Desert Isle Fly Fishing


Queenfish with a TFO BVK 6wt.

Bahrain is a small island nation.  It is truly an island, its only connection to the Arabian Peninsula is a causeway to Saudi Arabia.  Prior to that bridge the only way here was by boat or plane.  It is home to the only permanently built US Navy base in the middle-East and serves as the headquarters for the Commander of US Navy Forces Central Command.  It is hot here, no surprise, but it is not dry heat.  It is wet and oppressive heat.  The kind you expect in a steamy jungle, but it is hotter here without the foliage providing shade.  The heat is best measured with a heat index which much like wind chill captures the feel of 15°F as feeling like ten below with a 15mph breeze.  100°F with 60% humidity feels like 129°F – in the shade!  Your body tries to cool, but since evaporation fails with the air full of water, your sweat just stays on your skin and soaks into your clothes leaving you feeling like a steamed clam.  The water is not refreshing either, it climbs to over 95°F and in the shallows can reach 100°F!   Wading on the flats is akin to wading in a hot tub.  The  hot tub will also have about as many fish as they all head for deeper water far from shore out in the Arabian Gulf.  To round out the delights of spring and summer, the air is filled with dust, picked up in the deserts of Iraq and Iran and carried down the Gulf.   Even on a cloudless day the sun is blurred by the particles dancing in atmosphere.  On the up side, sunrise and sunset can be quite stunning with all the reflection and refraction going on with the water in the atmosphere.

I did not come to Bahrain to fish.  It is not on anyone’s list of top places to go for fishing adventure.  I have other business on the island (called “orders” in the Navy), but as long as I’m here and just happened to have a fly rod (or four) in my sea bag, I tried out the fishing.  Like any traveling angler I did my  homework.  The waters of the Gulf hold many game fish.  Spotted and golden trevally, kingfish, tuna, cobia, grouper, barracuda and queenfish all swim in the tropical waters here.


Blackspot Snapper


Baby Golden Trevally

Bahrain started as a fishing community and that is still a large enterprise herse.  Possibly too large.  Every shallow bay  on the island is filled with fish traps and nets.  Dhows and pangas ply the deeper waters with hooks, nets, and traps.  It seems if it swims it  is  caught and soon ends up in the market.  So what survives is pretty small.  Fishing here is challenging to say the least, but I do not mind a challenge.  I’ll make the best of my time on this desert isle.


Permanent fish traps.

Here is a glimpse into fishing here:

Fly Fishing in Bahrain (YouTube video)


Double Day Score

I have not had a chance to get on the water in a while.  That is an itch that just has to be scratched, so when I saw a break in my routine, I seized the opportunity to wet a line.

I headed to Shelter Island and launched my pontoon off the beach just past the boat ramp.  I hit the water near the top of a rising tide just as the sun peered over Mount Miguel and lit up the San Diego skyline.  A good start, fish or no fish.

I had a two fly rig on my TFO 8wt with a small bucktail streamer about a foot above a Crazydad (thank you Richard!).  This is my standard bay rig because it is a proven formula.  I fish it on a sink tip line with the fastest sink rate I can get.  I use a full sink line if the water is over 20 feet deep but prefer the sink tip for ease of line handling.  I mix up the retrieve until I find what the fish like.  Usually slow and twitchy, sometimes a bit more bouncy, and ocassionally a fast strip.

I let the tide take me down the line of moored boats in about 16 feet of water.  It only took 10 minutes for the first tug on a quick retrieve.  It was a small but scrappy spotted bay bass.

I’m often asked why I use an 8wt for fish that rarely exceed a couple of pounds.   First, the heavy rod is for the weighted double fly rig and sinking line.  A 7wt could do it and I have fished a 6wt, but the 8wt turns over the heavy rig much better.  Secondly spotties are not the only thing to catch in the bay and any cast may find you tied into a big halibut, bonito, corvina, or even bonefish.  So, I go heavy, prepared for anything.

I kept drifting, and again got a hit on a fast strip.  I could tell this was a better fish than the first.  Soon a nice sized spotty was puffing up for me as I removed the hook.  Spotties clamp down their jaw and flair their gill plates and fins when threatened.  I know halibut like to eat them but maybe this technique works to avoid being dinner as they get bigger.

