The Other Global Pandemic

Dead bees from a collapsed hive

As a biology major in college and an enthusiastic young beekeeper during my 4-H days in high school, I have been following for some years another growing global pandemic. Bee colonies are dying, unexplainedly, at an alarming rate around the world.

You may think that this is much ado about nothing in relation to the human global pandemic we are currently facing, but here are some little known facts that, to me at least, are cause for serious concern for the welfare of our global food supply chain.

  • More than 75% of the leading types of global food crops rely to some extent on animal pollination, mostly bees
  • Globally there are more honey bees than other types of bee and pollinating insects, so honeybees are the world’s most important pollinator of food crops.
  • Over the past 10 years, honeybee colonies have been dying out, often as much as 50-75% each year in North American
  • Beekeepers in most European countries have observed a similar phenomenon since 1998, especially in Southern and Western Europe, and Ireland
  • According to the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department of the United Nations, the total value of global crops pollinated by honey bees was estimated at nearly USD$200 billion in 2005.
  • Farmers have to buy or rent extra colonies each year to pollinate their crops, raising the cost of fruit and produce by 20%.
  • Currently there is a shortage of hives globally.

A Mysterious Cause

Now known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), this sudden die off is an abnormal phenomenon that occurs when the majority of bees in a colony suddenly disappear, leaving behind plenty of food. Several possible causes for CCD have been proposed, but no single proposal has gained widespread acceptance among the scientific community.

Suggested causes include;

  • Pesticides
  • infections with various pathogens, especially those transmitted by Varroa and Acarapis mites
  • malnutrition
  • genetic factors such as inbreeding
  •  immunodeficiencies
  • loss of habitat
  • changing beekeeping practices

Many hives are found with mite infections which reduce the stamina of infected bees.

ECOS Magazine - Towards A Sustainable Future

However, the most likely culprit are pesticides, especially those of the neonicotinoid family, which has been used widely around the world as a substitute to DDT.

For those interested, here is short video on this other global pandemic:

We are fighting many changes to the welfare of humankind at the moment, all brought about by our unwitting and often wanton disreguard for the interdependent and interconnected world which we all share. It’s all of our responsibility to turn these crises into learnings. Doing well AND doing good should be our new mantra for the post COVID-19 world.

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Passion is the mother of innovation

Skills moves us forward, passion leaps us forward !

Today I am sitting in my garden office / “man cave” in self-isolation with my family here in London, which is a veritable ghost town. Fortunately we are all safe and healthy and I hope you and your family are as well. Staying home is the only cure for this terrible pandemic at the moment, yet I am confident that with the passion and commitment of scientists around the world, we will soon have a greater understanding of the epistomology of COVID-19 and also an effective vaccine.

There seems to be a global passion, and outright necessity, to solve this terrible situation and get all of us back with our friends and family and doing what we do best, being productive and moving society forward.

I’m not a scientist so will leave the realm of innovation in anti-virus vaccines to others, but I do want to talk about innovation in fly fishing, something I am passionate about.

It seems that a good way to explain innovation is the passion to take the ordinary and accepted and make a step change in its effectiveness. What was once effective or showing potential, with innovation becomes spectacularly more effective and useful.

Take the electric vehicle for example. For decades the promise of the electric vehicle was not realized, since speed and battery life could never equal that of petrol vehicles, and cost was a barrier as well. Yet as the need for a replacement for CO2 emitting petrol cars became more and more important, passionate people turned their energies to innovative solutions.

And thus the Tesla was born, which (before the COVIS-19 crisis) had a market value greater than Ford and GM combined. A 300+ mile battery range and an acceleration near that of a Cobra, along with an impressive human-auto digital interface has made it the most popular option for non-petrol transportation.

In flyfishing, I ran across a really interesting and highly useful innovation during my last trip to Patagonia, Argentina for monster rainbow trout. It’s called the Balanced Leech (or in my words the Level Leech).

