Discover One Of The Biggest Fishing Tournaments In The World

Discover One of the Biggest Fishing Tournaments in the World

July 26, 2019

A blue marlin roaming the Pacific Ocean can attain a body weight measuring over a half-ton. That girth is packed into a sleek, hydrodynamic body that can reach lengths of 16 feet. When swimming after prey, it can accelerate to nearly 70 mph. A black marlin, of similar proportion, can reach speeds close to 80 mph. When all that momentum zeroes in on a baited lure trolled behind a boat, the result could equate to the catch of a lifetime. And if you happen to hook into a black or blue off Los Cabos, Mexico, during the Bisbee’s Black & Blue Tournament, that fish could be worth millions of dollars.

Bisbee’s Black & Blue, which this year runs October 22-26, is advertised as the richest sportfishing tournament in the world. Anglers from all 50 states as well as up to 18 other countries come to Cabo San Lucas at the bottom of Baja California to try for the seven-figure jackpot. In 2006, the prize money totaled $4,165,960, the largest payout in fishing tournament history. Last year, the top boat hauled in nearly $2.4 million—all for catching a single fish—which is why for many tournament anglers, Bisbee’s is the ultimate competition.

“The major appeal of the Bisbee’s Black & Blue is that it is the worldwide, main event of marlin fishing,” says Colin Sarfeh of Pelagic Gear, which sponsored last year’s winning team. “Location, consistent fishing results, and an event that seems to grow larger by the year make Bisbee’s the place to be in October. And don’t forget the money. It’s no coincidence that Sports Illustrated hailed this tournament as ‘The Super Bowl of Fishing’.” The Bisbee family still runs the Black & Blue, which started back in 1981 thanks to Bob Bisbee, now 80 and the family patriarch. He owned a fuel dock and tackle store in Newport Beach, California, and originally set up the tournament to promote his business to the West Coast fishing circuit; many boats from the Newport area and the California coast made their way south to Cabo in the wintertime. But that’s not the whole story.

“In all honesty it was beer muscles flexing at the local bar,” says Wayne Bisbee, Bob’s son who now serves as the event’s director. “They were sitting LOS CABOS around saying, ‘I can fish better than you,’ and the next thing you know there’s serious money involved.” The first tournament consisted of six boats fishing for a total of $10,000 in prize money. Over the years the purse has added a few more zeroes to the bottom line and the number of fishing teams has swelled considerably. Last year, 106 boats with 740 anglers showed up in up in Cabo to hook a winner.

Historically, the Black & Blue was once known as more of a party tournament than a serious fishing event thanks to the density of bars and nightclubs just off the marina in downtown Cabo San Lucas. “Teams used to stumble out of the bars and untie their boat just in time for the shotgun start,” says Bisbee. But as the tournament evolved into a big-money venture with the potential for million-dollar payouts, most of the fishing teams today focus on the actual fishing. “In the last eight to 10 years the prize money has gotten so insane that they take it more seriously,” he says. Then he adds with a grin, “On tournament days at least.”

Cabo San Lucas sits at the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, a long sliver of land separated from the mainland by the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez). The Gulf is home to one of the richest marine ecosystems in the entire world, harboring humpback, killer, and gray whales, as well as giant whale sharks, manta rays, and many species of sea turtles.

At the tip of the Baja Peninsula, water from the Gulf mixes with the Pacific Ocean, creating an abundant convergence of marine life. Strong Pacific currents swirl around the tip of the peninsula, trapping large concentrations of nutrients and baitfish in one giant eddy composed of several large reefs as well as underwater canyons and mountains. All of these things combine to create the perfect feeding grounds for large pelagic predators such as blue, black, and striped marlin. The once sleepy commercial fishing town of Cabo was “discovered” as a sport-fishing destination in the 1950s, and the big-game fishing for billfish became so legendary that the area earned the nickname “Marlin Alley.” The largest blue marlin ever caught at the tournament weighed 993 pounds; the largest black marlin weighed 645 pounds.

For years, the only practical way to get down to Cabo was by boat, giving the prospect of fishing there had an air of affluence since you had to have a vessel that could handle big seas on the multi-day trip south (see “Power Players,” page 47). You still do, if you plan on bringing your own boat, but Cabo has a thriving charter fleet that takes advantage of this amazing fishery. And during the Black & Blue, a good crew is what you need for a shot at the prize money.

On tournament days, more than 100 boats mill about offshore, just outside of the harbor. The crews go over last-minute bait and equipment checks and make sure everything is secure. The captain scans his electronic charts and GPS with a plan in place to sprint to where he thinks his team will have the best chance to hook a marlin. The anglers, the ones responsible for handling the rods and fighting the fish, stand on deck with butterflies in their stomachs and a nervous edge akin to a football player before a championship game. The lure of a big payday draws some of the best fishing crews from all over the world. (As one participant joked, “Just try getting a fishing charter in Kona [Hawaii] during the Black & Blue. They’re all in Baja.”) Some teams show up weeks before to do some pre-tournament scouting, and they all put down hefty entry fees for the chance at the big reward.

The Black & Blue runs over three days and differs from many billfish tournaments because the competition is comprised of a series of daily jackpots. There are six jackpot divisions, ranging from $500 to $10,000. A team fishing a jackpot must pay for that level over all three days. For example, entering the $500 daily jackpot costs a boat $1,500; the $1,000 jackpot requires $3,000 and so on. There are also top tournament prizes, as well as a separate jackpot division for other gamefish such as dorado and tuna. A boat can enter one or all of the daily jackpots—the bill for entering the whole enchilada runs $71,500. The team that weighs in the heaviest fish each day wins whichever jackpot it entered. If no one catches a qualifying fish—a marlin must weigh at least 300 pounds to count—the jackpot money rolls over to the next day. When this happens, the pots for a single fish can soar.

This is what happened last year when one team on the boat Frantic Pace caught a 465-pound blue marlin on the second day of the tournament. That fish turned out to be the only marlin landed during the entire three days of fishing. Since Frantic Pace had entered into all of the daily jackpot levels, they swept the entire prize board, winning a grand total of $2,396,800. A huge number, yes, but well short of the record payout of $3,902,998 won by a boat named Bad Company in 2006.

