We take a look back at the year that was 2019, and ask the Farlows fishing team to reveal their most memorable catch of the year!
Nick Hart, Farlows Fishing Manager
My fish of the year for 2019 was also a fish of a lifetime! The opportunity to target permit does not present itself often but finally, during a Farlows Travel hosted trip to Punta Allen in Mexico, I was in the right place at the right time with the right guide! The date was Friday 26th April and those special thirty minutes will remain with me forever.
With something close to x-ray vision, our guide, Jaunito, had expertly located a good permit cruising just below the surface around 200ft from our panga. By the time I was in the water it was at 100ft. With no time to lose my first false cast was in the air, my eyes fixed on the dark shape cruising towards us. The first cast was slightly short, but the second was on the money. I have been here before, a smooth strip, another and then … well usually nothing, followed by frustration and overwhelming disappointment. But not this time!
The line tightened and began to pour from the reel as every sinew of my body exploded with excitement, this was just incredible, in fact it seemed like a dream. But it was real, I was properly connected to my first ever permit. Twenty mad minutes passed by as I enjoyed the fight while praying to the fish gods that the hook would stay put. Thankfully it did and, as Juanito finally grasped the permit’s sickle-like tail, I couldn’t contain my emotions, throwing my arms first around Juan and then into the air.
As if that experience was not enough, my fishing partner for the day, Sam MacDonald, graciously gave the deck to me so that I could add a bonefish and then a tarpon to complete my first ever Grand Slam. WHAT. A. DAY!!!
Tom Clinton, Farlows Retail Manager
On a work trip to Denver, Colorado, to attend the IFTD tradeshow in October, I took the opportunity to get out and explore some of Colorado’s famous trout streams once the work side of things had finished. I had managed to lose some urban carp on the South Platte right outside the Broncos stadium and caught some stunning little brown and rainbow trout on the Thompson River, but I really wanted to catch something truly memorable before leaving.
On the morning of my last day, when I was due to fly home at 7pm, I was picked up by a local trout guide with whom I had arranged to take a half-day’s guided fishing on the Blue River on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. As we drove up the mountain my ears were popping thanks to the sharp increase in altitude and, as the snow started to fall around us, I started to get giddy with excitement at getting stuck into some CO trout. After a brief stop in the small town of Frisco to pick up some last-minute flies, we got into our waders and headed to the Blue River just outside town, the banks of which were already thick with a couple of days’ worth of snowfall. Picturesque is a word used all too frequently, but I can’t currently think of a better one to describe the sights of the emerald green water flowing between snowy banks lined with aspens, their branches also heavy with snow.
I had brought two rods with me, both Sage Xs, a 9’ #5 for the dry fly/nymphy stuff and a 9’ #7 for the streamers. Josh, my guide for the morning, rigged up one of the most complex nymphing rigs I have ever seen on the 5wt, incorporating a sight indicator, a swivel, three flies and two split shot, all in the same amount of time it took me to set up the 7wt rod and tie on a single streamer. This is the kind of efficiency and expertise that comes with a great guide!
After missing a couple of shots at some decent sized rainbows, some from below a bridge and others in open water, we arrived at a spot known to hold good fish – a 10ft deep bucket below a fast run at the head of the pool. In the crystal-clear water, we noticed a small yet bright red fish sitting slightly higher in the water column and I took great pleasure in learning that it was a Kokanee salmon in full spawning colours – a landlocked variant of the sockeye salmon! As we watched the fish holding in the flow of the pool, we noticed a big stripe of blushing pink just about visible below the salmon, holding steady at the bottom of the channel. Josh inhaled sharply, ‘that is one BIG rainbow right there, throw the streamer for it!’ I needed no further prompting and immediately cast the 3in brown trout pattern I had at the end of my 7wt to the head of the pool so that the sink-tip could bring it down closer to the fish’s level.
My heart was in my throat as I watched one of the biggest river rainbow trout I have ever seen dart up from his lie and nip at the tail of the fly. Alas, he didn’t take it, but he had reacted and that was what we liked to see. ‘OK, he won’t come for that streamer again now, quickly try the nymph rig while I put on a different one’ Josh said. I rolled the complicated nymphing rig upstream and tried to the best of my ability to simultaneously watch both the trout and the indicator in the hope that the size 10 stonefly, the size 14 PTN or the size 22 egg might tickle his fancy.
It was my turn to inhale sharply. The indicator dipped a split second after I saw the white of the trout’s mouth and I lifted the rod to set the hook. ‘ON!’ I shouted, probably a bit too loudly. ‘YES!’ Josh shouted, also probably a bit too loudly. It was about five seconds into the fight that I realised I was somewhat undergunned in attempting to land a fish of this size in water this fast with a 5wt rod, but my trusty Abel Super 5 was able to smoothly control his runs whilst the rod did the majority of the tiring work. At one stage, the line went solid and I became terrified that the thing had done me around a rock, so I gave the rod a sharp lift and it somehow brought the fish back into the main flow.
