Archive | May, 2014

Fly Fishing for Mahseer in Bhutan Conclusion

blog-May-30-1-flyfishing-for-mahseerJust to remind you (See May 20 & May 22), Mike Dawes, Niel Fox and I have been here in Bhutan to help Jon Miceler, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Government of Bhutan figure out what the possibilities of high-end, catch and release mahseer fly fishing actually are.  Jon’s hope is that if mahseer are abundant enough, WWF and private sector partners could train local communities around Royal Manas National Park as well as staff from the park to offer ecotourism packages which benefit both the communities and the park.

 

blog-May-30-2014-2-thimphu-bhutanToday was the day that we were to meet with the Prime Minister and present to him our findings.  The Prime Minister is highly respected and honestly this was to be one of the high points of this entire trip.  Unfortunately the Prime Minister lost two days this week because weather prohibited him from getting home on time from a meeting with India’s Prime Minister earlier this week.  Hence, he fell behind in his most important business of running his country and he cancelled his appearance with us.

 

blog-May-30-2014-3-world-wildlife-fund-bhutanYes indeed we were terribly disappointed.  However, in his place we met with Dechen Dorji who was a delight to be with and he not only listened carefully to what we had to say but literally spent half the day with us.  The day was spectacular and it ended with Dechen treating us to his favorite restaurant in Thimphu.  Our food and drink was no less than superb!

 

blog-May-30-2014-4-jeff-currier-flyfishing-for-mahseerAs for our report, our findings are plain and simple.  Bhutan has some superb fly fishing for mahseer.  Even in difficult conditions we managed to catch enough mahseer to realize that during the prime months of November through April this could be the best there is.  Any fly fisher that wants to catch a mahseer can do it here.  But at this point in time, there’s a price to pay.

 

blog-May-30-2014-5-driving-in-bhutanTravel logistics are a nightmare.  Unless anglers can handle grueling travel by car it’s not feasible.  Fortunately there are improved logistics in the making.  It’s possible that anglers could fly domestically from Paro to Geylegphug and then it would only be a four hour drive to the fishing.  But still, that will always be dependant upon road conditions.

 

blog-May-30-2014-6-mike-dawes-flyfishing-bhutanThe bottom line however comes back to the simple fact that Bhutan may offer the best mahseer fly fishing left on the planet.  If you or anyone you know needs to add this incredible game fish to their list you can do it in Bhutan.  When you’re serious – Contact Me or Mike Dawes.

 

blog-May-30-2014-7-buddha-thimphu-bhutanAfter our meeting we took in some of the tourist sights around Thimphu.  The highlight for me was seeing the 169 feet tall Buddha, the largest Buddha in the world.  The amazing statue isn’t quite complete however it’s finished enough that you can see why this may soon be listed as the 8th Wonder of the World.

 

blog-May-30-2014-8-flyfishing-in-bhutanIt’s been an amazing trip to Bhutan. I consider myself one of the luckiest anglers on the planet.  What an outstanding opportunity.  I give a special thanks to Jon Miceler, WWF and of course the Government of Bhutan for inviting me and looking after me so well.  I must also thank Jigme, Chenning, Sangay and Tshering for being the ultimate hosts.  I can’t wait to return soon!

 

Dawes and I will begin the long journey home in the morning.  Once home I’ll post an additional photo essay from the trip.  There are always many more fun photos that don’t make the blog.  I hope everyone enjoyed the adventure!

 

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing

Farewell to the Mahseer of Bhutan

blog-May-29-2014-1-landslides-in-bhutanIf someone told me we’d catch mahseer today I’d tell them they were crazy.  The heavy rain hadn’t stopped since we left Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan and it got worse a few times during our drive out of Geylegphug.  The roads are teetering, breaking apart on the steep edges, and rocks and logs and etc are falling across them from the cliffs above.  We were lucky to get through in many places.  But half way to Thimphu the skies began to clear.

 

blog-May-29-2014-2-a-raging-mahseer-river-in-bhutanHalf way to Thimphu is about where we started driving along the river we caught the mahseer in on May 21.  The river was raging and far more chocolate in color than before.  But the sudden blue sky had us dreaming of a few casts where that tributary entered.

 

blog-May-29-2014-3-flyfishing-for-mahseerWhen we got there it looked doubtful.  The tributary was still mostly clear but was up at least a couple feet.  A bridge that was in sight before was completely gone.  The tributary too was raging.  The main river was so much larger that the clear water from the tributary was consumed almost instantly.  Jon suggested bagging it and getting to Thimphu at a decent hour but Dawes and I convinced him to let us have a quick crack.

 

blog-May-29-2014-4-jeff-currier-with-chocolate-mahseerDawes insisted I take first shot today.  I accepted and crept into place.  The ripping river was so loud it was intimidating to be near.  I thought about how incredibly strong mahseer must be.  On my first cast, in a tiny little pocket of clearness next to the bank, this fantastic chocolate mahseer exploded on my fly.  How he saw it, and how he caught it so quickly in such conditions will always amaze me.

 

blog-May-29-2014-5-mike-dawes-flyfishing-in-bhutanDawes got in next and he too got a quick strike only he missed his.  Then for fifteen minutes of pounding the water he didn’t touch another fish.  It seemed our fishing was officially over this trip.

 

blog-May-29-2014-6-jeff-currier-flyfishing-in-bhutanI slipped back in when Dawes was done and sat on a rock above the sliver of clear water from the tributary.  I had on two Warpath flies that sink ridiculously fast and started swinging and jigging them gently.  The flies were deeper than deep thanks to my 300 grain Streamer Express.

