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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...



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"

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.

2013-08-05 16.56.34

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.

2013-08-05 16.42.10


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"

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.”


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."



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.


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.


It was too damn cold for anyone to be out here. Only crazy people went fishing on a day like this.

He was talking to himself on the drive to the water, one cold day in January with the wind blowing and the distinct possibility ice freezing in his guides. Sounds like the beginning of a story from Up North, or at least Out West… but no, this was Down South, deep in central Texas. Most people down here don’t venture very far from the central heating when it gets much below 40… when it does get that cold. But here it was, 28 degrees, and he was getting out of his vehicle at streamside, stringing up a 4wt. He had just come off a long hunting season of guiding hunters and doing a little hunting himself, and he was craving a pull on his line and some fish-slimed hands.

Most of the spots close by weren’t going to fish well, but there was a place he knew of where a couple springs welled up from the bottom of the riverbed, and fish would crowd into the warmer water those provided.

Taking a slow, deep breath, he blew a steady stream of ‘smoke’, watching it blast outwards and then dissipate in the almost non-existent breeze. It was one of those cold, quiet days where sound seems amplified… sharper, somehow.  He could hear the burble of water pushing past the concrete bridge pilings, and the sudden splashing and annoyed duck speech of mallards taking off. Listening for the quacking echo that never came. Who taught ducks to quack without echoing anyway…

Striding crunchily down the limestone graveled road, he noticed how drab everything seemed. One could see right through thickets that during the summer had been an impenetrable snarl of leaves – reminded him of the time he worked back through those thickets on a deer trail and had come upon a couple sunbathing nude. Whoops. He smiled in remembrance. Their faces had been a dramatic shade of red, whether from too much sun or too much fun he couldn’t say…

But now the branches were as naked as the sunbathers, the leaves a motley assortment of patchwork colors strewn across the ground in an ill-sewn quilt. As he neared the bridge, a great blue heron took fight with that awkward, noisy way they have that shatters the stillness. The bird glided to the next sandbar down and glowered back at the interloper disturbing the bird’s peaceful day.

Don’t worry old man, the fisherman thought. Soon enough you’ll have your river to yourself again. Cursory inspection of the cold, clear flow revealed not a flicker of fin, so the fisherman traipsed off the bridge and waded gently into the ankle deep water at the edge of the current. As he gradually meandered downstream, he had time to realize that his nose was really starting to complain about how cold it was outside and was demonstrating disapproval by creating more mucous than any one nose should ever need. Continued negotiations with the back of his wool glove ensued, and the fisherman wandered on.

The gloves reminded him of a time on a steelhead river where he had swung a fly across the current time after time after time, so many times, and then suddenly the brilliant flash of a take and the feel of lightning on the line… it had been cold then, too.

The gloves remembered.

Rounding the bend the fisherman came upon the entrance to the small backwater that held the springs.  Approaching slowly and quietly, he stooped low to avoid spooking fish.

Keeping a scraggly young bush between him and the green-clear water, he got his first glimpse – a carp, swimming slow patrol circuits along the opposite edge of the backwater.

The fisherman kept still and watched, knowing from hard-won experience that to barge in after the first fish one sees is a great way to catch no fish.

A sunfish drifted up into view, dimpling the surface like it was June. Catfish prowled the depths near an old, broken down branch resting on the bottom amongst a carpet of dead leaves.

Sniffling a bit, he scrubbed at his nose again and flexed fingers going stiff with cold. Resting on his knees behind the young shrub, the fisherman dug in his pocket to retrieve the small fly box nestled there. He glanced up at the dreary sky, gauging ambient light, and eyed the carp that was still making slow circuits. Probably not enough light to cast a line shadow, but best be careful.  Clicking open the simple box revealed a small bedraggled group of flies; he hadn’t tied in a couple months, but he had faith that a fish catcher was in the lineup.

Watching the carp again, he considered his options. Needed to sink about a foot pulling an 8lb leader, get the fish’s attention but not too much, cold water, overcast day…

His bare fingertips rested lightly on a beadhead zugbug. Weight, glimmer, silhouette, movement… yes.

The gloves slipped off his hands quickly, and the zug went on the leader with a dab of saliva and deft twists made difficult by numb fingers.

Grey wool against the tan and white river cobble of the gravel bar. A cardinal’s call from across the river. Stinging cold nipping at nose and ears. Great to be alive.

Scrunching the gloves back on awkwardly, he flexed his hands again and readied himself. Deep breath, gout of steam. Making sure the fish couldn’t see him, he flicked the newly-knotted fly into the main current of the river where it ran a couple feet to his right. Water haul here, he thought to himself. The line and leader floated lightly, making a tiny v-wake behind the skating fly. Making sure he had a clear casting lane, the angler waited, stoic. Downstream, the heron waited. Brothers of purpose.

The carp circled, meandering, and paused to nose among some leaves.

Now. The flyline accelerated in a smooth curl, arcing up over the rodtip, straightening and dropping to deliver the fly with a tiny plop between the lethargic fish and the bank. Sinking, so slowly... but now the fish raises in the water column and spots the interesting speck dropping to the leaves in front of its face. The fisherman watches the fish, the fish watches the fly.


The angler watched the fly drift to a stop on a rusty orange leaf. A tiny twitch of the line, and the fly breathed and quivered. The fish didn’t move… then almost imperceptibly, it leaned forward. The fisherman subconsciously leaned as well, although he was unaware he did so.

A subtle gill flare was the only clue, but the arm raised quickly and confidently, and the thrill of a tight line thrummed in the angler’s veins. The fight was almost inconsequential, but satisfying. The carp proved to be 4 or 5 pounds when brought near and the angler didn’t hesitate to strip his gloves and wet his hands in the cold water so he could raise and admire the golden-scaled visitor from a far-off land.

Back in the water, the fish pulled away into the depths with slow, steady cadence. The fisherman stood, shaking water and slime from his numb fingers, and slipped the gloves back on. He looked downstream, through the skeletons of winter-weary trees, and decided that was good enough. With another deep breath and gout of steam, he turned, and began to crunch back to the bridge.

His need for a bite had been quieted, and besides, it was too damn cold for anyone to be out here anyway. Only crazy people went fishing on a day like this.


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.



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