A Bass to Remember

The river wasn’t a big one by most standards. Brandon Fox of Sea Level Apparel and I had decided to take a drive and see if we could find any hill country carp.The cypress trees along the river, buttressed against the threat of flood, spread branches thickly curtained with Spanish moss. A dense deposit of rounded cobble and gravel crunched and shifted underfoot, sculpted by years of flood. In the shade of one of the towering cypress, we stepped lightly into the water.   Minnows scattered from around our legs and curious bluegill stared for a moment before darting away. I moved downstream, casting where it seemed I should. Cool, clear water embraced my calves as a light layer of bottom muck covered my toes. A few panfish nibbled to indicate their interest, and a sudden bump prompted me to lift the rod into the first bass of the day, a little guy who was swiftly returned to the water.

As he darted for the deep, I turned and studied the bank downstream. It curved lightly back to the left, with several large trees shading the inside curve. There was a shallow mucky area right before the curve, and a dropoff just past that. It looked like prime carp territory. I carefully approached the shallows, scanning for any signs of mud puffs or cruising fish. No one was home on the flat, so I eased over towards the dropoff.

A shadowy spot underneath a big cypress caught my eye down the way, and I laid out a cast to see if any fish were willing to play. Nothing for the first and second casts, but I caught a nice redbreast sunfish on my third cast. Encouraged, I laid one more extra long cast past the shadow, working the fly slowly along the bottom.

Hop… hop… the fly stopped with the subtle feel of a sunfish strike. I struck back, raising the rod and coming tight to a fish that suddenly grew much larger than the bite had indicated. I didn’t know what I had, but I knew it was a good fish; it ran hard enough to take some drag and made me think I had latched onto a big channel catfish. The fish came up and showed its flank; my first thought was holy crap! That’s a bass! A big bass!

After a few tense moments, the fish was in hand. It was the biggest bass that either myself or Brandon had seen landed on that river, and my personal best on fly. I will never catch a bigger bass from that river system, fly or otherwise.




A Walk in the Winds, part deux

A glacier-fed drinking fountain.

A glacier-fed drinking fountain.


As I bushwacked my way up the creek drainage, it became apparent that I needed to take my time and be careful. If I fell off a blown down tree and got critically injured, I was on my own. Another thing was maintaining my hydration level. Fortunately, I was in the Wind River Mountains. As long as I stayed along the creek, drinking was no problem, but as I was forced to venture higher up on the mountain it wasn’t long until my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. I came across the rill pictured above and drank over a liter of its clear, cold goodness.



I continued upward over the increasingly rugged terrain. Breaking out of the deadfall, I scrambled upward through the scree field. For those not familiar with the term ‘scree’, it refers to the boulders and rocks that are shed from the mountain face over the eons. These rocks tumble down the mountainside, eventually coming to rest on other rocks that came before. Eventually, the entire lower slope can be covered with scree, forming a dangerous obstacle for hikers. Scree is known for being predictable only for its unpredictability. Even large rocks resting in scree can shift and tilt, sliding or even tumbling down the slope from under a hiker’s foot.

There was no way to judge exactly how the rocks are going to react, so when traveling across scree I was extremely cautious. The lichen on the rocks was beautiful, creating a living mural across the entire rockslide area.


I admit I was annoyed when I came across signs of human passage; cairns. On the high rock in the middle of the above picture is the first one I found. I was annoyed because I didn’t want anyone else to be up where I was going. I had hoped that the gnarly approach through deadfall and across scree would keep most casual hikers at bay. Still, it was nice to know that the ‘trail’ I had chosen to follow was going somewhere useful.

At this point I had about three hours ’til nightfall. I needed to make it another mile or so up to the lake, and assess the terrain before I decided where to bed down for the night. I pushed onward, excited to be so close to my goal.


A Walk in the Winds

I shut my car door and swung my pack on. As I clicked the waist and chest straps closed, it hit me – I was going in, with no help, and there was a small chance I might not make it back out.

I had planned this trip for months: a solo jaunt back into the mountains chasing rumors of the fabled golden trout. Spending hours online, I had scoured relevant forums, researched the best gear, sniffed out online deals, and generally glutted myself on the euphoria of hardcore gear prep. I perused maps both old and new, digital and paper, hand-drawn and satellite imaged. I was as materially ready as I could be, and as knowledgeable about the area as other people’s experience could make me. A true adventure, a trip past where I had pushed myself before. I was stoked.

