Fly Fishing Report for the Lower Laguna Madre
10 October 2007. Capt. Randy here. The term “cast and blast” may or may not be familiar to you. But the word “blast” was certainly an appropriate description of this past weekend for the Joyce party. They had a grand time! They opted for the full service package, which included ground transportation to and from the airport and dove field, three meals a day, lodging at the inn, and three days of fly fishing in the morning, and dove hunting in the evening. Capt Scott and I ran our Curlews out of Kingfisher Inn and associate guide Capt. Kenny Smith ran his Maverick HPX for three good days on the water. The Joyce family (father, two adult sons, one grandson, and one son-in-law) had to contend with some high water (which has, thankfully, begun to recede) during their stay so the redfish were a little scattered but all three boats were able to locate tailing and waking fish in the usual morning westside venues and cruising fish on the eastside in the afternoons.
The mornings were filled with anticipation as the men quickly finished their breakfasts while we loaded the boats and headed for the westside shorelines. All three boats ran until we were in mere inches of water then shut down and silently poled along looking for the telltale signs we are used to seeing this time of year. JC Joyce, the patriarch of this group, fished alone off of Scott’s boat and was the first to hook up on our first morning out. This was his first redfish on the fly! He followed that up with several other fish that day including a black drum.
John Joyce and his twelve-year-old son Jake fished off of Capt. Kenny’s boat and were after their first redfish as well. They found tailing redfish in a favorite shallow water westside spot and Jake caught his first redfish that morning. Shortly thereafter, while motoring across the bay, they ran over a very large school of redfish (common during this time of the year) and soon John had landed his first redfish on the fly.
Kevin Joyce (who caught his first redfish on a fly in May while fishing with me-see past fishing report) and his brother-in-law Mark fished off of my boat during their stay and boy did the three of us have fun! (We also enjoyed the fishing a great deal!) The first day we went shallow in the opposite direction of the other boats and found some fish immediately upon our arrival on the east side glass. After chasing a few tails from the boat and casting to several wakes the action ended in that venue and we had not landed a fish to show for our efforts. Fortunately, the bay waters were like glass all day and fishing from the boat was like poling through an aquarium that day. The fish were quite spooky but we ultimately landed several fish and had a great day on the water. Mark went home proud to say that he landed his first redfish on a fly.
After a nice lunch at the inn we all loaded up in my SUV and headed for the dove field that is located on the Rio Grande at the mouth of the river. You can’t go any further south and still be in the United States. The shooting was nonstop and the birds were unbelievably plentiful. The first afternoon we arrived a little late to the dove field and the hunters were worried that they would not see many doves. Upon arrival they came to realize that the numbers of doves and the size of the flights in this part of deep south Texas are different from anywhere else in the US. As you can see from the picture they had great shooting and were easily able to get their limit (which we grilled and enjoyed during one of our evening meals during their stay). They took the rest of the birds home for their family’s annual wild game feast later this fall. The large bird flights they experienced will continue through the fall.
If you want to book a “cast and blast” weekend give us a call soon. Dove season down here is open until November 11 then reopens from December 26 through January 8. The fall fishing in October and November is superb as the waters of the LLM recede and our favorite shallow water spots “turn on”.
Scott and I hope to hear from you soon!
9/18/07 A Special Treat -- the latest Fishing Report as a Slideshow! Enjoy!
9/4/07 Capt. Scott here. The last two days on the water were simply phenomenal. On the day before Labor Day -- last Sunday -- I guided Jim Posgate and John Kautch. I checked the radar before I left the dock, and saw showers over the Gulf, but they didn’t seem to be heading our way, so I q-beamed down to Jim’s cottage on the Arroyo, picked him up, then picked John up at his house 100 yards further. It was almost dark when we left. Not only are the days getting shorter, but the sky was largely overcast with high cover and threatening lower clouds that we slipped under as we headed east on the LLM.
We didn’t stop to check the west side at all, which is an unusual call. But our son Pete and I had been out on Friday (see below), and had found incredible action in bootie deep water on the east side. Pete had caught his first three reds on a fly, and was a fly fisher for life, as a result of our amazing good fortune. I wanted to find out if that action was still “on.” It was hard to plane across a mile of gamefish wakes, only to have them disappear for the last half mile as we approached the Padre Island shelf. There were a lot of fish, but they were in deeper water than we needed. I had one thought in mind -- to fish on the upper sand, above the Padre Island shelf.
We started seeing wakes again as we approached the shelf, so I shut down 200 yards away, and waded east toward a strangely beautiful sunrise that foreshadowed a stormy day. In the twilight, we thought at first that the wakes were probably sheepshead, but when we got close enough to see a couple, we could make out redfish in the low light. John hooked up first, somewhat by accident. He’d casted his fly out, and had left it sitting. Then as he began to wade further east, a fish grabbed the dragging fly, and he landed the first red of the day. It was the first of over 20 redfish (I didn’t count) from 24-26 inches long. All except the first one was caught in 6-8 inches of water.
It began to rain lightly, and continued to sprinkle for the first hour of the day. Jim and I waded onto the upper sand, and began to spot single reds spread out as far as we could see on the barely submerged flat. It seemed too shallow to host big fish, but they were there nonetheless. Meanwhile, John hung back and fished the edge of the shelf. After an hour, we’d all landed three reds apiece, but our early success was interrupted by a squall line that suddenly appeared out of the greyness to the east, and swept across the flats. I hurried back to the boat, which was 300 yards to the west; but the line of clouds brought more wind than rain. Indeed, the light north wind shifted dramatically to the southeast as the squall line passed. We all climbed back on the boat, and John -- who had left his raincoat behind -- gladly donned his gear, shivering from an hour of exposure to the light rain.
At first it looked as though the day might be over. But after a few minutes, the wind began to subside again. So I got the Curlew up on plane and went north about 250 yards, shut down and suggested we try the upper sand again. We waded closely together, and found a few fish tailing, and Jim landed another nice red. We headed back to the boat again, just as the sun emerged from behind the passing storm clouds.
Remembering what Pete and I had found just two days, I suggested we go a little further to the north, and wade onto the upper sand again. So we repositioned the boat again. The guys lagged behind, for good reason, because it seemed “dead” at first. But I waded another 200 yards east. And then the day really began.
I spotted a back out of the water, then another and another . So I called to the guys and asked them to join me. Before long, we were into steady action. The fish were in crystal clear water that was no more than 7 inches. The bottom was a powdery marl covered with small shells, and there was wispy grass in some areas extending to the surface, making fly fishing particularly challenging. Jim stayed with a Mother’s Day fly (John’s tie with flourescent orange eyes, of all things), while I stayed with a small Clouser. John was further from us, but we called him over as the reds began to stack up as we waded northward.
It was as good as it ever gets. In fact, it was “the best fly fishing that we have ever experienced” according to John and Jim. I had to agree that I’d never experienced anything more exciting either. All the reds were larger than average, and the fish were very aggressive. But of course, in the conditions we faced, the cast had to be exactly right, or you’d pick up grass on the first or second strip. Fortunately, the reds would come from five or six feet away. They’d hear the fly land, and come over immediately to investigate. In seven inches of water, that meant a huge wake would approach the fly. It took a lot of discipline to stay low and strip strike. We all failed on several occasions to let the fish take the fly before lifting the rod. In addition to that common error, all of us broke off, lost fish, missed fish, and every other conceivable event that was short of the mark. But regardless, we caught a passel of big reds.
The white phase reddish egret to the left flew up and landed beside me, and began "hunting" with me. I had my standard camera lens attached, so that means he was very close. I've witnessed this phenomenon many times: the bird seems to experience you as part of the natural scene. As you can see, the water was pretty skinny.
I thought it was about over, so I went back to the Curlew again, and took it north so the guys wouldn’t have to wade very far when they got ready to knock off. It was after 4:00, and I thought they’d be beat. However, they didn’t head back! So, finally, I grabbed my rod and for the fourth time waded onto the upper sand. I was 200 yards north of them, and thought I’d explore up that way. As I walked across a small island, and quietly waded into the skinny water on the other side, reds appeared all around me. I was on my knees in a second, hooked up, and yelling to the guys. They came up and we had another awesome run of sight casting. Finally, we looped back toward the boat around 5:30, and climbed wearily aboard. We’d been on our feet, fly fishing for about 11 hours. We were tired, but very happy with the day’s bounty.
Friday (two days earlier) was just as incredible, and as much as Pete would love for me to tell that story now, I have to take a break. But the story of a young man who became a fly fisher once and for all still awaits you.
08/28/07 Capt. Randy Cawlfield here. I’ve been in New Mexico for a week and have not taken the time to update you all on the successes of Chris Tokunaga, a client I had the privilege of guiding for four consecutive days (before I left on my trip). Chris arrived to fish the LLM in between the excitement of tropical storm Erin and hurricane Dean. Each of his four days of fishing were accompanied by different tidal depths. We experienced the typical summer low
water pattern followed by higher water brought on by the tropical disturbances. Incidentally, two of his three most rewarding days took place when the water was higher. Each morning I poled and waded with Chris along the shallow waters of the west side and each afternoon we went searching for (and finding) reds on the east side sand. Chris is a great fly caster and a tenacious fisherman. His casting length and accuracy made his efforts consistently fruitful. The redfish parade that Capt. Scott often describes was underway three of the four days
that Chris fished. The trout were on display as well and Chris took full advantage of this-as you can see from the accompanying picture. It seems clear that while we humans need a meteorologist to warn us of incoming weather patterns, the fish instinctively know when it is time to fill their bellies. My days on the water with Chris served as a reminder that imminent, inclement weather (the kind that pushes people off the water) can also bring some stellar
fishing. You and I need to be careful out there on the water. I am not advocating carelessness. We cannot tempt nature and get away with it in the long run. I am suggesting that, if we wait for “perfect weather”, we sacrifice many days of great fishing.
Chris caught many fishing during his four days on the water. What I really want to tell you about is the trout you see in this picture. The biggest trout Chris has caught to date, and a big trout by anyone’s standards, this fish measured in at 31 inches. On his third day Chris was wading in ten inches of water along the western shoreline when this beautiful fish began pushing a wake into the wind and right at us. It was visible from such a distance that Chris had time to announce “Here we go!” before making a superb presentation. The big trout took
the fly like a good sport and made our day! Chris announced, upon releasing this beauty, “that fish just made my day, in fact it made this whole trip!” Way to go Chris!
8/26/07 Scott here again. By the way, we've had cancellations for Labor Day, so if you've been hankering to come down, give Randy a call at 956-371-8801.
My brother Chip and I went out today, hoping to find the reds cavorting in the same back lagoon where I'd found them two days ago while guiding Shaun Daniels. Yesterday, our old friend Henry Bone from Austin, who stayed with us this past weekend, found the same action--reds blowing up on all sizes of baitfish. He and his two young sons Mason and Ethan caught a couple of fish from aboard their boat, but Henry said he would have caught half a dozen if he’d been able to wade.
Chip and I arrived at first light, and were greeted by... nothing whatsoever. What a change! Nonetheless, we waded for 45 minutes, hoping to find the reds spread out into shallower water. Alas, the fish weren’t there. The wind was higher than the previous two days, and the tide was higher, as well. Between the full moon and the leftover high tide from the surge from Hurricane Dean, the water had risen another three inches.
So we headed south and west, eventually arriving at a place that almost no one ever fishes. It’s out of the way of boat traffic, and even the poling guides tend to bypass it. And it’s very, very shallow. We took the Curlew as far as we could, stopping in 10 inches of water, and then wading into shallower, grass-filled water. Before we could get our gear together, Chip spotted a tailing red 40 yards downwind, so he grabbed his rod and slipped overboard while I watched. Chip casted his Kingfisher spoon just ahead of the fish, and it lunged forward and took the fly. Since it was the first strike of the day, Chip lifted his rod reflexively and then regretted it as the hook missed its purchase. He casted again, however, and the fish inhaled the fly.
We waded downwind toward one of the most remote areas that I know of, and began seeing a few fish as the water became progressively shallower. I landed a nice 23 inch red, and then started seeing almost constant tailing action. Not many tails, mind you, but consistent action for the next two hours or so.
