Peacock Bass: Welcome to the Jungle

The timing was perfect. I was trying to figure out where to take my next fishing trip when my phone rang. It was Matt Miles, from Matt Miles Fly Fishing in Lynchburg, Virginia. He was telling me about the trip he just came back from, chasing Peacock Bass in the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil and how incredible the experience was. The best news came next: he was going to be hosting a trip the following season with the operator, Michael Williams of Nomadic Waters. I immediately jumped on the opportunity and sent in my deposit.

Fast forward a year, and the trip I anxiously awaited was finally here. Getting into the rainforest is not a quick process. We flew into Manaus, spent a night in the city, then back to the airport where we took a charter flight to an air strip in a small town. We then caught our yacht, which spent the night going up river to the fishing grounds. The views were incredible, and the excitement only built further. The biggest surprise, though, was the appetizers we were served on the boat. They were absolutely delicious, and were just a preview of the incredible meals we’d be having for the rest of the week. Have you ever known anyone that can serve potatoes cold, yet make them so good that people are fighting over the last one? I hadn’t either. Seriously – this food wasn’t just good for a fishing trip, it was legitimately outstanding!

On to the fishing – that’s why you’re here anyway, isn’t it? From the yacht, we split 11 fishermen onto 6 bass boats. The fishing can be summed up in one word: wow. I hooked my first peacock bass almost immediately. It wasn’t a huge fish, but I’ve never had a fish fight like that one. Many say that a 2 lb smallmouth bass fights like a 5 lb largemouth bass. Well, I argue that a 2 lb peacock bass fights harder than a 5 lb smallmouth. Now, imagine that 5 lb peacock bass are not uncommon, and there were plenty of 10-15 pound fish caught this trip.

The first morning we put 29 fish in the boat, which were huge numbers. The afternoon was great, but a little slower. Combined, our group caught 174 fish on the first day, with a number of fish exceeding the 10 lb mark. Michael was simply blown away by the numbers. None of us knew that this would be our second worst day of the week. Our final week total set a record for Nomadic Waters: 1613 fish over 6 days. Let’s put that in perspective for a moment. We fished about 8 hours a day for those 6 days, which means we fished for 2,880 minutes. With our catch numbers, one of the 11 anglers caught a fish about every 1 minute, 45 seconds. Let the sheer volume sink in. Perhaps even more impressive was that more than half the group only fly-fished.

A little bit more about the operation: the guides were some of the hardest working people I’ve met. There were more than a couple times where the guides went for a swim to help free up a fish that wrapped itself on a branch. In water filled with piranha and caiman, that’s what I call dedication! Although the guides didn’t speak English, Michael prepared us with a cheat sheet on how to pronounce the most important words to help us communicate with the guides and fish successfully. Even without the common tongue, it was so easy to build a relationship with the guides. On our last evening, Michael and the team put on a luau on the beach to say goodbye. The guides said a few words, translated over to English, and all were truly thankful to be able to spend time with us. Some actually shed a few tears, and all gave us a hug to say goodbye.

Many people have fears about safety, illness, and just being so incredibly remote. I was a bit nervous myself, to be honest. But, there’s nothing to be nervous about. Michael has been spending time in this part of the world for years and has the operation running incredibly smooth. There is full time support staff on the boat, including an engineer and a nurse. When we’re back in civilization, we always had a Nomadic Waters team member there with us. There wasn’t even a moment where I felt unsafe or vulnerable.

If you’ve never fished for Peacock Bass, you’re missing out. This is absolutely a bucket list trip, and I can’t recommend it enough. Reach out to me at jeff@findthefishing.com if you have any questions about my experience, and I’m happy to answer any questions you have! Otherwise, head on over to Nomadic Waters to get more details on the trip! 2019 dates will be posted in January, so get ready to mail in that deposit!

