Itinerant Angler Podcast – Kamchatka and India

Itinerant Angler PodcastHey Folks!  Zach Mathews called up the other day and asked to record a new podcast for his program on the Itinerant Angler, and so anyone interested can listen to it here and learn more about the programs I was on up in Russia and over in India last year.  Then write me back and let me know what you are all up to; I look forward to hearing from you soon!

PODCAST: THE BIG YEAR WITH JUSTIN WITT

 

A Month in India with the Mighty Mahseer

India….You know, I would like to have thought that with the year I’d done already prior to this recent trip, a bit of time chasing Mahseer in the Himalaya would be just one more footprint on the path.  I mean –  rivers, flowing water, fish, boats, tents; it’s my usual world, right?  Nope!  India is a whole nother ballgame, and one that I think it would take a good long while to move from the astonishing experience that it is for me to the realm of simple “trip” or “destination”.  After almost a month of travel in India this time (I had been there once before) I still couldn’t really even pretend to understand most of what I saw going on around me every day.  There is just too much of it. And it is far too diverse. Between the dozens of religions/cultures and the hundreds of separate sects and types of environments within those, all of it built into a density of interaction unlike anything else I’ve seen on Earth, the scale of the thing is just too great. Which,… is awesome!  In the truest sense of that word’s definition.Arriving in Delhi it was easy to see that a lot has changed there since I flew in on other business back in the winter of 2002.  That city is on the move, and in an uphill direction, at least in terms of economics and polish.  But like so much about Indian history and culture, it is still a totally confounding set of contrasts that for the most part I can’t even begin to figure out.  So I didn’t hang around there too long trying.  Instead I headed North, and East, until I had reached one of the headwaters of the same river system that forms the Yamuna, which flows through Delhi in a condition that can literally bring a lover of rivers like myself to tearsBut up in the mountains bordering both China and Nepal she is still beautiful, and my bungalow at Misty Dhillon’s lodge was situated directly above a hole full of perfectly visible and excitingly heavy Mahseer.  Bingo, no?  And as such the fishing began, first on rivers, then on a combination of streams and lakes, some of which were on the borders of the Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve where the lodge itself sits proudly.  This amazing piece of property offers excellent opportunities for wild tiger observation, as well as some of the best birding I have ever seen anywhere in the world, and to be honest I felt right at home there.Mahseer are really cool fish.  Imagine a cross between a grass carp and a bonefish, but with an appetite and feeding habits more like those of the Muskie or the Taimen.  And they fight!  Even a five pounder can easily take you into the backing for all that you are fishing 16 pound tippet when you hook him.  Misty’s operation is top notch, and I am happy now to announce that we will be adding it to our catalog with the next Patagonia Unlimited website update.  He’s been outfitting for Mahseer now longer than anyone else in the country, and from the quality of the lodging, to the incredible food, to the well thought out array of non-fishing activities which are offered, everything about the operation is impressive and adds up to a top notch experience in a part of the world I think all should experience at least once in their lifetime.  I fished both his lodge and some of the float trip/camping environments, and to be honest there was hardly a difference in comfort between the two, which is to say that the camping trips are extremely well thought out and executed, with all the creature comforts of a top notch accommodation.  Those of you who are interested contact me right away for available dates and details.And now, my friends and family, it is time to make an introduction.  Meet – Khadizhat.  This is a girl who came into my life last June while I was in the Peruvian Amazon, and while how that happened is an interesting enough story in its own right I will save that for the campfire when we are together in person sometime.  Suffice it to say here though, the connection stuck.  By the time I went to Russia things had already gone past the point of commitment, and when we met back up in India the connection and commitment did nothing but continue to grow.  Khadizhat accompanied me on the Mahseer exploration, sleeping in a tent for the first time in her life and adapting herself to the use of a fly rod as though it was the most natural thing she’d ever done, and then when the fishing was over we traveled together seeing sights and experiencing the country in amazing symbiosis.  I figured it was sort of a litmus test, really, the idea of bumming around one of the most difficult places to travel on Earth for a few weeks in the form of a first date; but the test was passed with flying colors, and I have to say that the roots of this relationship run deep.  I expect you’ll be seeing a good deal more of the girl here in the years to come.  But as far as this trip goes suffice it to say that sights were seen, elephants and camels were ridden, ascetics and sadhus where communed with, ceremonies were performed, and a good time was generally had by all involved.  I want to express my enormous gratitude to my new and very good friends Tegbir, Ishneet, and Arjun for all their amazing hospitality, and to say that sooner rather than later I hope to be back in this amazing and stimulating place. Looking out across the Himalaya.Mahseer on the fly.Bidi with a Sudhu.One awesome fishRowing some locals across the riverFor now though I am back in Argentina and ramping up the season.  The fishing has been awesome so far and the water levels are good, so for the next few months I am going to be in my usual spot behind the oars.  Everybody send me an email when you get a chance to let me know how things are going in your part of the world, or better yet, just come down and have a visit.  I hope to be talking with you soon!

