Every once in a while a fisherman finds himself invited along on an adventure of grand proportion with a bunch of complete strangers. Such was the situation a while back when I got a call from Brandon. When I heard Chris, Mike and Jen were all going to be there, I was excited for the chance to make new fly flinging friends and to show off my home waters a bit.
Everyone with their own favorite little water that they like to occasionally show to people knows that the guests always seem to arrive during crappy conditions. The fishing was So bad in fact that the ubiquitous 'shoulda been here yesterday' curse wasn't in effect this time; the fishing had been pretty terrible for a week or so already prior to the group flying in from their various places around the country. Brandon and I kept in touch and from time to time I would send him another depressing fishing report - I am pretty sure he dreaded my name on his caller ID after a while.
Long story short? We by-golly Did find fish for everyone, after some work. And frustration. And running from a squall. And more frustration.
Don't believe me? Well, the proof is in the pictures, and I didn't take a single one*... but I know a few people that did!
I was sitting on the very end of the Port Aransas south jetty in May, staring out over the windy, rolling chop as it was pushing in, when it occurred to me. “I want to catch a shark on a fly.” I said aloud to myself.
Why not? It's fairly common in Florida and other places around the world, but I only personally knew one or two guys here who had successfully targeted and caught them. One of these gentlemen was a man by the name of Clif, who happens to own the Texas state blacktip record on fly. He said that he had caught the 54.5” shark while out in a kayak past the breakers following schools of anchovies around. I figured if he could do it, so could I.
Now, I think most people that care to have, by now, seen or heard about the 12'6” tiger shark that was landed and released, (great job guys, by the way), over by Bob Hall Pier. Oh, we heard about it alright, saw pictures the day it happened. We watched the videos several times. Did this deter us from plunking ourselves into small plastic boats and paddling out past the breakers? Of course not. Hey, we never claimed to be smurt.
So the plan evolved and gained members, and we gathered the necessary safety gear and equipment to make our risk as low as possible. The group total came to 5, making for lots of eyes to make sure everyone was okay and lots of boats to distribute equipment around. All items in each kayak were safely leashed to the boat somehow; if you don't tie it down, you're asking to lose it. Just trust me. I've seen rods go swimming, and it ain't pretty.
After the seemingly inevitable rendezvous setbacks, (taco stops, forgotten tackle, you know the deal), we hit the beach. We decided to cruise the sand until we found a likely stopping point and strike out from there. After spotting big flocks of working birds in the middle distance, we stopped in line with them and loaded up our trusty vessels with a lot of very expensive gear that we hoped would still be attached to the boat when we got back to the sand. The surf was very slight and the flat conditions gave us the confidence that our little plan wasn't as insane as some of our doubters might've first thought.
After zipping out to where the birds were, we found huge anchovie bait-balls being completely molested by swarms of Spanish mackerel. The 'smacks', as they're affectionately known, were everywhere; free-jumping with bait in their mouths, schooled up under our kayaks, crashing the anchovie schools. It was chaos, casting into the frothing schools and the fish biting everything that was moving – connector knots, fly line, and fish slashing at anything remotely shiny in the water, including bare hooks. Anchovies schooled under my boat trying to use it as cover, and the streaking electric green and silver blurs that were smacks would rocket up from below to slash at them. It was every cast, can't not get bit for a short but furious span of time. I quickly got bored with underwater action and decided to try and feed my topwater addiction. I had never caught a smack on top before, and I wanted to add that to the list of accomplishments. A quick re-rig of my 40lb bite tippet – I don't use wire for smacks, just use a hand-over-hand retrieve as fast as possible – and I was blooping a gurgler through the swarms of screaming 'chovies. While my hook-up rate went way down, the way the fish kept blasting that poor fly made it worth the misses.
I was tired of the smack attack by that point, and was ready to drop something big down below the fray and see if anything of more substance lurked below the swarming mackerel. To my 25lb mono leader I attached a braided wire bite tippet attached to a heavy baitfish pattern tied on a 4/0 hook that I had made up the night before specifically for the trip. I laid my 10wt between my knees as I chunked the fly off to the side of the 'yak to organize the cockpit before heading off to the next spot. I looked up just in time to see the rodtip start to flex as something grabbed my fly and sounded for the bottom. Snagging the cork of my handle as it headed over the side, I found myself fast to a strong opponent. After an intense, bulldogging battle under the boat, I raised the fish close enough to the boat that I could see it – shark! I called out excitedly to my buddy and he drifted closer to see the action. After bringing the scrappy 30” shark to boatside, I veerrrry carefully removed the hook and snapped a picture to commemorate the moment. High fives all around!
That day and on subsequent trips we caught smacks, ladyfish, lots of atlantic sharpnose sharks (goal accomplished!), chicken dolphin (total surprise), kingfish, spadefish, some massive gafftop, small vermillion snappers and a small amberjack. Not bad eh? In short, it has proven to be a not-so-crazy way to go after some of the fish that're hard to reach from the beach. If you prepare correctly and use common sense, kayaking beyond the breakers (BTB) can lead to very rewarding fishing trips. If you have the gear, bluewater fly fishing can lead to some of the most intense encounters you will ever have while fishing.