Where the Whooping Crane Goes

North Dakota has never really made it onto the ‘list of places I’d like to go’. The fish that are here I can catch elsewhere, and there are no steelhead or giant trevally.That I know of.

The first thing I did after I got the call offering me the job was to start researching the local fishing opportunities. Turns out there are lots of choices, as long as you want to catch walleye, yellow perch and northern pike. I’m told that 40″ is the magic trophy mark to break, and I’m chasing it. The funny thing is that the locals refer to pike in pounds, which doesn’t help me a bit. A little internet searching reveals that a 40″ pike might weigh 20 pounds. That’s a lot of meanness on a fly rod. They ought to hit a popper like a freight train. A bit of a drive gets me a shot at smallmouth on fly, and a longer drive gets me within range of big pike, rainbows, browns, lake trout and even salmon. You can bet I’ll pick a pretty weekend and make that trek.

So what am I doing up here? Well, you aren’t the first one to ask that. In fact, since I’ve gotten here, mostly everyone seems to want to know. They’re a clannish sort, prone to be suspicious of outsiders. That’s fine with me; these are my people, and I know how to talk to them. Hard working farmers, country folk, and the kind you want on your team. So I’ll tell you what I tell them – I’m up here keeping an eye on the whooping crane migration. Yep. The outfit that I’m working with has a few of the birds tagged with GPS trackers, and every couple days I download the updated data and display it on a map to see where the cranes have stopped along the way. The short story is we use this information to send in a ground crew – that’d be me, plus a partner – to go check out the rest stop areas and see the types of habitat that the birds are using on their way north. Pretty cool eh?

Also cool is the journey the birds take – they winter down on the Aransas Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast and then fly on up to the Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada. I left at the same time as the first whoopers started their journey and barely beat the first birds to North Dakota. They can cover some territory when the conditions are right.

 

Below are some pictures I took on the trip up. They’re in chronological order through the plains states.

 

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Welcome to North Dakota. Let the adventure roll on.

The PB and Friends, picture edition.

The last afternoon of the Louisiana trip faded quickly into evening. We had been off the fish for an hour or so, searching new water and scouting different areas to add to Jeremy’s bag of tricks. Rounding a shell point on an island thickly populated with white pelicans, we fired up the engine and started putting our way towards deeper water, and home.

We nosed into a broad channel created by two islands close together. Cruising forward, we noticed big pushes and wakes from fish reacting to the engine sound. Some of the fish looked huge.

Shutting down the engine, Jeremy hopped up on the poling platform and heaved us forward. I stood on the bow, battered but freshly sharpened fly in one hand, 7-weight in the other. The low angle of the sun coupled with the off-colored water meant that our chances of seeing anything were pretty low.

Suddenly, a fish spooked out beside the boat. The huge wake it made while stampeding down the waterway ahead of us literally made my chin drop. There it went, the fish I had dreamt of catching in Louisiana. She gon’ now, boy.

It was all happening quickly now; more fish blew out beside the boat as I grew frustrated, trying to watch every bit of water all at once. A redfish rolled to the surface, giving me a glimpse of a big orange flank; obviously spooked, the red went right, then back left. I flopped a cast where I thought the fish might go, trying to intercept it. Somehow, she did just what I wanted, and as the red barreled past my hastily stripped fly, I saw a gill flare. Left hand goes back, rod hand lifts – fish on!

Running hard, the redfish unwound line from my reel at an impressive rate, not stopping ’til it was about 20 yards deep into backing. Fighting a dogged battle, the fish made several more short runs. I enjoyed the fight, but I really wanted to put my hands on this fish. This was the one.

At boatside, I lifted her head from the water and admired her huge maw before carefully lifting her into the boat for pictures and a measurement.

She taped at 43″, not the biggest fish in the marsh but definitely on the upper end. A big thanks to Capt. Jeremy Chavez for his hard work and dedication. The following are all pictures taken by him of fish caught that day.

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Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

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Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

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Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

 

Sightcast in less than 2' of water.

Sightcast in less than 2′ of water. Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

 

And drumroll (drum! ha) – here she is.

