Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Day 5 - Granny Gets Her Tarpon!

November 25, 2012

I needed my fleece again this morning. It didn’t feel quite as cool as yesterday morning, but still, in Belize you shouldn’t need a fleece. Today we have a new guide, Pedro. I requested Pedro because back when I came to Belize River Lodge a lot he was my favorite. Pedro knows his stuff, enjoys an angler that tries all species and hence we became great friends. It’s been about eighteen years since he guided me, however I saw him about eight years ago when he visited Idaho.

Granny and I were about burned out on the tarpon at the mouth of the Belize River when we ended yesterday. We’ve put in a lot of hours for them this week and we’ve not hooked any of the maddening silver kings. Yet they’re there. They’re huge. And if we catch one of them, there’s a good chance it will be the biggest tarpon of our lives. Naturally, when we met Pedro this morning the first thing he said is we need to fish for the giant tarpon at the river mouth. “Ok, but not long Pedro”, I said. “We’ve spent a lot of time casting to them. We’d rather enjoy the flats while we have good sunlight”. But Pedro was confident, if they were rolling, we’d catch one.

When we got to the Belize River mouth the tarpon were rolling just like every other day. It’s Granny’s dream to land a good tarpon so I handed her my Ross RX 12-weight with my 400 grain Scientific Anglers Tropic Express and she went to work. I grabbed a seat and re-rigged our flats rods like the barracuda popper set up, our bonefish rod and then I had Pedro pick out his favorite permit crab from my fly box and rigged that too. Meanwhile Granny was dropping her fly in the holes of rolling tarpon.

Once satisfied that our flats gear was well rigged, I picked up my other 12-weight and flipped my fly over the side and began to work out line. That’s when there was a grunt along with some fancy foot work by Granny. I thought she was falling off the bow of our panga. But she wasn’t, Granny was driving a Mark Kuhn tarpon fly deep into the rock hard mouth of an amazing tarpon, a tarpon that would test her stamina to the fullest as well as the strength of my Ross rod and reel.

Granny was hooked up! I frantically reeled my 12 back in. Pedro hopped down from the polling platform and pulled the anchor. All while loose fly line rapidly left the deck and hissed through Granny’s rod guides. Once the line cleared the deck my Ross F1 reel spun to life and Pedro and I sighed in relief. The chance of a nightmarish tangle was behind us and the fight was on. By now I had my new T2i Cannon locked in the direction of the running tarpon waiting for the jump. But I waited and waited. This big boy wasn’t jumping. Granny’s tarpon was all about deep line crackling, forearm cramping runs.

About 40 minutes into the fight Granny’s tarpon made one half body jump about 200 yards from the boat. Of course I wasn’t ready with the camera and that was the only jump. And due to the lack of tiring jumps the tarpon stayed strong for another 40 minutes. Then finally, with her arms quivering in pain and sweat beading off her forehead, Granny had her tarpon at boat side.

Normally the guide would lean over or hop out and land the tarpon, but Pedro offered me the honor. I accepted but with anxiety, this is my wife you know and this tarpon was long awaited. I couldn’t screw up. Over the side I went into the murky water up to my waist. In one incredible rod bending hoist Granny slid the tarpon to me and I grabbed his lower jaw. The tarpon thrashed and while he nearly slipped from me the fly popped out. A close call but I had him well enough!

We spent the next couple minutes photographing and measuring Granny’s tarpon. The giant was nearly 7ft long with a 42” girth - truly a monster. Granny has taken a lot of incredible fish but I could tell this one meant the most. She was awestruck by its size and beauty. Then we turned the tarpon for release and she swam away strong for another day.

Needless to say, I’m one heck of a proud husband. After a few beers and some relaxation we took for the mangroves and fished for snook. Granny made a few haphazard casts throughout the afternoon but spent most of the time grinning and drinking more Belikin Beers. Snooking around wasn’t great anyhow although I managed one nice one.