The water was just at the top of my booties, and that means it was no more than 8 inches deep. You would have thought that no fish in his right mind would have been caught feeding in this super-shallow, grassy area. But they were there, moving almost imperceptibly beneath the glassy surface (it was so shallow that it was glassy even in the wind), and tailing or coming out of the water every once in a while. It was nigh impossible to cast without picking up grass on the first strip, so the cast had to be right on the money. But if the cast was right, the reds ate the Kingfisher Spoon like it was their first meal in a week.
Five reds later up to 25 inches, and I was done. It was about as good as it gets, and it would have continued, but we were ready to head in. I spoke with Henry, who was fishing on the east side, and he ran into a passel of fish in bootie deep conditions, as well. He caught half a dozen reds with his two boys before trailering his boat and heading back to Austin. It was a great day on the water, with the extreme east and west edges of the LLM proving to be the redfish feeding grounds during an unusually high tide.
8/25/07 Capt. Randy submitted the following fishing report just before I left for California, but I (Capt. Scott) didn't post it until today. But it captures some of the fine fishing we enjoyed earlier in August. Also, Randy's client Chris Tokunaga from Sugarland caught a 31-inch trout while I was gone, and I will be posting that story and photos just as soon as Randy gets back from New Mexico. I can't wait to see those photos! Way to go, Chris.
Before I post his report, I just want to add a brief update. Many of you may be wondering about the effects of Hurricane Dean. Indeed, we even had cancellations for Labor Day due to the feared effects. Well, I guided Shaun Daniels and his friend Mickey from Austin yesterday, and yes the tides were higher, but no higher than normal fall tides. In fact, we were able to fish one of my favorite lagoons, which is typcially off limits this time of year. Shaun had never fly fished, but the action was so good that he was able to hook two 24"+ reds as we stood and watched reds exploding on tiny minnows. The first one was very big, but the line wrapped around his fighting butt, and it came off. He landed the next one (and caught anohter on the sand later). It was spellbinding. Backs and tails, and exploding fish. So, don't worry about the effects of Hurricane Dean. We had a light shower a few days ago in Arroyo City, and that was it. Here's a couple of photos f rom Shaun's and Mickey's day on the water.
Capt. Randy Cawlfield here. (8/14/07) The last month has been fun down here on the Lower Laguna Madre as I am beginning to settle in and get comfortable with my new life as a fly fishing guide and proprietor of Kingfisher Inn. The fun factor has also increased do to the fact that the bottom has dropped out of the bay, meaning the summer has brought extremely shallow water and great sight casting opportunities. Great fun has also been ushered in by the fact that in the last three weeks I have seen five individuals catch their first redfish on a fly. I find it so rewarding when I have the privilege of introducing someone to my home waters. I love the LLM and love sharing it with others. Here are a few “snapshots” from the last few weeks.
Dr. Mike and Dorothy Kaldis were guests of the Kingfisher Inn a little over a week ago. They were down celebrating Mike’s birthday. Mike has spent much of his life fishing the upper coast but, by their own admission, neither of them had ever been saltwater fly fishing and Dorothy had never casted a fly rod before the morning she stepped onto my Curlew. They spent a relatively fruitless morning on the west side (in terms of fish catching) practicing their casting and getting used to the telltale signs of redfish-tails and wakes. We did see some reds and had a few shots in the shallow water that morning as I poled them along. The afternoon , on the other hand, was a complete success story. We went to the sand on the east side late in the morning after waiting anxiously on the required sun. We immediately found redfish and ladyfish cruising in good numbers, almost as if they had been waiting for us. We spent the rest of the day wading along in virtually the same spot. Mike caught several nice reds that day and arrived back at the dock with a grin on his face. Dorothy caught a 26 inch ladyfish. This was the biggest dog fight of the day. Dorothy won.
Two days after the Kaldis party left I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take out another husband and wife team that had never been fly fishing. In fact, Johnny and Tracey Robertson had no fly casting experience at all but were eager to learn. They were good sports as we spent the morning learning to cast a fly and had several opportunities to cast to waking reds on the shallow west side. They found their own rhythm by late morning and we went to the sand to hunt for reds. We found them, and ladyfish, after hopping around by boat on the east side. Johnny and Tracey caught several ladyfish that day and missed some reds that were only a few feet beyond their cast. Welcome to fly fishing. The couple ended the day with a sense that they would be back down on the LLM soon.
The most rewarding trip I have taken this season happened only two weeks ago. I had the pleasure of fishing with my 12 year old son, Truett Cawlfield. We left the dock at 6:15 and headed for a favorite west side spot in search of the redfish parade that summer brings. We were not disappointed. We shut down the boat upon arrival and did not fire up the motor again until noon, when we ended our fishing day. Tailing and waking redfish were everywhere that morning as we followed the mullet stream and accompanying steady parade of redfish until it played out-after several hours of productive fishing. Truett is the hardest fishing human I know. That includes all the youth and adults I have fished with. He out-fished me that day, just like he began out-hunting me this past winter during our many duck hunting outings. Truett, on that day, came of age as a salt water fly fisher and sight caster. And I, as the dad, got great joy out of it. We never even made a trip to the east side for sand action. The morning was a complete experience. We both knew the day was over and our mission had been fulfilled.
Two days ago I went fishing with my good friend John Lewis. An avid fisherman, John is new to sight fishing and was eager to get out on the bay and learn. Because of the predictability of the morning action we have found in recent weeks on the west side, we went in search of redfish tails that morning. We found the mullet stream and we signs of game fish activity, but no tails. I was disappointed and ready to move to a different spot when, slowly and with increasing frequency, we began seeing the wakes of redfish moving into the breeze paralleling the movement of the mullet. The tails never appeared, but th ebig redWe had a great morning and John caught several nice reds and a beautiful trout. Eventually, after several hours, the mullet stream came to a close and the sheepshead moved in. We went to the east side that afternoon, but with a sense that the day was already complete and we were fulfilled in our endeavors. That is a gift.8/8/07 Capt Scott here. Looking back over the last two weekends, I would say that the fishing has been good to very good, but falling short of excellent. A week and half ago, I guided Greg Mentzer and his partner John Miller from Montana. Greg is an outfitter and guide on the Missouri River in Montana, and had never fished the Lower Laguna. He and John had fished the Baffin Bay area just before coming down to the LLM, so they had had some experience fly fishing for reds and trout, but with minimal success.
We went looking for the redfish parade, and found it localized. We were fishing alongside Randy and his clients, and we spread out facing what we hoped would be incoming redfish; tailing and pushing wakes into the shallow lagoon where we stood. John happened to be closer to a shoreline where the reds often congregate as they move upwind into the shallower water. He got into much better action than anyone else, and proceeded to have shot after shot at tailing reds. I walked with him for a good while, and then left him to stalk tailing reds alone while I went back to the boat. Greg was only 150 yards away, but the difference proved to be significant. He saw a very few tails, and was besieged by the “mullet stream,” which often drowns out the subtler signal of tailing and waking reds.
After the early action, we struggled for most of the rest of the day. The sunlight was fickle, and as soon as we’d find fish, the sun would disappear. We fished the sand, and there were a lot of fish coming in from the west, but the clouds defeated us. However, we stayed out long enough to check out the birding action; and we found them in a westside lagoon. Indeed, we found sweeping pods of reds along a shoreline, being escorted by a few gulls. Greg hooked up on the first pod, and the fish blew up, so John didn’t have a credible chance. A few minutes later, another pod swept up the same shoreline, and John had a close encounter with a veritable wall of water being pushed by the reds in nine inches of water. The water was so murky (it almost always is in this particular spot) that the reds passed up his spoon fly, and left us celebrating a difficult but exciting day.
The second day proved to be more productive. The wind was nearly calm, so I shut down near my friend Rick Hartman, who was guiding three clients. A few minutes later, my brother and his son Spencer joined us in their boat; so we were spread out, in a position to cover the redfish parade. However, what we found out later from Chip is that all the tailing reds were over near us. Chip’s son Spencer caught a nice 26” trout, nonetheless. John was, once again, in the “catbird's seat,” getting a good dozen shots while Greg waded off to the east, and had just enough opportunities to break the ice on the day and land his first red. John landed two, so we were off to a pretty good start.
I opted to move the boat upwind in order to intersect the incoming reds. We looped around and shut down about a mile from where we started, in the middle of the mullet stream. As we were sitting on the boat, getting ready to fish, we spotted a wake heading directly for us. Greg grabbed his rod and slipped into the water. Moments later, he hooked up on a fine 25” red that took his fly about 15 feet from his rod tip.
We went looking for birding action at the end of the day, and found it. A rather large pod was working under a dozen gulls––quite a spectacle for those who have never seen this phenomenon. As the anglers got out of the boat, I said, “Make sure your fly lands in the middle of the tails. Otherwise, you might catch a small trout.” Well, it was like I was psychic, because the guys hooked or missed a trout on every cast. The reds were slowly moving in the other direction, so just as soon as the guys would stop to cast, the pod would mosey three feet further. Of course, the fly would land a foot or so short, and well... you know what happened. Six trout and 20 minutes later, the pod finally broke up. They guys were disappointed, and said they’d screwed up. But I have seen more so-called “failure” in late-day birding action than I have seen success. The sight is mesmerizing––a group of reds packed into a 10x10 space, tails waving blackly in the glare of the low sun. You think all you have to do is to cast. Then you get out of the boat and sink up to your knees, and began trying to cast to fish with their heads in the mud, and their tails gently waving. It's like a first date that you've dreamed of, but now you don't know what to say or do. As they say, poop happens. But six trout are fun, too. We finished the day with half a dozen reds and the same number of trout, with Greg promising to return, perhaps as early as this fall.
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On the following Friday, I guided David Weeks and his next-door neighbor Lance Coleman from Ft. Worth. David also asked John Kautch to go along, who has been a friend and neighbor of mine for several years here in Arroyo City. David knows John through his son Craig, who owns a fly shop in Ft. Worth.
I had taken David out a few weeks ago with his father-in-law––John Bergman––who had caught quite a few reds on his spin rods. Lance had never caught a red on the fly, so David hoped for equivalent success. We fished the west side fruitlessly, and then shifted east where we found the best action. Indeed, Lance landed two reds on the sand, and David had some great action, as well. John had been coming up fishless lately, but after we headed west in the late afternoon, we found pods of tailing reds. In fact, John spotted a bouquet of tails that were not under birds. He slipped off the boat and hooked up within moments. Meanwhile, we drifted downwind and pursued another group of reds. I think everybody felt good about the day, even though it was challenging.
For the next two days, I guided my old clients John Boyd and his son J.R. They have come in early August for the last three years, and have done really well. This time, John brought his sweetheart Carlene, who courageously wielded a fly rod for two long days. I walked with Carlene and helped her learn to cast and to see the incoming fish. The boys were left to their own devices, meanwhile. Normally, that would mean stalking redfish on the west side, as John and J.R. were veterans of the redfish parade, and they hoped for a repeat performance. Alas, the westside action was dead on arrival. We showed up at daybreak, expecting tailing reds, and there were none to be found. We headed east, and got into some good redfish and ladyfish action by midmorning. But it was difficult to catch a red, because the ladyfish would snatch the fly before the red could take it. We stood in a glassy expanse of water, and were able to see sweeping groups of fish all around us. We would stand and wait for the packs of mixed reds and ladyfish to sweep through. Dropping to our knees, we would cast ahead of the fish, hoping for a hookup. The ladyfish action was constant, but they effectively kept the Boyds from catching any reds. So we headed further south, where we found single reds and small groups moving onto the sand. The anglers didn't catch many, but it was a pretty fair day in terms of opportunities.