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Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

 

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Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

 

A trip I will never forget. I’ve been looking forward to the next time since I left. Fair warning – that place will spoil you.

Louisiana – Headhunting

After a morning full of ‘baby’ redfish, some of which taped over 30″, Jeremy was ready to find some big ones. I was ready to see these giants for myself, and do battle.

Pushing off down the shoreline, we moved quickly to cover water as the sun climbed higher and allowed us better visibility. We came across a slight dropoff, and boom. There they were. Fish appeared in ones and twos, at 60 feet, at 10 feet, and everywhere in between. Some fish were obviously big – some were obviously bigger than even the massive bulls I had seen caught from the jetty. It was crazy. Never in my life had I seen anything like it.

This guy was practically on top of us when I spotted him and dropped a fly in his face. Fish on!

This guy was practically on top of us when I dropped a fly in his face. Fish on! Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

The calm conditions of the previous night had allowed sediment to settle out of the water, leaving it much more clean that the day before. We still weren’t able to spot fish that were hugging the bottom, but more often than not they would move off slowly enough for me to get a shot. A lot of the time, even after they spooked, they ate.

I'd say he liked it. I quickly de-hooked this fish and watched him swim away strongly.

I’d say he liked it. I quickly de-hooked this fish and watched him swim away strongly. Photo Credit: Austin Orr

 

Color didn’t seem to matter much to these fish, so of course that led to a game of ‘let’s see what they won’t eat.’ Not much, it turned out. I landed fish up to 39″. Most of the fish came on a 7wt. It was pure fun.

 

A marsh pumpkin swims away to fight another day.

A marsh pumpkin swims away to fight another day. Photo Credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

 

Prowling about the edges of the drop were groups of big uglies – massive black drum that stampeded when we floated over them. I quickly learned to keep a weather eye on these herds, because oftentimes there was a big redfish trailing along with them. Trying to work a fly in around the black drum in such a way that the redfish ate it first became an issue several times.

 

Dangit. Not what I wanted.

Dangit. Not what I wanted.

 

Despite my best efforts to make them spit the fly before they hooked themselves, I still hauled a few to the boat.

 

That’s when you know you’re spoiled.

Cody Moravits Benefit Tournament

Cody Moravits Benefit Tournament

I’ve known Cody Moravits for several years now. I’m not sure when we met the first time, but I do remember showing him how to cast a fly rod at an event here in Corpus at least 4 years ago. An avid fisherman and outdoorsman, Cody is happiest when he’s connecting with the sea and people who love the water as much as he does. Earlier this year, Cody was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which, let me tell you, really put a damper on his summer. He was living the dream, employed as a mate on the Nyati offshore fishing vessel. Friends and family have rallied around Cody during his time of need, and this weekend, Oct. 24, is a benefit tournament with proceeds going to Cody’s family to help defray medical costs.

I invited Cody over for a chat and ambushed him with an interview; I’m sneaky like that.

What did you think when you were first diagnosed?

“Well, whenever I found out I was stage 2, I was more relieved that they finally figured out what it was. From what I had been told, the cancer seemed to be contained in one little area. I took it a lot harder once I found out I was stage 4. It definitely makes you live your life differently, on a day to day basis. “

Cody went on to mention that he had been feeling off for some time previous, but after one visit to a doctor who essentially said not to worry about it, he was conflicted. A second opinion finally got things straightened out – the new doc came to him “…and just said ‘I’m just gonna go ahead and tell you, I think it’s lymphoma.’”

You’re employed as a mate currently?

“I was in major fear of losing my job – that I had just started – due to the illness. However, my boss was very understanding. One of my main sources of motivation is to get well and get back on the boat; some of the things I saw this summer when I was offshore were just remarkable. I have always looked up to my boss; he’s been a section leader in the Big Shell Cleanup for years and just getting to be around him is really cool.”

This year, Cody landed his first blue marlin. Photo credit: Facebook

This year, Cody landed his first blue marlin. Photo credit: Facebook

 

You do a lot of shark fishing from the beach right?