Basically, nealy all artificial flies are tied at the front through an eyelet in the hook, and the fly dressing is added along the shank. Now, when such a fly is attached to a leader and fished, in most cases, especially in lake fishing, it tends to hand vertically in the water. How may times do real leeches hang vertically? But since hooks have always been constructed with the eye at the front of the shank, nearly all flies tend to hang vertically.

Excuse my feeble drawing, but this is the concept. Traditional vs Natural

There are several links on Youtube about how to tie the Balanced Leech.

Why didn’t I think of that! And for me, flyfishing on Jurassic Lake in Patagonia, it worked like a treat, especially in rough weather, which is most of the time there. Something about a more natural presentation I suspect.

I like it when people come up with new innovations on traditional approaches. Sometimes they revolutionize the way we do things. Facebook, vs email, is a great example of taking social connections and communications to a whole new level. Likewise digital photography vs traditional film. And the list goes on.

Hurray for those who try new things to improve how we work and play. And I am definitely rooting for the scientists working on a cure and vaccine for COVID-19. Most importantly to save human lives.

But I guess I would also say, so we can get back out there fishing again.

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A COVID-19 Travel Day – Homeward

While most of my friends, and the entire world it seems, are hunkered down in self-imposed quarantine and hoping the toilet paper doesn’t run out, I am on a “long way round” trip from the Estancia Laguna Verde fishing lodge in the Patagonia steppes to my home in London. And I do mean “long way round”. The only flights I could get before the shut down of air travel in Argentina were the following: El Calafate to Buenos Aires, then to Sao Paulo, Bazil, then an overnight flight to Madrid, and a late afternoon flight to Heathrow. Ugh! But the fishing was definitely worth the travel aggravation. But then that’s what all crazy fishermen say. I hope to tell my body that as I am a little stiff and somewhat bruised from my fishing adventures and sedentary travel.

This could easily be a winging blog about bad travel karma and the state of the world, but let’s not go there. Instead, let’s find the good news. Every competent flyfisher knows that if you focus on the problem, you get more problems. Like tangled lines in gale force winds, flies caught in trees or on rocks on the bottom of the lake, or fish throwing the hook and getting away. It happens! But it happens more with a bad attitude.

And the trajectory of leadership follows a similar path. Clarity of Vision and a deep belief in a Positive Purpose are what makes a business deliver for its customers, communities, the environment, employees and shareholders.

Someone once said the sadness of growing old is hardening of the attitudes, not the arteries! So true. An unencumbered stream flows the truest.

So some thoughts on this trip home. First, it’s amazing to see how people can rise to the occasion in a crisis. Some even surprise themselves. And I am surprised to see how nice people have been at every point along this journey.

The lodge manager, Nico, got up at 2am to get all the guests out on the road at 3am for the 5 hour drive to the El Calafate airport. In fact, all along Nico and his staff have been working behind the scenes to reorganize our travel plans, some of which got cancelled by the airlines only minutes after they were made. And all the while the guests were shielded from all this chaos. After all, we were here to fish and it was their job to make certain we had an excellent fishing adventure.

At the El Calafate airport there were stranded tourists in sleeping bags all over the floor, yet no hysterics. The normal chaotic South American check-in lines were quiet, reflective and respectful of each other. I think it’s beginning to dawn on all humanity that we are all in the same lifeboat on uncharted seas.

Before we were allowed to go to our gate at El Calafate, all passengers had to line up for a health check; our travel details plus a temperature check. A little crude, a digital thermometer under the armpit, but adequate to make certain an obviously infected person didn’t travel. Again, no grumbling or bitching, just facing the facts and getting on with things.

My flight from Sao Paolo to Madrid was nearly full. On this flight nearly 70 % of the passengers had masks on. The crew wore really fancy masks the entire flight; high quality with carbon filters. The passengers had a variety of different masks, some are tie on masks while others had the kind where the elastic bands slip over the ears. All shapes, sizes, qualities and even colours. A few fashionable women had pink masks.

A quick shot on the plane:

One thing most people don’t realise about these masks. Bad breath is really magnified inside this closed mouth-nose system. Ugh! Not sure which is worse, rebreathing the after effects of an airplane meal or COVID-19. Good thing I brought an amply supply of chewing gum and breath mints on this trip (after all fish don’t bite well for fishermen with foul breath – little known fact that only experienced fishermen know.)