 

blog-May-29-2014-7-jeff-currier-flyfishing-for-golden-mahseerIt didn’t take long and I was hooked up again.  I could tell it wasn’t a big mahseer but the current had the rest of the guys fooled until I slipped him in a downstream back eddy.  Out of the mud I hoisted my final golden mahseer of the trip.

 

blog-May-29-2014-8-mike-dawes-with-golden-masheerDawes went right back in and hooked up immediately.  It appeared he had a giant on but his fish was also taking advantage of the current.  Minutes later he landed this golden mahseer of about 10lbs.

 

blog-May-29-2014-9-jon-miceler-with-chocolate-mahseerThere were some nice fish in one tiny little spot.  Jon is the only one not to land a mahseer the entire trip.  Dawes and I sent him in for one last try.  I sat with him on the rock and coached him on how to get his fly deep.  Several casts went by with nothing but then I could see his fly got perfectly in the zone.  Just as I said get ready, Jon got thumped – a perfect specimen of a chocolate mahseer!

 

We were hoping that Niel and Jigme could get in there and catch mahseer also but our luck ran out.  Niel hit it hard another ten minutes before we had to pull the plug.  It was time to finish our road trip to Thimphu or we’d be driving in the dark.  But what a grand finale!

 

blog-May-29-2014-10-namgay-heritage-bhutanWe arrived in Thimphu around 6 PM and checked into an awesome hotel called the Namgay Heritage.  It’s really nice after being in the jungle for more than a week.  We all got cleaned up then had a few beers and went to dinner at an Indian restaurant Jon knew about.  It’s been a great trip.

 

The Prime Minister made it home from India.  His secretary said his delay has backed up his schedule but as of tonight he still plans to meet with us tomorrow afternoon.  We are crossing our fingers!

 

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing

Escape from Monsoon

blog-May-28-2014-1-flyfishing-in-bhutanHeavy rain started yesterday afternoon as soon as we got in the cars and went all night.  This morning we got up at 5 and scrambled to pack our junk in a downpour.  Then we hit the slow moving roads of Bhutan before they start washing out.  We’ve gone from the jungle to the cloud forest.  Monsoon may have very well started here in southern Bhutan.

 

blog-May-28-2014-2-monsoon-season-in-bhutanIt was a six hour jaunt to Geylegphug where we are spending tonight at Hotel Kuku.  We hoped to fish along the way but not a chance with this rain and rising waters.  We arrived at 11 AM and all of us took short naps.

 

blog-May-28-2014-3-mahseer-fish-hatchery-bhutanThis afternoon we visited a mahseer fish hatchery.  Like the trout hatchery Dawes and I visited ten days ago, this hatchery was primitive in comparison to ones in the US.  But there are some great young guys running it and all were very enthusiastic about fish and of course, saving the mahseer.  They took us out in the rain so they could show off some of the nice ones they have on hand.  Five kids dragged a net through and when it went tight golden and chocolate mahseer started leaping over the net.  They jump like Atlantic salmon!  It’s amazing though how little is known about this fish species.

 

Tonight Jon, Niel, Dawes and I put together our presentation for the Prime Minister.  Remember, Dawes and I are consulting for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in order to help Bhutan get a feel for their fishing tourism potential.  Meeting the Prime Minister is a highlight for us all.  That being said, we found out he’s stuck in Delhi, India at the moment because it’s raining so hard in Paro that they couldn’t land his plane today.  All we can do is hope his busy schedule allows time for us for our scheduled appointment in two days.

 

blog-May-28-2014-4-grass-carp-for-dinnerAnd tonight for dinner we had grass carp.  Yes you heard me correctly, white Amur, my favorite quarry of Phoenix, Arizona.  It didn’t taste so great by the way.

 

That’s all for now.  As we drive north tomorrow we hope to get out of the rain and fish for mahseer the exact place we caught our first ones at on May 21st.  We are crossing our fingers!

 

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing

The Mystery Fish of Bhutan Returns

blog-May-27-2-14-1-jeff-currier-mahseer-fishingIt was another wet night in the tent.  I slept fully dressed in raingear.  The dampness took its toll and my lungs have tightened up like I have asthma.  It’s killing me and this morning I didn’t look so hot as I made my way down to the confluence pool for the last time.

 

blog-May-27-2014-2-flyfishing-in-bhutanNiel was already there and he’d made several unsuccessful passes.  He saw me, and probably saw how terribly beaten I looked and stepped out and told me to get in and give it a try.   He generously announced he was going to get us both a cup of coffee.

 

blog-May-27-2014-3-jeff-currier-flyfishing-mahseerBefore he got twenty feet I hooked what I thought was a snag.  I couldn’t believe it.  What was I even doing up feeling so crappy?  And now I was about to lose my rig.  But the snag started to move.  I had a fish!

 

 

Niel Fox photo

Niel Fox photo

Niel heard my joy and turned back.  I’m glad he did because this was a rare instance where I didn’t have at least my waterproof camera.  After a powerful battle I slid another of the mystery fish like Dawes caught two days ago up on the bank.  He was another robust one and Niel clicked off a few shots for me.

 

blog-May-27-2014-5-jeff-currier-fishing-in-bhutanAfter the fish I went back to my tent.  I felt lousy.  I put my rain pants on and plopped on top of my soaking wet sleeping bag and dozed on and off for the next hour while it rained.  I was glad we were getting off the river today.

