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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.

I’ve known Cody Moravits for several years now. I’m not sure when we met the first time, but I do remember showing him how to cast a fly rod at an event here in Corpus at least 4 years ago. An avid fisherman and outdoorsman, Cody is happiest when he’s connecting with the sea and people who love the water as much as he does. Earlier this year, Cody was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which, let me tell you, really put a damper on his summer. He was living the dream, employed as a mate on the Nyati offshore fishing vessel. Friends and family have rallied around Cody during his time of need, and this weekend, Oct. 24, is a benefit tournament with proceeds going to Cody’s family to help defray medical costs.

I invited Cody over for a chat and ambushed him with an interview; I’m sneaky like that.

What did you think when you were first diagnosed?

“Well, whenever I found out I was stage 2, I was more relieved that they finally figured out what it was. From what I had been told, the cancer seemed to be contained in one little area. I took it a lot harder once I found out I was stage 4. It definitely makes you live your life differently, on a day to day basis. “

Cody went on to mention that he had been feeling off for some time previous, but after one visit to a doctor who essentially said not to worry about it, he was conflicted. A second opinion finally got things straightened out – the new doc came to him “…and just said ‘I’m just gonna go ahead and tell you, I think it’s lymphoma.’”

You’re employed as a mate currently?

“I was in major fear of losing my job - that I had just started - due to the illness. However, my boss was very understanding. One of my main sources of motivation is to get well and get back on the boat; some of the things I saw this summer when I was offshore were just remarkable. I have always looked up to my boss; he’s been a section leader in the Big Shell Cleanup for years and just getting to be around him is really cool.”

This year, Cody landed his first blue marlin. Photo credit: Facebook
This year, Cody landed his first blue marlin. Photo credit: Facebook

 

You do a lot of shark fishing from the beach right?

“I went offshore for the first time when I was 13 years old. I caught some kingfish… going from catching trout and redfish to kingfish was a pretty big jump for me. Since then, I’ve wanted to catch the biggest baddest fish possible. Given my limited money, that became shark fishing off the jetties and beaches in the coastal bend. “

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Photo credit: Facebook

“I’ve had some of the most humbling experiences of my life, just out on the jetty or the beach. The conditions are perfect, you’ve got the perfect bait kayaked out… and you don’t get a bite. It makes you realize that there’s more to shark fishing, more to fishing in general, than just catching a fish. It’s more about being out there and taking it all in. It does make the times when you catch a shark just that much better though!” Cody chuckles.

“Like tomorrow… I’m headed down the beach, but it won’t be a bust if I don’t catch any fish. I’m just looking forward to getting out there. Going down the beach without even a fishing rod at all… it’s a different experience when you’re not focused on catching a fish, when you’re more focused on the things around you. “

“You can know about the fish, but you’ve got to know about everything. And then, you can know about it, but that doesn’t mean you understand it. I feel like fishing can be like super philosophical you know. It’s… “

“Spiritual? “

“Yeah. It really is.”

Cody from a recent trip down the beach.
Cody from a recent trip down the beach. Photo credit: Facebook

 

Today, October 24, is the benefit fishing tournament for Cody's family to help defray the cost of Cody's hospital stays. Please feel free to donate if you didn't get to join in the tournament fun.

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."

It started with a phone call, or maybe it was a facebook message... or possibly an end-of-the-jetty bs session. I don't remember; it doesn't matter.

What mattered was that I rolled into Houston on that cool December night to meet up with Capt. Jeremy Chavez (Casting Tales Guide Service) and catch a ride on the Midnight Marsh Train headed to Louisiana. Rods loaded up, materials stashed, boat hooked up and off we went into the night.

Sunrise saw us well into Louisiana, stopping to pick up licensure. Regular ol' saltwater license for me and a bonafide Louisiana guide license for Capt. Chavez.

Paperwork concluded, we headed for the water. I was practically hanging my head out the window like an eager bird dog, tongue lolling.

I watched as cities faded to towns, and towns faded to hamlets and fishing villages with tired houses and small, locally owned grocers.  The restaurants, like the houses, were small and weathered. I expected to find myself in the middle of all the cajun food I could eat; I'd find out later how mistaken I was.

Finally arriving at the water-side in the afternoon, we messed around with trying to arrange a place to stay. Due to the offseason doldrums, that was easier said than done. Eventually, we gave up and launched the boat; we had wasted enough fishing time.

Headed out of the marina on Capt. Jeremy's Hell's Bay skiff, I relaxed in the passenger seat and tried to take it all in. ...continue reading "Louisiana – Land of Giants"

When rigging for the flats, it’s more a question of knowing how to deal with the current situation than anything else. For many flats fly fishers, the prepackaged tapered leaders made by many manufacturers are their go-to, and that often works just fine. They're hard to beat for convenience.

Personally I like to make my own leaders, mostly because I think I can do it just as well for less cost. Like most guys that roll their own leaders, I like to start with a heavy butt section. This allows for efficient transfer of energy from the flyline to the leader. I generally go with a 30-20-12 progression in pound test if I am expecting to be casting to tailing or cruising fish (reds, drum, trout) on the flat.

The typical leader I will use on the flats is around 9-10', but I have gone up to 14-15' in super clear water. Longer leaders/tippets become necessary on highly spooky/pressured fish, or when hunting the big sow speckled trout that will prowl the shallows from time to time. Windy conditions call for shorter, stouter leaders; something like an 8-9' leader of 50-30-20 or 40-20. When facing windy conditions, the heavier tippet turns over bulky, air-resistant flies a little better and can withstand the occasional windknot. This same configuration is what I will use when I am searching for fish with topwaters or sliders - the more casts you make, the more likely that you will eventually put a windknot in the line.The last thing you want to do is come tight on a good red after a crashing eat and have that tippet pop - ping! Don' ask me how I know this.

When I'm actually walking the flats, I will generally carry a small roll of 12-14lb tippet material, in case I need to refresh my tippet or I have some sort of catastrophic failure happen to my leader. Being unprepared for that when you're several hundred yards from the boat or truck is not something that you want to do to yourself. Don't ask me how I know. Just trust me when I say:

Fortune favors the prepared.

 

 

 

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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"

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."

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.
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