As I brought this wild horse of a trout close to the bank where Josh was eagerly waiting with my net, it rolled around and wrapped itself up in the leader. In my second moment of terror, as Josh slid the net under the brutish fish, I saw the stonefly stuck through the front of its dorsal fin. I thought to myself ‘f**k, it’s foul hooked, I’m not going to be able to count it.’ After closer inspection though, it turned out that the size 22 egg was jammed squarely in the corner of its mouth, but it had foul hooked itself when it thrashed around with the leader. I let out a yell of jubilation and threw a one-armed hug around Josh as I clutched the net handle in my other hand.
After a few quick photos and a cursory goodbye kiss, I sent the fish on its way and we watched it swim straight back to the hole from whence it came. I checked my watch. 3:45pm. Time to head to the airport, but no time to change out of waders. I disrobed in the check-in hall of Denver Airport, sleeves still soaking wet from the afternoon’s action. Colorado rainbow trout – done!
Sam Edmonds, Sales Advisor
In 2019 I was lucky enough to catch two species I had always dreamed of catching - one was a big giant snakehead I caught in the Royal Belum Rainforest in Malaysia that put up an amazing fight, but I think a very recent capture has probably pipped it to top spot! At the beginning of December, I spent a week fishing on the Una River in Bosnia targeting huchen, or Danube salmon. I'd heard of the species before after reading about them in a freshwater fish of Europe book I have at home, but it was after watching a film called 'Una - The One', highlighting the threat of building dams on the Balkan rivers that huchen call home, that I decided that this was a fish I'd really like to target. I contacted Anes Halkic of Una Discovery Pro Guides, and soon arranged a trip!
A lot of rain and sleet on our first days fishing meant we had unfavourable conditions for the first couple of days, with high water levels and low visibility. However, I had a good take on the first day right at my feet, with a huchen almost jumping out of the water for my 18cm shad! The second day of fishing was bite-less until dark when I hooked into what felt like a very good fish. There were a few heavy headshakes, then it tore off downstream, and after another two more heavy headshakes, the fish came off. Both my guide and I were gutted, as we knew it was a very good fish, possibly over a metre long.
For the next two days I fished hard without a single bite, although my Dad lost a huchen even bigger than the one I lost, which was soul destroying to say the least! However, on the last morning, all the hard work and effort paid off when I managed to land one of these mysterious predators. The Una River is stunning, and I really enjoyed my time in Bosnia - I'm now keen to return in the hope I can land an even bigger huchen!
Jonathon Muir, Farlows Travel
My 2019 fish of the year came at the end of an outstanding Farlows Travel trip to the Rio Irigoyen in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, in mid-March. After a week of excellent sea trout fishing including a good number of 10lb+ fish (plus a 12lb, 13lb, 14lb and 18lb for my client!) we decided to spend our last evening session exploring some of the upper reaches of the Rio Irigoyen, only reachable by a very long, very bumpy amphibious ATV ride.
The potential rewards were fish that had not seen a fly all season long. The chance was too good to pass up. To this point, my happy client had landed all the biggest fish, which is exactly what you want to see as a fishing group host! I had caught several around the 10lb-mark, but a real chunk of a sea trout had thus far eluded my efforts.
As we made our way up through virgin pools and, just as the light began to fade, I rigged-up a rubber-legged Prince Nymph and prepared to do battle with one last fish before the journey home. During the course of the week we had caught fish on big leeches and streamers, but as the week progressed, the subtle movement of a small, heavy nymph was accounting for more fish. I felt confident that it wouldn’t let me down.
I approached the pool with caution, paddling quietly into the shallows before rolling out my line into a narrow channel that was running hard against the far bank. A tricky little upstream mend of the line was required to ensure that the nymph remained in the ‘taking-zone’ and didn’t swing across the pool too fast. I cast my line out again, made a mend, gave the line a couple of figure-of-eights, and then everything went solid. I knew straight away that it was a good fish. What followed was 10 minutes of pure chaos as the biggest sea trout of my life cartwheeled across the pool, not too impressed to be attached to my line. We finally got her into the shallows and my guide, Diego, carefully tailed her. We took a few measurements, kept her in or near the water at all times, snapped a few pics and set her free to pass on those big sea trout genetics. We estimated the weight at around 15lbs – the perfect way to end an extraordinary fishing trip to a part of the world that you simply MUST visit at least once in your fly fishing career.
Jack Gregorie, Farlows Buying & Merchandising Assistant
Back in July I set out one morning with a friend in search of my first fly caught pollock during a 3-week summer camping break. It was a warm and bright summer’s morning with a few clouds rolling in over in the northern coast of the West Country. We set off late in the morning after a good fry up back at the campsite, ready for an afternoon bobbing about on the water.