Am now at the Madrid airport waiting for the last leg of this marathon – might be my last flight for several months if this epidemic keeps growing. Here is a photo of the departures board near my gate. Five flight panels usually full and flashing with gate updates, etc. Today, March 20, 2020 only one board with the last flights before Madrid airport goes into lock down.

Almost home. And I am really looking forward to a few things, in this order: Kiss my wife, hug my daughter, cuddle my monster cat, soak in a hot bath with epsom salts to soothe my aching joints, and a “John Childress” G&T – for those who don’t know, that’s a 50:50 G&T – industrial strength!

News flash: the unthinkable in Great Britain. They have ordered all Pubs closed! In case you don’t understand UK culture, the Pub, affectionately known as “my local” is the place where the village, or neighborhood, gathers every evening to meet and socialise, and especially on the weekends for a Sunday roast lunch. This may well be the end of the UK.

And an positive news flash. I am home safe in London. Christiane picked me up at around 8 pm last evening. Fond fishing memories but a very weird journey. The best part was the wonderful people I met along the way.

Stay safe and positive, everyone. And stay turned for more blogs.

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80 km/hr winds and great fishing!

According to the meteorologists when the wind reaches 80 km/hr it rips the water up off the lake, which looks like mist rising but its actually water being torn from the surface and thrown up into the air. And that’s what we woke up to this morning, Wednesday, 18 March at Estancia Laguna Verde lodge in Santa Cruz Province, Patagonia,Argentina.

The lodge overlooks Laguna Verde, one of the many smaller lakes surrounding the big lake, Lago Strobel.

If you look closely across Laguna Verde you can see how the wind rips the water off the surface. That’s a real gale, and we’re going fishing!

After a hearty breakfast we headed to Lago Strobel. The food here is outstanding. As good as any fancy restaurant in any major city. Occasionally a fishing lodge gets it right, and this one certainly does. Creamy scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and rich, aromatic coffee (not that weak stuff you get in the US but real strong coffee. Fortification for the day of wind and cold ahead.

Here is what awaited us at our first fishing spot. Looks more like the ocean than a lake.

I know what most of you are thinking. “John’s finally lost it. He’s going fishing in that?” Flyfishing is a lot like leadership, you have to adapt to whatever conditions are thrown at you, whether it’s gale force weather for fishing or global economic chaos for a business. Flyfishers and business leaders must adapt to all conditions, at least if they want to be successful. (Note: there will be book forthcoming from me – at some point in the not too distant future – entitled “Flyfishing for Leadership”, about how flyfishing and leadership contain many similarities and many lessons for those intent of learning and improving).

So my guide, Nehuen, and I headed for the cliffs above the rolling surf and got ready to brave the elements in search of monster trout. A great guide is not a coach or mentor, like some believe, but their real job is to prepare you for success. The real work is yours, but a good guide prepares you well, and that means talking tactics and equipment, as well as choice of flies and fly lines. Flyfishing, like leadership, takes preparation and thought, not just flogging the water or for a business putting our a cheap, shoddy product.

And Nehuen prepared me well for our upcoming battle with the elements and the fishing conditions. We fished hard for the next three hours, battling the wind and waves, but good preparation and perseverance can pay off. I caught two nice trout, here is one of them.

Not sure who is colder, me or the fish! But he went back into the lake to grow bigger and we headed to our lunch spot at the edge of the lake, a cove called C Bay, where there is a wooden hut with a gas ring burner. The guides here are not only good fishermen and interesting companions, but great cooks as well. And a hearty lunch was just what the doctor ordered at that point.

We had a chicken and lentel stew, piping hot, with tasty Argentinian cheese, and of course a great bottle of Merlot wine, finished off with a quince tart and more of that “antifreeze” thick rich coffee. Here is Chef Nehuen at work.

