Sunday, October 16, 2016

2014 NewWater Stilt for Sale

2014 NewWater Stilt in excellent condition, with Navy blue hull, white deck, 60 hp Suzuki 4 stroke with under 300 hours (as of 10/15/16), mini-poling tower, grab rail, Moonlighter push pole holder, removable Lineminder casting basket with pelican hood. Available after 11/15/16. I’m selling this Stilt only because I’m rotating into a new one this January. Call me (Capt. Scott Sparrow) at 956-367-2337, or email at


Friday, October 14, 2016

Fall Flyfishing

I had the privilege of guiding Ted Thomas and Dennis Matt from Virginia for the third or fourth time. Last year, we had "storybook" flyfishing--some of the best I've ever experienced, even though we had north winds and cloudy conditions for much of the time. Once again, we faced north winds every morning during their three days on the way--pretty low breezes at dawn, but stiffer north winds from late morning onward. This makes for difficult sight casting, because as the sun gets lower in the southern sky during the fall-winter, it creates a glare against the water surface. During our normal prevailing southeast winds, the sun is behind you, so there is less glare on the surface of the water.

We went immediately to a place where we'd scored big time last year, and poled into the area only to find no fish, and a strong-enough wind to hide the subtle signs of feeding reds, even if they'd been there. After half an hour of fruitless poling, I got up and headed out of the back lagoon. As we passed a shoreline, suddenly there were v-wakes everywhere, so I abruptly shut down and began poling into the shoreline. As the water settled, it became clear that we'd found the motherland of reds. For the next two hours or so, we waded the shoreline and had one shot after another at reds feeding with their backs out of the water in calm conditions. It was quite dramatic to see two or three golden backs reflected in the early morning sunlight slowly making their way toward the wading anglers. It was not easy flyfishing, however, given the calmness of the wind, and the sensitivity of the fish. A hard landing, or a foot short of the mark resulted in a lost opportunity. But Dennis and Ted are old hands at this subtle action, and managed to catch several nice reds before the wind came up. Here's two photos of 'doubles' that occurred during that initial wade.

The rest of the three days were difficult because of the north wind, and clouds, but nonetheless quite productive. We returned to same shoreline on the second morning, leaving the dock much earlier than usual in order to make sure we were the first ones there. We shut down and tied knots with the help of flashlights as the rosy dawn brightened to the point of being able to see the reds feeding in four or five inches of water along the glasswort-lined shoreline.

On each day we hit the sand by midday and landed a few fish there, even though the sunlight was intermittent, and the tides higher than usual. 

On the third morning, we returned to the same west-side lagoon, hoping for another bountiful early-morning wade along the shoreline. Alas, the fish had were not there, so we headed further south poking in and out of intimate backwaters, hoping to find some cruising or tailing fish. We stopped at one place, because 100 terns were diving on bait, and we thought that perhaps a few feeding reds could be found in the area. We saw nothing but decided to pole through the area. Just as soon as I climbed up on the poling platform, I saw a wake approaching from the west--about 100 yards away. Dennis grabbed his rod, stripped some line into the casting basket and prepared to intercept the incoming red. He made a perfect cast of a Kingfisher spoon fly, and hooked a nice 26+" red, which he landed after a lengthy fight.

After prospecting further south, we returned to same lagoon where we'd been catching fish at daybreak, and tried another shoreline. Ted got out and waded ahead of Dennis and me, and found cruising reds in water so shallow that I had to leave the Stilt 50 yards offshore while we waded in closer to capitalize on Ted's discovery. The guys had several shots at singles and doubles that were cruising down the shoreline with backs out of the water. Interestingly, it was the same exact location where we'd caught 10 reds a year before when they'd fished with me.

