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1

The last afternoon of the Louisiana trip faded quickly into evening. We had been off the fish for an hour or so, searching new water and scouting different areas to add to Jeremy's bag of tricks. Rounding a shell point on an island thickly populated with white pelicans, we fired up the engine and started putting our way towards deeper water, and home.

We nosed into a broad channel created by two islands close together. Cruising forward, we noticed big pushes and wakes from fish reacting to the engine sound. Some of the fish looked huge.

Shutting down the engine, Jeremy hopped up on the poling platform and heaved us forward. I stood on the bow, battered but freshly sharpened fly in one hand, 7-weight in the other. The low angle of the sun coupled with the off-colored water meant that our chances of seeing anything were pretty low.

Suddenly, a fish spooked out beside the boat. The huge wake it made while stampeding down the waterway ahead of us literally made my chin drop. There it went, the fish I had dreamt of catching in Louisiana. She gon' now, boy.

It was all happening quickly now; more fish blew out beside the boat as I grew frustrated, trying to watch every bit of water all at once. A redfish rolled to the surface, giving me a glimpse of a big orange flank; obviously spooked, the red went right, then back left. I flopped a cast where I thought the fish might go, trying to intercept it. Somehow, she did just what I wanted, and as the red barreled past my hastily stripped fly, I saw a gill flare. Left hand goes back, rod hand lifts - fish on!

Running hard, the redfish unwound line from my reel at an impressive rate, not stopping 'til it was about 20 yards deep into backing. Fighting a dogged battle, the fish made several more short runs. I enjoyed the fight, but I really wanted to put my hands on this fish. This was the one.

At boatside, I lifted her head from the water and admired her huge maw before carefully lifting her into the boat for pictures and a measurement.

She taped at 43", not the biggest fish in the marsh but definitely on the upper end. A big thanks to Capt. Jeremy Chavez for his hard work and dedication. The following are all pictures taken by him of fish caught that day.

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Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez
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Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez
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Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

 

Sightcast in less than 2' of water.
Sightcast in less than 2' of water. Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

 

And drumroll (drum! ha) - here she is.

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Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

 

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Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

 

A trip I will never forget. I've been looking forward to the next time since I left. Fair warning - that place will spoil you.

After a morning full of 'baby' redfish, some of which taped over 30", Jeremy was ready to find some big ones. I was ready to see these giants for myself, and do battle.

Pushing off down the shoreline, we moved quickly to cover water as the sun climbed higher and allowed us better visibility. We came across a slight dropoff, and boom. There they were. Fish appeared in ones and twos, at 60 feet, at 10 feet, and everywhere in between. Some fish were obviously big - some were obviously bigger than even the massive bulls I had seen caught from the jetty. It was crazy. Never in my life had I seen anything like it.

This guy was practically on top of us when I spotted him and dropped a fly in his face. Fish on!
This guy was practically on top of us when I dropped a fly in his face. Fish on! Photo credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

The calm conditions of the previous night had allowed sediment to settle out of the water, leaving it much more clean that the day before. We still weren't able to spot fish that were hugging the bottom, but more often than not they would move off slowly enough for me to get a shot. A lot of the time, even after they spooked, they ate.

I'd say he liked it. I quickly de-hooked this fish and watched him swim away strongly.
I'd say he liked it. I quickly de-hooked this fish and watched him swim away strongly. Photo Credit: Austin Orr

 

Color didn't seem to matter much to these fish, so of course that led to a game of 'let's see what they won't eat.' Not much, it turned out. I landed fish up to 39". Most of the fish came on a 7wt. It was pure fun.

 

A marsh pumpkin swims away to fight another day.
A marsh pumpkin swims away to fight another day. Photo Credit: Capt. Jeremy Chavez

 

Prowling about the edges of the drop were groups of big uglies - massive black drum that stampeded when we floated over them. I quickly learned to keep a weather eye on these herds, because oftentimes there was a big redfish trailing along with them. Trying to work a fly in around the black drum in such a way that the redfish ate it first became an issue several times.

 

Dangit. Not what I wanted.
Dangit. Not what I wanted.

 

Despite my best efforts to make them spit the fly before they hooked themselves, I still hauled a few to the boat.

 

That's when you know you're spoiled.

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."

As good things must, our trip was drawing to an end. We were reluctantly headed back down the road towards Denver, determined to stop a few times to fish along the way. I was looking forward to getting some dry fly action in, which you might think is a little funny after catching several great streamer browns. I just love a topwater bite over any other. I think it might have to do with tempting a fish to enter my world, the world above water, if just for a little bit, if only with the tip of his nose.

I was planning on throwing a hopper all day.

We put the pavement behind us, already rehashing stories of the fish we had caught in the previous days.

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A couple hours later the truck was rumbling down gravel, then bouncing through potholes, and then resting in the shade of a riverside tree grove.

We wadered up as Brian filled me in on stories of fishing the water in years past. Rigging quickly as we talked, we smelled the river-smell and listened to the gentle chuckle of the riffle only a few yards away. Determined to get the dry fly eat that I was hankering for ...continue reading "Fishing our way home"

After my morning success, the guys decided to get serious about looking for large brown trout in the winding creek behind the house. Brian and I, along with our host, wadered up and set off to do a little bushwhacking.

Our host had explored a lot of the available territory, so he was able to point us in the direction of a few likely big fish haunts. In the warm, liquid light of a fall Colorado afternoon, we explored, fished, and enjoyed life.

 

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We didn't see any hatches come off during the couple days we were there. The sand-silt bottom made for fairly murky visibility, so streamers were the name of the game. Brian had a fly box full of meaty goodness tied up by Fly Geek's Matt Bennett, while I stuck with the battle-proven black Smullett that had coaxed many strikes already.

