Ryan and I were on the water--either together or on separate boats-- for the better part of 10 days. I was especially happy that he was able to fish with our friends Joe and Debbie MacKay from Austin, who stayed with us two weeks ago.
Ryan and I had fished several days during his Christmas visit, and it was really tough fishing. So we hoped that his spring visit would bring him some success. Sure enough, on his first outing, while fishing with Joe and Debbie, he landed a 28-29" red on the sand. I don't have a photo of that fish, but a couple of days later, Ryan and Rick Hartman and I went fishing together, and I snapped a shot of Ryan with a fine 26" red that he caught on
the sand. An hour earlier, we poled an area that was full of big trout, and Rick made an incredible cast to this 28" trout that we photographed and released. It's rare in our experience to have a camera nearby when a big trout is landed and released. However, we expect to have a lot more photos like this in the upcoming months, because the trout population is thriving.
It was a memorable morning for lots of reasons, but Ryan would say that it was especially significant because he caught more fish than I did. I was more proud than he was, if that's possible. I often give thanks that I have two sons who love to fly fish, and who, in time, will become top-notch anglers. I have never had the patience for spectator sports, but as I get older, I wouldn't mind watching them.
The three most recent days on the water were classic late spring-early summer days. My first day with the Thompsons started with a mild cold front dominating the early part of the day. We struggled, trying to find fish in windy, largely cloudy conditions. But then the sun came out. We headed for the sand, and had a surprisingly productive afternoon wading as far east as one can go in a boat. Everyone caught reds, which was pretty darn good given the way the day started.
The next day dawned almost calm, so I headed east to see if we could find schools. Sure enough, there were several schools working in the grass along the edge of the sand. But the tides were still very high from the new moon, so we couldn't effectively stalk the schools, because whenever they settled down, they would stop showing due to the depth (18-20 inches). I poled fruitlessly in the semi-glassy water, hoping that one of the schools would turn in our direction, and announce themselves by tailing. Just as I was getting ready to leave the area, a spin fisher, who was chasing the schools around and casting into the schools before they could flee, moved two schools toward us. We could see the wakes of a herd of fish heading in our direction, so I urged the guys to get out of the boat and spread out. I hoped that at least one of them would be able to cast to the passing schools. It turned out that one of the schools passed just to the side of Richard, who hooked up with one of the lead redfish on a Mother's Day Fly. The biggest fish often lead the schools, so it wasn't surprising that Richard's red was a big one. The red gave him a long, spirited fight, and Richard developed a smile that never completely left his face the rest of the day.
We left the schools and headed west hoping to find tailing reds. Stopping at one my favorite tailing areas, I poled the guys slowly into an expanse of glassy water, and suddenly spotted the first of a plethora of tailing pods of 10-25 fish apiece that we fished productively for about two hours. The fish were smallish, but plentiful, and had trout mixed in with them. Rick Hartman and his clients were nearby, and we all caught lots of fish. After landing several reds and a couple of trout, we headed to the sand where the guys managed to catch a couple of reds that were feeding head-down in the 12-inch clear water. The day could have been over, and everyone would have been happy with the catch, but I
suggested we head to a "birding" venue in hopes of finding gulls working over pods of reds. As we entered the area, we could see four large groups of birds, working frenetically over invisible fish. Alex elected to wade toward one of the pods, while I poled Richard and Ryan toward another pod. In a few minutes, Alex and Ryan were both hooked up. For the next hour, we poled and waded and landed several trout, three reds, and two gulls that took the flies in midair. (We released them unharmed.) It was quite a full day as we headed toward Kingfisher at around 6 pm.
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The third day was as different as the first two, and just as exciting. We started off fishing west, then far east, only to find very few fish working the shallows. Thinking that the tailing pods that we'd found the day before would eventually return to the area, we headed back west around 10 am and discovered that reds and trout were streaming into the area from the north––the first instance of the Redfish Parade that I've seen this year. Casting from the bow, Ryan put his Clouser in front of an unidentified fish only to have a big trout take his fly and jump out of the water! Minutes later, he landed a beautiful, 24-inch trout. Alex managed to catch a 25-inch red a while later, but the wind began to shift to the southeast, and the fish seemed to disappear. A light went on in my head, and I thought, "The sand is going to turn on!" The wind had been out of
the north and east for several days, and at the first instance of a southeast wind, the reds will often pour onto the sand. We headed east and turned north onto a "bejeweled" expanse of crystal clear water. After a couple of miles of empty water, we suddenly came upon several reds. We stopped and began wading, and the redfish began pouring onto the sand. The reds were as plentiful as I've ever seen them (except for when they are schooling.) For about two hours, all four of us (they asked me to fish with them) had almost constant opportunities. At first the fish seemed terribly touchy, and would blow up and flee after inspecting an otherwise inpeccable presentation. But Ryan, in particular, found his groove. He may have had the right fly, too, but he landed several before the action ended. At one point he said, "I don't know where to cast!" I felt the same way, because there was almost always more than one red approaching. Everyone was casting
constantly! It was wild! I think we caught 13 reds there, and that was the tip of the iceberg of fish that presented themselves to us. As Alex said, "I'm kind of glad they were so tough, because it really made it challenging!"
For the third year in a row, the Thompsons have enjoyed some of the finest fly fishing the Lower Laguna has to offer. Of course, there are many reasons they have done so well, including good weather. Buy I don't know three guys who have a better attitude about angling. They enjoy every aspect of the Lower Laguna, from bird to cloud, to fish, and they never complain about tough days or finicky fish. The Thompsons' successes support the idea that there is, indeed, a relationship between appreciating the hand you're dealt and playing it well.
5/3/09 Eliot wrote,
April is the cruelest month,
Breeding lilacs out of the dead land,
Mixing memory and desire,
Stirring dull roots with spring rain
The first words of "The Wasteland" allude to the tension that I feel in the spring, when the weather seems indecisive, when the wind blows fiercely and erraticially as if it's waiting for some higher authority, which
seems altogether absent, to assert itself. Last week served up this mixture of pleasure and pain, and left some of my clients deflated, and others saying, and I quote, "I've got a new favorite thing––redfish! To hell with bonefish!" What separated these tears of pain and tears of ecstasy was, as you might imagine, nature's constant reversals interacting with the angler variables of luck and skill.
I guided Doug Daman from Austin and his buddies Kevin and Rich for two of the toughest days I've spent on the water this year. Wind from the south at 25+mph, then three hours of calm before 25+ mph from the north on day two. We tried our best and landed one fish in two days. On the third day, we pulled the plug at 10 am and everyone went home, chastened. Doug and Kevin know what it's like when it's good, and I believe the poor conditions won't entirely erase the memory of the fine fly fishing they enjoyed on previous trips to Kingfisher. We hope to see t hem again soon.
The next day was as glorious as the previous three had been discouraging. I picked up my clients, who turned out to be fishing guides from Alaska headed up by Capt. Rich Rogers, who captain's a large ferry and guides steelhead fishermen on the side. Rich's buddies Scott and Kirk both manage lodges that specialize in king salmon and halibut, so these guys were "old salts," even though they were younger than
The wind only about 10 mph at daybreak. So we headed for a westside lagoon known for its tailing and podding reds, where we fished productively for about three hours. Before we got off the boat, the guys announced that they wanted me to fish with them. I don't immediately grab a rod when clients says this, because I've learned that sometimes they don't know what they don't know, and if I ignore them, they may fish fruitlessly without realizing that they aren't "doing it" right. In this case, I knew I was in the company of some pretty experienced fly fishers, so I took my rod out, but remained close at hand so I could yell my hard-won, finely honed advice whenever necessary, which turned out to be infrequently.
I ended up following Rich upwind, because I had a hunch that the reds were on the wrong side of us. But it was hard to ask all three guys to wade and fish upwind, just because the redfish might be there. However, the long wade paid off, and we found them at the end of a trough that was six inches deeper than the surrounding lagoon. But by the time we came upon the redfish, the wind was about 12-15 mph in our face, and almost all of the casting was upwind. Rich is an excellent angler, however, and did quite well in the less-than-ideal conditions, landing two fine reds on Kingfisher spoons and missing a couple of others on VIP poppers. The other guys didn't fare as well, but missed a couple of strikes on VIPs. On some mornings, the reds are all over the poppers, but it was the wrong fly for that particular morning. Figuring that out, and switching flies
promptly can make the difference between several misses and rejections and a couple of landed fish.
At about 10 am, we headed for the sand. The sky was cloudless, and I was so sure that a glorious day awaited us. But I didn't want to jinx it, so I shut up, which is becoming increasingly difficult the older and more experienced I get. Where doubt used to modulate my outpouring, confidence now reigns.
We headed north onto the sand, which is my favorite area of the sand in April. Planing slowly while we looked for reds, we saw only a few until we had gone several miles and then we ran over three or four in about 50 yards. That amount of fish signals me to stop, so I positioned us on the sand about 200 yards from from
the edge of the grass. We spread out and began wading. I don't think we started the motor again until after 4 pm, when headed in.
What did we find? You may not believe this, because I didn't at first. For hours, we encountered one school of redfish after another––groups from 10 to over 200 that weren't tailing, but were cruising around in no particular direction. It was constant action. I have never seen such numbers of redfish on the sand. Sometimes I find multiple schools over grass, but never on the sand in such abundance. The sight casting was, as you might imagine, unparalleled. Not a cloud in the sky, crystal clear water, moderate wind, and only my buddy Jim Posgate fishing alone in his scooter just to the north of us, and my fellow guide Skipper Ray fishing just to the north of Jim. No one moved!
At one point, a school of about 200 reds swam slowly up to me while I videoed their approach. You can see that video, as well as some of the fish we caught on my latest YouTube posting at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk9kyp7_Dug.
I don't know how many reds they guys landed overall, but it must have been over 25.
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We returned to the same area the next day and the schools were gone. Still, we had a great day with full sun, and lots of fish landed. At the end of the day, I said goodbye to the guys, who promised to return to Texas as soon as they could––which turned out to be only two days later, at least for Rich and a friend.
The guys had plans to fish the Port Aransas area with a fellow that guides with them in Alaska. But after flogging the water for one day (it was windy as hell), Rich called to see if I was available the next day. He had a friend with him who hadn't been able to come down to the Lower Laguna earlier, and who was eager to experience the storied lagoon. The forecast was dismal, however. I warned Rich that the day could turn out to be a "blow out," but he and his buddy Riswan Sheikh from San Jose, decided to risk it.