It was a wonderful three days, even though the north wind made it difficult at times. Ted and Dennis adjusted well to the demands, and as always were deeply grateful to be able to flyfish such an extraordinary flyfishery.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Not Holding Back Back: Master Flyfishing Adventures

Master Flyfishing Instruction

Lucille Ball once said that she would rather regret the things that she’d done than the things she hadn’t done. The Master Flyfishing Instruction program is about not holding back. So at this juncture in my life, when I don't want to be guiding 100 days a year, but want to make a difference in a few mens' lives, I now offer Master Flyfishing Instruction. I've always enjoyed working with passionate flyfishers who want to push the envelope of their knowledge and skills, and to experience new surprises in saltwater flyfishing. This is available for one angler at a time. The cost for this service is $850. It encompasses a dawn-to-dusk adventure on the Laguna Madre, comparable to two half days, or 12+ hours on the water (normally $900). The MFI includes the following:

  • Fishing with me. I have always believed that the best way for you to learn advanced methods is for you to flyfish with me, in order for you to learn what’s possible in every conceivable venue.
  • Wading as the ultimate full-immersion experience, and the key to non-invasive fishing methods.
  • Learning advanced casting methods, including, in particular, the double-haul backcast, and the Heron Haul upwind cast. These casting methods will allow you to fish 360 degrees in moderate winds.
  • Overcoming assumptions that impede your success, such as “the fish aren’t eating,” or “they’re finicky.” I will coach you on challenging these self-limiting assumptions.
  • Sight casting on the sand just before dark, a radical departure from the usual guiding schedule.
  • The day includes an assortment of 12 flies tied by Capt. Scott, a copy of his book, Healing the Fisher King, and a wine and cheese ceremony at sundown.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Extreme flyfishing, part 2

I have been guiding, or fishing for fun every weekend for the past month, and a few weekdays in between, as well. So what are the headlines? We have been catching most of our reds from 6 pm to sundown. It's the most reliable action that I've found in years, and it's the least popular time of the day to fish.

I don't keep this a secret, because the only people who are going to capitalize on it are the hardcore flyfishers. The fish are in extremely shallow water, so you can't take your boat there. Anyone with a standard boat won't be able to get within a mile of the fish. Even on my Stilt, I often have to stake the boat 200 yards from the fish. And then, they aren't there in numbers. It's very reliable flyfishing, but it's more like hunting than fishing. Are the reds hard to see? If they go shallow enough, as they often do, they are easy to see. That is, if they are in 4-5 inches of water, they're easy to spot; but if they stay in 6-8 inches of water, which is deep (believe it or not), they are more difficult to see once the sun is too low to help you see beneath the surface.

Here's the second video I've done of this action. Henry Bone (from Austin) and I fished two evenings together three weeks ago, and got into major redfish action each evening. You may have seen the first video that I did of Henry and me last year, which I posted on Youtube, and provided a link in a previous blog post. The late-feeding redfish are wildly aggressive at this time of day, and will come from three feet away in low light to grab the fly. You have to be ready for the strike, because it's fierce.

More recently--this past weekend--I guided Doug and Steven Gaunt from Dallas. They are old clients, and rank among the most successful clients in sheer numbers of fish caught year after year. We landed 19 reds and 2 trout (one 26")on Sunday, and for the Gaunts this was about average. Monday was pretty poor, but we caught 19 reds on Tuesday. Most of our success was on the sand after midday, but we had a pretty good morning on the west side at daybreak on Tuesday, finding aggressively feeding reds in thick grass. It wasn't easy fishing at any point during the three days, but the Gaunts did pretty well for two reasons: They cast well, and they prefer to wade.

I came in after our Sunday outing and spoke to another guide. He was stunned that we'd done so well. I didn't tell him why I thought we'd done so well, but I am convinced that the key to doing well with intermediate to advanced fly fishers is getting off the boat just as soon as you see the fish are turning away 40 yards out. They do this when they are cruising with their heads up, rather than feeding with their heads down, and thus able to spot the boat from 50 yards out, or more. Many guides will continue to pole, even though in my opinion it's a cruel and fruitless approach when the fish are seeing boat so far away. But that's always been my opinion, after guiding for 15 years. I may be narrow minded, having grown up stalking trout and reds on foot, but I believe that unless the fish are actively feeding with their heads down, wading is always preferable to poling, as long as the bottom is firm enough to support the angler. Unfortunately, once clients see so many fish from the boat, and believe that they cannot see fish while wading, they will prefer to remain on the boat and cast again and again to retreating fish.