It's easy to get frustrated when you're sure that fish are around but none of them want to play. I figured I should move and cover as much of the stream as possible ...continue reading "Rainbrowns – Afternoon trophy trouting"

The next morning dawned cool and quiet, with the excitement from the nocturnal fish wrangling still lingering. I was just as ready to throw on waders as the previous morning, but Brian wanted to spend some time chatting with his buddy over coffee so they hung back at the house. I headed for a section of the creek that I had looked over but hadn't given a proper chance to produce the big fish it looked capable of holding.

I felt confident in what I had learned about this new water, and I figured that I would be able to do a little headhunting for the bigger browns I knew had to be hanging in tight to the tangled cover. I had figured out that the browns were behaving a lot like snook, demanding a pinpoint accurate cast tight in next to cover to elicit a strike.

The creek bank was solidly lined on each side with willows, with only a few moose trails creating open paths. These trails had been enhanced in some areas with chainsaw and elbow grease, but the places I wanted to go were pretty darn thick. The close-quarters nature of the vegetation made casting a real headache, but I relished the challenge, the antithesis of throwing bomb casts over open water like I was used to.

It was extremely technical, close quarters fishing. Steeple casts and bow-and-arrow casts were my primary tools I moved from spot to spot. I made it to a shallow sandy riffle area that dropped off quickly, with an undercut bank on the far side. There just had to be a fish in there, but in order to land a fly on target I had to cast through a foot wide slot in the willows behind me and lay in on the backcast, making accuracy a real challenge. Not only that, but getting the rod to load with only the leader and a couple feet of flyline out the tip was quite the challenge.

My first cast fell a little short of the tiny gap in the willow branches that I was aiming for, but the second dropped right in. I actually couldn't believe that I had managed it, to be honest with you. I let the black streamer sink down into the tannin-murk for a one count, and immediately began the retrieve. Well, I tried to begin the retrieve, but immediately came tight onto a branch. A branch that moved... not a branch!

A thrumming headshake and a quick turn downstream had my heart racing as I grudgingly gave line to the unseen fish. It immediately headed for the nearest tangle, but I had an 8lb (3x) fluoro leader on. I was able to apply some serious pressure to put the brakes on, and used the long lever of the fly rod to turn the fish. A few tense moments more, and a beautiful buck was in hand, my largest fish for the trip.

Brown trout giving me the crazy eye
Whutchew lookin' at?

 

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I had a huge grin plastered across my face as I positioned the tired fish for a couple quick photos and then watched him slip from my hands back into the slow current. Mission accomplished... but let's do that again!

Working downstream through another set of moose trails, I hit the creek again. I spotted a tempting brushpile downstream a bit and headed that way. My second step found me suddenly wading through knee-deep muck. Trying to be stealthy, I squelched my way into position. Using the creek as a casting lane this time, I laid out a cast parallel to the waterlogged limbs and began to retrieve.

This time, the thump! of the take reverberated with unquestionable fishiness. Then, quicker than I could think, the fish darted for the safety of the branches. Aww... crap.

 

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Ohhhh... beaver.

To the bottom left of the picture you can see the flyline and amnesia mono to which my leader is looped. The situation seemed grim, but I could feel the fish down there, thrashing. My leader held, so I was left with a choice; Break the fish off and let it perhaps die of starvation while tied to the brush pile, or go in after it. I sighed and started removing layers, down to t-shirt and waders.

Working my hand down the mono, freeing as I went, I ended up nearly to my shoulder in the frigid water. I had a great view of my wavering reflection, since my face practically rested on the surface film. I was almost as busy making sure I didn't dip water into my waders as I was with untangling the fish, cussing quietly the whole time.

Eventually, I was able to drag the fish back up and out of the bottom of the pile, and a nice hen rose into the light.

 

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I snapped a picture and eased the trout back in the water. Since I was already wet, cold, and in the middle of the stream, I figured I might as well use the good casting lane to hit a couple points down the way that I couldn't get at while on the bank.

Two casts later, a thump!

To my amazement, I was hooked up again. I was surprised all the commotion hadn't turned off the pool.

Soon, another pretty fish was in hand, red bespeckled sides gleaming in the gathering morning brightness.

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After she swam off, it was time to head back to breakfast. We had a day of fishing to discuss, and I was sure that the guys had cooked up a great plan along with the scrambled eggs and taters.

After a delicious evening meal constructed around the fresh trout caught earlier in the day, we relaxed with a couple fingers of slow-burning scotch. Full bellies and the warmth of the living room dimmed our desire for heading back out in the evening chill, but tales of massive eruptions under mouse flies had us strapping into waders once again.

Quietly easing down to the beaver dam where I had gotten a bump the day before, Brian and I spread out and started casting.  I was chunking the same black streamer that had worked for me the evening before, while Brian was determined to experience a mousing strike. The water was cloudy, so I doubted that he would be successful, but I could definitely appreciate the goal.

The night was dead calm, and the coyotes sang from a nearby ridge as the Milky Way sprawled across the bejeweled velvet of the night sky. Long minutes of nothing ensued. The quiet shushing sounds of casting mingled with the rustling of small rodents going about their night-business. Casting at the far bank was a tricky endeavor; a wall of willow limbs waited for a fly cast just too far. Casting down the grassy near bank was much easier. I heard the plop of Brian's mouse fly down the bank a ways to my right as he too fished the grassy shore. Suddenly, a surface commotion, followed quickly by the terse call - "Fish!" I hurriedly reeled in and moved down the bank to his position to see if I could assist.

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A couple pictures later, the fish was once again a top predator lurking in the inky blackness. High fives all around - time to hit the sack and see what the morrow would bring.

 

 

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"

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

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.

Intensity.

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.

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