BFFI 2018 - 10th & 11th February

It's the BFFI this weekend, I'll be available on the Game Angling Instructors Association stand to answer any of your questions on fly fishing or casting techniques. Keep an eye out for several of my casting demos which I'll be doing during the course of the weekend .

Looking forward to seeing you all at the show 

Fly Fishing Bosnia, the Aardvark Mcleod Experience. - October 2017

One on my bucket list was fishing for the large Grayling and Trout in Europe, I’d heard many a story about Poland, Czech Republic, Iceland and several other venues but when I was asked if I wanted a trip to Bosnia then I jumped at the chance.  For those that haven’t taken a trip abroad then it’s worthwhile booking through one of the “destination” fly companies.  Ours was organised through Aardvark Mcleod hosted by Funky fly tying very own Toby Merigan.
When you say you’re going to Bosnia, it conjures up many an image in one’s mind and the past conflict in the country are usually at the forefront. This, however, didn’t matter a jot as anglers that have visited before telling tales of big Grayling and Trout to be caught on both nymph and dry. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe and we headed out on a flight from Heathrow to Zagreb in Croatia.

Several hours on the transfer through Croatia and across the border into Bosnia was simply majestic. The countryside and scenery was just awe inspiring right the way through to our first destination.
The Ribnik is in a small town Gornji Ribnik (some 15 minutes’ drive from Kljuc) and is inhabited by grayling and brown trout in numbers. The size of some of the fish in the crystal clear waters was unbelievable and I couldn’t wait to get a chance to catch one.  I had packed the ESN 10ft #2 and the SAGE Mod 9ft #4.  This would allow me to change to a variety of methods as and when required.  Not having fished the river before it certainly pays dividends to do your homework and pick the brains of others and scour the internet in search of further knowledge.

River Ribnik

After a very comfortable first night in the Ribnik accommodation, all rooms en-suite and on the banks of the river it was time to head out.

We were in the hands of two guides for the week who both have vast knowledge of the Ribnik and Pliva rivers.  Renato Opencar and Milenko Mita Balaban have both fished for their country, and guide full time on these rivers.  With their expertise, the week ahead looked very promising indeed.
I had tackled up the #4 Mod with a Rio Trout LT line to match, tapered leader and a good length of tippet and on the business end a single nymph (2704 Pheasant Tail Mary Barbless size 18). One thing I would suggest above all and this was apparent from the outset was to go to as light a tippet and diameter as you dare.  .10 was the order of the day and if one of the big slabs made contact then it was all down to me and my angling skills.

Fishing a single nymph upstream accounted for a few smaller fish but it wasn’t until I had been shown the “Bosnian “style that things started to get going.  It’s a really straightforward method casting upstream and then putting in a big upstream mend in.  This creates a bow of line and as the current takes it you need to feed out more line and mending as you go.  The nymph moves through the layers imitating the natural nymphs trying to make a bid for the surface in readiness to hatch. Takes can happen at any time, from the moment the fly hit the water and with the long leader set up, anything between 12-18ft the fish would smash the single nymph.

This was a good chance to get your eye in before the hatches started and late morning a solid Grayling took the Pheasant Tail. Happy Days!

Nymph Suggestions
Pheasant Tail Hotspot Barbless (2708)
The French Nymph Barbless (2110)
Pheasant Tail Micro Nugget (2712)
Czech PT Copper Barbless (2058)
SR Skinny Quill Olive (2756)

Ribnik Dry Fly Action

The river is renowned at this time of year for its exceptional hatches, it didn’t let us down.  Fishing a section through with a small nymph I had taken several grayling and trout, the odd fish rising here and there.  We were spotting fish in good numbers along the whole river, but this particular section was relatively slow in pace and covered with Ranunculus so more difficult to target any individual large fish. Then as the morning started to warm into the early afternoon the dinner bell rang, it was a hatch of Blue-winged olives that I will never ever forget. It was though someone was stood on the bank throwing in tiny stones down the full length of the river.

I was shaking trying to get the size 18 olive emerger tied on, the tippet was again as light as I dare go and after degreasing the line with Fullers Mud I was ready.  Fishing downstream dry was the approach and with the activity all around it was surely going to be like taking candy from a baby.  First drift down the fly was refused, so I went to #20 and bingo fish on! A nice grayling slurping the offering. Mita one of the guides was on my shoulder at this point had suggested to change the fly rather than to apply FM High Glide as I had been doing.It paid dividends and another decent fish graced the net.

The hatch lasted for over an hour and the group accounted for many a grayling, the biggest pushing 50cm and plentiful trout. My advise when fishing the dry would be to go as small and as light as you can, long tippet on the end of a tapered leader.
A memorable few days on the Ribnik, superb hospitality and fishing to match.