Recently, I got two newcomers to wade after poling them for a couple of hours, and getting dozens of shots (without hookups). Within minutes, one of them had landed his first red on a fly rod. He exclaimed, "The reds behave so differently when I'm wading!!" I smiled because a lot of clients believe that the reds are often "not biting," when really they're simply uninterested in large objects barreling down on them.

Doug and Steve once caught over 60 reds on a single day, and they caught them all wading. Keep that in mind the next time you're on the front of a skiff and seeing the tail end of redfish, and not catching many. You might want to step off the boat and experience what redfish act like when they're not offended.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Flyfishing the Delaware

I've been visiting family and friends in Pennsylvania, and have been revisiting some of my favorite flyfishing waters. The upper Delaware River system (including the tributary streams, the Beaverkill and Willewemoc) is one of the best fly fisheries, if not the best, in the East. My friend Paul Robilotti said the other day that it makes Western flyfishing look like a piece of cake. I can remember plenty of low-catch days on Western streams during my four trips out there, but I have to admit, the upper Delaware makes them look like put-and-take streams by comparison. No surprise that it's where Lee Wulff once said that the trout have Phds (specifically in regard to the fabled Cairn's Pool of the Beaverkill).

I fished the West and upper East branches of the Delaware every other day for two weeks, usually with Paul, who knows these waters better than I do, having lived in New York all his life. These waters are big and cold streams--converted to tailwaters years ago--with classic, abundant hatches and large fish. But wow, you can't imagine how difficult it can be until you've casted 12 different fly patterns to one rising fish for an hour without a single take. Of course presentation means a lot, but after making an entirely drift-free cast, you have to have the right fly in the right color in precisely the right size. And then the trout has already seen so many artificials, that it's attained an almost unbelievable level of discrimination. So I won't tell you about my daily take. Actually, the catching part was so unimportant compared to the rest that just being there was good enough.

Paul and I divided time between his half-mile of land on the East Branch--where we worked on pouring concrete for his pole barn--and flyfishing the West and Upper East branches. It had been so hot that the hatches were off and the fishing even more challenging than usual, even though the water temps vary from 48-the upper 50s on these upper branches. If you don't wear extra clothes, you'll be on the edge of hypothermia once the sun sets behind the mountains.

Here's two recollections that have nothing to do with catching fish, which I will remember far longer than the buttery browns that took our flies:

6/21/16 I met a man fly fishing on the West Branch of the Delaware yesterday. The flies weren't hatching so we sat and visited. He told about the recent loss of his wife after 52 years of marriage, his crushing grief, his subsequent drug addiction and full recovery into a new sense of meaning at 72. He felt like an old friend, but I'll probably never see him again. I cherish such moments.

6/29/16 It was my last day on the water yesterday, so it was hard to answer Paul's question, "Where do you want to fish?" We'd gotten into good action on the upper East Branch three days earlier, but had returned all prepped and ready only to find nothing going on. So, we opted for the West Branch above Hales Eddy. Although it was a weekday, there were a lot of flyfishers on the stream, probably because the rains had lowered the air temp, creating better conditions for the evening hatches. We made a good decision, and found rising trout along the far bank. But you had to wade half-way across the river, and it was too deep to get within easy casting. So the casts had to be 70-80 feet with a drag-free float. Not easy. But both of us landed nice browns before committing the cardinal sin of "leaving fish to find fish." We headed back upstream, and drank a beer while we contemplated our next step. Meanwhile, there was a little motorhome parked beside the road, with a generator running announcing the presence of its owner. I was surprised that Paul went up and knocked on the door, but then again, Paul is so outgoing and I am so introverted that I often want to go hide and watch from a secure location. An elderly man came to the door and came outside, carrying a toothbrush and wearing a faded scarf around his neck and a white dress shirt and sneakers. His near-toothless smile made me wonder how little time it must have taken to brush them, but then it occurred to me that he carried the toothbrush with him for some other reason, as security or somesuch. At first I was a little alarmed by him, but then he began talking about flyfishing, and about the morning blue-winged olive hatch. Suddenly he was speaking a universal language with such fluency that I was immediately impressed. Unassuming and eccentric, he was nonetheless a master angler, and a sweet soul beneath the odd exterior. At some point in the conversation, he mentioned spending many successive years on the stream, coming down as he did from Canada each year, and parking his RV in the Methodist camp ground. As we began to say goodbye, he mentioned another man who had spent many years on the river, driving from place to place in a Lincoln Town Car. He said, "I saw him every year, and then one day he was gone." 