At 8 a.m. on October 23 all that prize money will be on the line, as the Black & Blue officially begins with a shotgun start—all boats have to remain behind an invisible starting line in the harbor and open their throttles as soon as the official start is broadcast over the radio. From there the captains point the bows of their boats to famous fishing areas like Iman Bank or Gorda Bank, or their own secretly scouted spots, in hopes of landing a worthy fish.

By 5 p.m., all the boats without a catch will be feverishly trolling for a bite and hoping they have time to race back to the harbor by 9 p.m. where they weigh their fish at the Island Global Yachting Marina, the nerve center for the entire event. As many as 5,000 people will show up to watch the weigh-ins, adding to the tourney’s arena-sized atmosphere. This year, Wayne Bisbee estimates that the Black & Blue could have 130 boats and more than $3 million in total prize money, an enticing lure to hundreds of anglers, all hoping to land a marlin big enough to take it all.

Where the Pros Go for Bonefishing​

Where The Pros Go For Bonefishing

July 18, 2019

I catch a nearly imperceptible flash out of the corner of my eye, like a shooting star. A silvery shimmer, the tip of a fin or even a dark shadow creeping along the alabaster seafloor is usually all that betrays the stealthy bonefish who come to feed in these shallow saltwater inlets. Of course my guide, Teddy, is the first to spot the actual fish. “He’s right over there,” he says. “Cast about five yards out at 3 o’clock.”

I strain through my polarized sunglasses and try to make out the silver-sided bonefish cruising off our bow. I squint into the early-morning sunlight and send my line arcing in the general direction, trusting my guide’s eyes more than mine. “Too close. You scared him off,” he says. “You have to lead him a bit, and lay your line out there gently so you draw his attention without spooking him.” I’m with my father and several other men on a guy’s trip in the Abaco Islands, a crescent–shaped cluster of sun-drenched isles in the northern Bahamas. We’re taking a break from our usual daily routine of deep-sea fishing into the early afternoon, followed by evenings filled with booze and seafood, to angle for bonefish in the intertidal flats that pocket the islands.

Our group is separated into two boats, and my father and I have a feeling that our hosts, who have fished here many times before and were sounding a bit too cocky about their prospects this morning, have claimed the veteran guide for themselves, leaving us with the younger and presumably less experienced guide for our first bonefishing experience.

We’ve scarcely had a strike despite hours of spotting and casting, and we fear our inkling may prove true. However, we’re steadfast in our resolve, and take turns standing poised on the small casting deck at the bow while Teddy silently poles the aluminum-hulled skiff across the water from an elevated platform mounted at the stern.

Unlike deep-sea fishing, going after bonefish isn’t a cast-and-wait proposition. It’s an all-in affair that’s more akin to hunting with a fishing rod. To fish effectively, an angler must know where the fish are likely to be, and keep a keen eye out at all times—first spotting his prey in the water before launching a strategically placed and well-presented cast that, with any luck, entices the fish to take the bait. But that’s only half the game.

These skittish fish, nicknamed Grey Ghosts, are known for their cunning nature, and—pound for pound—fight with a strength and speed that far exceeds their modest size. Once on the line, most will shoot off on a dead run like a sprinter out of the blocks, then stop on a dime and reverse direction, or zip under the boat and give themselves just enough slack to spit the hook. It’s no wonder that bonefish are among the world’s most prized saltwater game fish to catch on a fly rod, and many anglers consider landing a trophy-sized bonefish to be the pinnacle of the sport. But first you have to find one. Capt. Rick Sawyer, 55, has made it his life’s work to know where the fish are. An island native, he’s been guiding professionally on Abaco since he was 15, and concentrates his fishing area on the 75 square miles or so of water that ring his home on Green Turtle Cay, a small island just north of Treasure Cay.

“Bonefish like to be the first fish on the flats and the last fish to leave,” he says. “I make my decision on where to fish based on the tide and the wind direction, and there’s certain areas I fish at different stages in the tide that I know are likely to produce fish.” Seasonality also plays a role. Smaller fish congregate in large pools—sometimes as many as several hundred—during the spring and summer. Beginning after the first full moon in November, the big schools of smaller fish leave and the larger fish come in.

Sawyer says a good day of bonefishing on Abaco means catching four to five fish— sometimes as many as 20 small ones in the spring and summer. However, it’s also just as easy to spend a long day and not catch a thing. To maximize clients’ chances of enjoying a productive day of fishing, Sawyer recommends that they practice casting before arriving on the island and heed their guide’s advice when it comes to finer points such as how to cast the line quickly and accurately, especially in windy conditions.

“People ask me all the time, ‘How was the fishing?’ and I say, ‘The fishing was great, but the casting sucked,’” Sawyer says. “If you have a really good fisherman, then you’ll have a really good day of fishing. But if you have someone who can’t see the fish, can’t present the fly or can’t get the line out there far enough, then you’re in for a long day.” And while luck favors the well prepared, there are no absolutes on the flats.

Even after you find the fish, you might “spend two hours chasing them and they won’t eat,” Sawyer says. “And then you might get a slack tide or a change in the wind, or the sun shines at just the right angle, and they’ll start biting. “I like to say that bonefish are like women—unpredictable.” All you can do is present yourself well and hope for the best.

Back on the boat, the sun has reached its zenith and beats down relentlessly on the small skiff. We’ve scarcely had a nibble all morning but are determined to keep our attention sharp, despite the baking heat. We decide to try one more location before calling it a day. Teddy cuts the motor, and we set about the now familiar routine of scanning, casting and waiting when suddenly I get a strike. I set the hook as the fish takes off on a run. I enjoy a brief fight before bringing him close enough to the boat for us to net, snap a photo and release. My next cast also nets another fish, and when my father takes a turn he lands several as well. It seems we’ve found a school of bonefish feeding nearby, and for whatever reason the fish are striking at seemingly every cast. “I’ve never seen them quite like this,” remarks Teddy. “This is special.”

We’re in high spirits on the boat ride back, with the long morning all but forgotten. Our crew in the second boat is unloading their gear as we glide up to the dock. “How was the fishing?” one asks. “Catch anything?” We learn that, despite having three fishermen in their boat, they’ve landed only two small fish all day. “It was fantastic. We caught a ton,” I say, barely suppressing a grin. “Beginner’s luck, I guess.”