What do fly fishing guides do when they’re on vacation?

Hello everyone, from the amazingly spectacular and brilliantly gorgeous fall light of Colorado.  I flew up here after my office catch-up to spend some long overdue time engaged in R&R with Doctor Tweed, and we wasted no time at all in getting to it.  After picking me up from the airport he drove straight out into the middle of nowhere, and in short order we were carrying big heavy backpacks into country we had never before seen in search of Cutthroats.  A few people questioned my motives when I expressed the desire to follow this particular plan having just returned from Russia and with an impending departure for India, as though Colorado and the fish that live here might somehow be considered passé, a been there done that, or something silly I was simply wasting time on between more serious endeavors.  But nothing could be farther from the truth.  It has been years since I last saw this incredible light as the trees of the Rockies change color and the face of autumn descends upon their forests, but once you’ve experienced it the feeling of the thing sticks with you, and no matter where in the world you find yourself in September you will think of it, and wish that you were there.  So, I’m here.  And it is beautiful.  Plus there are fish.

From Russia With Love

My friends, it will be hard to compress the experiences of these last two months in Kamchatka into a single blog post.  One post is what I have time to give it though, so I will try.  General description up here and then a long series of photos with comments and descriptions interspersed.  Hope you enjoy!  Kamchatka, is an amazing place. I’ve been all the way around the globe once already and have seen quite a few places in the process; hell, I’ve actually guided in every hemisphere on Earth already this calendar year – but nothing that I’ve ever seen before quite compares to Kamchatka in terms of difficult to access totally inhospitable yet strikingly beautiful terrain.  I mean, it’s out there.  And if it weren’t for those awesome Russian MI8 helicopters we wouldn’t have access to it at all.  Those of you familiar with this blog from years ago know full well that I am no stranger to walking the Earth.  When I started it back in 2007 I was embarking on a six month walk up the Andes all the way from Cape Horn to the top of Patagonia.  But I am here to tell you right now and in no uncertain terms that such a trip would simply be impossible in Kamchatka.  The terrain is just too demanding.  Hikers used to an average speed of three or so miles an hour would see that average cut to one mile an hour if they were lucky on the tundra, and likely end up falling in a hole they couldn’t climb out of in the process.  Hell, tanks have trouble crossing this terrain.  What this means though is that floating the country’s rivers in a raft is all that much more fun, because there’s never, ever going to be a single other soul around.  And this works out well for us flyfishermen anyway because as Rat said to Mole in Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows so many years ago “there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”  So mess about in them we did, floating all kinds of rivers through that amazing country including some which had never even seen an oar or a fly in their lives.  And the fish were there.  Rainbows, Dolly’s, Cherry Salmon, Pink Salmon, Chum Salmon, Kundzha – you name it, they were there; they were plentiful; and they were hungry.  Then to make it all the more amazing – they were hungriest for mice.  Lots of fly fisherman back in the states have a mouse pattern or two in their boxes, and a couple of times a season they even consider for a second tying it on, then usually decide not to.  It just seems like such a stretch; is this really going to work?  In Kamchatka the answer is yes.  A short summer season coupled with a lot of very tall grass makes the mouse a fish’s favored and most sought after food.  Not that there’s any scarcity.  The first rainbow I gutted up there had a dozen of them already in his belly!  One way or another, as I said above, the stories are too many and too diverse to go into all of them in this paragraph, so if you feel like it, scroll down through the photos and take a look at the country yourself.