We had virtually the same action the next day, except that J.R. managed to land a couple of reds on the westside on VIP poppers. When we reached our final destination -- on the southeast sand -- J.R. caught fire and landed a couple more, including a 27" red that he promptly released. Fortunately, I power waded up to him, and snapped some shots before he released the fish. At the end of the day, we went looking for birding action. A storm was approaching from the west, and we weren’t sure if we were wise to be fishing. But when we found a hefty pod working under a dozen gulls, JR opted to wade to them. I warned him about the bottom, enough apparently to convince his father to wisely stay aboard the boat. When JR got off the boat, I was afraid that he was going to disappear, the mud was so soft. Still, he insisted in wading to the fish. A few minutes later, he hooked up as the pod swept toward him, a dozen tails showing at one time. The fish came unhooked, but JR gets immense credit was wading one of the softest bottoms on the LLM. Meanwhile, the storm swept toward us, so we ran for cover and took refuge on one of the cabins to the north. It was a lot of fun hanging out in the storm. You get to know people a little better, and you talk about things that don’t come up while you’re fishing. It was great to host the Boyds, as always, and a real pleasure to coach Carlene on her first trip to the LLM. Upon leaving, the Boyds scheduled for next August. I only hope that we have some decent tailing action for them next year. It's hard to live on memories.
7/23/07 Capt. Scott here. This past weekend was proof that the so-called bad days can be the best days, and vice versa. I was guiding Doug and Connie Gauntt from Ft. Worth for the third or fourth time. The Guantts have come down yearly for a while now, and we usually have some really good fishing when they are here. Connie caught a world record ladyfish her first trip, then caught her first of five reds (on a terribly windy day) on her second trip. Doug landed a 27-lb black drum last year, and this year...well, I was hoping for the usual Gauntt good fortune. But Saturday dawned windy and cloudy. We headed east for an area known to remain glassy on windy mornings, hoping to find tails. I guided Dave Weeks and his buddy Dave Bergman on Friday, and we found some pretty good tailing on the east side, and landed a few then. But when we arrived on Saturday, the reds barely tailed. They were there, all right--we saw them running as we planed into the area. But for some reason, they didn't tail much. Doug opted to use a VIP, and found the few reds that he casted to rather uninterested in the popper. He lost one, while Connie casted to a few tailing reds. And then...it was over for hours. We ran north and south, hoping for visible fish, but the lack of tailing and the overcast conditions left us without visible targets.
Finally, I went to my usual #1 venue in July, which has not been fishing well due to high, discolored water. Well, the water was crystal clear, and the tides had fallen far enough to give us tailing action if the reds were willing. We arrived about midday without having landed a single fish. And immediately, we were into tailing reds -- the redfish parade, in fact. The reds were tailing and feeding upwind, even though it was breezy.
Doug stayed with a popper, which he regretted later after missing several strikes. I waded with Connie, and opted for a spoon fly to cope with the grassy conditions.
Doug landed four reds before heading back to the boat, and reported having almost constant action for the two hours that we spent at our first stop. Connie and I also had constant action from reds that were tailing and "snaking" through the shallow, grassy water. She finally landed a pretty 24" red after presenting to a dozen or more.
Sunday provided somewhat of a contrast. A nearly perfect dawn with low wind and cloudless skies proved to be a much more difficult day. We headed for the same area and fished alongside my brother Chip, who was fishing alone. Expecting the redfish parade, we all spread out and faced the incoming fish. Doug was immediately into multiple tailing fish, so we expected a repeat of the previous day. However, the tailing action quickly subsided. Chip was apparently on a better "line," and landed two trout (one of them 24 inches) and two reds, and missed several others, including a huge trout. Meanwhile, we landed only two reds, with Doug and Connie splitting the honors. The action died by midmorning, and we went searching for fish. We found a few up near the East Cut, where Connie broke off on two reds and landed a small black drum and a nice ladyfish. But that fizzled, too, so we covered a lot of ground fruitlessly until midafternoon when we ran into a herd of reds up on the sand. We got out, and the water was just stunningly beautiful. Schools of cow rays, sheepshead, and black drum kept us on our toes until the reds reappeared on two occasions. Doug and Connie both ended the two days landing reds that had about 40 companions. Overall, it was another great weekend with two of my favorite clients.
6/18/07 Capt. Scott here. It’s been a good while since I’ve posted a report, which is not to say that I haven’t been fishing. Indeed, in the last seven days, I’ve fished six. Thanks to my son Ryan who wisely suggested that we take a morning off, we slept in yesterday. Before commencing with my up-to-date fishing report, I’d like to share a photo of a fish I landed while fishing with my brother Chip a few hours ago. We were fishing the sand under cloudy conditions, and I sight casted to a fish that was tailing and finning in 12 inches of water. I thought it must have been a sheepshead, but when I presented the size 6 Clouser, it hammered it and ran like a huge ladyfish. After a lengthy fight, I got close enough to see that it was...well... you decide. According to the IGFA identifying characteristics, it was a juvenile permit. Skipper Ray, Eric Glass and Rick Hartman believe it's a large pompano. TPW biologist Mark Fisehr finally confirmed that it was a larger Florida Pompano. Anyway, don’t count on catching one if you come down. It doesn't happen every day.
People often wonder how the fishing has really been. It’s easy to tell you the good news in order to get you down here, but what about the whole picture? The truth is never as simple as we’d like it to be. Randy and I have had many great days on the water this year, but the fact remains that 2007 has been a very unusual year. Not only have we had three flooding rains spread out over the spring and summer, but the tides have continued to be higher than usual, in part because of the fresh water inflow. Still, you may be surprised to hear that the water clarity has remained excellent, except in areas close to the Arroyo, and near other sources of fresh water inflow, such as the floodway south of Pt. Mansfield.
However...we’ve had good to stunning fishing on the east side--tailing action early in the morning, and lasting until mid- to late morning.
Take, for instance, the second week in June. Fred Closuit from Ft. Worth came down with his son and two other companions. We headed to the far east side, because we had been finding pods tailing at daybreak (see earlier reports). We had to move around some in order to stay on top of the action, but before the day was over, Fred had landed at least 12 reds by himself, and his buddy Tad had caught his first three reds on the fly, as I recall.
The next day, I flew to Virginia to see my son Ryan graduate from high school, and then headed back a few days later just in time to fly to California for five days. So I haven’t had much occasion to talk about the fishing.
Starting last week, however, I began guiding and fishing for fun in earnest. I took my old client Jim Posgate out with my son Ryan, who had just arrived from Virginia. Ryan is a committed fly fisher at the age of 18, which is pretty unusual by my estimation. We started in a west side lagoon that was full of big reds cruising, and driving shrimp ahead of them. They would swim right by us, but it was nearly impossible to get the fish to see our flies, given the lack clarity in the water caused by the preponderance of mullet. So we promised to return once the water drops a bit further, and headed to another favorite venue.
Jim is a very experienced LLM fly fisher, so when we found reds tailing under gulls--a nice treat for this time of year--Jim didn’t need any help hooking and landing the first red of the day, which was a 25” fish. After that, we didn’t find much action on the west side, so we headed east once the sun was high enough to sight cast to cruisers on the sand. Before we headed in after lunch, Jim had broken off on a big red, and landed a very nice trout and a couple of ladyfish-- not a high catching day by any means, but good enough for a seasoned angler who knows that a couple of fish can make a good day exceptional.
Ryan and I have been fishing every day since then, sometime alone and sometimes with Kathy or my brother Chip. Our first day out with Chip was a rather good day, even though we only fished the morning. We landed nine reds, most of them on the west side in small pods that were tailing, in spite of a rather stiff breeze. They were hard to see, but it wasn't impossible. We used Mother’s Day flies to imitate the shrimp that the reds were driving ahead of them, and there wasn’t a single occasion that I can recall that a red didn’t pounce on my favorite shrimp imitation.
Ryan and I were joined by Kathy this past weekend, and we went out midday to fish the sand under a cloudless sky. It was pretty windy, but the bright sun made the fishing possible. Ryan had difficulty spotting the fish, so he struggled while Kathy and I landed a few reds and ladyfish on small Clousers. But then we headed north to another eastside venue, that was on the “transition” between the grass and the sand. We switched to Mother’s Day flies, since we were in broken grass. There Ryan broke off on two big reds, and Kathy and I landed three more. Ryan was pretty frustrated with himself, but excited that he’d managed to hook two good fish on Mother’s Day flies.
Ryan and I had another great day on the sand on Sunday, landing six fine reds (and missing countless other shots) in a few hours of tailing action. It was classic--a glassy surface, and tails in all directions. Some of them were sheepshead, but many were reds. The reds were as aggressive as I’ve ever seen them, but both of us had to be patient and not start casting too soon-- the number one error that fly fishers make with regularity, regardless of their experience. Ryan has learned to tell the difference between the sheepshead and reds, so he doesn’t need (or want) any close-in fatherly coaching, so we go off and do our own thing. Staying within shouting distance, we alerted each other to the presence of tails that were heading in our respective directions. It was a lot of fun.
The tailing came to an abrupt halt and we faced a decision: to give up on the sand action, or look elsewhere. I knew that the tide can be at different points in its cycle at different places in the LLM, so I decided to head north toward the Mansfield cut to see if the tide differential would make a difference in the tailing action. Sure enough, after planing for two miles through a “dead zone,” we ran into the fish again. We stopped and enjoyed tailing action for two more hours.
Chip joined us on Saturday, and we decided to target the westside redfish parade action, since the tides had fallen to summer levels. We headed to the #1 redfish parade venue, where the reds follow a mullet stream from deeper water into a shallow, west side lagoon. We moved pods of reds as we shut down alongside the visible mullet stream, and got out thinking that we’d hit it big. Indeed, there were some reds tailing near the mullet stream, and within minutes Chip and I had broken off on big reds that took our VIPs aggressively. However, the reds seemed to turn finicky toward the topwaters, and before we could switch over and take advantage of their visible presence, the reds evaporated, leaving us with hoards of ladyfish. I landed a red and lost another larger one, and played with ladyfish for a while before we headed east onto the sand and enjoyed a bit of tailing action before we headed in.
Rather than give you more of a blow by blow on our recent exploits, let me summarize what is happening on the bay. For months now, we have had high water from the flooding rains, which has delayed the summer action, which is characterized by extremely low water, and tailing action in the larger westside lagoons, such as Rattlesnake, Paytons and south Cullens. Now that the water has fallen to summer levels (well, almost), we will be fishing our favorite westside action. The eastside sand action should fall off, except for early morning, as the water continues to fall. The redfish parade, and other regular morning redfish movements into the shallowest, grassy lagoons, should commence at any time. We’ve seen the leading edge of this summer action, but the major action is still ahead of us, even though it’s month late.
I’ve told you more than you probably want to know, but some of you can use this information as you explore the bay on your own. Remember, give other boats a wide berth during the low water of summer, since we will all be fishing tailing reds in extremely low, sensitive conditions. See you out there! -- Capt. Scott
6/13/07 I (Capt. Randy Cawfield) have been on the water so much in the last month that I have been too tired and busy to enter a new fishing report in a timely manner. Scott has been in Virginia and California for much of the last month, so his reports have been fewer that usual, as well. I am developing this discipline and will be writing frequently in the coming weeks. All a part of taking over the helm of Kingfisher Inn and learning how to live this new life as guide and proprietor.
A few days ago I had a special day (I know-they are all special) on the water and I have been itching to write about it since. Reeves Holliman and his friend Taylor came down to fish two days on the LLM. Because of the sudden loss of a loved one, their trip was cut short. They were only able to stay out for one long day on the water. I was a little nervous before we left the dock because I was aware of the fact that rain was in the forecast and these gentlemen would only have one day to try and catch fish. I can tell much about clients before we ever start fishing. How prepared a person arrives at the dock and how focused he or she is when we arrive at our first destination tells me something about the day we will have. Reeves and Taylor were tenacious young men. That was implied from the moment I met them and confirmed once they started catching reds on the fly.