Dry Fly Suggestions;
Quill Plume Tip Dry Barbless (1088)
Drop Arse Ant Barbless (1092)
JL Upwing CDC Barbless (2725)
JL Mole Cul Barbless (2727)
BWO Split Wing Dun Barbless (2883)
BWO Thorax (1867)

River Pliva 

Mid-week we packed our kit and took a couple of hours drive to the Pliva river. The river is much wider and deeper than the Ribnik, the Grayling and Trout not in the same numbers but what it lacks in numbers it certainly makes up for it in the sheer size of fish. Plentiful huge Trout and Grayling, some of the biggest I’ve seen for sure.  After settling into the accommodation it was down to the river, single nymph was the order of the day and swapping over to the dry as and when needed with a flurry of hatches producing fish.  Once again we had stunning surroundings and a majestic river for the rest of the week.

This river like the Ribnik was crystal clear and more time was spent sighting the larger fish tucked in behind the river weeds and boulders and on station. The tactics adopted by the Bosnians on sighted fish was to try them first with a ceramic nymph, this is short line nymphing in most cases and you can watch the nymph track past your quarry or be taken by the fish. I had spotted a decent Grayling tucked in and on the feed, both myself and guide Renato slowly worked our way out, first off the Ceramic and no joy. I changed the nymph several times, orange hot spot, larger tungsten bead then back to a smaller nymph.  We were both puzzled as to what it was coming out of its lair to feed on every so often, then after about an hour and many fly changes Renato passed me a size 12 Sparkle Orange (846).

The first run past and the Grayling had a look at the fly, then I plopped the nymph a little further up on the next cast and as I watched the nymph drop and fish into position and what I thought would be another blank, the Grayling turned and followed the nymph downstream. It must have chased the large nymph a good two meters from where it was stationed and it engulfed the fly. I couldn’t believe what I had witnessed, neither could Renato. I have never seen anything like it in all my time fishing, it does help when you’re in crystal clear waters. These fish are dirty fighters and will do anything in a bid for freedom. A good scrap and a decent grayling hit the net, the Pliva Grayling have a golden colour to the underbelly and is truly a stunning fish, one I will never forget.

The week continued in the same vein with the group catching plenty of big fish, the real lunkers 4lb plus will have to wait for another day.  None the less the whole week was magical, a great group and the Bosnian hospitality really made the trip.

Bosnia really is a fascinating country to fish in, beautiful countryside and rivers and, of course, plenty of fish to target. The fishing is enjoyable yet challenging as big trout and grayling have seen it all before but perseverance and the learning of some Bosnian methods will often unlock some success and maybe one or two new personal bests. If you would like to know more about fishing in Bosnia then get in touch with myself or Aadvark Mcleod who will happy to help in search of that big fish.

All the best and here’s to Bosnia 2018!

Phil Ratcliffe
Fulling Mill Ambassador
Sage, Rio, Redington Pro Guide

The "Real" Mexico - Casa Viejo Chac (Punta Allen) - Ascension Bay June 2017

Twelve months had passed in a heart beat and we were boarding the plane at Manchester destined for Cancun. The throng of passengers I'm sure wouldn't venture too far from the isolation of the all inclusive hotels around the resort.  The six fly fishing junkies packed with rods, reels and the necessary UV clothing most defiantly would be.

Bad Boys of the Chac - Picture Courtesy of Smokin Drag Productions

The transfer from Cancun to Punta Allen was the start of the journey, we had booked into Casa Viejo Chac courtesy of Fly Odyssey who organised the trip.  Having introduced ourselves in arrivals to Tomo & Duff who had flown from Heathrow, both myself, Bernie, Alex and Craig were ready for the drive south. The mini bus for the four hour drive was reminiscent of a school outing, excited anglers raring to go and the banter soon started after an early pit stop to pick up some liquid refreshments. Cans of iced Sol with a twist of lime hit the spot in the sapping humidity surrounding Cancun.   Sol not the most authentic beer in Mexico but hay ho needs must, plenty of time to sample the local tipple when we arrive at the Chac.

The transfer takes you through the Mayan city of Tulum which is about 130 km south of Cancun and you enter this city through one of the arches, as you travel through the city the main road is lined with bars and restaurants  but you sense a completely different vibe.  This place is worth a visit although our drive south had really just begun and it was several hours before we were expected in Punta Allen.

The meandering "jungle" road albeit at night was truly an adventure, offering several open views out to the moonlit Caribbean sea along the way.

We arrived at the Chac welcomed as always by Manuel, it was good to catch up and we sank one or two beers before we all turned in for a few hours sleep.

The morning arrived and others were already putting the rods together, fresh coffee is served and a good kick start to any day.  The first morning of any trip is always full of anticipation, but this one was special.  Having been before I knew what was ahead and couldn't wait to get started, we had been joined on this trip by Jonathan Tomlinson (Tomo) whose wealth of knowledge of these flats is second to none, as he's been visiting the Chac for many years, I was like a sponge taking on board any information I could.  Tomo was filming for most of the week producing a fly fishing film which will be available in the near future. It should be awesome as he has taken in Iceland,New Zealand,Christmas Island and Mexico,  to be finished off on the southern chalk streams.   Here's a link to his Vimeo site for Smokin Drag Productions' where you can watch more of his work.