The first port of call was an area of deeper water, where we hoped to find some pollock, before coming closer in to try and find a bass or two. There were rumours of pollock up to 10lb being caught around this area not too long before we arrived, so we were feeling hopeful. I had my new 400gr RIO Leviathan sinking line rigged up with my Sage Salt 9# rod. I tied on a black and purple Tarpon Bunny as I wanted something that I could gently strip back up to the surface but that still had plenty of movement when left to drift slowly in the tidal current.
The tip of my fly line was roughly 45ft deep when, all of a sudden, I felt a tug. It was immediately obvious that I had hooked into a pollock due to the fish diving down hard as soon as it was hooked – apparently the tell-tale sign! It was a short but memorable fight before the fish came up to the surface. A quick snap for the photo album and back it went. It was only about 3lb but, as with all aspects of fishing, the memorable ones aren’t always the biggest.
We went on to have a fantastic evening of bass fishing afterwards before heading straight back to the pub for a few celebratory beers. A day well spent!
Ashton Pohl, Sales Advisor
It's never easy choosing one particular catch from the season. This is especially true when they are all so unique in so many ways, whether it be different species, location, first encounters or just an unusual experience.
The catch I've chosen for the highlight of my 2019 season was not in the most picturesque of locations, nor is it the most exotic species. It is for this exact reason that I have chosen this fly-caught pike from a small feeder river off the Thames - yes, the THAMES!
Some would argue that one would have to be certified mental to jump out of bed at the break of dawn, throw a big duffle bag of fishing tackle over your shoulder and head to the Thames to fly fish! Meeting up with a good friend at our desired location, we dug into our tackle bags and started to get ready for the day ahead. It was a unique experience for me, as this was the first time that I'd inflated a float tube in the UK!
We pushed off from the bank and started targeting areas which looked promising for holding fish. Stripping an intermediate 9wt line with a Clydesdale jig fly on the end resulted in a few jacks and one fish into double digits, which sadly came off at the edge right at the net. As the day slowly progressed, the itch for a larger fish grew and we made our way up a smaller stretch of river, hoping for one last catch. Placing a cast into an area of water that divided an area of faster flow from some slower moving water, I felt a big jolt on the fly line and immediately strip-set into the fish. I was relieved to have what felt like a decent-sized fish on the other end, giving me a good run for my money. My buddy Felix and I managed to get hold of the beautiful pike, snapped a quick photo and, after a successful release, we headed to a nearby pub for a celebratory pint, paired with a good lunch!
The reason this fish is my 2019 stand-out just goes to show that even if you find yourself dead centre in the middle of London itching for a cast, you don’t always have to travel miles to find fish. One would be surprised by how many rivers and species there are to be found only a short commute from the city. While it is sad that a lot of rivers are in fact polluted and seem to be on a downward spiral, there are still places clean enough to hold quality fish! This gives us hope for urban rivers and even more hope for rivers that haven't been affected and that can hopefully be preserved for future generations to come.
Mark Windsor, Sales Advisor and Casting Instructor
Patrolling down one of the beautiful Baja beaches overlooking the sea of Cortez in search of roosterfish is a time consuming activity. It's a fishing safari where many things have to be in your favour. Fishing like this suits the opportunist because you never quite know what will show up. During a 2019 trip to the area, after many hours and days of staring into the sea and having my feet burnt on hot sand, a special moment came… One morning, on yet another day touring the beach, my guide Lance slammed onto the brakes on our UTV and jumped out, immediately grabbing the teaser rod whilst yelling at me ‘run, run, run!’
Lance had spotted some fish about 150 metres offshore, but what were they? Without being sure at this stage, I just had get out into the surf to be ready as Lance hurled the hookless teaser lure way out into the distance and started retrieving at speed. The group of fish turned and began to chase.
‘Jacks!! Big Pacific jacks!’ he shouted to me. Waist deep in crashing surf, water everywhere with a strong wind forcing me to cast off my left shoulder, I started firing out line from the line tray trying to estimate the speed of the approaching fish to time my cast correctly. The fish could have pulled away at any stage, but they stayed on the teaser. I punched out a long cast as far as I could, just as the fish showed signs of heading away at speed back to deep water. With one strip of the fly a big jack came and hammered it, then off it went 250 metres out to sea.
All the while trying to remain standing with waves hitting me waist high, I kept the pressure on. This was a strong fish that was now a long way offshore! After 40 minutes of retrieving line at what seemed like an inch at a time, we eventually had the fish rolling around in the surf – the moment where it can easily shake the hook, with waves and currents crashing and pulling the fish in all directions. I finally got the fish to the surface as a wave scooped it up and in it came.
What an adrenalin rush! Jacks aren't the hardest fish to catch if you can find them, but standing in crashing surf, you only get one shot.