Fly Fishing Report #4 for the Lower Laguna Madre
10/9/06 I had the pleasure of guiding Brian Wooten from Austin last Friday and Saturday. Then, Allen Rienstra arrived from Beaumont and joined me on the water for the second time in a few months.
Brian and I fished on the west side at daybreak. The tides were high enough to slip into a lagoon where the water is typically a bit shallow to host many fish, but on Friday morning, there were quite a few reds snaking around with backs and tails out of the water. Unfortunately, the sting rays were out in force, and it was hard to convince Brian -- or myself -- that the smart thing to do was to wade. So I poled him for a while, targeting singles that were barely visible in only eight inches of water. Prowling the mullet and shrimp infested water, the reds were as subtle as I’ve ever seen them. Using a spoon fly, Brian casted to several before breaking off on his first strike. Actually, the knot came untied, so I -- who had tied the knot -- announced the angling equivalent of a “gimme” in golf, otherwise known as a longline release, and celebrated Brian’s success.
Brian hooked up again and landed a very nice red before we moved on and headed toward the East Cut, where I hoped to find some reds on the sand under a cloudless sky. The sheepshead were as thick as fleas, however, while the reds were hardly visible in the retreating phalanxes of sheepshead and mullet. We did, however, find a few reds around the East Cut before we headed in.
On the next day, we fished pretty much exclusively on the east side. Brian started off stalking two 15-lb drum that were cruising the sand near the East Cut. Unsuccessful in that quest, Brian joined me aboard the boat, and we proceeded to pole and wade various venues near the Cut. Brian landed two nice reds before we headed in at midday. Having fly fished for only four years, Brian did quite well given the opportunities that presented themselves.
Allen Rienstra fished with me back in June, I believe. Allen hails from Beaumont, and is one of the easiest-going, and most patient anglers I’ve ever guided. Even when we confronted the possibility of engine failure just after sunrise, Allen evidenced not the slightest concern. Fortunately, the E-Tec seemed to recover enough for us to stay out and fish one of my favorite fall venues. Not another boat was in sight for the four hours that we waded the remote back lagoon. Allen asked me to fish with him, and we had a blast casting to reds that were crashing bait in water so shallow that it was hard to believe that they could stay submerged. We both caught fish, and vowed to return early the next morning.
On Monday, we headed into the lagoon, and shut down well before dawn. For the next six hours, we didn’t start the motor once. Wading downwind, and following the general movement of feeding fish, we witnessed a veritable zoo of reds, trout, ladyfish and sheepshead milling among countless finger mullet and leaping shrimp. The reds were exploding on bait, and rushing onto an adjacent super shallow flat, pushing a wake that was visible for 100 yards. However, it was tough fishing. An overcast sky kept us from seeing the fish cruising around, so we had to target tails and wakes with VIP poppers, hoping to get their attention before they disappeared in the melee. Allen did quite well, catching several reds, a trout and a sheepshead. I added a couple of more reds to our total, but the number of fish does not reflect the sheer drama of feeding behavior that we encountered. Both of us missed several explosive strikes on VIPs, and had to contend with thick grass and algae all the while. When we headed in at midday, both of us were exhausted from the continuous sight casting that we had enjoyed. It was October at its best.
9/23/06 I will be guiding the next five weekends, and then some, but today I’m off. It’s nice to spend an occasional Saturday with...what’s her name...oh yes, Kathy. I’m lucky she still remembers my name!
My brother and I went out two days ago for a few hours at daybreak. The tides are very high now, and will remain high until early December. The places we go change overnight, and the seasonal patterns change dramatically. Even so, every season has its greatness, and we were hoping that the fall “greatness” was already evident in some of our favorite out of the way places.
Actually, we only went to one place. It’s a lagoon where the fish are rarely evenly distributed. You can fish on one spot and do terribly, only to have a friend tell you the next day, “You should have fished on the other side...” We started in one spot where the big reds were tearing up last weekend on small mullet. Although the mullet were there, the reds were not. So, instead of leaving the lagoon to try elsewhere, I suggested we simply relocate to another spot -- a shoreline where the reds often gather in very shallow water to feed on tiny finger mullet.
We waded slowly into the area, and at first saw only an occasional red waking toward us. Actually, Chip had all the action for a while, even though I was only 75 yards away. It just goes to show that the fish are very localized in this particular area. So I moseyed over to where Chip was standing. He wasn’t even moving, in fact -- just waiting for the reds to swim up to him. Once I reached a certain depth, suddenly, the reds were everywhere. They were very tough though. We had started with poppers, and I caught one on an orange VIP, but we both found the reds quite spooky. If we casted close enough for them to see the fly on the drop, they’d spook and head away. You had to cast more strategically -- leading them a bit, and then twitching the fly as they came within sight of it. We switched to Mother’s Day flies and caught a few more, but not as many as we ordinarily would have.
We headed in after only a couple of hours. Chip and I have fished the Lower Laguna since our dad brought us here when we could barely walk. It’s still exciting to catch a few reds, but we’re not into numbers like we once were. As Hewitt said, “First a man wants to catch the most fish, then the biggest fish, and then the smartest fish.” I guess Chip and I are somewhere between biggest and smartest.
9/18/06 Last weekend marked the end of the summer pattern, and this weekend brought fall tides and the ambiguity of September fishing. Yes, September can be a rather difficult month for fly fishing. The tides rise dramatically, but the fish have not adjusted to a fall pattern. There is no podding beneath the birds, and the back lagoons are often too warm to attract the reds into shallow, sight casting conditions. Still, we did fairly well despite the high water and the higher-than-usual winds.
But first, let’s look at the last weekend of the summer pattern , when Shawn Hayes and his falconer buddy Tim Hickok came down again. They were here earlier in the summer (see earlier reports). I couldn’t guide them the first day, but from Thursday through Saturday, we made the rounds together. Friday dawned almost dead calm, so we headed for the west shoreline in search of large pods. We found them! For about an hour and a half, the guys stalked pods of 6-50 fish. It was a great start of a great fly fishing day.
You’d think we’d seen the best of tailing action, but no, the best was still yet to come. Once the podding action along the shoreline subsided, we relocated to about a mile away. As we shut down, our good fortune became quickly evident. Pods and singles were tailing in all directions. We spent another couple of hours there, as the guys stalked fish in glassy, foot-deep water.
We only had a half day, since I had to teach on Thursday. But it was a glorious beginning. The next two days featured east-side, along with some west-side tailing. As I recall, we arrived on the sand about 10 am, and found tailing fish and small pods. Shawn almost disappeared over the west horizon while I walked with Tim, who hooked four reds and landed three of them in breathtaking conditions -- dead calm water under dramatic stormy skies.
The third day was the most difficult with no fish landed. It was windy at daybreak, and our sunshine was limited from thereafter. However, the guys promised to return next spring. It’s always great to guide Shawn and his friends. As falconers, they love a challenge, and never complain with Mother Nature throws down the gauntlet.
On Saturday and Sunday of this weekend, the conditions were about as different as you could imagine. I didn’t even think about returning to the places where Shawn and Tim and fished last week.
I had the pleasure of guiding a group from Arkansas who had purchased a two day trip we’d donated to the Arkansas Trout Unlimited. As a life member of TU, I always like to support their activities. The guys had never fly fished in saltwater, but they had a great deal of experience in coldwater venues.
Carter McCleod, Jacob Campbell and Ryan Rush met me at the boat before daybreak, and we headed east onto the sand. It was a major shift from what I’d been doing at daybreak, but it was windy and the water way high. Where else, I thought, would we find visible fish? We found mostly sheepshead at our first stop, but ran into some redfish as we headed north. As we shut down, and started poling downwind, I spotted the “holy grail” of fly fishing -- a trout that was probably over 10 pounds tailing alongside a second trout that looked to be in in the 7+ category. It was kind of dreamlike to see trout so big in such shallow water. Jacob went after it, but it soon spooked and moved downwind. We poled further and came upon it again, so Jacob resumed his quest. One hundred casts later, we gave up and moved on. Our failure did not surprise me. Hooking a fish of that caliber is always the suprising thing.
We went further north, and Ryan finally broke the ice by catching a nice, 26-inch red on a small Clouser.
The next day, I opted to go west even though the wind was still going to be a problem. We headed to one of about four spring and fall back lagoons that can be “sweet” or devoid of fish. You just have to show up. We arrived 30 minutes before sunrise, and proceeded to tie on tippet and flies. As the light grew brighter, there was nothing much to see. An occasional red would blow up, but it looked like we would have to move. I waded with Ryan onto the shallowest part of the flat, and spotted a red cruising toward us. That was the beginning of constant action for about two hours. I called the other two guys over, and they lined up and began getting shot after shot at cruising fish that were showing their back and tails as they crossed the shallow water. It wasn’t a high catching opportunity, however. The fish were in such shallow water that it was hard to get them to see the fly. There were several missed fish, and then Jacob hooked a very large red that wasn’t tailing, but just glowing in the sunlight. The red hammered his Mother’s Day Fly and headed for the next county. He had it on for about 5 minutes before the fly popped loose.
I told the guys, “You had very difficult days.” But they were hooked on saltwater fly fishing, and promised to return.
9/7/06 A couple of days after after I guided Mike and Al Solis (see below), I was joined by an old client, Bill Davenport from Austin. Bill had fished with me in the last LMFFA Tournament in June of 2005. We headed west for podding action at daybreak, and found several large pods in the same area. Bill caught three in short order on Kingfisher Spoons, and lost another before we headed to a nearby flat that has been producing in the early part of the day. The reds were spread out over the glassy expanse, tailing singly and in small pods and heading upwind against a mild north wind and an incoming tide. Bill found the reds especially tough in the almost-calm conditions. After stalking several reds fruitlessly, he got back on the boat. I poled him downwind into some tailing fish, and he hooked up on a nice red and lost another. Since we were on a six-hour day, we went in just as the action was subsiding. Bill promised to return in April when the birding action is at a feaverpitch.
9/4/06 I guided for four days over the weekend. Each day was special in its own way. David Heatley and his friend Les Chapman brought their wives down for Friday fishing. Susie Weldon took the wives out spin fishing while the men fly fished with me. I don't think they could have been happier with the results. We don't usually measure success by how many "limits" anglers catch on our boats, but suffice to say everyone caught theirs.
I'm not going to go into a lot of detail, except to say that we enjoyed tailing pods in two areas. This time of year, pods can be scarce, but we've been really fortunate in finding lots of them in two areas. David, who had come down a few months ago and had gone fishless, ended up catching three or four reds this time. Les matched his accomplishments, and when we rejoined the ladies, they had caught seven or eight large reds up to 28+ inches. So it was a banner day.
David and Les used Kingfisher spoons and Mother's Day flies throughout the day. The fish were aggressive and willing, hammering the flies just as soon as the anglers could get the fly within sight of the tailing fish.
Over the next two days, I guided Richard Ward and his 15-year-old son Alex from Plano. Alex had never casted a fly rod before! So we started out with the basics, and I don't think I stopped talking all day, reminding him of any number of things to do or not do. It is hard for anyone to take so much corrective feedback, but can you remember what it was like to be 15? I don't know about you, but I could take one or two words of critical advice, and then I'd glaze over. Alex hung in there, and it paid off. He caught four reds sight casting! For those of you who know how tough the LLM can be, you will raise your eyebrows, I'm sure.
We found the motherload of tailing pods along the west shoreline, and initially decided to wade. Joe and Debbie MacKay were nearby, stalking their own pods that were slowly sweeping from south to north. Richard, who had fished only a couple of times, had to tackle the challenge on his own, since my hands were full coaching Alex. But he managed to land his first red on a Mother's Day fly after missing a couple on a VIP popper. Then, I poled Alex while Richard waded nearby. Alex landed his first two reds on a fly within five minutes of each other. Stoked by the success, we headed to another venue a while later once the podding subsided, only to find another assortment of singles and pods working happily in a foot of water. I walked alongside Alex, and talked him through two more reds, while his dad looked on with amazement.
On the second day, Richard hit his stride and caught a couple. Alex caught two more before we headed in. Richard emailed me this morning with these words: "Alex and I both had a great time. It exceeded my expectations. Thank you for your patience with two novices and for making the trip so enjoyable that both of us cannot wait for a chance to return."
On Monday (Labor Day), I had the pleasure of guiding Al Solis and his son Michael from the Valley. Al grew up in my home town of Mercedes, and was a classmate of my sister's. He introduced himself to me a few years ago at a boat show in our home town, and proceeded to tell me an incredible story about his son Michael. I went home and wrote an account of it, and eventually submitted it to the editors of Chicken Soup of the Fisherman's Soul. It made it to the "finals," but was probably rejected because I couldn't locate Al to get his permission to tell the story! Anyway, if you're interested in "Knowing What to Ask For," I've put it here for your enjoyment and inspiration.
Anyway, when Michael and his dad arrived, Michael handed me his new reel. I looked at the line and saw that it was soiled and damaged from all of the practice that Mike had been doing in his driveway. Although it was virtually unusuable, I thought to myself, "This is the kid in the story. He has what it takes."
We went west looking for pods, and as we shut down, three or four pods were tailing within 100 yards. We slipped overboard and stalked the first pod, using Kingfisher Spoons. Please realize that neither father nor son had ever fly fished in salt water, and Mike had never fly fished at all. Within minutes, however, his cast -- honed by practice and by dreams -- hooked up his first redfish. He was beaming from ear to ear as he landed it. Imagine, it was his first of seven reds that he ended up catching that day.
The pods played out almost immediately, so we headed for a shallow area nearby to see if we could find tailing singles. When we shut down at 8:00, tails popped up all around us. We fished for four hours in one spot, and when we left around 12:30, the reds were still tailing, albeit with less frequency and vigor. It was the first hint of autumn coolness that kept the fish active so late in the day.
Oh, I forgot to add. Al caught his first red, too. I know that both father and son were hooked on fly fishing, probably for life. Indeed, Al booked Labor Day 2007 with me.
When Michael hooked his eighth fish, it turned out to be a ladyfish that had been cruising with a red. Instead of disparaging the lowly "skipjack," Mike said enthsiastically, "I love these fish." I thought, once again, of the kid in the story. You really need to read it.
8/27/06 I haven't had a chance to mention that I hosted Joe Rossi -- producer of the Sportsman's Channel show, Joe's Wildside Adventures -- last week. Joe had come last year and filmed a segment for the show, and decided to come back and get two shows this year. Of course, that all depended on being able to find and catch the fish!
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We started on the east side on a fairly calm Monday morning. I'd hoped to find the reds, trout and ladyfish on the sand at daybreak. It makes for spectacular sunrise video and fly fishing action -- casting toward the rising sun toward wakes and tails in glassy water. Well...the fish weren't really there. We managed to catch a couple before I decided that we'd better head west for the short-lived morning tailing action.
Arriving there almost an hour after sunrise, we were fortunate that the reds were still tailing. I poled Joe from one tail to another until he scored with a spoon fly. It wasn't easy action -- when is it? -- but we had lots of shots.
Later, we went to a place where I've been finding giant trout and reds mixed together. We saw several trout in the 24-28 inch range, but did not manage to catch any from the boat. Indeed, it's rare to catch one at all, and then when you add the boat to the equation, it's kind of like buying a lotto ticket and hoping for success.
But we did get another red or two before heading elsewhere. Joe has a particular fancy for ladyfish, so we went south and east onto a flat known for its big ladyfish. Wading side by side, we both caught fine ladfish, and got it all on camera. Joe's fish was around 3 lbs., which is about as big as they ever get in the Bay. You'll catch larger fish in the ocean, but rarely in the estuary.
On the second day, we went directly to my #1 tailing venue, and had lots of small tailing pods and singles. Joe picked up a nice red there, and we went hunting and poking elsewhere for a while before hitting it big up near the East Cut. We both caught nice reds, about two dozen ladyfish apiece, a few small trout, and a couple of piggy perch. It was a lot of fun, and they got the footage they needed for two shows. We will be carrying the shows on DVD once they debue on the Sportsman's Channel.
Two days ago, I had the pleasure of guiding Paul Brick and his son Adam for the second time this year. Paul and Adam had come down earlier this year, only to have a lackluster day. Paul thought it would be nice to have another shot at the Lower Laguna before Adam left for New York, where he will be attending the Culinary Institute.
We only had a half day, so it creates a bit more pressure for me to find fish quickly. On a whole day, it's possible to spend more time waiting for things to develop in areas that are proven producers. But on a half day, I have to "pull the plug" quickly and move on; otherwise we run out of time before catching anything.
We started on the west side for tailing fish. Both anglers picked up a nice red from the tailing fish that were moving slowly upwind at daybreak. Then we went to a place near the ICW, hoping for both reds and trout. Adam scored again with another red, and had shots at huge trout, as well. Since there weren't as many fish as I'd hoped, we took off for a flat that has been producing from late morning onward, even on the windiest days. Sure enough, as we waded onto the flat, both anglers began to see tailing and cruising reds. Before we left, both had landed a couple of more reds, and would have caught several more. But we had to go in, not so much because I wouldn't have gladly stayed out longer, but because Kathy has scheduled a meeting for us, knowing that I was supposed to be in by midday.