When Paul and I got into the truck, He told me that he'd met the French Canadian years back and had run into him from time to time. He said that he also knew of the man in the Town Car, and that he was in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimers. I knew then why Paul hadn't told the Canadian where the other man had disappeared to.

Hours later, and miles downstream, Paul and I headed toward a bridge that would take us to the parking lot where we'd left the truck. I was shivering and clumsy from wading the deep, swift waters, and I looked forward to making a sandwich on the tailgate of Paul's truck before driving back to Binghamton, where Paul lived. A fog hung over the riffles, creating a dreamlike effect. But not a fish was rising.

A man sat on the side of the stream below the bridge. It was, of all people, the Canadian holding a fine bamboo rod and a worn Bogdan reel, bedecked in well-worn waders, vest, and long-brimmed cap. I didn't recognize him at first, but then he turned and smiled his near-toothless smile and reported what we already knew--that nothing much was happening. He and Paul talked a few more minutes before we climbed the rocky slope where I'd fallen and bruised my elbows on the way down, and made our way across the bridge where the sandwich meat awaited us. As we stood, eating and talking about the day, the voice of the Canadian rose out of the twilight fog. 

"Hey Binghamton! Will I see you on the river tomorrow? Will I see you soon?" Paul shouted back, "I will see you soon." But I knew that the three of us were thinking the same thing and treasuring the moment.

I'll be back on the Laguna Madre this coming weekend, and will let you know how the fishing is. -- scott

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Amazing Flyfishing After Two Tough Days

Sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm doing out there running around in a vast estuary with grown men who've spent a small fortune to chase animals with a brain the size of a split pea. When it's like last weekend--cloudy and windy and stormy--it can make me wish that I'd seen it coming, and that I could have warned them off in time.

After two days fishing with my old client Scott Minnich and his son Jeff, during which there were promising opportunities under difficult conditions, I thought it was all over--no fish for two days, and the guys were heading home. I pulled up to the dock after 10 hours on the water, tired and discouraged, and started unpacking the boat. I thought, perhaps wrongly, "they probably won't be back." I was sad about that, because Scott had come to be a friend after several years of flyfishing with me and other NewWater captains on the Lower Laguna Madre. But as I pulled the rods out of the holders and laid them on the dock, Scott said, "So I guess we can just leave some of this in the boat." I was puzzled by this statement, and then Scott asked, "Same time tomorrow morning?" I was shocked, and suddenly realized that they had intended to fish three days, not two. I scrambled inwardly, and said, "Oh, sorry, I got it wrong, but no problem, I'm available."

I was so relieved that I didn't have new clients coming in, or some immovable object that I could not work around. That night, we broke the spell of fishless days by going into Harlingen and having dinner together at La Playa, which is a hellova great restaurant.

Monday dawned breathless and cloudy, so I took the guys into a back lagoon where the water was just above our booties. We'd observed redfish sweeping into the lagoon during the previous two evenings, so I was pretty sure they'd be there in the morning, since the tide was still pretty high. Sure enough, after taking the Stilt as far as I could into the most remote part of the back lagoon, I saw reds spooking ahead of the skiff, so I shut down in glassy conditions. The wind was coming up, but not enough to break the surface tension of the water. After a couple of minutes, we spotted what we'd come for: sweeping groups of reds 200 yards further in, being escorted by one or two terns or laughing gulls, which would hover briefly over the reds whenever they'd drive bait into the air.