Cuban Time Warp

Sometimes, a once in a lifetime opportunity comes your way and you just have to jump on it. When I received an email from Albemarle Angler about some upcoming hosted trips, it was sheerly by chance that I clicked the link to read more about one. At this point, I don’t even remember what the trip was, because I very quickly got distracted by something that was way cooler. A legal week long trip to Cuba for bonefish, permit, and tarpon. To a virgin fishery. Before Americans are generally allowed to go Cuba. I called up Scott (he’s guided me a couple times before for smallmouth bass on the Shenandoah) to ask a couple questions. It didn’t take much before I was booked. Only 9 months on the calendar until it was trip time.

The preparation phase of this trip was probably the worst. I had done one day of fishing for tarpon on the flats, but other than that, never before done any sort of tropical fly fishing. I was no stranger to the flats targeting redfish, but this was a different beast. Other than pictures, I had never even seen a bonefish or permit before this trip. I had no idea what to expect, what flies to tie, or how much gear I really needed to buy (OK, buying the gear was fun). Luckily, Scott and crew were always a phone call away to make sure I came all set up, well stocked, and well prepared. Note: as good as they are, they can’t force you to remember to pack that rain jacket. Brrrr.

20160220_125946Finally, it came time to get on the plane to Cuba. Well, to Canada first, since we still don’t have commercial flights. My excitement really started building as we’re approaching the Cayo Cruz airport. You could see incredible expanses of flats everywhere. Wetting a line was only a day away, but felt like it was still an eternity.To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it on the trip. I got a lovely diagnosis of the flu four days before I was supposed to leave. Luckily, that tamiflu stuff is a beast.

We landed, hopped in a couple taxis, and made the two hour drive to the lodge. It quickly became quite obvious that we were not in a place we were used to. There were very few cars – although there were far more new cars than I was expecting mixed in with the classics. Sugar cane fields were absolutely everywhere. And the main mode of transportation for people was donkey carts.  Upon arrival to the lodge, we were warmly greeted by the staff and were quickly fed some mojitos. After dinner, we did introductions, met the guides, and planned out the following day. The fishing area is broken out into 6 zones. Generally, they only have one boat operating in each zone, although they’re big enough that you could never run into each other if you share a zone.

OK, well this one wasn't my first, but close enough!

OK, well this one wasn’t my first, but close enough!

The marina was about a 30 km drive from the lodge, which took a little over an hour due to the terrible roads. We got to the marina early the first day to rig up our rods, then hopped in our boats and went off. This is where my forgotten rain jacket would’ve come in handy. The boat spray and the downpour we had in the first hour made for a chilly morning. The first day, I fished with Carson, the owner of Albemarle Angler and co-host of the trip, and our guide Nelson. Carson knew I had never caught a bonefish before and wanted to get some footage of my first. We waded a massive lagoon (it took us over 6 hours to fish half of it), so I had Nelson and Carson’s eyes helping me look for my first bone. It took a while, but we finally found a school of about 10 bonefish swimming right at me. I dropped my Gotcha into the fray and had one bite, but I couldn’t connect. I kept stripping, got another strike, but couldn’t connect again. A quick recast and I got tight. The bonefish took off screaming, but my Hatch Finatic 7 Plus was no match for slowing it down. Before long, my first ever bonefish was in hand.

After the rush of my first, Carson started fishing on his own as well. It was tough conditions with a cold front having come through and lots of clouds. That didn’t stop the fish, nor stop us from catching them. Carson and I combined for 22 bonefish to the hand by the end of the day – 13 for him and 9 for me. I got one barracuda, which was a blast, and had a lemon shark eat about 10 feet from me, but he broke me off 10 seconds later.

As the week progressed, conditions got better and better. On my second day, I finally got a shot at a permit. I dropped the fly in front of the fish, and heard the guide yell “Strip! Strip! Strip! SET THE HOOK!” A long pull with my left hand and…. I pulled up two feet of slack and watched the permit spook away. Whoops.

There was something about me and my boat that seemed to attract permit. I had by far the most shots at permit, delivering the fly to around 20 fish. I only got two fish to eat – that first one, and the very last one I saw – but couldn’t come tight to either. One of the other guys had a bonefish steal the fly out of a permit’s mouth. But, that was the closest anyone got to catching one that week. It was tough conditions all week for permit and not prime time, but we still go in our shots.