It was windy and cloudy at dawn. We headed out and went north and west looking for birding. Finding
nothing, I headed south, hoping for a minor miracle in a lagoon that sometimes fishes well in the wind. But we chanced upon a single bird working over what was clearly a pod of feeding reds. Gulls that behave a certain way are always over redfish. So Rizwan hiked over to the shoreline where the bird was gainfully employed. As he got closer, he could see a dozen reds frolicking in less than a foot of water. A few minutes later, he landed his first of eight reds for the day. Now you might think we ran around and found birds and lucked out on a windy, cloudy day. But it didn't turn out that way at all. The sun was peeping out, but the wind was so strong that the sand was murked up. Heading south and as far east as my boat would run, I hoped to find a strip of clear water along the edge of Padre Island. We
were all relieved to see that the water was clear enough, but were there any fish? I would say that more often than not, when I am forced to fish up against the edge of Padre, the fish are nowhere to be found. But on this day, the guys literally got off the boat, and didn't climb back on until it was 5 pm. They waded about three miles along the shelf, and had consistent action from redfish that would push wakes as they headed upwind with their back out of the water. Riz caught fire and landed eight reds on a day that 99% of the fly fishers I know would have turned over and gone back to sleep. I have to share with you the email that Riz sent me a couple of days later:
Scott, it was a privilege to fish with you this past Sunday. Not only am I addicted to flyfishig for redfish, Rich and I are already trying to find a way back to Kingfisher. As a guide, I learned much from you on that single day. Your patience, friendliness, attentiveness and easy manner created a pleasurable experience. This was because of your ability to make your guest enjoy the day. Sunday was a challenging day for us, but you constantly put us in the best position to succeed in flycasting for Reds. It paid off big for both Rich and me. We both agreed that you enabled us to see numerous reds and we had our shots at them. Thanks for making this trip one of my flyfishing highlights. --Rizwan Sheikh
3/29/09 I wait much too long between fishing reports. Now, as usual, there is way too much to report, and so little time in which to do it. I have guided four out of five of the last days, and will guide again tomorrow. So what are the headlines? Big trout everywhere, and tons of redfish in a couple of westside
venues. Birding? Well...that's hard to talk about without incurring the wrath of other guides. Yes, there's some, but don't count on it. You have to know how birding relates to tides, and that means staying home on terribly windy days unless you can figure it out. Otherwise, you will get out there on a day like today, and find nothing, and feel like a fool. But I didn't feel that way today, actually.
It was supposed to blow from 25-35 after midday, with gusts to over 40. My client Bill Townsend from Maine didn't say a thing about the wind. I was impressed, and suspected that he had fly fished all over the world, and knew the game. "Why complain about what you cannot change?" he answered, when I finally couldn't help but mention out loud that I was intrigued by his lack of comments about the wind. But that doesn't keep most people from complaining anyway, I said. He just shrugged, implying that it was waste of time in any case.
We are amply rewarded for getting out there. Bill landed a 25 and a 26" red before 8:00, and was pretty happy the rest of the morning. When I finally declared the day dead and over around 1:00––because the 25-30 mph wind had murked up the west side, and there were no fish on the sand––he concurred, and we went in like gentlemen who were willing to show up regardless of the conditions, but willing as well to acknowledge the futility of chasing fantasies.
We will go out again tomorrow, I am certain we will have a great day whether the wind blows, the reds tail, or the gulls gather.
I had the pleasure of guiding Greg Shaw and his family over the weekend. I have gotten to know Greg over the past year, after having enjoyed some memorable days on the water together. This time, he brought his 11-year-old daughter Marianna, and his wife Valerie. We had two great days on the water, even though the fishing itself was tough. During one wading adventure, I accompanied Marianna with her spin rod while Greg stalked incoming streaming pods on his own. The reds were on top, streaming like snakes through glassy water. It was intense, and Marianna, who had never learned to see fish before, did as well as I did in spotting the subtle signs of cruising reds. She has a bright future, and will be a great angler.
Greg and I left the boat on Saturday morning, and stalked tailing reds that were spread out as far as we could see. Greg hooked a fine 26" red 50 feet from the boat, and I slipped overboard to photograph the fight.
Last Friday, I guided Jim Posgate, and we elected to leave the
dock at 9, given the low tides and unlikelihood of birding action. We went straight to sand, and fought the cloud cover for the first two hours, while getting shot after shot at reds during the brief sunlit moments. After a while, the clouds burned off entirely, leaving us with a couple of hours of intoxicating sand action. The wind was fierce, but Jim caught several before we headed in around 4. Jim always appreciates what we find. I think we have both learned a great deal since the first day I guided him and his son about 7 years ago. Since then, we have fished together somewhere around 40 times. Always good.
A couple of days earlier, Kathy and I did something we hadn't done in years: drive up Padre Island and walk across the dunes and the salt flat to the Laguna Madre. It was all I ever dreamed of as a teenager...well, almost all I dreamed of. But every Sunday, I would jump in my VW and drive 50 miles to Padre Island, drive up the Island, and head for the bay alone tire tracks that I always prayed would support my vehicle. One never knew when the "dry sand" would give way like quicksand in a Tarzan movie, and you'd spend the rest of the day trying to spin your way to freedom.
But we didn't risk it by leaving the pavement in our two-wheeled Toyota. We grabbed our rods, donned sandals, and hiked 1/2 mile to the edge of the sand, where the water was crystal clear in the afternoon sun. I asked Kathy what fly she wanted, and she opted for a pink Mother's Day Fly -- the fly that I first tied for her on Mother's Day in 2000. Since then, we have caught hundreds of fish on that fly. But I opted for a little Clouser, hedging my bets that the reds, the predominant species on the sand on most days, would
prefer the sparse dressing of a size 6 Clouser. Kathy's choice signified her wish that she'd get a shot at a big trout, for which the Mother's Day is the fly of choice.
We spread out, and within minutes I saw two very large fish cruise just out of my range. I yelled at Kathy to be on the lookout. A minute later, she spotted a group of cruising fish--perhaps the same ones I'd seen--and thought they were reds. She cooly casted her MDF to the lead fish, and hooked up on a 25" trout! It was the largest trout she'd ever caught, and it would have been a women's world record at one time, if not currently. But we didn't have my IGFA certified boga grip, and it didn't matter anyway. I haven't seen her so happy in a long time.
Interestingly, at the end of my book Healing the Fisher King: A Fly Fisher's Grail Quest, we hiked across the dunes on the last day of our trip to Texas. I was living in Virginia at the time, and had come down for six weeks to work on the book, which revolves around trying to catch a world-record trout. I had failed, and it was okay, because it had been such a wonderful experience. So, we were wading on the sand, casting to tailing drum when this trout comes along, which was about exactly the same size as Kathy's. I caught it and released it, and it meant so much to me at the time because I'd tried so hard, and it was only when I'd given up that I caught such a fine fish. Not a world record, mind you, but a beautiful fish.
Similarly, Kathy is finishing up her book, The Whispered Teachings of Grandmother Trout. Her beautiful catch comes just at the end of a three-year process of writing about a woman who is entranced by big trout. So, again, it was a fitting culmination to a very meaningful journey. Here's a picture of my two favorite ladies! Also, make sure you view the homespun video of her catch here.
2/25/09 February is usually very quiet on the guide front. And given the weather, which has been windy and cloudy until a few days ago, I can see why no one wants to be on the water. But yesterday my brother Chip and I got tired of looking at cloudless skies, and went out around 7 am. We went to one place, caught six reds from 24-26 inches, and came home in time for a second cup of coffee before lunch. But you probably want to know the details, so here they are: When we first shut down at a familiar eastside venue, there were a few big reds waking away. The surface was glassy as far as we could see, so every abrupt move would have been visible from 100 yards away. We hoped that the reds would tail, but they seemed lethargic, so we got up on plane and proceeded to leave the area. We didn't get more than 200 yards, however, when we ran into the edge of what appeared to be pods and schools sweeping slowly away from
our intrusion. We shut down again, and waited a couple of minutes. And then the reds started heading our way. I didn't even put my booties on. I jumped barefooted off the boat, and turned to face several incoming groups of 6-20 fish. Casting a Mother's Day fly upwind to the wakes, I missed one and then hooked up on the second strike. We had constant action for about an hour and a half. But all of the fish were approaching from upwind, which made the casting especially challenging. I got some video of Chip landing a nice 26" red, so take a look here.
Redfish Movie 2/25/09
If you can't view the video, take a minute and download Quicktime Player here.
I missed at least six reds, so the fish were more willing than I was able. Chip had his share of angler farts, too. Still we landed a respectable number of very hardy reds. After wading for a while near the boat, we climbed back on and drifted downwind. Chip took the bow and I casted from the poling platform. We saw several big trout, but didn't get the fly on them in time. We had quite a bit of fun casting to reds for a while, without landing any. Chip did manage to jerk the fly away from a red that tried desperately to keep up with it.
What impresses me about the bay is the sheer, stunning abundance of redfish, and the astounding number of very big trout, given the brief period of time that's passed since the new trout regulations were passed. We are not alone in saying that the trout are coming back. My first love (after Kathy, of course).
2/6/09 Capt. Scott here. Randy and I are happy that Capt. Roel Villanueva, Capt. Kenny Smith, and Capt. Rick Hartman are coming on board at Kingfisher in a bigger way than before. All of them have guided Kingfisher clients, but it seemed timely for us to band together and provide coordinated services to groups and a larger client base. Each of us prefers to guide out of the Arroyo, so our alliance makes good sense. Here's Kenny Smith's first report, and we look forward to hearing from all of our guides in due time.
I’m Capt. Kenny Sm
ith with a fishing report for January 7, 2009. First of all, happy new year to everyone!
I invited Johnny Q., (http://www.johnnyquiroz.com/Site/JohnnyQuiroz.html), and his friend, Walter, to go fishing with me on Wednesday. Johnny guides on the rivers of Texas and has had a stint guiding in Alaska.
The weather report said a light north wind in the morning, dying mid-day, then a slight south breeze in the afternoon with temperatures in the low 80’s and nothing but sunshine. In other words, perfect, a
nd this time the weather person got it right.
I launched the Maverick HPX-T at the Arroyo and turned the key, …nothing. The battery was dead. I had inadvertently left the battery switch on and a navigation light ran it down. I was 40 minutes away from my house and they were to arrive to meet me any minute. I have always carried a pull rope in the boat but, over the
years, I have never needed to use it. Could a Yamaha 70 HP motor be started with a pull rope? A cold engine? Three pulls and the engine came to life. I told my friends that this could only mean that something good was going to happen out on the water.
As we left the Arroyo River and entered the bay, I skimmed over water that was a bit shallower than I expected. We made it “over the hump” and headed to an east location where I had seen good numbers of fish a few days before and the water would be a bit deeper, just enough to allow me to pole the boat. At first I was disappointed that we had not pushed a single fish where I expected them to be. I shut down in about a foot of water that was gin clear, hoping I would pole us into the fish that should be there.
We let Walter up on the bow first as this was his first experience sight fishing. He has not
been “converted” to fly fishing, yet, give us a little time. Almost immediately, I spotted the first fish. He cast to the fish and on the third cast he came tight to a very fat 23 inch redfish. A great start but I was unprepared for what we saw the rest of the day. Redfish began to appear all around us as singles and groups u
p to about 20 fish. There were fish tailing and large groups pushing wakes in every direction. And, as if that wasn’t enough, they were aggressive. One fish actually raced 4 feet to get to the fly and eat. Over the course of about 6 hours, we saw what we estimated to be a hundred redfish. It was as if every redfish in the bay decided to have a convention at this location.
I will let the photo’s tell the rest of the story. We had a blast.
Capt. Kenny Smith
Lower Laguna Madre Fly Fishing Company, LLC.
1/17/09 My son Pete and I fished today, and while the conditions weren't perfect, we had some good opportunities at big reds. We have prepared a video for you, so you can see what it's been like this winter. We started the day in our Gore-Tex waders, but quickly "went wet" after a sweaty first wade. This video was taken around midday after the southeast wind had come up, and the tide––which had been real low at daybreak––had been pushing water into the west bay. Anyway, if a picture is worth 1000 words, a video is worth a million. Enough said. Enjoy the video. However, to view it, you will need Quicktime Player. You can download it here.