Fishing Tips from Families That Love to Fish

Fishing Tips from Families That Love to Fish

June 17, 2019

There is something inherently familial about fishing. Maybe it’s because most of us get introduced to the sport by our dads or grandparents or a favorite uncle. There’s something reassuring about making a cast or feeling a fish tug at the end of a line. Maybe it’s because fishing, like family time, can sometimes be frustrating and lead to cursing fits; yet we always— happily—come back to it.

For many families (especially the one I married into) angling along the Big Wood River, which runs past America’s original ski resort of Sun Valley and right through the heart of central Idaho, is a big part of their heritage.

“The Big Wood River is a great place to learn how to fish, especially fly fish, with its easy access and abundant, aggressive fish,” says Dave Faltings, when asked why “The Wood,” as locals sometimes call it, is so popular with families. Faltings knows. He has been managing the guides at the world-famous Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum for over a quarter of a century now.

Faltings explains that because of its diverse regulations—some stretches are catch-and-release only, while others are stocked regularly and allow healthy bag limits—the Big Wood has long been an extremely popular fishery for anglers of all kinds.

“It’s a really diverse river,” he says. “It’s nice for kids and fun for families who want to keep fish because there are places where it’s allowed. But it’s also a great place to learn to fly fish, because it’s a healthy freestone river so you don’t have to be perfect to catch a fish like you do on spring creeks. And there are also a lot of wild fish, which appeals to seasoned anglers.”

For all the aforementioned reasons, plus its numerous easy-access points along Idaho’s Scenic Highway 75 and close proximity to the world-class resort community of Ketchum Sun Valley, anglers of all ages and abilities return to The Wood year after year. And for five generations now, my family has been casting amongst them.

So when I take my two young sons, Jack and Sam, down to the river or to one of several “kids’ ponds” sprinkled near its banks, it dawns on me that what we’re doing consists of a lot more than fishing. Like many kids, my dad taught me how to fish … but that took place far away from the Northern Rockies. “Pops” would take my brothers and me out along the rocky shores south of Boston to drown worms for flounder, or to Sandy Neck along Cape Cod to shore-cast for stripers.

I don’t remember the catching ever being too good or ever thinking about how lucky I was to be fishing. But I do remember the thrill of feeling a fish fight against my line: the mystery, the challenge, the long periods of quiet waiting interrupted by bursts of excitement.

Now, decades later, I find myself casting on waters of a much different sort. I traded the saltwater tackle for a fly rod, the worms for wooly buggers, the salty sea for the swift currents of Rocky Mountain rivers. And now it’s my turn to be dad, passing on the gift of fishing. Yes, the gift.

And like a lot of dads in this situation I occasionally feel overwhelmed—not just by all the gear, extra clothing and wind knots from hell you have to deal with, but by how much there is to teach my young sons, beyond cinch knots, how to cast or the proper way to handle and release trout.

The Big Wood is, after all, the same river where their grandpa fished each summer when he was a boy and where he was first introduced to fly fishing by his own grandparents, who would come over from eastern Idaho each year to fish the picturesque trout stream. So I must teach them to treat the river with respect.

The Wood is the river where their grandma fished as a child herself. She and her sisters would be roused out of bed by her dad “at some Godforsaken hour to go catch trout,” she says. Raised on farms not far from the river’s banks, their grandma ate so much trout as a child she can’t even stand the smell of it now. So my boys must learn to appreciate the river, how it flows through our family heritage and all that it provides—which is far more than food and fun.

If trout are your favorite sport fish, then you’ll have a hard time finding a better place to angle than the Sun Valley, Idaho, area. The region offers nearly year-round easy access to spectacular fisheries like the Big Wood River, the Copper Basin and the blue ribbon, spring-fed Silver Creek. Countless mountain streams and lakes teeming with trout are tucked into the mountain ranges encircling Sun Valley: the Boulders, the Pioneers and the Sawtooths. It’s easy to find a quiet place to cast.

With long, warm days, summer is peak season on Silver Creek, the landmark preserve famous for its monstrous rainbow and brown trout as well as its mind-blowing mayfly hatches like the brown drake. East of Sun Valley, Copper Basin is a secluded spot well worth the excursion. Three species of trout beckon anglers to isolated waters with a great mix of pools, pocket water, riffles, and runs.

The Big Wood and a small stretch of Silver Creek remain open to fly fishing through the autumn, which can be downright fantastic as the leaves fade and drop from the trees and hungry trout rise to midges and blue-winged olives. Even the winter angling (catch and release, barbless hooks only) on the Big Wood River can be terrific, so long as it’s not too cold for down jackets and long johns. Midday and, surprisingly, snowy days are best. Double Headers—fishing and skiing in the same day—are quite common for Wood River Valley residents and visitors.

The Big Wood closes for spawning from April 1 until Memorial Day weekend. These early spring days beckon anglers north toward Stanley and Challis to chase after the seasonal sea run trout known as steelhead that make their way up the Salmon River.

These are the same fishing holes where their East Coast, Big City granddad learned the simple joy of casting a fly rod amongst the glorious backdrop of crystal clear water coursing through the mountains. It’s also their dad’s other “office.” It’s where I sneak off for a couple of hours of mental health now and again, and why I usually come back smiling. For just like other rivers much more famous than the Big Wood, there’s something magical and healing about its waters. So my boys need to learn to enjoy it all, for that’s what fishing and being a kid—heck, a human being—is really all about.

It’s during those quiet moments, when the river and the wind whisper and my son quietly and sincerely scouts the water that I’m reminded there are times in life when it’s best to just shut up and fish. And I’m reminded of the joy of simply being, and sharing, and that there are few better places on earth to do so than the Big Wood River.

How Two Men Are Revitalizing a Legendary Fishing Rod Business


How Two Men Are Revitalizing a Legendary Fishing Rod Business

March 4, 2019

When Joel Doub is fly-fishing one of his favorite rivers near a club property—like the Frying Pan River near Aspen, Colorado, or the Gallatin River near Big Sky, Montana—he enjoys using a fine, handcrafted fly rod. The difference between Doub and other fanatical fly-fishers is that Doub not only owns his fly rod, he also owns the company that built it.  Doub and business partner Matt Barber bought Bozeman, Montana-based Tom Morgan Rodsmiths (TMR) in the summer of 2016, just a year before Morgan, a legendary rod-builder renowned in fly-fishing circles, died of pneumonia. Following the purchase, Barber and Doub both moved their families from Denver to Bozeman, and the two are now taking steps to modernize TMR while still honoring the history of Morgan and his unique rod-building methods.