So, where to fish on this last afternoon before the long trip home tomorrow? Monster Bay, of course! About a 40 minute slow drive over the rocky terrain we arrived at a large bay, aptly named Monster Bay, not for its size, but for the large fish that tend to hang out there gorging on Scuds and daphnia (small crustaceans floating in the current).

Here’s an example of the wind. This is one of the flies I fished with, and the wind is keeping it straight out!

On a normal day the wind makes Monster Bay a challenge to fish, but today it was nearly impossible. But . . . They don’t call it Monster Bay for nothing. I took five very large Rainbow trout over the next 3 hours, topping it off with a 13 pound male and a 15 ½ pound beauty.

Here’s the male:

And my largest fish of the trip, a 15 ½ pound hen.

Whew, I was so tired and cold I could hardly hold her up. The perfect end to a hard but perfect day and a perfect trip (except for COVID-19 and the world situation),

Here we are, the four intrepid anglers who were the last to leave the lodge. Luiz and his wife, the doctor, Pablo a real estate developer from Argentina, and me! Smiles of happiness and sadness. Just like life!

But this blog will continue. More to say about this magical world class trout fishery, the people, Argentina, and flyfishing. Stay tuned.

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Tuesday and No Internet, But Great Fishing

Monday evening the Internet died and as of this evening, Tuesday, it is still missing in action. Which really hurts out here in the Patagonia steppe where there is no cell phone service and everyone relies on the Internet,which is a series of relays from Hiway 40 over to our lodge. The lodge manager went to El Calafate today, a five hour drive, to conduct lodge business because without the Internet he simply can’t function. I think we have evolved as a human species. From Homo sapiens to Homo wifi.

So much for digital technology. Good thing we don’t need digital technology for flyfishing. And I hope it never happens. Digital technology would definitely ruin the magic of this fine sport.

However, technology is alive and well in the flyfishing world. And perhaps the greatest innovation of all is GoreTex waders. They are not only waterproof, but breathe out perspiration, are light and nearly thorn proof. But maybe technology in flyfishing has gone a little overboard, especially when it comes to fly lines. There are an overabundance of fly lines, from Skagit lines, Scandi lines, sinking, intermediate and floating lines, shooting heads, sink tips, salt water and fresh water lines, and the list goes on and on. A Google search listed — different fly lines manufactured by just one flyline maker, Rio. And Orvis has its multiple lines, as do all the other flyfishing equipment manufacturers. Too confusing. Too much, and far too expensive. A baker’s dozen would do most of us.

So much for my whining!

A great thing is that wherever in the world you find a flyfishing lodge you will find all the ingredients for an end-of-day Martini. And Estancia Laguna Verde is no exception.

Not that’s the way to end a great day of fishing.

But obviously, flyfishing and good wine go together, like a wink and a smile (sorry, old tunes often pop up in my head – a product of my advanced years – 71 to be exact). At Estancia Laguna Verde lodge there is a wonderful wine collection. As is evidenced here.

But this is only the “house wine” collection. One of the majority owners of the lodge, Roberto Alba, lovingly known as “Beto”, is a wine collector extraordinaire and when he is at the lodge, the good stuff comes out from his private cellar. More about this in a later blog. It’s time for fishing.

And speaking of fishing today, I had an excellent day in the morning, with 5 large fish landed and then lovingly released – a large Rainbow trout is too beautiful to kill.

And this is not the biggest caught today. One of the guests, a very gracious gentleman from Sao Paulo, Brazil caught this monster. Hopefully I am next in line.

The gentleman, whose first name is Louis, is here with his wife, a doctor. Couples who fish together must have a very special place in heaven, obviously next to a fully stocked trout stream. I took this picture right after lunch at the lake, after a few glasses of wine. May they always fish together – wherever they are.

I told you the lake was huge, 65 square kilometers, and often we have to walk over some interesting terrain to get to the fishing area. According to a geologist who came here several years ago to study this unique region, the lake is approximately 11 million years old, but only populated with fish since the late 1990s. And the level of the lake has been dropping recently due to less than average snowfall and rainfall for the past four or five years.