Tomorrows forecast looks to be mostly clear skies with light winds. We’ve yet to cast to permit this week so we’ll spend most of the day hunting them. No matter what happens this trip is already a magnificent success. Indeed, one fish can make a trip!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Day 4 - Fly Fishing for Tripletail

It’s never a good sign when you wake up in a tropical fishing area and begin the day by frantically digging for a fleece. This morning was that day. When I stepped out the door of our air-conditioned room it was colder outside. The cold front is still here and stronger than ever.

At 7:20 when Granny and I left the dock with Jose I ditched my fleece for the run to the fishing grounds. It’s Belize. The minute the sun pops add twenty degrees to the temps. But the sun never popped and while Granny and I chucked 12-weights for the rolling tarpon at the mouth of the Belize River we were actually shivering.

With the cool temps and clouds it’s hard to sight fish the flats so we stayed after the rolling tarpon for a couple hours. If there’s any one goal on this trip it’s for Granny to land her first big tarpon but they won’t eat her fly. These fish roll all around us. They’re huge fish and they get you all pumped up when you see their massive heads break the surface with the mouth open and the eye seemingly looking at you. Then the hugely scaled back slips through the surface followed by one push of the tail and he’s gone back down.

Once we got a little sun we could see it wouldn’t last long. Tarpon fishing was frustrating to say the least so I asked Jose for a tarpon break and if he would pole us through the area where we saw the tripletail the other day. He seemed surprised as I’m sure he gets few requests from clients to leave rolling tarpon to seek out a tripletail, but off we went about a ½ mile out into the bay in front of Belize City.

Your average angler doesn’t know much about the tripletail. They’re their own deal and a strange fish at that. They float on their sides like a flounder only suspended and usually near structure. I’m not sure how big they get but the one I spotted the other day was about the size of a big bass. And he didn’t look all that much like a fish. He was more a silver gob that looked like a plastic grocery bag. However when you smack your fly down next to one they upright themselves and charge after it.

We didn’t go far before I spotted that first weird looking gob in the water. Without hesitation I smacked down my Puglisi fly next to it. Sure enough he up righted and charged. I gave short fast strips and he quickly inhaled and I stuck him. Then he thrashed on the surface and spit my fly. I lucked out in that I looked back out and there were two others. One was huge. I splatted my fly next to him but the smaller of the two got it. My strip set was jolting this time and a few minutes later Jose netted this beauty for me.

The rest of the day was tough. The sun went in and out and the normal Belize heat never happened. I’ll be temps never left the 70°s. But we never stopped fishing and we added a small silk snapper and jack crevalle to the day. I should add that I missed a snook and Granny had a good sized cubera look at her fly but not eat it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Day 3 - An Unwelcome Cold Front in Belize

Granny and I are fishing long hard days here at Belize River Lodge. We’re happily exhausted from it. Because of this I apologize for short blog entries and falling behind. As always I’ll catch up.

There’s not a whole lot to be written of today anyhow. A terrible cold front moved in with a strong north wind and the tarpon won’t eat and we can’t find a permit to save our lives. Actually I shouldn’t say the tarpon won’t eat because the other couple staying here, our new friends Steven and Lee, landed a 135lb tarpon yesterday (all fish are released here and weight is determined by length and girth measurement formula). A truly awesome fish but that was their only bite in two days. And now with the cold front it might be impossible to make one tarpon eat.

When fishing is tough the Curriers fish harder however. Jose poled through the challenging conditions and with our combined efforts we scraped up four bonefish. As a bonus, while Granny was tossing big streamers to structure in hopes of a snapper she caught this barracuda. She was extremely lucky because she had 60lb mono shock tippet and not wire. The cuda was hooked in the corner of his mouth, any deeper and he’d of bit her off on the strike, yes, right through the 60lb.

