Saturday, February 3, 2018

Argentina Golden Dorado Trip at Pira Lodge

Just as things were getting uncomfortably cold around here in January, we embarked on a hosted trip and an adventure to the other side of the planet.   Argentina, where our January is their July, is one of my favorite fly fishing destinations.  Better known as a trout fisher's paradise,  I planned a return trip to chase the region's Golden Dorado;  a migratory apex predator that eats giant streamers and spends a fair amount of time airborne when hooked.  Lots of fun on a fly rod for sure!

With a group of long time friends and clients, we decided to explore a small piece the 3 million acre Provincial Park known as the Ibera Marsh and it's adjoining Corrientes River in far northeast corner of this massive country. Referred to as the Everglades of Argentina (only much much bigger) the Esteros del Ibera wetlands are mostly unexplored and wild.  Home to unimaginable varieties of birds, flowering pants, technicolor dragonflies,  to over 140 species of fish and to more reptiles and Capybara that one can count. The setting was worth the long trip by itself and made a spectacular background to the weeks fishing.  (FYI if you are a birder - put this on your list)

The Pira Lodge, where we stayed, is an absolutely wonderful upscale fly fishing lodge owned and operated by the Nervous Waters Group out of Argentina.  They have created a spectacularly comfortable home base in truly wild and remote part of the world.

The accommodations were comfortable and spacious.  The rooms all had comfortable double beds,  a/c, spacious bathrooms and everything one needs to relax.   The bar, great room and dining facilities were rustically elegant and made it easy for the group to spend quality time together, yet offered plenty of space to spread out and find solitude if desired.

The food was spectacular and obviously is a focal point of all Nervous Waters operations.  Do not plan on losing any weight down here!  Wonderful appetizers before lunch and dinner, paired wines and deserts to order.  They have wonderful chefs - not camp cooks.....   I guess if you are a vegetarian, you might struggle with the food a bit, but from my perspective, meat and lots side dishes is good living.

The guides are professionals with a knowledge and genuine understanding of the area and of the species found here.  Top notch, really friendly and interesting people as well!   The entire staff are first rate and really strive to provide their guests "A higher form of fishing".   This is the 3rd Nervous Waters Property which we will now act as booking agent for and a destination you should put on your bucket list.

 (Stephan Dombaj© FFNMEDIA photos)

It was easy to forget how remote of a location this place is when all of the comforts of home and then some were at your disposal.  A mere 150 yards out the back door of our rooms was the dock that housed 5 perfect flats skiffs equipped with 40 HP outboards. Normally associated with "flats fishing" the skiffs were a fantastic bonus here at Pira - and provided access to and comfortable fishing conditions at each day's fishing destination!

  (Stephan Dombaj© FFNMEDIA photos)

About the Fishing:

This area is not know for monster dorado.  If you are looking for the giant 20-40 lb and much larger fish, the Parana River, or Bolivian watersheds are a better bet.  This place is know for "smaller" quarry, if you consider 5-10 lb "small".  We experience dorados from the 2- 15 pound range, and can promise you that a 7-10 lb fish on a 6 or 7 wt is one that you will not forget any time soon.

For me, the appeal of fishing here is that you have access to 2 very distinct fisheries (marsh or open river), can use lighter tackle (6-8 wts), see a decent variety of species of fish, and generally encounter larger numbers of dorado.  I almost hesitate to talk about numbers of fish as the dorado are a migratory species, and a moody one at that, but the numbers tend to be higher here than other Dorado fisheries.  I have fished other ares/rivers where 1 to 4 fish a day is considered a great day.  Our experience here was unusually good and much more productive than I had experienced before (lucky timing). 
Fishing consists of two very different options on a daily basis:  Look for "bigger" fish in the Corrientes River or fish the maze of  marshes for more visual and targeted structure fishery.  A right turn from the dock put you on the way to the maze of channels and ponds that comprise the "marsh".  A left turn got you started towards the open Corrientes River.

The Corrientes River:

The fishing technique in the open 50-100" wide river was very similar to swinging for steelhead.  You basically cast 275-300 grain sinking lines with a 7 or 8 wt rod towards the opposite bank, and swung 5-7" streamers.   The guides "polled" their flats skiffs up and down deep banks and helped us cover water wher we often found groups of active fish.  Once located, we all became instantly addicted to "the tug" or less than subtle "strike".   The average fish jumped soon and often, and the teeth on these fish did grievous harm to flies and wire leaders!