“We talk a lot about Tom Morgan and his philosophy as a rod designer,” Doub says. “Many rods at other companies have been designed by competition casters, built for distance or for a particular feel. But Tom—because he was a fishing guide first—always designed rods based on watching people fish. And for him that meant fishing on creeks in Montana. So the foundation of our rods is based on small-creek fishing because they are based on accuracy and presentation at shorter distances. They’re not really built with a 70-foot cast in mind.” Barber tells the story of Morgan giving a casting presentation at a fly-fishing show, when the guy standing next to him pulled about 70 feet of line off of his reel before starting to cast. “Well, now we know the reel works,” Morgan said to the man. “Now, why don’t you put half of that line back on the reel. If you’re trying to catch a trout beyond 50 feet, you should get closer.”


While TMR has been in business for more than two decades, Doub and Barber are keenly aware of momentum in the modern “maker economy”— where the popularity of quality, small-batch products like their fly rods mimics the more general distaste for mass-consumer culture. “Many people are just looking for that throwback craftsmanship as a response to all the fast-paced technology,” Barber says. “It’s the idea of slowing down and getting to know the person who hand-planes bamboo for your rod, or who makes your leather belt. It’s the opposite of walking into a big box store or ordering off Amazon and having it show up on your doorstep.”

Doub feels their fly rods also offer a sense of longevity that’s increasingly rare in our throwaway consumerist culture. “One of our models is essentially the same rod that Tom Morgan designed 22 years ago, and that rod has a permanence to it,” Doub says. “If you buy a fly rod, and you buy it really well, then that should always be your fly rod, and possibly your kid’s fly rod. The idea is that, if you buy from a maker that you know and trust, and they’re making a semi-timeless good, then there’s a connection to history and excellence that maybe you don’t get when you’re buying the cheapest, newest, fastest, lightest thing.”

Practically every fly rod on Earth is built from one of three materials—bamboo, fiberglass, or graphite, with graphite being by far the most common. But Doub and Barber have continued the Tom Morgan tradition of producing rods out of each of the three materials, something rare among even large manufacturers, much less small-batch builders. Roughly 80 to 90 percent of their rods are graphite because it’s the most versatile material. And since it takes about 80 hours to build a bamboo rod, they limit those to just two a month. As for fiberglass? “Fiberglass rods are a niche that’s developed as a response to hyper-stiff rods, and people are nostalgic for the first Fenwick they ever cast,” says Barber. “It’s a fairly small category for us. We sell more fiberglass blanks to at-home builders than we sell assembled fiberglass rods.”

Despite the variety of methods and equipment available to modern anglers, enabling them to chase almost any species of fish, Doub and Barber intend to keep their focus primarily on building the best fly rods for trout. “I grew up on the East Coast and love fishing for albacore and stripers,” Barber says. “And we love going to Mexico and fishing for bonefish and permit. But as a company, we’re not trying to be every rod you own. We both love spey casting and salmon fishing, but we’re trying to do one thing and do it really well: build a single-handed, 2-through-7-weight freshwater rod. We know that the travel market has gotten big, and that saltwater is growing, but for right now, we’d rather not expand into things that may compromise quality because we may have to learn a new skill set.”

There are other reasons for sticking to smaller rods. With much of TMR’s customer base living in cities like New York, Denver, or San Francisco, finding solitude for your fishing is at a premium. And that solitude is most-often found high in river drainages, where longer, heavier rods aren’t practical because the fish are smaller and the space for casting is condensed.

“Being in the Adirondacks as a kid, I fished a lot of creeks,” says Barber. “Then I moved to Colorado, where small water is the key to your sanity. So if you can convince yourself to fish with a 3- or 4-weight rod, and get into small alpine lakes and small spring-creeky areas, you’re better off than trying to battle the masses.”


This unpleasantness of battling the masses applies not just to fishing but to running a company as well. “As business owners, we talk a lot about waypoints and focus,” Doub says. “When we look around the industry we see companies trying to be everything to everybody, and it can be hard to figure out what they’re about. But for us, we’re still working on building the perfect trout rod. We want to make the best rod in the world for fishing for trout in Montana.”

The Most Scenic Place to Fly-Fish in Southwestern France


The Most Scenic Place to Fly-Fish in Southwestern France

January 30, 2019

They come for the wine. And for the foie gras, the confit, the scenery, the chateaus and the black truffles. But increasingly, visitors to the hilly, castle-packed department of Dordogne also come to fly-fish its namesake river and its many tributaries.

The Dordogne River, France’s fifth longest, flows west for more than 300 miles from near the hot-springs spa town of Le Mont-Dore through many gorges, valleys, and villages until reaching the Gironde Estuary just north of Bordeaux, in southwestern wine country. It’s a wide, fast river, especially in its upper reaches near the towns of Argentat and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, where it’s more reminiscent of western U.S. fly-fishing destinations such as Montana’s Madison than of France’s northern rivers, like the slow-moving Andelle of Normandy. As the English angling writer Charles Rangeley-Wilson wrote of France’s northern chalkstreams: “These are rivers that Eisenhower, Hemingway and Ritz fished.”

And of course they flow through French countryside, French villages, past cafés and restaurants and, in the case of the one where I’m sitting right now, the grounds of a private manor where you can stay on the top floor with views to the silent woods all around, and be absurdly well fed, wined, and watered.


A trip to the Dordogne Valley offers equal or better opportunities to be well fed and well wined; there’ll just be fewer Brits around when it happens. Not that the Dordogne is tourist free. It’s far too beautiful for that, and also too close to Burgundy’s wine country. Still, like most of France, the farther you get from Paris, the less touristy it becomes.

If you like to combine fly-fishing and food, then France is a logical choice. But for hardcore destination anglers, the country may sound like little more than a vacation trade-off—a way to appease the spouse’s desire for luxury and a good pinot, while still providing the angler an opportunity to “wet a line while you’re there.” But don’t be mistaken; France has a strong tradition of fly-fishing and fly-fishermen. I witnessed both firsthand as guide to the world’s most decorated competitive fly-fisher—France’s three-time World Champion Pascal Cognard—in the 17th World Fly-Fishing Championships, held in 1997 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Cognard and his comrades have excelled in world competitions ever since, in part because they simply have a lot of exceptional home water in which to practice, including the Dordogne.