There doesn’t appear to be any relief in the cold front in tomorrows forecast. This may change our approach. Perhaps we’ll go back and look for that tripletail we saw yesterday. As long as we chase stuff with fins Granny and I will be happy.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Day 2 - Belize River Lodge

At 5:15 AM this morning I headed for the Belize River Lodge kitchen for coffee under a sky full of stars. Visibility on the flats was not going to be a problem today. I was so stoked I could hardly concentrate on catching up on yesterdays blog and went on to blow off my email for the 3rd straight day.

Granny and I woofed down breakfast fast and before 7:30 we were at the mouth of the Belize River casting to rolling tarpon. But just like yesterday, the tarpon wouldn’t cooperate. We tried several different flies, different strips and different sink rate lines but not even a strike. Jose pulled our anchor after nearly an hour and he poled us into the bay next to Belize City. There were miles of scattered bait, diving pelicans, terns, dolphin and the wallowing manatees but no tarpon to be found. The only fishy excitement, a huge triple tail that wouldn’t eat my fly.

From there we motored out to the flats near Key Chappell to find some bonefish. The flat we stopped at was mangrove ridden and about 18” deep. You could see a mile with the sun and there were plenty of fish. Granny hopped up in the bow and she landed the first bonefish she saw. We went on catching six cruisers.

After a fill of bonefish Jose poled us around some deep mangrove areas. The tide was at its lowest and things seemed quiet. Jose knew a snook hole and sure enough we saw one hiding deep in the roots of a mangrove. The snook was impossible to land a fly near so I purposely splat my fly as close to the edge of the mangrove roots as I dared. I let the green and white baitfish imitation sink and stripped it away slowly. Often times a snook like this never moves but this one turned ever so slightly. Each cast he moved like he was sneaking up on fly and at the same time closer to the edge. Finally on my fourth cast he darted out and nailed my fly. He was a little guy around 24” and he was no match for my 10-weight. I turned him on his first jump and brought him in.

Say the word tarpon and Granny goes nuts. Jose called on a tarpon search so I turned the bow over to her. He took us out near the reef to a classic turquoise water colored flat. It’s truly as beautiful a tarpon flat as you have ever seen. Unfortunately, just as we started poling across, a boat full of sightseers came speeding out of nowhere and zipped right over our flat. I couldn’t believe my eyes. We were ticked! Just as we were about to freak out we got the ultimate satisfaction – the driver got too shallow with his massive panga and stuck it on the flat. They weren’t going anywhere for hours!

Our last stop today was home of some baby tarpon. This was another mangrove area with turtle grass butting up to them. We heard some popping tarpon way back in the roots of the mangroves. We patiently waited until three of them came out near the edge of the open water. Getting the fly in their sight wasn’t easy but Granny made an incredible cast. Out they came in single file. Granny kept her cool and stripped the fly until finally the lead fish grabbed it. At first she strip set but couldn’t feel him and then she panicked and tried to set the hook with the rod – the worst thing you can do with tarpon. The hook freed and they tore back deep onto the mangroves not to be seen again.

Tarpon have one of the hardest mouths of any fish and can be ridiculously hard to hook. I have flies on hooks that make me nervous to think about casting over a humans head because they are so sharp. If I get near them they always seem to catch me. Yet then a tarpon completely eats it and you set with all your might and they just blow it out. It’s incredible.

We had another fun day on the flats. I’m not sure how I kept away from here for so long. We are having a great time!

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day 1 - Belize River Lodge

After a great evening around the dinner table here at Belize River Lodge with chat about how good the fishing has been it was concerning to hear heavy rains pounding our cabin a 3 AM this morning. I’ve picked up a nickname over the years, “Monsoon Currier” and let’s just say it’s not a good nickname. Perfect weather and fishing conditions have been known to disintegrate fast when I arrive. Luckily, the heavy rains didn’t last but we still awoke to a cool cloudy day.

