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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; The first morning."

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"

 

 

IMG_4020

We were running a little behind, as you know sometimes happens on trips you’re trying to really prepare for. My buddy Adam (who writes a hilarious tale) was already at the rendezvous point, and I was quizzing him as to how the water was doing.

“Oh I don’t think we can go out there man. Way too dangerous. There’s three whole sets of surf and they look to be almost 18 inches tall…”, he said in a dire tone of voice.

...continue reading "Cobia de Mayo"

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!"

The last minute scramble; the boat dock rendezvous with your buddies.

Boat in question belongs to a not-so-favorite family member, but it’s better than no boat.

The pit-of-stomach sinking when the engine doesn’t start; buy a new battery, she starts!

Now the tilt doesn’t work. Great.

We’ll work around that. Just get her off the lift into the water, and we’ll get going.

...continue reading "Fishers in the Wry"

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.

 

When the alarm went off he quickly snagged his phone from the bedside table and silenced the trilling tone. Mental note to self – get better alarm tone. A reel screaming or something. Anything.

Outside the wind is still howling when he pokes his head out for the local weather report. The palm tree silhouettes lash wildly, and the the wind speaks with a low moan where it pushes between the buildings. Pushing 35, and he has a friend in from out of town.   Them’s the breaks – time fall back on the contingency plans.

A string of grumbled swearing announces the fishing partner waking up. Best not to speak until the first cup of coffee is consumed.

While the coffee maker gurgles softly in the background, the soft blue glow of the laptop screen illuminates the fisherman’s face.  Weatherman says it’s gonna blow out there. Nah, really? By the way, tide is slack til almost noon. Great. Well, the good thing about that much wind is it'll create its own tidal movement. He clicked over to a satellite map to consult.

Quickly going over his mental list of fallback options, he picks out a couple likely candidates. Both offer secluded pockets of water that are wadeable, within walking range of a parking area so no boat is needed. To fight the wind sometimes you gotta keep feet on the ground.

The truck loaded, fishing partner with large coffee mug in hand, tunes cranked up; they’re off, heading towards the eastern horizon just catching a hint of grey from the day to come. The partner doesn’t say much – he knows today is going to be tough. The fisherman had been warning him all week the weather looked like crap, but he was by golly here to fish and fish he would. Wind be damned.

They pull off the blacktop and wind down a rutted sand track, crawling the truck though holes with the confidence of experience. The vehicle knows the road just as well as the driver, and together they get through as they have so many other times. The fisherman takes time for an affectionate pat on the dusty dashboard. Thatta baby. Good job old girl.

The man knows his partner wants to see tailing redfish, and they came to this spot for that reason. Sometimes reds would get up on this particular patch and tail or cruise. Most of the time there weren’t many but usually they were larger fish, singles and doubles. Large sand dunes and the bulk of the barrier island created somewhat of a wind break for the area – it was the best he could think of.

The sun had snuck up over the rim of the horizon while they bounced down the sand road and now it hung poised, golden-orange and welcoming. Even the grumpy partner smiled.

“If the clouds stay away we have a chance.”

“Yep.”

They flowed through the ritual – sliding rod pieces together, spinning reel seats tight, stringing up, putting on a fresh leader of stiff fluro to help fight wind knots. The gusting wind was there with them every step of the way. The fisherman got ready, then watched his partner finish readying. It had been a couple years since they had last gotten to fish together.

"Glad you haven't forgotten everything up there in landlocked country. Still remember how to cast?"

"Ha. This guy. He's got jokes. The crap I have to put up with just to catch fish around here..."

When it came time to choose a fly, the partner just held out his box.

“Pick a good one.”

“So you can blame me later if you get skunked?”

“Ha, yes. Exactly. Now pick me a good one, Mr. Guide.”

“No, your flies smell like you – no self-respecting fish will eat them. Start with this. That way you won’t only catch hardheads.”

The partner’s outstretched hand received a rough-looking cream and tan crab. He looked up with a smirk ready, but realized it wasn’t a joke.

“You’re going to make me fish a crab.”

“Yep. That one's caught 5 this year already... it's got the mojo.”

“You know I hate fishing crabs. Aren't they eating anything more mobile? God, I hate not stripping a fly.”

“Is that the sound of whining I hear? C’mon, the tails are waiting.”

With that, the fisherman pulled up his buff and turned away, becoming inscrutable and obviously done with the fly choice conversation.

The partner only grumbled a little as he tied on the crab – it was the right time of year, he knew, and it wouldn’t have been recommended if it wasn’t working. Still, he couldn’t resist a parting shot at the retreating back of the other man.

“You’re an a**hole! Wait for me!”

“Love you too brother; hurry up, the fish wait for no man…"

The partner swore softly and grumbled, jerking the knot to finish tying on the crab and hurrying after the retreating figure of the other man.

At the water's edge they stopped for a moment to admire the sunrise and scan for any tails that might be close. When they stepped in, the partner noticed that the water went immediately to their knees; within another couple steps though they were up on the flat proper with shin deep water that gradually slid into deeper water on each side of the flat. The bottom of the flat was hard sand well-sprinkled with grass and punctuated by slightly deeper potholes. Crabs, marine worms and seashells were easy to see in the crystal clear water even though the surface was ruffled by the wind.  They shuffled slowly forward, trying not to push a wake or make sudden moves.

