Thursday, February 20, 2014

Aruba's Bonefish Nursery?

Schools of juvenile bonefish are again cruising Aruba's beaches—in some places so abundant that they show up in the cast nets thrown for sardines and other baits. While this individual was released unharmed, it's a sad fact that many are destroyed as bycatch, in the same way that adult bones are often killed in set nets.

Last week my father caught a dozen in one evening. Each was returned to the water, and all were surprisingly powerful for their size: a tantalizing hint of the fun they could provide if allowed to reach adulthood.

This periodic abundance reminds me again of how lucky we are in Aruba, of how significant our island's nursery areas are for the life of the surrounding seas, and of how much more productive they could be with even the minimum of resource management.

A small marine protected area—stretching from the new Ritz-Carlton to Arashi Beach, for example—could provide an invaluable sanctuary for young fish that would later repopulate the island's flats and reefs. Area regulations would ban netting, spearfishing, wastewater discharge, and the anchoring of boats. Diving (on approved moorings), snorkeling, and catch-and-release fishing would be encouraged, and displaced commercial fishermen fairly compensated.

The proposed park would include some of the island's most popular tourist sites, including the wreck of the Antilla, visited last year by the Catlin Seaview Survey, part of an ambitious project to create a baseline record of the world's coral reefs. In their expedition report, project scientists were amazed at "the plentiful juvenile fish that roamed" the island's waters, "an indicator that these reefs are ecologically important." And, like others, they expressed concern that "the reefs of Aruba aren’t currently protected, especially because we have clear evidence of the great potential."

Since 2010, the Aruba Marine Park Foundation has been working to build public and government support for a protected area, so far with limited success. You can add your voice to the chorus by visiting their Facebook page and donating to the Save the Reef program.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Days Gone By

My favorite new book, Richard Wilbur's Anterooms, was a gift from my niece, who works at the Yankee Book Shop in Woodstock, Vermont. In the title poem, this stanza nicely captures the feeling I have right now:

Still, it strains belief
How an instant can dilate,
Or long years be brief.

Camping on Mongolia's Delger River, August 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Another 36 Hours in Aruba

Elaine Glusac's story in the November 10 New York Times was well-informed and entertaining, but not everyone's circumstances allow for a stay at the Ritz. This is what we did last weekend.


3 p.m.

Still at work. Luckily, most Aruban commutes are short. (It's a small island.)

6 p.m.

Take the dog for a sunset swim at Eagle Beach. Park in the paved lot and walk north or south until you find the right combination of sand and solitude.

7:30 p.m.

Yes, you could go out to any number of tasty restaurants in the hotel district, including Amazonia, Papiamento, and Le Petit Café. Or you could do take-out from local favorites like El Chalan (Peruvian), Sultan (Lebanese), or Baby Back Grill. But sometimes it's just as relaxing to have dinner at home. Mix a martini with the duty-free gin you purchased in the baggage claim area at the airport. Then combine whatever the refrigerator has to offer in a stir-fry. Today's options: chicken, shallots, garlic, kale, endive, cilantro. Wash it down with a Spanish or Chilean red, which are reasonably priced here (unlike the French and Californian wines).


8 a.m.

Beach cleanup with students and faculty of the International School of Aruba, sponsored by AHATA, the Aruba Hotel & Tourism Association. We worked on a stretch of Grapefields Beach, on the east coast, just north of Boca Grandi, one of the island's best kitesurfing spots.

12 noon

Cold beverage on Costa Riba's last weekend (they lost their lease). But Kamini's cooking will still be available for take-out.

1 p.m.

Lunch at home with a selection of fresh bread, cheese, and salad from Super Food, an immense market with a selection that will remind you of Amsterdam.

5 p.m.

Take your fly rod for a stroll along the uninhabited north shore. Watch for diving pelicans and hope the fish gods smile on your efforts. This horse-eye jack took a blue-and-white Clouser.

7 p.m.

Sashimi dinner, with Venezuelan avocado, Aruban cucumbers, and South Korea's Yangban Seasoned Laver.


8 a.m.

After breakfast, put the kayaks in north of the Ritz-Carlton and paddle along the lee shore. If you reach Boca Catalina before the tour boats, snorkel among schools of juvenile grunts, sergeant majors, and blue chromis. If not, take a leisurely swim south, towing the kayaks behind you, and watch for sea turtles, reef squid, and schools of bar jacks.

12 noon

Sashimi again, even better this time, as the fish has become more tender after overnighting in the refrigerator.