As a result, the white calcium encrusted boulders lining the shore cover more and more of the landscape. Looks like a plasterer was on drugs! Here I am walking to one of the fishing sites on the Eastern shore of the lake.

Sadly, Thursday is my last day in this wonderful hideaway from a now crazy world. We had to scramble to get any plane tickets we could for home and so we leave the lodge at 3am to drive 5 hours to El Calafate, probably stand in a long line in a heaving airport. Hopefully I will get one more posting in from Jurassic Lake. Stay tuned.

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A Great Day (for flyfishing at least)

The mind is a very curious thing. And the mind of a fisherman, well . . . It’s complicated! Fishing takes focus and a mind full of thoughts is probably a fisherman’s worst enemy. More than howling wind, biting cold or a frayed tippet. An overactive mind ruins casts, results in poor presentations and missed strikes. And yesterday was a classic tale of the woes of a lost soul.

My mind was full of thoughts (mostly negative) about cancelled flights, loved ones far away, and the general unhealthy state of the world (both physical and mental health). As a result, my casting was crap (that’s a technical fishing term), I tripped over rocks on the trail, my concentration was like an overactive puppy, and as I result, while others had a good day, my catch was 1 (one fish and multiple lost flies from snags on the rocky bottom.

But, a new day and a new mindset. I have all my flights home arranged, a day later than my original itinerary, my wife and daughter are home and healthy, and the gale force winds have receded. And a clear mind with a singular focus, enjoy a day of fishing in a beautiful part of the world in a world-class fishery with a great guide.

The result?

In the morning we fished Barrancoso Creek. Strobel Lake is a glacial melt lake with no outlet and only one stream coming into it, which is raging when the snow melts and a trickle in the fall. Which is now. We drove 30 minutes to the stream and hiked up about half a kilometer to the first pool, which was about the size of a home swimming pool, yet only 3 ft deep. Yet with my polarized sunglasses I could see probably 6 huge rainbow trout holding in the slots and behind boulders in the pool, along with several smaller, resident trout.

The “jurassic sized” trout from the lake migrate up the creek to spawn in the Spring and some of them take up residence while the rest return to the lake. The smaller ones are resident and because of the sparse food supply in the creek compared to the lake, don’t grow as large, yet their coloration is one of the glories of Mother Nature.

Talk about a flashy dresser!

And trying to hook and land one of the monsters is a challenge of technique and patience as the water is gin clear (I love that term), shallow and they can see almost any movement on the bank and dart away at any unusual large movement, like a clumsy angler or a bad cast that crash lands like a Gooney Bird on the water.

Yet after an hour of casting, changing flies, letting the pool “rest” for 10 minutes, one of them, probably not the sharpest tack in the box, decided my nymph imitation looked pretty edible and he was hooked. Now the hard part, bringing him to the net. Which may sound easy in such a small, shallow creek, but these fish know all the tricks, and hiding places. After he was hooked he headed straight for a small opening underneath a large boulder. A perfect hiding place. My guide had to jump in the pool and tease him out without breaking the line. Then he was off like a Formula 1 car racing around the pool, jumping and trying to dislodge the hook, which is barbless by the way and quite easy to come out if the tension on the line is lessened.

But together, my guide and I accomplished what all fishermen want, a great fish and a great thrill.

Great fishing is more enjoyable with a good guide. What is a good guide? Someone once told me the most important decision a person can make in their life is the choice of their spouse (or life-partner in modern language). Very true. And the second most important choice is your fishing guide. Fortunately the guides here at Estancia Laguna Verde Lodge are all excellent, otherwise they wouldn’t last a week. And like all guides at a remote lodge, they coach each other to constantly improve their abilities to work with the guests and produce great fishing opportunities.

My guide this week is Nehuen (an Indian name, but an Argentinian from the Andes foothills, of Italian heritage and one of three brothers to work as guides here at the lodge). In another blog I will spend more time on the characteristics of a good guide, much like the characteristics of a good mentor for a business executive thirsty for learning, without making all the mistakes themselves!