The partner finally began to smile a little as he looked around at the life at his feet. Ah, yes, this was much better. He didn't have to think about all the worries at home, and the...

"Fish!", hissed the other man. "Two o'clock or so. Maybe 40 feet. Headed to us."

A few moments of quiet panic ensue - the partner hadn't even stripped any line out to prep for a shot, and the fisherman chuckled a little at his friends' expense. Luckily, the fish turned and stopped to tail on something after swimming a few feet closer, waving the redfish flag for all to see in the morning light.

Now, line stripped out and rod at the ready, the partner moved slightly forward as the fisherman moved slightly back, giving him room. The tail disappeared and the wind gusted hard for a few moments, making it impossible to see through the water's surface. The fish vanished, and the two men strained to pick up a shadow or movement of any kind.

Nothing. It was just gone.

"There's no where for it to go! It can't have just teleported!" exclaimed the partner.

The fisherman smiled ruefully and shook his head. "I dunno... they're really good at that. You'd think it'd be impossible... but they can just dissolve."

The partner was looking for the fish so hard he actually leaned forward a little as his eyes darted to and fro; the fisherman's hand on his shoulder brought him back.

"C'mon man, there will be more. You gotta know when to fold 'em."

Numbly, the partner just shook his head, and turned back to face the open flat. The organic pattern of the flat spread out before them, eel grass and algae patches interspersed with thin, soft mud and firm sand. Every step was a slight effort. Suddenly, an arm slammed back against the partner's chest mid-step; wordlessly, the fisherman pointed at the stingray nearly underfoot. A prod from a rodtip sent the ray scooting off.

"Shuffle - I don't have time to take you to the hospital... and don't step backwards. They're attracted to your silt trail and will follow it to you."

The partner grunted assent, and they resumed the tireless searching. Trying to divide time between searching the water close for fish silhouettes and the far water for tails, wakes and splashes that could indicate feeding. Every dark weed patch became a fish; every mullet leap a redfish crashing bait. The partner tried to pick out the differences, the nuances that helped the fisherman separate the fish from the fish.

Suddenly the fisherman halted, raising his rod hesitantly toward a vague area slightly to their right, quartering downwind.

"That... might be a fish. Hold on, he may move again... Yes! There he is!"

The partner had no idea what the other man saw, but readied himself just the same.

"Where! Give me a mark!"

"Just a sec, I think he's swimming to us... yes! See the tail? About 50 feet, you got this.You'll have to lay it in on your backcast."

The fisherman stepped quietly to the right, leaving the partner's left side free from obstruction. Tossing the fly to the side from where it had hung in his hand, the partner roll cast to get the line moving and then punched a hard cast into the wind. He allowed the breeze to carry the line, cushioning it, landing the crab with a soft plop a foot from the fish.

The men watched intently as the fish moved slowly over to where the fly had hit the water.

"One inch strip, then let it sit."

Rodtip low, the other man stripped incrementally, barely twitching the fly.

The redfish turned slightly, body language telling the anglers that their offering had been spotted. Suddenly the fish darted forward, stopping over the crab and tailing.

"Slow strip..strip.. set! You got him!"

The partner's line came tight and the feeling of connection hummed through the rod. But only for a moment; as the fish turned and started to run, the line went slack, and from the highest height he was plunged to the the lowest low.

"Aw, hell. The hook pull out?", the fisherman queried.

"No... I don't... hold on." returned the partner as he brought his line in.

Quick scrutiny revealed a failed knot where the crab was connected.

"Boy it is just not your day! You wet that knot before you tightened it?"

"Ah... no. I don't think I did."

"Here. Quit moping, here's another crab. We'll get you one yet."

 

One of my good fishing buddies recently put together a short essay about some of his memories of a legendary fly fisher - Mel Krieger.

Thanks  Brian!

 

 

Was chatting earlier today with a fishing buddy, and we were talking about casting.  Talk eventually turned to instruction, and from there to great casting instructors.  Bringing up that subject with me will reliably elicit mention of Mel Krieger.

I thought the world of Mel.  He was one of the brightest shining stars in the fly fishing constellations that dominated my days and dreams growing up.  I admired his energy, his exploits, his technique, and his no-nonsense instruction skills.  I remember making a minor hajj to the Golden Gate Casting Ponds on a long West Coast summer swing late in college, hoping perhaps I’d find him chatting amiably with Steve Rajeff and then I’d....I’d....well, I didn't have a clue what I’d do.  Ask for autographs?  No, no, not right.  Stare?  Probably.  Stroll up and chat?  Maybe.  Ask for tips?  Ugh.  Pray?  Yup.

They weren't there, so it didn't matter.  But I did meet him years later at the International Fly Tackle Dealers show in Denver, must’ve been in the late 90s.  My Dad was working at Ross Reels, and I’d weaseled my way into a show pass and a semi-regular gig talking trash at the booth.  Got to meet Joan Wulff and Lefty Kreh, watched AK Best tie, hung out with Brad Befus, took home bags of swag and saw all the new gear.  Fun, right?