 (bigger water sometimes meant bigger fish.  Mike, Andy and Jimmy Prybylo)

Ibera Marsh Fishing:

The marsh fishing usually consisted of throwing 6 and 7 wts with floating lines and slightly smaller streamers to structure and places that looked "fishy".  I can't tell you which I preferred as both were awesome!

 Strip sets were essential to hook the toothy fish, and 30-40 lb mono tipped with 30 to 40 wire did the trick.

  (Mike Froy and Andy with some nice swamp donks!)

Getting around in the marsh was half of the fun!  None of us could understand how the guides didn't get lost in the hundreds of very similar cuts, channels and narrow passages. You really appreciate the navigation skills of the guides when zipping around here

In addition to dorado, the group caught at least 7 or 8 other species of fish.  Unfortunately, the piranha (yes - the other really toothy fish) is also a migratory species and they were around in droves this particular week!  It was a task some days to keep them away from your flies - and we all went through hundreds of flies .    Our group caught Surubi Catfish, two types of Pira Pita, multiple species of the dreaded piranha.....

 Dennis with large Surbi Catfish
Pira Pita
One of the hundreds of piranhas
Golden Pira Pita
Fly destroying teeth

Sometimes, the stars and planets align perfectly and plans just work out better than expected.  This trip was one of those times!  Thanks to the staff , the chefs and guides (Jose, Fabian, Jose the younger and Francois ) of Pira Lodge for a wonderful week!

I'm finishing with a few random shots from our stay - enjoy!   If you have any interest is joining us next year or want to plan a trip on your own or with some friends, call me and I would be happy to assist!


Andy Kurkulis

Spectacular sunsets every evening

Fishing in a flower garden

Air time! Francois Botha photo from day 2

Always cocktail hour

Snacks before lunch

Before and after shot - short life expectancy for flies down here.....
Chip getting it done in the rain
On of the hundreds of blooms seen everywhere one looked
The evening bite
Capybara (Stephan Dombaj© FFNMEDIA photos)
Caymen (Stephan Dombaj© FFNMEDIA photos)
All photos taken the week of Jan 14, 2018 by Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters or as credited

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Dave Van Vliet joined ChiFly earlier this year. He took a leap of faith leaving behind Stevens Point Wisconsin and dove headfirst into the fray of the big city.   For those of you who have met David, you might have picked up on the fact that he has a thing for Muskie fishing.  He also writes about it as well.  Enjoy his first post here

Beating the Odds with Muskie

One o’clock in the morning and I’m walking out of a gas station with a few more hours of driving ahead of me before I reach my apartment in Chicago. Beef jerky, a few “roller” dogs, and a large cup of coffee for the thermos. The coffee was only for an emergency if I started to doze off, and evidently I wouldn’t even need it because I was riding the high of boating a forty plus inch Muskie on a fly! The eat, fight, landing, and holding the fish played over and over in my head the whole way home. I never even turned on the radio. They’re the perfect quarry for adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers alike who pursue fish on fly. 

            Our story begins by waking up around nine or ten and meeting Central Wisconsin Muskie Sharpie Dan Boggs, who runs the Flying Musky Guide Company. He still holds the title and best jokes ever told in a drift boat, and when things get slow he pulls them out. Anyways, we’d be fishing a river in the state of Wisconsin. Not going to say where or even which river, but she’s a dandy and full of Musky. 

            I haven’t fished Musky in a about a month, so my excitement was through the roof. We put in and motored up a series of boulders just downstream from a spillway adjacent to a deep bank. This spot would be categorized as a “Bad Neighborhood” or a likely spot for a Muskie to be living. We anchored up and began to beat the runs and pocket water. We were also stretching out and pounding the deep, undercut bank past the boulders. To ensure success I wanted to work every inch and seam of this spot. We didn’t move anything, I even replicated a Muskrat by throwing my house cat sized fly up on the bank, then jerking it off the bank plopping it into the water and stripping it fast to trigger a strike. Despite our hard work, we didn’t see anything here, a common theme of Muskie hunting. We were basically building up our karma for the next spot. We pulled up anchor and rowed down through a section of skinny water, around a bend, and upstream to another spillway. This spot doesn’t get hit by anglers very often, and getting anything but a drift boat or canoe is up in there is risky business. 

            This spot almost looks too good to be true, so much good looking water to pick apart. The spot held everything from wood, to big boulders which created back eddies with slack water you could fit my Dodge Durango into. If there ever was a list of top ten most dangerous areas for a baitfish, this would top it.