It didn’t take long until another grab jolted my line.  I strip set and felt the fish head deeper, but it was small and I changed its course with the backbone of my TFO custom shop 8wt.  Then, the fish seemed to grow on the line and head to the bottom with twice the resolve.  I increased pressure, putting a pretty hood bend in the rod.  As I hoisted the fish up from 18 feet, I saw color – times 2.  Spotties hang out in gangs; it is not unusual to hook one and have another jump in on the action.  I’ve also had other species grab my second fly like mackerel or smelt.  This time it was two spotties.

I kept drifting with the tide until I reached a flat that is 10-12 feet of water right in front of the Bali Hai restaurant.  I dropped the hook here to wait for the tide to turn and take me back to my launch point.  I could cast to the edge of the shelf into 20+ feet of water or just work the grass on the shore side of the flat.  Its been a good spot for me in the past.  Today it was great.

Second cast into the channel was a hard hit on a jerky retrieve.  I felt the fish in the grass and thought it was snagged.  A bit of tug-o-war made me realize it was all fish.  Again,  two flashes winked at me as they came up.  Both were nice fish.

The bite was on and I wasted no time in getting my flies back in the zone.  Two strips in and I had another hard strike.  This fish however came up alone.

I kept working the drop off and caught 3 more small spotties and one calico bass, all on the Crazydad.  I shifted my cast to the shallower water and had just counted to 6 on the sink when I got bit.  Again that tug was multiplied a second later.  Soon my third double of the day was in front of me.  The bigger fish has the smaller fish wrapped around his tail, but I quickly got them both back in the bay.

I kept working the flat and caught 3 more small spotties.  Then I cast back to the channel and let my flies sink deep before bringing them up the slope.  A couple strips in something slammed my fly hard.  It was fiesty and then it too got company with a take I felt with a fish already on.  They gave me a good scrap and a surprise when I got them in.  I had a spotty on the streamer but a barred sand bass or sandy had eaten the Crazydad.

The tide has turned and was ebbing out.  I pulled up the anchor and drifted back, casting to the grassline.  A couple more small spotties, a small calico, and another sandy took the Crazydad.  I worked into 16 feet of water and then felt a stong take.  The head shakes and bottom dive indicated spottie and the a second hit indicated my fifth double of the day.  Indications were correct and two more spotties were between my fins.

After releasing both fish, I cleared the entrance to the boat ramp without getting run over and worked the rocks of the breakwater to the southwest of the ramp.  Two more small calicos and a small spottie came to hand.  I made a swing into deeper water outside of the moorings and fished in 30 feet of water.  On the second cast as I was bringing it up off the bottom I got a hit and the speed told me it was not a bass.  The fish move erratically and I could feel the tail vibrations.  It was either a small bonito or a big mackerel.  Soon I had color and the  could see I’d hooked a big mackerel on the bucktail.

It was a good way to end the day.  Wisdom says to leave ’em biting and end your last cast on a fish, so I did.  A couple hours on the water and I’d caught over 2 dozen fish, 10 of them as doubles.  Yep, it was a good day indeed.  Maybe I should have gotten a Lotto ticket!

Fish on! Joel

Desert Ghosts

The desert has always been a special place for me.  In Montana vast areas with few people are common.  Not so much here in coastal California.  However the desert east of San Diego is a place of wide open spaces and not many humans.  When I was first stationed in San Diego in the mid-80’s I would escape to the desert at every chance.  I’d camp, explore, hunt, and enjoy the open country, despite the heat.  It was and is always an adventure.

One such adventure occurred before our border with Mexico was fenced and I didn’t know I was in Mexico until I found paved roads and the signs where not English.  I was pretty nervous fellow until I found my way back, given I had half a dozen guns with me.  Another time I sunk my rear tires to the differential in soft sand.  I ended up napping through the heat and digging my way out after dark.  I had just freed the truck when Border Patrol agents found me.   After they explained the canyon I was in was a highway for drug smugglers, I never returned to that canyon.

In all those adventures I saw all kinds of wildlife.  Deer, coyotes, jack rabbits, rattle snakes, road runners, quail, and lizards.  However one species eluded me, the desert big horn.  I’d grown up with their northern cousins, but despite being their range many times, I’d never spotted one. Now to be fair, I’d never set out actively to see them either.  That is until my friend Larry came to town from Rhode Island. He and his wife Debbie where visiting my wife and I for few days.  The girls went to a spa and I took Larry camping in the desert.  We went to the country’s 2nd largest state park, the Anza-Borrego Desert.  We took our time going out along the US/Mexico border and then cut north into the heart of the park and bighorn country.  Borrego is the Spanish name for bighorns and the park is home to several hundred.  However, they are still elusive, so I was told, even in the safety of the park.

