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. Most of them weren’t very big – 20-26″ inch fish. Jeremy scoffed at these reds; they were babies, he said. He told me to wait until I saw the truly big ones and I would understand why he said that. Talk about foreshadowing.

There for a little while we literally caught redfish at will, casting at the biggest fish in the numerous small pods that swam past us. Jeremy picked a good one out while I battled another, smaller specimen.

Cute little guy - 33". He swam away with a tag in him.

Cute little guy – 33″. He swam away with a prize!

 

Jeremy was participating in a tagging survey so we took the opportunity to tag some of the smaller fish that would be more likely to recaptured by other anglers later. This chunky 33″ fish was the largest fish we tagged.

One of the interesting things about my trip was the scars and other beauty marks that some of the fish had going on.

 

I named him "Scar."

I named him “Scar.”

This guy's eye was crazy looking!

This guy’s eye was crazy looking!

 

After catching 8 to 10 of the ‘smaller’ reds, it was time. We pushed off the shallow water to go find a little deeper edge that might hold larger fish. Midmorning in December, Louisiana – time find those giants.

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. The sun was starting down toward the horizon and there were some scattered clouds. I was interested to see how that would affect our sightfishing gameplan.

After a short ride, we dropped off plane and slid into a small bay where Jeremy had found fish a couple weeks prior. I stepped up on the bow, stripping a few feet of line off and balancing as Jeremy situated himself on the poling platform.

I am used to sightfishing for redfish in water a foot deep or less, but the water we were moving through at that moment was probably 3-4 feet deep. The water clarity wasn’t terrible, but the sinking sun made picking out deeper fish difficult… and we immediately began blowing out fish. Redfish straight out of legend mingled with bruiser black drum, resting on the bottom to absorb the solar heat.  Huge mud boils erupted as we eased forward, looking for fish closer to the surface that might give me a shot.

The funny thing was that it would’ve been easy to just blind cast out in front of the boat and pick up fish… but that’s not what we had come for. It’s a little crazy sometimes how many rules you will make for yourself when you’ve got a particular challenge in mind that you want to conquer. I was there to sightcast to reds, dangit, and I knew Jeremy felt the same.

Completing the first pass through the area, we began to pole out to a suitable location to fire up the engine. That was when I saw the sheepshead.

The black and white stripes appeared at 20 feet, and I didn’t even have time to tell Jeremy about the situation. The sun was behind us as I flicked a fly in the fish’s direction and waited for the inevitable exit explosion – sheepshead on the Texas coast don’t wait around very long when there’s a boat in the area, nor to they tolerate loud fly plop. Against all expectation, this sheepshead immediately perked up, and as the shadow of my silhouette slowly passed it by on the right, the fish swam into the shadow of the boat, almost at my feet, and ate. 

I had been frozen, rooted by the impossibility of the situation, but when I saw the gill flare I lifted the rod vertically upward as far as I could reach. Going up onto my tiptoes, I frantically tried to take every last bit of the slack out that had been collecting as we drifted forward.

It had to have been hilarious to watch.

I was rewarded with a bent rod and splashing water and mud as the sheepshead attempted to escape. I brought it to hand with a big grin on my face. If you know me, you know that sheepshead are my flats nemesis. I very, very rarely catch them on the flats. First Louisiana fish? A nice sheepshead. Awesome.

The dumbest sheepshead on the planet.

The dumbest sheepshead on the planet.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Chavez

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

Continue reading

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.

 

2014-10-07 16.16.02

 

2014-10-07 16.19.31

 

2014-10-07 16.00.39

 

2014-09-30 19.36.34

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.

2013-09-06 16.56.23

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, but not yet confident they were willing to eat on the surface, I tied on a hopper-dropper rig. Call me a noob if you must, but I love the versatility and functionality of using a floating fly as a strike indicator. It just makes sense to me to have as many options available to the fish as possible when you’re unsure of their mood.

I was soon to find out exactly what kind of mood the fish were in.

Brian and I strode down to the water, heading upstream of where we had parked to a more convenient wade-in point. Ever the gentleman, Brian encouraged me to forge slightly ahead and fish the beautiful shallow run, knowing I was craving an eat on dry fly. My first cast laid out flat, drifted with the current about 5 feet, and – whap! – a trout came up and smacked the hopper. I honestly wasn’t ready for it, so I missed that fish, but a huge grin lit my face. The next strike came a few casts later, my hopper slipping under the surface to tell me the midge dangling below the surface had found a fishy face to hang on to. A beautiful little rainbow trout was soon in my hand, with the truly vibrant color that the small trout seem to show off best.

Slipping the fish back in the water, we exchanged high fives and moved slowly upstream, working current seams and other likely water. I moved towards the shady far bank as Brian hooked and released several of the gleaming young trout. I moved a couple more fish on the dropper, but decided to trim the midge off and stick to the hopper. A few yards further upstream, at the end of a 12 foot drift down a current seam, this fish moved to take the fly just a rod length away. The moment is clear in my mind – watching the fly drift, the sudden blur of yellow-gold appearing from nowhere in a foot of clear water, the slashing take. Immediately the fish realized its mistake and ran downstream, almost going between my legs. After a brief but spirited fight, she came to hand.