1/9/09 Capt. Scott here. I have fished and guided so much for the past three weeks, that it will be impossible to retrace the whole midwinter journey. However, I will summarize the current scene, beginning with our midday fly fishing on the sand yesterday. Kathy and I will be going back to work
(which only amounts to two days a week for me) at the university next Monday, and so we wanted one more good day on the water before switching gears. We decided to go out midmorning and fish only the east side, which is a deviation from our usual pattern of fishing the west side early, and then
shifting to the east side later in the day.
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As you can see from the photos, the water was as clear as a gemstone. The water temps have been so warm that I've waded wet on most days, but Kathy likes those waders during the winter. I give her a hard time over wearing them when it's so warm, but it's her decision (albeit a strange, irrational one, as I'm prone to remind her in spite of my better judgment). We arrived about 10:00, and saw very few fish crossing the grass. We ran into a few large reds that were up on the sand, and so we headed further north along the edge of the sand. Suddenly, we started moving schools of mullet and more redfish, so we shut down, hoping that we were on the south edge of the fish, which would presumably be moving onto the sand in a southeasterly direction through the day. It was a good decision, because within a few minutes, we spotted our first tails -- a group of large reds moving very slowly onto the sand. I staked the boat, grabbed the video camera, and waded alongside Kathy as she looped up-sun of the tails. I filmed her casting to the tails, and a big red lunged for her fly. Driving a huge wake, it dogged the fly and just about took it. But the water was so low and clear
that it saw Kathy, who was crouching as low to the water as she could get. The redfish broke away just before taking the fly. Some anglers would may have mistaken the event as a rejection of the fly, but a fish that breaks away abruptly when it's approaching the angler has seen the angler. A true rejection is usually a casual, ho-hum event, but an "angler rejection" is terminal and explosive. Think about it. Why would a redfish follow a fly and then abruptly turn around and run for cover. Because he hates pink? No. Sometimes if you give a fish too much time to inspect the fly, or if the fly is not to his liking (rare for a redfish), he may turn away, but never explosively. Of course, if you drag fly toward a redfish or any predator, that's different: He will run for the hills because it's not natural. After that near-success, Kathy headed for a pair of tailing reds, which headed away because, of all things, a pile driver that was literally two miles away replacing an Intracoastal marker. The noise stopped, however, so I continued following her around with the camera until one of the reds that she'd casted to headed in my direction. I slung the camera over my shoulder, and unfurled my six-weight just in time to cast to the hefty fish, which took the Mother's Day fly without hesitation. So much for being the camera slave. Kathy graciously came over and filmed the fight and the landing, but we discovered later that we had both mistaken "off' for "on," and vice versa. I'm still new to filming!
Kathy went off on her own, and caught a big red just after I landed my second fish. The fish were very aggressive. To give you some idea of what I mean, my second red took the fly three times on three separate casts before I hooked him. Kathy's red blew up when the fly hit the water as they are prone to do in such sensitive conditions, but then ran over and took it anyway. So these fish are willing if you make the right presentation, which unfortunately is hard to do aboard the boat. Here's one of my little lectures: If you only fish aboard a boat, most of the fish will have already seen you (especially this time of year, with the water so low and clear). You may believe that they are unwilling, but when a fish has already turned away, his willingness plummets to about 20 percent of its former level. Unless the fly is right in front of his nose, then you can forget about catching him. And getting the fly right in front of the red's nose will almost always spook him. So, there. That's the dilemma you face aboard a boat. Of course, if the water is a little deeper or murkier, or is the sun is lower (as it often is during a winter day) you really don't have any choice: you have to use the boat. All of this amounts to the prevalent myth (which I sometimes support so my clients feel so badly after not catching fish) that winter fish are difficult to catch. Yes, but it's not because of them, but because of the context. You have to think of the whole scene in order to accurately interpret the outcome.
Back to our fish. Both were about 27 inches, so we both had quite a fight on our hands, especially given the fact that the water temperature is at the optimum level (65-70 degrees) for making oxygen available to the fish, so they fight especially long and hard. We photographed both of them, and released them. Then we gave the dogs a romp, and headed for home even though the redfish were bound to be pouring onto the sand later in the afternoon. The day had been enough.
Hey, I'm on Facebook now, so visit me!
12/16/08 Capt. Scott here. This may be my last fishing report til the new year. Not that I won't be fishing, but I will be celebrating the holidays with family, and won't have much time to do the usual things. As for fishing, it has
been phenomenal in between cold fronts.
The weekend before last, I took my eye off the weather forecast, and the next thing I knew three guys were on their way from Arkansas, arriving just in time to experience the passage of a strong cold front. Of course, strong is relative, and in south Texas, strong means temperatures in the 40s. Carter Macleod and his buddies Charlie and Jacob awoke on Friday morning to 25 mph winds, 45 degrees, rain and clouds. I was supposed to guide them, but I took one look at the weather and called them up. "There's no way we can do any good. We have to wait, perhaps until
tomorrow." The guys were sorely disappointed, but they took it in stride.
The next morning dawned cold and clear, with a 12 mph north wind. It was far better than Friday, but it was what we call a "transitional" day, which usually means the fish aren't on the flats until later in the day. We layered, donned our waders, and headed out. The tides were critically low, which means "go south" this time of year. We traveled a total of about 15 miles, and entered an area that was partly glassy in the low wind. Wakes
began shooting away from the boat. I shut down, happy at least that we'd found fish in a foot of water.
The day proved to be a welcome surprise. Indeed, Carter hooked up on a 28-inch red within ten minutes of wading away from the boat. Tailing fish began popping up all over. While the fish were spread out, the action was fairly constant, and got better as the day progressed. By the time we headed in at 5:00, we'd landed a 28, a 29 and a 31-inch red on Mother's Day flies and Kingfisher Spoons, along with a bunch of above-average reds (and one sheepshead) in the 26-inch range.
I expected Sunday to be even better, but for some reason the fish weren't as shallow at daybreak. Since we only had five hours, we had to go in before the fish (given my past experience) poured into the shallower areas. The guys only landed a couple reds on an outwardly perfect weather day. It just goes to show that you can never tell what days will be early "turn-on" days, and which ones will be late starters.
I had the pleasure of guiding Miller and Kathie Bassler a couple of days ago. The Basslers own a place at Port Mansfield, and met me in their boat at the mouth of the Arroyo, where they left their boat and continued south on my Curlew with me. We headed to the same area where I'd guided the Macleod party, and found the tides critically low, once again. Rick Hartman was guiding, too, so he and I braved the super skinny water to reach the area where I'd found the reds a few days earlier. He and I shut down pretty quickly after reaching foot-deep water, because big reds and pods were shooting away from our
encroachment. We spend the whole day there, and the action was, once again, constant, but the reds were a bit lethargic from the cool water. What was memorable about the day, in addition to its sheer beauty, was what happened in the afternoon. Get this: Hundreds of big trout appeared in groups. Trout from 22 to 30 inches long were as thick as mullet. Of course big trout offer a much greater challenge than redfish to an angler, so we did not land any, but Kathie had one take her fly twice, and Miller casted to a trout that stayed withing 25 feet of him for quite a while--a trout that he estimated to be 36 inches in length!
I have had the experience of encountering acres of big trout on only two occasions, and I never found them in those locales again. So when my brother Chip, Kathy, our dogs, and I headed back yesterday to hunt big trout, I wasn't surprised that they weren't there. Actually, they may have been, but the conditions had changed so much that we could not find them, even if they were still in the same general area. The tides had risen a foot, and it was cloudy. So we will return in the weeks ahead, hoping against the odds that the big trout will deign to visit the same area.
While we did not catch, nor even see any big trout, my brother Chip caught a 30-inch red from the front of the boat as we poled through an area searching for big trout. He made a long cast, and the Mother's Day fly amost landed in the red's mouth. It was Chip's largest red to date on his fly rod, and it bested his son Spencer's fly rod record by a 1/4 inch. Of course, neither are very competitive, and I'm sure that Chip will never mention his slight and insignificant lead in his son's presence with anything but an exceedingly humble and apologetic tone of voice. And if you believe that, you have never been around a father and son who have fished and hunted together for 30 years, and teased each other throughout.
11/29/08 Capt. Scott here. I had the pleasure of guiding my old friend and client Jim Posgate on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. I had thought that the tides had fallen out for good, and would not rise appreciably until
March again, but there was about four inches more water on Wednesday than there had been on the weekend. You might think, "Big deal," but it is a very big deal when you fly fish an estuary where the difference between high and low tides is rarely more than a foot. Add to that the seasonal fluctuations due to the position of the sun, and you have a fairly complex pattern that most casual observers would not even see, much less appreciate. All to say that there was one area that I knew would be "just right" in terms of depth, and would remain glassy until the wind rose above 15 mph. That combination is often the difference between a great day for one who knows, and a fishless day for one who does not.
Sure enough, the glassy conditions were there, and remained in place until we left at around 3:45. During that whole time, we started the motor only once to reposition a couple of hundred yards, and we had consistent tailing action from the moment we arrived until the moment we left. It was, as you might imagine, a great day. And the fish were, as autumn fish often are, larger and fatter than the warmer-weather catch.
Jim was out of the boat and stalking tails a few minutes after we'd arrived. I can always tell when Jim is within 50 yards of a visible tail, because he crouches so low that I would mistake him for a blue heron if I didn't see him casting. Jim is a retired F-15 (and other planes) pilot, and I'm sure he didn't survive 25 years in the Air Force by making himself conspicuous.
I was enjoying the early morning scene--ducks flying overhead, gulls on the water feeding on shrimp, and herons frozen in half-step--when I saw a wake coming toward the boat. There were several redfish tailing
within casting distance, but even though I fish with Jim, I hadn't joined him yet. But something about this wake said "trout" to me, so I grabbed my rod out of the holder, and slipped off the boat, stripping line out just as fast as I could. By the time I casted, the wake was passing me, but I managed to get the fly ahead of it. It turned toward me, and I saw the gills of a big trout flare as it took my Mother's Day Fly. What a fight! The fall water temperature makes more oxygen available to a fighting fish, and whether it's a big trout or red, you think you've hooked a world record about every time you hook up. The 27-inch trout porpoised several times, and ran well into my backing. I pulled her in while she was still pretty green, lifted her out of the water just long enough to dislodge the fly, and released her. I took this shot while she was at my feet.
The reds were coming in from the north, stopping to tail as they came. The dead seagrass made it necessary for us to use weedless MDFs, spoons, or VIPs in order to stay high in the water column, which
was no more than a foot deep, and in some areas effectively reduced to six inches by the built-up dead grass on the bottom. The fish were so aggressive that we broke three hooks, broke off a couple of fish, and lost a couple of more. They would take the fly and before you could react they would run just as fast as they could through the grass, putting maximum pressure on our tippets. It was wild action at its best. The glassy surface revealed the incoming fish as far away as 150 yards, so we could hike into position in order to intercept the singles and doubles that looked like snakes as they meandered through the shallow water, blowing up on shrimp and crabs every once in a while. Jim and I have fished together about 40 times, and this was one of our best days.
