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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.

 

When was the last time you went barefoot outdoors for an extended time? Maybe it was for a bit of grilling on the back deck, or strolling the beach. Good for you, I’d say. We spend so much time with our feet cooped up in shoes that any time spent barefoot is time well spent.

People who know me well will tell you that I spend plenty of time barefoot, even walking on the egg-cooking concrete of my local Texas sidewalks during summer. I sincerely enjoy the feeling of being barefoot, and I am willing to endure a few sand burrs for the pleasure.

With all that said, you won’t be surprised to learn I also love to wade barefoot. In fact, I have previously mentioned it in this blog post, in case you missed out.

Barefootin' in a carp river.
Barefootin' in a carp river.

I really love the feel of the sediments under my feet and between my toes. It’s very different than the normal wading experience, and it can make you far more stealthy than wading with footgear..

Great, you might say, ...continue reading "The secrets of barefoot wading…"

There was a storm brewing... had been all day. Night before, we had stopped and spent the night in a motel rather than risk running through what we knew could be a twister-maker of a thunderstorm. You gotta know when to push your luck. Listened on the radio as a tornado was spotted dropping between towns, winding along, and then disappearing back in the clouds. No fuss, no muss - typical plains springtime. Weather cleared and we arrived safely the next morning.

Today was a different story. I watched from orbit as wave upon gnarly wave of thunderstorms marched northeastward, just missing us. I studied the radar, hoping it would ...continue reading "Carpy Weather"

 

 

 

 

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"

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

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.

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.

My take on the Haine's 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.

Oh... Snap.

 

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.

 

Just ahead of the rain..

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.

Cracka-dawn

‘Why do I even bother to look up wind predictions?’ I grumbled to myself as I unloaded my kayak in the grey-light of early morning.

‘6mph, my butt.’  But I didn’t call it quits. After all, I was already there, and I had confidence in my ability to put my fly where I wanted it even in the 20mph wind that was already starting to kick up. I switched reels to put on a heavier line, rigged up a heavier leader than the normal 12lb tippet I usually throw in the skinny water flats, and headed off with the sunrise coming up over my shoulder.

Fly fishing the Texas coast is something that many people prepare for months in advance – if you book a guided trip down here, most fly guides will recommend lots of practice casting into wind and double hauling. Fly fishing in freshwater will rarely call for the tricks and techniques we employ down here to beat the wind, and many a talented freshwater fly slinger has found themselves humbled when they come visit us.

Those of us that already live here already familiar with the wind, so we should have a huge advantage… but a lot of guys simply choose to stay off the water instead. If the strategy of waiting until the wind lays works for you, more power to you! However, if you’re my kind of crazy hear the siren’s call of tailing reds and rolling tarpon like I do, there are some tricks that can you can employ to make blustery day fly fishing a little easier.

One of the keys that I have found is learning to use the wind to your advantage. By positioning yourself so that the fish are directly downwind or quartering downwind, you can take accurate shots much more easily than trying to fight the wind directly. With a little practice, you might be surprised just how far you can cast by learning to ‘sail’ your line with the wind.

Sometimes you have to change up the angle of a cast in heavy wind.

By using heavy enough rods and ‘up-lining’ a weight heavier than the rod weight calls for, (such as a 9 weight line on an 8 weight rod), an angler has the ability to adjust his tackle to suit the conditions if he or she expects the day to be blustery. On the flats, I would recommend a floating line for most conditions, but on windy days I’m not afraid to break out an intermediate line to help me carve a path for my fly to get in front of the fish. As for leader selection, I will generally use a 6-7ft 20lb leader tapered to a 15lb tippet on breezy days. The purpose is twofold; the short, stout leader helps roll your fly over in blustery conditions, and stands up better to the inevitable wind knots. I prefer not to remember all the times I’ve set the hook on good fish only to immediately break off at a knot in my leader.

In a pinch, if you don’t have a heavier line available to you, I have successfully used heavy clousers to help me get my backcast going into the wind. While I was limited to fishing channels and edges using this technique, it was better than sitting at home and not catching anything.

The point I’m trying to make here is that we live near some of the prettiest, fly-fisher friendly water anywhere around. If you aren’t comfortable casting when the wind is blowing, you don’t have to just give up – there are some great instructional DVDs out there, as well as qualified local casting instructors such as myself or Dave Hayward over at the Orvis shop in Rockport that can help you.

I got back to the truck that day with 3 keeper trout to 18” and a nice puppy drum on the stringer – not bad for a day that kept a lot of guys off the water. Don’t let a little breeze scare you – put in some practice and take that fly stick with you to the water even on windy days. You’ll soon see that with a little practice, fly fishing can be an everyday pursuit if you want it to be.

 

 

 

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