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Music fills the truck, streams out the windows

Guitar riffs crying, drifting where the wind goes,

Roll up, slide out,

Rig a rod, fly doubt,

Yeah. That one... Knot it.
...continue reading "Evening run, Black Drum"

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!"

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.

 

2

So it turns out that the snook trip was just too much to encapsulate in a series of short stories like I prefer to write - we would've been on 'Snook Trip 23424545234' and y'all would be thinking that this was not only boring, it was getting out of control. Much like the Matrix series. So, in order to avoid that catastrophe, I'm going to sum it all up as best I can with a photo gallery and quotes from some of the characters that showed up for this event.

 

.

When asked about what they remembered of the trip, I got a rich hodgepodge of memorable moments. I had to whittle down many to a few, but here they are, unedited and straight from the horse's... mouth.

"Rain, fishing the flats, walking up 3 flights of stairs, Bobo the clown, Cops, the jetty walk in flip-flops, Getting Curtis' hitch stuck in the road when trying to back out of a driveway, while cops where pulling people over left and right, Curtis' getting stuck in the first ten feet of sand road, the great view from the top balcony, the mo-ped fisherman, the smokey ass grill, the sea hares, all the ladyfish tearing up shrimp...

"...how it smelled like someone dropped a deuce when the kitchen faucet ran."

"Running out of gas, eating lady fish, did i mention cops, new friends, paddling in the dark for hours looking for a lost clown with a blow up doll, hooking a snook and not landing it, night fishing in the lights while drinking a beer listening to live music getting photographed, Cops, beer, rain, wind, ticket for 8 over, sweet pad, great new friends, losing the blow up sheep on the bridge, and last but not least getting everyone home safely and COPS."

 

Did he mention cops?

 

Hard to top off that boatload of memorocity, but my favorite memory from the trip was when several of the guys decided to brave the weather and go hit the flats for a while. Not only did we catch fish, but we ran into a local fly slinger who asked us where we were staying. We described the place, and he kinda chuckled and said ah yeah. That place used to be a gay bar.

Without missing a beat one of the guys piped up with something like 'Hey, that makes sense - Paul was getting a good feeling about that place; a good vibe, if you will."

 

Oh yeah. It was one of those trips.

A couple boats revved up and started chasing the ephemeral school, spooking the fish time and time again and only catching one of the small tuna. We watch, and grumble, and wait for our turn.

Capturing some filmage.

 

Suddenly, Don comes tight. I see him struggle with a knot in his fly line for a moment before it is ripped from his fingers, popping a snake guide and launching the top half of his rod out into the green swirling waters. I move quickly across the rocks to assist. Any second the hard-running tuna could pop a knot or graze a rock, and bye bye rod tip...

Don 'Half-rod' Alcala works a bonito

A little bit of chaos ensues - the knot is removed, the fish surfaces by the rocks, and the other half of the rod is safely retrieved. Whew. We were all a bit worried there.

 

Que Bonito!

 

After that the fishing settled down and the sun climbed up in the sky. A few small jacks and large ladyfish rounded out the morning, but no tarpon rolled and the bonito didn't deign to return close enough to the rocks to catch. So it goes. We walked back down the rocks vowing that it would be different when we had a boat to get out there and chase them... as generations of anglers have done before us. Despite the lukewarm fishing, it was great to get out there with my friends and enjoy a beautiful morning.

 

And on to the next spot.

 

Keeping an eye out as the rollers come in.

4

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
― C.S. Lewis

Fly fishers are an eclectic group; we come from all walks. We are novice, expert, nice guy, jackass and all things in between. One thing for sure though is that I have never not had a good time getting to go fish with fellow fly flingers. We are the misunderstood crazy cousins to the rest of the fishing community, but that’s okay.

If I've learned one thing, it's that you don’t have to be understood to catch fish... but it's more fun when you're fishing the jetty with people that get it.

This weekend I had an opportunity to get to fish with a couple old fishing buddies. Don Alcala and I have known each other for several years now and fish together often. Jeremy Chavez lives up in the Galveston area and he had made it down to try and get some footage of some tarpon and go fishing with us out on the rocks of the local jetties.