Anyone who fishes Wisconsin frequently knows that the water has an amber color to it, meaning you gotta focus when looking for creeping Muskies behind your fly. I was working a boulder strewn bank when I heard Dan yell, “There’s one!” I jerked my head around to see him aggressively stripping his fly up into a figure eight. The only indication I could tell that there was fish chasing his fly was a large white scar across its’ back. I didn’t move a muscle while Dan worked the fish, and by its body language it was hot. As soon as it was there it was gone, in an instant. I couldn’t quit tell what went wrong. Dan stuck his rod deep into the water during the eight and kept the fly moving quickly. Eh, who knows they’re Muskie, and this spot was too good to dwell on an almost heist. 

            We moved several other smaller fish right up tight to the dam but no nothing would eat. Questions were beginning to mumble between the two of us as to what we were doing wrong. After realizing that we were over thinking the situation, we stuck to our guns and kept on fishing, casting and dancing our flies through bad neighborhoods hoping for an eat. 

            We decided to the leave the holy water and head down stream. We rowed up to a spot where the current rips flows around a bend after coming off of a deep bank. Right on the bend there’s two dead falls that provide excellent looking cover. We’ve caught Muskie here in the past so it was worth our time. We worked the deep bank and then anchored parallel to the wood and fished it hard. As I was finishing a figure eight when I pulled my fly out of the water when out from under the boat swam out a Muskie. GOODNESS GRACIOUS!!! I yelled and the fish was literally right under my feet. The fish was easily mid forties….just how I like them. 

            After another almost eat, we rolled the dice, got off the water and headed to another section of the river that was equally as good. I know the age old theme is to never leave fish to find fish, but we only had one day to fish, and without having the opportunity to save the next spot for tomorrow, we packed up shop and headed out. The spot would be a dam below a large flowage, and not to jinx our luck, but Dan and I scored here every time last time fall when all the big females pushed up the dam to feed before the winter. 

            We rowed up river to the dam on the opposite side from the launch positioning in a big eddy adjacent to the main flow. I am not lying when I say this, but Dan moved a Muskie on his first cast! At this point in the day it was kinda more of a tease than anything. At the same time it kept our spirits up and our eyes focused. 

            Throughout the rest of the evening we continued to move fish in the same general area. Our theory was that at dark one of these fish was going to eat, right as the sun goes down its about to go down. 

            The witching hour was upon us, that magical hour right before dark when the boogie man was going eat one of our flies. I cast up against one of the pillars of the dam and WHOOOSHH! The surface erupted around my fly and my rod doubled over. I strip set hard and even managed to get a few more solid strips into the fish before it dove deep and bulldogged hard under the boat. Evidently what often happens with fighting Muskies is that you try to land them as fast as possible. Nobody ever fights muskies as if they are smallmouth bass or trout. The reason is that people spend so much time and effort chasing them that once you finally hook one, you automatically want to land it as fast as possible to finally hold it and see it.

            The same thought process applied here as well, and before the fight even started, it was over. Frantically trying to get that fish into the net and breathing heavily the whole time.  Let me tell you, when we finally got her int the net I sat back and breathed a sigh of relief. 

We had been beating the water all day and my forearms were on fire. We beat the odds as we could only fish one day because I had to go to work the next.  If you want to put the odds in your favor you must plan to fish at least three or four days. I've seen clients fish five days in a row without seeing anything. It happens, but that day we hit pay dirt, and the it made the drive back to Chicago a little less exhausting. 

Thanks for reading, tight lines!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Sage X Rod - A review and a look at what our friends at Sage been up to lately!

Back in June, we were fortunate enough to be among the selected group of dealers and writers to visit the Sage workshop on Bainbridge Island for a sneak preview of their new "Sage X" fly rods.

This was my third or fourth such tour, having sat on their Dealer Advisory Board for three years - and it was the most exciting visit yet.  Before I get to the details of their latest and greatest product launch, I would like to mention that things have been refined and new systems, tools and personnel implemented at the Sage workshop/factory to such a degree that I was amazed!

Team Sage has has hired and integrated some key personnel on the production side of their business, and gained efficiency and precision with investments on proprietary machinery, computer systems and specialized training.   I am not sure what details that I can share, but tasks that have been eyeballed and done by intuition in the hands of skilled artisans in the last decades now are aided by sophisticated machines, lasers and software designed and built in-house.  It's not like they could go to Hope Depot and buy esoteric machines .  It takes a level of technical ability to build stuff like they have.  25-30 individuals still touch and contribute to each and every rod produced by hand there.  Now these craftsmen do it at a  level of sophistication that I would dare to say puts them in a league of their own in the fly fishing industry.