We left the dock at 6 AM and headed for the western shoreline in search of cruising and tailing reds. We found them. But, it took hard work on the part of Reeves and Taylor to close the deal. After poling in some shallow water against the bank, we determined that the tails we were after were in a shallow cove that would require wading because of the prevailing wind conditions. Reeves was the first to cast to a pod of redfish in about 5 inches of water. Their backs were completely out of the water and Reeves made a perfect cast. The water exploded in a startling manner and the fish took off in a scared, single file fashion-like a freight train. Reeves line went taught, then limp, and suddenly all was quiet. We all stared at one another for several seconds. I broke the silence by asking what just happened. Reeves explained that a very large red just took his fly and immediately broke off. I was sick when I realized that I had not inspected Reeves tippet selection before his first cast. I started to tie on a heavier leader for Reeves. He made it clear that he had come prepared with appropriate tippet material, then tied his own terminal tackle on and went back to fishing. I was struck by his tenacity. Under cloudy skies and intermittent rain Reeves and Taylor spent the rest of the morning and much of the afternoon catch reds by casting to tailing reds and the wakes of cruising fish along the western shoreline. We did not move to a different spot along the LLM because we didn’t need to. The fish were there that morning. I
want to stress the fact that the weather conditions could have discouraged these two fly fishers. They could have been discouraged be a sense of urgency brought on by the fact that this was their only day to fish. Instead, they fished hard and enjoyed the in between times. This is a beautiful skill I am trying to learn-enjoying the in between times. I want to enjoy the boat ride out, and the break for water and a snack; I want to enjoy the sunrise and the companionship and the shout that comes with the first landed fish of the day and the smiles at the end of the day and the boat ride home and everything else that I too often neglect. One of my favorite experiences of my day on the water with these two gentlemen was when Taylor landed his first red of the day, then turned to me and said, “This is my first redfish on a fly and I am hooked!” Thanks Taylor and Reeves.
And to you, our readers, check back in soon. My fishing reports will be written in a timely manner from here on out. And get down here for some fishing and soon as you can. I would love to write a fishing report that includes you name in the near future! Capt. Randy
6/8/07 Capt. Scott here. Fishing has been alternatingly great and poor -- great due to the action on the sand, and poor due to extremely high water. Heavy rains and seasonal high tides joined forces to create tropical storm-level tides and off-colored water in some of our favorite west-side venues. As I write, the water is still falling; and within a week or two, the bottom will fall out, and the tides will be literally a foot lower on average, which on the Lower Laguna makes for a completely different scene. Indeed, we will soon enter the summer pattern, which I prefer above all else.
Today, I guided Doug Daman from Austin and his friend Kevin Groth from the St. Louis. We headed out at 6 am, hoping to find the calm winds that had been promised. But alas, it was already about 12 mph, and the west side venues were roughed up, making the likelihood of finding tails a remote possibility.
So I opted for my ace in the hole for windy mornings, and headed to a section of the bay that sometimes remains glassy even above 15 mph at daybreak. When we arrived, I shut down, and started poling with Doug on point, and within a couple of minutes, we’d spotted a tailing pod. He hooked up and landed his first of five reds before the sun had barely risen. Kevin stepped onto the casting platform, and we poled down to one of four visible pods, and he hooked up and landed his fish, too. Well, we were all pretty happy. I decided to get the men off the boat, so they could stalk fish on their own. It’s always hard to pull the plug on a successful strategy, but I knew that they would do better wading, and they’d both be able to fish, as well.
The action was classic Lower Laguna sight casting, with single tailers, and pods just about as far as one could see. I walked between the men with my Nikon, and found things to say, of course, about their casting and presentation. But they both got into the groove, and landed nine reds up to 27 inches (shown above) before 9:30. We found some good action in a second venue before the half day was over, but we were all thinking the same thing as we boated toward the dock: to return to those tailing fish at daybreak the next morning.
Kevin had only fly fished twice before, and never in saltwater. I would never have known it, judging from his fine cast and his respectable catch -- four reds. He kept saying that he wasn't a fly fisher. I'm not sure that's true anymore. He said at the end of the day, "It was great. I really didn't expect this." The best days are empty of expectations, don't you think?
I had the privilege of guiding Rhodes Hamilton and his dad Kent two weekends ago. The Hamiltons have been here three times before, I believe. Rick Hartman and I worked together with the Hamiltons and their two friends from Dallas, in the aftermath of our big storm. On our first morning out, Rhodes and Kent were on my boat, and I headed for a remote westside venue, knowing that the high water would make it impossible to fish our usual haunts. Poling into an area where it is usually 6 inches deep, we spotted pods and individual tailing reds ahead of us. Personally, I would rather have our best fishing on the second day, rather than the first. That gives my clients a chance to loosen up, and practice their casting. But as it turned out, the Hamiltons had their best fishing of two days in the first three hours of the first day. It was dazzling action. Tails were everywhere, and shrimp were jumping around trying to escape the foraging fish.
Both Hamiltons landed reds, and both men had 20 or so good shots before midmorning in a grass-infested area, making it extremely difficult to keep the flies clear of grass. It was tough getting the reds to see the fly under such conditions. It was necessary to put the fly on the tail the first time; otherwise, the fly would become fouled by the grass. I tried not to overcoach the anglers, knowing that the conditions would teach them what they needed to do.
Frankly, I don't recall what we did after that, but it wasn't as productive as the first hours of the day. Rick and I switched off the next day, and I guided the other father-son combo. Rick and I both headed for the same area, only to find that the motherload of reds had gone elsewhere. So we split up and went in search of opportunities. The high point of the second day was wading the sand.
5/24/07 It has been two months since I (Randy Cawlfield) stepped up to the helm of Kingfisher Inn and Guide Services, and Scott and I realized just days ago that a fishing report penned by yours truly is long overdo. Although I grew up in South Texas and have experienced a life long love affair with the Lower Laguna Madre, this new adventure has left me tired, breathless, and filled with excited anticipation regarding what the future holds. I won’t pretend that I am completely satisfied with what I know to date about my new life as owner of the esteemed Kingfisher Inn. I have already acquired a slew of stories of success and frustration, achievements and mistakes. There is one brief story that developed one afternoon just a few days ago that stuck with me and will remain with me for years to come as a symbol of what success looks like in the gritty, not so perfect world we all live in.
Kevin Joyce, a young attorney from Oklahoma, came to fish the LLM last week. He and I had several conversations prior to his arrival. His enthusiasm was contagious as he spoke of his desire to catch his first redfish on the fly. He asked all the right questions and prepared his gear. He arrived ready to fish hard-and that is just what he did. He arrived on a week day morning and we were on the water by noon. The obvious place to go this time of year at noon is the east side, also known as the “white sand”. Those of you who have fished out of Kingfisher Inn know what I am talking about and if, during your stay, you hit the sand flats at “just the right time”, you saw waters that have been compared to the Bahamas.
We were on the sand and out of the boat after a fifteen minute boat ride from the Kingfisher Inn dock. Kevin was fishing from the moment his wading boots hit the firm, sandy bottom. It became obvious that Kevin wanted to move in a stealth-like fashion that required solitude. So, I stayed about thirty yards away and just watched. After little time had passed I noticed
that Kevin was crouched down and casting in a determined manner that could only mean he was within striking distance of a redfish. I should point out that clients often begin casting when they think they might see a redfish. But when a fly fisher really sees a fish, his posture and his countenance change. Kevin was definitely on a redfish.
I watched with delight as the fly landed and Kevin’s rod bent over with a fish on the other end of the fly line. Kevin stood up and began the fight with the first redfish he had ever hooked. Then, horror of all horrors, Kevin dove into the salt water and began frantically searching for something. I realized at that moment that his reel’s spool had come off his reel and sunk to the bottom of the bay. Kevin’s fly line went limp. I was so disappointed for him. I hate it when a client’s first hookup results in a lost fish. (Unfortunately, this is a somewhat common occurrence as fly
fishers get used to the unique circumstances involved in fly fishing the LLM. Eventually, Kevin retrieved his spool and reassembled his reel. Because it is my job to be the optimist I shouted out, “Is the fish still on?” Kevin began calmly reeling in line until his rod was once again bent over and shouted “Yes, yes” with a wide grin on his face.
As Kevin landed this fish and we snapped this picture of his first redfish on the fly I considered the determination that drove Kevin to finish this fight when many lesser fly fishers would have given up and moved on to the next opportunity. I considered how he, on that day, was an example for me as I undergo this new challenge in my life as owner of the Kingfisher Inn. I determined that day to carry this lesson with me in the days to come. Giving up and moving on to the next opportunity is an option we all have in life. To many of us give in too soon and never learn our full potential in life. Fighting to the finish will bring admiration from others. More importantly, fighting to the finish will bring a measure of personal satisfaction that we all find so illusive.
Kevin emailed me two days ago to book a “Cast and Blast” trip this fall with Kingfisher Inn. I grew up duck dove hunting here in South Texas. Kingfisher Inn is now proud to introduce red fishing and dove hunting packages this fall and red fishing and duck hunting packages this winter. The dove hunting will be on private land and the duck hunting will be over salt water in the LLM and over fresh water on private land. We have already begun taking reservations for these packages.
5/19/07 The longer I (Scott) wait to do a new fishing report, the more there is to tell, or not tell. It’s been too long, I realize, but I’ve been guiding too much to write about it. So, here’’s the headlines: We have had stunning weather and awesome fly fishing for most of the last 10 days, after weeks of difficult weather. I salute our clients who came in April hoping for better, but even then we caught some fine fish.
Alex and Richard Thompson came about two weeks ago, and fished three days--the first day with Rick Hartman and the last two days with me. They were thoroughly impressed with the LLM, but the conditions were far from ideal. Rick drew the high card again, and guided the Thompsons for the first morning, and the only decent weather that we had while they were here. Richard (Dick) caught his first red on a fly -- a 27” red out of a pod. I don’t have a photo to share of that event, but I definitely saw a big smile on Dick’s face.
The highpoint of our two days was a period of wading the sand. The sand action has been slow, but it turned on for the Thompson brothers long enough for them to catch a few fish, and swear that the beauty of the LLM on a sunny day rivaled the Bahamas. It was May at its finest. Reds and ladyfish trailing sting rays, and water that glimmered like a million diamonds.
Alex and Dick joined us with our visiting friends Joe and Debby Mackay for our ritual Saturday night trip to Pepe's in Harlingen, where we enjoyed Mexican food and cerveza. Dick emailed me a few days later and said the following: Hello, I just finished reading your book Healing the Fisher King. Before I give you my feedback let me tell you that I cannot get the Laguna Madre out of my mind. Since I’ve been back to my normal routine regardless of work commitments, church activities, etc., I cannot get too far from its memories. The catching of fish wasn’t the entire play but just a small part of a much greater scene that I was blessed to be a part of...Thanks again for the entire experience and opening my eyes to the hidden treasure that is the Laguna Madre. I look forward to fishing with you again.
After the Thompsons left, Joe Eck and his buddies Mike and Bob arrived from Scotland. Joe grew up in Louisiana, but lives in Scotland and works with Mike and Bob with the North Sea oil companies. The Scots had four days of windy, cloudy conditions, and had three guides -- Randy, Rick and myself -- work with them during their stay. I had only one day with them myself, which was cut short by a storm. We caught a few fish early under birds, but after that we went in search of miracles that never materialized. Here's Joe with a nice 28" red that he caught out of a tailing pod just after daybreak. Joe's talking about coming back this fall.
My friends and previous clients Chuck, Zack and Charlie Thomas arrived ffrom Midland and Austin (the sons) about a week ago. The Thomas's have come twice before, and it's been a special pleasure each time. Boy, it was a tough day on the bay, though. We had a good start, locating tailing pods at daybreak on a very shallow, remote flat. The tailing reds were mixed with mullet, however, and it was hard to pick out the tails in the low light. One red was landed, and that was it. For a while, it looked like we'd struck it rich with several tailing pods sweeping around us, but they disappeared just as soon as a light shower came up. After that, we fished almost entirely on the east side, getting some ladyfish and redfish action before the day came to an end. Charlie, who has until recently fished with a spin rod, joined his dad and brother with a fly rod on the flats, and did really well for his first time out. A natural athlete, Charlie had the cast of an experienced fly fisher by the end of the day.
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Most recently, Mike Starr and his buddy Bill from Eugene Oregon arrived with their partners for four days of fly fishing. Mike and his brother Tom had fished with me last year, and had enjoyed some extraordinary fly fishing. I am always a bit apprehensive when successful clients return hoping for a repeat performance. But I don't think Mike and Bill –– and Mike's partner Catherine, who fished for him two of the days––were disappointed in the least. Indeed, I think they all left with memories of tailing pods of 10-100 fish, hundreds of reddish egrets escorting us on the flats, and great catches each day.