Yesterday (Friday after Thanksgiving), I guided Shaun Daniels and his wife Laura from Wimberley. Shaun has fished with me on several occasions, but Laura had never joined us. We went back to the same area where I'd taken Jim Posgate two days before. It was going to be a much windier day--up to about 20 mph--before we headed in at noon, but we had glassy conditions the whole time, regardless. We stayed on the boat most of the time, poling through a two-mile glassy expanse of foot-deep, dead grass-filled water. Oddly enough the reds were localized in a half-mile stretch, so each time we passed through it, we would simply reposition upwind of the area and
pole through it again. Shaun's first shot from the boat proved to be the largest fish of the day. We could see the 29 1/4 red wallowing and striking baitfish just out of range of casting for probably 10 minutes. I kept having trouble poling through the dead grass, and at one point had to jump off the boat to push the Curlew over a pile of it. But the red kept feeding, so we were finally able to inch within casting distance of it. Shaun put a Kingfisher spoon just behind its head, and it turned and ate it without hesitation. It was not only long, but it had the girth of a fall-winter fish, as you can see. It was probably 10 pounds, even though we only measured its length before releasing it. Shaun was pretty happy, as you can imagine, and Laura, who hadn't fished in such shallow conditions before, said, "Why would anyone want to fish in any other way?" I said, "Because they have never experienced this before, and they just don't know what's possible."
Shaun went on to catch several more, and have constant opportunities from the bow over the course of about five hours. Laura, who insisted that she just wanted to watch Shaun, nevertheless was somehow coaxed onto the casting platform and landed her own red on a gold spoon. I suspect she will be practicing a fly rod in the future, since they have a place in Port Isabel, and will probably be relocating permanently to the Valley in the near future.
11/23/08 Capt. Scott again. It's been almost a month since I've posted a fishing report, and it's not been because the fishing has been poor. In fact, the fishing has been as good as any autumn in memory, especially since the tides have fallen about 10 days ago. As you probably know, the tides rise in the fall, drop in late November, rise in March, and drop again in June. We tend to prefer low tides, because the fish
are congregated in fertile areas (lots of grass, shrimp, and crabs), and are more visible.
Yesterday, I guided Robert King and his mom Susan.
I have to admit that I kind of hoped they would cancel, because a fresh cold front blew in on Friday, and Saturday promised to be chilly and wet. Rationally, I knew that the water temps were quite warm, and that the winds were supposed to lay down. Still, getting out of bed and layering rain gear and fleece is not my idea of fun. Having never met the Kings, and not knowing that they were a mother-son team, I suspected that there would be two hung-over guys waiting for me on the dock with that "it's-been-too-long since I've fished and I don't care if it's a crappy day" look on their faces. I was ready to be business-like, just to protect myself from wild ideas like, "let's see if
there's some jacks in the surf." So I was quite surprised to find a young man sitting on the dock and saying that his mom would be there in a few minutes. This was going to be different than I'd expected. Indeed, the whole day was a real pleasure, and the Kings were super people and great anglers.
They were immediately happy just to be on the water, so I relaxed a bit. The air warmed as we approached the bay, and my spirits started to rise. Just maybe we'd see some fish. The wind was up to about 12 mph, so I headed to one of the areas that might be glassy in a moderate breeze. Nothing for miles,
and then blow-ups and wakes appeared, so I shut down and after warning the Kings that we'd be real lucky to see any fish showing, I got up to pole. Robert got into the casting stand, and within five minutes we were into tailing pods. Oh my, what good fortune, I said to myself.
After Robert had caught his first red from the boat, I suggested that he wade toward the tails that were sprouting up all around us. He gladly slipped into the chilly water, and didn't get back onto the boat again except to have some lunch a couple of hours later. He stalked and caught reds literally for five or six hours––big reds that for the first three hours or so were tailing in near-windless conditions. Meanwhile I alternately poled and waded with
Susan, who was as eager as Robert to approach the reds on foot. Having no previous experience with saltwater fly fishing, however, Susan found it hard to reach the feeding reds, which would stop tailing and move away whenever we inched within 30 feet of them. Later, while casting from the
Curlew, She hooked up on a tailing red while a proud son looked on. Susan had told me earlier that she would have been happy if she had just seen a red. So she achieved her goal, and then some. The reds nearly stopped tailing in the early afternoon before an altogether different phenemenon started up in the last two hours of the day: the redfish parade. Big reds started to pour into the area from the north, feeding as they came. Robert caught several more as the sweeping reds would zip around chasing shrimp. There were so many that an oversized red actually shot between my legs on his way to the next county.
At 3:40, Susan asked me what time it was, and I told her, and she said, Do you think we have plenty of time to make a 6:00 flight? Aware that we were
40 minutes from the dock, I turned around immediately and headed for the boat, only to face several incoming pods of reds. As we converged on the boat, Robert stopped to cast to yet one more pod and hooked up on his final fish of the day. What a great day it had been! What a lesson for the lazy, cold-phobic guide! Robert said on the way to the dock that on a scale of 1-10, the day had been an 11! He had had no expectations, he said.
The best days, I have found, are devoid of expectations. It's a good thing to practice.
Casting back through the month, and bringing you up to the present, I start with my two days with Bob and Dwight Boyd, clients that I had guided two years before. We had great fishing then, and it was pretty darn good this time, too. We were still fishing high water a month ago when the Boyds arrived, so I took the Boyds to a venue that is my hands-down favorite during the high tides of spring and fall. We headed for the most remote part of the lagoon, looped upwind and shut down in an area where we'd been finding large reds feeding on rain minnows. Within minutes, we spotted the first pod heading into the area. The Boyd brothers got out of the boat, and stalked singles and small pods for the next couple of hours. The fish were larger than
average, and very aggressive.
The next day, I guided Robert Campbell and his wife Sophia. We returned to the same lagoon where the Boyds had done so well, and spent almost the whole day casting to big reds tailing and cruising in critically low water. Robert waded for the first hour or so, while Sophia––who is a serious photographer––photographed Robert's catch. After catching a couple on foot, Robert got back on the boat, and we poled toward the area where the Boyd's had caught most of their fish the day before. As we approached the remote equivalent of the dark side of the moon, reds began popping up here and there, in singles and small pods. The action was classic: dead calm conditions, full
sun, and highly visible fish. Robert had to make surgically accurate casts from the boat, which he managed to do on several occasions.
Later, while Robert waded, I fixed Sophia up with a spoon fly behind a spinning jig and poled her along a dropoff where there were dozens of reds feeding. She finally snagged a beautiful red while Robert yelled his encouragement. It was a perfect day in all the ways that matter.
Just a few days ago, I guided Nathan Remmick and his partner Sheila. Nathan
is an engineer who has been working in Iraq, and who dearly loves the Lower Laguna. As an owner of a deep-draft boat in the market from a shallow-water skiff, Nathan was interested in seeing what new waters the Curlew would make available to him. We went to the same lagoon that I'd been fishing for the previous two weeks (see above), and poled into dead-calm conditions. Within a short time, and after a few good shots, Nathan landed his first red of the day. Later we went to a lagoon north and west of the Arroyo, and landed in the middle of tailing pods of reds. Nathan stalked them on foot for serveral hours before concluding that he had seen waters that he he'd never dreamed existed. I suspect Tim Clancey will be receiving a purchase order for a new Curlew from Nathan real soon. By the way, you might have noticed the paper dolls above the redfish, against Nathan's chest. If you're like me, you won't recognize "Flat Stanley," but Nathan filled me in after returning to Iraq and seeing his photo on the website:
The Flat Stanley Project
The project was started in 1995 by Dale Hubert, a grade three schoolteacher in London, Ontario, Canada. It is meant to facilitate letter-writing by schoolchildren to each other as they document what Flat Stanley has done with them. Dale Hubert received the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence in 2001 for the Flat Stanley Project.
The Flat Stanley Project provides an opportunity for students to make connections with students of other member schools who've signed up with the project. Students begin by reading the book and becoming acquainted with the story. Then they make paper "Flat Stanley s" (or pictures of the Stanley Lamb chop character) and keep a journal for a few days, documenting the places and activities in which Flat Stanley is involved. The Flat Stanley and the journal are mailed to other people who are asked to treat the figure as a visiting guest and add to his journal, then return them both after a period of time. The project has many similarities to the Traveling gnome prank except, of course, for the Flat Stanley Project's focus on literacy.
Students may find it fun to plot Flat Stanly's travels on maps and share the contents of the journal. Often, a Flat Stanley returns with a photo or postcard from his visit. Some teachers may prefer to use e-mail.
In 2005, more than 6,000 classes from 47 countries took part in the Flat Stanley Project.Plot line
The Plot: Stanley Lamb chop is flattened when a big bulletin board (which Dad gave Stanley and his younger brother, Arthur for putting pictures and posters) falls on him in the night while he is sleeping. He survives and makes the best of his altered state, and soon he is sliding into rooms through the opening at the bottom of closed doors and being kind to his younger brother by playing as a kite for him. Stanley even helps catch some art museum sneak thieves by posing as a painting on the wall! But one special advantage is that Flat Stanley can now visit his friends by being mailed in an envelope.
For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Stanley.
Thanks, Nathan. Our blessings to you and our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan!
10/26/08 Capt. Scott here. I know it's been a good while since I posted a report. My silence has been due to a combination of poor fishing, cancelled trips, and travel. But after returning from North Carolina (where I'd gone to speak at a conference), I guided the last three days. And it was memorable. I think you will be hearing more from Randy and me as the fishing begins to "heat up" from the cooling of the bay waters. The white shrimp are maturing, and the reds are beginning to pod up. It won't be long before the birds will be working over the pods, too.
I guided Jim Bauer and his buddy Nick Summit from central Texas on Friday, switched to Tom Vaughn
and his son Ryan yesterday (from Illinois), and then guided Jim and Nick again today. We fished in one area for three solid days, since fishing in some of my other favorite fall venues has failed to turn on yet. Indeed, we haven't seen any birding to speak of yet, and the tides are still much higher than usual. But all you need is one good spot, and we had it for three straight days.
I poled into the area with a slight north wind behind me at daybreak on Friday morning. Jim and Nick are seasoned Texas coast anglers, but new to saltwater fly fishing. Fortunately, we had a lot of tailing action -- singles and pods feeding on shrimp. We spent an hour or so on the boat, but found it had to get close enough to the fish. It's always hard to stop fishing from the boat when you're getting one shot after another, but experience has told me that two inexperienced fly fishers do much better wading if there are enough targets to make it interesting. It took us a while to get outfitted for wading--sizing the cast baskets, changing flies, getting the booties on, etc. Meanwhile, tailing reds were waving to us. I can understand why a lot of guides never get their clients off the boat: but again, I was convinced that wading would give both anglers a chance at close-in targets. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Nick hooked his first of three reds over 24 inches, and Jim broke off on a big red when his spoon fly hook broke in two. We were off to a good start on a day
where the redfish never really stopped tailing. In fact, we only started the motor once in eight hours of angling, and only to relocate 300 yards. The action was constant. The guys were very happy with the day, and so was I, given the way the Lower Laguna had been fishing the last month.
When I poled Tom and Ryan Vaughn into the same area on Saturday morning, the tailing reds were lined up for us. Looking back, we probably should have gotten off the boat as soon as we arrived, but the guys were new to the area, and I wanted them to have some opportunities from the boat before we deployed. Tom let Ryan stay on point for a good while, and Ryan casted to several singles and some small pods. But the conditions were the best of times and worst of times; that is, it was dead calm, and you had to cast over 30 feet accurately in order to get the fly to fish before they sense the boat's approach and moved off. As it turned out, Ryan had the cast he needed (as we discovered later), but it was hard to put it all together right off the bat with two guys watching and redfish in your face. I've seen lots of men come apart under such stress! The tails played out, so I decided to go to a different spot in the same lagoon. We headed 300 yards south, started moving fish, and shut down. Almost immediately, it became clear that we had landed in the middle of big reds feeding on rain minnows. Indeed, we started seeing breaking fish, and minnows flying within a couple of minutes of stopping. I honestly thought that ladyfish were ripping into the bait, until I
saw a big red come completely out of the water as it porpoised through a ball of fleeing minnows. We were out of the boat in no time, and walked only 50 yards before it became clear that it was just a matter of waiting for the fish to come barreling through the area. Ryan made a
long cast, andas his spoon fly was sinking into the 15-inch water, he turned to say something to me and BOOM a red swirled and blew up on his fly. Fifteen minutes later, he landed a beautiful 27-inch red. Meanwhile, Tom was yelling that reds were sweeping through him, too. Alas, Ryan had the hot rod, and within a few minutes hooked a smaller red. We stood in that one area for another 30 minutes casting to reds that would suddenly blow up or cruise through at high speed. It was tough to get the fly ahead of them, but fortunately Ryan landed a couple of beauties before the wind came up and put the fish down.