The mainstem Dordogne is big water, and if it were in the U.S., it would undoubtedly be fished from a driftboat. But in France, it is most often accessed by wading, walking the banks or by renting a canoe. “Most fishermen on the Dordogne chest-wade and do ‘the heron,’” says Nick de Toldi, owner of Gourmetfly, a French field-sports tourism company, referring to an angler who stands in the water and waits motionless, like a heron. “The strong current prevents you from covering big distances while wading. No one floats here in boats like in America, but some guide friends of mine have done it while visiting Montana and came back impressed by the technique. They spoke many times of adapting it here, but it remained a mere project.”

Perhaps American driftboat manufacturers should look at expanding to southwest France. In the meantime, canoe rental operators along the Dordogne Valley provide a popular alternative. “A reader once asked me, if I were to bring a spry, 73-year-old grandmother to Europe, where would I go?” famed Europhile Rick Steves once wrote. “My response: I’d take her for a float down France’s Dordogne River in a canoe. I can’t think of a more relaxing way to enjoy great scenery while getting some exercise. And you can pop ashore whenever you like.”

Like Mr. Steves, fly-fishers have figured out that canoes are the tool of choice on the Dordogne. “Taking canoes is very common, because most companies allow you to rent upstream, drift down and get picked up by the canoe rental people to take you back to your car,” de Toldi says. “My brother has done it several times with a fly rod, but more to stop under cliffs of otherwise difficult access points than to fish as the boat drifts down.”

As the most famous waterway in the region, the main Dordogne can get crowded with canoes and kayaks in the summertime. Hitting one of its many smaller tributaries offers a more intimate angling experience, with clear, spring-fed runs surrounded with hatches of various mayflies and caddis. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy rivers to fish.

“You could compare the upper Dordogne to the Henry’s Fork [of the Snake River in Idaho],” says Cyril Kamir, founder and manager of the popular French online fly-fishing magazine, Le Mouching, who has fished the Dordogne region several times. “It’s a broad river, up to 120 feet wide, with many weeds and big trout. Due to the many little currents, you have to fish with very long leaders—16 feet is not unusual. The Dordogne always has a lot of fish, but they are difficult to catch, partly because there are a lot of water-level variations from the dams upstream. But it’s a good way to improve your fishing. I love it best in early and late season, when there are fewer people and lots of grayling and trout.”

According to Kamir, many French fly-fishers consider there to be two Dordognes. “No one fishes the lower Dordogne,” Kamir says. The anglers’ Dordogne is the upper or “Haute Dordogne,” near the charming, riverside towns of Argentat and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne. This area includes the Vézère River, a 130-mile fly-fishing-friendly tributary of the Dordogne that is home to 25 prehistoric cave systems containing numerous cave paintings dating back nearly 20,000 years. Both the Vézère and the Dordogne are home to several medieval castles along their banks, and UNESCO recently named the entire region, all 15,000 square miles of it, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage site.

Within this area, you’ll find three of the Dordogne’s most famous tributaries—the Cère, the Maronne and the Doustre. The Cère flows 75 miles through the departments of Lot and Corrèze, entering the Dordogne on river left near the town of Bretenoux; the Morrone is a small stream with good mayfly hatches and big trout that could be mistaken for a river you might find in the Adirondacks of New York; and the Doustre is a small, sometimes technical river in a gorgeous setting. All three have dams, so anglers must be careful to keep a watchful eye on flows.


Mayfly hatches on all Dordogne Valley rivers start with March browns in spring and generally end with the last caddis hatch in September. Browns, rainbows and grayling are the main species, though several area lakes also have pike and carp. As for techniques, most rivers are great for dry flies by mid- summer. In early season, streamers are effective, but many Dordogne locals consider streamer fishing to not be fly-fishing, so be prepared for that discussion if you are a diehard streamer fisherman. Sight nymphing is not easy in most places because of the weeds, but usually works fine with an indicator.

What better way to celebrate that symbiosis than with rod in hand and wine in belly, doing “the heron” along the Dordogne River?

History Lessons

There are two important UNESCO sites in the Dordogne region and both are worth a visit. The first is the Vézère Valley, which was designated a World Heritage Site in 1979 due to its vast collection of vivid, colorful cave paintings. The Lascaux Cave, near Montignac, is easily the most famous of the valley’s 147 sites, with numerous large-animal paintings that are thought to be more than 17,000 years old. An 18-year- old discovered Lascaux in 1940, but visiting the caves became so popular that they were closed to the public in 1963 and a replica containing the main sections of artwork (Lascaux II) was built less than 700 feet away.

The second UNESCO designation occurred in July of 2012, when the entire Dordogne River basin was designated a Biosphere Reserve, the largest such reserve in France. The designation came largely because of socio-economic aspects, the beautiful scenery, the balance between economic development and conservation, and the extensive plant and animal biodiversity found there, including its 39 different species of fish.

Fishing Guide

The rules for fishing in France are complicated and ever evolving, but no more so than in parts of the U.S. Each of the country’s 101 departments (roughly equivalent to counties in the U.S.) sets its own laws, so for the most up-to-date info, it is best to contact one of the major fly shops, such as La Maison de la Mouche, which has operated in Paris since 1934. No matter where you fish, you’ll need a license. A full-season license costs around 70 euros, and a weekly (sometimes called a “Holiday License”) costs around 40 euros. In 2007, many regions also started selling daily licenses, but those often didn’t allow fishing until after May, and you’ll sometimes need another license if you move to another region.

Trout season in France begins the third Sunday in March, and generally closes by the third Sunday in September, except in and around some of the mountain regions, which remain open through mid-October. After this, you can still fish for grayling or other “course fish” (carp, pike, bass, etc.— basically, anything other than trout or salmon). This late- season fishing is especially popular and productive in the Dordogne and parts of the Massif Central in south-central France.

Lastly, waters in France are divided into First Category (lakes or rivers dominated by trout and salmon, where only one rod is allowed), and Second Category, which are lakes and rivers dominated by anything else. Second Category waters allow up to four rods, and up to two hooks each.

Fly-Fishing South Carolina’s Kiawah Island


Fly-Fishing South Carolina's Kiawah Island

December 10, 2018

As we round a grassy, flooded corner of Kiawah Island, moving slowly in Capt. John Irwin’s flats boat, all three of us onboard begin scanning the shoreline for fish. Irwin spots one first. “We’ve got a belly-crawler at 2 o’clock, about 20 feet in,” he announces. “You see him?”