Toward the end of the week, we had a glass-calm morning. The guide said we were starting out looking for tarpon. With the calm weather, we had a good chance at finding some of the resident tarpon rolling. We saw the first roller only a couple minutes after getting to the flat. We pulled up, the guide pointed a fish out, and I dropped in the fly. A fish ate, but I only stung his lip. Next cast, another eat, but I set too soon and pulled it out of his mouth. Nothing on my third cast. Fourth cast brought a mangrove snapper to hand. My fifth cast turned out another eat. I yanked on the line and got solid contact. The guide starts telling me to set the hook again. The tarpon started running directly at me and past the boat. As I’m trying to keep from getting slack, let alone another attempt at a hook set, I get jumped. I turned over the bow to my boatmate after that, but we couldn’t get another shot. Carson ended up landing one the next day.

Barracuda stichedOf all the fish I caught the whole trip, my favorite by far was barracuda. I caught two on the trip, with the second being a pretty hefty specimen. These fish will take 100 yards of backing in about 10 seconds. Apparently, most jump, although I only had my second one jump. He was a feisty one. Once hooked, he started jumping and tailwalking as if he was a sailfish. With each jump, he’d easily clear 40 feet of water before going back to swimming rather than flying.

IMG_2714There were quite a few unique things about the Cuban fishing. First, these bonefish are stupid. You can completely miss your cast, even dropping it 5 feet behind the fish, and it’ll come back and destroy your fly. You can get a bad hookset, pop the fly out, and it’ll pick up the fly again. Even with a couple cold fronts coming through and less than ideal conditions, bonefish were always fairly plentiful. Over the week, I caught about 30, despite focusing on permit several days. The flats are quite unique as well. There are more than a few areas where the flats go on as far as you can see. Some are easily over a square mile. While I have no comparison since this is my first trip, I was told some individual flats are bigger than all of Ascension Bay. Lastly, no matter what flat you’re on, you always have a chance at seeing a permit. In fact, there wasn’t a day where either I or my boatmate didn’t see a permit. Because of that, more often than not, I wound up throwing my 10 weight Helios 2 just in case we ran into a permit. But, that didn’t stop the bonefish from putting up one heck of a fight. Many would take us well into our backing. While the fish weren’t necessarily too long compared to other destinations, they were far fatter. The average fish was 4-5 pounds, with quite a few hitting the 10 pound mark.

So far, the Cuban fishery has been amazing. Hopefully, it will stay that way. Luckily, the Cubans are very proud of their environmental resources and actively try to protect it. However, as things begin opening up with the US, who knows what will happen. Surely, it will get way more expensive. If you want to go, make some moves quick. Albemarle Angler is hosting another trip to Cuba in December 2016. I highly recommend getting in before things start to change!

October Redfish

“This one’s only a baby!”

How many times have you been able to say that in all honesty while fighting a 12 lb redfish? Well, hitting the marshes of Louisiana during October, you can. I joined Captain Greg Moon of Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters for a 4-day trip to the marshes during some prime October fishing. As luck seems to have it with me, weather would not be friendly for the whole trip. A front moving after the first night in was predicted to whip up winds too strong to fish, so we had to make the good weather on day 1 count since it looked like it would be the only day I’d get to fish.

Fish on the flats

Look carefully at this picture. Every light marking in the water is a fish. This particular school was heavy on the black drum, but had plenty of redfish mixed in as well.

This time of year, the fish school up like crazy. And I’m not talking like in South Carolina where you’re getting schools of 5 pound fish. I’m talking about the big boys and girls. Your average fish is in the twenty pound range. Acres of fish, too. Some schools, like the one pictured, were heavy in black drum, but still had plenty of redfish mixed in. Others schools were predominantly redfish. The schools had one thing in common though – they were HUGE. Acres of fish.