 

blog-May-27-2014-6-flyfishing-in-bhutanBy ten we packed up our wet stinky camp and loaded the rafts.  We fished a few spots in the four mile trip to the take-out, some spots quite good looking but no luck.  Today was the first day of mahseer fishing where I didn’t land at least one.  The mystery fish will suffice however.

 

blog-May-27-2014-7-WWF-mahseer-crewWe arrived at the take-out around 1 PM.  The sun came out.  The crew broke everything down then we posed for some group pics.  They are a nice bunch of guys and I think they gained an appreciation for the river.  I know after our trip they’ll be spending more time out there because we left them our raft as a gift.  They’ll need to be careful but on the lower river they shouldn’t have a problem.

 

blog-May-27-2014-8-kings-house-manas-parkAfter we packed up the trucks, we went to Royal Manas National Park headquarters for a tour from Tshering.  He showed us where the King stays when he visits.  The place was pretty sweet to say the least.

 

blog-May-27-2014-9-kings-house-manas-parkJon, Niel, Dawes and I weren’t allowed in the Kings quarters but we were able to relax on his porch.  We’ve been sitting and sleeping on rocks all week, usually in the rain so we got quite cozy.  Then the beers started appearing and it was like we went to heaven.

 

blog-May-27-2014-10-people of bhutanAfter lunch we loaded up with Sangay and our other driver Chenning.  They had a mini vacation while we were floating and were excited to have us back on board.  Then we drove back up north and stayed the night in the same cabins we did on the way down.  We’re back to civilization.

 

It’s raining cats and dogs now.  We’re concerned that this could be the start of monsoon which could mean more landslides.  Hopefully none will turn our 20 hour journey back to Thimphu into a 40 hour drive and we miss our flights home Sunday!

 

EXHAUSTED

 

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing

Flying Solo in Tiger Country Again

blog-May-26-2014-1jeff-currier-flyfishing-in-bhutanThe rain returned last night.  I woke up in standing water in the bottom of my leaky tent.  The night was quite uncomfortable.  Luckily the rain slowed down to a drizzle by morning.  I wandered down to the confluence pool nearly in darkness hoping for a hungry beast mahseer to be waiting.  I picked up a golden but he wasn’t the monster I was hoping for.

 

blog-May-26-2014-2-flyfishing-in-bhutanIt turns out we’re only four miles from our take-out.  We don’t plan to pull out till tomorrow but we tweaked things a bit.  Our drivers were called to meet at the take-out this morning.  Everyone but me floated off the river then loaded up two of the rafts and drove upstream on the river that meets our river and floated down it to camp.  I chose to remain in camp and fish solo.  I fished the pool and went for a long walkabout upstream.  Only the cook and one other crew member remained in camp.  That was nice because they kept me fed all day cooking under an umbrella.

 

blog-May-26-2014-3-jeff-currier-flyfishing-for-mahseerThe guys left early because of their aggressive plan.  I worked the confluence pool methodically for hours.  I’m convinced that when the mahseer are sluggish you must hit them in the nose to get a strike.  This meant dredging and I lost more flies in my session than ever in my life.  Honestly, I’ll bet I lost 15-20 flies and spent most of my time re-rigging my leader.  I hooked and lost another fish that felt like a monster.  He peeled off for the middle of the river then came undone.  It was horrible.  I was feeding flies to the river and losing the fish I traveled around the world to catch.

 

blog-May-26-2014-4-flyfishing-for-mahseerAfter some rice and potatoes for breakfast – oh, and a hot chili – the rain picked up again.  I felt the urgency to start my walk in case the rivers mudded up.  I walked a long way up the tributary river from the confluence pool.  For the next six hours I fished relentlessly on every good piece of water I passed.  I hooked one small chocolate mahseer.

 

blog-May-26-2014-5-watching-for-tigers-in-bhutanI fished more than simply the traditional streamer style as well.  I brought along my 6-weight Winston Boron III X.  Every likely place a fish might hold I nymphed.  I threw normal Hare’s Ears, Princes, and stone flies as well as my Polish nymphs from my friend Vladi Trzebunia.  Amazingly all I caught were katli.

 

blog-May-26-2014-6-barking-deer-in-bhutanI spooked myself as well.  Many of you know my tiger story from back in 2008 on the Ramganga River in India.  There are plenty of cats here as well.  Royal Manas National Park has at least a dozen tigers they know about and numerous leopards.  Here I was today, walking carelessly through tall grass staring at a river.  I never got that hair raising feeling but I caught myself being stupid when I jumped the big cats favorite food, barking deer.

 

blog-May-26-2014-7-jeff-currier-mahseer-artworkThese days I always carry my sharpies with me.  I was digging through my pack looking for a Cliff Bar and I found them.  We still plan to meet with the Prime Minister the afternoon before we go home so I thought how cool it would be to give him a rock with a mahseer I drew on it.  The hour of art was my most enjoyable of the entire day while watching a family of otters and a pair of yellow-throated-martens.

 

blog-May-26-2014-8-katli-in-bhutanDespite the effort my one and only respectable fish today came before 5 AM.  Then the rest of the day I landed nothing more than a handful of palm sized katli.  It was a slow day on the water and a wet one until it cleared up late afternoon.

 

blog-May-26-2014-9-mike-dawes-flyfishing-for-mahseerThe guys floated into camp around 5 PM.  They found a clear stream entering where Dawes got to sight cast to four mahseer that were all over 20lbs!  Unfortunately on his first cast he had a chaser that instead of eating his fly spooked the entire group of fish never to return again.