8/23/06 Fly fishing for trophy trout is kind of like getting ready for the prom: You'd better start a couple of days in advance. So last night, with my mouth watering at the thought of targeting trophy trout with my brother Chip, I took my two favorite reels apart and oiled them. Then I replaced the leaders and tied on brand new VIP poppers. I barely slept, knowing that the place we were going to fish was likely to have dozens of tailing trout over 24 inches.
I haven't fished the area myself at daybreak, but have recently taken clients there later in the morning. The thought of fishing the area at first light was intoxicating. "You'd better sign up for the CCA Star tournament," I advised Chip. Indeed, there was a good chance we'd see a few tournament winners, if not catch one.
Chip arrived at 6:00 with his boat (mine was in the shop) and a huge ice chest. If he caught the winner, we planned to keep it alive in the cooler until he weighed it in at Jim's Pier, 25 miles south of where we planned to fish. And then we'd release it unharmed. Chip had registered for the tournament, so we were set. I can't fish the Star Tournament because I am a guide.
We shut the motor and drifted into the area. I was the first out of the boat with my five-weight. With a slight northeast breeze, I walked onto a shallow flat and saw what I expected to see: huge trout tails waving, and trout blowing up on bait. As I waded closer, I noticed that the trout were surrounded by sheepshead and some mullet, indicating that it would be tough to approach the infinitely wary trout, which some anglers have described as "tougher than permit."
I'd opted to use an orange VIP, since I'd caught a 24-inch trout the week before, and missed a couple of others on the same fly. Chip waded to my left, and to his consternation, the big trout seemed to be showing themselves in my vicinity, probably because it was shallower.
My first presentations were too long, and spooked not only the trout, but a dozen sheepshead each time. I am afraid that my language (to myself, of course) began to reflect a bit of frustration. It was as hard as any fly fishing I've ever done. After about 20 minutes and 10 missed opportunities, a huge wake shot forward from where a trout tail the size of my hand had just disappeared -- and after bulging beneath the fly as if to take a bead on the little popper -- a huge trout exploded on the VIP. I stripped to set the hook, but felt nothing at all. The trout had summarily removed the fly on the strike without pulling at all against the rod! Indeed, the knot had come unravelled, and my fly sat on the water as a mute testimony to my incredibly poor luck. I would have taken it personally, except that anglers always speak of the bizarre happenings that surround the quest for giant trout. The fly floated down to Chip and he plucked it from the water.
I proceeded to stalk one tailing trout after another, only to find that it was exceedingly difficult to get the fish to show any interest in the popper. I'd either spook them, or they'd never see it. Traveling in pairs, or alone, the big fish were feeding head down in the grass, and wallowing and tailing all around us. Switching to a subsurface Mother's Day Fly, I managed only to catch the algae that coats the turtle grass, and so I quickly went back to the VIP. Managing to catch a small red before I headed back to the boat, I considered all of the things I'd done wrong: moved too quickly onto the flat, made too many long casts, and lined too many of the fish. Suffice to say that fishing for trout over 24 inches is the most difficult fly fishing I've ever done, or probably will ever do, except perhaps fishing for trout in Cairns' Pool on the Beaverkill River -- where, as Lee Wullff once said, "the trout have Ph.D.s." I am glad that our trout are so hard to catch. Perhaps they will survive in this world, unlike so many other things of fragile beauty.
Kathy and I will return to the big trout venue on Monday morning, once the weekend traffic has subsided.
8/12/06 I had the pleasure of guiding Dr. Chris Tokunaga from Sugarland on Monday, Thursday and Friday. In between, I traveled to Ft. Worth to give a presentation on fly fishing the Lower Laguna to a group of 125 men at the Legacy Outfitters monthly meeting.
Chris made it clear to me that he wanted me to fish with him. Given the fact that he is an experienced fly fisher and can cast with both hands, it was clear that he wouldn't be needing my guidance that much. So at daybreak on Monday, both of us slipped over the side of the Curlew on the white sand, and waded toward the rising sun, expecting to see hoards of reds pouring off the sand toward the deeper water. However, after only a few minutes, I determined that the fish had already fallen off the sand; so we headed west for another venue that usually ranks #1 in my short list of daybreak tailing venues. As soon as the water had settled, tails began popping up on either side of the mullet stream, which was moving steadily southward. We waded on either side of the stream, and got a couple of dozen shots apiece at tailing reds, and caught a few.
We started off with poppers, but soon ascertained that the reds were too spooky on the heels of feeding all night under a clear sky and a full moon. Over the next three days, we opted for spoon flies at daybreak, and shifted to Mother's Day Flies and VIP poppers later in the day, as the "full moon effect" wore off. Indeed, we caught our last eight reds on Friday on Orange Poppers -- after midday under a cloudless sky! This was kind of backwards compared to our usual program of poppers early, and subsurface flies later. But the full moon can teach you a few things if you let it.
I believe that all three days were double-digit catching days for both of us, but I have to admit that I didn't count very carefully. Chris was not "into numbers," by any means. There were times when we'd be sitting aboard the boat watching the tailing fish all around us, talking about the beauty of the sunrise, the paucity of crabs due to the hypersaline, drought conditions, etc.. Because the focus was so broad, our enjoyment was similarly multifaceted. When an air boat destroyed the peace of a flock of nearby roseate spoon bills, we stopped to witness the splash of pink against the blue sky, rather than to prosecute our case against the fish. It made me remember fly fishing on West Branch of the Deleware one June. I was fishing beside two very experienced old timers, and watched whatever they did, and imitated it as best I could. At one point, I turned to see what they were doing. Both of them were at a standstill, puffing on their pipes. A deer was crossing the river between us, and the men had taken a break to allow the deer to pass. Since then, I have remembered their example, and tried to emulate it as best I can.
The action was extraordinary. The tailing action on the west side was awesome on Thursday, when calm conditions greeted us at daybreak. We waded onto a bar where the water was only 8-9 inches deep. The reds were wallowing and tailing everywhere we looked, and we went from one fish to another, taking care to wade as quietly as possible. They were aggressive toward the spoon flies, but would disappear after one sloppy cast, or a misstep. Before we headed back to the boat at 9:30, we'd both landed 4 or 5, and were stoked. On Monday -- sorry to jump around so much, but fishing isn't always a logical process -- after exhausting the tailing action, I went looking for podding reds, and found a few up north. Chris waded into three or four pods of 10-20 tailing fish, and landed several before we headed elsewhere. At some point in each of our days, we fished an often overlooked venue that has been extremely productive for my clients during the last two weeks. On Monday, after arriving at the spot around 10:30, we didn't leave the area until our day was almost over. We had almost constant shots at tailing and cruising reds, and a few big trout.
On Friday, however, it was especially windy; so I opted for another late morning locale where the reds often tail in strong wind. We got there at 9:30, and enjoyed constant redfish action until nearly 2:00! When we left the wind had risen to about 25 mph, but the reds were still visible and willing. The three days were quite memorable for me, and I believe that Chris felt the same way.
8/4/06 The fishing has been improving in the last two weeks. We are getting into major redfish tailing on the west side at daybreak, and then getting into tailing action elsewhere after mid-morning.
Today, for instance, I guided Dr. John Boyd and his son J.R. from Georgetown, Texas. We have fished together during the first week of August for the last three seasons, so the Boyds know the program. For better or worse, they enjoyed such stunning action last August that I was concerned that their expectations might be too high. However, they are both bowhunters and consummate sportsmen, and never complain
We had a surprisingly slow start this morning. Compared to what, you might ask? Well, yesterday, I guided our old guest and friend Dr. Vince Weisman and his buddy Roland from Mississippi. Vince and Roland had a "glory day." We found constant tailing on the west side, and caught a bunch. We moved to a flat adjacent to the ICW, and caught a few more. Then we headed further north, and landed another dozen or so.
But alas, the reds were lackluster this morning. We caught three in our usual first-light venue, but we soon moved north. John caught another red that was tailing, but the action was disappointing, once again. Two stops later, we hit the big time with constant tailing action for about three more hours. John caught five more and J.R. landed five reds. The action was exceedingly difficult, however. There were tailing reds all over, but they were head down in thick grass. The guys would cast 20 or more times to one fish before it either spooked or took the fly, or simply disappeared in disgust.
Vince and Roland joined us in Vince's boat, and waded onto the flat. After catching a few reds themselves, Vince spotted a giant drum working nearby. He waded over to it, casted about 30 times, and finally got it to eat. For the next 30 minutes, his rod was bent double, as it he were hoisting a bag of cement. Finally, he got the big fish to turn, and when he went to land it, the tippet wrapped around the gill plates and gave way.
I had planned to weigh the big drum on my IGFA certified Boga grip, but I remembered half way through Vince's battle that it was still in Florida for its annual recertification. I'm glad I didn't have to tell Vince that there was no way to document the catch before we released it. Even if he'd been inclined to kill it, keeping any drum over 30 inches is illegal. So the fish and I were relieved, even though I would have loved to see how much it weighed. (Roland landed a 17 lb. drum the next day in the same area! Here is Vince's pohoto of that catch.)
Before I guided Vince and Roland, I had a great day on the water with our old client and friend Bret Burford (above) from Ft. Worth, and his young son Cole. It was a tailing morning, and Bret was able to stalk a few reds successfully with his fly rod, while I waded with Cole and his spin rod. It was tough action, and Cole quickly opted to return to the boat where -- in typical seven-year-old fashion -- he inspected the local flora and fauna, and invented things for his guide to do for him -- like fetching his cap from the water, and giving him fly casting lessons. Soon, I predict, Cole will be wading side by side with his dad, giving him tips on how to improve his cast. I will see Bret soon when I speak to his Legacy group in Ft. Worth next Tuesday.
I have omitted the accounts of several other days on the water, including another good day with our old friend Jim Posgate and his friend Ben, as well as two exceptional days on the water with Jim and Fern Wood from Amarillo. I ran out of time! Suffice to say that we had great action, but the reds have been tougher than they have been in previous years. I'm not sure what accounts for this phenomenon. It could be boat pressure, or high water temperatures. Regardless, the fish have seemed much more sensitive, and quick to disappear after the first cast.
7/24/06 The tides have been exceedingly low, but the fly fishing has been excellent in the early morning, as long as the winds have remained calm. We have fished large tailing pods and widespread single tailing reds until late morning. The fish have fallen off the flats by midday, making the afternoon fishing difficult at best.
Yesterday, an old client Doug Gaunt from Ft. Worth caught what we believed was a new state fly rod record black drum. As it turned out, it came within three pounds of beating the current record. Doug was casting from the bow, while his wife Connie awaited her turn, which didn't come for another hour once the fish was hooked. The fish ate a size 6 Clouser, and took 45 minutes to land. It weighed 27 pounds and measured approximately 36 inches in length (my deck ruler only goes to 32 inches). It was a great day, needless to say. Last year, Connie caught a world record ladyfish, and so the Gaunts have a way of catching the big ones when they are down here. .
Doug showed tremendous patience in fighting the big fish. After he'd hooked up, I warned him, "Those little hooks have been breaking!" So he took his time, even though his arms almost gave out. At one point, I yelled to Connie," We need a pep talk," because I was concerned that Doug was going down for the count. But I was wrong, and he succeeded in finally turning the big fish. As it came into the shallow water, I grabbed it before it could change its mind.
Let me cast back to a week and a half ago when I was on the way to the flats with our two sons, Pete and Ryan. We hadn't fished together in...I can't remember when, actually, so it was special. It was windier than I'd hoped it would be, but we headed toward an area where there might be some tailing in strips of glassy water in between the wind driven waves. After that action failed to materialize, we headed north looking for miracles. On the way, Pete asked, "Do you ever see birding action this time of year?" I said, "Rarely, and only in a couple of places like...well, I can't actually tell you or they would never do it again because of all of the boats. We headed for that area, and wow, the birds were going crazy. I looped upwind of them, cut the motor and assessed the situation. Groups of birds were following sweeping pods that were literally driving a six-inch wave as they swept up a shoreline, with shrimp jumping ahead of them. It was too murky to see the fish, but the wakes were dramatic. "Get out of the boat, and spread out, I yelled." Pete and I were already rigged and ready to go, but Ryan was struggling with his booties as the first group of fish swept through the area. Pete and I both hooked up, but mine came unhooked. A second group headed our way, so I cast my tiny Clouser toward the lead wake and hooked a red that took off like a train. 15 minutes later, I landed a 28-inch red. But before I landed him, I took photos of Pete's fish while holding my rod with the other hand. It was pure chaos. Ryan missed out on sweeping pods, but walked over to the shoreline and did it the hard way by spotting a single red with his back out of the water. In minutes, Ryan had joined us with his own catch.
The next day, as I recall, I guided John Spencer from Colorado and Reid Witliff from Austin. We headed toward the west side of the LLM, hoping for the "redfish parade," a phenomenon that manifests in mid to late summer. Finding just the right spot can make the difference in being surrounded by a million mullet without a gamefish to be seen, and facing incoming redfish and trout. The first place we stopped was filled with teeming mullet, and the gamefish were milling around without showing themselves. So we headed "upstream," meaning toward shallower water, where the mullet will eventually head after sunrise. Seeing numerous gamefish wakes, we stopped, and faced the approaching mullet stream. Within minutes, it was clear that the redfish parade was "on." Indeed, singles and small pods emerged from the mullet biomass, and cruised upwind toward the waiting fly fishers. For a couple of hours, John and Reid had constant head-on shots in bootie deep water, which is an exciting but challenging scenario. We did other productive things in the ensuing hours, but nothing quite so dramatic and productive than the dearly loved redfish parade.
I guided my old client and friend Jim Posgate the next day, along with his son Keith, who works as a school principal for the US govt in S. Korea. Keith comes home about once a year, and whenever he's here, Jim usually hires me to takes them fishing.
We fished the redfish parade for a while, and Jim -- who is a very experienced LLM angler handily landed a couple of fine reds while Keith got his sea legs after not fly fishing for a year.
It was a calm morning, so we went looking for the big pods along a west shoreline. Poling into the area, I could see a dark line on the horizon -- the sure sign of tailing reds. As we got closer, we could see two different large pods and tailing fish. Fortunately, the pods were heading our way, so as they approached Keith casted a Mother's Day Fly into the leading edge of the pod and hooked up on his first red.
Jim caught a couple of more reds before the action subsided. We ran around for a while, but it was clear that the fish had quickly left the flats. We went in after a half day, pretty happy with the results. (Isn't this an awesome shot of the "parting of the sea?" Jim took it.
My first day out with Connie and Doug Gaunt from Ft. Worth ( see my above mention of Doug's giant drum) was an exceptional day. As I headed out in the dark, I struggled with a decision: podding or the redfish parade. I opted for podding first, so we shut down in dead calm water and poled quietly into the area. Spotting one line of tailing fish, and then two others, I knew that we'd hit it right. Slipping overboard, we waded into a redfish and sting ray-infested area. Pods of 20-50 redfish were all around us, and continued to tail happily for about three hours. Doug opted to use a VIP the whole time, even though the percentage of hookups to strikes was probably lower than if he'd used a Mother's Day Fly. Still, he wanted to experience the visual and auditory action of "reds on top." Landing six and missing that many more, Doug was pretty happy when we arrived back at the boat. Meanwhile, I waded with Connie from one pod to another. Landing a big ladyfish, and missing two reds, she was feeling a bit frustrated, but not defeated.
We moved "upstream" in the mullet stream, and checked out the redfish parade. It was on! Spreading out, and facing the incoming fish, Connie and Doug had constant action until the late morning wind rose and obscured the incoming wakes. Doug landed a couple of more reds, and and fine 24 inch trout. I lost those photos, unfortunately, but here's a couple from Doug's redfish catches the next day, following his ordeal with the 27-pound drum.
It's always a pleasure to guide the Gaunts. Magic seems to happen when we're on the water. Last year, we had 25 mph winds. A guide friend of mine gave up and took his clients to Mexico, but we stayed on the water and found a great sight casting scenario where Connie, who had never caught a redfish on a fly, caught six reds! It was an awesome day, in spite of the conditions. I've come to expect that of Doug and Connie.
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7/14/06 It's been over a week since I've had a minute to bring you up to date. I fished six days last week, took a couple of days off to catch up and teach school, and hit the water again yesterday. Each day has been so different than the previous one: there's been no way to predict what we will find.
I had the pleasure of guiding Sam Fason last week for four straight days. Sam came last fall with his son Drake, and had a phenomenal day back then. It's hard to repeat catching 23 reds in one day, so we just hoped for some good opportunities. Sam's first morning out did not disappoint!
We fished on the west side of the LLM, in extremely shallow condtions, and had almost calm conditions for several hours. Until the wind came up, Sam enjoyed tailing pods and singles in all four directions, as far as we could see. The hard part was deciding which set of tails to target. However, what appeared to be a high-catching day turned out to be singularly challenging sight casting scenario.
Sam started off with a VIP popper, but found the reds too spooky to take on top; so we soon switched Sam to a Mother's Day and he began hooking up. The action continued well into the morning, but once it subsided, the day was about over. The sand was devoid of fish, and wherever we went, we found that the fish has fallen off the flats. So we went in around midday, fairly content with our good fortune on Sam's first day out.
His second day was much tougher. The breeze was up at daybreak, and the tails were few and far between. We covered a lot of territory, and only landed a single red before heading in at midday on a half day trip.