Some highlights from the Starr's visit: On the first morning out, I decided to forego my usual plan for early to Mid-May, and fish south of the mouth of the Arroyo. In fact, we started precisely where Mike had fished with me last May. I turned off the motor and proceeded to help Mike and Bill string their rods, and before we were finished, we were surrounded with tailing reds. Bill stepped out of the boat and landed three reds within 15 minutes, and Mike followed suit. While they fished, I stood watching about 300 reddish egrets (20% of which are white) feeding just to the west of us. Apparently, they were drawn to the men's success, because within minutes they were all around feeding within 30 feet of me. I shot a bunch of photos including this one with my standard lens, which should tell you just how close they came without taking notice of me.
I guided Mike and Catherine on the next two days. When men bring their partners, I usually expect the women to be relative novices. Catherine, however, grew up fly fishing with her father, and had a very fine cast. On the first day, she came close to scoring, but on the second day she landed three reds on her fly rod. I thoroughly enjoyed walking beside her and coaching her, although I'm not sure how much coaching she really needed. Mike meanwhile held back, giving Catherine every chance to succeed. At the end of the first day, it was as if nature rewarded his generosity, because as we were on our way home, I spotted a bunch of gulls working over fish. Catherine said, "It's your turn," so Mike got out and stalked the group of 30-50 reds that were frolicking under the laughing gulls.
I was able to capture Mike's hookup on the 28" redfish. Doesn't this shot get you going?
Mike and Bill joined forces on the last day and landed around 7 red apiece, with several "long line releases," as well. We fished only the west side, since the sun failed to make a consistent showing. We found reds "backing" along a shoreline, where the guys casted to them from the Curlew. We found tailing fish, podding fish, and finally pods under gulls in the late afternoon. Here's Bill with a 25" red that he took out of one of several pods that were driving shrimp to the surface much to the interest of the hovering gulls. We hosted Mike, Bill, Shirley and Catherine for wine and hor doerves before they left. Bill said in parting, "I wish I'd discovered redfish 20 years ago." Given his success on this first effort, I'd say that he made up for some lost time.
4/29/07 April has been difficult this year, more like March. The mornings have been windy with low clouds, giving way to more wind and more clouds. When Chet and Todd Brown booked last year, I was fairly confident that they would see some of the best fly fishing that we have. And that assessment it almost always true. Not only does April have a smattering of summer-like calm mornings, but the reliable podding action under birds turns many if not most days into double digit catches. On top of the podding action, the east side action in April and May is unrivaled. But that rosy assessment is, alas, not always true. Eliot once wrote that April was athe cruelst month (Love Poems of J. Alfred Prufrock). I wonder if he fly fished.
The Browns booked six whole days. I guided them the first four, and my buddy Rick Hartman guided them the last two. Out of six days, five were below average with windy mornings and mostly cloudy conditions. But they caught fish every day, and many of the reds were quite sizeable.
The first morning out established the pattern that I would follow during the next four days: birding action on the west side, giving way to hop-scotching around the west side looking for miracles, and finally pursuing spotty action on the sand after late morning under broken clouds. They guys never complained, and––evidencing a welcome sense of optimism and realism––they did better and better, gradually getting the hang of things. On the sixth day they caught fish after fish under Rick’s expert guidance. I was a bit envious of that final day on the water, but we play the hand that’s dealt us, and we all did well.
The Browns were in good physical shape, which permitted us to fish less than ideal conditions. Indeed, our first stop on the first morning was on a flat which was near the ICW, and soft by comparison with the rest of the bay. Birds were squalking, and tailing pods were lined up along a depth change. I knew the fish would disperse shortly––as they always to in this particular venue. We left after two hook-ups and a break-off. Not unusual for the scrappy birding action of springtime.
It is hard to recount, much less remember, all that we did during four 10-hour days on the water. I won’t even try to give you a blow by blow. But suffice to say that the Browns demonstrated what I often think, but rarely say to my clients: it’s all about attitude, and if you approach every challenge bereft of expectations, you will be amply rewarded by pleasant surprises.
Some ofyou like to know what flies we use in various settings: They guys used Kingfisher Spoons on the first two days, and then shifted to Mother’s Day Flies on the last two days. Most of the landed fish were from 24-26 inches, which were larger than the average podding redfish.
Randy and I are currently experimenting with a new “secret” weapon: a floating spoon. It’s turning out to be an awesome fly for podding reds, and I expect it will be a fly of choice––alongside the VIP popper––for early morning tailing action this summer. Interestingly, my buddy Skipper Ray has also been experimenting with floating spoon flies with great success. My prototype in now the hands of Try Bachman, president of FLY H2O, who may be manufacturing the fly for national distribution. If any of you want the pattern please email me at email@example.com. It can be tied using the Kingfisher spoon fly bodies, available on the online store.
4/17/07 We've been long overdue in announcing the sale of Kingfisher Inn to Randall and Lydia Cawlfield, two native Texans who have returned home to own and operate Kingfisher. Randy is a minister by training, and has a master's degree in music history. Randy and Lydia have four kids, and will be living in Los Fresnos. He has recently completed his Coast Guard Captain's license training, and will be joining me on the water by the end of April as one of the few guides on the Texas coast specializing in fly fishing. Randy has been spending almost every day on the water on his new Curlew. He is committed to bringing a variety of services to Kingfisher's guests, including fishing/hunting packages in the autumn, and breakfast/lunch packages.
Meanwhile, Kathy and I have been in our new home since Christmas. A new boat lift at the new house keeps my Curlew ready for action, and I am only about three miles from Kingfisher's dock. I will be continuing to guide almost as much as before, managing the website, and consulting with the Cawlfields regarding the future of Kingfisher. Since Randy took over the lodge around April 1st, we have been busier than ever booking spring charters, and dodging the weather.
4/13/07 Last Friday, I heard that my weekend clients had cancelled due to upcoming weather. As it turned out, it was a wise choice. But something in me opted to go out on Friday. The forecast called for 20-40 mph winds. Why not stay home? Several years ago, my fellow fly fishing guide Eric Glass remarked to a mutual friend: “Anyone can find fish on a good day. It’s the 'bad' days that separate the men from the boys.” Or something along those lines. Regardless, I have taken Eric’s words to heart over the years, and embraced the opportunity to see what I could find on the so-called “bad” days. If you never go out on a windy, cloudy day, it’s easy to assume that it’s hopeless. But if you rise the challenge, and give yourself completely to the task, you learn different.
I called Randy and my oft-times client Jim Posgate to see if they’d like to go out for fun on Friday. Both responded in the affirmative, so I picked up Randy on the Kingfisher dock and putted 150 yards east to Jim’s house on the water. We headed out a bit later than usual, but I wasn’t with clients, and so I wasn’t attached to the results.
We found birding action in one of my favorite westside venues. After landing only one red, and breaking up a couple of pods, we went in search of clear water on the east side. Unfortunately, the wind was directly out of the south at 25+ mph. Since there’s nothing to break the wind, the bay gets muddied up. We did find clear water on the east side down south, and fished a place called “Panga Bay,” named after the old upside-down boat that decorates the place. I didn’t see it this time, however, so now it’s called Pangaless Bay if anyone asks.
I got one shot 50 yards from the boat, but blew it; and that was all she wrote. The guys saw nothing. Thinking that the day about over, I had a sudden inspiration to go to another westside venue in search of single laughing gulls escorting single reds. How about that for subtle?! I’d been noticing that single gulls will often escort single or doubles in shallow lagoons, and if you approach the gull with due respect, you may catch a fish on a day that most people could consider hopeless.
We boated into the lagoon, and shut down after not seeing a single wake, Not a good sign. We stood on the Curlew, peering into the glare, and were able to make out two single gulls hovering over the water, maybe 200 yards from the boat. Behind us were two gulls hovering together. “There are reds under those birds,” I said, as if something spoke through me. I wasn’t really sure, of course, but I’ve found that laughing gulls are almost always over reds if they are hovering over the water. Unless, that is, they are hovering over white Ibises, in which case one is fully justified in ignoring them. They behave similarly over Ibises, probably because the Ibises flush shimp from the algae/grasses.
We all set out for a different gull. Randy headed for the pair of gulls, while Jim and I set our sights on single gulls. My gull “backed” into a shallow gut and then decided that it was fruitless and left the area. I thought, “The red is still there.” So I kept wading toward the area, while Jim paralleled me, hoping that the other single gull was onto fish.
I had not seen a single red. It was, rationally speaking, a hopeless day. However, the single gull “told” me that a red was ahead of me. Sure enough, when I reached the area where the gull had last hovered, I spooked the big fish. Cursing audibly, I casted my Mother’s Day Fly behind and over the fish, which produced another torrent of expletives.
No matter. The fish whirled around and chased the fly, coming out of the water for it. It was a “duh brain” moment for me, and I lifted the rod with a manly tug only to have the tippet part ways with the fish. Strip strike, dummy.
Meanwhile, Jim overstepped his welcome with the fish he was stalking. Keeping his eye on the gull, he overlooked a 30+ inch red that was at his feet. A muddy trail underscored his disgust. All that work only to almost step on the tail of a trophy red.
Randy’s gulls dispersed before he arrived, so he was able to excuse himself from the Loser's Circle. Jim and I kicked ourselves back home. Fortunately, we had the kind of experience that keeps the passion alive. It was a bad day in anyone's estimation, but we learned more than we would have learned on a so-called good day.
4/2/07 I had the pleasure of guiding Doug Matthews from Katy, Texas, this past weekend. Doug had wanted a fishing trip at Kingfisher for his Christmas present, so his wife Sheila came through with a weekend of fly fishing.
It has been very windy the past two weeks, but Doug dropped into the schedule for two of the best days we’ve had in March. We left the dock under cloudy skies, but the wind was negligible. We didn’t see the sun at all for the rest of the day, but Doug didn’t need sunshine to catch about many reds as he wanted.
We went after birding action early. It was so calm that the birds were just sitting on the water -- surrounded by tails. I could pole in any direction, so it was marvelous way to start. Doug missed his first couple of opportunities, but that’s par for the course. The old heart just about gives out, and the cast is a bit constricted. But he quickly shook it off, and got into a groove. We found an area where there were several tailing pods escorted by one to 10 birds. Using a spoon fly, Doug had constant action, landing around 13 reds before we went in. He started urging me to join him, and I finally relented when he was into double digits. “Let’s get a double hookup,” I suggested. So we approached a group of reds together, and I casted my Mother’s Day Fly after he’d hooked up. A few minutes later, after we’d landed our two fish, Doug suggested we go for another double. “You cast first,” he said. “I don’t want to do that,” I replied. Then he said, “I want to catch a scared fish. You hook up first.” What could I say? A few minutes later, we were both hooked up.
A light rain came up and put the fish down, so we decided to head south and check out a couple of spots. But that wasn’t going to happen. For the second time in as many trips, an unforecasted cold front approached, and started dumping rain on us. We plowed southward into increasingly heavy rainfall, and dodged a few lightning bolts, as well. I dropped Doug off at the lodge, and boated home through the actual frontal passage, which dropped the air temperature another 10 degrees. I was totally soaked when I got home. For the second time in two weeks, I left a pile of soaking clothes on the bathroom floor and jumped into the steam shower.
On Sunday, we found the pods again, and within minutes Doug was stalking tails. Meanwhile, I was pushing the boat on foot, trying to stake out an area, so that other boats would stay away. After staking the boat, I grabbed the camera to walk back to Doug so I could document his first red of the day. Then disaster nearly happened. I felt the stingray under my right foot, and I came off his back just as quickly as I could. But not before I felt his stinger in my ankle. It didn’t hurt much at first, but I knew that the pain could roar into action within seconds. I cursed at my stupidity and waited. The major pain never came! So I walked over to Doug, who had heard me shouting, and photographed his redfish while I kept thinking that I must have been dreaming. “Let’s go in,” Doug said with concern. But I said, “I think he just grazed me. I’ll go take a look.”
I went back to boat and removed my bootie, which had a nice little hole above the ankle where the singer went through. It was starting to hurt, but when I looked at it, I could see that it only went in a short way, and was barely bleeding. I slathered it in antibiotic cream, and gave a prayer of thanks.