 

blog-May-26-2014-10-druk-lager-bhutanThe day went quick.  Its time for a few 11,000’s around our last campfire of the trip.  Tomorrow we’ll make one final shot at the confluence pool then float our way to the take-out and begin the long drive back to Thimphu where we’ll report to the Prime Minister on our findings.

 

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing

Double Trouble – Fly Fishing for Mahseer in Bhutan

blog-May-25-2014-1-mike-dawes-flyfishing-for-mahseerAs suspected everyone woke up a bit slow today.  We had a big fun night around the campfire after a wild and sketchy day on the river.  Although we had a clear water tributary to fish it wasn’t that great looking so sleeping in to a whopping 6 AM wasn’t a big deal.  Plus, there’s a small village nearby and we’ve seen a few locals wander down for water and we’re guessing some illegal fishing on occasion.  They also came for a glimpse of their surprise guests.  To them we’re like aliens.

 

blog-May-25-2014-2-flyfishing-in-bhutanI noticed one of our rafts isn’t doing so hot.  It’s the one that gave us problems yesterday.  The crew was working hard to blow it back up and find the hole.  The river seems gentle compared to yesterday and according to what we remember from home and Google Earth, we have a very short float to where a large river enters the river we’re floating.  Given the condition of the one raft and the short float, Dawes and I decided it was time to give our raft a try again.

 

blog-May-25-2014-3-jeff-currier-and-mike-dawes-flyfishing-in-bhutanThe float went well.  We floated down two miles of mellow current, so gentle that I broke out some casts as we went.  How cool would it be to learn you can catch mahseer floating along like you’re brown trout fishing?  But, nothing happened so perhaps the method won’t work.  Soon we arrived at the conjunction pool where our murky river met the other large river.  The other river was much clearer!

 

blog-May-25-2014-4-jon-miceler-flyfishing-for-mahseerWe beached the boats and everyone charged to hit the clear water.  So far every fish we’ve caught came from pools where clearer water enters.  Dawes and I tossed a few casts then decided to leave the upper side of the conjunction for Jon and Niel and float down and fish the other side.  We beached the boat below there and while Dawes retied his flies I walked up.  Visibility wasn’t great because a cloud was overhead but as I peeked over the edge I swore I saw a large streak of glimmering gold.

 

blog-May-25-2014-5-golden-mahseerI threw a cast with my two fly rig.  I had the Warpath special as my point fly and a Kreelex as my dropper.  The second my fly hit the water the enormous streak of gold surged and ate the Warpath fly.  All hell broke loose!

 

blog-May-25-2014-6-abel-reels-in-bhutanThe spool of my Abel reel spun violently and my Winston 9-weight creaked because it was bent so firmly all the way down to the cork.  I had the drag so tight I constantly got pulled forward and had to dig my heels in for battle.  Dawes was walking my way and saw the havoc in place.  He dropped his rod and ran back to the raft to get his camera gear.  Several minutes passed and he was by my side.

 

blog-May-25-2014-7-golden-mahseer-fishingThe golden mahseer went deep in my backing but like we’ve seen already, their not big fans of leaving the clear water for the raging river so I retrieved my Streamer Express back on the reel quickly.  After about eight minutes the fish seemed beaten and I started to muscle him in.  That’s when the ***** hit the fan.  My second fly, the dropper Kreelex, was flashing in the middle of my leader, sort of going side to side as my monster fish made his final head shakes.  I could see it sparkle and that’s when I saw a streak of gold again.  A 5lb mahseer attacked my dropper fly!

 

“Oh **** Dawes!  Another mahseer grabbed my dropper!  I’ve got a double!  This wont be good! I screamed.

 

And it wasn’t.  The freshly hooked 5lb mahseer spooked the big mahseer and they both went opposite directions.  The big mahseer broke off – saved by his smaller friend.  A true disaster.

 

blog-May-25-2014-8-mike-dawes-and-chocolate-mahseerI landed the 5lb mahseer disrespectfully.  My leader was hashed and I was as upset as I’ve been fishing in a long time.  Dawes knows the feeling and he started to walk away to give me some “alone time”.  I needed to re-rig so I told him to make a cast.  There had to be more in this pool.  On Dawes’s first strip he laid into this fantastic chocolate mahseer!

 

Two big fish hooked and one landed all in a matter of fifteen minutes.  Dawes and I figured we had the pool of all pools.  We fished and fished it for hours and landed two more 5lb goldens and a small chocolate.  Then by lunch time it was obvious the big fish of this pool were on to us.  We had no more bites.

 

blog-May-25-2014-9-mike-dawes-flyfishing-for-mahseerWe had a nice rice and potato brunch and decided to camp here.  This would allow us an evening of fishing and an early morning.  Starting at around 4 we took turns working the hole which had now been rested all afternoon.  Each pass we made we all tried different techniques.  We were stripping fast, slow, jigging our flies and for the most part letting them get deep on our sinking lines.  Between Dawes, Jon, Niel and I, I’ll bet we snagged and lost a dozen flies.

 

blog-May-25-2014-10-mike-daawes-flyfishing-in-bhutanOur efforts were worth it however because Dawes hooked into another great fish.  This was not a mahseer although we were unaware of this until I scooped him up.  Let’s just call it a mystery fish because I can’t find a name.  Interestingly, I have met him before back in 2008 on the Ramganga River in India.  There, they called this emerald green carp/sucker like fish kalibaus.  Today our crew called it ther or a thed – not much help.