Returning west on the third day, the tailing action was completely "off." So we headed east onto the sand, as shallow as we could go. Stopping only about 250 yards from the Padre Island shelf, we waded east into the glare and began seeing tailing reds popping up. They were spread out, but the action was constant, and even improved as the morning progressed. Indeed, they seemed to be falling off the sand for the first couple of hours, but then appeared to be returning from the west. Sam enjoyed almost constant action until midday, and landed several very fine reds in a classic, highly challenging sight casting scenario. The reds were alone, as a rule, and tailing in about 10-12 inches of gin clear water. Approaching them required ultimate stealth, but Sam has tamed his aggression, unlike many anglers that I guide. He took his time, smelled the flowers so the speak, and did as a well as anyone could have done in such demanding conditions.
Sam was amply rewarded for staying a fourth day, because the tide suddenly surged, and created some opportunities that we rarely have in midsummer. Indeed, we headed for a particular lagoon that is almost always off limits in early July, but was flush with a fresh tidal influx at daybreak.
Since the wind was almost calm, I poled into the area where the reds often congregate. As the light increased, we began seeing very big reds tailing and wallowing in water almost too shallow to float them. Sam slipped overboard and casted a Mother's Day Fly beautifully to each one in turn, only to be greeted with indignant reactions. Again, the perfect morning was looking like a perfect curse.
This time, however, I fished alongside him and experimented with various flies while Sam stayed with a Mother's Day Fly. When I shifted to a VIP, things started to look up. Soon we were both casting VIPs, hooking upon sizeable reds, and getting shots at numerous 25-28 inch fish that were tailing and cruising around with their backs out of the water.
I expect that Sam will be back, even though the fishing was tougher than last fall. Any angler who counts the opportunities rather than the successes would have been well pleased with what Sam and I found over four days of fly fishing on the Laguna Madre.
Just after Sam left, his son Drake arrived with his buddy Don Kaiser. Don was a recent convert to fly fishing, and had never caught a redfish on his fly rod. We headed east at daybreak instead of west. The action had shifted from west to east over the previous four days, and the tides had fallen again, making the lagoon where Sam had fished so successfully the previous day inaccessible to us.
Heading toward the rising sun, I went as far as the edge of the sand before the abundant wakes told us that we were into plentiful reds. Indeed, as Sam waded off toward Padre Island, he was soon into tails and hooking up on his first reds. Meanwhile, I waded more slowly with Don, giving him tips on line management and presentation. We had several near successes, but it was only after I'd started back to retrieve the boat that Don suddenly had two pods of sweeping redfish bearing down on him from opposite directions. Casting his best cast ahead of one of the groups, he waited patiently until the lead fish had reached his fly. Stripping two of three time brought the ineveitable strike, and he was hooked up for the first time. And you could him for miles, too!
Drake had just hooked up himself, so he headed toward us for this shot of the two friends celebrating a beautiful morning on the Mother Lagoon.
On Monday, I had the pleasure of guiding Lou Purvis from Ft. Worth for the first time. Lou had been vacationing with his family on Padre Island, and was able to take a few hours away from family duties to join me on the water. We had an extraordinary half day, finding fish wherever we went. Starting on the west side, we were immediately into abundant tails. It was hard to wade the area, so I poled Lou from one tail or pod to another. It was tough action, but almost constant for a while. Then, as it played out we headed north and got into singles and pods in an area that is usually too murky to sight cast. At one point, Lou casted to a 26-27 inch trout, and got it to take his fly. But when he stripped, the fly popped out, which is the usual outcome when it comes to big trout.
Then we moved again, and got into great sight casting from the boat at reds and big trout in an area that hasn't fished very well in recent years, but has provded almost constant action in the last week. We finally had to knock it off, but it was a most enjoyable morning for both angler and guide.
There's more to report, but it's late, so I'll just refer you to the new photo on the home page. My son Pete snapped the picture just before I released a 28-inch red that I'd caught on my six-weight TICRx. The best part of the day, however, was fishing alongside our two sons, Pete and Ryan, who also caught fine fish. We'll be back on the water tomorrow, hoping to catch the giant trout that I nearly caught today, and a bunch more reds, as well.
7/3/06 I had the pleasure of guiding Guy Stovall, III, and his son Guy Stovall IV on Thursday and Friday. Like so many of our clients, Guy and "Quattro" (as Guy IV likes to be called) had fly fished in rivers and lakes, but had never fly fished in salt water. They had no expectations, except to learn.
We looked for the large pods and bank feeding reds that I'd been finding on Monday through Wenesday (see below). Finding only a few reds along the shoreline, I finally pulled the plug and headed for my #1 favorite venue this time of year. The fish were tailing there, and I'd only wished we'd arrived an hour earlier, because the action tends to fade as the sun rises, and the wind increases. Quattro and I walked together for a while, and he had one shot after another of singles and doubles that were tailing in the glassy water. They were hard to approach, but he managed to get within striking distance of a few. Meanwhile, his dad stalked tails behind us, and found the action sobering, as the fish usually spooked beyond the distance of his cast.
We fished further south on the west side, and found lots of big reds, but they were hard to target from the boat, and once we got out and waded, they were hard to see.
We headed further north, and tried the East Cut. There Quattro and I stood side by side while he casted to a state record black drum and three of its cohorts. If you've ever targeted giant black drum, you'll know that it seems hopeless -- that is, until they take your fly. Alas, the last part never happened. But Quattro observed some really large drum within 10 feet of our feet. While we were standing there, a school of jacks erupted within 30 feet of us, driving bait skyward. They rushed past us into a narrow channel that cuts into the shallow flat, and then left just as quickly as they came. I looked at Quattro, and he was stunned. When the jacks came out of the water, we could see that they were in the 30-lb class. Again, no hookups, but it was dramatic to witness.
This 20-lb. drum was caught and released by a client -- Steve Puzoli from Deleware -- a couple of years ago. He caught it within 200 yards from where Quattro casted to four similar fish. It is still the Texas fly rod record.
The sand proved disappointing in the afternoon, so the action was over by noon. This is typical for a summer day, but one always hopes for an east side "turn on" in the afternoon.
On the second day, we returned to the tailing red venue, and got into some good action that didn't last very long. However, Quattro landed his first redfish on a fly -- a considerable feat for a 14-year-old. I'll bet that surprised you! How many 14-year-olds would put in the time to succeed at this game? Not many, I'll wager. I told his dad, "A kid is willing to take on salt water fly fishing as a teenager is almost surely destined for success." I've watched quite a few get older, and they've never proven me wrong.
I blew the photo of Quattro's first red, darn it! So I don't have it to show you. But think of a 14-year-old with a smile from ear to ear and you'll have the better part of it.
The Stovalls were happy with the learning process, but would have liked to hook more fish, of course. I think they're coming back this fall, and I expect them to do well, having "paid their dues" on the Mother Lagoon.
6/28/06 I know it's been a while since I"ve updated the report, but I had to go to Massachusetts to deliver two presentations on dream analysis. Now I'm back to wearing my guide cap, and I've got some fishing tales to report.
Actually, I guided Allen Rienstra from Beaumont before I left town. Allen came down by himself, and fished two extended half days with me. The weather at that time was windy at dawn, but then sunny the rest of the day. So I wasn't sure what we'd do at daybreak, given the fact that the "birding action" that we depend on in April and May is usually over by early June. But fortunately, the action was "on" for Allen.
We turned north from the mouth of the Arroyo, and I hoped for tailing on a shallow flat where we usually fish this time of year. But before we got there, we spotted some gulls hovering over what was obviously a large pod of tailing reds. I shut down and poled onto the flat where the birds were working, and we soon spotted redfish tails waving darkly in the dawn twilight.
Allen slipped overboard and began to stalk the reds. It was one of those times when the reds were going away from us, even as the birds faced upwind toward us. It's pretty common that you wade toward the tails, and you never seem to get closer. But Allen caught onto the fact that they were retreating, and sped up to overtake them. Pretty soon he had hooked up with his first red of the day.
We went on to fish two more pods until the action played out around 8:30. Since it was too early to head east, we waded together on a flat where we'd run over quite a few fish. Allen asked me to fish with him, so we waded side by side and didn't see much until I spotted a pod of three reds feeding head down, moving toward me. One of them stole the fly from the other two, and gave me a pretty good fight before I released him.
The sand action proved to be quite good, even though the stings rays were as thick as I've ever seen them. We had to watch every step we took, and even then, I still managed to step on one without getting stung. Allen said, "I'm really not much afraid of them." I answered, "Neither am I, but I'm afraid of me."
The reds were pretty plentiful on the sand, and we caught several before the half day was up. Allen caught a pretty 24-25 inch specimen just before we went in.
The next day was a repeat of the first -- tailing pods at dawn, and then onto the sand by midmorning. There weren't as many reds, however, so we didn't land as many. But Allen made it clear to me that fishing was much more than catching for him. "The journey is all that matters," he said. When he said that, then I knew I was with a "kinfolk." Indeed, there were many moments of just contemplating the beauty of the birds and the clarity of the water. Allen sent me this note a couple of days after he'd returned to Beaumont:
"I just wanted to thank you for a truly exceptional experience. It is not often that I get the time to journey to an area that is unsurpassed in beauty and elegance. The fishing was amazing, if not a bit humbling (I couldn't believe I was so close to those schools of redfish!).
"It was clear that Scott has developed a keen insight into the knowledge of the environment and the interactions therein. I was honored for his guidance, tutelage, and patience that only a professional guide could possess.
"Since I picked up fly fishing a few years ago I have approached it as vehicle of spiritual growth and it was such a pleasure to have added this experience to that growth. My stay was one of the most influential trips I have taken which I hope will be the first of many.
"Thanks again and I hope to see you again in October!"
The day after I returned from the Northeast, Craig Oldenettle from Austin arrived for his second visit to Kingfisher this year. Craig came down in March and had two dreary bad weather days, but promised to return after the weather conditions stabilized in the late spring. So, his second visit was really his first real opportunity to fly fish to redfish.
We headed to the west side, as usual, at daybreak, and were greeted with several very large pods of tailing reds. I coached Craig as he stalked the pods, and he finally hooked up with a fine 25-inch red. The pressure was off, and Craig proceeded to get into a rare groove for a first-comer, and landed three more reds casting to pods of four to six fish, and stung a couple of other fish, before the action played out.
Our second day was a repeat of the first -- large pods on the west shoreline, and then individual reds and smaller pods for the rest of the morning. We're into classic summer conditions, and I predict I will soon be telling you about the mythical "redfish parade" that should begin any morning.
My brother Chip and I had a rare morning together yesterday. We headed to a particular shoreline where reds have been feeding with their backs out of the water. Chip landed two reds on the way to the shoreline, casting to large tailing pods. Meanwhile, I moseyed around trying to spot a big trout. When that quest proved futile, I turned to the shoreline where the redfish backs were literally glowing in the sunlight. They were everywhere -- singles and small pods feeding aggressively in bootie deep water. Chip joined me, and we stood pretty much in one place and had shot after shot as the reds cruised back and forth along the shoreline.
Eight reds up to 27 1/2 inches later, we admitted that we'd had our share of the catching, and decided to head in -- and it was only 8:45!
We fully expected to make a beeline to the dock, but we were arrested in our journey by the sight of wakes sweeping down a particular bank where we never see reds. Could it be? We wondered. That is, until the back of a huge red popped above the surface. We circled, and headed back up the shoreline to intercept the big fish. Chip jumped out of the boat. I offered to flip a coin, but he didn't seem to hear me. Funny how hearing can be selective!
Standing a few feet from the boat, Chip made a great cast to the incoming lunker, and...he blew up like someone shot him and headed for deeper water. But lo...there was another wake behind him. Again, Chip casted his Clouser right ahead of the wake and hooked up! On a sting ray! I said, "You're on your own," and begin running up the shoreline to intercept some more wakes. Before it was over, we'd hooked four reds and landed three. I would love to tell you where we caught these fish, but because you wouldn't believe me, I won't trouble you. But if you're curious, email me and I will tell you.
6/14/06 The last week has been characterized by extremely low tides at daybreak. As I’ve said before, this tide fallout shifts the whole focus of our fishing. Places that we’ve fished every morning won’t be holding fish again until September, when the solar effects pull the tides back up to their spring and fall levels.
Shawn Hays and Barry Townsend fished over a week on the LLM, and most of the time with me. It was a real pleasure to fish with these guys. Never did I hear one complaint, even though the conditions weren’t always conducive to easy fly fishing.
After a double-digit day of sight casting to redfish everywhere we went (see below), the tides abruptly fell out for Shawn and Barry, so we shifted to summer fishing -- to sight casting to tailing singles and small pods in extremely shallow and grassy westside venues. We found tailing action every morning, and toward the end of the their stay, we found large tailing pods along a west-side shoreline -- the same phenomenon that my son Ryan and I fished last August with my brother Chip. Given the fact that it’s only late June, it’s looking up for the rest of the summer.
My typical day with Shawn and Barry was simple. We’d fish westside tailing action, and then south and east onto the sand for the rest of the day. I was hoping that the guys weren’t getting bored with the same pattern, but no, they seemed to really love both kinds of action. The reds were extremely tough at daybreak for several days. The tide was almost completely slack and the moon had been nearly full in a cloudless sky all night. Still, we caught a few each day casting to tailing reds.
Fortunately, the skies were nearly cloudless for almost a week, providing perfect conditions for fishing the sand. On two or three of the days, we had dozens of shots on the sand. The fish were tough there, too, often spooking when a tiny Clouser would land 5 feet away. We’d have to lead them like a bonefish, and make then think it was their idea.
During one of our long treks on the sand, Barry hooked up on a big fish that I could not identify from where I stood. So I waded toward him as he fought the fish. As I got closer, I saw its tail -- the big, black square tail of a monster trout. I started shouting advice: “She’s not ready to come in, she hasn’t even started to fight. Get ready.” Meanwhile, I walked up and looked down at a 27-inch trout that Barry had hooked. I was incredulous. It doesn’t happen very often than a first-timer hooks a fish like that. Barry interrupted my trance by saying, “Dinner?” I was aghast. “No, not dinner. Not that fish! That’s the Holy Grail of fish.” Barry started laughing, and didn’t stop for a whole week. He got quite a bit of mileage from my reaction.
Back to the fish. Suddenly, she shot off for Mexico like a freshly released torpedo. Barry’s drag screamed until...you know...the fly popped out. Well, at least I didn’t have to ransom her from a man intent on a tasty meal.
Later than day, we did keep a redfish that died after we tried to release it, so Barry got to apply his gourmet talents after all. We were both happy.
On Saturday, Shawn and Barry went out with another guide while I guided Robert, James and Colin Nesbett along with Colin’s buddy Drew. I took Colin and Drew out, while Robert and James went out with another guide. Drew had never caught a redfish on a fly, while Colin was fairly experienced with a fly rod.
I took the guys to a place where I hoped to find pods of tailing reds, and sure enough we got into pods of 20-30 reds tailing en masse. Colin broke off on his first strike, and then landed a red to break the ice. Drew missed his first shot at a huge pod but stalked the same group and landed a 24-inch red a while later. Colin hooked up again stalking singles along a nearby shoreline, and then we headed east to the sand. It was pretty bare compared to what we’d been finding, but there was one shining moment that we’ll all remember. I was walking beside Drew, who is right handed. Colin was 50 feet to our left. I spotted a redfish following a sting ray and heading toward Drew and me from the worst direction -- from the right with a tail wind. I said to Drew, No way to cast to that fish. But then I turned to Colin and urged him to come quickly, and to use his left-handed cast to intercept the redfish. Drew and I crouched as low as we could get. Meanwhile, Colin's casts were zinging overhead as the red and the ray approached. Finally, Colin’s fly landed about three feet from the red, and only about 15 feet from where Drew and I huddled. The red lunged for the fly, and hooked up!
On Sunday, I took out Shawn alone for a short half day before he and Barry had to leave for the airport. We went back to the place where I’d found the tailing pods the day before, and sure enough, tailing singles and pods adorned the horizon as we poled into the area before sunrise. Shawn landed two very nice reds before we left the area -- a fitting culmination to a great fishing trip, if I may say so. By the way, I get credit for Shawn’s smile on this shot. “Do you ever smile for photos?” I asked. And so he did.
6/5/06 We've been back for a week now, and have had some good days on the Bay. Not to bore you, but our trip to the Bahamas was superb. Joe MacKay and his wife Debby accompanied us -- actually, they organized the trip -- on our first excursion to the islands. We stayed at a beachfront house on Long Island, which is just south of Exuma. We fished every day, and ate conch burgers accompanied with copious amounts of the Bahamian beer known as Kahlik Gold. For several days, we were self-guided and fished several areas that were accessible by car. Fortunately, we eventually decided to go out with two of the best known guides on Long Island, who took us to the Deadman’s Cay area. Kathy and I fished with Frank Cartwright, while Joe and Debby fished with his son Jerry. Kathy and I waded all day with Frank alongside. I’d caught some bones on my own, but fishing with Frank was a different experience altogether. We were into fish all day. Kathy caught the largest bonefish of the trip at 5-6 pounds. I ended up catching 10, most of which were in the 3-lb range.
