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2

I woke up to sounds of exultation.

"Woo hoo! Look at that WATER!"

Obviously my fishing buddy Austin was awake. Walking to the window revealed a gorgeous sight.

Slicked out and mirrored. photo credit Austin N.
Slicked out and mirrored. photo credit Austin N.

We hurriedly grabbed a breakfast taco and loaded the boat. The boat ride to the deep flat we wanted to fish seemed surreal as the water continued to reflect the sky with near perfection. A slight breeze kicked up now and again, but most of the run was spent cruising across a mirrored surface.

Rollin' out
Rollin' out

As we drifted across the potholes studding the grassy flat, I was struck by the beauty of the area. The sun was shining, the water was green and clear, and the boat drifted nicely - not too fast, not too slow. My buddy Austin and I scanned for fish, hoping our eyes could pick out the outline or shadow of a fish in time to make a cast. Suddenly, a big wake started pushing up ahead of us - I strained my eyes trying to make out the fish. Sheepshead! A whole school of the tricky buggers was already spooked and running away from us. Ah well - chances of catching them were pretty slim anyway. Besides the sheepie sighting, pickings were slim so we decided to anchor the boat and strike out in waders. This would allow covering the water slowly and deliberately, usually a must when the water is cold.

I don't know what it was but neither of us were feeling very confident about the spot, though it fit all the criteria for winter fish-holding water. I was considering walking to an area nearby that looked much shallower, but wanted to make sure that Austin agreed. As I started walking back towards him, he suggested that we should go check out the shallows that I already had my eye on! Sometimes you wonder about things like that... I laughed and said definitely.

So it was that Austin, myself, and his dog Goose found ourselves walking through some mangroves, instinctively trying to step quietly even though neither of us expected to see any fish.

My attention was attracted by a small flock of redhead ducks across the way, but Austin was practically on point when he asked me in a low voice if I saw the same fish he was seeing.

My head snapped around and I immediately found the spot he was looking at - the only ripple on an otherwise smooth surface. I then looked back further into the shallows and spotted three, four, five more glimmering spots...

"Redfish!", I said with a grin. "Backing redfish."

Wriggling around with their backs out of the water, these fish were spread out and foraging across the flat.

We started forward, gingerly working our way across the mucky bottom and trying to make as little noise as possible. While Austin approached the first glistening back we had seen, I split off and started to stalk a tailing fish.

Unhappy Dog
Unhappy Dog

 

Poor Goose was left staring after us on the shore, clearly unhappy with the turn of events.

 

I stalked after my fish, struggling to stay quiet and push as little pressure wave in front of me as possible. Even so, the fish seemed to sense me and moved steadily away, until I figured I had no chance. Suddenly, movement in my peripheral vision caused me to instinctively freeze; a fish was lazily tailing less than thirty feet away! I swore softly to myself and adjusted for the cast, dropping slowly to one knee as the fish meandered closer. Twenty feet... I flipped a cast ahead of him, the soft plop making him turn his head toward my offering. Twitch... and the fish surged forward, waking violently toward the 'shrimp' that had suddenly appeared in front of him. I waited for a sign that he had eaten it as I grinned like a fool; this, after all, was what it was all about. I waited and...

He missed it! Total wiff. Spinning quickly, he snatched for it again, but by that time the fly had sunk into the grass. Resuming his leisurely pace, the fish slid forward a few feet and then rested on the bottom... roughly twelve feet away from where I crouched. Totally screwed!

Crouching fisher, hidden redfish
Crouching fisher, hidden redfish

I was afraid to blink, afraid to even breathe hard. I slowly moved my phone into position and snapped the above shot. Seconds stretched into minutes and he still didn't move. I could hear Austin fighting a fish behind me and I wanted to get a picture so I lightly tapped the water with my rod tip to disturb him as gently as possible so he didn't blow up. That worked great right up until he started moving forward - evidently he saw me. Floosh! Away he went. Crap. Oh well.

I sloshed across the flat back over to Austin who was holding his fish up, and admiring it as it gleamed copper and silver in the sunlight...