 

blog-May-25-2014-11-kalibaus-in-bhutanI can not find ther or thed on the web but I found kalibaus.  I’m not sold on the kalibaus on the web because he has barbells and I swear this fish Dawes caught did not.  Whatever it is, it’s a spectacular fish and a great way to end our most successful fishing day on the float.

 

If there are any computer savvy Google wizards out there I’d love you to do some research and help Dawes and I come up with the name of this unique fish!

 

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing

A Mahseer Adventure in Bhutan

blog-May-24-2014-1-flyfishing-in-bhutanWhen we went to bed at 10 the stars were brilliant.  At 1 AM I was awoken by flashes of lightening.  Then came rain.  And I mean a serious downpour.  It came down so heavy that my tent didn’t just start leaking drips but rather pouring water through the seams.  But it’s the jungle so getting cold wasn’t a fear and I slid on my rain jacket and went back to sleep.

 

blog-May-24-2014-2-camping-in-bhutanI woke up in an inch of water and everything was soaked.  All of our tents, sleeping bags, punctured thermarests, and in my case, all my clothes were drenched.  I ridiculously left my waterproof duffle wide open last night.  A rookie move at best.  Along with rain I could have taken on a snake, scorpion or a huge spider.  I’m still shaking my head on that one.

 

blog-May-24-2014-3-Niel-Fox-photo-bhutanThere wasn’t a whole lot to do about my mess other then lay junk out on the rocks and go fishing.  Niel and Dawes were already down at the mouth of the tributary.  When I got there neither of them had any action and we fished together for nearly an hour without anything.

 

blog-May-24-2014-4-golden-mahseerLast nights mahseer truly seemed like a miracle so we ate breakfast and packed up camp.  Dawes and I were ready to go but the crew had a hole in a raft to fix so he and I went back fishing at the tributary mouth.  At the same second, despite being 50 feet apart, we each hooked up.  Dawes let out a *****!  A huge mahseer took his fly next to the bank and he broke him off on the set.  I had better luck but my fish wasn’t big.  I landed a respectable 25” golden mahseer on the Warpath fly.  Naturally we fished until Tshering and the crew dragged us away, but no more hook ups.

 

blog-May-24-2014-5-whitewater-rafting-bhutanToday’s float was a wild one.  Its evident to me that Tshering and his team of locals have never seen an accident on water.  They are fearless of this river and there were several times today when they should have been terrified.  It’s a dangerous situation.

 

blog-May-24-2014-6-golden-mahseer-fishingWe passed through three rapids that required lining the rafts.   Honestly there were two others like the one pictured here that should have been lined as well.  Notice Dawes, Jon, Niel or I are not in the raft.  We wisely walked despite the crew thinking it was a piece of cake.

 

blog-May-24-2014-7-flyfishing-for-mahseerIf the crew floated through the one above feeling safe you can only imagine the rapids they felt they needed to line.  These three rapids were serious.  The first was the worst and it was immediately evident that these guys don’t know much about lining a raft over a rapid.  You can tell by the crew going backwards with the line dragging in the photo it was an absolute circus.  And I can tell you it was far more of a circus than the picture tells.  We’re damn lucky not to have lost someone today.

 

blog-May-24-2014-8-flyfishing-in-bhutanIn addition to the whitewater adventures we had little wade fishing episode.  We passed two more tributaries that were relatively clear so we stopped to fish them.  One tributary was large enough that you couldn’t cross.  There wasn’t really enough room for the four of us to fish.  How nice it would be to get on the other side I thought.  Sure enough, upstream I could see a rickety bridge.  I went up to cross it.  Half way across I realized this was a seriously bad move.  Not only was it bouncing around so badly I almost fell off, but where it attached to the far bank it wasn’t attached at all.  Its bamboo supports were stuck in a steep sandy wall and the sand was caving in as I crossed.  I was committed and I made it – but man I was lucky!

 

blog-May-24-2014-9-flyfishing-for-mahseerI looked back and luckily no one else had the same stupid idea so I went on down and started fishing.  Despite not catching a fish, I got really into it and became unaware that Jon decided he was going to cross the bridge and join me.  The way I learned he did was when a life jacket floated out the mouth of the tributary and roared passed me into the main river.

 

blog-May-24-2014-10-jon-miceler-in-bhutanFirst thought for me was save the life jacket by casting and hooking it.  God knows we need them this trip.  At this point it never crossed my mind as to why the jacket was floating past.  The rescue took two long casts while trotting down the bank chasing before I got it.  The current was so strong it was like fighting a halibut on fly.  As I was landing the life jacket it dawned on me that one of the guys must have decided to cross the bridge and it collapsed.  Sure enough I was correct and the man lucky not to have been badly hurt was Jon.  The bridge simply fell apart and he ended up in the water and swam to shore.  He held on to his fly rod but dropped his life jacket.

 

blog-May-24-2014-11-Niel-Fox-photoAmongst all the craziness today we caught five golden mahseer.  I got the one this morning, Dawes caught one at lunch and Niel got one on spin gear and then tonight his first on fly.  None were of size but that’s ok.  And when we weren’t in the whitewater the scenery was sensational.

 

blog-May-24-2014-12-jeff-currier-and-mike-dawesThe day wore us out big time and when we arrived at camp tonight rather than charging out to fish we all kicked back and drank numerous Druk Lager 11000’s and at least one bottle of red wine.  I’m not so sure that we’ll all feel too good in the morning but somehow days like today lead to nights around the fire like tonight!