Two days later, I hired a guide to ferry me across the water, from the Long Island mainland to the Deadman’s Cay area. I spent eight hours wading on my own, and did not sit down for one minute! The fishing was challenging, but I managed to land several including this nice specimen. I hooked two lemon sharks, as well, on pink puffs, and almost landed one. I am still dreaming of that clear water.
My first day of guiding upon returning from the Bahamas was with Lynn and Cheryl Guillory from Plano. We had donated a trip at the Fly Fish Texas show in Athens, and the Guillorys won the raffle.
Since the water was high, we fished some of the shallowest areas of the west and east sides, and had “storybook” action wherever we went. We got into tailing pods and singles early on the west side. Lynn caught two -- a 25 and a 26-inch red -- on Kingfisher spoons. Then we headed east, where we found tailing fish in super shallow water. Fishing from the boat throughout the half day, Lynn landed a half dozen reds. Having never fly fished in salt water, he was thoroughly impressed with the beauty of the LLM, and the sheer power of redfish.
On Sunday (yesterday) we began hosting and guiding four falconers from various parts of the country, led by Shawn Hays of Mammoth Lakes, California. Shawn is a rodeo clown -- that is he protects the bullriders from angry bulls -- and is the proud owner of two Peregrine-gyrfalcon hybrid falcons (tiercels, actually, since they are males). Since I have been enamoured with falconry from childhood, it has been a real pleasure to discuss raptors with Shawn and his buddies. Barry is the inventor of the most efficient prosthetic foot ever, and is starting his own company to market the invention.
I took Shawn and his buddy and fellow falconer Barry Townsend to a remote westside venue, which is normally too shallow to fish. We poled in, so as not to disturb the fish. Almost as soon as we could see, we were into tailing reds -- big time! Indeed, for about three hours, we worked a broken school of about 200 reds that were tailing and feeding explosively on shrimp and whatever else got in their way.
Barry landed his first red on a fly -- a hefty 29-inch red -- on a Mother’s Day Fly. Shawn prospected nearby, and landed with five reds from 23-27 inches. Since the eater was dead calm, it was difficult to present the fly without spooking the fish. Overall, the reds were larger than average, and that means more wary, too. Barry broke off on another red as big as his first before we headed elsewhere. A few fish were on the edge of the sand, along with hoards of ladyfish, so we spent a couple of hours fishing there. Then, toward the end of the day, we ran way north and encountered a mullet circus on the sand. There were so many mullet that the normally clear water was milky with sand. Seeing several reds fleeing from the boat, we stopped and proceeded to wade. For about two more hours, we had almost constant action, and landed another 10 reds or so.
Then next day, Shawn and Barry went out with Richard Weldon, while I guided Paul and Adam Brick from Austin. What a difference from one day to the next! We had lost almost six inches of water, and the places we’d fished yesterday were devoid of life. Simply put, we have entered the summer tidal pattern, and that means everything changes about how we fish, where we fish, and when we fish.
I was a bit slow on the uptake, and instead of shifting to my summer program, I ran around hoping to find fish where they’d been when the water was higher. Finally, I realized what had happened and headed for one of our “Redfish Parade” venues, only to catch the tail end of some podding and tailing action on the west side. We caught only a couple of reds all day -- what a contrast from the double digit days we have been enjoying!
Now that I’ve shifted my focus, I look forward to the low tides of summer, and fishing areas where very boats can go -- areas full of matted grass, and teeming with reds and trout eager to take a fly.
5/15/06 This will be my last report before Kathy and I take off for a fishing trip in the Bahamas for a few days. Now we'll see how bonefish compare to reds and trout!
As for guiding our home waters, it’s been a phenomenal week -- full of remarkable successes in the context of often-poor weather conditions.
Last Wednesday, I was off the water while other guides worked with our clients. For the first time in months, I had the opportunity to fish with our son, Pete. Frankly, I yearned to sleep in, and the weather forecast did nothing to inspire me. I considered calling Pete to cancel. But fortunately, I put his wishes above my own incliniations.
We left the dock at 6 under breezy and partly cloudy conditions, but somehow the day felt auspicious. I said to him, “I feel challenged!” He agreed. We headed north from the mouth of the Arroyo, and immediately encountered birds working over reds that were sweeping up a shallow bar. I pulled over, and we got out of the boat and waded onto the bar. Reds were moving upwind, and gulls were following them, hoping to pick off the shrimp that were fleeing ahead of the wakes. Using a VIP, I hooked and landed two reds, while Pete hooked two on his spin rod. Not bad for a “bad day.” Things were looking up.
We headed to a shoreline where I hoped to find a similar phenomenon, and sure enough, there were single reds sweeping upwind in very shallow water. We had shots at some very large reds, but struck out. So...I headed east onto the sand hoping that we’d find some glassy water.
Three miles east, we encountered some clear water, and moved a few reds, so I shut down and poled downwind, looking for wakes. Suddenly, our good fortune began to unfold: The first of several tailing pods of large reds appeared against the glare of the rising sun. Pete headed for the pod, urging me to follow. I held back, however, thinking that when he casted his spoon into the pod, they would surely flee westward, toward deeper water. I positioned myself 90 degrees to Pete’s position and waited for his cast. He hooked up, and the remaining fish headed straight for me. I casted, and we had the first of four double hookups!
Most of the fish were all in the 24-26 inch range. After landing his fourth red, Pete said, “This is the best day we’ve ever had together.” These words meant more to me than all the fish in the bay. As a stepfather and a stepson, it hasn’t always been easy for us. I knew that Pete was referring to much more than catching fish.
I had the pleasure of guiding Kent and Kerry Marisa from New York on Thursday. They had been out on Wednesday and hadn’t caught a fish, so we were hoping for some of the luck that Pete and I had enjoyed. But before we awoke on Thursday morning, a cold front blew through, putting a damper on our hopes. I considered postponing our departure, but discipline reigned over my pessimism. I knew that miracles can’t happen if you don’t show up.
So we headed out and turned north, facing 20 mph northwest winds. I was pleasantly surprised that we found some birds working near the ICW, but our efforts to catch up with the sweeping reds did not pan out. So we continued north, looking for miracles. We found one small pod working under birds, and Kerry landed the first red of the day -- the first of 45 reds and one sheepshead, as it turned out!
I had no idea that such bounty awaited us when I turned the Curlew eastward for the sand. I was hoping to find some clear and relatively calm water. I shut down and poled toward Padre Island with the northwest wind. They guys asked about birding action, and I said something that I’ve said 100 times: "Don’t look for birds over here. They don’t tell us anything even if they are here."
“So, what’s that?" Kerry asked.
Several laughing gulls were low to the water, behaving as they often do when hovering over a pod of reds. I looked, struggled with my assumptions, and said, “It likes they are over fish!” We piled out of the boat, and headed toward the birds. It didn't take long to see the brown patch of 20 redfish bodies milling and tailing beneath the birds. I was stunned: It was the first time I’d seen birds over reds on the sand!
Kent and Kerry proceeded to catch one red after another. Some of the fish were caught out of pods -- either unattended, or escorted by laughing gulls -- and some were caught cruising alone or with another fish or two. And Kerry caught a sheepshead, too!
I think the guys caught 23 reds on the sand before we left the area. At about 1:00, we headed for the customary podding areas, thinking that the cold front may have “turned on” the podding action. It was early in the day for podding, but when we approached the west shoreline, the first of a dozen groups of birds appeared low to the horizon. Twenty-two fish later, I pulled the plug and headed in.
It was one of the “worst” weather days I’d guided all year, but my two clients had caught more fish that any clients I’d ever guided. I didn’t expect the next day to be anywhere near as successful. But it was!
We headed south and west for tailing action on the second day. Low winds convinced me to check out one of my favorite tailing areas, and sure enough the area was full of tailing reds. Singles and pods were tailing in all directions, and the tailing activity actually increased as the light north wind stalled, and then shifted to the south. But getting close to the fish was exceedingly difficult. A near-full moon had ruled over a cloudless sky during the night, leaving the reds in an uncharacteristic finicky mood. The guys were unable to wade within 100 feet of most of the tailing fish. Kerry caught a single red from the boat before I decided to leave the area.
We headed onto the sand, and proceeded to follow the White Sand Program (see below) . Finding the mullet stream, we waded downwind into the stream, and began seeing a few reds. As time passed, the reds began to appear behind sting rays, and the guys were able to catch 5 or 6 fish apiece before I suggested we move up closer to the East Cut. What a fortuitous decision!
We planed over miles of empty sand before entering an area that was full of mullet. Then several reds shot away from the boat. I shut down and poled into the area. Within minutes, we were all out of the boat wading downwind into the motherload of redfish. They guys invited me to fish, so I joined them for three hours of the most incredible redfish action that I’ve seen in ... well, a few days, at least.
Double and triple hookups were commonplace. Redfish were so thick that you could look around and choose from several different fish. Sting rays were everywhere, too, and Kent stepped on two without mishap! We fished the waning light of the day, and landed 37 reds by my crude reckoning -- on Mother's Day flies, clousers, and crab patterns -- bringing the total for the day to over 45 fish for the second day in a row!
I had Saturday off the water so I could attend Kathy’s college graduation ceremonies. We partied in Mexico with my Dad andstepmother, brother Chip and his wife Sandi, sister Marianne, son Pete and partner Miranda. It was a wonderful evening, and a major rite of passage for Kathy.
On Mother’s Day Sunday, I guided our previous Kingfisher guest Chuck Thomas from Midland, and his sons Zack and Charlie. It was a very windy day, but we had some good action on the sand, once again, and landed a few fish, thanks to Charlie, before coming in after a half day. Zack gets the award for persistence in sticking to his fly rod in the midst of such strong winds. Greater reward always awaits such commitment.
You would think that we would have spent the rest of the day celebrating Mother’s Day in conventional ways. But our tradition has been to take Kathy fishing on Mother’s Day, so after I’d rested a bit, Pete and Miranda joined Kathy and me for a late afternoon fishing trip. Their dog joined Lily and Opal aboard the boat, making the Curlew look like a modern day Noah’s Ark.
It was a classic “blow-out” day, where you come in midday fishless. But we had hopes that the sand would “turn on.” And it did.
We went east onto the shallowest sand, knowing that shutting down there would mean not being able to get back up on plane. We would have to push the boat a half mile or so once we shut down. But suddenly I saw something that made me pull back on the throttle and shut down in bootie deep water -- birds working.
Pete and Kathy and I piled out of the boat barefooted and headed toward Padre Island. Pete and I rushed ahead, and Kathy gave us her blessing to go ahead. A large brown patch announced the presence of a small school of reds, so we made a beeline to the fish, and coordinated our casts in such a way that we had the first of six double hookups within a few minutes of arriving. Kathy joined us as we began to target single and double cruising fish in between casting to pods. Before it was over, Pete and I had hooked seventeen reds, and landed twelve -- on a “hopelessly” windy late afternoon. Most of the fish were between 20 and 23 inches, but a couple were larger. (This is one of the smaller fish, but I wanted to show you what the white sand is like.)
Kathy opted not to chase the fish around. She rejoined Miranda and the dogs aboard the boat, and let the dogs romp in the shallow water. She said that seeing Pete and me have so much fun together made the day especially meaningful.
The weather report called for a strong cold front on Sunday night, so we called our clients Mark Barnett from Houston and his uncle Wayne and alerted them. They opted to come anyway and to take their chances. They were amply rewarded.
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On Monday morning at 3:00, the cold front blew in. Forty- to fifty-mile-an-hour winds announced its passage, and we all thought that the day would be spent ashore. But upon awakening, the wind had subsided somewhat. So we headed out at dawn for one of the best catching days that my clients have had all year. We found tailing pods early, and Mark caught a nice red before heading on to the sand, where I hoped to find the same phenomenon that we’d encountered with the Marisa brothers.
Sure enough, we found tailing pods all over the place! Wading toward the rising sun in a windy, but glassy condition, Mark and Wayne both caught six to eight reds out of pods of three to six fish apiece before the action played out.
We checked a couple of other areas out on the west side before inventigating the afternoon podding action. Again (see above), the cold front turned on the podding action! We found only one pod, but it was the first of 15 that the guys were able to stalk. When it was over around 3:30, Mark and Wayne had landed over 30 reds on their fly rods. They fished on Tuesday, as well -- a better day overall, weatherwise, but not in terms of catching fish. Still, they managed to catch several apiece, making the two days a very memorable experience.
Lastly, I guided two gentlemen from the Northwest today -- Jeff Voight from Portland and his buddy Steve. We headed east to check out that sand action, but it was totally “off’ today. So I headed to another area on the sand, and ran into mullet and reds. I shut down, and within five minutes, we were surrounded by tailing reds. For the next two hours, Jeff and Steve casted to one tailing red after another. Jeff opted to use a VIP, and enjoyed the highly visual and dramatic topwater action, while Steve opted to cast a small Clouser. Both anglers caught their first reds ever, and went on to catch trout and ladyfish and the day progressed.
Now...off to the Bahamas!
5/9/06 It’s been over a week since I posted my last report, so I thought it was high time to bring you up to date. First let me qualify my good news with some not-do-good news: The last two days have been dismal. Our clients Harry Yepson and Bill Sutton from Naples, Florida thought they’d try Texas reds, and all they’ve seen is a few stragglers, and about 200 square miles of the Lower Laguna, courtesy of myself and Larry Shriver, who have guided them on their first two days of fly fishing the Mother Lagoon. Rick Hartman, who guided another guest of ours yesterday, agreed that it was one of the toughest days he'd seen in a while.
Starting last Monday, with the exception of the last two days, we have had some great fishing even though the conditions have been only average -- that is, fairly windy mornings, and broken clouds. Nonetheless, I guided Drake Fason and his son Sam last Monday for a half day. Drake and his father had fished with me last fall. The weather was terrible for the first two days, and Drake had to go home at the end of the second day. His dad went on to catch 23 reds the next day! So Drake was cocked and ready for a bit of success this time.
Drake started the day by stalking a tailing pod on the west side of the LLM just after sunrise, and landing his first red. For a while after that, we concentrated on getting Sam into the action. He was able to spot and cast to a frolicking pod of tailing reds, but did not hook up. So with juices flowing, we headed east onto the sand after midmorning. Almost immediately, we decided to wade, as the reds were thick enough to justify it.
I waded with Sam, so Drake could fly fish on his own. Sam and I had some near-hookups, while Drake got into classic white sand action, and landed another six or seven reds. Before we had to head in, I took Sam to a place where reds and ladyfish often abound, hoping that he’d catch a red before the day was over. Well, on his first cast he hooked up! It was the best moment of a great day of fishing for father and son.
On Thursday, Larry Ausherman and his three buddies Mark, Kerwyn, and Denny arrived from New Mexico to fish with Larry Shriver and myself. The Ausherman group had fished some in saltwater, but had never fly fished the Lower Laguna.
On my first morming out, I had to pleasure of guiding Mark and Kerwyn. I headed for an area where Kathy and I had done so well only a few days earlier (see below). When I poled into the westside lagoon, we were greated by the sight of tailing pods. I knew that the reds were big fish, and very touchy, so we got off the boat and waded into them. For the next hour and half, it was storybook action. Kerwyn led off by hooking and landing a 26-inch red that was tailing only 25 feet from us. Mark quickly followed with three reds in the 26-inch range. Meanwhile, singles and pods would cruise at high speed through the area, giving both anglers dozens of shots at very tough targets. Indeed, getting a fast cruiser to see your fly is very difficult, so I wasn’t surprised that we didn’t land any more fish.
Larry’s guys also had a great day fly fishing up near the East Cut. We all sampled the sand, but found it disappointing compared to the recent action that we’ve enjoyed there.
The next day was much tougher. Mark and Larry joined me, while Kerwyn and Denny fished with Larry.The tides were lower in the morning, and the big reds were less plentiful in the westside lagoon where they’d been as thick as fleas only the day before. Mark had a couple of shots at tailing pods, and Larry had a close encounter with a pod, too. But the action ended rather quickly.
Late in the day, I took Mark and Larry Ausherman into the shallowest water on the easternmost side of the LLM, and found a few fish, so we got out and waded. The guys asked me to join them, so I grabbed my six weight and tried to avoid stepping on the rays that were everywhere. At first, we only saw sheepshead, and Larry was intrigued by the challenge of the “south Texas permit.” He hooked one briefly, which is a feat in itself. Meanwhile, Mark saw very little, so I headed back to the boat, which was on the edge of the glassy water. We’d been wading the glassy water, because the tails were easier to see there, but as I waded into the rough water, I started seeing reds following the rays. I called Mark on our radios, and gave him a heads up on the action. Meanwhile, I missed two strikes, and then hooked a 26-inch red. Mark waded slowly toward me, and then spotted a red behind a ray, too. Casting upwind to it, the red took the fly, but came unstuck. It was 11th hour action, and the light finally failed us. But we all had a bit of action on a particularly difficult day. Larry Ausherman was impressed with the sheepshead action, and looked forward to trying his hand at them again. I said to him what I say to all of my clients: “If you catch a sheepshead, you can catch anyting, and they are a wonderful way to improve you skills.”
On day three, which was only a half day, I went back to the same westside spot hoping for a repeat of day one, but this time the reds were totally absent. However, when we poled a nearby area, we found quite a few tailing singles, and a few pods. Both Larry Ausherman and Denny were onto tailing fish for quite a while. We promply headed to the sand by midmorning, and enjoyed some ladyfish action before we had to go in. It was a real pleasure guiding Larry and his friends, and we hope to see them again down here again.
