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.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Chavez