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Spring is green water, and the first week of sunny days without a cold front to bust the pattern. Spring is out once again on the warm granite of the jetty, remembering the times before, anticipating the times ahead. Spring is a lightning slash through schools of tiny baitfish; a flicker of black forked tail re-entering the water in the afternoon sun, as terns dip and wheel, crying the raucous song of their people. Spring, for me, really truly starts when the Spanish mackerel arrive at the jetty.

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Breakfast is served... on the rocks.

They're not the biggest, or the fastest, but they're big enough and fast enough to make your reel sing, your heart rate elevate. They've got a face full of razors and they mean business; they'll slice you good if you're careless while de-hooking. Follow the birds and you'll often find the Spanish, ripping up the surface as they slap-chop baitfish. In the picture above, they had corralled schools of bait against the rocks of the jetty and were systematically shredding them. They can often be found right off the rocks; for this reason, they're a great introduction fish for jetty fly neophytes. In my next post, I'll talk more about that.

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My buddy Zach with his first saltwater fish on fly, a hard-pulling Spanish Mackerel.

Size 2 clousers in your favorite color combo, heavy on the flash, retrieved as fast as you possibly can. No wire needed, just 50lb bite tippet if you start getting bitten off. Simple, and at times very fast-paced. Spring has smacked, and soon... very soon... the summer will kick off for real. I can't wait.

This year was one for my personal recordbooks. I had many things happen that I had planned on, such as the successful one year anniversary of my blog. I had things happen that I had hoped for, such as a succession of calm, flat days offshore that were ripe for chasing big pelagic fish. And then of course I had the things that I never dreamt of, such as my stunner of a lake trout experience. Grab your preferred adult beverage, and let's think back... waaaay back...

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Early in 2013, I had the chance to go try and find some redfish and/or speckled trout with a good buddy of mine. We didn’t expect much, knowing that cold waters would have the fish lethargic and deep water blind casting would be the name of the game. Boring, yes, but better than not trying at all. So we chunked fuzz in the deepwater pockets and drifted promising edges, but we might as well have stayed home it seemed. Then, on impulse, we scouted some new water over the figurative and literal hill, and hit red-gold. Boom, said the tailing redfish. ...continue reading "The Salt396 Guide to 2013"

One thing you need to understand about the jetty is that it is a gateway, a portal between the endless openness of the Gulf and the more familiar inshore flats and waterways. Some jetties frame vast shipping thoroughfares, such as the Corpus Christi Ship Channel or the Houston Ship Channel. These channels are roughly 60 feet and 45 feet deep, respectively. To give you an idea of scale, this makes them deeper than the natural depth of the water over 10 miles offshore ...continue reading "The Portal – Jetty Intro, cont."

As I jot this story note on my smart phone, the water at the end of the jetty is a roiled, sandy mess. Wind is kicking up past 20mph, and the wind-generated swell is sloshing over the windward rocks with more than enough force to render line management a nightmare. There is so much sediment in the water that even the foam on the waves is tan.

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The leeward side is a little better – patchy blue, much more calm – but I’ve been here 45 minutes and haven’t even wet a line. Haven’t seen a reason to. No bait flipping around, no swirls, no rolls, no greyhounding mackerel… just nothing. Might as well be sitting at a stoplight in town for all the fish activity I am seeing.

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That’s the jetty though; feast or famine, with little margin between.

Yet, still I come back. Even now I’m glancing up every couple sentences, deliberating my next words while scanning for a glimpse that things around about to change. Because they do change out here – that’s the only thing predictable, the change. I’ve seen a dead day like today go from zero to a million miles an hour in less than thirty minutes. Tide change, pockets of green water, a raft of mullet moving in from down the beach or offshore, and suddenly there are chunks of mullet flying around as jacks harass and kings destroy. A school of tarpon could pop up, or a log could float in with a ling or tripletail hanging under it.

I have seen all these things happen before, and they could all happen today. But they probably won’t, so I’m about to stand and stretch some life back into my legs, get off this tall rock, and head in.

Win some, but lose more – those are the rules of the jetty.

I had been on the end of the jetty since before sunrise, but I still felt like I was late to the party.

Good morning sun
Good morning sun

When Jeremy (who blogs at Casting Tales) joined me, he found me sitting glumly on my fly box, staring out over the water, waiting for a sign. I had seen one ‘maybe’ tarpon roll, just a flash of movement that could have been a turtle grabbing a breath.