Jeff, who is a guide in Wyoming doesn't need much coaching or help, so I was happy to see him head toward the sweeping fish, leaving Scott and me to proceed at a lower pace toward the west shoreline. Fish were everywhere, and would show briefly pushing water before disappearing again. Except for an occasional sweeping pod, the fish were largely invisible.

Jeff hiked toward the back of the lagoon where the water is about 5 inches deep. There he stopped and began casting to redfish that were visible with their backs out of the water. Standing in one area, he proceeded to land his first three reds on a fly rod. Scott and I were so far from him that we didn't get any photos of this inaugural event, but Jeff didn't care. He was so absorbed in the hunt that neither he nor I wanted to take the time for photos.

After a while, the wind came up and "drowned out" the subtle signs of the feeding reds, so we headed south into another back lagoon where I hoped to find tailing pods in clear, shallow water. Sure enough, after poling into the area, we spotted several pods in the breezy conditions, and both anglers managed to get their flies into groups of 8-10 tailing fish. Alas, the action fell off pretty quickly when the sun broke through the clouds. Indeed, podding often breaks up by late morning if the sun is bright. It was like someone flipped a switch and suddenly the pods were nowhere to be seen.

At that point, it was about 11 am, and blue sky could be seen over the east side "sand," so I headed north and east, and ran for about 8 miles before we started seeing a few reds scattering ahead of the boat. We passed a 20-lb jack crevalle hunting on the sand--something we've been seeing this year, for some reason. We
shut down just when the north wind was starting to subside, and ate our sandwiches. I was starting to get excited, even though there was no rational reason to believe that great success was imminent. I looked east toward the "shelf," where the water goes from a foot deep to 4 inches, and said, "I feel the flat turning on. Not sure why."

Scott and Jeff spread out and began walking south with the waning north wind, and almost immediately Jeff started casting at reds, and hooked up a minute or two later. For the next three hours, the guys enjoyed constant redfish action. In fact, there was hardly a time when reds were not visible to the anglers. By my reckoning, they had five double hookups, and landed somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 more reds, even though neither of them counted their catch. Scott, who is a veteran Lower Laguna angler said over and over, "I've never seen anything close to this action!"

I had to agree that it rarely, if ever, gets any better than what Scott and Jeff experienced last Monday. I had a lot of respect for them after our three days on the water. They never complained about the difficulty we'd faced on the first two days, and were seasoned enough to take the goose eggs along with the 40+ fish with the same sense of gratitude. Somehow, their success on the third day makes perfect sense, as a consequence of right attitude and right action. Pictures (and a video) to follow.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Glorious Day on the Sand

I wish you’d been with me today. I waded the upper sand with my faithful companion Rosie, while Julie napped on the kayak while it was tethered to the Stilt. I waded downwind of the boat toward the edge of the sand proper, relishing the sight of luminescent water, lit with the midday sun. The water was a golden color, and gradually shifted to greenish blue as the depth went from a foot to about 17 inches, and the bottom became softer with some sprigs of widgeon grass breaking the otherwise sterile appearance. Nearby were small spoil islands covered with blooming prickly pear. At my feet, I knew plenty of crabs were hidden beneath the surface of the sand, and so did the redfish. I didn’t expect to see much-maybe a redfish or two, but it didn’t matter: The scene was out of a very good dream, and nothing would have improved upon it. We’d waded about 200 yards west of the Stilt, which was anchored in less than a foot of water, and started to spot redfish; first one, then a couple, and then a group of 7-8 fish swimming toward me. That was the beginning of an unbroken stream of feeding redfish, heading upwind alone or in groups, head down and tails breaking the water from time to time.