 

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing

A Float into the Unknown of Bhutan

Niel Fox photo

Niel Fox photo

We went to bed early because it started to drizzle last night.  At about 4 AM the moisture stepped up to a light rain.  Bhutan is on the verge of monsoon season so everyone was sort of looking around at the clouds nervously this morning.  We were starting a five day float into no mans land and if monsoon starts and the river rises, say 25 feet, we’re probably dead.

 

blog-May-23-2014-2-mahseer-fishing-in-bhutanBut this is exploratory fishing at its best.  We’re half way around the world and it’s not for the weak hearted.  As we waited for our hardboiled eggs, rice and whatever, we rigged our rods and packed our dry bags.  Then Dawes and I blew up our raft while the crew blew up three others.  Push off was in the very near future.

 

blog-May-23-2014-3-flyfishing-manas-parkThe man sort of in charge of our float is Tshering Dorsi, the head ranger of Royal Manas National Park.  I only met him yesterday but he’s neat guy and perhaps more excited to float this river than we are.  He and some of his crew have done this float once before, but that was years ago.  What lies around every corner is virtually unknown.

 

blog-May-23-2014-4-flyfishing-the-himalayan-foothillsDawes and I aren’t sure what the cfs is but we estimate this fast river as about twice the volume as our home river, the South Fork, during high water.  There’s a lot.  It’s muddy.  And it’s dangerous.  But it’s right on the cutting edge of what we can handle.  Plus, this morning Tshering was certain there were no rapids to worry about on Day 1.

 

blog-May-23-2014-5-flyfishing-for-golden-mahseerWe pushed off at 9 AM in the drizzle.  The river was rising and muddier than last night so fishing wasn’t on our minds.  For me, Dawes, Jon and Niel, our concern was whether or not Tshering and his crew knew what they were doing.  Jon and Niel were in a raft with Tshering and a couple of his seven man crew.  We wanted to make absolutely sure they could handle a paddle before we got too far into this.  We designed a test.  We pointed out a gravel bar on the opposite side of the river a tenth of a mile downstream and said we’ll meet there.

 

blog-May-23-2014-6-flyfishing-manas-national-parkDawes and I led the way.  I could see Dawes using all his strength to make the crossing but it wasn’t insane.  We made it and low and behold, so did the next three rafts.  Things appeared to be ok.

 

blog-May-23-2014-7-flyfishing-for-mahseerIt so happened there was a nice channel behind the gravel bar so the four of us ran some flies through.  It was chocolate so we didn’t do it with much confidence.  But I’ve caught mahseer in the same conditions so we just had to hope.

 

After we fished unsuccessfully we moved on.  We hit a couple more nice looking channels but no fish.  According to the Google Earth research we did back home, there was river coming in soon.  It had to be clearer than the main so we decided to head there, set up an early camp and fish there.  That’s when we hit the rapid that supposedly didn’t exist.

 

blog-May-23-2014-8-whitewater-rafting-in-bhutanThe float to this point was steadily a class 1 rapid – nothing our small two man raft couldn’t handle.  It was rougher than Tshering indicated to start but by now seemed to be the standard.  That’s why we were no longer scouting around every corner even though we should’ve been.  Dawes and I soon found ourselves at the mercy of the river with no turning back.  Dawes and I got funneled into a class 3.

 

blog-May-23-2014-9-zambezi-whitewaterI loved whitewater when I was a kid.  Then in 2005 I nearly drown on a whitewater trip on the Zambezi River.  That was it.  That day I narrowly escaped death.  These days, I’ll pass on whitewater opportunities whenever possible.

 

Dawes did the best he could to steer our insufficient raft through the churning rapid.  I held on tight to the rowing frame.  We must have been tossed eight feet into the air three times before Dawes lost control and we hit the last two rollers sideways.  By some miracle we made it.  Once it was over, I looked back to see if Dawes was still there.  He was but with a look of shear terror.  “That’s it!” he shouted.

 

Coincidentally the entering river we were looking for was right there.  Dawes busted for the bank and we pulled the raft well up on shore.  By now the others were on the way down.  They’d watched us nearly capsize and were hugging the inside turn to avoid the rapid.  When they pulled in Dawes announced, “Tshering, have your guys deflate our raft and pack it – we’re done”.

 

blog-May-23-2014-10-druk-lager-timeThat was it; our raft was too small for the unreliability of what was around the next corners.  Dawes and I are going in the big rafts for the rest of the journey.  Jon, Niel, Dawes and I found a comfy spot in the sand and crushed two tall Druk Lagers each.  That was a close one.

 

blog-May-23-2014-11-chilles-in-bhutanAfter the beers we ate some lunch consisting of rice and potatoes and as many chilies as you can handle.  Our cook doesn’t have much to work with but he does a nice job.  Then we investigated the entering river.  To our amazement, the small river was crystal clear so we fished where it entered for about three hours straight.  Not one of us touched a fish.

 

blog-May-23-2014-12-mahseer-foodsIt was disappointing not to hook a mahseer in an ideal looking spot.  There were a lot of small fish splashing in the clear water so we each rigged up our trout rods and together hiked up the tributary.  It turned out to be a delightful action filled afternoon catching a small relative to the mahseer, the katli.  At least that’s what the crew called them and I’ve heard the name before.  The bottom line is they are a perfect baitfish for a big golden mahseer and one had to be lurking at the mouth of this river.