Redfish on the MarshThroughout the day, we stopped counting the fish I caught, but it was somewhere in the ballpark of 20-25 redfish and two black drum. I only caught two fish all day under 20 lbs. The average fish was in the mid 20-lb range, with a few creeping close to 30 pounds. There were definitely some 30+ pound fish in the schools, but I missed my shot on them or had a smaller one take it away. Towards the end of the day, I even stopped casting to fish that didn’t have a shot at going 30+. To put it bluntly, this was the single best day of fishing I have ever had in my life. I know if the weather would have held, I would’ve found my 30 lb fish over the next several days. Look below for the rest of the pictures from the day!

Ready to book? Good luck! October dates book up WELL in advance. In fact, Greg already has all of October and most of November 2016 booked already, so check out 2017. Don’t fear, though – the entire year has fantastic fishing! Give Greg a call at (702) 497-1673. Additional contact information is on his website. Don’t forget to check out his photo gallery for some seriously amazing pictures of fish his clients have put in the boat. Half day trips run $475 for up to 2 people, and full day trips go for $600. Once you go, come back and leave a review!

Big school of redfish

Big school of redfish

Beautiful shot of a tail on the release

Beautiful shot of a tail on the release

Nice action shot

Nice action shot

Black drum on the fly

Black drum

Redfish on the fly

One of many redfish

Redfish release

Redfish release

Redfish on the fly Redfish on the fly

James River Smallmouth with Matt Miles

My wife begrudgingly rolled over when the alarm went off at the hotel. We were to meet our guide, Captain Matt Miles, at the boat ramp for a smallmouth float on the James River in about an hour. Like a trooper, Susanna rolled over and looked like she was filled with regret with her decision to humor me and join in on the fishing trip. I’ve fished with Matt a few times before, twice for musky and once for stripers (yikes, I just realized I never wrote about that trip!), but this would be the first time getting out with him to focus on smallmouth.

We rolled up about two minutes early with Matt waiting patiently and strung up our gear. Matt’s dad ran the shuttle with us, saving us an extra trip by car on each side. Matt told me and Susanna that we would be fishing topwater today – but I already knew that. Who would possibly fish any other way in late August?

We got onto the water, and it was time for Susanna to demo her casting skills. Being a novice as-is, this was her first time casting in about two years, and the rust was really showing. Matt was prepared though. After a five minutes of casting lessons, she already was casting better than I had ever seen before.

With everyone’s casts in check, we began the real float. The first stretch would be slow. For some reason, it seems every single float I’ve ever done is terrible through the first and last half mile of river. We get along some shoreline grass, and Matt tells me to be ready for a fish cruising the grass line. Sure enough, I get nailed by a 12-14” smallie. The skunk was off.

Matt-Miles-Smallmouth-On-The-FlyThe next fish slurped the fly like a trout taking in a midge. It barely even left a surface riffle. It was a true sign of a giant. Sure enough, my 7-weight bent hard. We battled back and forth, and I struggled keeping it out of the submerged grass. Matt gave me pointers on properly fighting the bronzeback. Go figure, after 15+ years of chasing smallies on the fly, you can still learn the right way to fish and fight fish. Matt netted my quarry. It measured just over 20 inches – a Virginia citation fish.

The next several fish alternated between the “fun size” 12-14 inch fish and the hefty 17-19 inch fish we were after. We caught so many fish in the 16-inch plus class, we stopped counting. I had another fish in the 20 inch range on the line, but a last second dodge of the net and dive under the boat left him swimming away with the popper in his mouth. I was blown away by the sheer number of quality fish. There was even a huge one that we watched sip the popper. In my excitement, I fumbled the hookset and missed. I said, “Well, that’s OK. It wasn’t quite as big as the first one.”

Matt quipped, “Hey man, whatever helps you sleep tonight.”

Ready to book with Matt Miles? For some of the best fly fishing in southwest Virginia, give Matt a call. Rates start at $300 for a half day float or wade trip.