4/30/06 Kathy and I had what was probably our best day of fly fishing -- ever -- today. But before I fill you in, let me backcast a few days to last Monday, which was another memorable day. Hamilton Lokey from Colorado and Merrit Benson from Wyoming arrived last Sunday night for two days of fly fishing. I had the pleasure of guiding them on Monday, and Larry took them out on Tuesday.
Monday dawned windy and cloudy, so I hoped to find some podding action early -- because there’s nothing else to hope for until the sun is high enough to spot the fish beneath the surface. We headed to my favorite podding area, only to find nothing working. Abandoning that idea, I headed back to the ICW, and turned south, hoping for a minor miracle. Then it happened. We spotted some birds working along the ICW spoils. I cut the motor and floated onto the flat, and spotted redfish sweeping up the shoreline beneath terns and laughing gulls. So the guys got out of the boat, and waded toward the shoreline. Before it all over, they had both landed two reds apiece. Ham caught his first on a VIP, but I suggested they shift to Clousers because it was so windy, and it’s hard to get the fish to hear the popper in such conditions.
For the next couple of hours, we checked out some other areas on the west side. But by 10:00, the clouds were disappearing, so headed to the sand for what turned out to be a banner day.
The White Sand Program has been as follows: We head north and as far east as we can go, and then cut back at an angle across the sand, running with the wind. When we reach the mullet line, we cut the motor and pole into the incoming mullet. When we start seeing reds, we stake the boat and wade downwind into -- presumably -- the reds that are coming onto the sand from the deeper water.
I followed that program for the upteenth time this spring, and had the guys out of the boat and wading by 11:00. From then until the light failed us at 4:30, we were into constant redfish action. The reds were following rays, and also alone. Merritt and Ham stopped counting, and somewhere along the way asked me to join them. Before it was over, we’d caught about 30 reds (only five of which were mine) and a bunch of ladyfish on small Clousers. Most were smallish, but a few were over 24 inches.
The guys had another good day on Tuesday, but the fish were a little spookier. Needless to say, our clients were happy, and so were we!
Between school and windy days, we didn't fish until Friday when we guided our old client and friend Alan Czenkurch. from Colorado. Alan and his bride Elsie had a poor day on the water, with winds approaching 30 mph, but we saw quite a few reds, fortunately. Presenting to them was very difficult, however. Alan never complains about such things, and celebrated the ladyfish that he was able to catch working under some gulls. That evening and the next, we enjoyed their guitar and flute playing. We love Celtic music, and Alan and Elsie performed some lovely pieces. On Friday night, after Joe and Debby MacKay had arrived for the weekend, Alan and Elsie asked me to join them with my baroque recorder. It was an unforgettable evening, and we look forward to the newlyweds moving to the Texas Hill Country, where we might see them more often, and play music together.
Kathy and I headed out this morning, following Joe and Debbie in their Curlew. We’d agreed to go south, while they headed north, agreeing to stay in contact via cell phone.
Kathy and I explored the west shoreline, until we moved some pods. Shutting down and poling toward the shoreline, we staked the boat when we started to see reds pushing wakes toward us. We left our dogs with some snacks and slipped overboard and waded west.
For the next three hours, we casted to big reds in small pods that were tailing and feeding agressively on small minnows. We started off with VIPs, but after missing and spooking a couple, we both switched to Clousers and started hooking up. It was awesome -- all of the fish were from 25-28 inches. We hooked fish, lost fish, and landed about 13 before we returned to the boat and headed east. We’d caught about the same number of reds, so we were both off to a great start.
It was our dogs turn, so we let them romp across the flats until there were tired and ready for another stint aboard the Curlew.
We headed north and east, and followed the White Sand Program (see above). Within 30 minutes were wading downwind on the sand toward the edge of the turtle grass. The action was incredible! We began seeing rays heading toward us, and just about every ray had from 1-6 reds, or a pack of ladyfish, behind it. In between, we had singles, doubles, and pods swimming upwind. Before we stopped at 2:30, we’d caught at least 20 more reds, and a bunch of ladyfish. When we headed back to the boat, the action was at its peak; but our arms were tired from casting and fighting fish.
It doesn’t get much better on the Lower Laguna. We were blessed.
4/23/06 A group of eight anglers led by Jarrett Sasser -- owner of the High Desert Angler in Santa Fe -- left this morning after fishing for three days with five different guides --Richard Weldon, Skipper Ray, Jim Blackbourn, Larry Shriver and myself. We wrapped up the three days with a “pachanga” at Kingfisher last night, orchestrated by Kathy, our son Pete and his partner Miranda, and their friend Michelle. The “land crew” put together a magnificent meal comprised of ribs, chicken, shrimp kabobs, and lots of extras, including “killer brownies.” As we headed for bed, some of the guys were still on the dock, puffing on cigars and casting to the trout and reds from the pier -- along with our dock cat Snook, who has a way of absconding with unattended fish.
As for the fishing, we had only fair conditions: two of the mornings were windy, and the sunlight was fickle throughout. Overall, the action was neither consistent nor easy to track. There was some podding on the west side, and some stellar late afternoon sand action. Fortunately, we had some very good catches.
I had the privilege of guiding three of the group during the three days -- Jarrett, his old angling buddy Kelly Klontz, and the youngest member of the group Speed Franklin, who celebrated his 16th birthday on the first day out.
Kelly -- who is one of the most enthusiastic anglers I have ever met -- and Speed accompanied me the first day out. We found a bit of podding action on the west side, and then spotted some big reds sweeping up a shallow shoreline, escorted by gulls and terns. It was difficult action, however, as the water was murky and the fish were on a mission. However, Kelly finally caught a nice 24-inch red that was sweeping past him, pushing a high wake in 10 inches of water.
We prospected for the next several hours before having some pretty good action on the sand. But the best part of the day was the late afternoon podding action. Kelly and Speed -- who hadn’t caught his first red on a fly yet -- approached a large group of tailing reds. Casting repeatedly to the bouquet of tails, neither angler hooked a fish under the group was literally 15 feet from Speed. Then Kelly hooked up on his sixth or seventh red of the day, and the pod blew up before Speed could snag his first red. Heading homeward, however, we spotted a final pod working under a dozen gulls. Speed and I waded downwind to them, and Speed -- whose cast had been improving by the minute -- put a Clouser in the middle of the tails, and hooked up on his first redfish. Kelly chased down the retreating pod and added another redfish to his impressive tallly. Staying out as late as we did held up the dinner plans, but everyone -- especially Speed's dad Dave -- was psyched about Speed's success, and celebrated his birthday catch that night.
Jarrett and Kelly went out with me the next day. We started on the west side and had some pretty good podding action from the boat. However, our luck was pretty below average when it came to getting the reds to respond to near-perfect casts. We headed to the sand in the afternoon, where Jarrett distinguised himself -- to no one’s surprise, given his masterful cast and eyesight -- by catching eight or ten reds. Meanwhile, Kelly landed his first ladyfish, which have become plentiful in the last week.
On the way back in, we were planing over the shallowest white sand north of Green Island when we came upon quite a few reds and sheepshead in about 10 inches of water. We got out and waded downwind, and enjoyed some great redfish action. The fish were coming upwind, feeding alone or behind sting rays.
On the third day, Jarrett and Speed joined me. Speed had caught another red with Larry the day before, so he was really getting the hang of it. We headed to a spot where Skipper and I had fished the day before and had seen a lot of podding. Sure enough, we got into some excellent early podding action. Speed and Jarrett got off the boat, and stalked separate pods, meanwhile scanning for tailing singles. Jarrett caught a couple of nice fish there before the pods swept off the flat in response to the falling tide.
After stopping at a few westside venues, we headed to the sand, where we spent the rest of the day. Jarrett caught fire, and got into an incredible string of success, landing 17 reds before the light finally failed us. Jarrett’s biggest red broke his hook, and may have broken his Sage TCR, because a few minutes later, he noticed that it had cracked above the first ferrule.
Speed managed to catch two more reds, and almost landed a sheepshead that took his chartreuse and olive Clouser.
It was great day, and a lot of fun for me watching a real master and a talented beginner fish side by side.
I can’t recount the myriad of other stories that occurred this weekend, but I know that the group -- most of whom had never fly fished on the Lower Laguna -- went away smiling. It was a real pleasure working with the other guides as a team for the benefit of the Santa Fe group.
4/13/06 I'm on my way to Virginia tomorrow, but I wanted to bring you up to date in at least an abbreviated way. I had the pleasure of guiding Mike and Tom Starr from Portland, and their buddy Gib. Their first day dawned with a strong cold front passing through, so we decided not to go out until that afternoon. By then the winds were receding somewhat, and I hoped to find pods working under gulls. When we arrived in the area, there were 8-10 other boats, but there were so many pods that we had more than our share. For about two hours, the guys fished one pod after another. Tom caught eight fish out of eight pods. Mike did similarly. Both of them landed a couple of trout, as well. The next day, Gib joined us, and we headed back to the same area, only to find that the birding action was not "on." So we headed south and west, hoping for some tails along the west shoreline. We came to a favorite spot, and shut down after seeing a few reds scatter. Then, our luck became wholly evident: Pods of big reds started to blow up along the shoreline, driving minnows ahead of them. The three men spread out and began stalking separate pods, and all came with big fish. Tom caught two around 28 inches, while the other men caught one apiece of that size, and a couple of others. In contrast to the smaller fish that we’d been catching out of the pods that were feeding on shrimp, these fish were surprisingly large and fat -- all over 25 inches.
Gib could not join us on the third day, but Mike and Tom did pretty well, between a bit of birding action at daybreak and sand action from late morning onward. I think they were especially entranced by the reds following the sting rays on the sand. It was tough fishing, as the reds were as sensitive as ever, but each of them managed to score in a scenario that most anglers consider as tough as it gets on the LLM.
Mike, Tom, and Gib obviously appreciated the diversity and the challenge that the LLM afforded them. Having been to many saltwater venues previously, they were well enough pleased by their first experience on the Mother Lagaoon to promise to return soon.
4/8/06 I had the pleasure of guiding Doug Naugher from Knoxville yesterday. I was one of the most beautiful days of fly fishing that I've seen in months. This morning, however, a fresh north wind is blowing, so we've cancelled the fishing for the morning, at least, giving me time to write a few words, and to bring you up to date.
The day before yesterday, after two days of fishing under the worst of conditions, Doug had been fishless. He came in after fishing under 30 mph SE winds, and he was beat. T. S. Eliot once said that April was the cruelest month (The Love Poems of J. Alfred Prufrock). He must have fly fished on the Lower Laguna, but to quote another writer, it can be the best of times and the worst of times. I took Doug out that evening to look for birding action, and could not find any. The bay was muddy, and the water had completely blown out of certain westside lagoons, so there wasn't enough water for reds to congregate. On the way back in, however, we ran smack into three pods working under birds along the Intracoastal. So Doug was able to catch his first two reds.
When yesterday dawned, we could tell that the weather and the luck had changed. Before it was over, Doug had landed 12 reds and a trout, and had seen hundreds of fish on the west side, and dozens on the sand, as well. At one point, after he'd hooked his 12th red, he said, "Why don't you grab a rod and cast to that pod?" It was heading upwind and out of our reach, so I took my spare rod and backcasted a VIP into the retreating mass. A seagull picked up the popper, but dropped it back into the tails, and a red hammered it. So we had a double hookup!
Doug amply paid his fishing dues, and came up smiling on the third day. It was good enough apparently, since he's already planning to come back.
Three days earlier, I guided Phil Young from Chicago, and his buddy Dave. We had a great day, beginning with birding activity. Phil caught two nice reds and broke off on a big one, almost before the sun had risen, while Dave had some bad luck -- a breakoff, a broken hook and a pullout. Fishing to pods has a way of ratifying Murphy's Law, because if anything can go wrong, it does. Later, we headed east and north, and found fish tailing over oysters up by the East Cut, and then found fish on the sand. The reds on the sand were quite large, and extremely sensitive, which is typical for this time of year.
3/30/06 Kathy and I went to Austin this past weekend, and missed some of the best fishing weather that we've had for a while. I returned in time to guide Craig Oldenettle from Austin, who had seen us at the Shallow Water Expo, and had driven down to Kingfisher ahead of our return. The weather report called for marginal conditions, but it was far worse than that. We had winds over 25, and clouds the whole day. We went in midday and went back out for the "birding" action over podding redfish, but my favorite spring time "guide saver" failed to materialize. In a few days, this phenomenon should be "on" just about every day, but lower than average tides in the back lagoons have kept the redfish from their usual springtime feeding patterns. After striking out on Monday, Larry guided Craig on Tuesday for a short half day, and returned to the dock fishless, as well.
The reds are still moving onto the sand during some part of almost every day, but without the sun, it's hard to see them in time to make a good presentation. Craig and I saw a few out there, but not enough for Craig -- who had never fly fished down here -- to get in the groove. It was a disappointing two days for client and guides alike.
You see, we don't always catch fish, and I believe it's good for you to know. We are always watching the weather and trying to reschedule if possible, but sometimes nature surprises us. Imagine that!
3/19/06 It was one of those upcoming weekends when I considered advising my clients to reschedule. "Mostly cloudy and windy" is not what fly fishers want to hear. So I called Kyle Wright from Lubbock and gave him a heads up on the forecast.
Kyle considered pulling the plug on the weekend, but five guys had made plans to come, and some had plane reservations. So Kyle decided to come on down.
He and his buddy Dane Swinburn arrived on Wednesday and went out with me on Thursday. I hadn’t been out in over a week due to my trip to Virginia, so I was unsure of what we’d find. It was tough during the first half of the day. We ran all over looking for fish. The podding was not happening on the west side, so we tried other venues with little success. That is, until midday when we found the reds coming onto the sand. We had great action for a while, and then the clouds came. So we decided to go in early, and to go back out before dark.
I had a good feeling about the prospects of finding some birds working, but hadn’t seen it yet this year. We headed for one of the three areas known for birding action in the spring and fall, and shut down and waited. Almost immediately, we spotted a group of birds holding tight, hovering low to the water -- a sure sign of podding redfish. So I poled toward them, and staked the boat upwind. Kyle and Dane waded into the melee while I filmed the action on Kyle’s video camera.
The action continued for almost two hours until it became too dark to see. By then, we’d approached at least half a dozen pods and caught 7 fish. It was scrappy action, and the late afternoon wind was fierce, but the guys had a blast. It was at least as fun watching them. Dane said, "It's amazing. There's the shrimp, and then there's the reds chasing the shrimp, and then the birds join the action. And then we come along!" I said, "Yeh, it's like a big party, and the shrimp are the big losers."
Two more of Kyle’s friends came in that evening -- Kyle Kulig and Grant Wright -- and Larry and I guided the group the next day. It was a tough day -- with fits of sunshine amid mostly cloudy conditions. Still, we managed to catch a few fish.
A fifth friend -- Jay Kingham -- came in on Friday to fish with Eric Glass on Saturday. So we had three boats out on Saturday. It was an extremely windy day, and there were times when we almost came in early. But the sun finally broke through and gave us classic sight casting on the sand, where the reds were thick by the afternoon. Jay had an awesome day fishing with Eric, while the rest of us had more opportunities than successes. But overall, I think that everyone was deeply hooked by the beauty of the Laguna Madre. Without exception, the five guys were already making plans to return as they said they goodbyes.
It was a real pleasure guiding Kyle’s group. They are dedicated sportsmen, fine anglers, and just great company. I believe that both Dane and Kyle Kulig caught their first redfish on a fly. Jay caught his first red just a few weeks ago on his first trip down here. Congratulations, guys!
I'm off to Virginia in the morning, but I wanted to post a fishing report before I left. I had the privilege of guiding Wade Getz from Victoria, Texas, and his buddy Peter Scott from North Carolina. Wade is a veteran cold water fly fisher who recently took up the salt, and loves it. I wasn't sure about the weather, so I gave Wade the option to reschedule. He didn't, thank goodness. It was a beautiful two days -- about as good as early March ever gets. I won't go into the blow by blow, but we found tailing reds each morning on the east side. (The west side was pretty much "off" except for down south.) The fish were tough, but each angler was able to land fish. Above all, I think we all enjoyed the beauty of the bay, and the balmy 80-degree temps that announced the end of winter, at least for south Texas.
2/27/06 The last few days seem like a blur. Larry began guiding last Tuesday -- George Wheeler from New York -- on the heels of a very strong cold front.
George arrived midday, and Larry took him out for an afternoon charter. It was pretty and sunny, but the water was still quite chilly from the weekend blow. So they guys found few fish, and the ones they did find where in their “February stupor,” a well recognized syndrome. The next day dawned cloudy, but the clouds burned off around midday. Still, the fish were far from recovered, and the guys struck out. It was my turn on Thursday, and I had the luck -- at least for the first two hours. George and I went from one tailing red to another. Meanwhile, the dark low clouds to the north informed us that the conditions would soon change. Sure enough, about 10:30, the cold front blew through, and we headed in.
Fortunately, it was pretty much dead calm by the next morning. Larry guided our former client Kyle Wright and his buddy Clay from Lubbock, while I headed out with George for his last day.