A day at Belize River Lodge starts with a big breakfast at 7. Then you head out fishing. Today was Day 1 and although I still know a few of the guides from years back, we had one I didn’t know, Jose. Jose knew my history here and we hit it off quick by talking about Raul, a top guide from here and mutual friend that passed away of a heart attack last spring at only 40. Raul is sadly missed. Then Jose and I went over a game plan, checked over the rigs and we were off to the mouth of the Belize River where there were some rolling tarpon.

I handed Granny my Ross RX 12-weight with a SA Tarpon Taper WF12I and a black fly tied up by my friend Milkfish. Granny is an incredible caster but doesn’t have the good fortune of chucking the 12 often. Jose and I did a little ducking as she warmed up. I grabbed my other 12 and a 400 grain sinking Tropic Express and cast from the middle of our panga.

About an hour later we reeled the big sticks in. Although we saw a few tarpon roll they wouldn’t cooperate. Granny caught a leather jack, a new species for her, similar looking to the queenfish you often catch in the Pacific but that was all.

Our light conditions for spotting fish remained poor so Jose suggested heading out to the ocean to pound big flies into the mangroves for snook. You don’t need to see a snook to catch him, and even so, snook appear very black in the water and even in poor sight fishing conditions you can see them. The move was a great call and during the rest of the morning Granny and I each landed a respectable snook.

We spent the afternoon struggling to see anything with more thick clouds. Our only hope was tailing fish and we found a few bonefish. However, they were in such skinny water we couldn’t get close enough for a decent cast. Accidentally we managed two because we got the wind behind us and launched a couple ridiculously lucky long casts.

It was a great Day 1. We had success in tough conditions and Jose is a great guide. Who knows what the weather will bring but judging by the changes in wind direction from north to south today, things should improve.

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Back to Belize

It’s been way too long since my last trip to Belize. I’d have to dig back through old journals but I’m guessing it’s been like eight years. I make it sound like I’ve been to Belize often – that’s because I have. Between 1989 and 1993 I went nine times.

No I wasn’t rich or a trust fund kid. I mortgaged my life to go on that first trip in 1989. Afterwards it took me about five years to pay it off. But despite being in debt I had to go back. That’s when I got into hosting trips.

I had plenty of trout fishing clients from working out of the fly shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Every guide trip I did, every casting lesson I gave and every customer I chatted with in the shop heard about Belize. By the end of each summer I had at least 20 folks to take to Belize with me that winter. Take groups to lodges in Belize and that equates to free trips!

I rotated my clients in and out of two excellent lodges, Belize River Lodge and Turneffe Flats Lodge. Both lodges are still tops today and each has the same owners and even some of the same guides I wore out when I was a young maniac. Life was good. I was in my early 20’s and managed a way to fish the flats of Belize with regularity. But just when Belize was most perfect I got curious. Curious about other saltwater fly fishing destinations. Curious about other trout destinations. Then curious about every fish on the planet that would take a fly. Then despite my love for Belize it went on the back burner for more than 20 years while I set out to see and fish the world.

I have no regrets. The last 20 years have been incredible. But I must admit, no matter where I found myself, not a day went by where I didn’t think about Belize. Belize is where my love for new species and foreign adventures began. That’s why it was time to return and I’m excited to say that for the next seven days Granny and I will be fishing the flats here.

We arrived at Belize River Lodge this afternoon and united with our long time friends and owners Mike Heusner and Marguerite Miles. These folks took mighty good care of me back in the day. I’ll never forget the day we met. Marguerite fed me a Belikin beer and told my how the inner lodge worked. Then Mike talked to me about the fishing. Mike didn’t mention the word fly. When he was done I dropped the fly fishing thing on him and he shook his head in doubt. The next morning my boat was loaded with spin rods and trolling gear. Despite his plea (he was only trying to guarantee me fish) I had the non fly gear removed and went for it with my guide Roy.