Charleston-based angler/artist/musician Paul Puckett is standing on the bow, fly rod in hand. He sees the fish a split-second after Irwin does, and makes a perfect cast, landing the fly 6 inches in front of the feeder’s nose. It pounces without hesitation, coming clear out of the water to eat the fly and connect Puckett with 5 pounds of hard-fighting red drum, a.k.a. redfish, one of the most popular game fish in America.

As he’s bringing it to the boat, a man yells “Fore!” from an adjacent golf course, and I instinctively duck my head. Such are the risks of fishing in coastal South Carolina.

Kiawah is a barrier island along the South Carolina coast, sitting about 20 miles south of Charleston. It is known primarily as a golf destination—a fair assessment, considering that five acclaimed courses weave around the island’s 11 square miles, including the Pete Dye-designed Ocean Course, host of the 2012 PGA Championship. But many anglers have discovered that Kiawah and the surrounding area is also an exceptional fly-fishing destination, especially for tailing redfish found in the Spartina-grass salt marshes.


“The endless interconnected creeks and rivers here make it easy to forget that you’re fishing close to civilization,” says Puckett. “Even with some of the best shops and restaurants really close by, Kiawah’s not quite as developed as other towns, so whether you’re wading or in a boat, you feel like you’re on your own private island.”

Indeed, most of Kiawah is a private island. Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission, through a partnership with Kiawah Development Partners, offers a beautiful public beach on the west end of the island called Kiawah Beachwalker Park. But beyond that, Kiawah is essentially a gated community, albeit one with many rentable vacation properties, where it’s possible to find fish on foot or in a rental car without even leaving dry land.

“There are brackish ponds on Kiawah that hold lots of big redfish,” says local photographer Jason Stemple, who spent five years as the staff photographer for Kiawah Development Partners, exploring the island every day, including its creeks and marshes. “It’s pretty hit or miss. Sometimes you can pull up to a pond, hop out and see fish right away. Other times you can cast for hours and never see a thing. But each little creek is unique, and has the possibility of holding belly-crawling, shrimp- gobbling redfish.” (Kiawah also has a few freshwater-fed springs and ponds with good largemouth bass fishing, along with other fish that can survive in brackish water, like carp and tarpon.)

These belly-crawlers that both Stemple and Irwin refer to are redfish that have come into very shallow water at “flood tide” to feed, swimming half-exposed—sometimes even their eyeballs are above water—through stretches of Spartina grass that look like a flooded hayfield. A flood tide is the term for the highest high tides of each month. The food chain on these flooded flats goes something like this: flyfisher chasing redfish; redfish chasing blue crabs or fiddler crabs; crabs chasing the snails that cling to the stalks of grass. The result is a unique and challenging visual fishery for three or four days on both sides of a new or full moon. “Tailers” are redfish that are nose-down, eating in the mud or grass, with their tail sticking above the water, often wiggling from side to side.

“We usually get two sets of flood tides each month between
May and November, which keeps us pretty satisfied,” says Puckett. “There’s just something special about being able to see a fish before you catch it.” Stemple adds that shooting pictures of redfish during a flood tide offers the best opportunity to photograph them without a human involved. “It’s the only time they take a part of their body and place it in our world,” he says. “Flood-tide tailers give you the best chance, whether fishing or photographing, of stalking an individual fish in the most visual way possible.”

As great as flood tides are, they’re certainly not the only time to catch redfish. Nor are redfish the only quarry worth chasing around Kiawah Island. On two consecutive mornings fishing with Irwin and Stemple, a black drum at low tide was my first fish of the day. Black drum are a close cousin to red drum, but grow even larger, with a few recorded catches of more than 100 pounds. Mine were both about 4 pounds, and were just losing the vertical dark stripes they sport as juveniles— markings that sometimes cause them to be mistaken for another Lowcountry specimen, the sheepshead.

The state fish of South Carolina is the striped bass, but with stripers falling on hard times of late, visitors to Kiawah target everything from dorado to cobia to seatrout to sharks to amberjack to false albacore— even the occasional tarpon. We saw several fishermen targeting sharks close to shore, but offshore options are also available, especially during summer months, when bluewater captains use bigger boats to target species like wahoo, snapper, grouper, tuna, mackerel and billfish.

We caught redfish each day on both dropping and rising tides. Some were tailing in the shallowest water of a small bay, some were milling about near the mouths of creeks, waiting for the tide to rise, and a few bigger fish were found cruising alone or in pairs, looking for unsuspecting shrimp, crabs or glass minnows, or working the oyster beds, which they love. All of this was sight-fishing—the best kind of fly-fishing—and would not have been possible without clear water, which doesn’t always occur, especially in summertime. Nor is it possible without the eyes of a competent guide, which Irwin certainly is. It doesn’t hurt, either, that he grew up spending summers on Kiawah, or that his father still lives there, giving him easy access to boat ramps, as well as the occasional golf game.


“I spent seven years guiding for trout in southwest Montana,” Irwin says. “But I decided to return home in 2001, get my captain’s license and focus on the fish I grew up with. Plus, it’s warmer here.”

Trading south Montana for South Carolina also allows Irwin to
guide year-round—a huge bonus for a career that’s often seasonal. To accommodate both inshore and near shore clients, he has an 18-foot skiff for redfishing and other shallow-water endeavors, and a 23-foot V-hull boat for trips to the ocean side of the barrier islands, when chasing migrating fish like dorado (also called mahimahi or dolphinfish.)

Come fall, flood tides in South Carolina can last longer than in spring or summer, which keeps most fly-fishers targeting redfish. But as temperatures drop during winter, crabs start hibernating, causing fewer redfish to feed on the flats during high tides. While this reduces the number of tailing redfish, it causes them to school up into larger groups. Winter is when some of the biggest schools of reds can be found, sometimes along the beach, but also in the same marshes they occupy the rest of the year. It’s also when redfish will push into very skinny water to try to avoid dolphins (the mammal, not the dorado)—one of their major predators. If you’ve ever seen an Internet video showing dolphins “herding” redfish and mullet onto dry land, chances are it was filmed near Kiawah Island.