After checking out the visitor center, we camped out under a cloudless sky and watched the stars fill it up.  Before the nearly full moon rose we saw the constellations, satellites, and meteors all put on a show while we sipped beers.  Then, the moon was so bright we could almost read by it and only the brightest stars could be seen.  It was quite a night.  The only thing missing was a serenade from the coyotes but apparently they had the night off.


At dawn, we had coffee and breakfast before we broke camp and moved to the trail head.  The day before we’d gathered some intelligence from the park rangers that did not pan out.  There were no sheep in our valley, only a pair of young coyotes hunting mice.  Maybe they’d been quiet the night before because they were hungry.

Plan B was to hike into Palm Canyon where some ewes and lambs had been spotted the previous day.  We rolled through the camp ground to the trailhead, donned our packs and binoculars to head out.  A group of four people were nearby and pointing at something.  Sheep!


The elusive bighorns where 300 yards from the parking lot.  No one in the group had glasses, but through mine, I counted 13 rams.  Half were young half-curl or smaller but three were mature rams and three where big heavy full curl bruisers.


I set up my scope and we watched them for almost an hour as they fed and then bedded on the hill.  Then, they got up and moved closer!  They proceeded across the trail and into the creek bed before moving up to the north side of the canyon.   How close is close?  I could have hit these desert ghosts with a rock.


One photographer we talked to later said she’d been coming for years and had seen nine rams across the years, none as close as we were to this dozen.  I showed her my cell phone pictures and she just shook her head.  She had gone up the trail to the north of us and missed them entirely.  From what we heard on the trail, most people had.  For me and Larry, it was perfect.

Video of borregos

Once the sheep had moved on, we hiked the couple miles into the oasis for which the canyon is named.  In the middle of a very harsh canyon filled with boulders and cactus lies an oasis.  The first clues to the hidden spring are the trunks of palm trees scattered across the dry stream bed.  The palms are native to this area, growing around the few springs scattered across hundreds of square miles.  Next is a trickle of water that disappears into the dry sand but increases in size upstream to its source in a grove of palm trees.  In a small pocket near the head of the canyon is a lush island of green in a sea of rust colored rock. Palm trees dominate the fauna, but there are grasses, shrubs, and trees mixed into a tight thatch of life on the edge.  A few feet from the water, the terrain returns to plants with thorns and bare rock.  It is truly a marvel of nature that these plants found water and grew to support a micro ecosystem.


We returned to the truck and headed back to San Diego.  We had dinner reservations with our wives and I did not want to miss that.  The beauty of San Diego is we can go from the desert to the snow and to the beach in a little over three hours.  We headed west into the mountains and the scenery changed from cactus to pines.  Continuing west the pines gave way to chaparral which in turn gave way to suburbs and city.

After stowing the gear, a dip in the pool, and change of clothes we were off to dinner and winding up the day admiring the San Diego skyline.   It was quite the adventure, and I’ll never forget my first encounter with the desert ghosts.

A Cure

I have a cure for what ails your soul.   This reflection is by John D. Voelker, aka Robert Traver.  It is as old as I am and as true today as it was in the mid-60s.   The words are his, the pictures are mine.  Enjoy!


I fish because I love to fish


Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful and I hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly;


Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape;


Because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion;


Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience;


Because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness;


Because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there;

MT brook trout


Because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; ,and, finally not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important


but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant – and not nearly so much fun.


Fish on!  Joel

Mayfly Cripple – From the Featherbender

Never under estimate the power of a cripple.  Trout may snub your nymph, ignore your emerger, and scorn your dun, but they often can’t resist a cripple.  I like the use of moose in this.  I’ve not used moose mane since I was tying mosquitoes commercially, before I discovered that black and white Guberod thread worked as well and was faster.


An elementary cripple/stillborn mayfly pattern for super selective trout. Although you can use regular deer hair for the wing in this pattern I use klipspringer hair. Thanks for watching and please remember to subscribe to the feather benders You Tube channel, your help and support in keeping the channel going is greatly appreciated:

via Klipspringer Cripple mayfly — thefeatherbender

Paraweld Caddis – From the Featherbender.

While the pattern is interesting, the parachute post technique is intriguing.  Both the manner of tying the hackle and then the final securing of the post.

A very different type of caddis with a couple of interesting techniques. This pattern lies very low in the surface giving it an extremely attractive foot print. Thanks for watching and please remember to subscribe to the feather benders You Tube channel, your help and support in keeping the channel going is greatly appreciated:

via Para weld caddis — thefeatherbender