Today, I headed directly for the remote area where we'd found the reds feeding on rain minnows. I knew that the reds that feed on fin fish in this particular lagoon tend to be larger than average, with many in the 28-30 inch range. I took a wide loop and got upwind of the area and shut down. Actually, the breeze was low enough to leave the surface glassy, so we poled slowly into the area, looking north into the glare created by the rising sun. Within a few minutes, the first of dozens of small pods appeared heading
our way. The guys got off the boat, and spread out. It was, once again, very demanding angling. Dead calm conditions made it necessary to make your first cast count. And when you're excited, you tend to cast too soon and alert the fish to your presence. I always say that the most difficult thing to learn is to wait until the fish is in range. It sounds simple, but it takes a steely resolve, and almost inhuman patience. I still will try to convince myself that I can make a cast that I have never made in my life. (There has to be a first time for that 100-foot cast, I argue to myself.) Anyway, Nick and Jim faced a tough situation, but it didn't take long before Jim hooked a nice 25-inch red as it tailed slowly past him. The wind came up shortly afterward, and the fish stopped showing. But not before each of the guys had numerous heart-accelerating close encounters of the third kind with big feeding reds.
9/21/08 Capt. Scott here. I just completed four days of unrelentingly tough fishing. Why was it so tough? Hurricane Ike had no effect on our area, except in one significant way: it raised the normally high fall tides
by about a foot. Add to that northeast winds (the wrong winds for sight casting), and cloudy conditions, and you have three strikes against you if you want to sight cast with a fly rod.
The closer to the winter solstice you get, the lower the sun sinks in the southern sky. Consequently, a northeast wind blows you right into the sun, blinding you and giving the fish a chance to see you coming without having to squint into the sun, if fish can squint.
Nonetheless, I did the best I could to put Howard Miller, from Ft. Worth, on fish on Thursday and Friday. We fished a west side lagoon in an area that is usually three inches deep. The day dawned a bit breezy and chilly, but the water was so shallow that we could see the reds moving, regardless. Howard caught a nice red right off the bat, which turned out to
be the first of two reds that he caught all day.
When I got home on Thursday, I emailed Doug and Connie Gauntt (also from Ft. Worth) who were coming in on Friday to fish Saturday and Sunday. I warned them that our normally double-digit fishery was handing out catches in the low single digits. Did they really want to come? Doug emailed me back and did not surprise me by saying, "We're coming."
On Friday, Howard and I faced the same odds, and ended up with about the same results -- one red and a black drum. And let me tell you, we felt real fortunate to have caught four fish in two days.
Doug, Connie and I headed out on Saturday morning and encountered even more difficult conditions. We ran from one storm after another, trying to find pockets of sunshine between the sweeping scuds. Doug landed only one red on Saturday, even though we did find a considerable number of reds on the sand that turned from the boat, and refused the fly with frustrating regularity.
On Sunday, Doug caught only one red again, but this time it was a 28 1/2 fish. We poled every conceivable venue, almost running out of gas before the day was over. But Doug's big red was a memorable moment. We were poling way, way back in a westside lagoon, a half mile beyond the usual stopping point. Doug has just stepped up on
the casting platform, when we both spotted a flash beneath the surface. A big red appeared, heading right toward the boat. Doug casted 50 feet to the incoming fish, which turned away just before the fly hit the water. Doug repositioned the fly, and the fish rose to it as soon as it touched the water. It was a beautiful sight. A storm was approaching from the east, but the sun lit up the water and the shoreline and made it look like it was glowing from within. Doug fought the red for quite a while before I stepped overboard and grabbed the big fish by the tail. Doug laughed and said, "That's worth the whole trip!" It is amazing how one's feeling about an entire weekend can turn on one fine cast to one fine fish.
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9/1/08 Capt. Scott here. Sometimes it seems like a long time ago when I began guiding on the Lower Laguna. Actually, it was only nine years ago when I decided somewhat arbitrarily that I knew enough to guide anglers on my home waters. During the first couple of years, I worried a great deal about whether I knew as much as other guides, and I often found myself comparing myself with others. A guide's personal hell is measuring himself against others. Whether you cringe at the news of someone else's success, or not-so-subtly brag about your
own, comparisons are always about insecurity. When I take part in such conversations with other guides, I hear a lot of things, but the thing I feel is the collective fear than hangs over a way of making a living that depends as much on luck and the capriciousness of Nature as it does a man's knowledge and abilities. As time has passed, and my knowledge of the bay has increased, I have largely stopped comparing. Instead of worrying about my performance and the size of my client's catch, I am able to take comfort in the feeling of familiarity with the Lower Laguna. It is as if the bay and I became intimate at some point, and it is something that I don't have to talk about.
That being said, I rarely know what to expect. Regardless of how often I fish, and how much knowledge I accumulate, Nature is so complex and mysterious that it brings me down a notch or two whenever I think I've figured it out. There's no place for cockiness in the life of a guide.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of guiding Ron and Peggy Gentry from Austin on their third visit to Kingfisher. The Gentry's are well traveled anglers, having combined trips to Costa Rica for immersion courses in Spanish with side trips for tarpon. Also, they have spent a lot of time at South Padre Island, where they have fished extensively. In recent years, however, they have gravitated to the Arroyo and to Kingfisher Inn.
On Saturday, I felt pretty certain that the northwest bay would be the place to be. So we headed that way and found the west side largely devoid of fish. Hurricane Gustav had not pushed any water our way, and the low tides allowed us to see that the west side was largely devoid of life. So, we picked up and headed east onto the sand, where we found a few reds mixed with ladyfish fleeing ahead of the curlew. So we stopped, and waded downwind into an expanse of glassy water. We got some shots at reds and ladyfish, but the action played out. As I contemplated our next step, I looked ahead and watched 100 reddish egrets feeding to the south and east of us. Then I noticed some laughing gulls dipping and hovering above the surface. I said to Peggy, "That's what gulls do when they are over fish, but I think they are just chasing bait." At that moment, however, I saw a dark line beneath the birds-- an unambiguous sign of a school of fish sweeping across the flat. I yelled at Ron and urged him to follow us the 200 yards south and east to see what was happening.
As we approached, it became clear that we were entering an area where hundreds, if not thousands of fish were feeding in 10-12 inches of water. I still wasn't sure what they were. In the low light, I thought they must be black drum, but periodic explosions told me that redfish were feeding in the melee. As it turned out, most of the fish were ladyfish, but big reds were cruising around and feeding, as well. Ron caught nice red right off the bat, but the low light and the sheer mass of ladyfish made it hard to target the redfish. Ron was hooked up almost constantly, and on at least one occasion was unable to cast to redfish that passed by within a few feet of him. Peggy and I spotted a few reds, as well, following no discernible pattern. The ladyfish would sweep through us in droves, and a redfish would simply amble up and turn away from the sight of us. It was a wild scene. Peggy managed to land the first three fish she had caught fly fishing in salt water -- all ladyfish -- and one of them was most likely a world record. But we were so far from the boat and my certified boga grip that we released the 3-lb ladyfish without documenting it.
We fished a while longer, and then went in on a half day charter. While Saturday was exciting, it proved no comparison with Sunday. At daybreak on Sunday, I headed west again on principle, hoping for typical August tailing action. We planed north and west, and saw nothing for miles, and then suddenly we were surrounded by schools and pods of redfish. Hundreds of reds fled the sound of the boat, so we went upwind, and shut down. Another boat approached from the east, and pushed the schools back our way. I urged Ron and Peggy to get out of the boat, and face the incoming fish. We really weren't ready for the action, but they managed to cast to several incoming groups, which were
moving so fast that it was hard to get the fly ahead of them. Big reds cruised by without a single hookup. I was confident that it was only a matter of time before the Gentrys would hook up, but as the fish settled down, they disappeared entirely. One minute there were hundreds of visible fish, and the next minute there was only mullet. It was eerie, but it was over.
So...we headed east again. I did not expect a repeat of Saturday, so I shut down after seeing a few fleeing reds. The action was so slow, however, that I pulled the plug within a few minutes and headed...well, I wasn't sure where to go at that point. I knew we had to go way south and check some low-percentage venues. I wasn't very confident, and the east wind was rising.
I owe what happened next to Ron, who looked further east and said, "The egrets are still out there." "Yeh, right," I thought. "No way that bunch of fish is throwing another party." But I said nothing, and headed southeast into increasingly shallow water. In fact, my prop wash was turning black, which meant that if I stopped, we would be in water that was too shallow to get back up in.
Suddenly, we were looking at the wakes of retreating redfish. The flat was entirely glassy even in the wind. The fish were heading east into increasingly shallow water. The article I'd written for Tide came to mind. "Now is the time to venture outside the margins," I thought. With some hesitation, I came off plane and shut down in about 8 inches of water. We were 200 years from 10 inch water. It would be a chore to walk the Curlew into deeper water. But we were there, and it was time to fish.
We all got out, and began wading toward the retreating wakes. In the distance, we soon spotted what I'd hoped to see -- big reds beginning to tail and come out of the water. All of them were clearly big fish. Ron moved further east, and was soon facing three incoming behemoths. He hooked the first one and it took off. He was immediately into his backing. Then the big fish was off because, unfortunately, it had broken his hook. I waded over and gave him a larger Clouser with a stronger hook, despairing inwardly that I'd given him a faulty fly. He didn't let it slow him down, and was soon hooked up with a 28-inch red. For the next three hours, we had constant action. Peggy and I were on our knees half the time, in order to get close enough for her cast. Ron caught four reds from 25-28 inches apiece, and casted to numerous others. It was as good as it ever gets, and it's the kind of fishing that still gets me excited.
8/28/08 Randy and I have been on the water a lot in the last three weeks. Low tides and low winds have made for some spectacular fly fishing, especially during the full moon of a week and a half ago. The weekend before was very good, as well, while this past weekend was a bit disappointing compared to the stellar fly fishing we'd enjoyed just a few days before.
So, what's happening? The redfish parade has been "on" during calm mornings. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, the redfish parade occurs when redfish begin moving out of holding areas into shallower flats at daybreak. It can be very dramatic, with hundreds of fish literally moving through you. Three weeks ago, I guided Montana guide and outfitter Greg Mentzer and his buddy Chris, both of whom I have guided in previous years. Our first two days out were breezy and cloudy, and the guys only caught a
few fish. However, on the third morning, it was dead calm. I ran north to the very spot where Kathy and I stood just two weeks earlier and caught 18 reds while trying not to; that is, we were targeting big trout, and only casted to fish that we believed could have been cruising trout. What a failure that was! Anyway, Greg and Chris spent a couple hours in the middle of the "parade," getting one shot after another. They were dizzy with incoming fish. I am sorry to say that all of the photos from their trip are on my computer at school, and I'm not able to show you any of the 14 reds they caught that morning, or on other days.