That was a great morning, and then off in our Toyota HILUX pickup truck (the same brand ISIS fighters use because of their dependability – except ours didn’t have a 50 Caliber machine gun mounted in the truck bed) to lunch at a hut at the lake. Everyday we have lunch at the lake with the other fishing parties (this week there are only three others at the lodge – a gentleman and his doctor wife from Sao Paolo, Brazil, and a young American lad from Colorado).

Lunch at the lake is definitely worth a separate blog, stay tuned. But suffice to say it is definitely hearty and outdoor gourmet, with beer and wine as well. Here is one of the many Argentinian Merlot brands, all exceptional. With a trout label no less.

After lunch Nehuen and I headed off to the edge of the lake. He said to me: “can you cast into the wind?” Now that is a loaded question. Under normal fishing circumstances the wind is mostly a nuisance, a headache at times, but a competent flycaster over time learns the tricks of casting against the wind. Sometimes its as simple as casting with the wind, or casting over the other shoulder if the wind is coming from your left or right. But this is Patagonia. There is a reason there a no trees or even tall bushes out here on the Patagonia steppes. The constant wind stunts everything, including my casting.

So I said what every red blooded male flyfisher would say, “No problemo!” Well, that was more bravado than truth, but I persevered and with a lifetime of flyfishing and casting, I was able to cast out into the lake with the wind mounting a full frontal attack. Not every cast, but enough successful casts to result in an afternoon of spectacular fishing. Maybe one of the best afternoons I’ve ever had here at Lago Strobel. 6 fish landed and an equal number hooked but not landed.

Here’s a sample:

So long until tomorrow. The adventure, and learning, continues.

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Great Location, Bad Timing

This is NOT me, yet! But it is the place I am in, Lago Strobel in Patagonia, Argentina and this is, believe it or not, a Rainbow trout, caught by one of the guides here. Stay tuned an hopefully you will see my smiling face next to a monster like this.

The title of today’s blog is Great Location, Bad Timing. For a flyfisher you can understand why I say Great Location. I’ll explain below. And, unless you have just returned from the moon, you know what I mean my Bad Timing. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the world and I am currently at a lodge a 5 hour drive from the nearest town, and my BA flight home has been cancelled. At this writing I have no way home and British Airways are not answering the phones or taking any new reservations. So. . . It may be a while before anyone other than fishing guides and rainbow trout see me again.

The Great Location refers to the most magical trout fishing spot in the world, which came about in a way that seems more like fiction than reality. Here is what I know about how and why this place has the largest rainbow trout population on earth.

Early in 1900s some British businessmen in Argentia thought that trout fishing needed to come to Argentina, guess they were tired of shooting and tea. So they talked the Argentine government into studies to see if trout could survive in Patagonian rivers and lakes. The research was promising so they talked the Argentine government into paying to stock the rivers and lakes in Patagonia with trout and salmon from the US. So, as the story goes, they thought Rainbow trout eggs from the Baird hatchery on the McLeod River in California would be a good stock. But the problem was how to get them to Argentina!

A former US hatchery manager from Colorado came up with an ingenious plan of using the steamer ships that transport Argentinean beef from the East Coast of the US to the UK, and then travel to Argentina to pick up the next load of beef. The ships had refrigerated sections to keep the meet cool, and the trout eggs needed to be kept cool as well. So in 1904 the first load of trout and salmon eggs (some 50 to 100 thousand each) went across the US from California by train, were loaded onto a steamer for Southampton, England, then on to Argentina. From there they were shipped by rail and then horse drawn carts to Lake Nahuel Huapi in Patagonia.

Then between 1904-1907 other trips were made and eggs introduced in other lakes and rivers. The trout thrived. And according to the owners of the lodge where I am staying, rainbow trout fingerlings were introduced into Lago Strobel in 1998 from a hatchery in Patagonia. At Strobel Lake they found an abundance of natural food in the form of small fresh water crustaceans known as Scuds.

The trout gorged themselves and grew to monster size, hence the popular name Jurassic Lake.

An incredible story.

And another incredible story will be how I am going to get home to England. There is nothing I can do at the moment until the world settles down and opens up again for international travel. In the meantime, I am going fishing.

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