Reflections from 100 Fly Fishers

Recently, I was featured in a book about fly fishermen (and women!) from around the country called Reflections from 100 Fly Fishers. The book contains a one page “blurb” about each of us. There are some interesting tips and tricks in there, as well as some great short stories. Best of all, the proceeds benefit Casting for Recovery and Project Healing Waters. You can get a copy on Amazon.

Reflections from 100 Fly Fishers is a beautiful collection of fly fishing memories and tips from over 100 top guides and fly fishers from across the globe. All profits support the Casting for Recovery and Project Healing Waters Missions.

Our New Blog – District Carp

We’re proud to announce our newest blog, District Carp. This blog details our efforts of fly fishing for carp in Washington, DC. We’ll be giving constant reports on the conditions, but we’ll also be going over everything from techniques to gear to carp travels across the country. Please check it out, read up on our last few trips, and follow us to stay in touch with the latest news!

Sugar Hollow Farm with Albemarle Angler

Moormans River

The scenic Moormans River on Sugar Hollow Farm

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to get out on the water with Cole from Albemarle Angler to target some rainbow trout. We fished a private stretch of the Moormans River that’s on Sugar Hollow Farm just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. Albemarle Angler has access rights to about 3/4 of a mile of this river, and they stock it each year with a hefty number of trout. Unfortunately, there’s really no wild or holdover fish in this river since it’s a tailwater fed with water from the top of a dam, and it just gets too warm during the summer to support the trout. This does make for a hefty smallmouth population, though!

My trout experience is pretty limited in rivers. Growing up on Cape Cod, the only trout you really caught were in lakes, with the extraordinarily rare catch of a sea-run brown trout. Since I focus so much of my time on warmwater or saltwater species, I haven’t had tons of time to learn proper ways to read a river or practice delivering a fly to a trout. I usually only get out for trout once or twice per year, and never in the winter. I was very excited to start picking up new techniques to add to my arsenal.

Rainbow TroutWe suited up and got in the river. It was pretty stained from the previous day’s rain, but wasn’t too muddy. Cole tied on a Kreelex for me, and told me how to fish the first hole. A few casts in, I get my first strike. After a hard fight and some acrobatic jumps, we have about a 14″ rainbow in the net. A few casts later, I was hooked up again with another beautiful, hard fighting rainbow trout.

The trout Albemarle Angler put in the river aren’t your standard stocked trout. They feed on natural river-based food, rather than hatchery food. The fish still readily take a fly, but their natural diet makes them a bit more wily, and much closer to a wild trout than your typical stocker.

Rainbow Trout

Another nice rainbow trout released

I was impressed with how well Cole knew the waters. Despite the stained water, he could tell me exactly where every feature of the river was. He knew where the ledges were, where I could walk out on a sandbar, and where to avoid so I didn’t snag. All I could see was muddy water. This knowledge paid off, though, and he kept me on fish all day. He knew when to switch up the fly, and just how to present it to maximize your chances at a strike.

Ready to book with Albemarle Angler? Be sure to leave a review if you try them out! They can be reached at albemarleangler@gmail.com via email or by phone at (434) 977-6882. Rates for a full day floats are $350 including lunch, and wading trips start at $225 for a half day. Albemarle Angler targets smallmouth bass from mid-March through mid-October, and trout (brook, brown, rainbow, and tiger trout!) from mid-September to mid-June depending on water flows. They fish the Shenandoah and James Rivers for smallmouths, and various rivers, streams, and creeks (including some private water) for trout. Albemarle Angler is also a full service fly shop located at 1129 Emmet St, Charlottesville, Virginia, 22903. As if all that isn’t enough, they also coordinate fly fishing trips across the globe.

Fletcher’s Cove is in Danger

Updated 12/15/2014: Over the weekend, we received a press release from the C&O Canal National Historic Park. Progress is being made, but we still need your help! The full text of the press release:

The National Park Service (NPS), Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, is hosting a public meeting regarding Fletchers Cove river access.  The public is invited to provide input on December 17, 2014 from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM at the NPS National Capital Region Headquarters located at 1100 Ohio Drive, SW, Washington, DC, 20242.