“I went offshore for the first time when I was 13 years old. I caught some kingfish… going from catching trout and redfish to kingfish was a pretty big jump for me. Since then, I’ve wanted to catch the biggest baddest fish possible. Given my limited money, that became shark fishing off the jetties and beaches in the coastal bend. “

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Photo credit: Facebook

“I’ve had some of the most humbling experiences of my life, just out on the jetty or the beach. The conditions are perfect, you’ve got the perfect bait kayaked out… and you don’t get a bite. It makes you realize that there’s more to shark fishing, more to fishing in general, than just catching a fish. It’s more about being out there and taking it all in. It does make the times when you catch a shark just that much better though!” Cody chuckles.

“Like tomorrow… I’m headed down the beach, but it won’t be a bust if I don’t catch any fish. I’m just looking forward to getting out there. Going down the beach without even a fishing rod at all… it’s a different experience when you’re not focused on catching a fish, when you’re more focused on the things around you. “

“You can know about the fish, but you’ve got to know about everything. And then, you can know about it, but that doesn’t mean you understand it. I feel like fishing can be like super philosophical you know. It’s… “

“Spiritual? “

“Yeah. It really is.”

Cody from a recent trip down the beach.

Cody from a recent trip down the beach. Photo credit: Facebook

 

Today, October 24, is the benefit fishing tournament for Cody’s family to help defray the cost of Cody’s hospital stays. Please feel free to donate if you didn’t get to join in the tournament fun.

Louisiana – Land of Giants; The first morning.

The next morning we were out the door fairly early, granola bars washed down with water and gatorade. There was no need to be out before the sun had risen high enough to warm the water and provide light for spotting cruising marsh pumpkins.

Layered against the windchill, we headed back to the general spot that we had left the previous evening. We figured it might be holding fish waiting for the sun.

After the cold of the boatride it was great to stand on the bow again, soaking up some sun and enjoying the excellent visibility. The area that we had fished the evening before was barren of fish except for one lone straggler that we blew out. Rounding a point, we headed up a shallow shoreline after crossing a deeper gut. Jeremy heard the characteristic sound of redfish crashing bait and poled us down the shoreline towards the commotion. We didn’t get far before we started running into fish.

 

Doubled up.

Doubled up.

 

First there was one, then there were five, then too many to count. Continue reading

Louisiana – Land of Giants

Louisiana – Land of Giants

It started with a phone call, or maybe it was a facebook message… or possibly an end-of-the-jetty bs session. I don’t remember; it doesn’t matter.

What mattered was that I rolled into Houston on that cool December night to meet up with Capt. Jeremy Chavez (Casting Tales Guide Service) and catch a ride on the Midnight Marsh Train headed to Louisiana. Rods loaded up, materials stashed, boat hooked up and off we went into the night.

Sunrise saw us well into Louisiana, stopping to pick up licensure. Regular ol’ saltwater license for me and a bonafide Louisiana guide license for Capt. Chavez.

Paperwork concluded, we headed for the water. I was practically hanging my head out the window like an eager bird dog, tongue lolling.

I watched as cities faded to towns, and towns faded to hamlets and fishing villages with tired houses and small, locally owned grocers.  The restaurants, like the houses, were small and weathered. I expected to find myself in the middle of all the cajun food I could eat; I’d find out later how mistaken I was.

Finally arriving at the water-side in the afternoon, we messed around with trying to arrange a place to stay. Due to the offseason doldrums, that was easier said than done. Eventually, we gave up and launched the boat; we had wasted enough fishing time.

Headed out of the marina on Capt. Jeremy’s Hell’s Bay skiff, I relaxed in the passenger seat and tried to take it all in. Continue reading

The Makings of Dedication

Flyfishermen are an introspective bunch, tending to philosophize a little more than our other fishing brethren. We like to catch big fish and high five about it, but we also like to talk about WHY we fish. I figure that is mostly because it’s something we ask ourselves often as we are picking another tangle out, or standing waist deep in frigid and/or shark infested water.