Now it was starting to get hot, ...continue reading "Jumper"

The jetty is a place both forbidding and misunderstood. A pile of granite is as alien to the beach landscape as a skyscraper rising suddenly from a Kansas wheat field. What some people don’t think about is that a jetty is just a metaphor for human defiance of nature. Without those huge chunks of pink igneous rock, the ocean would quickly silt in the pass and shipping commerce would literally grind to a halt. Thousands of tons of granite are splashed into position, jostling and settling into their sandy resting place. Then, unexpectedly but inexorably,  ...continue reading "Jetty on the Fly: An Intro to the Intro"

I got the word via text – water looked good, the mackerel were in, and Chris just caught another one. I couldn’t jump in the truck fast enough. “Smacks” are toothy speedsters, usually the first pelagic fish to move in near shore and present fly chuckers a chance from the jetty. A small, flashy fly to imitate the anchovies that were schooled in abundance around the granite slabs, and it was game on.

Quickly popping the hook to return the s'mack to the depths...

...continue reading "And just like that, we’re on a boat!"

8

Spray sprinkled over his back, trickling in slow, salty rivulets. The windward side of the jetty surprised another wave, who had not heard about the granite tribute to human shipping and transport. Swirling water drove full force into the slimy, barnacle-speckled rock; the misty remnants arched across the jetty, driven by the stiff onshore breeze.

Sentinel

Perched on the farthest leeward jut of rock that could be reached, he swept a polarized gaze across the green water, watching for a sign. The shirt he wore rattled in the wind; what had started as a rich olive had faded to almost tan, sweat stained and sun-bleached from uncounted days in the heat. A beat up ball cap, sunglasses, and tarpon scaled buff shaded face and neck. His right hand gripped the worn cork of a 10wt – his left hand held the 80lb bite tippet, while the big baitfish fly swung loosely, waiting. A homemade stripping basket sat low on his hips, holding the coils of line he had stripped from the reel in preparation of a cast.

Rolling his shoulders against the ache of casting all morning, he glanced at the sun. Tide should be dropping anytime now. Fishing the incoming tide in the morning hadn’t produced, against all expectations. Now it was near noon, and the fisherman wasn’t nearly as confident.

The rocks shielded the area in front of him from the worst of the waves.  In this relative calm, the water was dark with shifting clouds of small baitfish. A cruising school of larger mullet some distance from the rocks suddenly scattered, throwing roostertails of water into the air.

The random bait movement of slack tide started to change, and nervous water told the angler that predators were on the move. First randomly, then concertedly, Spanish mackerel began slashing through the rafts of mullet. The fisherman watched with slight interest, but did not cast. He had caught plenty of the small predators; today was about bigger game.

The man waited for what followed the s’macks, and what followed them was the stuff of baitfish nightmare.

Razor-lined jaws agape, the king mackerel lifted effortlessly from the water, leaving behind a bloody path of rent flesh and dying mullet. Death stalked among them and took freely. First one, then three, then suddenly a dozen kings were skyrocketing from beneath the mullet which scattered and panicked to no avail.

The first skyrocket was well beyond casting range, but the angler smiled. Showtime. Rolling his shoulders again, he turned and gauged the wind speed and direction, choosing his window of best casting space. Tossing the fly up into the breeze, he began the rhythm of the double haul. Straight into the wind he punched his forward cast, and on his back stroke he finished high and allowed the line to shoot.

And shoot it did.

The wind grabbed onto the sailing fly like a new toy, wrenching it through the air. The fly line dutifully followed, zipping up out of the stripping basket like slurped spaghetti. The line hissed where it contacted the guides and pinged tight against the arbor of the reel when it could fly no further.

The fly rolled over and landed with a slap in the nervous pod of big mullet. Darting, they slid away, then slowed. Twitch… twitch… the big fly undulated, shimmering, and then dropped again slowly. Drifting. Dying. Then another strip. Slowly, the fisherman worked the fly back.

No takers.

Stripping basket full, the slender piece of graphite flexes deeply to overcome the headwind. Haul, slip line, haul and let ‘er go… hisssss-ping. Sinking, dying, undulating…

Suddenly the mullet go everywhere; the angler finds himself looking up at a king that seems to be lifting off. A glittering silver missile nearly 5 feet long, reaching altitude and leveling off a good twelve feet above the water before reentering with hardly a dimple.

My god.

The angler thought he heard someone gasp behind him, but he was intent on the water and the slow cadence of the strip. Strip, twitch, dying… and gone. Vanished in the middle of a swirl the size of a Volkswagen.

The line ripped through his fingers, burning deep lines in his skin; he swore and jerked his hand back.  The reel screamed; a high, buzzing whine that intoxicated the angler’s senses and threw his adrenaline into over-drive.

Backing zinged through the guides; after many long seconds he dared start to palm the reel. He could feel the headshakes thrum thrumming back down the line, and the fish slowed. Sensing weakness, the fisherman really put the brakes on. He planned to try and release this fish; if given the chance the big king would fight to the death.