It was a stunning day -- calm and warm. We found tailing fish everywhere we went, even though the fish were as spooky as I’ve ever seen them. Geoge did quite well considering, and so did Larry’s guys. It wasn't a high-catching day, but we found fish just about everywhere we went. George opted to wade at one point when tailing reds could be seen in all directions. The action was on the sand, and the absence of grass to mute his approach made it exceedingly difficulty to approach the fish on foot.
George left that evening -- and will return to Kingfisher in May -- and two more friends of Kyle’s came in to take his place on the boat. On Saturday, Larry and I guided Kyle’s group, and we enjoyed exceptional conditions for February. Kyle and his buddy Jay were on my boat, while Clay and David fished with Larry. After catching his first red on a fly the previous day, Clay went on to stalk a fine 25-inch red on the edge of the sand, while Jay landed his first red on a fly. Jay, who had fished extensively in Colorado, adapted to the conditions seamlessly, while his buddy Kyle landed a couple of reds, as well. Another cold front began to blow through late in the afternoon, and we thought the day was about over. The sun was behind the clouds, and the wind was rising. Still, I poled Kyle down the edge of the white sand, hoping to get a shot or two before heading in. Suddenly, I saw a big red approaching fast at 12:00, and I shouted to Kyle. The fish was only 30 feet way when I saw it, and by the time Kyle -- who has the fastest draw in south Texas -- casted, the big red was about 20 feet away. Still, the big fish spotted the fly immediately and, ignoring the presence of the boat, surged forward and took the Clouser. Instantly, there were three men screaming along with the drag of the Ross Evolution. It was an amazing phenomenon -- catching that big red at the end of the day. It was a perfect cast in a clutch situation. Truly a low percentage play. But Kyle was up to it.
Larry and I really enjoyed guiding this group, and look forward to their return in March!
2/17/06 Larry and I hadn't been out on the bay in several days, so we decided to do some scouting in preparation for some charters early next week. The water has been extremely low, but the tides have swelled a bit in the last two days. So we headed north, as we're prone to do when the winter tides rise just a bit. Larry found tons of reds down south last Sunday, but we were interested in checking out some areas that we haven't been fishing due to the low water.
It was warm, but cloudy and breezy -- not a prescription for sight casting, but we knew that if we could find the reds shallow enough, we could see them waking upwind. So when we suddenly ran into a lot of fish, we shut down in about nine inches of water to see if the fish would show. We just staked the boat and watched. Sure enough, we could see game fish pushing water, so we got a rod out and I stood on the bow and waited. Finally one headed our way, and I intercepted it with a small Clouser. Larry agreed to pose with it since I'm always complaining that we don't have enough photos of him. Now you know what he looks like. As we were getting ready to target another incoming red, the phone rang and it was Larry's wife Janet with news that he had to tend to some business at the house. So we headed in within half an hour of arriving. But we saw what we wanted to see, and will surely return with clients in the days ahead.
2/3/06 Between trips to the San Antonio Boat show and other obligations, neither Larry or I had been out much until three days ago. Meanwhile, the water levels have risen almost to spring time levels. It seems a bit early for this influx of water, so we may see some tidal fallout before the high tides of March arrive. Also, it's been unseasonably hot, so we're back to wading wet. It feels more like June than January. It was in the mid-90s today!
Larry guided our regular guests Joe Browning and Alex Weil on Wednesday, and I joined them on the water with my regular winter-time client Joe Zimmerman from Austin, who spends part of every winter down here. Here is Larry's report of their two days on the water:
Neither Joe or Alex know the meaning of the word "quit". The day of Joe's retirement, he and Alex joined me what would normally be a "pre-fish" day when I have not been on the water for several days (primarily due to the boat show) and need to evaluate where the fish are holding, water clarity, food availability etc. Obviously the recent high water levels (5-6" up) on the heels of a cold front with significant 20+ knot winds made the day miserable at the least to be out, but enjoyable when in the company of someone who enjoys the prospecting as much as the find.
When the blanket of fog lifted yesterday about 8:00 AM, our spirits rose with it . The winds were very light and even though it seemed chilly, it was obvious from the sky that this would be a day more typical of May. The wind tormented water rapidly settled, revealing only a couple of isolated areas where brown tide was evident.
By mid-afternnon, the breeze was a blessing as we watched the reds and an occasional trout work their way onto areas mid-bay. As the sun slid across the western sky their patience and perserverence were rewarded. Their smiles said it all. True fishermen enjoying the spirit of adventure.
Joe Zimmerman and I fished a lot of the same water as Larry's guys on Thursday. With the higher tides, it becomes harder to find the fish, since they are more spread out, and have not settled into the spring routine. In a month or so, the reds will be podding and the birds will be working over them, but until then, we'll be hopscotching from one place to another looking for enough fish to warrant poling or wading.
Joe and I ducked into a couple of westside venues that have been virtually dry. We found some big reds that were spread out in one small lagoon, and poled from one fish to another in the relatively low mid-morning sunshine. It was hard for us to spot them in time, however. Finding only a few fish in our favorite spots north of the Arroyo, I turned back south for a long run. We found some good, albeit sporadic action along a shoreline where a few big reds were waking and driving bait. We came close to intercepting a couple, but when they are feeding in this manner, they constantly switch directions. Not only is it difficult to put the fly just where they want it, but they disappear just as soon as they zig zag away from the shoreline. Still, I wish I'd had a heart meter on Joe as we had those fish heading so visibly right toward us. No pressure at all!
We headed east and ran over a ton of fish around Gaswell Flat, but the water was amost two feet deep, so it was hard to see them, even from the boat. We finished up the half day poling the white sand, which had a touch of brown tide, making the water clear enough to see the fish, but murky enough to cloak our presence. Joe hooked one fish over there, and had a couple of good shots before we had to go in. As we planed south, the water recovered its crystalline clarity, and the fish were everywhere. I told Joe that we should have come out later, because the fish were heading to the sand in droves. Sure enough, Larry and his guys found them later in the afternoon in the same area (photos by Capt. "Lightfoot" Larry Shriver.)
1/15/06 Our new partner, Capt. Larry Shriver guided our former client Dr. Kirk Brown from Waxahachie, Texas today. They went out yesterday, and found fish, but the reds were sluggish on the heels of a recent cold front. Today was in the upper 70s, and they did better, but the reds still had lockjaw. Still, Kirk caught a couple of pretty fish, including his favorite -- the "lowly" sheepshead, which most fly fishers will agree is so difficult to catch that catching a redfish is, by comparison, a piece of cake. Kirk caught one the last time he was here, too. I know one guide/fly fisher who has fly fished for 20 years and never caught a sheepshead on a fly. So it's a big deal to those who know hard it is.
I guided a couple of old clients on Wednesday and Thursday. Jim Mays and his buddy Bull Durham came down from Corpus on Monday just in time to experience the gale force winds of a fresh cold front. Needless to say, our plans to go out on Tuesday were cancelled, but we headed out about 8:00 am on Wednesday. It was the first day of a warming trend, so I suspected the fish would be difficult, and they were. We shed most of our clothing by late morning, and enjoyed a calm, warm day on the water -- it was almost windless for several hours. The reds were tailing just as soon as we arrived, but they were as sensitive to our approach as I've ever seen them -- spooking at 80-100 feet away. The dead calm conditions made it easy to spot them, and difficiult to approach them. Fly fishers often dream of windless conditions, but our highest catching days usually have a moderate 10-15 mph breeze.
As the sun rose higher, we began sight casting from the boat at single and double cruising reds. Most of them saw us, and turned before the men could cast, but we had several shots at unalarmed fish. Jim and Bull both put their flies on a few reds, but each time the fish acted as though they did not see the fly -- a classic wintertime phenomenon. Would they have eaten if the fly had been closer? Who knows? But there were several instances where all they had to do was yawn in a timely fashion, and they wouldn't even do that. Anyone who has ever fished with me will nod when I say I never blame the fish. I consider redfish and trout to be catchable, regardless of the conditions, and set about to do my best, and encourage my clients to do likewise. But on Wednesday, I was heard to say different things. "This is one of those days when we can blame the fish!" Jim and Bull readily agreed.
At one point, we got off the boat and stalked small pods of reds that were milling around in the dead calm water. Here's a shot of Jim approaching three big reds that were moseying around near Stover's Point. Jim made a good cast to them with a Kingfisher Spoon, but they would not cooperate. Still, it was a beautiful sight on a beautiful winter day -- a gift regardless of whether you catch any fish. Again, Jim and Bull -- who were impressed with the beauty of the day -- readily agreed.
I guided my old client and friend Jim Posgate the next day. Jim was accompanied by his Air Force buddy, Rick from South Carolina. The two men had flown Phantoms together in Viet Nam, and F15s later before retiring.
Heading south, I noticed glassy water out east, so I turned toward the sun to inspect the shallow east flats. As soon as we shut down, reds began streaming toward us from the shallower water, and then began tailing as they came. Jim slipped overboard and bid us farewell, as Rick and I stayed aboard the boat. I poled Rick toward the sprouting tails as Jim stood almost in one spot for an hour and a half, casting to one redfish after another. They were tough, but the warming water turned them on enough for Jim to hook two reds on a shrimp pattern.
Meanwhile, Rick and I poled from one tailing red (or small pod) to another. Rick was facinated by the sight, and did his best to put the fly on the fish. But never having fly fished in sal water, he was unprepared for the distance required of his cast. But rather than get frustrated, Rick delighted in the sight of all of those fish -- "100 tailing redfish," he said when we joined back up with Jim.
We headed further south and then east, only to return later to our original starting point. The reds had stopped tailing, and countless sheepshead had taken over the area, so we poled downwind hoping to get some targets from the boat. Before going in, we had several more shots at reds, but the wind had risen to about 20 mph, so it was hard to get the fly on them.
1/7/06 I have charters Monday through Thursday, weather permitting, so we figured we'd better get out there if we wanted to fish for fun. Our son Pete had just arrived back home with his partner Miranda, so we gathered the dogs and headed out, the six of us. The good fishing is south, as a rule, this time of year. So we turned against a moderate breeze and headed 10 miles south of the mouth of the Arroyo. The tide was painfully low, and the flats at Three Islands were totally dry. Gaswell Flats was dry on the north end. We expected to have it all to ourselves, and we did.
The water was warming, and the tide was pouring onto the flats. We turned back north and found a lot of reds near the west shoreline in a foot of water, so we shut down and waded downwind onto a flat that was crystal clear, and full of turtle grass. It was an intoxicating wade. Pete and I waded in our shorts, while Kathy played it safe, as always, and wore her Gore-Tex Simms. We spread out and within minutes were sight casting to singles and pods. Kathy had the top rod of the day, landing a 29 inch red on a Kingfisher spoon fly, while Pete and I caught fish, as well. They were big fish, as a rule -- tailing intermittently, and moving around a lot.
When Kathy caught her big fish, I yelled to her not to let it go -- that I would take it back to the boat for a photo. I wasn't sure how I was going to do that, but I figured I'd manage somehow. Fortunately, she still had a catch and release stringer that I'd made for her last summer, so we hooked the red in the lip and tied it to my belt. Pete came over with a nice red, too, so I took custody of both. So far so good. I fished on the way back to the boat, and suddenly, Kathy’s big red gave a big tug and broke the 20 lb. fly line that I’d use to make the leader. When I turned to look, Pete’s fish was swimming off and Kathy’s was nowhere to be seen. I reached down, grabbed Pete’s by the tail and began looking for Kathy’s red. I waded about 20 feet, and it shot forward, clearly refreshed and ready to go. “What’s the chance of catching that fish?” I wondered. Close to zero. But then, it turned around and swam back toward me. I got down on my knees and when it went by, I lunged and grabbed him by the tail. Now I have two reds by the tails, and a rod in my teeth. The boat is 200 yards away. Somehow I managed to fashion another makeshift stringer, and head back to the boat. So, this photo is a bit of a miracle, considering the chances of catching up with a 29 inch red that’s headed for the next county.
January fishing can be the very best! But trying to plan for it when you live 1000 miles away is a low percentage play. Best to wait until March. But if you live 300 miles away and can come on short notice, now that's a different story.
1/4/06 We have enjoyed some of most exquisite fly fishing weather for the last two weeks. It's been hard to believe. We are gearing up for several charters scheduled for the next week, but I'm hoping that our clients haven't missed the window entirely.
Larry Shriver -- who is our new partner along with his wife Janet -- and I went out today. We've both been working on getting the lodge ready for the new year, and we needed some time on the water. Heading south, we immediately found tailing and cruising reds near the mouth of the Arroyo. There was no sign of discolored water from the (harmless) brown tide anywhere we went. But after poling through the glassy, clear water, we both agreed that the big trout fantasy was "tugging at the rope of reason," to quote the poet Rumi. So we headed further south where we expected to find trout in potholes along the west shoreline. Again, we found quite a few reds, and tons of tailing sheepshead, but no big trout. The fog was still hovering overhead, so the sight casting was difficult. So we headed east.
Larry offered drop me off, and take the Curlew further north. I gladly slipped overboard and began wading against a slight north wind, but with the sun behind me, what little there was of it. I thought at first that I'd made a serious mistake. I was wading in knee deep water without sunshine. I couldn't see anything at first. But gradually, the sun burned through some of the clouds, and the visibility improved by the minute.
Once I could see 25 feet ahead of me, I began spotting redfish cruising by without making the lightest wake. I could only see the white of their pectoral fins. Casting a Deceiver, I watched while several of the reds turned briefly toward the fly before continuing. Needless to say, I changed flies -- this time to a chartreuse Crimp. I had a nip, and then watched a group of four or five reds follow the fly without taking it. The Crimp went back into the box, and out came an orange Seaducer. Suddenly, the reds began appearing, approaching from upwind. I hooked one, and while fighting it, eight or nine more cruised into view and stopped in front of me. I missed a 28+ red, and then lined a certifiable 30" red.
The reds were still very finicky. After landing another red and missing several other lackluster strikes, I switched to a pink Mother's Day Fly, which the reds seemed to like even better. But my casting was atrocious, and I lined or spooked a dozen reds before stopping and conducting a bit of self-therapy.
I hadn't seen a big trout yet, but I realized that I had no chance to catch one if I kept casting so poorly. "You've got to make every cast count, " I said to myself. So I resolved to do that, so I'd be ready if that big trout ever appeared.
I took about five steps and saw her coming. She turned slowly, and and cruised into the glare. I casted carefully so the fly would intercept her without spooking her on the drop. I stripped a couple of times, and whoosh, she hit the Mother's Day and took off toward Mexico. She was into my backing in seconds.
A big trout has a unique battle plan. They are erratic and strong, and will often fool you by coming in long before they are tired out. So, if you are not careful, they will suddenly shoot between your legs, or break off as you grab the leader. Not this time, though.
Larry saw me leading her back to the boat, and came over to photograph her before we released her. I thought at first that she might be a world's record -- that is, over 8 1/2 pounds for a 20 lb. tippet record -- but after landing her, I weighed her on the Boga and she came in around 7 pounds. Larry tried to measure her against my rod as I held her, and he came up with an estimate of 29 inches long, even though she doesn't look that long in the photo.
Quoting from my book, Healing the Fisher King: "Before releasing her, I held her in the water and admired her beauty. Her silvery body was almost blinding in the sunlight, so I turned her slightly to see the sweep of irridescent rose along the lateral line and constellation of spots for which she was so aptly named cynoscion nebulosis, or "starry nebulae." As she swam away, cloaked in the browns, blacks and greens of her mottled back, she appeared as a slowly moving shadow against a canvas of white sand and became one of my fondest memories."
It was a great way to start the year! And being with a friend like Larry, who enjoyed my catch as much as if it had been his own, made it even better.
12/31/05 For some reason, the week between Christmas and New Year's is often some of the finest fishing we have during the year. December, as you may know, was colder and cloudier than average, but the last few days have been in the 70s and 80s. We had the AC on yesterday! Of course, it's also a time when anglers have to stay close to home, because of the holidays and visiting family. So we get to fish for fun around this time.
Kathy and I went out for the first time together in a month on the 29th. We headed southeast in search of big trout, where we often find them in January and February when the water is extemely low. The water is crystal clear out there, and the turtle grass is sparse, making for breathtaking sightcasting under a full sun. We saw several trout in the 26-28 inch range while running, so we stopped and committed to a wade.
The fog took a while to burn off, but once it was gone, we could see all around for 50 yards or more. Sheepshead were everywhere, and there was an occasional red, but no big trout. That is, until Kathy waded back to the boat and I was waiting for her to come get me. I saw the unmistakable black square tail of a giant trout in the midst of tailing sheepshead. She was tailing very subtly and intermittently as she cruised along in the eighteen-inch water. I'd been using a Deceiver, just in case I encountered a big trout. Everything was right except for the cast. I casted over her! And true to form, she swirled in indignation like the agitator of a top loading washer, and headed away. Of course, I could not catch up with her, but her stately v-wake -- lower than a sheepshead, and slower than a red -- stayed in sight until Kathy drove up to remind me of my blown opportunity.
We headed west into Cullens, where the reds were thick. We had better trout opportunities further south, but we were short of time, and decided to stalk a few of the the reds. They were tough, just as they had been a week ago (see below), but willing to take a spoon fly. We had lots of shots, but only landed a couple before we had to go in. We had to put the fly right in front of their noses; otherwise, they'd seem to ignore it. Winter fishing will make you a more accurate caster!