We had been trading fishing reports and I was looking forward to getting Jeremy out and showing him the potentially explosive fishing available on our stretch of the surf.

After the early morning meet-up, we roll to the water's edge. Stepping onto the jetty, we are rewarded with few people contesting our favorite areas and a beautiful sunrise.

Sunrise, Port Aransas Jetty

 

Our main competition for the day was to be the boats that rolled up and out in a steady stream, never seeming to stay long but running their engines enough to keep the end of the jetty disturbed and us land-bound fly flingers frustrated.

Winds were light, and the water clarity great. Baitfish circled in huge schools, occasionally being pushed up to the surface by attacking predators amid sprays of water and screaming seagulls. Jeremy set up his camera, capturing us going through the repetition of the jetty - strip out enough line for a long cast, rocket it all out there, strip back. Repeat. Pick out tangles, watch for fish. Repeat. Narrowly save your line from getting swept into the jagged, barnacle encrusted granite. Repeat. Grind it out and wait for that big bite.

From down the jetty, Don called out something that didn't carry over the breaking waves. I motioned that I hadn't heard, my eyes riveted on the boiling cauldron of fish stationed a couple hundred yards off the rocks.

"...Bonito!"

Straight rippin' it up under some gulls

 

And now it's a party.

 

Or was it? When you're stuck on the rocks, nothing is certain.

2

It was hot.

The line burned through my fingers as the thing I had hooked down in the turbid water heaved and surged. I started taking steps back up to the water’s edge to help clear line faster as my eyes darted down to my line, searching for heart-breaking tangles that might catch on a guide and ruin this adventure before it hardly began.

The last of the slack whipped up off the water and came taut with an audible ‘Ting!’, slapping against the arbor of my reel. I could hear my fishing buddy reeling furiously from down the bank as he prepared to come assist and spectate.

My 8wt throbbed with powerful headshakes; I dropped my rodtip to the downstream side to try and lend some side pressure and turn the force of nature I had latched on to. I was still unsure at this point if I had them or if they had me…

My buddy arrived, mud spattered and a little breathless. I grinned at him and he gave me a slap on the back – we knew this was as close as we had gotten to the Goal. After the initial run the creature in the depths had settled down to a steady, inexorable pull. I couldn’t turn it, couldn’t control it, so I applied pressure and settled back to wait. I tried not to think about all the rocks and trees and other debris that the river had swallowed and that might be waiting to part my twenty pound leader.

When you're fighting a big fish there is that niggling worry that grows in the back for your mind - you must master it. The very fear that you might lose the fish can cause it to happen. Hurried netting attempts, horsing the fish, grabbing too quickly for a leader, bringing in a green fish... all can spell disaster for that fish of a lifetime. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Now, I'm not saying baby the fish either. Apply pressure when applicable, and whip that fish's ass with good fighting technique. You will dispel the whispers of doubt in the back of your mind if you know you're fighting the fish as best you can. This is good for your mental state and leaves the fish in better condition to swim away after a picture or two.

In the middle of the river, the fish surged to the surface.

I got a glimpse of it for the first time as it made a huge swirl, pushing back towards the bottom. My rod was bent in a smooth parabolic curve as I grudgingly gave a few feet of line, and then stopped the fish again. Ah, yes - we've got 'er now. Applying brutal side pressure and reeling in a few inches at a time, I worked the fish up from the bottom and ever closer to my feet.

My fishing partner slipped on a glove and got out a camera. After a couple more short runs for the depths, the fish was beached in all her glory.

Gloriously Beastly

 

We quickly applied a tape and got a measurement -

Taped In
Taped Out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And revived her, watching her swim away powerfully. Goal Accomplished.

Release... The Kraken!

 

'Til Next Time...

 

And on to the next spot...

A quick story through pictures of my first trip to try my luck below Denison Dam at Texoma.

No big ones, but I ended the day with 12 young striper, 1 nice white bass, and one brave greenie. Not too bad. Looking forward to going back and tangling with a bigger fish; perhaps night fishing is the ticket... hmmm...