Cranking down on the drag, he began to pump the fish back to the rocks. Another short run; the king mack was spent. Quickly calculating the safest spot to land the fish, the angler gingerly made his way out on the slick rock. Leading the fish by in front of him, he grabbed the mackerel’s tail and popped the hook from the formidable jaws.

Suddenly a shadow fell over the water; looking up, the angler saw a nice looking family gazing somewhat incredulously at his catch, with a little girl clinging wide-eyed to her father.

Knowing he had no time to lose, the fisherman quickly began moving the king back and forth through the water, hoping for signs of recovery. The mack twitched and flexed, causing iridescent colors to play in a ripple down its flank. Gradually, the fish seemed to grow stronger. While the king revived, the man chatted with the parents. They asked about the catch and fly fishing, and the fish grew stronger and swam away well.

One satisfied angler.

The father asked what kind of fly the fish ate. The man replied that he hadn't named it yet, but after a fight like that it deserved a name.

He grabbed the bedraggled remains of the once proud fly and showed it to the little girl.

"What would you name it?"

She looked at it with serious brown eyes, considering. Decision reached.

“Cookie Monster.” she said.

Taking a look at the forlorn, shredded blue tuft of fuzz with its one remaining eye, he laughed.

“Cookie Monster it is, little miss.”

Saying goodbye to the family, he began back down the jetty toward land. The tide was still moving but he’d caught his fish.

Back at the truck, he turned the fly over and over in his hand, remembering the magnificent mackerel. An old book from childhood popped into his mind… If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

The story goes that if you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll start making all kinds of demands and the moral is to never give a mouse a cookie.

The moral of this story? If you give a king a cookie, he’ll want to take all of your backing, break your rod, smoke your reel, and ruin your fly… But I bet you’ll be okay with that.

 

Watching it approach...

The rain STUNG.

Out on the unprotected jetty, the wind-driven downpour was merciless.

Dropping straight out of the ominous squall that spawned them, millions of raindrops hurtled towards the green, white-capping waves of the Brownsville ship channel. The wind whipping the water into a froth caught the dripping drops and accelerated them. Laughing maniacally, the raindrops aimed directly for the most improbable target they could find – the inside of my left ear.

A shrimp boat tows another one in during the developing squall.

Ever been given a wet willy by a storm? It’s not fun.

I quickly learned to hold up my left hand over that side of my face to cover my ear and eye. I had already slid my Buff off my face down onto my neck – when soaking wet they can suffocate you, and I had no interest in being water-boarded by a storm.

As we made our perilous way down the rock, I couldn't help but think that the New England jetty guys would be laughing at us - they probably fish in those conditions all the time. Stepping across a crevasse between granite blocks, my peripherals caught motion. Glancing over as I kept walking, I saw a blurred, upturned face with water streaming down it. A fellow jetty-goer, trying to shelter from the storm. The only problem was that there was no shelter to be had. The waves were slamming over the jetty by this point, giving us alternate soakings in salt and fresh water.

The short walk down the jetty had turned into hours, miles of jagged slick rocks and pounding surf. It was easy to compare to a huge, storm-born beast; slavering granite jaws, buffeting gusts of cold, stinging breath. Any misstep meant broken gear and blood, at the least.

The Long Walk

The rocks are always hungry.

 

Smack in the Storm

 

Look at that smile.

 

 

A couple boats revved up and started chasing the ephemeral school, spooking the fish time and time again and only catching one of the small tuna. We watch, and grumble, and wait for our turn.

Capturing some filmage.

 

Suddenly, Don comes tight. I see him struggle with a knot in his fly line for a moment before it is ripped from his fingers, popping a snake guide and launching the top half of his rod out into the green swirling waters. I move quickly across the rocks to assist. Any second the hard-running tuna could pop a knot or graze a rock, and bye bye rod tip...

Don 'Half-rod' Alcala works a bonito

A little bit of chaos ensues - the knot is removed, the fish surfaces by the rocks, and the other half of the rod is safely retrieved. Whew. We were all a bit worried there.

 

Que Bonito!

 

After that the fishing settled down and the sun climbed up in the sky. A few small jacks and large ladyfish rounded out the morning, but no tarpon rolled and the bonito didn't deign to return close enough to the rocks to catch. So it goes. We walked back down the rocks vowing that it would be different when we had a boat to get out there and chase them... as generations of anglers have done before us. Despite the lukewarm fishing, it was great to get out there with my friends and enjoy a beautiful morning.

 

And on to the next spot.

 

Keeping an eye out as the rollers come in.
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