It's worth noting that just the afternoon before Greg and Chris got into some birding action. It's unusual to find birding in the midsummer, but there are two places where it sometimes happens. On a whim, I headed to one of the places on the way in, and there they were. They guys caught three reds and three trout during the last half hour of a long day. But I haven't seen any birds since. That action will resume in October.
During the next weekend (two weeks ago), on the first morning out with my old client Doug Gauntt and his buddy Dick, I woke up to the sound of the telephone at 6:30. It was Doug on the phone, who said simply, "We're waiting here on the dock." I was thrown off by that, because I'd thought he was coming in
to fish the next day. (I have always been "challenged" by schedules.) But I hopped out of bed and got the boat ready in time to pick them up about 45 minutes later. As I headed out toward the bay, I wondered if we hadn't missed the best action of the day. Apparently not. Heading north and west, we plowed right into a motherload of redfish that was milling around on the west side. The guys slipped overboard and started casting to tailing reds in all directions. About 20 reds later, we jumped in the boat and took refuge in a nearby fishing shack from a thunderstorm. As soon as the lightning stopped, we made a beeline for the west side, where we found almost dead calm conditions. The reds had come up into even shallower water, and they were feeding as singles and small pods as far as you could see. After starting late, and running from a storm, the guys still landed around 36 reds up to 31 inches in length by the time we headed in. (The photo of that big red is on my other computer, unfortunately.) I believe everyone stopped counting around midday, but I was able to keep up with a rough tally. Pretty amazing, huh?
I'll never forget the next day, even though I'd like to. After catching a few fish at daybreak, we had to run from a storm again. As we headed back to the west side to target the incoming redfish parade, I ran over a submerged object. A resounding thump made my heart sink, and moments later, the boat began to follow suit. The bilge pump started pumping, alerting me to the undeniable fact that the hull was compromised. I announced that we had to go in, and made a beeline for the mouth of the Arroyo, about five miles away. We crossed Paytons from north to south, and at first the leak didn't seem that significant. However, we moved into the deeper water of the ICW, and the transom began sinking lower into the water. As we turned into the mouth of the Arroyo, the bow began to pound up and down. The hull was filling with water, and the motor was straining to keep the skiff on plane. The guys crawled forward to hold the bow down, and we inched forward toward the boat launch. Finally, however, the bow came down and the boat came off plane with one final heave. Water washed over the transom, and I swung the boat toward the shoreline, using the motor to plow the boat onto the shoreline.
I got a ride to the boat ramp on another boat, while Doug and Dick stayed behind with the wounded Curlew. Kathy picked me up and took me back to Kingfisher where I gassed up Randy's Curlew, so I could get back to Doug and Dick. Before I could leave Randy's slip, the guys called me on my cell phone to tell me the good news that the bilge pump had managed to pump the water out of the inner hull. Apparently, by pushing the boat onto the shoreline, we had plugged the hole temporarily. So I called Kathy, who brought the trailer down to the Park launch. She dropped the trailer into water, and after I'd arrived in Randy's boat Doug and Dick pushed me off the bank in my Curlew. Before I could sink again, I accelerated onto plane and headed for the boat launch, only 200 yards further. I turned toward the trailer at 25 mph, and came off plane only for the last fifty feet. Fortunately, my aim was good, and the Curlew went right up on the trailer. Was I relieved?! You bet.
They guys brought Randy's Curlew up to the launch and picked me up. We headed out, laughing at the craziness of the day. We got back into the redfish, and the guys caught another 15 reds before we headed
in. Talk about landing on my feet (after bouncing on my butt) two days in a row.
Last Friday and Saturday, I guided my "old" client and friend John Boyd and his son J.R. from central Texas. We had a good forecast, and I fully expected to have great fishing, but we were between a full and new moon, and the current is often sluggish during minor tides. While we could find the fish running, when we'd stop, they wouldn't show. It was a challenging fishing, needless to say. The high point was going onto the white sand at midday on our second day. There we found glassy conditions, even though the wind was blowing at 15 mph. Fishing downwind at first, we saw only sheepshead tailing. But I turned at watched upwind a while, and I discovered that redfish were approaching from the south, or unwind. This made for a very challenging situation. Lots of shots, but few fish were caught. My only regret is that we didn't go there sooner.
On Sunday, I had the pleasure of guiding Greg Shaw from Austin for the second time. Our first trip together (three months ago) was so good that I couldn't help but thinking that any conceivable day would suffer by comparison. But in coming to know Greg, I realize now that the "goodness" of a day is only tangentially related to the size of his catch.
We started on the west side, positioning ourselves in the middle of a redfish parade. It was difficult fishing, however, because the water was slightly deeper than it has been, and the tailing was less visible as a
Greg's first catch was a trophy-sized sheepshead that weighed about 4 pounds. Nothing is tougher to catch, and to catch one from a boat is nearly impossible. We both thought the fish was a redfish where he casted a dark Mother's Day fly to it. It turned around and charged the fly aggressively, which in uncharacteristic of a sheepshead.
The action faded, so we went east onto the sand, where it was
eerily calm. I poled him into the glass, and we soon spotted single redfish feeding and tailing. Greg caught the first two he casted to. He would have caught more, but a storm approached and brought the fishing to a halt. We ran through a rain storm on the way in, and agreed that the morning had been a real gem.
My last day on the water was this past Monday. I guided my old clients and friends Jim Posgate and John Kautsch. We had some good fishing on the west side, catching a few reds and trout, before headed onto the sand. But as soon as we arrived, we looked south and knew that our fishing was about over. A storm was sweeping toward us. After wading for only a few minutes, we climbed back aboard the Curlew, donned our rain gear, and began a 10 mile run through another rain storm. Take a look at the stark images of this approaching storm.
8/7/08 Many of you have asked how Dolly affected the bay. Randy and I have both been out on the water in the last week. While there are signs of Dolly's passage, it's not as obvious as you might think. And
fishing is quickly returning to midsummer conditions -- low tides and clear water. The fresh water outflows are still discoloring the water near the ICW north and south of the Arroyo. Teh east side is clear, but tannic as you move west off the sand. But there's not much water pouring out anymore. The east side has a lot of piled up dead grass, which should disappear over the next few months. I fished the upper sand two evenings ago with Kathy and our dogs, and while the fish weren't there, the water was beautiful. Randy did well on the west side on Tuesday, and I'm guiding tomorrow with high expectations. We expect to do a lot of fishing on the far west and far east edges of the LLM as the water rises in September. But for now, it's Paytons' Bay and similar summer venues. We hope you won't stay away because of Dolly. Dolly who? Nature recovers quickly, and so can we. We are lining up a bunch of destination groups for the fall season, which is real exciting because we get a chance to work closely with a couple of other of our friends, like Rick Hartman, and pool our knowledge for an optimal result. Consider bringing your club members or fly shop customers down for fly fishing, or for a cast and blast combo (doves or ducks, depending on the season). -- Capt. Scott
7/3/08 Greetings from Arroyo City. Capt. Randy here. Summer arrived some time ago and with it predictable weather patterns and low tides that give those of us who choose to sight fish a real advantage in our efforts. Speaking of choosing to sight fish, I have had a healthy mix of clients who have been fly fishing for years and are seasoned angers, and those who have recently joined me on the shallow waters
of the LLM to make their first attempt at salt water fly fishing. .Jim Burkholder and Harry Sarles can be seen in this first photo. The were joined that day by their friend Gerry Whitson (not shown).They came down on a magical day that involved sight fishing to a number of redfish tails and wakes early in the morning in one of my favorite shallow west side venues. Our first stop of the morning was somewhat disappointing-the water was shallow and calm and there were a few reds waking. Jim caught one and we had another hookup that was short lived. Then it really turned off in this first venue. So we cut our losses and moved. Our second stop yielded a tailing redfish within a minute or two of shutting down. We poled briefly, then got out and waded using spoon flies and MDFs. We were not disappointed! We waded his west side backwater lagoon for two hours and all three gentlemen caught multiple reds. These veteran anglers proceeded to catch the heck out of the reds that afternoon on the east side sand in two different locations. When all was done, these anglers had caught a ridiculous number of fish that day. This spot we love so much is not about numbers, but it is fun to catch fish after fish until fatigue and glee set in. What a day we had!
In contrast to the veteran fly fishers I just described, Barney Drozd called me one day and explained that he and his son had sight fished the LLM and he was very new to saltwater fly fishing. I love introducing people to this sport. In the last 3 months I have had over 15 clients catch their first redfish on a fly rod. Barney was one of those. We had a magical day. Tailing reds in the morning (you can see the fruit of Barney’s labor in the photo) and moving out on the sand in the afternoon. We started the morning in the same location that the previously described group had success just a day earlier. The first few tails and wakes we saw in that west side venue, holing 12 inches of water, were a bit intimidating to Barney and it took him just a little while to “find his groove”. In very little time Barney was confident and bold and successful in landing fish on a TFO 8wt. and a Kingfisher Spoon. Barney was new to the sport, but a tenacious angler. He willed himself to catch his first redfish on
the fly rod and grew so much that day. I was proud to be a part of that event.
Jeff Presnal and his son Ryan fished with me just a few days later. We caught fish and had a great time together. You can see the fine fish Ryan caught out of a pod of redfish feeding frantically under laughing gulls. But what I really want to point out and honor today is their service to our country. Jeff spent his career serving our nation in the military. Ryan graduated from West Point only a few weeks ago and will soon be deployed. Thank you men. It was a pleasure to spend a day on the water with courageous gentlemen For those of you who are still attached to the fact that Ryan caught this fish under laughing gulls-yes, pods of redfish can still be found this time of year. You just have to know where to go or go out with a fly fishing guide who does!
The mid summer, lower water fishing patterns have begun in earnest. Capt. Scott and I have really been catching fish. More about this in our next report.
7/2/08 Capt. Scott here. The tides and winds have fallen during the last three weeks, and our fishing has entered the summer pattern. Our favorite, actually. But before the water fell, I had the privilege of guiding Jeff Presnal and his son
Ryan, who has just graduated from West Point. The Presnals fished with me in one of our favorite spring venues, where we'd been finding a feeding school of above-average size reds every morning. We planed into the area before dawn and waited for the fish to reveal themselves. They typically lay low until the sun rises, and then it's fireworks as they begin sweeping around, exploding on finger mullet and shrimp. Ryan hooked up on a 27 inch red almost right off the bat. We fished there for about three hours and then headed east where the sand turned on. Indeed, we had almost constant action on the sand to reds, trout and ladyfish. Ryan landed several reds, a couple of trout, and several ladyfish, and his dad did almost as well. I think Ryan would still be there if I hadn't "pulled the plug" around 4:30. It was an awesome day.
Instead of posting all of the photos pertaining to this report, I have prepared a series of photos that you can view by clicking this link.
A couple of days later, I guided my old client Doug Gauntt from Ft. Worth, and his brother Steve. Doug has been down here several times, usually with his wife Connie, but this time Steve joined Doug for three days of fly fishing. Steve is relatively new to fly fishing, but has advanced quickly due to his dedication to casting practice. If only all of our clients put in as much practice as Steve! Indeed, the two brothers landed about 20 reds every day for three days in a row. It was true that they had stellar weather the whole time, but they took advantage of everything that nature dealt them. To give you some
idea of how good the sand action was, the last two fish that they caught on their second day were both oversized. We released Steve's without measuring it, but Doug's measured 29 1/4 inches. It was a pleasure guiding the Gauntts, and Doug and Connie will be back down here in late July.