During that first visit I didn’t exactly tear up the fish but I stuck with the fly and managed to catch some. “Some” included a handful of bonefish and baby tarpon, a 75lb tarpon and a heap of other cool fish species from barracudas to an eight foot bull shark (I didn’t exactly land him). It turned out Mike appreciated my efforts and we became great friends. And the guides liked the fly rod also. It was different and fun, not to mention perhaps more effective when done right.  I came back at least once a year for the next four.

That’s the short story and all I can say is that it’s good to be back in Belize. Tomorrow is our first fishing day of seven and you can expect reports and photos from all. As always, they may not post in a timely manner as internet and available time isn’t always guaranteed on these trips however the posts will come. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Works Done - Let's go Fishing In Belize

Today is the end of the longest period of no fishing for me since last February.  My wild run on various waters the last two months put me way behind in my work from art, organizing my winter schedule and updating my PowerPoint's for winter shows.  I buckled down however and have my “work” life back on track.  Of note, I completed two paintings for longtime customer Dan Beistel. The paintings included a black bass and this American shad, one of the biggest shad I’ve ever seen.

The other factor that kept me off the water was that I’m headed for Belize tomorrow to see my longtime friends of Belize River Lodge.  Packing for the flats always entails a bunch of preparation from rigging up tropical fly lines and tying Biminis for tarpon leaders to organizing flies for numerous different species.  I even had to tie up some Crazy Charlie’s and I’m not much of a tier.  You can go to almost any fly shop and find bonefish flies but on average they are too heavy for Belize.  Belize is true skinny water bonefishing.  So, long story short I dug out my vice and between Granny and me we tied up some very nice mono eyed Belize bonefish flies.

Our first fishing day is Wednesday and from there I’ll do my best to report.  I’m sure I’ll have internet issues and fall behind but as always, the day by day accounts will post in order when possible.  Should be excellent!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Currier Fish Art for Christmas

The snow is here which means a little less fishing and a lot more painting.  If you need any “Currier” art for Christmas now is the time.

I have excellent stock of my famous coffee mugs including many new species such as Yellowstone Cutthroat, golden trout, steelhead, pike, sockeye salmon and more.

Let me customize a Cliff Fly Box with any fish your family angler or friend would like.

Order up a painting of the big fish of 2012. 

Most exciting of all, long time friend Harvey Cohen, is thriving with the Fly Fishing Show Room where you can get any of my fish on over 25 different products.  Especially hot right now are Christmas ornaments, beer steins, frosted mugs, cuttingboards, trivets, mouse pads and the list goes on.  Order anything online at Harvey’s site!

Happy fishing!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Grass Carp Code - Cracked Forever!

If there’s any fish I’ve gone from being humbled by beyond belief to learning how to catch them with regularity it’s been the grass carp (white Amur).  The first time I ever saw one of these sleek vegetarians was right here in Arizona.  They were cruising the urban lakes but I couldn’t catch them.  I tried everything and after days I finally lucked into a monster nearly 20lbs.  The grassies challenged my fly fishing skills so much that when I held that first one it was a similar experience to when I landed my first permit.

I became more patient and observant over the years.  I started to catch grass carp more often.  I learned that green or lime hoppers worked better than grass-looking fly concoctions.  I discovered that landing my fly a few inches in front of them when they were tilted slightly upwards was best even though sometimes it spooked them.  It became evident that making my fly hit hard was better then a gentle presentation.  And the tricky part, when a grass carp eats he often nibbles the fly before putting the hook in his funny shaped mouth.  I learned to watch carefully before striking. 

These days I’ve mastered the technique to catch grass carp on the fly and today I landed twelve.  Most were quality fish ranging up to 8lbs, however one was larger.  Steve, Cinda and I were walking the canal where Steve and I landed a dozen grassies on Friday.  The day was similar.  It was hot and there were numerous grassies up to about 25” doing their gentle rises to moss drifting slowly downstream.  I was fishing my olive grand hopper and catching a few.  I was enjoying myself but I must admit, landing fish and releasing them from the canal is not only difficult but dangerous because you need to wade down these precarious steps.  You don’t want to fall in here.  To avoid doing this over and over I found myself becoming choosy about which grass carp I cast too.  If they weren’t 25” I didn’t cast at them.