Tomo with an awesome Tarpon caught whilst taking a break from filming!.

 The Chac is located in the sian ka'an biosphere reserve in the municipality of Tulum in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It was established in 1986 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.  The place is one of true tranquility and full of wildlife and of coarse awesome fishing. The first day we headed out through the mangroves and then the hour across open water to the flats. We wanted to really scratch the twelve month itch so we headed for the bonefish, hitting into a few which is always good to sharpen up the strip striking technique.  You never tire of hooking into the ghost of the flats and they certainly put a bend in the eight weight.

Its a really relaxed day and each and every morning you can let the guides know what your target species is going to be for the day, Snook, Permit, bonefish, Jack ,Tarpon and Barracuda are all on the menu and they will take you to the best spots to ensure you the best chance of success.

Lunch is always a good time, as the guides will find a secluded spot on one of the many islands, iguana island being one of my favourite! they will present you with a proper Mexican lunch, the obligatory jalapenos accompany all the lunches and make for a tasty treat.  Time to plan for the second part of the day and a change of species if required.
Lunch on Iguana Island

There's nothing better than wading in warm Caribbean water in search of tailing bonefish and always a chance of a Permit on the cards. The first days went according to plan but it was apparent that all the skiffs were finding the conditions tough going, cloudy skies and a rip roaring wind didn't make it easy for the ever eagle eyed guides to spot the quarry.

After each day and the return to the Chac to ponder over missed opportunities is always a great craic, supplemented with a fishermans' snack and a few beers.  The lads had some good early success with the odd tarpon and snook being caught.  Its always a pleasure to see other anglers connecting with fish which rejuvenates the optimism for the following day.

The week was full of highs and in particular some lows, a lost tarpon in the mangroves a moment which ill never forget as the silver flank went airborne and hit the water with an almighty crash, simultaneously ejecting my fly.  Many hours under the sapping heat on the bow of a skiff searching in what was milky water, less than ideal in search of "the silver king". Id not set the hook into the almost iron plated mouth of this fish, believe you me id give it some stick but obviously not enough.

Permit were high on the agenda for both myself and Bernie, having seen the odd fish and catching bonefish in between we thought our luck had petered out, up until the last day when the conditions had improved and the clouds had almost dispersed.  Pablo and Orlando poled up to a small island and the atmosphere changed in a heart beat.  Get out Get out we were ordered, Palometa Palometa !!! was the cry.  Pablo had spotted several Permit surrounding tailing bonefish, this was our chance.  I was shaking like a leaf and Bernie was out of the skiff in a jiffy.  We crept up on the large school of tailing bonefish and indeed the permit were with them. Armed with the  ten weight and a spawning shrimp pattern on the business end we quietly waded into position.  Orlando and Pablo were communicating with hand gestures and we were given the all clear to make a cast.  Neither of us wanted to line them so the first cast was just a tad too short.  I made another cast and no matter how much experience you think you have nothing can prepare you for a moment like this.  The shrimp hit the water, "wait,wait....strip" and bang fish on!. The line ripped off the reel with somewhat ease and racing backwards whilst keeping tension on, doing my best to prevent the fish running back through the shoal, we soon realised  it wasn't the permit I was after  but a decent bonefish none the less.  This continued for some time as the shoal stuck around, landing time and time again the somewhat now nuisance bonefish.  A change of fly and still no permit, it was so frustrating that they were  within touching distance and over a year of waiting they were so near but yet so far away.

It wasn't to be this time as the shoal moved on and my goal of a large permit will have to wait for yet another year.

Manuel on the other hand, now known as "The Permit whisperer" earlier in the week latched into a decent permit amid the added pressure of the rolling camera, this is experience for you and being brought up on the flats and countless permit to his and his clients name, we were in awe of his achievement under such conditions.  If you could bottle just an ounce of his expertise.......

Manuel "The Permit Whisperer" - Picture Courtesy of Smokin Drag Productions

What a great week we had in what I would class as the "real" Mexico, the experience as always will stay with me and others for a lifetime.  Its not just the fishing that makes these trips so special, the hospitality, food and guides are second to none.  But most of all the guys that you spend the week with really do make all the difference.  The generation gap, experience and indeed the variety of backgrounds we are all from didn't matter a jot. the banter for the week was top draw and the common goal of fishing brought us all together.  We all shared our own daily experiences and know how which is the way it should be.

Many thanks must go to  Bernie, Duff, Tomo, Alex, Craig,Brian and Geoff for making this a very memorable week at the Chac in Ascension Bay.

Alex with a decent Snook
Alex on a roll - Tarpon time
Craig with a Snook
Geoff with a nice Bonefish
Duff on the Bones !

Looking forward to the return next year.

All the best