The climate of Kiawah makes redfishing a year-round sport, and with several guides offering early morning or late afternoon options to match the best fishing conditions, it’s possible to get in nine holes or a game of tennis and still have time for fishing the same day.
Three great fly shops in the area—Charleston Angler in Charleston, Lowcountry Fly Shop in Mount Pleasant and Bay Street Outfitters in Beaufort—all have knowledgeable staff that can outfit you or connect you with a guide. In addition to Irwin, Captain Mike Tucker lives and works on Kiawah, offering anglers both fly and light-tackle charters.

If you’re interested in lessons instead of, or in addition to,
a chartered trip, Bay Street Outfitters offers several one-day “Redfish Schools” throughout the year, focusing mostly on casting, knots and flies. Irwin teaches seminars as well, which are run through Charleston Angler. He also hosts several two- day redfish schools throughout the year, scheduling them to coincide with flood tides. “Having the two-day classes works best,” Irwin says, “because it allows people to screw everything up on the first day, and still redeem themselves on the second.” It also provides what all anglers want from every redfishing trip we take: one more day on the water.

How Local Restaurants in Cabo San Lucas Do Sea to Table


How Local Restaurants in Cabo San Lucas Do Ocean to Table

August 17, 2018

We got one!” shouts first mate Salvador Flores. “Grab it!” He puts the fishing rod in my hand and I sit in the stern- facing captain’s chair. “Now pull back,” he says. I lean back against the force of the fish tugging at the end of the line. Then, “Lean forward. Adelante! Reel, reel, reeeel!”

After a few minutes of pulling back and reeling in, I see the slender 45-inch-long (we measured it later) yellow-green fish with blue markings that Mexicans call dorado, the Spanish word for golden. We don’t have it quite yet though. With a last, desperate lunge, the singular-looking creature—in addition to its vivid colors, its head has a blunted shape like it swam, hard, into a wall—tries to toss the hook. Salvador’s ready though. He grabs the line and pierces the fish with the gaffe, landing it on the back deck of our fishing boat.

Catching that feisty dorado, also known as mahi-mahi, was just one highlight of a perfect weekend in Cabo San Lucas, at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja peninsula, where a friend and I spent mornings fishing, afternoons feasting on our catch, and sunsets sipping cocktails overlooking miles of coastline. Cabo is a place where you can pack so much into a short stay, and for many American visitors it’s a nonstop flight from home.

We’d booked our fishing excursion in advance with Pisces Sportfishing, one of Cabo’s most established outfitters, operating since 1980. Just after sunrise, we start our day with mochas at The Cabo Coffee Co., then walk down to Cabo’s horseshoe-shaped marina. Pisces Dockmaster Eduardo Vasquez welcomes us and introduces us to Captain Roberto Sandez and first mate Salvador Flores.

Cabo Ocean to Table Fishing
I ask about the gleaming white boat, Valerie, and Eduardo says it’s a 35-foot-long Bertram with twin Cummins engines. Captain Roberto, a grizzled and affable 55-year-old mariner who’s been working at sea for 40 years, asks us if we’d like to chase marlin, which can weigh 100 pounds or more.

I can’t imagine keeping such a large fish and he says that if we catch one, we can release it. But I have visions of enjoying my catch dockside so I ask what else we might find. Well maybe tuna, he says, definitely dorado. “Then let’s go get some
dorado,” I say as he kicks the engine into gear. We motor up the west coast of Baja at 18 knots, passing mile after mile of deserted beaches in front of hills pocked with pines and cacti. Salvador extends the tangones, the arms that put the fishing lines out to the sides of the boats, baits the hooks with small mackerel, and tosses them into the ocean.

For a while we don’t get a bite. I go up to the bridge and chat with el capitan, asking what he likes best about his job. “Pescar,” (fishing), he says enthusiastically. “Pescar, pescar, pescar, pescar!” Suddenly there’s a tug on one of the lines. Then it starts flying out.

Salvador grabs the rod from its holder and hands it to me. I pull back and reel and soon see a flash of gold in the water. I keep pulling and the fish keeps fighting as the base of the rod digs into my lower abdomen just above my waist. When the dorado is just a few feet away, Salvador takes the line and gently pulls the hook off the shimmering fish as he cradles it in his arms. “Not so big,” he says, holding it out to me. It looks pretty big to me, at least 18 inches long.

“I think we could put this one back, but it’s up to you.” I hesitate for a moment, thinking: This is our first catch of the day; what if we don’t get another? Salvador seems to read my mind: “There are more fish out there, hay mas!”
Let her go then, I say with a nod and as soon as Salvador holds the young fish over the water it bolts away, splashing back into the sea and living to see another day. I go back up to talk with the captain and ask how much has changed during the four decades he’s been working Cabo’s seas. “Oh, mucho,” he says. “Even 10 or 20 years ago there were many more fish—dorados grandes! But now they’re harder to find.” Another line starts flying out and Salvador shouts at me to grab that pole. I get in the captain’s chair and put my feet on the foot bench for added leverage. This one is stronger: I fight it for a couple of minutes—then the line goes slack. “Salvador, I think I lost it.”
“No, no,” he says, “Keep reeling!” I pull in the slack then feel a powerful tug, the fish trying to get away, and see an amber flash about 50 feet behind the stern. A couple more sets of pulls and reels and he’s in—a gorgeous golden fish more than 3 feet long. “We’ll keep this one,” Salvador says as he grabs it with the gaffe and tosses it into a tank. Then he hoses down the deck until the blood is washed away.
Inhaling the fresh salt scent of the Pacific, we keep motoring north until we can see the pueblo of Pescadero near Todos Santos, almost 30 miles north from where we began the day. The crew has our lunches stashed in the cooler: chicken burritos and yellow cans of Pacifico beer, yet I’m not eager to eat on the rolling sea.
A pod of dolphins gracefully arcs over the water, a manta ray floats by, and then a sea turtle swims slowly, as if she has all the time in the world. Later there’s a big splash beyond the bow. Captain Roberto shouts: “Marlin! A big one, maybe 5 feet long and 100 pounds.” But I’m content to watch it swim away.
It’s been an exhilarating and full day. After eight hours of fishing, we’ve caught eight large dorados—five that we’ve kept and three tossed back—and one skipjack: in total, they equal about 15 pounds of meat. Salvador has hung flags across the boat’s starboard side showing what we’ve kept: five golden dorado banderas and one white skipjack banner. On the port side are three more dorado banners, each paired with a flag with a T on it: The T is for “Thrown back.”
Since there’s no way my friend and I will be able to eat even a fraction of our catch over this weekend, I ask if we can take some home. “Will the fish get through customs?” I ask Captain Roberto. “Si, no problemo,” he says. Pisces will cut and freeze the fish—all we have to do is buy a cooler and pick it up at their marina office on the morning of our departure.
But we don’t send all the fish home—we keep the smallest dorado, have it sliced by the Pisces crew, and carry the fillets in a plastic bag with ice to a highly recommended Japanese restaurant just a few blocks from the marina.