The odd thing was the stinger went in within 1/4 of inch from the place where I was severely stung in 2002. When I spoke to Kathy, she said, “So what do you think the message is?” I laughed and said, “I guess I’m getting better. Maybe next time, the ray will miss me entirely.” Seriously, the message for me -- and you -- is to be careful. Rays don't attack, they just don't like being stepped on.
Doug went on to land another 8 reds or so, including a beautiful fish he caught from the boat on the sand. We had a brief sunny period, and decided to pole the white sand. We were pleased to find that the reds were tailing over there in small pods. He got a couple of shots, and made some masterful casts. Finally he hooked up on a fine red. The sun disappeared soon after, so we went back to the west side where he finished up the day fruitlessly chasing some giant reds that were cruising along a shoreline, and then finishing up the day with another 24-inch red.
I wish all of my clients could see the kind of action that Doug witnessed. Of course, Doug is a veteran fly fisher with an expert cast. So it wasn’t just good weather and happy fish that made the weekend. When I saw him cast the first time, I knew he’d catch fish one way or the other. We just needed to find fish. And fortunately, we did.
3/24/07 I haven't had time to reflect on the day of fishing we had on Monday the 12th. The next day I flew to Virginia where I spent a week teaching a seminar. And then when I got back, there was so much to catch up on. However, Monday March 12, 2007 will go down in memory for being one of the best starts and worst finishes I’ve every had as a guide.
The forecast called for SE winds from 10-15 early, then increasing 15-20 by afternoon, with 40% chance of showers. Not bad for March. It was warm at daybreak, so I felt positively optimistic as I headed from our new house to the Inn to pick up my young clients, John Watson (15) and his 16-year-old friend, Andrew. They walked onto the dock in sandals, shorts and longsleeve shirts. That was it. I thought to myself that the forecast also called for rain, and I had some extra parkas, so I didn’t say anything about their casual dress.
We headed east, then north to check out the possibility of birding action over podding reds. It began to sprinkle, so I stopped and gave the boys the rain gear. Then we continued into one of the most popular podding areas, shut down and poled downwind toward a group of laughing gulls that were seated on the water. As we approached, I could see them get up from time to time, and chase a shrimp that was obviously fleeing a pod of reds. “That’s a pod of reds,” I announced. Soon, we were seeing unescorted pods to either side of us, so the day looked like a real winner.
Within a few minutes, we poled up to our first tailing pod, and John missed his shot at the tails. No problem, because there were plenty more stretched out below us. The wind was low enough not to put the tails down. A few minutes later, John put his Mother’s Day fly in the middle of a pod, and he hooked up. After fighting the fish for a while, the fly came loose, but John wasn’t too disappointed, because the reds were simply everywhere.
A warm shower swept through, so we pulled our hoods over our heads and waited for its passage. No problem. As soon as the surface turned once again to glass, some tails reappeared. But a few minutes later, we heard the sounds of rain approaching again, so we hunkered down and waited for it to pass. When it was over, the fish did not resume tailing, so I got up and headed further north. After scattering some big fish, I shut down again, and almost immediately singles and small pods sprung up nearby.
So much for a perfect beginning. It was so hazy, and the clouds so low, that it was hard to tell what was developing. It got rather dark to the west, and the sound of heavy rain could be heard along the west shoreline. Still optimistic, I said, “I think it’s going to pass us to the west. Does anyone want to wade to those tails?” Nobody leapt overboard, and I was getting a little worried, too. It turned dark to the north of us, which didn’t make any sense. We had a strong southeast flow, and whatever was north of us would, presumably keep heading that way. But then, out of the haze appeared scud clouds. It looked suddenly like a front was coming. “Let’s go! “ I yelled. We jumped up and headed for one of the vacant cottages lining the ICW. When we were about 100 yards from our destination, the northeast wind hit, and the temperature plunged about 15 degrees. A strong frontal passage! This was not in the forecast. We pulled up to the cottage in heavy chop, lightning, and a strong downpour. We were all pretty soaked by the time the guys crawled onto the pier. As I grabbed more clothing from below the hatch, I jumped onto the pier and hit my head on the railing so hard that I lost my balance and fell backward onto the deck. That hurt. I jumped up again, and joined the guys on the cottage pier.
It was cold and real wet, so we crawled through a hole in the wall of the cottage into the smelliest, filthiest place I’ve ever used as a refuge from weather. Someone had taken a dump in the middle of the floor, and we stood there wet and shaking for over two hours, trying to imagine why anyone would have done such a thing. I kept expecting the rain and wind to subside, but as it turned out, it was raining about 8 inches in the Arroyo City area. Both incoming roads were flooded, and there some pretty serious flood damage happening around the Arroyo City area.
For teenagers, John and Andrew were surprisingly philosophical about our circumstances. John even referred to it as “character building.” We all agreed that it would make a fine story, once it was over.
The boys wanted to run for it, but my job, or what was left of it, was not to do anything stupid. Lightning was so heavy, that it made a constant roar, and flashes lit up our dark space every few seconds. “At least the wind’s from the north,” I kept saying, thinking that the ride back would be with the wind, at least. But then the wind turned out of the east, and I closed my eyes and cringed as I imagined what a 35-40 mph cross wind would kick up as we headed into the open water north of the Arroyo’s mouth.
Finally, I said, “Let’s go! You guys sit on the back seat, facing back!” We all jumped, started up the Tohatsu and ran south with a strong crosswind and driving rain blinding the driver all the way to the mouth of the Arroyo. When we turned into the Arroyo, it was already evident that a flash flood was ripping into the channel. Floating boards and logs and every conceivable piece of manmade trash destroyed the usual picturesque ride westward toward Arroyo City. I dropped the boys off, and kept running west, all the way the our new home, where I promptly stripped down and jumped into the steam shower.
Later I talked to Rick Hartman. He said that he’d been fishing right behind us, anad had been caught in the storm, too. He’d run south all the way to Dunkin’s house where he and his clients took shelter for four hours. What a day! What's amazing is that John and his parents are coming back in June! (These photos are from other days on the LLM.)
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3/6/07 The weather turned spring-like last Friday, so I was able to guide Jim again. When he comes down from Kerrville, he spends a week or so at his cottage, which allows us to pick and choose our days, especially in the off season when there’s no one around. We were greeted by a partly cloudy sky, no wind, and 65 degrees. Pretty sweet for fly fishing.
We headed southeast from the mouth of the Arroyo, and found that the tides had risen considerably in only four days. The extremely low tides we had found on Monday were six inches higher, which makes a dramatic difference in where you fish and when during the day. We came off plane in miles of glassy water after pushing redfish ahead of the boat. I poled with the 5 mph wind, hoping to see tails, but the fish were still sluggish from the cool night. So I moved twice until we came into an area near some spoil islands. Poling again, and giving the water time to settle after our intrusion, we started seeing tails. Jim got several shots from the boat, but the calm conditions made it difficult to get close enough to them before spooking them. Finally, Jim opted to wade. “Grab a rod,” he said. “Naw, I’ll watch you,” I said. As he waded west, I sat and watched the egrets and cormorants creating a commotion near a spoil island behind us. It was a beautiful morning!
Then I saw a huge fish prowling along the shoreline, totally unmoved by the birds that kept taking off and landing only a few feet away. His back popped out of the water, and I could see that he was at least 30 inches long, probably 31 or 32. Jim was about 100 yards away, crouching low and stalking a couple of tails that I could see popping up, so...I grabbed that rod and waded back behind the boat toward the island.
The big fish was circling around looking for a meal. As I got closer, I could see that he was the largest redfish I’d seen in 10 inches of water in a long time. I had a Mother’s Day Fly on my six weight, so I moseyed into a position where the fish would have to pass close by if it came on up the shore line. Sure enough, in a few minutes, its wake and exposed back headed my way.
My first cast was short, I believed. It landed about six feet from the fish’s head. But something told me not to cast again. The fish hesitated just a second, and then seemed to pick up the fly’s landing. He headed right to it. I started stripping, and crouched as low as I could get. The big head surged behind the fly, missing it as he came. But then he was on. A huge noisy swirl, and then he came unhooked. Usually, that’s the end of it, but I could sense that the fish was not spooked at all. So I casted again, this time about three feet from his head. He shot over and turned toward me again, surging in the 10 inch water as I stripped the fly. He was on again. I lifted the rod to fight him, and a moment later, the fly came loose.
The big fish started circling, and moved slowly out of range. I had the feeling that he was more provoked that spooked, but I couldn’t quite reach him to give him a third chance.
A while later, I spotted another largish red, so I called Jim over. His action had played out, so he readily waded toward the wake that I spotted on the other side of the spoil island. He spent 15 minutes getting into place, and began casting from a nearly prone position. Jim is quite a hunter. Moments later, the fish was on. I told him that we needed to catch something smaller than 28 inches so people didn’t think he used the same pet fish for all of his photos. So he landed a 27 inch red in order to accommodate us.
Then it was slim pickings for several hours until we came upon some great sand action. We had poled through an area, and had gotten a dozen shots from the boat. I offered to take Jim in on a half day at that point, but he opted to go back upwind and see if the reds were still coming onto the sand. We waded for nearly two hours with an east wind at our backs into an increasing glare due to the setting sun. But before we were blinded, we’d both had numerous shots at reds that looked black on the sandy bottom, cruising or feeding head down, coming east onto the sand. Jim landed several more before we headed in. It was a very fine day for fly fishing.
3/1/07 Those of you who visit this site regularly probably think that Jim Posgate has a 28” red that he keeps penned for whenever I need a good photo for the fishing report. It’s true that Jim’s face is overrepresented here, but while he’s the same person every time, the fish is a new one. I’ve said it before, but he does have a certain “touch” when it comes to hooking those big ones.
I hadn’t guided Jim in a couple of months -- he’s been moving into a new home in the Hill Country while Kathy and I have been moving into our new place. But when we went out on Monday, it was clear that we’d hit the right day to be bringing in the new season together. It was cool at daybreak -- probably about 60 -- and we were layered for the chill factor. But it was dead calm, and the sky was almost cloudless. A fly fisher’s dream day.
But, and there’s alway a but. A mild cold front had passed two days before, and the fish had pulled back from the shallowest areas. We checked out some prime locations, and realized that we were about six hours too early. So I headed for a flat closer to the ICW, and floated between the channel spoils and the ICW. The big reds were feeding in about 10 inches of water, but it was a bit murky from all of the mullet. Still, as the sun rose higher, we started seeing the fish more easily. Jim had several shots, and then suddenly we saw a big fish tail ahead of us. Not just one, either, but three oversized reds (28”+). Jim’s experience came through, because he didn’t choke on his cast. Casting crosswind, he compensated for the breeze, and laid the Kingfisher spoon a foot ahead of the three fish. Letting it sink for a second, he stripped once and that’s all it took. One of the reds shot out of the pack, took the spoon and headed our way at high speed. It went right under the Curlew's bow and kept going. Fortuntely, the spoon flies don’t let go very easily, so Jim was able to land the fish ten minutes later. Twenty eight inches on the nose. I think that was Jim’s first fish of the year. A mighty good start, I would say. We’re going out tomorrow, too. I’ll try to get a shot of a fish that’s smaller, so you won’t think that we’re using a model.
2/24/07 It really feels as if winter is over. But a month ago, when Frank Alexander of Calgary asked me if it was worth coming down for some February fishing, I thought he had about a 1 in 5 chance of hitting it right. This winter has been unusually cold, wet and cloudy. Just a week ago, the bay water temps were in the low 50s.
But suddenly it’s hot, and the AC is on! Two days ago when Frank and his buddy Steve arrived, the bay water had risen to the mid-60s and then yesterday it was almost 70 degrees.
Rick Hartman had the privilege of taking Frank and Steve out on their first day of fishing. I was not that envious, given the fact that it was windy and cloudy. Yes, it was warm, but we need more than warmth to see fish. Rick found a lot of fish down south, so I headed there yesterday morning at daybreak.
We were planing along, heading down the Intracoastal Waterway and I noticed a tail waving about 50 yards off the channel. I shut down and poled onto the flat, and within minutes we were into a ton of reds. Some of them were tailing, but most were just ambling through the shallows. Mud boils and wakes constantly announced retreating fish, while we tried to target the tailers. That lasted for a good hour or more, but then the wind came up a bit, so we headed further south.