1 p.m.

Another clean-up operation, this one sponsored by FlyFishingAruba and focused on the mangrove shoreline south of the airport. We're very fortunate that so many islanders feel strongly about protecting the environment, but there's still plenty of work to be done. The roots of some mangroves were completely shrouded by layers of discarded plastic. (I've written elsewhere about other conservation-related efforts on Aruba, including invasive boa control.)

5 p.m.

On the way home, wave goodbye to King Willem and Queen Maxima, on their way back to the airport after a week on the island.

7 p.m.

And finally, another dinner at home, this time using the roasted cubanelle peppers that we neglected on Saturday, when the fish gods smiled. What's not to like about chile rellenos and fresh papaya salsa?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

South Florida Takes Notice of A Novel

Well, maybe notice is too optimistic a word, but the book did receive a little press while I was working in Mongolia. Pompano Today, a regional magazine (you can find the complete file here), published this interview:

And earlier in the summer, the Key West Citizen ran this bit:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Another Season, Another Taimen Video

The 2013 season began with rain and ended with snow. The snow lasted only a day or so, but the rain continued for weeks, creating a flood of water downstream that, by the time it hit the Russian Far East, was visible from space.  This year's notable anglers included Tasmania's Paul Anderson, Patagonia's Marcel Sijnesal, Tom Lewin of South Africa's Frontier Fly Fishing, Chris Andersen, Technical Service Manager at Sage, and Derek Hutton, WorldCast Anglers' Guide of the Year. I'll post a more detailed report soon, but in the meantime here's a video of Jaime Castillo of Mongolia River Outfitters and Chile's Estancia de los Rios releasing a fish that was exactly four feet long . . .


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

An Anthology of Bourbon Poetry

Way back when road trips, ice fishing, and an early morning drink were functional parts of my vocabulary, I also tried to write poems. These attempts were mostly unsuccessful, but one outlier has found its way into an anthology titled Small Batch, just out from Kentucky's Two of Cups Press.

My favorite poem in the book (so far) is "Day One" by Mitchell Douglas. It begins like this:

Day one,

I sip the shoulders
off a bottle of oak--
. . .

Thursday, August 1, 2013

How Flyfishing Can Save the World

One of the many benefits of longer-term commitment is the chance to be part of a deep-rooted success. Way back in 2008, when the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), RARE, Nomadic Journeys, and Mongolia River Outfitters launched their first taimen awareness campaign, the original slogan translated roughly as “Brothers, if we catch taimen, let us release them.” 

Five years later, that message has evolved with the times. [See “Conserving Taimen (and the River).”] In 2012, the posters and bumper stickers came with this challenge: “I changed my behavior to catch-and-release only. Have you?”

Meanwhile, six soums (analogous to U.S. counties) in the Onon valley, along with two soums in the upper Delger watershed, have signed long-term agreements to preserve more than 400 river miles of wild taimen habitat. This model public-private partnership places a strict annual cap on angler numbers and allocates 50% of permit fees to support the conservation and education campaigns of local fishing clubs.

All anglers must use single, barbless hooks, while international anglers are restricted to fly fishing only. Communities along the Onon have banned the use of motorboats, as well as the construction of permanent infrastructure for tourism, mining, or commercial forestry along the riverbank. Perhaps most importantly, they have agreed to prohibit the establishment of hatcheries, dams, or commercial water-extraction projects.

This is a dream come true for those of us who love wild taimen and intact rivers and who value the local communities that deserve the greatest credit for preserving these resources. And it did not happen either by lucky accident or national decree.

Many, many people supported the cause: scientists, marketing specialists, tour guides, gear manufacturers (including Patagonia), beekeepers, cooks, jeep drivers, interpreters, herders, politicians. Some were born in the valley; others in strange and faraway places with hard-to-pronounces names, like “Minnesota.”

And, yes, the anglers. A few, maniacal anglers. For comparison, imagine trying to negotiate a similar agreement with all the county zoning boards along the Yellowstone River, from Gardiner to Billings. Or attempting to reach any sort of agreement with even a small handful of towns along the Delaware River, from New York’s Catskills to Trenton, New Jersey.

But we’re not done yet. The 2013 season marks the debut of the “National Mongolia Taimen Awareness Campaign,” facilitated with support from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Two messages here: "Taimen are unique freshwater fish and the pride of Mongolia. If you catch taimen, please release them!"

* For a related story, see my post at Filson Life, a site hosted by the pioneer Alaska clothing and blanket manufacturers.