The reason we went – Oncorhynchus mykissHow we went – MI8 Helicopter Where we went – a sinuous and fish filled Kamchatka River What it generally looked like when we got there What we generally did when we got there And an indication of what the fish had been doing before we did My boat for the season, the Myrtle II  What we had to watch out for while we were fishing – Big. Beautiful. Kamchatka. Bears.  Coffee in Kamchatka is all that much better for its scarcity And the char make great filets and caviar  My good friend Jordan, on the one day we had this year to explore out on our own, to the headwaters of the Sedanka system, and a new lake off a side branch of the stream  Then more helicopters…  more rivers, more clients, more fishing, and more explorations.  The minimalist’s Kamchatka fishing kit – water purifier, rod, gun, and ammo belt  A Kundzha, or “white spotted char” Asian coast specific member of the char family My team Koriak people inhabited Kamchatka before the Russians knew it was there And today they make some very beautiful artwork with wood  Our wonderful dog, Hann – may he rest in peace Petrified wood from over 66 million years ago, and other neat little details…  Flies we liked  Breakfasts we liked  Cooked by our wonderful Chef Nadya, the butterfly lover  Parallel Russian style green wood fire architecture – long burn, much smoke, dry waders  The dawn The day  The afternoon And the night…

Now everybody send me an email and tell me all about your lives – I’ve been in the bush for the last two months!  Also, anybody interested in going and seeing this incredible place for themselves, give me a call or drop me a line and lets head up there together next year.

Jungle Boogie

 

As I write this I am sitting in my usual spot in the Lima airport, having just arrived from Iquitos to wait through an already excessively long connection time for my flight back to Atlanta, then receiving the news that said flight has been delayed an additional six and a half hours.  Travel to and from the jungles of the Amazon is an exercise in patience and contrasts.  For the last few weeks I’ve been “out there”, mostly at the camp I work with outside town in the jungle towards Nauta, but also with some time spent in Belen and the surrounding areas, which always provide a spectacular variety of experiences for the open minded traveler.  This time, I bought a monkey!  Found the little guy tied to a pile of fruit in the market itself and looking just like the “Charley” I had in mind from a conversation earlier that week, so my buddy Sunay and I each pitched in and made him ours.  I had always wanted a monkey you know?  I mean, why not?  Other highlights of the trip have included all the usual hanging out with street dogs, navigating native shamanic practices, dining in, on, and of the great river herself, and generally just having a hell of a good time in a place that is as unique as they come in the world.  Now it’s back to the states though for a week of heavy office work, then off to Kamchatka for a couple of months of different sorts of rivers that run at markedly lower temperatures and tend to host the kinds of fish that all of us think of first when someone says the word “flyfisherman”, which is a word I sort of like the sound of, if you catch my drift… Charley likes to eat Bananas as we walk around BelenWhich is understandable considering what most of the other offerings there look likeStill getting the hang of my new Nikon Digital SLR, but some of the screw ups look cool Typical Peruvian Amazon Architecture – Photo by Jen KeirCharley in the driver’s seat on Sunay’s hatAmazon PharmacyLittle dude gets grumpy sometimes tooJungle camp machetes – Photo by Jen Keir Carmencita (La Bonita) my newest preferred vendor of Mapacho  The tools of the trade  Charley’s new “Home Tree”  Iquitos Boats – Photo by Jen Keir  Dogs of Iquitos Calendar Candidate  “Still Life with Hat and Fruit”  Big Greens  “Mesa Elegante”