They had two big casting ponds and a fairly serious distance competition on Saturday night.  I wasn't brave enough to enter, but I was fresh back from a long steelheading trip and feeling pretty good about my stroke.  Off in a back corner some rod dealer had built a simple casting game with a timer and pizza boxes.  The boxes were staggered at 10’ intervals on either side of a narrow aisle out to 100’ or 110’, as if they were unusually squarish boulder pockets in an exceptionally straight stream.  They’d rigged a couple 8wt rods with a yarn fly, and you had to hit each box within 90 seconds -- or maybe it was two minutes, can’t remember.  Simple, but good fun.  Easy to replicate at home, too.

I took a break from our booth during a quiet period and found that the pizza box casting course was likewise empty.  I picked up a rod, stripped out and stretched a pile of line, set the timer and started casting.  I hit every box out to 60’ on the first try, and I was feeling pretty good about myself.  It took me two tries to hit the box at 70’, and I missed the 80’ box on my first throw.  Plenty of time on the clock, no stress.  I stripped in some line and worked back into my stroke, double-hauling like I’d been born doing it.  I looked back over my shoulder to watch my backcast -- still textbook -- and saw Mel Krieger standing about 10’ behind me, arms crossed with a stern look on his face.

Oh shit.  I missed the grab on my backcast haul and dropped 80’ of line on the floor behind me.

Oh shit.  Mel’s watching.  He’s not happy.  Scrambled to pick up the slack.  Started flailing with too much line out, couldn’t load the rod.  Stripped in more line.  Short cast, mangled the plane, threw a pathetic tailing loop, stripped in aga----BUZZZZZZZZ.....thanks for playing, you lose.

Oh God, what a mess.  I was red and sweating, my shattered pride coiled in knots on the floor along with my loops.  It was like missing a layup with Michael Jordan watching.  BECAUSE he was watching.

I’m not sure what he saw that he didn't like.  Could’ve been the burritos, who knows?  He was all smiles when I looked back again.  He chuckled and ambled over, chucked me on the shoulder and said something like, “Pretty good there....for awhile.  What happened, son?”

I shuffled and stammered, finally mumbled something about him scaring me.  “Little ole’ me, scare you?  Hahaha...”  Didn't really make me feel better.  But then he asked where I was from and who I knew and started an amiable little chat.

10 minutes later I floated back to the Ross booth on a Dickensian Cloud:  it was the best of times and the worst of times, simultaneously.  My hero had noticed me, even conversed with me.  And I had made a fool of myself.  Uff-dah.  But I still thought the world of him, and I’ll never forget that encounter.

I looked up his bio today and discovered, sadly, that he passed away in 2008.  Here it is, four years later, and I didn't even know.  I feel chagrined, out of touch with what was once a familiar realm.  And yet, his star in the most rarefied of my personal constellations will never dim, no matter how infrequently I manage to look to the sky these days...or to the water.  RIP, Mel.

Brian Clark

When we got to the house, it was quiet. It didn’t look much like a house – three stories of brick and windows, buttressing right up to the water’s edge. We headed inside to meet the guys that had arrived while we were out on the water.

The first face I saw was Jeremy, the creator and organizer of the event. After shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries like ‘I was hoping you weren’t stupid enough to get caught out in that storm…’ we headed inside. And MAN! What a place.

You know when you were younger and walked into your grandmother’s house or maybe another older relative, and were warned to not touch or break or breathe hard on anything? This house was way too nice for a bunch of ribald fishermen, and that was before I went upstairs to see the massive showers. I kid you not dear reader, the bedroom in which I currently sit tapping away at the keys is the same size – perhaps a bit smaller – than the bathroom I used on the second floor. It had two showers. And the floor above that was a game room with a high balcony that served as a great observation deck…

Anyway. You get the point. All I needed was a dry, non-sandy spot to sleep on, and Jeremy gets us the Taj Mahal. For a great price, I might add. Kudos to you, sir.
So we walk out on the back deck and shake some more hands with guys I hadn’t had the pleasure to meet yet, and stand around talking about the fishing trips the days before and how pretty the water was. Pretty soon I get the itch to cast a line and I figure no one would mind if I walked away from the conversation to grab my 8wt to do a little snook prospecting under the dock connected to the house. I decided to slink a black tarpon bunny back in between the pilings as the sun goes down.

Not a bad view...

Tap… Thud! Suddenly, I’ve got an audience. Conversation stops and all eyes turn towards me, and for the moment, all my brain can yell is “Snook!” What a start this is, catching a snook right off the bat, and as the fish surges to the surface as snook will to head shake I can see that it’s…
A trout. A nice, solid speckled trout of around 18”, but no snook. Damn.
Hard to be disappointed with a nice fish like that… but I didn’t come down here to catch specks. Still, a fish like that seems to be a good omen, and the more skeptical non-fly rodders seem to gain a little respect for the fly method. This might turn out to be a great weekend after all, storms or no storms…

 

Thunderhead brooding...
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