That being said, there are also physical and mental attributes that make a fly fisherman respected among his peers. A few days ago I read a post on Chi Wulff where a list of “reasonable fly fisher skills” for his area was laid out. I thought it was well done and it got me to thinking about what would pass for a good list in my area. Saltwater fly fishers have to deal with a different set of obstacles than coldwater fisherman, arguably separate but equal.

At any rate, I started thinking about what made a respectable salty fly guy/gal, and started asking a few of my more crusty friends for some input. Some were more tongue-in-cheek than others. This is a shortened list of what we came up with

  • Tell by looking out at the roadside palm trees in the glow of the streetlight roughly how fast the wind is blowing.
  • Be able to tell the difference between the wake pushed by a mullet and that of a redfish or black drum.
  • Know that terns always lie, but gulls can lead you to treasure.
  • Be able to filter the sounds of jumping mullet from the sounds of bait being crashed.
  • Fully load the vehicle and have kayak strapped on top, in the dark, in ten minutes.
  • Spot a tailing redfish from over two hundred yards on a good day, from over 50 on a bad one.
  • Knows where the most sheltered spots are to get away from the wind, but generally only fishes those on days over 20kts.
  • Must be able to two-handed strip at warp speed to trigger mackerel and other pelagic species.
  • Must be as comfortable laying in a back cast as a forward cast on target.
  • Be able to maintain relative composure as a fish bigger than your duck dog approaches your fly.
  • Not locking up when a red/bone/permit/tarpon suddenly appears less than 30′ from the boat.
  • Effectively pole a boat with and into the wind all day, positioning the caster for best shot on fish.
  • Know how to interpret tide chart and mentally calculate the difference in water movement for local area you plan to fish.
  • Navigate labyrinth marsh and marl while neither running aground or putting others in danger.
  • Be able to wade with ninja-like stealth while avoiding the mine field of oyster shell and stingrays.
  • Turn over a fly at 60′ into a 20kt wind.
  •  Cannot drive by hobby stores without wondering if they might have gotten any new foam or tinsel in…
  • Willing to endure withering wind and endless staring at empty water to hook the silver king from the granite of the jetty.

Winter is Coming

With the first major cold front of the year leaving Fall hanging in the air, it’s time.

Time to go fishing.

Get out there and take advantage of the bait migration, the cooler temps, the clear water, the low numbers of fishermen on football Sunday afternoons. Do yourself a favor – grab a fly rod and get out there.

 

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Continue reading

Fishing our way home

As good things must, our trip was drawing to an end. We were reluctantly headed back down the road towards Denver, determined to stop a few times to fish along the way. I was looking forward to getting some dry fly action in, which you might think is a little funny after catching several great streamer browns. I just love a topwater bite over any other. I think it might have to do with tempting a fish to enter my world, the world above water, if just for a little bit, if only with the tip of his nose.

I was planning on throwing a hopper all day.

We put the pavement behind us, already rehashing stories of the fish we had caught in the previous days.

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A couple hours later the truck was rumbling down gravel, then bouncing through potholes, and then resting in the shade of a riverside tree grove.

We wadered up as Brian filled me in on stories of fishing the water in years past. Rigging quickly as we talked, we smelled the river-smell and listened to the gentle chuckle of the riffle only a few yards away. Determined to get the dry fly eat that I was hankering for Continue reading

Rainbrowns – Afternoon trophy trouting

After my morning success, the guys decided to get serious about looking for large brown trout in the winding creek behind the house. Brian and I, along with our host, wadered up and set off to do a little bushwhacking.

Our host had explored a lot of the available territory, so he was able to point us in the direction of a few likely big fish haunts. In the warm, liquid light of a fall Colorado afternoon, we explored, fished, and enjoyed life.

 

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We didn’t see any hatches come off during the couple days we were there. The sand-silt bottom made for fairly murky visibility, so streamers were the name of the game. Brian had a fly box full of meaty goodness tied up by Fly Geek’s Matt Bennett, while I stuck with the battle-proven black Smullett that had coaxed many strikes already.

It’s easy to get frustrated when you’re sure that fish are around but none of them want to play. I figured I should move and cover as much of the stream as possible Continue reading