 

2013-09-08 14.01.46

Not a bad fish for that stretch of water. My dry fly thirst was slaked. Before the anticipated afternoon thunderstorm rolled in I continued upstream, exploring and casting at likely pockets. A few more of the small river jewels were eager to bite, and I carefully released them as quickly as possible.

As the rain and lightning came down, we sheltered in Brian’s truck and dripped water from the brims of our hats, considering our next move. We knew the rain would murk up the water but what the heck. We were here.

After the rain had passed, we started downstream, swinging flies across the current to see if we could spark a strike in the off-color conditions. Brian quickly hooked a couple nice trout in a row, and before dark we had each caught a few more. As dusk settled in, we came to a  pair of small feeder creeks. One flowed with milk-white water at the top of a short, swift rapid. The other came in several yards below the swift water, high with frothy brown runoff, creating a stark color change before the waters mixed. I decided there was probably a fish hanging on the edge, and this was going to be my last cast anyway, so I stripped out a pile of line. The mouth of the creek was probably 60 feet away, so that conehead streamer was humming as it whistled by my head headed to the far bank. The line tautened, the fly zipping across the current, and just like that – bam. Fish on. A couple minutes later a 14 inch brown trout slipped from my fingers and Brian and I headed back to the truck.

Last cast, last day, awesome trip. Doesn’t get much better than that.

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.

 

2013-09-06 18.50.33

 

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, presenting a fly to as many fishy spots as I could. After an hour of stealthy approaches to likely water, difficult casts, getting hung up and not getting so much as a swipe, I was starting to think that maybe all the fish left. Or hated me. Or both.

Brian was unperturbed in the face of my blitzkrieg skunking. I made my way back to where we had split up, finding him not 25 yards from where I had left him. He was meticulously working his way through a prime lie, trying different fly weights, colors and retrieval styles. When I happened back by, he revealed that he had gotten one good bump and was going to try again with a different fly to try and trigger a strike. Just goes to show that methodical patience is sometimes the best approach.

I moved back upstream to give him space to work, but I didn’t get very far before I heard Brian call out – fish on!

Arriving out of breath from my wader-hampered jog, I assisted with the net landing. What a beautiful brown trout!

 

2013-09-07 19.22.13

 

2013-09-07 19.22.172013-09-07 19.22.48

 

Lots of congratulations and high fives followed. After the trout swam off strongly, the glow of victory made for a pleasant walk back up to the house even as the sunlight faded. We had done what we came for, and now it was time to enjoy some good food, drink, and camaraderie.

Trophy Trout: Accomplished.

Rainbrowns – In the Trees.

The next morning dawned cool and quiet, with the excitement from the nocturnal fish wrangling still lingering. I was just as ready to throw on waders as the previous morning, but Brian wanted to spend some time chatting with his buddy over coffee so they hung back at the house. I headed for a section of the creek that I had looked over but hadn’t given a proper chance to produce the big fish it looked capable of holding.

I felt confident in what I had learned about this new water, and I figured that I would be able to do a little headhunting for the bigger browns I knew had to be hanging in tight to the tangled cover. I had figured out that the browns were behaving a lot like snook, demanding a pinpoint accurate cast tight in next to cover to elicit a strike.

The creek bank was solidly lined on each side with willows, with only a few moose trails creating open paths. These trails had been enhanced in some areas with chainsaw and elbow grease, but the places I wanted to go were pretty darn thick. The close-quarters nature of the vegetation made casting a real headache, but I relished the challenge, the antithesis of throwing bomb casts over open water like I was used to.

It was extremely technical, close quarters fishing. Steeple casts and bow-and-arrow casts were my primary tools I moved from spot to spot. I made it to a shallow sandy riffle area that dropped off quickly, with an undercut bank on the far side. There just had to be a fish in there, but in order to land a fly on target I had to cast through a foot wide slot in the willows behind me and lay in on the backcast, making accuracy a real challenge. Not only that, but getting the rod to load with only the leader and a couple feet of flyline out the tip was quite the challenge.

My first cast fell a little short of the tiny gap in the willow branches that I was aiming for, but the second dropped right in. I actually couldn’t believe that I had managed it, to be honest with you. I let the black streamer sink down into the tannin-murk for a one count, and immediately began the retrieve. Well, I tried to begin the retrieve, but immediately came tight onto a branch. A branch that moved… not a branch!

A thrumming headshake and a quick turn downstream had my heart racing as I grudgingly gave line to the unseen fish. It immediately headed for the nearest tangle, but I had an 8lb (3x) fluoro leader on. I was able to apply some serious pressure to put the brakes on, and used the long lever of the fly rod to turn the fish. A few tense moments more, and a beautiful buck was in hand, my largest fish for the trip.

