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.
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"
Obviously my fishing buddy Austin was awake. Walking to the window revealed a gorgeous sight.
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.
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.
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!
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...
After we made it off the rocks and slumped, dripping, in the relative warmth of Don's truck, we had to laugh. Something about experiencing the rawness of nature and emerging safely always brings a smile to my face, a reminder of the unpredictability of my chosen passion. Take it each day at a time and live thoroughly.
We took some time to clean up and dry out, grabbed some food and made the decision to head over to The Salty Fly Shop in Port Isabel, owned by Larry Haines. Larry is famous for developing one of the most realistic shrimp flies around - the Haine's Supreme Hair Shrimp.
After stopping in and chatting a while, Larry gave us some very good tips on understanding snook behavior and suggested a few places we might like to try. It seemed that a moving tide was the key - without moving water the fish were lethargic and nearly impossible to catch.
The tide charts indicated we should be fishing and not standing around talking about it, so we thanked Larry and headed out.
First stop - South Bay. This was our first time fishing the fabled bay, and we were raring to go. After making our way there via kayak, we got down to the business of finding fish. When looking over a new patch of water for the first time, it can be intimidating. Gathering as much info as you can prior to your trip can be really helpful - we had a rough idea of where to go and what to look for. We slowly paddled along, eyes wide and ears open for the sights and sounds of feeding fish.
The squall we had gotten caught in that morning had roiled up the water so that sight fishing was difficult. Don decided to post up in a likely location and fan cast while I crept down a shoreline, sitting sideways in the kayak and crabwalking. The wind was blowing around 15 which made it hard for me to stand and pole, so I used it to my advantage to keep the boat close to the mangroves and other shoreline cover.
Using a topwater as a search fly, I covered every bit of structure I could see, hitting potholes, oyster piles, mangrove tangles, dropoffs and drains.
Nothing. Not even a piggy perch rise.
And then the tails started popping up - first, way down the shoreline. Then suddenly, all around me. Silvery grey like black drum, but not shaped right. I eased close to one, and found myself looking at the vertical black-and-white bars of a sheepshead. I'm telling all you sheepie hunters out there - you want a shot at a sheepshead on the fly, South Bay is the place to go find them. I saw hundreds of fish.
I could have stopped and fished for them but sometimes one has to make the decision to ignore fish to find fish. I continued my way down the shoreline, trying not to bump my boat into oyster patches and casting as I went. After a half mile of this I decided to post up on a grassy point and wait to see if I could find any activity. Resting in the grass, I watched dozens of sheepshead and mullet swim by in the green tea colored water.
I had been watching a wall of clouds far to our south, so I decided to pull out the phone and check the radar to get an idea of what was coming.
Yeah. It was time to go. We battled our way back across the increasingly windswept bay to the launch, and arrived mere minutes in front of the approaching squall.
Time to go meet the boys at the house and see the cast of characters we'd be fishing with for the next few days.