 

Niel Fox photo

Niel Fox photo

I suspect I walked up the small stream two miles then back.  I was tuckered when I returned to camp but something told me I should make a few casts where the clear water met the mud on our main river.  Gradually I adjusted my stripping speed so that my last few cast had my Warpath Fly touching bottom.  That’s when I got jolted!

 

Niel Fox photo

Niel Fox photo

At first the tension felt like I was snagged on a boulder.  But as I changed angle in hopes to free it, the weight took off.  I had a decent fish.  He went just to the edge of my backing in the chocolate river then stopped.  This fish didn’t want to fight where he couldn’t see.  I eased him back and we battled in the sliver of clear water from the tributary.  After about five minutes I had my hands on a golden mahseer.

 

Niel Fox photo

Niel Fox photo

This was an unusually shaped mahseer.  If you look at his face he’s got more of a pig snout than most golden mahseer.  In 2008 I caught the same on the Ramganga River in India.  I thought it might be a different species but it turns out it’s just a funny looking golden.  I’ll take him.  Before I handed him to Tshering to release we posed for this fun photo.

 

blog-May-23-2014-16-flyfishing-in-bhutanNaturally after the catch the four of us hit the tributary mouth the rest of the evening.  But it turns out my catch was lucky.  Not one of us touched another fish.  Niel is fully equipped with spin ad bait fishing gear.  After we gave up on the flies he sank a few of the katli we caught earlier on bottom well into darkness – but not a bite.  The fish are big but far and few between.

 

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing

Arrival to Royal Manas National Park

Niel Fox Photo - Great Hornbill

Niel Fox Photo – Great Hornbill

In the months leading up to our mahseer exploratory fly fishing trip to the rivers of southern Bhutan, Jon Miceler explained his idea of using fly fishing and other types of river based tourism as a way of generating sustainable financing to one of Bhutan’s most important but neglected nature reserves known as Royal Manas National Park.  Royal Manas is unique in Bhutan in that it is contiguous with India’s oldest flagship nature reserves known simply as Manas created over 100 years ago.  Important wildlife such as tiger, rhino, elephant wander back and forth from India to Bhutan making the complex one of the most important wildlife reserves in South Asia.

 

blog-May-22-2014-2-royal-manas-parkHis suspicion was that mahseer and other important fish species also use the Manas River which flows from Bhutan Manas into Indian Manas as an important migration corridor.  The problem is that both parks are virtually broke and increasingly threatened by poachers and encroachment by landless poor.  In Bhutan, tourism is one solution that can eventually help support the park.

 

 

Niel Fox photo

Niel Fox photo

Jon explained that Bhutan’s traditional tourism packages focused on 2-3 standard sightseeing circuits in northern Bhutan that catered to older tourists interested in visiting monasteries and temples. As tourism becomes an increasingly important source of revenue and jobs in Bhutan, there is an acute need for diversification of tourism offerings. Jon knew that fly fishing, rafting, wildlife safaris and the remote tribal cultures of south eastern Bhutan are completely untapped tourism resources which if sustainably harnessed could provide livelihoods for local communities around Royal Manas National Park as well as income for the park itself.

 

blog-May-22-2014-4-jeff-currier-jon-micelerDawes and I are here to help Jon, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Government of Bhutan figure out what the possibilities of high-end, catch and release mahseer fly fishing actually are.  Jon’s hope is that if mahseer are abundant enough, WWF and private sector partners could train local communities around Royal Manas National Park as well as staff from the park to offer ecotourism packages which benefit both the communities and the park.

 

blog-May-22-2014-5-Niel-FoxBefore I go any further I must introduce Niel Fox from England.  Niel is a friend of Jon Miceler, an expert on high-end (I mean HIGH END) tourism and is also consulting about the fishing and tourism here in Bhutan.  Niel is the owner and founder of Based on a True story.  His business is no less than incredible and you must get on to his website to believe it.  Once there you’ll see some of the most fantastic photography.  Niel has an eye that few photographers do and I suspect many of the top photos you see the next week will be his.

 

blog-May-22-2014-6-golden-langur-bhutanAfter our short yet successful mahseer fishing stop yesterday we were more determined than ever to get started this morning.  We left the small town of Pangkha promptly at 5:30 to the waking of the jungle and a rare look at some golden langurs.

 

We had intentions of reaching Royal Manas National Park at 9 for breakfast.  In Manas the plan was to pick up rafts and our local crew to join us on the float.  They’d lead us to an unknown river where they suspected great mahseer runs.  We were to reach this place at noon and spend the day wade fishing and push the boats off tomorrow.  Well, driving never goes as planned in Bhutan, we arrived at Manas around noon for bad news about the drive to our put-in.

 

blog-May-22-2014-7-landslide-in-bhutanOur hour long drive from Manas headquarters to our put-in was hampered by a landslide. The slide occurred about three days ago and there was no way through.  Our only route to the put-in now was a three hour (ha ha ha!) detour through jungle roads that have not been navigated in years.

 

blog-May-22-2014-8-manas-park-jungleLet’s just say the detour was far from three hours.  The road wasn’t a road but rather a 50 mile long trail.  In some places the jungle grew across the trail so thick our crew had to clear it with machete.  Then there were creeks too deep to pass a vehicle through.  Here we lined the bottom with rocks so the vehicles wouldn’t sink so deep.  Somehow we made it.

