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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.

 

The jetty is a place both forbidding and misunderstood. A pile of granite is as alien to the beach landscape as a skyscraper rising suddenly from a Kansas wheat field. What some people don’t think about is that a jetty is just a metaphor for human defiance of nature. Without those huge chunks of pink igneous rock, the ocean would quickly silt in the pass and shipping commerce would literally grind to a halt. Thousands of tons of granite are splashed into position, jostling and settling into their sandy resting place. Then, unexpectedly but inexorably,  ...continue reading "Jetty on the Fly: An Intro to the Intro"

 

It is only in sorrow bad weather masters us; in joy we face the storm and defy it.
Amelia Barr

One of the most consistently true fishing-isms I've heard living here on the coast has been "If you wait for a day when the wind isn't blowing to go fish, you'll never go."

Weather just means more to a fisherman, especially a fly fisherman. We live and die, thrill and cry as the wind wills it. So many times an errant wind gust has caught the perfect cast midway to a fish and slammed it to the water like a bad Dikembe Mutombo commercial.

This is when practice and mental toughness come into play. Can you overcome adversity? Are you disciplined, stubborn, and just downright determined to get out there and catch a fish on fly even when you know it would be much easier to turn to conventional tackle?

Then you, my brother or sister, are a special kind of crazy. It's nice to meet another one of us - welcome to the show.

Most stay home...

 

There comes a time in a young hook's life when it has a chance to become something greater.

To transform into a beautiful creature of greater purpose, to transmogrify...

Eh. Alright. I got a little carried away there. After all, we are talking about Carp Swap 2013 here. Transmogrify? Oh yeah, I'd catch hell for that one.

ANYway, back to the hook - or rather, the water, where it all starts. "Where does a fly begin?", you might ask. Well I'll tell you. It starts with a problem.

...continue reading "Rojo Mojo – Carp Swap 2013"

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."

 

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.

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...

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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