To Be Continued...

 

2

First fish of the day!
First fish of the day!

I love getting to fish with a partner on days like that - sharing the moments of what I would describe as fishing bliss. The day that came before the day when you 'shoulda been here'. THE right spot at THE right time.

Austin carefully cradled his fish for a couple quick hero shots, and then eased it back into the water. We watched it swim off and traded high fives.

Splitting up again, we slowly shuffled our way across the flat, staying roughly even with each other as we went. Stingrays dotted the muddy patches between eel grass like landmines. Fortunately when they buried down in the silt they left a tell-tale blackened area, so they were easy to spot. Still a little nerve wracking though, especially when you're focused on a tail in the middle distance and glance down to see one right in your path.

Tricky tricky. I see you...
Tricky tricky. I see you...

 

Austin spotted a pod of tailing fish, and then I sighted another one; the closer we got to them, the more stingrays we saw. Picking our way to the schools of fish, we suddenly had a problem - we were surrounded! In front of us, a marauding pack of reds was slashing through small baitfish. Behind us, a school was moving up through the silt cloud we left behind as we moved. We thought quickly and overcame our tactical disadvantage as best we could; back to back, we cast at opposite schools and hoped for a double. Forgoing finesse, I plopped a fly into the heart of the school I faced; half a dozen strips and my fly was headed swiftly in the opposite direction, locked firmly in a fish's jaw. Austin quickly came tight as well, but that red managed to toss the hook in short order.

I managed to pull this little piggy out of the middle of a cruising school Photo cred Austin N.
I managed to pull this little piggy out of the middle of the cruising school
Photo cred Austin N.

 

As we walked off the flat later that day, I reflected that it had been one of the most unexpectedly successful trips I had had in a long time. I guess after you fish water for a while you start to feel like you know it, and grow a little complacent. You start fishing spots you know instead of breaking out and fishing new water, taking the chance that you'll catch nothing but a day well spent. What had led us to that shallow backwater? I couldn't tell you exactly, but it stemmed from our innate desire to explore, to see what lay beyond the mangroves. So, take that journey - go around that river bend, just because it's there. The best way to go is with friends who feel the same way, sharing the adventure and increasing the safety for everyone.

 

The next time you head out, I hope you experience the fishing bliss that can be found in serendipity. That's what it's all about my friends.

 

Great fish caught by Austin. Photo cred Austin N.
Great fish caught by Austin.
Photo cred Austin N.

 

3

 

There are times when fly fishing - and blogging - can seem a lonely pursuit. Hey, most of the time I kinda prefer it that way. Sometimes though, we need solidarity; we need one voice. These are the times when we need to all be in the same room at once, finally getting to put names to faces and enjoy the company of people who share our mindset. Such was the occasion on January 8, when I joined many of my fellow fly fishers and conservation enthusiasts in gathering to help support the Bristol Bay protection effort. If you are just hearing about this topic, you can visit these resources, or watch the documentary Red Gold that outlines the impact not only felt by, but to be dealt to, the local ecology and the local people. My position is a little biased of course but I feel like the guys at Felt Soul Media did a great job of trying to portray both sides of the story.

 

It was great to finally meet Christine Warren, aka Fly Fish Chick and once again run into fly slingers like Amanda of Red's Cottage photography and custom fly tying, Gabriel Langley, Matt Bennet and Chris Johnson of Living Waters Fly Shop, and a host of other comrades who love the woods and water. A special thanks goes to Banning Collins of Class V Outfitters for helping organize and promote this important event.

 

The raffles were great, the venue was warm and dry on a wet, chilly day, and the networking was fast and furious. A great cause was supported, and even as the specter of utter doom and disaster hangs over one of the most prolific and beautiful areas in the world... a ray of hope shines. We can help, and I ask you now, learn about this issue. Please. If not for yourself, for your grandchildren, and their children's grandchildren. We only get one chance to do this right.

 

Sportsmen are standing up and drawing a line in the sand, and you and I and all of us can make a difference here. We are in this together - you are not alone.

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