As I drove back into the national forest lands towards the trailhead, I was struck by the beauty of the surroundings. The light green of the rolling sagelands splashed against the dark green canopy of the pine forest. Streams and creeks dissected the verdant scene, powered by meltwater from unseen glaciers and mountain springs.

I arrived at the trailhead parking lot and glanced at license plates as I pulled in. Georgia, Arkansas, Alaska, Kansas, Minnesota, with plenty of Wyomingites too. As I made one last check of my pack, I hoped that most of the hikers had set off down a different trail than I planned on using. I locked the doors, stowed the keys, and swung my pack on. Time to go for a walk.

The trail crunched under my feet as I moved away from the trailhead towards the mountains. I carried no water, just my Sawyer filter and squeeze bottles. I knew from the maps that streams were common and slaking my thirst would be easy without the 8 pounds to a gallon of water weight on my back. Mountains lifted away from me on either side, towering into the sky. The rugged granite faces were creased with fault lines, and shadowed crevices hosted hold-out patches of snow throughout the year.

I steadily worked my way upwards, headed back into a creek drainage littered with deadfall and other nasties that slowed my forward progress. Between crawling over trees and figuring out how to cross the swift, frigid streams, I was making a good 0.5 mph.

Working on my balance.

Working on my balance.

I can't see the deadfall for the trees.

I can’t see the deadfall for the trees. Not my most joyous moment.

Impressive, I know.

However, I figured that the harder the trail in was, the higher probability that I would catch some big fish.

Well, that’s assuming nothing funny happened along the way, which, knowing me, would definitely happen.


I crossed the stream over those logs in the foreground. Then I had to cross back.

I crossed the stream over those logs in the foreground. Then I had to cross back. Good times. 

It’s not even spring yet?

Sleet dribbles steadily from a glowering sky, the last vestiges of Winter returning to haunt us. To prove it, thick wet flakes fell earlier in the morn, managing to stick just enough. Parked cars now sported frozen, sloughing calluses of ice from windshields and hoods. My feet are cold, and the sleet’s windblown patter skitters across the roads, freezing and melting by turns.

But now the central heating kicks on. Ah, isn’t living in this time and place so grand sometimes?

No, today I am not crazy enough to go brave the cold and nasty to catch more pike. I have caught them, and walleye, though little else. I tried for smallmouth last week, but… I’m getting ahead of myself.

I have much to catch you up on, dear reader, so off we go.

My arrival in North Dakota you’ve already seen, culminating a grand journey through the plains which allowed me to see and enjoy country that I’d never been to, as well as savor the parts that I knew and loved.

But once I got here, then what happened? Well, of course I immediately tried to start finding places to fish. I was hungry to catch a northern pike. The only issue was that Nature hadn’t caught up with me yet. The ice was still on the lakes, and fish were, for the most part, inaccessible to fly fishermen.

I scouted out a couple local dam tailraces that were clear of ice, but the flows were extremely low and locals had fished those areas hard all winter. I had no recourse but to be patient while Spring got things kickstarted, opening the lakes up and getting the fish thinking amorously. The pike spawn soon after iceout, and then linger in the steadily warming shallow bays and wait for other fish to move shallow.

I knew that, and I went looking. I focused on shallow water, especially edges thick with cattails and brush. I got hung up enough that I started tying big flashy bendbacks to slither through the sticks.

Finally, after a couple of weeks of searching, I hook a stick that wasn’t a stick. Fish on!… off. Though I had lost the first one, I felt triumphant. The next sunny afternoon, I went back.

Working the edge of the marshy slough, I moved down the bank towards a fishy looking clump of timber. Probing casts hit every likely pike lair, but no strikes. Somewhat perplexed, I started to move on down the bank. Out in the open water past the trees, I got my first solid jolt – hooked up! A few moments later, I said hello to my first northern on fly. I was stoked.

First pike on fly!

First pike on fly!


Their tails are beautiful.

Their tails are beautiful.

Hard work, research, planning and execution… plus a good dollop of that secret sauce, luck. I’ll take it! 

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.









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.


Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez


Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez


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.


Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez



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. “


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