A man called me a couple of days ago from central Texas and said, "What's this I hear about the brown tide?" Well, I said that I hadn't seen much evidence of it, which was true. But when Kathy and went out, we could see it in the Arroyo and Intracoastal. It was also on the flats adjacent to the ICW. We expected it to come back south once the north winds began to assert themselves. As you may know, it originated last year in Baffin Bay, and came down through the Land Cut in February. It hung around until April, when the south winds blew it back north, and stayed in the north part of the LLM all summer. So it's back, but the flats were clear east and west once you got far enough away from the ICW.
Will it affect the fishing? As you probably know, it doesn't hurt the fish, only the water clarity. It didn't have much impact on fishing last year. It was only really noticeable from Feb until mid-April. We don't guide a whole lot until mid-March, and by then the pods are tailing and the birds are working over the pods. Actually, it can be easier catching fish out of pods when the water is a bit off-color, because they don't see you as easily.
During the brown tide outbreak, there is usually clear water on the east side. You don't need clear water on the west side until the podding slows down in May. By then the south winds have blown the brown tide back north. That's the way it was last year, and I got to the point where I didn't even think about it.
12/23/05 The weather has finally relented, and the sun -- a virtual stranger to these parts -- has made its reappearance, however belatedly and however brief. I called two clients announcing the auspicious turn of events, but unfortunately they could not make it. So, Larry Shriver I decided to go out and break in his new Curlew. He let me drive most of the time, which was a busman's holiday of sorts, but I enjoyed running someone else's boat over five inches of water for once. The Etec purred like a kitten. New is beautiful when it comes to boats.
Larry insisted on poling me around for most of the day, probably because the reds were as difficult as we've ever seen them, and he didn't want to cast fruitlessly to stubborn fish. Every time I'd turn around and say, "Your turn," he'd have some other excuse for why I should continue letting him pole me. My high point of the day was when he ran out of excuses (a.k.a. BS) and had to get down and let me pole him around.
Seriously (if any of this really is), the water has been very chilly -- in the 50s already. Normally, the water temp doesn't drop that much until late January. And then for about two or three weeks in the month of February, the fish swim around as if in a fog. Well, it was like that today. Even though we landed several nice reds, we had dozens of shots where the fly was within inches of the fish's nose without provoking any reaction at all. We'd have three or four reds coming in together, and instead of engaging in a bit of friendly competition over a free lunch, they would just turn slowly and swim away as if bored.
Finally, the Kingfisher Crab seemed to get their attention. Sinking quickly, it would block the reds' passage until a few of them refused to go around it.
Larry and I both enjoyed Tim Clancey's new casting basket design. Featuring a wraparound netted tray, it works like a charm. The best thing was the way it kept the line off the deck and away from your feet. Tim has definitely distinguished himself once again as a major innovator in the fly fishing field. If you want one, or a Curlew to mount one on, check out his website at http://www.newwaterboatworks.com.
12/17/05 The absence of a recent fishing report is due to the overall poor weather that we've had. Usually, this time of year is characterized by beautiful days framed by weekly cold fronts. However, the fronts have been coming every four or five days, leaving only a day or so between the poor weather. It's been cloudy most of the time, resulting in a drop in bay water temperatures into the upper 50s, which is about as cold as the water usually gets in the winter time. The forecast looks very good for the next few days, and we expect to be fishing with client or for fun before and after Christmas. Many of our clients that we've had to cancel are waiting for an opening in the weather, and it looks like it's coming soon. This photo, by the way, was taken in December when the reds were tailing en masse.
12/2/05 Given our success over the last few days, I asked our son Pete if he'd like to go out again. I thought we'd hit the redfish tailing action early, and then head south. We saw Larry and Janet Shriver zipping past while I was still half awake, sipping coffee. I knew they were headed for the same area, but I also knew that Larry -- like myself -- would just as soon watch reds tail then catch them. He was also aware that Pete was coming out with me, so I suspected that the tailing fish would still be there when we'd arrived. Sure enough, Larry and Janet had left them untouched for us, and stayed on the flat 'til we got there, making sure that no one else would encroach. Pods and single reds were everywhere, so we got out of the boat and stalked them -- me with my fly rod, and Pete with his spin rod.
I opted to use VIP poppers, while Pete stayed with his trusty gold spoon. The reds were all over the poppers. I casted to four pods and hooked four reds, all of them in the 23-25 inch range. We dragged a fish apiece back to the boat to show the dogs and to get their pictures prior to release. We left the fish there and headed south to check some other areas. Before we left, however, Pete succeeded in breaking his TFO spin rod. To his credit, he willingly shifted to a TICR 6 wt. for the remainder of the morning. We found fish everywhere we went, but pressing matters at home brought our outing to a premature close. Even so, it was a sweet morning, and as beautiful as we'd seen in some time.
While we were out, our old friend and regular guest Vince Wiseman from Austin headed south in his HPX with his son James and buddy Jeff. Vince found plenty of reds in a westside lagoon, and like myself targeted the tailing reds with a topwater fly. The reds are still keying on white shrimp, since the water is quite warm, and the shrimp have not all migrated into the Gulf to spawn yet. Indeed, we are seeing plenty of skipping shrimp around the tailing singles and pods, which usually indicates the reds' willingness to go after surface flies. Around Christmas, however, we tend to switch to subsurface, as the reds shift to crabs and fin fish for their winter meals.
11/30/05 I thought we had the perfect day for a big trout quest, so Larry Shriver and I headed out around 8 am, intending to "fish the sun" for big trout, rather than to target the tailing redfish action. We headed north for one spot that holds big trout all winter, planning to head back south toward Cullens Bay after we'd checked out the north venue. As we passed by a flat adjacent to the ICW, I spotted a tail 50 yards away, so I pulled over and shut down to take a look. Within seconds, there were tailing singles and pods of redfish all over the place. We weren't after redfish, but it was hard to pass up a bit of relatively easy action. Actually, it wasn't as easy as it looked. The bottom was soft, and the reds were often upwind of us. Still, we caught a few from 24-26 inches long before leaving the reds alone, and resuming our quest for trout.
The "secret" trout place was devoid of fish. As Larry poled me in the Curlew over the same waters where Skipper Ray and I had once hooked three trout over 8 pounds on a bright January day, we saw nothing but a single red. The clouds finally took over the blue sky, and we packed it up and headed for home. The highpoint of Larry's day, I am sure, was winning a $5 bet over how many days there are in November. How did I forget that? Given how happy Larry was to have won this silly and meaningless wager, I can't help but give thanks for my poor memory.
We headed further south, and waded south Cullens for a while. Tons of sheepshead provided some action, but we quickly gave up there and scouted east and back north before settling on a spot that we'd both found fish over the previous several days. The problem was that bottom was terribly soft. Still, everyone got out and waded downwind. Again, the younger men caught the fish. Pete hooked and landed a 27-inch red, while Nick caught a 26 inch red shortly afterward.
It was not a great day, weatherwise, and I would not have predicted much success. However, the young men capitalized on the chances that we had. And, of course, Larry and I were proud to see them do it.
11/24/05 I had the pleasure of guiding fellow LMFFA member Ray Ramirez and his friend Brad yesterday. Ray grew up in the Valley and has been fly fishing for over 30 years, while Brad has only recently taken up the long rod. We left the dock much earlier than we needed to, and headed north while the sun was still securely tucked below the eastern horizon. It was chilly, and a bit breezier than we'd hoped, but the cloudless sky promised a good day, once the sun was overhead. The weather man predicted temps in the 80s, but the dawn chill made that prediction hard to believe.
The tides have radically fallen to levels that we usually don't see until January, when vast, normally fishable areas are almost dry. The entire sight casting program changes when this happens, and we find ourselves gravitating toward channel edges and flats that are normally much too deep to support sight casting, even from the boat.
We could see that there were plenty of game fish mixed in with the mullet, but lacking targets in the low light, I suggested that the men blind cast fore and aft from the boat. Brad started off with a spin rod, while Ray casted his fly rod from the bow. Frankly, we had to burn some time, because there was nothing to be gained running around in the early morning light looking for miracles. We had to wait for the sun.
Ray caught one red before we started up and headed south. I intended to go all the way to Cullens Bay -- one of my favorite low water winter venues, but we stopped along the way, and never made it. Indeed, as the southwest wind slowly died and began its predictable shift to the southeast, we found some reds tailing on a grassy flat that is normally much too deep for us to fish. Ray wanted Brad to score his first red on a fly, so Brad put his spin rod away, and took up the point position on the Curlew's bow. Of course, it's stressful "being up" when two experienced fly fishers are watching -- and frequently commenting on your every move. But Brad stuck with it. After a few near-successes, we headed further south, and stumbled upon a motherload of redfish along a channel's edge. For about an hour, Brad got one shot after another. The sun was still a bit low to the horizon for us to see the fish in enough time; so after some pretty intense encounters, I suggested we head east onto the sand and then return later for another round at the abundant reds. We found plenty of reds along the edge of the sand, so we shut down and waded on the sparsely vegetated, firm bottom. Brad missed a big trout that took his fly just as he dropped his line, and missed a strip strike. Meanwhile, Ray stalked taling sheepshead, and pricked a couple before I suggested we head back to the earlier spot. Expecting to find fewer fish on the second drift, we found instead as many reds as before. Ray caught one, and then turned the bow over to his friend. An experienced angler, Ray was looking for a different kind of success than usual: He wanted to convert Brad to fly fishing, and hoped that Brad would score his first red. For the next hour or so, we coached Brad on shot after shot until he hooked and landed his first red on a Mother's Day Fly. He had a second strike another within a few minutes of the first. Given Brad's enthusiastic response to his first red on a fly, I suspect that Ray got his wish after all.
11/16/05 I guided three days over last weekend. It seemed like old home week, with Henry Bone and Jeff Ferguson here from Austin fishing on their own boats with friends and father (Jeff's). I met Henry and Jeff when I first began guiding. They came down during the winter for a big trout quest in early 2000. It seems like we've known them forever.
While Henry and Jeff and their folks were heading to the bay in their own boats, I had the privilege of guiding Ross Rushing and his buddy Kyle from Lubbock. Ross and Kyle were quite experienced in saltwater, but Ross had never fished the lower Laguna. Friday was a pretty good day, but we didn't find a lot of fish anywhere. We covered a lot of territory, east and west, and ended up landing 11 reds. Their success was largley due to their ability to adapt to each situation that we found. The tailing and podding action was not "on" on the west side -- even though the guys caught a couple -- so we headed east onto the sand earlier than usual, hoping to find the tailing action that we've been seeing up against Padre Island. We weren't disappointed, even though the action fizzled pretty early in the day. But the guys were able to land several reds casting from the Curlew. Then we ran around, stopping in several areas, before discovering some pretty good podding action back on the west side. When we started seeing the fish, I urged them to get off the boat. Within minutes Kyle was hooked up, and Ross soon followed. We waded that area for quite a while. The reds were coming out of slightly deeper water onto a firm shallow flat, and the guys just waited for them to appear in the murky water. Fortunately, the sun was direct, and the fish lit up all rosy in the afternoon declining light.
Back to Archived Reports
I guided Reid Witliff and his buddy Scott on Sunday. Again, the west side action was less than "hot," but we spent a couple of hours casting to tailing reds from the boat. It was dead calm, which is the best and worst of conditions. Not only is it easy to see the fish, but it's easy for them to see -- and hear -- us. So it was pretty demanding fishing. We went east and got several good shots from the boat to tailing singles and doubles. So we got out and waded, thinking that we could approach the fish better on foot. But the fish "fell off" the sand just as soon as we stepped off the boat. That's the problem with the sand: it can be so good and then it's as if someone flips a switch, and they all leave. We went on northward to the East Cut, where we had some pretty fast and furious action from the boat. We ended up back down south where Reid's awesome cast and a Mother's Day Fly teamed up to bring this red to the boat.
A few days later, after cancelling some trips due to weaher, we hosted Joey and his partner Cindy from Houston. They had only begun fly fishing, and had barely wet their lines up Galveston way. When we awoke on Saturday, I winced, because it was windy, cloudy and chilly -- the kind of day when most people roll over without the slightest inner conflict and return to sleep. But Joey and Cindy were intent on seeing what was so special about the Lower Laguna. We headed north against the wind, and all we saw were ducks and duck-muddied water. Turning south, it was a relief to run with the wind, and I fully expected to be "pulling the plug" shortly when a bit of slick water caught my attention. "Maybe, just maybe, we can spot a tail or two," I thought. Shortly after stopping, and poling downwind along a shoreline, we spotted the first tails -- a pod working near the shore. That was on the beginning of a couple of hours of nonstop tailing pods. Joey got out of the boat, and began stalking one pod after another with a Kingfisher chartreuse spoon. He landed a pretty big red, but I was so far away -- helping Cindy -- that I couldn't take a photo of his first red on a fly. Minutes later, however, he hooked his second; so I trudged back to the boat, got the camera and waded all the way to where he held the redfish in wait. I always forget something on a cold day and as I went to take the photo, the camera flashed "no memory card." Fortunately, Joey didn't care, and went on the land two more undocumented reds before we voted unanimously that three hot showers weighed more heavily in the equation than a fifth red for Joey.
The fishing has been very good, and I look forward to the low waters of December when we head east and south (and yes, north, too) for a slightly different action -- and big trout, along with the reds. But for now, the pods of autumn will entertain us for another couple of weeks, at least.
11/9/05 I guided my old client and friend Jim Posgate yesterday, and when I went to take the first picture, my batteries were dead. So I've interspersed some photos of Doug and Tom Atmor from California, who fished with me in the same areas on Friday and Saturday.
water has been falling considerably -- almost to winter levels. It was
extremely low at the East Cut yesterday, and it seems a bit early for
such a fallout. But we're not far from early December, when the tides
return to summer levels. Some of you may be wondering where all the
trout photos have been. Actually, autumn is not a good time for sight
casting to big trout. The
water is higher, and they are very hard to see. The winter is a
great time for targeting big trout, however, and I'm looking forward to
doing some of that myself, and with clients, beginning in early
no problem finding the motherload of redfish. We came off plane, and
within minutes Jim was casting to sweeping pods of 5 to 25 fish. It was
a veritable zoo, but it wasn't easy. It was dead calm, and the fish
didn't seem to be feeding much. So they spooked quite easily. Casting a
VIP, Jim broke off on one, and missed
a couple of others, while I watched from the boat. Then the wind came
up, and the whole passel of fish promptly disappeared. Of course, they
were still in the area, but not to be seen. So we left them and headed
northeast onto the sand where I'd found the most incredible tailing
action I've ever seen on the sand (see below). Larry Shriver -- who
fished the same action with me on Saturday -- arrived at about
the same time, and set up shop with his two buddies from Colorado a few
hundred yards to the south of us.
reds were there, and we caught several, but they weren't tailing as
much as on Saturday. Jim is so experienced on the Lower Laguna that he
always asks me to fish with him when he's wading, so I used a TFO
six-piece five-weight Professional Series rod that TFO sent me as a
gift. Jim caught a couple of fine reds on a Clouser -- one was
large -- and lost two more, while I caught a couple on a pink
fished the East Cut, and Jim caught one there while I scouted nearby.
Then we moved back south and west and waded a shoreline where Jim
landed two more in the windy and cloudy
conditions. He did really well, considering the afternoon conditions.
We were hoping for birding action at dusk, so we hung out until the sun
was low, and then headed south where Kathy and I had found a melee
of birds and feeding reds last Wednesday just before dark (see
below). The birds weren't working yet, so we waded into the shallow
area. The wind was up and the sun was low, so we needed some help
seeing the fish. Jim stalked some reds that were cruising the shoreline
with their backs out, and I stood waiting for what I hoped would be an
influx of reds coming from the north just before dark. Sure enough,
they began moving in, and we both got several shots, but it was hard to
follow the fish in the windy conditions. We caught one,
and then headed in. Twelve hours on the water! I was impressed that we
post-50 guys managed so well, but of course we were both sore from all
the wading the next morning.
some great fishing with Doug and Tom Atmor from San Francisco, and L.A.
respectively. They had never done any flats fishing, and so everything
was new to them. By the end of the second day, they were both saying
that it had been the most incredible fishing they'd ever
fished the west side early on both days. On Friday, we got into
tailing pods early, and then stalked single tailers and smaller pods as
the morning progressed. Indeed, we didn't move much for about four
hours. Both men caught their first redfish on a Mother's Day Fly, and
were astounded by the power of the fish. The rest of the day was
a bit disappointing, but we went in feeling pretty good about breaking
the ice on their first day out.
Saturday, the tailing action on the west side was
lackluster. Doug managed to catch one there, but I decided to move
about 9:30, and head east onto the sand. As we ran onto the white sand,
we started seeing scattered reds, so I shut down and began poling
toward the Padre Island west shelf, where the water goes from 10 inches
to about 5 inches. We started seeing tails at a distance and I assumed
that they were sheepshead. Still, we'd seen a few reds so I suggested
we wade. As we waded east, the first tail I identified was a redfish!