Daikoku has an outdoor seating area beside a manmade waterfall that feels like a Japanese garden. The restaurant is accustomed to people bringing in their catch, and the chef says he’ll be happy to prepare a meal from it for us. We entrust our well-fought-for cargo to him, take a couple of hours to get cleaned up and reflect on the day, then return to the restaurant after sunset.

The chef ’s advice is to start with sashimi to get the purest taste of the fish. Daikoku has a light touch, thin-slicing the sashimi and topping it with rice vinegar, layu (a type of chili oil), and dashes of sake, soy sauce, and orange juice. It’s heavenly and so fresh. The added flavors are subtle, enhancing the taste of the fish rather than overwhelming it.
We pair our sashimi with the house margarita, made with pure agave tequila and not too much sweetener. Next, we enjoy some nigiri sushi (slices of fish atop rice) and then a seaweed roll with our dorado, some avocado, and rice inside. Both are perfect. Over dinner we decide to change our plans for the next day: originally the idea was to lounge on the beach, but we’d both had such a good time fishing that we decide to go out again.
We haven’t reserved ahead for the second day so we get up at dawn and head back to the marina where we strike up a conversation with Captain Josue “Arturo” Moreno. He says he’ll take us out for a half day for $200, cheaper than Pisces but with fewer amenities. We’re on our own for lunch and water, and we need to get our own fishing licenses. (Pisces gets licenses for its guests.) By mid-morning we’re back on the water as frigatebirds with forked tails soar overhead, and rays of sunlight sparkle like diamonds on the rolling waves.
Just 15 minutes from the dock the ocean erupts in thrashing splashes and silver flashes. “Hay atun!” Captain Arturo says. “There’s tuna!”

Swarms of sardines are in the area, luring the tuna into a feeding frenzy. The first mate, Plutarcho, prepares the lines and just a couple of minutes later we get a bite. He puts the rod in my hands and I’m stunned by the tuna’s strength: I’m in for a fight.

Plutarcho reiterates the lesson I’d learned the day before: Pull back then lean forward and reel in. Compared to the long, lean dorado, tuna are shorter and stouter, true powerhouses, especially this one. The fight lasts about 10 minutes; finally, the tuna is close enough to pull into the boat with a gaffe. It battles ferociously even after thudding against the deck of the boat. Soon we’ll catch another tuna; then Plutarcho reels in two more, one for himself and one for Captain Arturo.

“This was the best possible day,” the captain says. We had “buena suerte—good luck—100 percent.” Motoring back to the marina, Plutarcho cleans our fish and cuts it into fillets. We disembark and head straight to Captain Tony’s, a restaurant with a sign outside reading, “YOU HOOK IT WE COOK IT.” We did our part, now we’re ready for Captain Tony to do his.

Cabo San Lucas Ocean to Table Fishing

The restaurant’s host that day, Pablo, warmly welcomes us and offers us a waterside table. He takes the fish to the kitchen, then asks how we’d like it. We start with sashimi, then have three different preparations: tuna with garlic, with a cilantro cream sauce, and, finally, lightly battered with salt and pepper. All are fantastic and the fish couldn’t have been fresher. I had a twinge of guilt when I’d pulled the tuna out of the water—it was so majestic and had such a ferocious will to live, but feasting on our own catch proves to be immensely satisfying.

Later that afternoon we hire a taxi to go to Sunset Monalisa, a bar and restaurant about 5 miles east of Cabo San Lucas. Its deck offers a sweeping view of Cabo’s beaches and postcard- worthy arch over the sea. The main attraction at this bar/restaurant is watching the sun slip into the sea. Sunset that night is at 5:39 p.m., so we arrive around 5. I sip a raspberry mojito as surfers below catch the last waves of the day.

The setting sun turns the hills golden as a behemoth cruise ship sounds its horn and chugs out to sea. At sunset, a restaurant staffer blows into a conch shell four times, turning each time to honor the four directions, paying tribute to the day as it ebbs away.

On the taxi ride back to Cabo we ask our driver to recommend an authentic local restaurant with handmade tortillas. Walking into Maria Corona, we feel like we’re being welcomed into someone’s home. We choose outdoor seating, an area festively decorated with colorful banners and illuminated with hanging lanterns and gas torches. A trio of middle-aged men wearing matching outfits— two acoustic guitarists and a standup bassist— play traditional Mexican songs on the spacious restaurant’s stage. When they take a break, two women in frilly white dresses perform a butterfly dance, before two men with tap- dancing boots join them. The diners are a mix of locals and visitors—Maria Corona is perfect for travelers but not touristy.

We start with guacamole—local avocados, garlic, serrano peppers, and cilantro—made tableside in a molcajete, the traditional Mexican mortar and pestle hewn from volcanic rock, typically basalt. The server grinds the chilis in the three-legged bowl then mashes in the avocados. Of course, there are margaritas, too.

My friend wants to watch the cooks make tortillas and is invited into the kitchen. She asks the young chef, Emma Bonilla, what her favorite dish is and Bonilla recommends the pork Chamorro, a Yucatanean specialty. It’s made with six different chilis including ancho, pasilla, and guajillo; and spices including cinnamon, clove, and allspice. We take Bonilla’s advice— she recently worked in the Yucatan for two years—and order it. The pork is succulent and flavorful, the portion beyond generous. To top off the night we watch as our server deftly makes Mexican coffee, a potent, and potently theatrical, concoction. It’s made tableside with coffee, tequila, and Kahlua, and poured into a blue- rimmed glass in a flaming cascade.

Later, at Pancho’s Tequila Bar, over a glass of Los Abuelos añejo, I recall that just a few hours ago I’d been fighting tuna, and in a few hours I’d be on the plane home. Yet for the moment I’m still in paradise, savoring the flavors of Mexico, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.