Brown trout giving me the crazy eye

Whutchew lookin’ at?

 

2013-09-08 07.35.57

I had a huge grin plastered across my face as I positioned the tired fish for a couple quick photos and then watched him slip from my hands back into the slow current. Mission accomplished… but let’s do that again!

Working downstream through another set of moose trails, I hit the creek again. I spotted a tempting brushpile downstream a bit and headed that way. My second step found me suddenly wading through knee-deep muck. Trying to be stealthy, I squelched my way into position. Using the creek as a casting lane this time, I laid out a cast parallel to the waterlogged limbs and began to retrieve.

This time, the thump! of the take reverberated with unquestionable fishiness. Then, quicker than I could think, the fish darted for the safety of the branches. Aww… crap.

 

2013-09-08 07.03.15

Ohhhh… beaver.

To the bottom left of the picture you can see the flyline and amnesia mono to which my leader is looped. The situation seemed grim, but I could feel the fish down there, thrashing. My leader held, so I was left with a choice; Break the fish off and let it perhaps die of starvation while tied to the brush pile, or go in after it. I sighed and started removing layers, down to t-shirt and waders.

Working my hand down the mono, freeing as I went, I ended up nearly to my shoulder in the frigid water. I had a great view of my wavering reflection, since my face practically rested on the surface film. I was almost as busy making sure I didn’t dip water into my waders as I was with untangling the fish, cussing quietly the whole time.

Eventually, I was able to drag the fish back up and out of the bottom of the pile, and a nice hen rose into the light.

 

2013-09-08 07.05.38

I snapped a picture and eased the trout back in the water. Since I was already wet, cold, and in the middle of the stream, I figured I might as well use the good casting lane to hit a couple points down the way that I couldn’t get at while on the bank.

Two casts later, a thump!

To my amazement, I was hooked up again. I was surprised all the commotion hadn’t turned off the pool.

Soon, another pretty fish was in hand, red bespeckled sides gleaming in the gathering morning brightness.

2013-09-07 07.11.01-1

2013-09-08 07.05.45

After she swam off, it was time to head back to breakfast. We had a day of fishing to discuss, and I was sure that the guys had cooked up a great plan along with the scrambled eggs and taters.

Rainbrowns – Nighttime is the Right Time.

After a delicious evening meal constructed around the fresh trout caught earlier in the day, we relaxed with a couple fingers of slow-burning scotch. Full bellies and the warmth of the living room dimmed our desire for heading back out in the evening chill, but tales of massive eruptions under mouse flies had us strapping into waders once again.

Quietly easing down to the beaver dam where I had gotten a bump the day before, Brian and I spread out and started casting.  I was chunking the same black streamer that had worked for me the evening before, while Brian was determined to experience a mousing strike. The water was cloudy, so I doubted that he would be successful, but I could definitely appreciate the goal.

The night was dead calm, and the coyotes sang from a nearby ridge as the Milky Way sprawled across the bejeweled velvet of the night sky. Long minutes of nothing ensued. The quiet shushing sounds of casting mingled with the rustling of small rodents going about their night-business. Casting at the far bank was a tricky endeavor; a wall of willow limbs waited for a fly cast just too far. Casting down the grassy near bank was much easier. I heard the plop of Brian’s mouse fly down the bank a ways to my right as he too fished the grassy shore. Suddenly, a surface commotion, followed quickly by the terse call – “Fish!” I hurriedly reeled in and moved down the bank to his position to see if I could assist.

2013-09-07 20.02.29

2013-09-07 20.03.28

A couple pictures later, the fish was once again a top predator lurking in the inky blackness. High fives all around – time to hit the sack and see what the morrow would bring.

 

 

Rainbrowns, Day 2

After a night of waking up every couple hours to check the clock – “Is it time to fish yet?!…No… Now?!… No…” – I finally woke up the last time to the giddy sight of a thin line of light on the eastern horizon. Time to fish! I hopped out of bed, crawled from my den of fly fishing tackle, and headed for my waders.

 

The air was still as I stepped out into the coolness of the morning. Walking to my fly rod Continue reading

Rainbrowns, Day 1

Rainbrowns, Day 1

I have a confession to make:

I don’t fish for freshwater trout very much.

I flyfish in areas that earn me googley-eyed looks and somewhat bewildered queries, often along the lines of “I didn’t think you could fly fish in saltwater/on the jetty/in the surf/offshore?”

On the jetty, I often get asked “Ever catch anything on that out here?”, with a nod towards my fly rod; so often, in fact, that I have started using it as an inside joke greeting with my fellow jetty flyfishers.

I mean, heck, this blog’s name illustrates my point – this isn’t Fresh396, or Coldwater396…

Anyway, I digress. My point is that I was given the chance to join a good buddy of mine in his native state of Colorado, fishing for freshwater trout with little rods and wimpy leaders. I expected it to be a blast. Continue reading