Letter from Kandahar

Judging by a letter Fishing World recently received from Colonel Lindsay Morton, an Australian Army officer who has been serving in the Middle East and Afghanistan, it’s clear you can’t keep keen fishos down, no mattter where they might end up in the world!

Lindsay sent us this piece on his fly fishing experiences in Afghanistan:

Kandahar – unique challenges for the intrepid fisherman

Dear Sir,

I thought your readers may be interested in a little exploratory work I’ve been doing in terms of “the world’s most unusual fishing spots”. I am presently serving in the Middle East and Afghanistan with the Australian Defence Force and being a keen fisherman, I naturally deployed with my favourite rod in anticipation of finding “the next great spot.”

While I don’t think I’ve found it just yet, I did nonetheless find a pretty interesting one: “Lake Kandahar” in Afghanistan – a small fresh water repository smack bang in the middle of one of the world’s busiest military airbases. Upon discovering this little known secret, I coordinated a quiet time between Taliban rocket attacks and the next launch of Royal Air Force Tornado jets and ventured down to the lake to try my luck.

Admittedly, I hadn’t done much research on the type of fish I might encounter, but being a keen trout fisherman and the site being a freshwater lake, I took my trusty four piece five-weight, nine foot St Croix rod fitted with a Shimano Ultegra Fly reel loaded with five weight single taper sinking line in search of my favourite fish.

With trout my aim, I tried a Bullen Merri Special, a Woolly Bugger and Red Tag but obviously needed the Afghan caddis. It was to prove a frustrating day.
I can’t say the water was crystal clear like the Mitta Mitta. In fact, I wondered if anything lived in Lake Kandahar. That may have been a reason for my lack of success. But as the birds swooped on small midges I thought – “you never know”, although while large rainbow trout were definitely unlikely, there may be a carp or two.

At the end of the day, it didn’t matter: just being able to cast a fly in remote Afghanistan was something I wondered if I would ever do – a fish would have been a real bonus.

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“But you should have seen the one that got away” – LindsayMorton displays his “catch” of the day – a piece of weed. For Aussie soldiers like Lindsay, based in Afghansistan it’s relaxation that’s important.

For anyone thinking of trying Lake Kandahar, it does present some unique challenges, not least of which being the DFAT Travel Advisory warning against unnecessary travel to Afghanistan. But if you do find yourself there, there are a number of things to consider.

Lake Kandahar presents some peculiar challenges like trying to approach it undetected. The skies are filled with a huge range of Coalition aircraft roaring constantly overhead including Tornadoes, A-10 Warthogs, C130 and C17 transport aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Surveillance Vehicles in addition to numerous helicopters of all sizes. Meanwhile, armoured vehicles from the multitude of nations roll pass the lake. Stealth doesn’t really help in this environment.

While I wasn’t sure whether you actually needed a fishing licence at Lake Kandahar, when you are wearing combat body armour and carrying weapons and ammunition I suspect no fishing inspector is going to ask for one. The protection can also help when an indirect attack by free flight rockets occurs. It doesn’t help the fishing, but then again you tend to be distracted from fishing when you hear the rocket attack warning sirens sound.

I like to think Lake Kandahar is my new secret location, but being in the centre of an international coalition of 20,000 troops and I suspect it may be better known that I thought – although I haven’t seen any other fishermen there yet.

I have only been fly fishing for about five years and started with my son up in King Lake, Victoria. I enjoy all fishing including salt water and estuary. As there is no chance of saltwater fishing in Afghanistan, I thought fly fishing might be the best bet.
Obviously, like all servicemen and women, my thoughts are often of family and home. When I finish my current tour of duty, I’d like to take the family up to my favourite spot at Lake Bullen Merri in Victoria for the solitude and scenery – almost in stark contrast to Lake Kandahar. Back home I also enjoy chasing the snapper in Port Phillip Bay with mates from the Williamstown Newport Angling Club and the whiting and squid with my father in law at Queenscliff.

As they say, “there is always a river somewhere” and I have tried fly fishing in Baghdad, Iraq as well. Prospects were a little better there than Lake Kandahar, with sightings of large carp in the lakes that surrounded Saddam’s former palaces. A couple showed some interest in a nymph I was using but alas neither I, nor a couple of the boys’ spinning lures, could get them interested.

Fly fishing, or for that matter any fishing, is a great way to relax and forget – even just for a short time – all the day to day pressures. I have long admired the art of fly fishing and enjoy being able to feel the rod load up and being able to deliver the fly right where I intended.

The rare opportunity to cast a fly is a great escape and even just being able to practice casting allows me to escape from everything and relax – even for just a few moments. The pressures and constant state of awareness and readiness for all situations is very demanding. Whenever possible, I take the opportunity for time out which helps to keep balance throughout a deployment. When I can’t get the opportunity to get the rod out, I enjoy reading fishing magazines or watching fishing DVDs.

And just a tip for fishing at Lake Kandahar: when extreme fishing in Afghanistan – don’t wear waders – with combat body armour you’re more than likely to sink than wade.

Colonel Lindsay Morton, from Williamtown (Melb), Victoria, 1 is the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Australian Joint Task Force Headquarters responsible for the conduct of Operation SLIPPER. Operation SLIPPER is Australia’s military contribution to international campaigns against terrorism, countering piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and maritime security. Under this operation, Australian forces contribute to the efforts of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which seeks to bring security, stability and prosperity to the country. It also aims at preventing Afghanistan again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. The operation also supports the United States-led International Coalition Against Terrorism (ICAT) efforts in the broader Middle East. There are around 2,300 Australian military personnel deployed on Operation SLIPPER.



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