The east side was gloriously beautiful, as always. Crystal clear and glassy even though the wind was about 12 mph. It stays glassy over there sometimes until it gets around 20 mph, depending on the direction of the wind and where you are. We didn’t find that many fish out east, so I headed south and west.
The water depth was exceedingly low, and that means the fish will be congregated. So I skirted disastrously shallow water, and headed for a place where the reds often feed after midday on a warming winter day. Sure enough, we found meandering pods of reds that were spread out, but numerous enough to justify wading. Frank, who is quite experienced, stalked several pods that were hard to catch up with. This time of year, they will cruise along, backs out and tail wagging, but heading in no discernible direction -- except everywhere but yours. It’s hard to cut them off, because they seem almost psychic. Without evidencing the slightest sign of spooking, they just keep edging away. That’s what Frank found. Meanwhile, Steve and I walked together. Steve was brand new to the fly fishing game, and was gung ho. We were fortunate that some of the sweeping reds had turned off their radar long enough to give Steve some shots at close-in fish.
It was a beautiful day, and the guys were happy to be out there. But the reds were in their “February” stupor. They are catchable, mind you, but the cast has to be within three inches of their mouths for them to take it. They will rarely go out of their way to chase a fly, and they seem to move about in slow motion. It is hard to tell people that the fish will eat, given the evidence. But I’ve seen them do this every year I’ve been guiding, and the only way to catch them is to cast within inches of the fish's nose without spooking him, and then hoping for luck.
To give you an example of what it’s like, I was poling a young client a couple of years ago in early February. He had casted fruitlessly to several reds, and now had a shot at a 29-inch red. I know it was that big because we measured it after he landed it! He casted several times, and “should” have caught it under ordinary circumstances. But it wasn’t until the Mother’s Day Fly landed right in front of his nose. The fish kept moving as if he didn’t see the fly, but we could see his mouth open just a bit as he intersected the fly. The line started sweeping, and the big fish was on! So, you can justifiably blame the fish in February, and go home with a clear conscience, but if you can cast into a tea cup, you might just come up a February winner.
2/4/07 This has been the coldest and wettest period we’ve had since Kathy and I moved back to Texas in 1999. I haven’t been out in several weeks -- the longest time “in port” I’ve had in years. I was at the San Antonio Boat Show last weekend, helping Tim and Leslie Clancey with the NewWater booth. Capt. Chuck Naiser from Rockport was there, along with my old buddy Skipper Ray from South Padre Island. Chuck said that they haven’t been doing much in the Rockport area, and we were nodding agreement concerning the Lower Laguna. The water temps plunged into the low 40s two weeks ago, during our longest cold snap. It was cloudy for 10 days, so there wasn’t the usual relief from the sun hitting the shallow water. Brandon Shuler said (he was in their booth next door to us) that they’ve seen some trout dying along the edge of the ICW. I hadn’t been out, so I couldn’t confirm whether there were any dead or dying fish down our way. Usually, the big trout are decimated by a sudden drop in temperature, instead of a change over several days. Fortunately, we haven’t had a hard freeze to send the water temps plunging overnight as they did in 1989 and 83. Those were devastating freezes.
I’m guiding a man from BC tomorrow. The water temps are in the upper 50s -- not great, but better than we’ve had. Meanwhile, the air temperatures are rising now, and we’re supposed to get some sunshine tomorrow. I’ll let you know what we find. This is the time of year for big trout on the east side if we can get some warming by midday.
By the way, Brandon Schuler and his dad have been working hard to promote the regionalization of trout regulations, a policy that is currently under consideration by TPW. As you may know, the big trout population in the LLM is in serious decline, even though the overall biomass is stable. Anyone who loves trophy trout should support the regionalization program. Brandon has crafted a website that reviews the scientific data on the big trout problem, and describes the various remedies being considered. Check out the website at www.supportregionalization.com.
1/2/07 I haven’t been on the water as much as I usually am this time of year for two reasons: the weekends have been blown out by cold fronts, and Kathy and I have been moving into our new house just a couple of miles up the river from Kingfisher. We've had to cancel a dozen trips in the past frour weeks, but we've really needed the time to do other things. Kathy and I are now in our dream home, and getting ready for a new year. She will be a TA in English Literature at the University of Texas-Pan American where I teach counseling in the graduate school. Meanwhile, I will be dividing my time between teaching, counseling, writing, and guiding. As for the latter, bookings for 2007 are pouring in, so if you have a particular time frame in mind, let us know before it’s too late. We will be continuing to work with Rick Hartman, Richard and Susie Weldon, Jim Blackbourn, as well as other area guides -- so if I can’t guide you, we can probably set you up with a guide if you give us enough advance notice.
As for the fishing, I went out two days ago with Randy Cawlfield from New Mexico. Actually, Randy is a fellow south Texas native who is considering moving back to his home state. With a background in the ministry, he is considering guiding spin and fly fishers on his home waters of the LLM. I’ve told him his training should serve him well in guiding anglers.
We found some big reds and trout on the east side, but the wind was out of the northeast, making it virtually impossible to see the fish against the afternoon glare. We mainly just scouted areas on the east and west side, and did a bit of casting in between talking about life. We did ascertain what I already knew: the fish are there, it’s just a matter of getting the right conditions to sight cast to them. In the winter, the low angle of the sun makes it especially important to have the “right” wind, that is, a southeast wind. Otherwise, you spend the whole day staring into the sun, and seeing the fish too late to do anything about it.
In the next two weeks, I hope to make a couple of trophy trout quests withour without clients. We often catch our largest trout in early January, so I'm heading for three places known to host these huge fish. I'll let you know, of course, if I find them.
I’m hoping to see a lot of my old clients down here again this year. With each passing year, the bay and I become more and more entertwined. I’ve often said, “The secret isn’t where to fish, it’s when and why to fish a particular place.” That is a much deeper game.
12/3/06 After enjoying unseasonably warm conditions through most of November, two cold fronts have passed through without much relief in between. We rescheduled our clients who were supposed to fish this weekend, and hope that next weekend affords us better conditions for them.
Over a week ago, I guided Ken Kosut from Houston for the first time. Ken called us on short notice -- the best way to “hit it right” this time of year -- and came down for one day of guided fishing. He brought his kayak and planned to follow up with an unguided day on the water in his yak.
I’d planned to go out before sunrise, but when I awoke at 5:00, the wind still blowing from the north, and the temperatures were in the 50s. I shuffled over to the cottage and suggested that we leave an hour later. I wanted for us to feel that sun on our faces as we planed at 30 mph down the Arroyo. Furthermore, I figured the reds wouldn’t be on the flats after such a chilly night.
We headed to an area where I’d been finding birding action with my old client and friend Jim Posgate early in the day (see reports below). I was relieved to see birds working over two pods along the west shoreline as we approached the area, so I gave them a wide berth and shut down 250 yards upwind of the closest pod. While Ken readied his 5-weight, I poled downwind, hoping all the while that the pods would hold together long enough for Ken to have a shot at them.
Tails appeared rather blackly against the low sunlight, so Ken scooted overboard while I staked the Curlew. He waded only 20-30 feet from the bow and started casting. The pod was sweeping toward us rather quickly. Of course, the fish began to sweep on his “wrong side: -- that is, the left side of a left-handed caster. I groaned, thinking that the fish would quickly move upwind and out of reach. Ken seemed to be casting behind them, so I shifted my attention to the second pod. Suddenly, however, he was hooked up with what he believed was a big red.
Ken’s little 5-wt sage looked positively outclassed by the fish, which had not shown itself yet. I thought that it was probably a 26-inch red. I slipped overboard with my camera and prepared to help him land the fish. When it finally rolled over, I gasped. It was huge by our regular standards. I barely was able to grab it by its tail and then lifted it out of the water for Ken to see -- all 31 inches of it! We laughed and hooted, and struggled to get the fish to the boat where I had my Boga grip scale. We laid the fish down on the deck and ascertained that it was exactly 31 inches long. It weight right at 11.5 lbs. We photographed the big fish and released it. What a start.
After that, it proved to be a tough day. The northeast wind never relented, so we were fishing into the sun’s glare. Even so, we found fish in two other places, and landed four more before our half day was over.
I didn’t really expect Ken to do much good from his kayak. As you may know, Kingfisher is 5 miles from the LLM, and the closest you can get to launch a boat or kayak is 2.5 miles from the bay. Still, I showed Ken some places that he could conceivably fish the next day. When I came in after going to a meeting, Ken was about as radiant as he’d been after landing that big red. Apparently, he’s stumbled into a passel of reds with their backs out of the water in one of our favorite out-of-the-way places. He’d landed two, and come home about as happy as I’ve ever seen a fly fisher after two days of fishing. Ken promised to be back.
11/17/06 Jim Posgate and I were scheduled to go out again this morning (see below). The tides had fallen a foot, and a fresh cold front had dropped the air temperature by 20 degrees, and the water temp by 5 degrees. We had entered the winter phase, characterized by low tides and cool mornings. It is one of the best times of the year, and so I was fairly confident that we would have a great day. I also knew that going out at daybreak would be uncomfortable and fruitless, as well. So we decided to leave the dock at 8:00.
In the course of about seven hours, we fished four areas, all of which were full of tailing and/or cruising reds. At our first stop, we encountered tailing reds mixed with black drum -- something I’ve never seen. I poled Jim into the area, and by his own estimation “casted to 100 reds before catching the first one.” Even though it took Jim a few casts to find his groove, it wasn’t easy fishing. The wind was calm, and our approach to each pod of fish had to be perfect. It did not take Jim long, however, to hit his stride. Indeed, he almost always does well with the hand that Nature deals him.
We headed further north and poled a shoreline festooned with redfish feeding in water so shallow that their backs gleamed in the early morning sun. Jim snagged two or three more at that venue before we headed to an area known for its podding and birding this time of year. We’d largely missed the high-water birding of October and early November. With water temps above 75 degrees, the podding frenzy that we often enjoy in the mid-fall never really materialized. When the water falls to its radically low wintertime levels, it’s too late for the west-side podding, except in certain areas where the water depth is sufficient to support large-scale feeding on white shrimp.
We found them! Poling onto a glassy flat, I noticed some laughing gulls fluttering close to the surface about 300 yards away, so I got the Curlew up on plane, circled to the upwind side, and shut down. We poled toward the area, where dozens of laughing gulls were sitting on the water, or fluttering. “This could be awesome,” I said, hoping not to jinx it.
As we approached a gradual dropoff, we started seeings pods of reds tailing, and feeding aggressively upwind. Jim slipped overboard, while I watched. Soon, he was stalking one pod while keeping another of about 30 fish in his sights. Meanwhile, I waited aboard the Curlew until a large feeding red enticed me to join Jim. Pretty soon, we were both hooked up and hollering back and forth about all the fish that we were seeing.
We stayed in the area -- a place along the west shoreline -- until the action played out. And then I played the last card. We headed east, hoping to find the reds on the edge of the sand. And they were there, in spades.
What a contrast -- from podding reds in murky west-side venues to crystal clear water on the east side. Soon we were wading 100 yards apart, getting shots at tailing and cruising fish. Jim stalked a huge red for about 20 minutes until...he lined it! I could hear him quite well from where I was, as he verbally kicked himself around. But he recovered, and hooked three reds before the sun slithered further westward, leaving an inpenetrable glare in all directions. We caught a passel of fish, and it was as good as it gets. People ask, When is the best time to fish? I answer, When you show up, and when it comes together. On the Lower Laguna, that can be any day of the year.
11/15/06 I guided my old client and friend Jim Posgate on Monday. Heading north from the mouth of the Arroyo, we had our usual early morning conversation, and almost missed seeing the telltale signs of podding reds -- waves sweeping away from the boat noise. I shut down and poled toward the disturbance, and within minutes bouquets of tails were popping up in several spots. We both slipped over the side of the Curlew and waded toward the tails. Jim opted for a Mother’s Day Fly, and I tied on an orange VIP.