I'd already told the guys that the reds don't usually tail that much on
the sand, but I wasn't disappointed. I began to scrutinize the tails
that were waving to the east of us, and I suddenly realized that they
were all reds! For the next three hours, the guys were into constant
tailing fish -- singles and small pods. Doug approached double digits
by the time the action fell off, and Tom landed several himself. It was
simply awesome fishing -- as good as it gets on the sand, where
the bottom is as firm as a sidewalk and water is as clear as spring
before the Atmors arrived, Kathy and I took our son Pete and his
(along with our dogs) out for some late afternoon fishing. We
headed north along a shoreline where the reds often pod under birds
this time of year. But they weren't podding, and the birds were nowhere
to be seen. So Pete and waded together while Kathy and Miranda enjoyed
the late afternoon scenery and let the dogs run free.
landing one fish, we headed in as the sun was setting. But as we passed
a little-fished area, I
swerved westward to look for birds, and there they were, almost
invisible in the failing light. I stopped 150 yards short of the
action, and we waded together toward the melee. Large group of reds
were sweeping upwind, driving shrimp ahead of them. Meanwhile, the
gulls were going nuts. Pete casted his gold spoon into one mass of
fish, while I backcasted into another group with a Kingfisher black
opal spoon. Within a short time, we were both hooked up. I held my rod
in one hand while wading back to Pete with my camera. Once we
photographed his fish and released it, I landed mine and he played
photographer. Two fish over 26 inches, and that was enough for us. With
darkness coming quickly, we left the fish and headed back to the boat
-- as content as any two anglers could be.
We've had some incredible fly fishing in the last 10 days, but there's
been so little time to stop to think about it, much less write about
it. Overall, the tides have been falling and the water temperature has
been dropping into the mid-70s after the warmest September in history
postponed the classic fall action. In the last few days, we've been
seeing the beginning of the fall birding action as the shrimp
population has been maturing and preparing for its winter spawning
migration into the Gulf. Yesterday, I awoke before dawn to get the boat
ready for my charter, and crept down the to the dock to spy on the
snook that hang out around the
underwater light. The snook were nowhere to be seen, probably because
they were full of shrimp. Indeed, hundreds of white shrimp were
circling the underwater light.
start with the most recent action, and hit some high points as I
backcast over the last few days.
guided Terry Pollreisz from Arizona for the past three days.
Terry came two years ago and went out with Capt. Kathy while I guided
some other clients. So I'd never had the privilege of guiding him
before, even though Kathy had said many times that I would really enjoy
guiding him. She was right.
dawned cool and breezy. It was the first day after a cold front, and I
was not very optimistic about our chances. We ran into a couple of west
side spots looking for birds, and did not find them working. With wind
and clouds, it's easy to feel a bit hopeless. But we found a few reds
working along a shoreline, and were preparing to go after them when
Larry Shriver -- my good friend and Kingfisher associate guide --
called me and said that there were some birds starting to work where he
was poling our guest Kirk Brown from the Dallas area. So Terry
and I cranked up and headed north. When we arrived, there were a
very few birds sitting and fluttering along a shoreline. Most anglers
would have passed them up, but Larry knew that a single laughing gull
on the water this time of year can mark the presence of a dozen reds.
Sure enough, as soon as Terry and I putted into the shoreline where
Larry and Kirk were already wading, we could see tails against the
glare of the rising sun. Larry had said on the phone that they were
having a hard time getting the reds to see the fly, so we quickly
switched to a weighted Clouser that would drop like a rock to the
bottom where the reds were shoveling shrimp out of the shoalgrass.
Within a few minutes, Terry hooked a nice red out of the second pod he
pursued that action until it fell off by midmorning, and then headed
east and north onto the sand. The reds were there, too! Indeed, we
spent several hours stalking fish in about a foot of water. With
northeast winds above 15 knots, Terry had a hard time casting. But he
did quite well, considering, and landed another four reds before we
moved on. It turned out to be quite a good catching day, thanks in
large part to Larry's early invitation to join them.
second day proved surprisingly difficult until the late afternoon when
Terry won the redfish lottery. We hit all the right places on what
appeared to be the perfect weather day; but Terry had landed only a
single red by early afternoon. Suddenly, I recalled that there had been
quite a few reds in an area south of the mouth of the Arroyo. So we
headed there for our last hurrah. Spotting a few reds as I poled into
the area, I suggested that we wade quietly toward a shoreline where
there seemed to be a lot of finger mullet milling around.
opted to use a purple Clouser of all things -- a fly he'd used for Coho
salmon. Indeed, as we approached the shoreline, we began to see redfish
all around us, chasing bait, and muddying up the water. Fortunately,
the sun was direct; and the reds showed up fairly well against the
sparsely vegetated, sandy bottom. We
stood in one spot while Terry landed 11 reds, lost one and missed
a couple of others. You could have heard us a mile away. It must have
sounded like a Hee Haw rerun! It was constant action until the glare
from the setting sun blinded us to the location of the feeding reds.
morning, Terry and I headed back to the same area, but stopped 200
yards short of the shoreline, when we began pushing reds in all
directions. Shutting down, we enjoyed classic topwater action until the
southeast breeze finally put the reds down. Here's Terry on his knees
while one red poked its head above the surface to slam the orange VIP.
days before Terry arrived, I guided Kirk Brown from Waxahachie for the
first of three days on the water. Kirk and I poled into an area
alongside Rick Hartman and his two clients -- who, by the way, had
landed over 30 reds from the
boat the day before -- and both boats enjoyed constant tailing
action for about two hours. Kirk landed several nice reds before our
day was up, and he went on to fish two more days with our associate
Larry Shriver. It was a testimony to Kirk's priorities when he
considered the high point of his trip catching a sheepshead on a crab
pattern. Only seasoned fly fishers on the Texas coast would value a
sheepshead above a redfish. But they are well aware that catching a
sheepshead is about 20 times harder. If you can catch a sheepshead on a
fly, you can catch anything.
days ago, I had the privilege of guiding the president of the
Piney Woods Fly Fishers, Don McMurry. Don fished for only a half day,
but he hit the weather just right. We had an awesome morning, fishing
to reds that were
stacked up along a shoreline, blowing bait in all directions. Don asked
me to fish with him, so I hung back with my five-weight while he waded
a shoreline where it was so shallow that the fish were half out of the
water (check out the photo to the left). Backs were shining in the
sunlight, and Forester terns dove frenetically trying to beat the reds
to the shrimp and finger mullet. Don landed seven reds on a Mother's
Day Fly, and I picked up three on an MDF. Most of my photos were taken
from 50 yards away using my telephoto, just so I wouldn't spook the
reds that were between us. It was a glorious Autumn morning -- the kind
of day that you wish you could describe adequately, because if you
could, everyone would fly fish, and no one would ever ask you again
how many you caught or why you didn't keep them.
and I donated a discounted two-day trip with lodging to the Arkansas
Trout Unlimited. Two gentlemen from Fayetteville, AK -- Dash Golf and
his buddy Lee -- purchased the trip at their club auction and arrived a
week ago to see what all of the hubbub about the Lower Laguna Madre was
about. Lee had never fly fished before, and Dash had only fly fished
for brim "in his back yard." So before we went out, we had lengthy
casting lessons the night before (and prayers by the guide). I was
fully prepared for a double goose egg day, given the difficulty of fly
fishing in salt water. I was not prepared to have both anglers catch
redfish on both days! It was pretty amazing, but Lee and Dash are
seasoned hunters and tournament bass fishers, and neither complained
about the difficulty. Relishing the beauty of the Mother Lagoon, the
two men reaped the rewards of giving themselves fully to the challenge
without complaint. It was real pleasure guiding them, and I hope to see
them back down here again.
client and friend Russell Myers from Ft. Smith AK called just before
Dash and Lee arrived, hoping to find a hole in our schedule. I couldn't
guide him, but we lodged him while our associate Rick Hartman took
Russell out for two days. Russell, who is a veteran of the LLM,
exploited the opportunities that Rick found for him. Not only did
Russell break into double digits, but he landed this pretty 30-inch red
from the boat. Alongside the success of our two novices from Arkansas,
Russell's prodigous performance capped off a stellar weekend at
10/17/05 Last year, Martin Hetzel from Nebraska came down to fish, but bad weather prevented us from going out. Almost a year later, Martin got his day on the Lower Laguna. He had never fly fished in salt water before, and was hoping to catch one redfish. He accomplished that goal before the sun rose. And before 11:00, he'd landed a 30 inch redfish. Needless to say, angler and guide were pretty happy with the way things turned out.
headed into a lagoon where I hoped to find reds tailing and podding. It
was barely light enough to see when we shut down. I began
to pole toward the areas where the reds have been congregating, and
before long we could see Forester terns diving on pods of reds that
were exploding on shrimp that were skipping across the surface. Since
the wind was nearly calm, I was concerned that we could not get within
casting distance of the pods, so we got off the boat, and began
wading toward them. Within minutes, Martin casted a Kingfisher spoon to
a pods of four or five reds, and hooked up. "This is easy!" Martin
shouted. "Not always," I assured him.
didn't get much harder as the morning progressed. We got back on
the boat and poled for about half a mile, and had constant action from
singles and small pods. They were in about 10 inches of clear water.
I didn't think we'd be able to get very close to the fish with
the boat, but for some reason they were unusually distracted by
whatever they were doing. Martin landed three more reds before the
action played out.
tell you about Martin's 30-inch red. We'd
seen two reds tailing and heading toward us. Martin had to make
several casts before one of the fish finally saw the spoon and
took it. As it sped away, a clump of knotted line came out of the
casting basket and got caught in the first stripping guide. As Martin
reached to grab it, I yelled, "Let it go!" I'm not sure why,
because there was no way that bird nest was going to pass through a 1/2
inch opening. But the power of the fish jammed the knots against the
stripping guide and pulled the top two sections of the three-piece rod
free. Martin was suddenly fighting the fish with his butt section
alone. I jumped off the boat, and headed for the knotted clump of fly
line. As Martin kept tension on the fish, I danced back and forth,
trying to unravel the mess. It took about five minutes to clear the
line. Then there was the rod section to re-attach. I walked toward the
fish, which was about 40 yards from the boat, and grabbed the rod tip
and waded back to the boat. Attaching it to the butt section, I left
the rest up to Martin, who handily brought in the fish. We had no idea
the red was so large -- exactly 30 inches in length.
could have kept fishing that area, but I decided to try the white sand.
We spent the rest of the day poling the far eastern edge of the LLM,
and had quite a few opportunities at reds that were cruising in the
foot-deep, gin clear water of the white sand. They were tough to catch,
though, turning away from us before we came within 50 feet of them.
Still, it was exciting to see the fish so clearly visible on the
yellow-white backdrop of the white sand.
were poling along, I heard a sound that I recognized, but could not
place -- like the sound of a duck setting its wings before landing. I
looked behind us and spotted a Peregrine falcon stooping on a small
bird. The bird, in self defense, landed on the water, and just sat
there, hoping to survive the attack. The male Peregrine made a couple
of fly-bys, trying to pluck the bird from the water, but no...it
couldn't quite grab it. I'm not sure what happened to the little bird,
but the falcon assumed a waiting-on position over the boat and circled
above us for some time. Another falcon approached, and the two did some
aerial sparring, as if they were competing for the territory. Finally,
they moved on.
Peregrines come back each year and spend the winter with us. By
midwinter, I know where most of them all are, and I often stop by the
markers or fishing shacks where they roost, and call to them. There was
one occasion when I'd seen one of the falcons devouring the remains of
a coot. I pointed it out to my clients -- two Israeli officers --
who were as pleased to see the falcon as they were to catch fish. As we
watched her sitting on the sand with the dead coot beneath her, she
finally lifted the remains of the coot and flew away. Half an hour
later, we got up to leave and headed for the white sand. Planing along
at 30 mph, I suddenly caught something out of the corner of my eye.
Only 30 feet away, the big falcon was flying alongside the boat with a
tuft of black feathers in its talons. It flew along beside us for a
hundred yards before slowly veering off. Amazing things happen when you
appreciate whatever you encounter on the Mother Lagoon. Novices
catch big fish, and falcons treat you as friends.
We cancelled a Friday charter because a
cold front was passing through. It was such a weak event that I
wondered if we'd been premature, but two guests of ours -- Lewis
his friend Tom -- confirmed that Friday was a pretty poor fishing day.
However, Saturday and Sunday were remarkable by contrast.
guided Chuck Thomas and his son Charlie on Saturday and Sunday. Chuck
is from Midland and Charlie resides in Austin. Together they arrived, a
bit weary from the drive, on Friday evening, and proceeded to catch a
few trout under the lights. The trout, reds and snook have been feeding
all night on the white shrimp that have suddenly appeared in the
Arroyo. A few night ago, another guest of ours probably caught 30 trout before he went to bed.
and Charlie and I headed to a west side locale that has enough water in
the fall and spring to hold considerable numbers of redfish. I'd been
finding them there early (see report below) and hoped that they'd be
starting to pod up on the white shrimp that are maturing and preparing
to head offshore to spawn.
enough, we shut down along a shallow shoreline and poled quietly into
an area where the reds have been feeding with their backs out of the
water. I waded with Chuck most of the time, while Charlie took his spin
rod and ventured out away from the shoreline.
next three or four hours, Chuck and I waded in bootie deep water, and
had almost constant action with single and podding reds that were
sweeping up the
shoreline, attacking shrimp and whatever got in their way. We could see
their backs and tails glistening in the early morning sunlight for more
than 100 yards away, and could take our time getting into
position. He'd never caught a redfish on his fly rod, and was
surprised by how powerful they were. We had many shots, and Chuck did
quite well on his first outing by landing three fine reds, and losing
another one or two -- all on Kingfisher spoons.
Charlie hooked and lost a nice red on his topwater plug; but the fly
rod "ruled" in the super skinny water. We headed for another west side
lagoon, where Charlie finished up their half day on the water by
landing a red and casting to several others that were feeding
aggressively along a shoreline.
was almost a repeat of Saturday, except that the tides had fallen a few
inches. We shut down in the twilight in the same area, and there no
reds to be seen. We poled into the lagoon, and slowly began to see
signs of life. Finally, I looked ahead and could see tails waving in
the calm, glassy water. So we staked the boat, and waded toward them.
Charlie had his revenge with his spin rod while Chuck missed a few on
VIPs. The guys asked me to join them, and I distinguished myself
by breaking off on two reds, and missing several more. It was like I'd
never done it before. Actually, the reds were very finicky, and would
not take the poppers very aggressively; so after catching a 26 inch red
on a spoon, I suggested to Chuck that he shift to a spoon, too. Shortly
afterward, he casted the Kingfisher spoon fly to a tailing red, and it
hit it as soon as the fly hit the water.
elsewhere after the wind came up, and the tails went down. We spent
another hour and a half stalking reds, and casting to several from the
boat, as well. The guys loved the action, and promised to come back
Lewis and Tom fished on their own on Saturday and Sunday after a dismal
Friday, and had great fly fishing to large pods and singles in the
northwest bay. Tom even had a shot at a red that was so large that it
"scared him." Overall, it was a great fly fishing weekend.
Twenty three reds in one day is a pretty good day of fishing, I would
say. Indeed, Sam Fason from Austin caught all 23 before noon on
prettiest day we've had in a long time.
son Drake arrived on Thursday afternoon, just in time to greet our
first strong cold front of the season. We all awoke on Friday to 25 mph
north winds and chilly temps. Needless to say, we didn't leave the dock
until much later. But even then, the day was a certifiable "blowout,
and so we were back to the dock by noon.
better on Saturday, but the day started windy, cloudy and chilly. Since
the tides were extremely high, we had three "negatives" -- high water,
wind and clouds. Actually, we had a fourth negative -- wind from the
north. Still, we found a few fish on the sand, and Drake managed
hook one from the boat.
leave for home Saturday afternoon, so we went in at midday. Sam and I
returned to the bay that afternoon, and had some good shots before the
light failed us. We could tell that Sunday was going to be a good day.
The winds were dying, the tides were falling, and the temperature
one of my favorite high-water venues at daybreak on Sunday morning.
Minutes after we shut down, tailing pods and single reds appeared all
around the boat. Opting to stay on the boat, we began poling along a
shoreline that was festooned with tails and backs shining in the early
morning sunlight. Normally, on a dead calm morning, I would have
using a VIP popper, but when fishing aboard the boat, I
subsurface fly. Otherwise, the fish tend to see the boat when rising to
the popper. So I suggested using a Kingfisher spoon.
remarkably easy to approach. They were obviously feeding, head down.
Getting close was easy, but getting them to see the fly was quite a
challenge. Not only were they preoccupied, but the water depth was less
than a foot. Sam had a fine cast, though, and was able to reposition
the spoon until many of the reds seized the offering.
in the same area for five hours, and only started the outboard once to
move the boat back to our original starting point. It was an
intoxicating morning, with dead calm winds and eager fish. Most of the
23 reds were around 23-24 inches, but Sam caught several over 25, and
27 inch specimen -- all on Kingfisher Spoons.
seemed to be in a fever pitch. We saw several flocks of roseate
hoards of shore birds feeding on the heels of the falling tides, two
Blue Herons locked in battle, hoards of hugely unpopular
cormorants, white pelicans soaring brightly over the glassy water, and
a mixture of Reddish Egrets, Great Egrets, willetts, and Snowy Egrets
the feeding reds along the shoreline. We were blessed.