Most of us are aware that they have world class rod designers and artists like Jerry Siem and his entire group of fellow designers and they are a key competitive advantage.  Did you realize that they have a compliment of full time material scientists, wonky engineers and really smart black box type guys and gals that together bring hundreds of years of scientific R&D experience and passion to the full time pursuit of perfection?  I hate calling Sage a factory, because the enterprise oozes "soul and passion" from the team of craftsmen and women that roll the blanks to the scientists that stress test hundreds of prototypes, but the tools and expertise that they have assembled makes this much more than a "rod shop" indeed.   This group is at the forefront of material science and R&D development, yet retain a level of passion and love for the essence of what makes fly fishing special.  My hat is off to the collective management for bringing this eclectic group of professionals to the next level without diluting their passion! 

So what has Team Sage come up with in launching the new Sage X Rod?

The "X" in this case means it's the 10th significant fly rod technology that Sage has developed over the years.  I don't know how, but they have refined the Konnetic Technology - this version being called Konnetic HD.

On the technical side of the user experience this translates to near instant dampening and near zero deflection or much better tracking.

By "dampening", I mean that my Sage X 5 WT goes from bent (loaded during a cast) to dead still flat/straight at the end of a cast.  It doesn't wiggle or twang when you finish your cast so energy isn't dissipated.  It's crazy efficient!

By "tracks well" I mean that the rod tip stays true during a cast and doesn't deflect left or right.  This produces even greater accuracy.

 The ability of a rod to generate line speed is the hallmark of a performance rod.  Faster line speed translates into longer, faster and more accurate casts.  Sage claims that this rod series produces the fastest line speed yet.  I agree.  Being a simple man, I don't get the science or physics involved, but I can feel it in the casting of this rod for sure but am puzzled why I can "feel" this rod better...

As far as the taper design - it is still a fast action rod - but the feel is very different from the One.  I absolutely love the Sage One Fly Rods and have years of fishing experience with that series- so I can't say which rod feels better to me yet.  I get the impression that I can load Sage X Rod deeper than the Sage One, and that the top or upper middle section of the rod has a softer touch.  I am not sure yet if the actual tip is softer, but I am very confident that this new rod is much better at protecting tippets and is much better at letting you the angler hold on to bigger fish on smaller hooks when called to do so.   That has always been a strength of moderate action or softer rods - but rarely has it been a virtue of full on fast action performance rods.

After landing a bunch of browns and rainbows on either side of the 20" size range on size 18-20 nymphs in fast water ( fished the  Beaverhead, Bighole and Boulder River in Montana in June) I am utterly pleased in this major refinement.  Previous fast action rods in these types of situations when small flies and thin tippets were necessary in fast water - were less delicate.

For a rod that allows you to do the delicate stuff well, it is at the same time a flat out casting machine!  Streamers or dries, this tool allows you to go further and more accurately than ever.

As a note - from my subjective opinion - I really started being romanced by this rod when I put on the  InTouch  Rio Gold Fly Line.  Initially I tried it with the Rio InTouch Perecption Line, and although it cast great, for me and this rod and the InTouch Rio Gold Fly Line work PERFECTLY together....

After having this rod for a handful of weeks and after bunch of lawn casting and a precious few days of trout fishing out west with the new Sage X, there hasn't been enough time to formulate a definitive opinion.  We might be a bit slower around here, but I am not a fan of uber reviews on brand new products that proclaim definitive conclusions.  I think a true understanding takes time to pick up nuance and subtleties.  Like I have said earlier, getting to know a new rod is like getting to know a new girlfriend...   It's just the beginning and all exciting and new.  What I have seen and felt and experienced so far, I have the feeling that this one is a keeper and that it will rank as among the finest that Sage or anyone has ever produced.  I look forward to learning as I grow into this series of rods.  They start becoming available August 15th, and in the mean time please come by the shop and test out our 5WT at your convenience

 Thanks for listening!

Andy Kurkulis

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Little Pre Holiday Fishing Trip to the Big Easy

Back in July while tarpon fishing with Greg Dini in Florida,  he casually mentioned that an opening had just materialized for Nov 30 and Dec 1 down in Louisiana-  a prime time trophy redfish and he had a spot available.  Greg is a rather sought after guide, and I had heard great things about "bull" redfish in the early winter, so naturally I booked the days.  (Greg owns / operates Fly Water Expeditions)  Really a fishy and fun dude!!