Then Kathy and I hosted our old friend Jeff Pill, the well-known producer of the best fly fishing videos available, including Coastal Fly Fishing (available here through our online store), and his latest work, Why Fly Fishing?, which was done for the American Museum of Fly Fishing, and has received rave reviews from numerous fly fishing publications. You have to get this video! It is exquisitely done, and very moving. You will want to give it to your friends. It's available from the Book Mailer. Anyway, Jeff left his cameras and crews at home, and spent four days with Kathy me-- fly fishing, eating fine food, and enjoying outings with our dogs on the Lower Laguna. We had some great fly fishing on the east side--casting to schools of 50-100 fish-- and the west side, too, where we found tailing redfish and trout at daybreak. Jeff was able to see the
LLM with fresh eyes, as an angler, rather than as a producer, and he was astounded by its beauty and its uniqueness as a fly fishery. I think he will be sending some of his friends down in the near future.
Just this past weekend, I guided Fred Closuit, along with his son (and two buddies) and friends Brian and Crawford. Rick Hartman and I switched off on the six-member party, so we each had a day on the water with the adults and the young men. The weather was not ideal by any means. It was windy at dawn, and the tide had come up, which is not a good thing in June. Even so, all of the guys hooked up, if not landed, reds, some of which were quite large. Indeed, Fred landed a 31-inch red on the second day after losing one that was about the same size. We were fishing a west-side venue that is usually too shallow this time of year.
6/7/08 Capt. Scott here. Before I commence with filling you in on some of my trips on the bay, I want to recognize Truett Cawlfield, Randy's son, for his prodigious fly fishing skills. For a teenager, Truett exhibits the skills of advanced fly fisher already. Fishing with
his dad and grandad yesterday, Truett landed two reds over 30 inches (see photo) along with a bunch of other fish. I spoke to Randy after they had returned to the dock, and he was one proud father. Way to go, Truett!
This past week, I had the pleasure of guiding Richard and Alex Thompson, and Richard's son Ryan. Rick Hartman and I guided Richard and Alex last year, and they were completely taken by the beauty of the LLM even though the weather proved difficult for them. This year, however, the Thompsons dropped into the best stint of perfect weather that we've had in months.
Rick had the lead-off day with the Thompsons, so Kathy and I opted to fish the sand for fun during the same day. We headed out around 11 am, and went straight east of the mouth of the Arroyo, and shut down after blowing up a huge school of reds. Knowing full well that the prospect of chasing them down in 15 mph wind––where you really can't see the fish move after they settle down––was unlikely, we still opted to wade in the direction of their hasty departure, which proved to be upwind.
I like to fish upwind, because it offers a real casting challenge. The visibility was better upwind, as well, so I began to hike south while Kathy waded slowly downwind. There wasn't much to be seen, except the unparalleled beauty of the sand, brilliantly lit by full sun. I hadn't gone far before I began to see fish heading toward me from upwind -- singles and doubles. I got down on my knees and missed one shot, and then hooked up on 26 inch fish that had been accompanied by four or five others. Kathy saw me fighting the fish, so she headed upwind to snap a photo of the release. We proceeded upwind together, and we both had shots. I spotted a big red with some ladyfish, so I casted to the group
of fish and stripped slowly -- a tactic designed to lure the red out of the pack, because ladyfish prefer a fast-stripped fly. Sure enough, the 27-inch red took the fly and headed west. He was so strong that I thought he'd spool me: It is amazing how hard the reds fight on the sand. Kathy snapped a photo of that fish, too, before she and headed further south. We landed in angling clover near the drum boats, catching another 7 reds and several ladyfish before we gave the dogs a needed romp and headed home.
Meanwhile, Rick had fished one of our mutually favorite westside lagoons and had a story to tell. Ryan, who had never caught a redfish, landed a 33-34 inch redfish on his second cast
in saltwater! Rick estimated the fish to weigh around 15-17 lbs. An awesome catch for any angler, but for a first-timer, it's a record for Kingfisher guests.
The next day, I took the Thompsons into the same lagoon, where waded slowly into a mullet-infested area, hoping that the reds would start feeding. For a while, the reds were quiet, but as the sun rose higher, they began tearing up the water, feeding explosively on shrimp and mullet. There were probably hundreds of reds over a few acres of 10-12 inch water. The three men waded into the melee, and before it was over, they'd landed over a dozen reds on Kingfisher Spoons and Mother's Day
Flies. There were some breakoffs on larger fish, and almost constant visible fish until nearly 11 am. It was memorable. Then we headed for the sand, where we picked up a few more reds and several ladyfish. We ended the day with over 20 reds.
Randy was guiding an old client, Jim Burkholder from Harlingen, and two friends. They fished at another of our favorite westside venues, and the area proved too shallow to support the pods that we'd been finding at daybreak. But Randy relocated and hit paydirt. His guys fished tailing reds for several hours, and then headed to the sand where they did quite will. By the end of the day, his guys had landed over 20 reds, too.
The Thompsons and I returned to same lagoon the next morning, and waded into the same general area. The reds did not, at first, materialize, but as we waded along a shoreline, the water suddenly exploded ahead of us. Clearly, a large school had begun feeding within 100 yards. We waded into the area, and got shot after shot for quite a while. We landed quite a few reds before heading northeast onto the sand, where Alex distinguished himself by landing several more reds.
It's a always a pleasure guiding the Thompsons. They appreciate the whole scene––the birds, the clear water, the comraderie, the fish, and the palpable presence of something greater than we are.
5/21/08 Capt. Scott here. Kathy and I just returned from the annual Expo of the Gulf Coast Conclave Conclave of the Federation of Fly Fishers in Lake Charles, Louisiana. We don’t get out to the shows as much as we used to, but Kathy was invited to speak at an outreach luncheon sponsored by the Texas Women Fly Fishers, and I was invited to join the fly tiers for two days of demonstration tying, and give a presentation of my own to the conference attendees. We were able to reconnect with many of our old friends, and will most likely attend next year’s conference in Lake Charles.
Randy and I have been on the water a great deal. Unfortunately, that leaves little time for story telling, much less getting the sleep we need. Nonetheless, there’s lots to tell. As the Good Doctor once said, “Wonders are willingly told, and willingly heard." That is, unless you’ve got your own fish story to tell, and you’re just waiting for the other guy to finish his. But
there’s no other guy here right now, and so I can indulge myself a degree of slow-paced selective reminescence.
The birding action was short-lived this spring. However, we have stumbled onto some regularly tailing pods of especially large redfish that have saved us and our clients from disappointment in the past three weeks. We should be entering the calmer season, but that's always a relative term. Fortunately, the sand action has been good to phenomenal this spring. Randy and I have consistently found abundant reds on the sand from midday to late afternoon northeast of the mouth of the Arroyo, on just about any sunny day. Using bonefish flies, Clousers and spoon flies, our clients have enjoyed classic sight casting in the area of the Mother Lagoon that most people who have never been here just cannot believe until they see it. Fifty miles long, and from a mile to two miles wide, a bottom that is so firm you’d hurt yourself if you fell on it, and fish that you can see from 75 yards away under a full sun. It’s Kathy’s and my favorite venue, and we can spend hours in a virtual trance stalking reds, trout, and ladyfish in this Bahamas-like setting.
Several moments during the last month will stay with me. For one, wading with young Tower Cook and his father Dave in one of our favorite remote west-side lagoons. Tower was fishing his second day with me, staying true to his fly rod when most of his buddies from north Texas had opted for spin gear. I was wading with Tower into an incredible melee of feeding redfish in bootie deep water. They were tailing and milling around, blowing up here and there
on shrimp. Tower and I stood in one spot for over an hour and a half just waiting for the next big red to saunter in our directions. The thing that made this whole familiar scene especially memorable was Tower’s commitment to fly fishing. Only 100 yards away we could hear the delighted cries of one of his friends and his father hooking and landing one redfish after another on spin gear. Tower stuck with it, though, and managed to have three takes from hungry reds that somehow eluded the sharp end of the fly. When he returned to the dock, he had nothing obvious to show for all of his effort. But he thanked me sincerely for a wonderful day.
I have a son who fly fishes, and will do nothing else. Last summer, he fished three long days with me and watched his father catch one fish after another. I offered to stop fishing, but that just made him mad. He didn't want me to stop succeeding, he just wanted to join me. Ryan went three days without landing a redfish in windy, difficulty conditions. And then, on the fourth day, he caught a single red, which made him happier than I’d seen him in a long time. There are all kinds of psychological tests that one can use to determine aspects of the personality. But I say to you, there is no better test of character than the one that Tower and my son passed with flying colors on the Lower Laguna. Tower’s father supported him in his “irrational” commitment to the challenge, knowing full well that he was witnessing a rare thing in today's world: a young man who was willing to postpone gratification in the pursuit of excellence.
(Some of my photos have been lost inexplicably, and so these initial shots are taken from previous trips.)
Two days later, I guided Greg Shaw from Austin. Greg had never fly fished the Lower Laguna until the day before we’d met. He’d had the privilege of fishing with Eric Glass, a local legend of a guide, and a great guy, too.
Our day began in the same lagoon where Tower Cook and his dad waded with me only
a few days earlier. Greg and I poled into the lagoon with a slight westerly wind making it a bit tough to keep the Curlew going forward. There were few fish to be seen, but I had hopes that the reds were congregated in the back of the lagoon, so I kept poling and chatting with Greg, who was thoroughly enjoying the morning. The wind gradually died, and we looked ahead into the bright mirror of calm water, and began spotting the first of hundreds of tails that greeted us as we moved further into the back lagoon. Before long, we were having to choose between half a dozen pods that were within 50 yards. Greg began casting and hooking up, and the day began to feel like a good dream. He got off the Curlew for a while, but found the wading difficult; the water was so calm that it was hard to get close to the feeding fish. After landing one red while wading, Greg returned to the boat and resumed sightcasting from the platform. After a while, we both began to hear the explosive sounds of feeding fish over 200 yards away. We squinted into the glare, and could see finger mullet erupting from porpoising reds, which were driving the baitfish into critically shallow water. I knew that we had to go there. So we staked the boat, and hiked toward the shoreline. It was hard to believe, but the reds were in sub-bootie depth water, cruising around with their backs out of the water and slamming into the schools of nervous mullet. It was tough fishing! The water was murky from all of the commotion, and it was nigh impossible to get the big reds to see the fly. Finally Greg literally dragged it over the back of an approaching 28+
inch red, and the fish lunged for the spoon fly. Alas, Greg lifted the rod like any mere mortal would, and the red surged forward and began circling at our feet, looking for the escapee. It was real fun.
Later, we headed for the sand under a cloudless sky, and stopped north of Green Island. It was shallow enough to fish near the edge of the grass, and that’s where we found the fish. Sting rays were quite plentiful, and every ray had fish behind it. Most of them were ladyfish, but a fair number were reds. Greg caught some more reds in perfect conditions before we had to head in.
I don’t think I’ve seen a happier angler at the end of the day. Not just because he caught fish, but because the day was literally perfect in all ways. There is an old custom, familiar but incomprehensible to most Gentiles, of breaking a wine glass at a Jewish wedding. I finally heard the explanation for that custom. Apparently, there is a concern that any “perfect moment” opens us up for the darker side of life, as if to say that there’s always something out
there that would love to spoil our happiness. Breaking the glass renders the moment intentionally imperfect and thus preserves the goodness from the inherent threat of being in a hostile world. Greg and I didn’t need to break a glass, but we did share stories about imperfect choices that, in retrospect, may have kept the day in a spendidly unsullied state.