Fletchers Cove has been a popular river fishing destination in the District for more than a century, but sedimentation is threatening recreational/subsistence fishing and concession operations (boat rentals).  NPS is committed to working with the concessioner to provide safe, appropriate, and sustainable access for fishing and boat rentals at this site.  Those interested in this issue may attend the meeting to engage in a dialogue about potential short- and long-term solutions.

Fletcher’s Cove, a staple for fishermen and Potomac River enthusiasts throughout the Washington, DC area, is in danger. The dock was closed by the National Park Service two weeks before the end of the season, and if nothing is done soon, it may not reopen in the spring.

Fletcher’s Cove got it’s name from the family that lived in the area and ran the boathouse until about 10 years ago. The boathouse sells tackle, bait and fishing licenses, and also rents rowboats, canoes, and kayaks. Each spring, Fletcher’s is the jumping point for thousands of anglers – myself included – that take a rowboat out to hunt for the shad and striped bass that make their annual migration through the waters.

What drove the NPS to close the docks is the result of years of human development changing the natural course of the Potomac River. Silt and river debris have lodged themselves under the walkway to the dock, tilting it and creating the potential for a hazard.

So what can be done about this? The NPS is investigating both short-term and long-term solutions, but if no progress is made soon, it will endanger the 2015 spring season. To help get Fletcher’s Cove back open, a local Washington, DC fly fishing club, Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders, has created a letter and a petition that anyone can sign encouraging the NPS to take action immediately. Additionally, you can email the NPS directly. All you need to do is drop them a brief note in support of reopening Fletcher’s. The more mail traffic they receive, the higher priority the fix will be!

Help us ensure access to our beloved resource does not go away!

Can’t get the Musky off my back

I have my flaws – too many to list here, in fact. But the one that gets me is I get obsessed about things. Fishing, obviously, is one of them. Musky happened to be a sub-obsession. With the weather getting cooler, the musky fishing was picking back up here in Virginia. You might remember from an earlier blog post, my friend Joe and I went after some musky on the fly with Matt Miles Fly Fishing. Joe caught one and had another strike. I got nothing more than a single follow and a tired arm. I felt shunned by the fish. Why didn’t he eat my fly? Mine must have looked just as tasty. I had to have my revenge.

With fall starting to hit full swing, Joe and I set up trip number 2 with Matt Miles on the James River. The weather was crap. Cool and overcast all day. A couple hours of rain in the morning, then misty and a shower or two the rest of the day. It was one of those days where the weather was only good for sipping some bourbon by the fire. And musky fishing.

Matt was determined to put me on my first musky. We hit a different section of the James this time than we did last time. We launched and found the first fish right at the ramp. It swam off as we floated over it, but still made a few throws. I got the follow a couple times, but no strike. Maybe the next hole would be better.

Matt taught us a trick cast, and how to throw a single hand rod with two hands. It was great. I was effortlessly throwing the half a chicken worth of feathers 80-feet plus all day without getting tired. This came in great use working more water with each cast.

It turned out, this wasn’t going to be my trip to get revenge. Instead, the fish just laughed at me. Joe and I combined for over 14 follows the whole day, but we couldn’t coax a strike out of even one of these beasts. We saw some real tanks too – probably some that were close to 50 inches. Even though we never bent a rod on a fish, it was one of the more exciting days I’ve had of fishing. There’s nothing like watching a giant torpedo follow in your fly, then circle around with your figure 8, just contemplating whether it should pounce.

The fish of 10,000 casts is beginning to live up to it’s name for me. I’ll be back out there soon, and hopefully I’ll get one to cooperate. In the meantime, look up Matt Miles and see if you can beat me to the punch and get one of these bad boys to eat your feathers. After you go, come back and tell us about it, then leave Matt a review!

All pictures are courtesy of Matt Miles Fly Fishing.

Fly fishing for Musky

Hard at work trying to coax a musky into taking my fly

James River Tree

A brilliant tree on the James River.

James River

The foliage was beginning to turn on the James. Made for some nice scenery.