The Falklands represent all that is good about fishing wild places and the lessons learnt there can be applied anywhere.
I am a Sergeant in the Royal Air Force. I came to be there on a four month tour on a mountain radar site on the north west tip of the West Falklands at a place called Byron Heights. We were visited daily (weather permitting) by a helicopter which brought visitors and supplies. The nearest civilisation was a farmstead around eight miles away, the whole area reminded me of what the wild west must have been like more than a hundred years ago!
There was very little in the way of animal life on the islands, sheep mainly, but the bird life more than made up for that. There are hundreds of different types of birds including five types of penguins, albatrosses, and cara caras (a rare bird of prey). But as a dedicated specimen angler it was the fish that interested me. I knew there were sea trout, brown trout and Falklands trout in the rivers and lakes and Falkland mullet in the creeks.
I took with me a telescopic float/spinning rod that travels everywhere I go on detachment and a nine foot six inches fly rod which unfortunately became a nine-foot rod by the time I got there! In a one pint maggot box I carried a selection of flies and spinners, a penknife, small forceps, a couple of floats, some shot and a large selection of hooks, I also took a folding trout landing net, my little camera, and a priest. The spinning reel was loaded with eight pound Sylcast and the fly reel had a weight forward, floating, nine line on with a six pound leader.
The first problem soon became apparent, being stuck on top of a mountain is not good for determining fish location! The only transport I had available was a BV206, which is an all terrain tracked vehicle that can cope with the peat slopes and rough tracks of the Falklands, or feet! I did a lot of walking around the area in the first month. Visiting the local penguin colonies at the foot of the mountain or scaling the peaks of the surrounding mountains, but the only fish I saw were minnow like creatures that inhabited the rocky stream pools in the area. Never one to pass up the opportunity to catch a new type of fish I tried catching one of these fish using the smallest of the buzzer nymphs in my collection. I simply jigged the buzzer slowly up and down in the dark but clear peaty water and the fish would follow it occasionally darting at, but not taking the fly. It took me over half an hour to get one to bite, as although they were interested, the fly was just too big. Eventually when I did catch and land one and closely inspected it I came to the conclusion that I had caught a Falklands minnow (Galaxias Smithii). It looked like a small gudgeon with the same type of marking but the shape of the head gave away its true identity.
My next target was the Falkland mullet. On the weekend I would drive the BV four miles down the mountain to Long creek which was a triangular shaped bay. It was dry at low tide and filled quickly as the tide came in, the sides of the bay were stony and the bay itself was sandy with large mussel beds. I had been told the successful methods on the East Falklands was to either ledger lumps of meat using large metal nuts as ledger weights with the line simply wrapped around the nut to create a fixed bolt rig or to suspend chunks of mutton under a pike bung.
The first few times I went I blanked completely, primarily because I wasn't fishing around the high tide, I don't believe the mullet came into the bay until the water reached the mussel beds at the top end of the bay. Also I was fishing halfway down the side of the creek. It was only when I gave up fishing early one day and was walking back to the BV. I was passing the shallows at the tip of the creek and suddenly the water erupted as a large shoal of fish that must have been feeding in about six inches of water, bow waved back into deeper water. I immediately swapped the ledger rig for a spinner and cast out about twenty yards into the shallows. On my third cast the spinner was grabbed by a fish, which fought hard, fighting with lots of head shaking and short runs. After a few minutes of this great fun on light tackle I landed my first Falkland mullet (Eliginus falklandicus) of just over a pound. Falkland mullet can grow to twenty pounds and would be regarded like a game fish if found over here.
Over the next few weeks I sussed out the tide timetable and went down to the creek for a few hours spinning on a regular basis. Soon I started catching small blue and silver cigar shaped fish, which I didn't recognise but looked like some form of sardine. I experimented by cutting one of these fish into large chunks and mounting it on a large (1/0) hook. By casting the chunk out and slowly retrieving it along the bottom I found I was getting takes from mullet almost every time. The size of the mullet averaged two pounds, with the occasional lump up to five pounds. Over the next few months I was supplying the site with mullet on a regular basis and it appeared on the menu a couple of times a week. It tasted delicious with a flavoured sauce (lime and dill was gorgeous!) or battered with chips, occasionally it appeared on the menu as haddock or cod just to add variety!