I usually fish with Jim unless he has a guest who needs my attention, so I grabbed my 5 wt. and lagged behind with my camera. Jim stalked three different pods, while
I held off casting, hoping to photograph Jim’s first catch of the day in the early morning sunlight. But a pod of reds made it hard to wait any longer, so I casted my orange VIP to the tails, and pow...a big one took it before I even stripped. On my five weight, it felt especially large, and during the fall they fight even harder due to the cooler, oxygenated water. I started wading toward the boat, thinking that I would release him on the way back, and then pole over to Jim. Well... the fish wouldn’t come in! I waded almost 150 yards to the boat, doing my best to keep the fish headed in the right direction. By the time I climbed up on the Curlew, I figured the fish was pretty big. Sure enough, he measured almost 29 inches, and probably weighed over 8 lbs. That’s quite a fight on a five-weight.
We almost headed further north, but on second thought swung the Curlew’s bow southward toward two venues that often produce for us when the water is high. We planed into the first area, and spooked several reds and sheepshead. Stopping the boat, we immediately spotted a tailing pod. While Jim stalked those fish, I headed in another direction. For about an hour, we had several classic tailing opportunities, and both of us caught fish.
Then we picked up and went further south and shut down near a shoreline. As soon as the water settled, it became clear that the reds were feeding explosively all around us. It wasn’t easy fishing, because they were moving around so much. But it was great action. I thought of my client John Boyd, who had fished only a few days before in the same area during the full moon (see below), and wished that he’d been able to see this action.
Jim and I are going out again tomorrow. We’ll see if the reds are still in a sporting mood.
11/12/06 I haven’t been on the water much lately, since my boat has been in SA getting a new motor. But I drove up on Friday and picked it up. Tim Clancey had already tested the Tohatsu TLDI 90, and he was pretty impressed. It seemed lighter than the Etec, he said, and at least as powerful. In anticipation of some guided trips that I have starting tomorrow, Kathy and I went out with the dogs for a maiden run on the Tohatsu-powered Curlew. Man, was I impressed! It seems almost as light as the Yamaha carbuerated 90, which is a fine motor, too. But the Yammy eats gas, and has less power than other 90 hp motors.
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We went to the west side first, and after I’d waded fruitlessly in 8 inches of water, we tucked the Tohatsu in and gave it its first Lower Laguna hull shot. It jumped up like a coyote after a rabbit. Running at full throttle and 5200 rpm, we must have approached 40 mph, which is blazing for a 90-powered Curlew. I was grinning. Then we went to the sand (mainly to wash the dogs off) and had our first hull shot on the hard bottom. The neat thing about this motor is it tucks in further than other motors I’ve seen, so you get more lift on the hull shot. It jumped up again without the banging against the hard bottom that characterizes the Etec, and any motor that digs in due to its weight. I think we have discovered an ideal motor for shallow water boats -- perhaps the best I’ve seen. And from the research I’ve done, the Tohatsu has a track record that is hard to beat.
I guided an old client and friend John Boyd from Georgetown a few days ago on my buddy Joe MacKay’s Curlew. John and his son J.R. have fished with me the last two years during the first week of August. I enjoy fishing with them so much that it keeps me from being tempted to fish in the TIFT tournament, which takes place the same weekend. John and J.R. did pretty well in August, but John broke set by planning a fall trip to coincide with a deer hunting trip to South Texas.
I’d told John that we could expect to get into some birding this late in the fall, but as of last weekend, the birding action has been almost nonexistent as far as I can tell. The water has been too warm for the feeding frenzy that usually takes place in mid-October to the falling tides in early December. I’m not sure when, or if, the birding will “turn on.” Stay tuned for that information.
Meanwhile, the full moon had done it’s number on the fishing. We went to all of the golden oldie autumn venues north of the Arroyo, and found virtually nothing working. Whatever fish were there were lethargic -- not tailing or feeding, and only willing to move to avoid being run over. However, as we headed back south we found some tailing fish along the west shoreline, and got into some pretty good sight casting for a while. Fishing on a half day, we came in at midday and hoped for better on Sunday.
We fished south again early on Sunday, but found even fewer opportunities than the previous day. So I headed north all the way to the East Cut, and was disappointed to find virtually nothing on the flats. Finally, we comitted to a wade north of the east cut, and caught a red and bunch of trout there -- small fish, but they were sure fun after running around all morning hoping for better. John is one of those clients who appreciates the whole scene, not just the tonnage of fish caught. He and JR usually whoop up, but this time it was one of those “dues-paying” experiences that every serious hunter and angler knows so well. John never complained about the lackluster fishing, and for me it’s always a pleasure spending time with him.
10/29/06 This past weekend, I guided two brothers -- Dwight Boyd from Toronto and Bob Boyd from Houston. Neither had fly fished the LLM, and I hoped for a good first impression. Unfortunately, the Boyds arrived on Thursday night before a cold front blew in a daybreak on Friday morning. We went back to bed, and then ventured out a couple of hours later. It was hopeless. The bay was churned up and the clouds kept us from seeing whatever was there. We went in early and set our sights on Saturday when the weather was supposed to be better.
I donned my Gore-Tex waders for the first time on Saturday morning, and the Boyds did likewise. It was a very chilly ride out, even though the bay water was still about 75 degrees, and moderated the air temperature as we approached the open water. We had a slow start, running to various venues in search of podding reds. The birding action is not on yet, probably because the water temperatures are still unseasonably warm after an unseasonably warm September and October.
We headed south. I haven’t been fishing south very much, but thought we’d might find some fish on the west shoreline. We headed to a very remote back lagoon, and shut down. On principle alone, I suggested we wade into an area that often holds tailing reds. Fortunately, the reds were there -- tailing and feeding against a strong new moon tidal flow. Both men landed three or four reds before we headed further south. I thought we’d seen the best of things. But I was wrong.
We poled a shoreline, and started to see an occasional redfish. As we approached the west end of a back lagoon, the reds increased in frequency until we came upon a motherload of big fish feeding in little channels that ran serpentine-like into the almost dry back expanse of Atascosa Refuge. It was a dream that occurs infrequently on the LLM. Big fish in close, intimate places, reminescent of spring creek fishing for trout.
We stayed out until amost 5 pm, and the action really never ended. Bob and Dwight landed 15 reds up to 28 inches (several from 25 to 27 inches) before heading back to Kingfisher.
The next day was almost as good. Well, it was probably better when it came to opportunities. We stumbled into the greatest concentration of redfish on the eastside I’ve seen in a year. Poling along the edge of the sand, we literally saw hundreds of redfish in small groups, alone, or in pairs. They weren’t localized, but were spread out in an unending mass of fish. Since the water was about knee deep, it seemed at first like a poling scenario. So we stayed on the boat and got over 100 shots at reds without catching a single one! The guys had about three misses, so it wasn’t entirely fruitless. But finally we got off the boat and waded in water that was amost too deep for sight casting. After a while, Dwight got into a groove -- literally -- following a deep prop cut where reds were lined up along the light bottom. Bob had difficulty seeing the fish at first, but then started hooking up, as well. The guys landed several before we headed in.
One highlight of the day occurred as we waded the edge of the sand. Bob and I were wading together, had seen a couple of reds approaching, but has lost them in the glare. Bob decided to cast in their general direction, and suddenly a fish slammed his fly, shook its head and went airborne. It was a baby tarpon! I’d seen a few running, but had never hooked one on the flats. This one was about six pounds, and clearly a tarpon instead of a ladyfish. It was wider than a ladyfish, and had a blackish back. It was off as soon as it jumped, but the image is frozen in my mind. A harbinger of things to come? Let’s hope.
10/24/06 I haven’t been out very much in the last week or so, mainly because my boat is in San Antonio getting a new motor and a facelift. My Etec 90 burned up for the second time in as many years, and I’m over that. The company wouldn't admit that the motor was defective, so I can’t justify giving them my business. Either I had a lemon, in which case I should get a new motor (and didn't), or the Etec isn’t up to the unique stresses of shallow water performance. Either way, it’s time to move on.
Tohatsu has extended a very generous program through Tim Clancey's recommendation (The Curlew's creator at NewWater Boatworks), and I look forward to running the highly acclaimed TLDI fuel injected motor.
Meanwhile, I’ve guided a bit on my friend Joe MacKay’s Curlew, which was our first Curlew back in 2001 when the Curlew made its debue. It was hull #2, and it looks like a new boat. Tim Clancey’s tireless craftsmanship really stands up to the wear and tear of shallow water fishing. Joe’s Yamaha (the same one we used) has over 900 hours on it, and it’s still kicking.
Kathy and I hosted Todd Novak and his wife Zhao Yue from Houston on Saturday. We went out for wine and cheese and a bit of fly fishing in the late afternoon. Although we didn’t plan for a major fishing expedition, Todd and I were lured into action by the presence of lots of feeding reds. In the diminishing sunlight, we waded onto a flooded flat, which is normally dry or just merely wet. The reds were swimming around springs of grass and blowing up on the minnows that were rippling across the shallows. It was tough fishing! A fish would blow up and push a wake, then its back would come out and shine in the sunlight. And then it was disappear in six inches of water. I didn’t hook one fish! But Todd hooked one just as the light was failing us. Reds were pushing wakes in the distance as Zhao Yue, who had only been on a boat once before, nervously called after us. Considering our priorities, we headed back, grateful to have gotten into such challenging and dramatic action as a mere sidelight to the main purpose -- fellowship with new friends, and an outing for the dogs.
10/19/06 The water is extremely high right now, partly due to the seasonal high tides, and partly due to the heavy rains that we have had. We have had a very hard time finding visible fish, and we look forward to the beginning of the fall podding and birding action, which will rescue us from the search for visible fish in a bay that is a foot deeper than usual.
It’s always good to see Russell Myers and his buddy Randy Holden from Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Rusell and Randy have been down together, and have brought friends and family, probably half a dozen times. Russell even came down and fished in the LMFFA Tournament with me in June of 05.
Russell and Randy have a way of catching a lot of fish. The last time they were here together, they caught about 50 reds -- all on black VIPs. It was summer then, and the water was low and the winds were calm. But this time, the tides were a foot higher, and the winds turned out to be from 15-20 mph most of the time.
The forecast called for one poor day and three excellent days, but the conditions deteriorated so much that there wasn’t a single decent fly fishing day in the mix. Still, we did what we could, and caught a few reds before it was all over.
A fresh cold front chased us in on Friday morning, and we gave up hopes of going out later. The guys headed to Pepe’s in Harlingen by 11 am, eager to enjoy some of the best Mexcian food in the country as a reasonable consolation for the poor fishing.
Saturday morning dawned fairly calm, but rain threatened us from the moment we left the dock. Around midday, we found a few reds in extremely shallow conditions up near the East Cut, and the guys were able to finally feel the tug of a red. About the time they were settling in to decent fly fishing, a storm came up from the south. I hurried 300 yards back to the boat, and went to get them. Then I made a decision I would soon regret: I decided to head north, betting that the storm would play out, and that we’d be able to return later without getting wet. Wrong!!
We went 12 miles north of the East Cut on the east side. It’s a pretty remote area, and it’s hard to get a cell phone signal. I was using Joe MacKay’s boat, which is powered by a Yamaha that has over 900 hours on it. It was an uneasy feeling to be 25 miles north of the Arroyo on a stormy day depending on a motor that was on its deathbed.
We fished an area that I call “Trout Island,” because it’s known for big trout. We didn’t see any, as it was windy and cloudy, but we waded quite a while around some small islands. It’s a beautiful area. Then it became clear what we were in for. The storm regenerated, and swept toward us as a very dark squall line. We donned our rain gear and like real men decided to head into it, thinking that we’d get to the other side a lot faster than if we just hunkered down and took it. That was a bad idea, at least for the driver! The rain was so strong that the raindrops felt likes bullets. I turned the boat around, and we sat huddled facing away from the rain and the wind. In minutes, the water was frothy and white-capped, and the rain had that unmistakeable feel of a tropical rain -- heavy but without lightning.
It eased up a bit, so I put the guys on the back of the Curlew, facing the rear, while I drove through the rest of the storm. By the time we reached the East Cut, I’d gotten a free whole body massage. We kept heading south until we reached one of my favorite fall venues. Landing on our feet, we discovered quite a few reds, black drum and sheepshead in a lagoon that had been devoid of fish earlier in the day. We caught a few, and went home feeling dead tired after the encounter with mother nature.