A few months later, when I mentioned it to my wife, she nearly fell out of her chair.  "That is Thanksgiving weekend you  !!%$#"   Oops - but what was done was done.   She needed a break from me anyway, with all of the pre Christmas stress and all.

My buddy, Chris (A.K.A "Tangles") miraculously got a hall pass and signed on to try his hand at the saltwater game.  Game on!

A short flight to New Orleans, a room in the French Quarter, and all we needed to do was not to over eat/drink and we would be fishing less than an hour out of downtown Big Easy.  If you have never been picked up at 6 am from a hotel in the French Quarter by a two ton truck towing a flats skiff, that alone is worth the trip!   A quick trip to this beautiful fun filled city was the smartest thing I have done in a long time. 

We fished with 9 wt Sage Salt Fly Rods which we over-lined with 10WT Rio Gen Purpose Tropical and SA Redfish Warm Fly Lines.  Normally, I hate overlining rods, but the average cast to these fish was 20-30 feet and the rod felt great uber overlined on the short casts.  Again - I can't tell you how important it is to use the right line for particular fishing situations!

The water was fairly clear, but there was a ton of overcast hazy skies, and visibility was generally lousy.  I don't understand how 3 sets of eyes had a hard time seeing 25 pond fish - but they would magically appear really close to the boat.  I think the longest cast we made in two days was probably 40'  Short quick casts were usually instantly rewarded.  It was nothing short of amazing to watch these fish charge the purple 4" streamers!

That was the first fish of the trip after 5 minutes on the bow!

Chris landed his very first redfish a short while later - not a bad start to his young saltwater career!

We didn't catch a million fish -but the action was fairly consistent.  We managed to set personal bests, second bests, third bests etc etc

A 9 wt rod seemed to be the perfect option, and the Nautilus NVG 8/9 , the Loop Opti Speedrunner and Sage 4210 all got some serious workouts!   Unlike battling bonefish or permit, we quickly learned that applying a lot of drag and a lot of pressure is pretty important when duking it with heavy redfish.  30 pound leaders also hep!

There are literally hundreds of square miles of shallow water flats from New Orleans down to Venice, and basically all along the Gulf shoreline from Texas to Florida.  Redfish are the perfect gamefish in many ways.  They readily eat flies, they are not to picky usually, they grow big, they give anglers second and third chances, and they pull hard!  If you are ever in the need for a quick, easy and infinitely fun getaway, you might want to check out a redfish destination!!!! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

New Fly Tying Materials

As we enter into fall, we start focusing on fly tying and staying in the game of fly fishing.

Every year dozens of new materials come on the market and we incorporate them into our patterns- here we profile a few that are worth checking out - all of which are found in our Fly Tying Selection!

Every streamer pattern needs eyes - and these are pretty handy.  Basically lead eyes with a better paint job that places emphasis on the pupils.  We are big believers that fish like or are very aware of eyes when hunting down their prey.  Double Pupil Lead Eyes

For those of you tying streamers that you don't want to weight down, but are still looking to incorporate very realistic eyes - check out the Fish Skull Mask and add the hyper realistic Fish Skull Living Eyes

The Fish Skull Mask is a clear epoxy head that is very light.  It will not add appreciable sink rate - but will move or push water and give you a place to attach the realistic Living Eyes (a lot easier that creating your own epoxy heads to boot!)  The selection or variety of Fish Skull Living Eyes is pretty awesome

For those of you that like tying intruder style or  spey flies, we have recently started carrying a superior product - OPST Barred Ostrich (aka Signature Intruder Drabs) 
These are hand selected Ostrich Plumes that have stout butts and tapered, fine tips.  Selected for length and features that are applicable to this type of tying, they are dyed and barred to the highest standards.  Great stuff!

We also have added a trailer hook to our selection from the folks at OPST. 
The OPST Swing Hooks are barbless, and have a slightly upturned eye, and are perfect for all patterns that call for a trailer hook.  People swear that these hang on to fish, and due to their shape and bend, tend to hook more in the corner of mouths, similar to circle hooks

New from Greg Senyo this year are a bunch of new colors of his Senyo's Barred Predator Wrap.  This material adds movement and color on spey flies as well as musky streamers and everything in between.  Just a few wraps - and your patterns take on a whole new dimension!

And last but not least - a great new tool that makes handling and attaching beads a whole lot easier!
The Beadmaster Tool works with almost any size bead and helps you place it exactly where you want without pricking your finger, or rolling down the hall

Happy Tying!