 

blog-May-22-2014-9-land-leech-bhutanIt was a sweaty grueling day of travel that instead of three hours took us nine.  We picked up a few bug bites and bee stings.  Luckily most of us got the land leaches off before they sucked our blood.  But there were no injuries clearing the path.

 

blog-May-22-2014-10-flyfishing-mahseerNow that we’re here we can see our river – its chocolate mud.  We’ll still push off tomorrow but it looks to be a scenic float trip.  Hopefully today was that one day, the one that every exploratory trip entails, the day from hell!

 

Niel Fox photo

Niel Fox photo

Despite the clarity of the river, the view and sounds are absolutely spectacular.  I made a cast.  Camp is set.  Dinner is served.  And I’m signing off because I’m absolutely spent!

 

Tomorrow is the start of the complete unknown!

 

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing

Dawes’s Long Awaited Mahseer!

blog-May-21-2014-1-flyfishing-for-golden-mahseerThere’s a massive dam project underway on the Puna Tsang River.  The project is tough to look at as you drive along, not only because it’s a real mess, but also because you’re nearly head-on with gigantic dump truck after dump truck.  And if you veer too much away from the trucks you’re likely to drive over a cliff.

 

blog-May-21-2014-2-flyfishing-in-bhutanWhen completed the spectacular dam will provide hydropower for a huge part of Bhutan.  For an angler it’s upsetting but Bhutan is trying to catch up with the times and provide electricity for its people.  We really can’t argue with the process because we come from a country with many dams and we all have electricity and the rest of the comforts for that matter.  Much wiser is to help advise the Bhutanese to build the dam in a way that’s least harmful to the environment.  Of major concern to me is the effect on mahseer runs.

 

blog-May-21-2014-3-mahseer-fishing-in-bhutanIt took two hours to pass through the construction.  Once through, we followed the mighty river for a long ways.  The river was off color to say the least and appeared unfishable with the fly.  That being said however, I’ve learned from my friend Misty Dhillon of India that mahseer have evolved to handle such conditions.  Therefore when it came time to stretch our legs, we fished an area where a small tributary came in.

 

The tributary was far from clear but in comparison to the Puna Tsang; it was worth a try right where it dumped in.  Before thinking of casting, Jigme made numerous calls to orchestrate our fishing permits.  Once that was in order we were free to go.

 

blog-May-21-2014-4-warpath-fliesMahseer are one of the larger freshwater fish.  Golden mahseer once frequently surpassed 50lbs and they’ve been taken up to 100lbs.  These days a fish over 10lbs on the fly is more than respectable.  This size fish in fast water is a chore to land so I rigged up my Winston 9-weight, my Abel and a Scientific Anglers 250 grain Streamer Express.  In my experience, brown flies smaller than what you would expect work best.  Just before I left, my friend Brent Dawson, founder of Warpath Flies, sent Dawes and me a care package.  The flies are absolutely perfect.

 

blog-May-21-2014-5-mike-dawes-flyfishing-for-mahseerWe swayed our way over the river on a suspension bridge.  Then we hiked down to the mouth of the tributary.  No one had much confidence due to the lack of clarity except me.  Dawes has made a trip to India and a previous trip to Bhutan without yet catching a mahseer.  I told him to take first crack.

 

blog-May-21-2014-6-jeff-currier-mahseer-fishingOn Dawes’s second cast he ended his mahseer quest catching a tiny golden.  Despite being small it was a mahseer and he notched the species to his list.  I moved in to make a cast after a high five with Dawes.  It wasn’t two casts and I was hooked up.  This was a bigger fish and he stole line from me quickly.  I bolted downstream chasing because the way the river was raging, if I let much space between me and the fish he’d be gone for sure.  Soon the backbone of my 9-weight and the cranked drag of my Abel allowed me to beach the respectable golden mahseer.

 

blog-May-21-2014-7-mike-dawes-mahseer-hookupWe cracked off a bunch of photos.  This was an amazing start to our mahseer search – two fish at our first stop only three hours into our week long quest.  Dawes stepped back into the honey hole and in one cast hooked up to an even heftier mahseer.  For some reason, Dawes was using a 6-weight and it wasn’t easy for him to hold back the mahseer.  This one took him a great ways downstream, so far that I got in the water in the last possible spot for him to land him.  No doubt if the mahseer made it into the next rapid below us he’d be gone as well as all of Dawes’s line and backing.

 

blog-May-21-2014-8-jeff-currier-mahseer-fishingIt was a rodeo for sure, but eventually Dawes slowed the mahseer and slid him into a back eddy.  Then I joined the fun and corralled the strong fish.  He ate the Warpath fly.

 

blog-May-21-2014-9-mike-dawes-jeff-currier-mahseerThe huge scaled golden fish was long awaited by Dawes.  I gave Dawes some space to cherish the experience and went back up to the pool but there were no more takers.  Next I slipped up the tributary.  For the most part it was too fast and shallow but I found one spot with enough water.  Nothing came charging for the Warpath pattern so I decided to drop a nymph.  I’m glad I did because I caught this baby chocolate mahseer, also known as copper mahseer.  There’s less known about the unique chocolates but it’s suspected that they can reach 20lbs.

 

blog-May-21-2014-10-choclate-mahseerAfter our exceptional start to mahseer fishing we drove relentlessly for southern Bhutan.  Our car time was about 12 hours to the minute even though we probably only covered 200 miles or less.  Driving is slow and dangerous to say the least.  Tomorrow we hope to make it to the put in where we will begin an amazing float trip that’s never been done before.

 

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing

preloader