Last weekend, my brother Chip joined Kathy and me for an early morning on the water. Kathy hadn't fished in months because her thesis had monopolized her free time. We headed for a westside venue, where Randy was fishing just a couple of hundred yards away with a client. It was already windy at daybreak, but podding reds had "saved" us for the last few weeks in this particular venue. We got out of the boat, told the dogs to stay put, and waded into a lagoon that's about two miles long and a mile wide.
Almost immediately, we began to see tailing pods sweeping toward us from the north. We started off with VIPs, but the reds were very spooky and ran from the
poppers. We switched to Mother's Day flies, and I lost one and had two pods disappear when the fly hit the water. Why were they so touchy? Because half of them were oversized reds, as we were soon to find out.
A plane flew over, and the noise sent two wakes in my direction. By then, I'd switched to a size 6 Clouser, thinking that small might be better. I put the fly ahead of one of the wakes, and hooked a red that I fought for nearly half an hour. It turned out to be about 30 inches long. We photographed it and released it just in time for Kathy to see a pod heading her way. She, too, had switched to a tiny Clouser, which was fortunate, because she had to backcast to the approaching fish in a crosswind. A very large red took the fly, but its size wasn't immediately evident. Alas, Kathy put a bit too much pressure on the fish, and suddenly it revealed its size in a blistering run that borke her tippet. I knew better than to try to make her feel better, but so I just listened. Fortunately, she landed a nice red a while later, taking the edge off of the earlier disappointment. I waded back toward the boat, and spotted two tails heading my way. A pair of big reds were tag teaming each other across the flat. I hastened to get ahead of them, and casted crosswind to the nearer fish. Again, it was a big one -- 28 3/4 inches, as it turned out. I led the fish back to the boat where Chip snapped this photo of our three dogs getting into the action.
4/20/08 Capt. Scott here. I have been a bit remiss in keeping you posted of our exploits. Randy had sent me his April 6 report long ago, but computer problems kept me from updating the fishing report until now. Instead of writing a lengthy report about my own past month of activity, I’ve included a few of the photos that I have taken of clients, along with a brief description of each. Randy and I will endeavor to stay abreast of the report through the spring and summer now that our computer issues have been resolved.
4/6/08 Greetings from Arroyo City. Capt. Randy here. Well, springtime birding has now turned on and the action is fast and furious. In the past eight days this springtime phenomenon has begun in earnest. What a treasure! This is what makes April and early May the busiest time of the year for Kingfisher Inn. As regular readers of this fishing
report already know, springtime in our neck of the woods (or bay) brings rising water temps, which triggers the migration of juvenile shrimp from west side lagoons into the main bay, which triggers feeding pods of redfish, which triggers aggressive, low flying (hovering) laughing gulls that swoop down to pick off fleeing shrimp and, in some cases, well casted flies. I began my official spring guiding season last week with a delightful couple named John and Donna Kimball. We spent two days moving south and north through two of my favorite west side locations in search of redfish pods. You can see some of the fruit of our labor-John casting under the gulls, then holding the fine fish he caught out of that pod.
The third picture is of the Wojciks, who I had the pleasure of guiding on Sunday. While they were not new to fly fishing, they had not had any experience with reds on the fly. We went in search of podding and birding early in the morning and were not disappointed. The Wojcik’s needed a little time to get their
casting technique back and before we knew it the pods went away as fast as they came. Licking our wounds from an opportunity we did not take advantage of, we went in search of reds on one of my favorite shorelines. Because it is one of my favorites, I cannot reveal its exact location, but I will say that it parallels the ICW and sets up perfectly for poling and fly fishing with our predominant southeast wind. We found a gold mine that day and spent the next six hours poling the same flat three separate times. We had shot after shot at reds from the boat. You see the fruit of our efforts-Ed’s first redfish on a fly. It was a stellar day.
Podding and birding has just begun and will be hot for the next six weeks. If you intend to fish with Capt. Scott or me this summer give us a call soon. We would love to get you on the calendar. We do still have a few days here and there on Scott’s and my April and May calendar so call soon if you want to get down here for some exciting “birding action”.
4/20/08 As promised, here are some of my photos from the past month -- Capt. Scott
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4/4/08 Capt. Scott here. For those of you who read my two-part article in the Jan-Feb and March-April issues of Tide magazine, you may recall that the concept of “extramarginal” waters varies according to the tidal rythmns. This time of year, “extreme” shallow fly fishing can be found on the easternmost sand, below the shelf that defines the edge of the upper sand, which is currently only wet, and barely submerged.
My recollections over the past two weeks will begin on the sand, and then cast back into some of the best fishing that I’ve ever seen in mid- to late March on the west side. This past Sunday, I took my old friends Scott Patton and Vince
Wiseman from Austin out before daybreak to hit the westside birding action, which was “on.” We each caught a couple of nice reds out of small to middle-size (6-20) pods that were working under single or small groups of laughing gulls. The action peetered out around 9:30, so we headed immediately onto the shallowest sand that we could access in the Curlew. We ran slowly into the shallowest reaches of the vast expanse that a friend calls the “great sand barrier” between Mansfield and the Saucer, and started seeing single large reds blowing up in the sand and heading for deeper water. There weren’t many, but I knew that the fish would be coming onto the sand, if they followed the usual pattern from March to late May. So I took a wide circle into almost non-navigable water, and looped back west toward 10 inches of water where I’d have a chance to get back up on plane later. We shut down and began to wade downwind, and back to the east. When I headed back to the boat four hours later, I could barely see the boat. The fishing had been that good.
The wind was already over 15 mph, and heading toward 20, so the sand a bit churned up, but still clear enough for sight casting. We don’t worry about wind as long as we have the sun and clear water, which we did, so we were happy.
I waded in the deepest water, Vince was to my right, and Scott was in the shallowest and clearest water -- about 8 inches deep. After about an hour of watching Scott cast and hookup, Vince and I figured we’d better move over. We’d been getting plenty of shots, but the murkiness of the water made it difficuilt to place the fly close enough for the fish to see. If we casted too close, the fish spooked. So we had plenty of missed opportunities. But as we waded around the backside of Scott, the water becam clearer, and about three inches shallower. It was hard to believe that the reds were preferring the almost-too-shallow conditions, but again as I’ve said in the article, feeding reds like water that’s almost too shallow to support them.
Before long, we were all casting to reds from 24-26 inches. Scott landed 14 reds, while Vince and I did well, but never came close to catching up. The action was so good that it is difficult to describe. Wading barefoot in 8 inches of water, spotting reds at 60-70 yards out cruising upwind and feeding aggressively. Casting tiny flies on your knees. I think we landed 21 reds before we went in around 2:00. Pretty good for a windy day in March, right?
Scott Patton’s secret (prodigious skill aside) was using a small size 8 bonefish pattern with beadchain eyes. He was able to cast the fly close to the fish without spooking them. The sand under such conditions is the most sensitive venue imaginable. It will make you a better angler, and a more humble human being.
I will be updating the report retrospectively throughout the day, so check back in to read about the last two weeks. It’s been a great early season!
3/10/08 Capt. Scott here. Capt. Randy is in north Texas speaking at a couple of fly fishing events, and I’m off to Virginia tomorrow for a few days to see my son and to teach a seminar. Meanwhile, we are both gearing up for a lot of guests who will soon be descending on south Texas from mid-March onward. We hope you can make it down this year.
Jim Posgate called me last Tuesday and asked me how the fishing was. He’d been in town for a couple of days and was wondering if I was free to guide him. A fresh cold front had just blown through, but it was already sunny. We agreed that the next day could be the sweet spot between two spring time fronts, so we made plans to go out at a gentlemanly hour of 8:30 the next morning. It was already warm enough to leave the waders behind, but we both layered for the 15 mile ride east and south toward my favorite spot this time of year. As long as the tides haven’t risen, the fishing tends to be better south of the Arroyo, for reasons stated previously (see reports below). The tides were critically low, and so I didn’t want to risk crossing some of the shallowest areas of the west bay. We took the long way around, and arrived in a foot of clear water without a boat in sight by 9:15. Wakes moved ahead of us––not many but enough to justify poling westward into even shallower water. The wind was only about 10 mph,
so there was plenty of glassy water in between rough strips. After a few minutes, we moved further west into water that would have stopped most boats. We shut down after moving a few pods. This time, after giving the fish a few minutes, we saw what we’d been hoping to see––the crash of a large of pod of feeding reds about 100 yards from the boat. The turtle grass was so thick that I couldn’t pole the Curlew over it, so I got behind the boat and pushed it toward the commotion. Jim stood on the bow and scoped the horizon until he spotted the tips of tails above the glass. I staked the boat, and urged him to go ahead of me. Within minutes, the lagoon started to come alive as I’d hoped it would. Single reds began to appear, snaking across the surface, with their backs and tails showing. Jim crouched low and casted to one again and again, finally lining it and spooking it and a close neighbor who reacted on the sound alone. Jim yelled something I won’t repeat and then settled back into the groove of an angler who knew what he’d done wrong and set about to remedy the situation.
Jim and I fish together when he doesn’t have a guest, so I grabbed my rod and moseyed out to the side, watching Jim fish. He locked onto another red that suddenly appeared snaking through the turtle grass, and carefully casted to him several times before the big fish turned toward him. The fish was no more than 20 feet from Jim when it
spotted the Mother’s Day Fly and took it explosively. After Jim landed and released the 26” red, we turned eastward, and saw groups of fish spreading out as far as we could see. Small pods swept around, while larger groups of 20-30 were tailing en masse. It was tough fishing, however, because the fish were moving so much that it was easy to line them. And if you lined any of them, you lined all of them. Indeed, it was deafening when a large group got fed up and left the area. It was, as you might imagine, pretty much fun.
We both landed several nice reds in the 24-26” range, and then headed east onto the sand in the afternoon. We got there as the sun was started to decline and throw quite a glare onto the water, so it wasn’t easy to see the fish. But we both had several good shots, catching none, before we called it a day and headed northwest toward the mouth of the Arroyo and a hot cup of coffee. It’s always a pleasure guiding Jim. He knows what matters.
You would think that I’d had enough for a while, but the sand action tantalized me. So on Saturday, as Kathy put the finishing touches on her thesis and I mailed off a paper that I’d been laboring over for months, I decided to take the dogs and try the sand in the mid-afternoon. It’s always warmer over land, so I made the mistake of not taking my windbreaker. I had my fleece on, but the cool wind can cut right through fleece, so when I got out there, I realized it was going to be a chilly wade. No waders, and a chilly 20 mph southeast wind. But the sky was cloudless.
I planed over miles of critically low water toward a particular spot where I thought they would be, and sure enough I started seeing reds just as I reached the area. I casted from the boat for a while (postponing the chilly wade) until the sheer numbers of fish in crytal clear calf-deep water prompted me to slip overboard. Within half an hour, I’d landed three nice reds, hooked two more and could have caught as many as I’d wanted. They were all over my flies, and would come from several feet away to inspect the fly on the drop. These fish were definitely in their springtime mode. It was fun, but I was more than satisfied, so I began wading back against the wind. Our dog Rosie saw me coming, and jumped in the water to come get me. It’s nice to feel wanted, and even nicer to have three dogs that will wait patiently for their romp while I fish.
. 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.