During my tour I was entitled to four days rest and relaxation, and I spent much time debating where I was going to go. In the end I settled on the San Carlos River in the East Falklands which is well known as a sea trout river. I had never caught a sea trout before and it was a glaring omission from my personal best lists! The history of sea trout in the Falklands is fairly short, they were only introduced around forty years ago. In this short time they have multiplied enormously and every summer there are large runs of trout in every river around the islands. The record for sea trout from the islands is twenty-two pounds twelve ounces (again caught by a lady, Alison Faulkner) from the San Carlos River.
Transport and accommodation were quickly sorted out, get a helicopter to drop me off at the river, camp out in a one-man tent and get the helicopter to pick me up four days later! The permit and licence were easy to arrange, the licence cost a tenner from the post office at the main base and the permit was obtained by post from Robin, the landowner of Greenfields which is a huge estate that covers the whole of the fishable river. It costs a tenner per day for camping and fishing, which when you consider that catches of up to ten sea trout per day to over double figures is possible is a bargain!
So on the 5th January 1999 (middle of the summer!) I was dropped off at the river, set up the tent and settled in. This is when the main problem became apparent, the river although twenty foot wide was only around three inches deep! Apparently October / November and March / April are the best times to fish, but I was limited to when I could fish so had to make the best of it. The riverbanks are clear of obstructions (there's only a few trees on the whole of the Falklands) but tussock grass does make walking many miles difficult and the wind never dies down.
I knew there were deeper pools along the river and I was soon exploring different areas, it was soon apparent that the fly rod was going to be pretty useless in these conditions. The wind swirled round in all directions and a lot of the deeper areas were across the far side of the river. I switched to a small spinner and using a fast retrieve managed to cover a lot of water, soon I started to catch trout, unfortunately they were brown trout of around six to eight ounces! But what beautiful fish! Their colours were magnificent and every one had striking spots and red tipped adipose fins.
It wasn't until the second day whilst spinning a deep (three foot) pool that my spinner was grabbed by something larger, there then followed a five minute battle in which my opponent leapt out of the water twice, revealing itself as a sea trout of around a couple of pounds. Not large, but enough to set my hands shaking! Once it was landed I breathed a huge sigh of relief and mentally filled the gap in my personal best fish list. I would like to say that I continued to catch sea trout but that was the only one, but I did catch many more brown trout (a couple were even caught on the fly rod). There is no point in using small flies or trying insect imitations, according to the locals, the most productive fly is a large orange lure and the locals themselves use plain silver spinners, although some swear by spinners painted in aluminium paint. That sea trout was not the only one that I enjoyed eating during the tour, I had several fish steaks from a fish that must have been over ten pounds when alive. Only this one had come from a river that flowed through the middle of a military training area in the East Falklands and had been grenaded out! I never did catch a Falklands trout (zebra trout) but they are mainly found in the East Falklands lakes (see John Wilson's video on fishing in the Falklands).
If anybody is planning on fishing any of the Falklands main sea trout rivers (The San Carlos, the Chartres and the Warrah). I have hand drawn maps of each of them showing the position of the pools and where the fish lie, along with tips and hints on how to fish them. If you are in the military I will send you free photocopies, if you're paying your way down there they are twenty pounds each, as you've obviously got money to burn! The San Carlos River is primarily a winter river and best fished at the end of summer (March/April). The Chartres and Warrah are on the West Falklands and best fished at the start of summer (October/ November).
For those planning a visit there are plenty of very hospitable lodges and hotels to be found, they will provide fishing guides and vehicles to get to the rivers. Check out the many Internet sites for details. If you do go during the sea trout runs, be prepared