I walked a little ways and found several small grassies feeding.  They were suspended about three inches below the surface.  They weren’t worth casting too but below them was a ghostly figure.  The shape was almost too deep to make out in the dark somewhat muddy water.  But eventually I could see clearly.  It was a giant grass carp hiding below his body guards. 

I watched the larger fish closely hoping he would rise.  He wouldn't.  I made a cast and one of the body guards ate my fly.  With the utmost in patience, rather than set the hook I let him chew on it.  Luckily he spit it and went back to eating moss.  I made several more casts and avoided setting on yet another.  All the time the now clearly monster grass carp coasted in the current.

You don’t see fish like this often.  I don’t just mean this big grass carp, but abnormally large fish of any species.  I observed for a few minutes.  I enjoyed the moment – he was absolutely awesome.  That’s when I noticed he got in feeding position.  He elevated up with the smaller grassies, tilted and gazed ahead for a chunk of drifting moss.  I wasted no time.  In one false cast I landed my fly four inches upstream of his nose.  My heart dropped as he slowly rose then leisurely opened his mouth.  Then like a slow shutting garage door, he closed his mouth.  It’s easy to screw up setting on a grass carp but when that door closed I hit him hard.  The beast was on!

Grass carp generally fight strong, however the ones of this canal don’t get too rowdy.  Not this big boy however.  The second my hook penetrated his rubbery lip the bizarre looking silvery fish went ballistic.  He made a short deep run up the canal.  Although short it was furious.  Then the headshakes began.  I could just picture him underwater shaking side to side.  When that didn’t free him he made his next run.  This time it was a long run straight downstream.

May I remind you I fish carp with a Ross RX 5-weight and 3X tippet.  This was neither a 5-weight fish nor a 3X fish.  My original assessment before I hooked him put this grassie at about 36” and perhaps 15lbs, but now that he was pulling me around I could tell from his strength he was bigger.   At this point he continued to fight me down deep so I couldn’t get a good look.

Ten minutes into the battle I reached for my phone.  I couldn’t see Steve or Cinda so as my mighty grassie steadied down deep I rang Steve, “Dude I have a monster and I need help”. 

Another 5 minutes went by then Steve showed up with a net.  I started laughing.  It would be a chore to put a 10lb trout in this net.  Steve suggested when we see the fish I stuff his head in there and grab the tail.  I’ve not had a lot of success with this method.

About when my arms were starting to shake, the hefty grass carp came to the surface.  He was tired.  With a huge net we could have scooped him up.  But this is the canal.  Little grass carp are hard to land in the canal; this was going to test my skill, courage and sanity to the max.  I eased my way down the dry steps, and then got thigh deep on a submerged step.  One slip and it wouldn’t be pretty but I was getting this old carp. 

Another ten minutes went by.  My 5-weight was bent to the brink of explosion.  My long leader hummed like a guitar string.  At least 20 times I got that fish within inches of my reach but he surged.  I couldn’t believe nothing broke or that my barbless hopper didn’t pull out.  By now we had and audience and I had to succeed.  Finally, like the famous huchen I caught years ago, I got an opportunity to put my whole arm around his middle, hug him against me and topple with him to the cement.  It worked.  The giant grass carp was landed.  And after a few photos I released him back to his beautiful, dirty and perhaps polluted canal.  Awesome!

It’s back to Idaho in the morning.  I’d like to join the boys and head trout fishing but I’m way behind in my work.  I have art projects and its time to update my PowerPoint's and prepare for a grueling show season.  The good news however, in two weeks Granny and I head for Belize to visit some old friends of Belize River Lodge!