I'd get a mix bag of both species after landing my first few barbels.  Donny would get frustrated when hooking onto tilapia but I didn't mind as they were actually more fun to fish and fought harder.  Barbels, at least in this water, would pod up in large groups maybe 20 or more and stay in the same location.  They didn't move much from there even when spooked or when fish were caught.  They're an oddball fish.  Now that I've crossed them off the list of species I doubt I'd ever return to fishing them or I should say they won't be a priority species for me anytime soon.  If one wants to target this fish in Taipei, Donny tells me the "season" is December to March.  After that the fish don't take flies.  Donny isn't sure why but that's been his experience.  We fish all dry flies from size 20-10 with colors ranging from white, yellow to dark.  I don't think they are very picky.  My leader was a nine foot 5x.

To Be Continued...