I had a tiny chartreuse Clouser tied onto my six weight. I broke off cleanly on the first strike by putting too much resistance on the breakaway fish, then spooked a couple before landing my first of six reds in about an hour. After spooking or missing  or catching several other reds with the clouser, I switched to a tiny crab pattern, which seemed to please them a bit more. I landed two more on the crab in the 24-25 inch range before heading back to the boat. It was the best action I’ve seen on the sand in a couple of years. They were plentiful, aggressive and above average in size.

I managed to take some video with my free hand, and here's a clip of landing one of the 24-25" reds.  You really should experience the sand on a cloudless day. Whether you find a few fish or a lot of them as I did today, you will return home with something you didn’t have before—a deeper sense of peace and gratitude for the sheer beauty of an uncluttered expanse of clear water.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Fishing with Ryan

After guiding several days in the recent past, I finally made it out with my son Ryan and dog Rosie for some flyfishing for fun. We fished south, and waded exclusively during one of the prettiest spring days you can imagine. Full sun and low wind, even though it was a chilly ride out at daybreak.

It's always a joy to see Ryan succeed with a fly rod. Indeed, he's very good at it. I've said to many clients, whose sons have committed themselves to flyfishing, "There's not much more you need to know in order to predict your son's future success." Over the years, I've found this to be true. Not many people will dedicate themselves to a methodology that is so difficult to learn. But for some of us, "it's the damned difficulty that makes the fun," (St. Cecil in Dodson's book, Faithful Travelers).

I've posted a video clip on Facebook showing Ryan landing a red on his seven-weight TFO combo. Rosie had been wading with me, but she was back on the boat for the glamour shot. See I tried to upload it here, but it was the wrong format. Maybe later.

The fish were thick down south--big trout and reds mixed together. But they were very tough, and the wading was difficult, too--an inconsistent bottom and thick turtle grass made line management and movement a chore. Still, we prefer to wade together, even though we would have gotten more shots from the boat. It's a matter of preference.

We'd planned to fish the sand, but the fishing was so good on the West side that we never headed east before going in around 2:30. It was a great day.

When we got back in, Randy Cawlfield arrived at Channelview with his new Stilt. He was all grins after struggling with a moody Etec for the last six months. It'
s hard to beat Yamaha, or Suzuki.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

New Video--Double Digit Redfish Days on the Lower Laguna Madre

I just got around to editing a video that's been waiting for my attention. It shows you what our typical flyfishing is like on low-wind and full-sun days. I hope it gets your juices flowing for the upcoming spring action. Also, I hope to see you at the San Antonio Boat and RV Show. Randy and I will give presentations on Friday and Saturday, but we won't be there on Sunday.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Spring will be here soon!

Hi all, It's hard to believe it's already January! Winter down here is so brief that we've got about six weeks more of relatively cool weather before the trees start putting out their buds. Julie and I are plowing part of out back yard on Sunday (if it's not too muddy from this moisture!) and putting in wildflower seeds in the next week.

Last year was a rather difficult flyfishing year in several ways. First of all, we had a very wet and unstable spring that continued through May. Indeed, 2015 was one of our wettest years in recent history. The birding action (i.e. casting to tailing reds under gulls) wasn't as dramatic or as consistent as it usually is in the spring, and the birding we did have often featured more catfish than redfish under the gulls. Needless to say, every year is a new game, and there's no reason to believe that 2016 will resemble 2015 at all. We just have to "show up" and make the best of the conditions at hand.

Randy and I both experimented with having fly fishers stay at our trailers on the water. Since I also have a bunkhouse, it's possible to have some privacy while saving money at the same time. I will be continuing this offering into 2016. I can handle one or two guys (women would not take well to this set-up). The great thing about staying at the trailer is that you're on the water and ready to jump in the boat at day break, you can fish for trout under the lights, and you can prepare your own food either with me or by yourselves. I charge a modest fee for this lodging option. Otherwise, we're continuing to have a great relationship with Atascosa Outlook B&B and Ray Box, who owns a house on the Arroyo not far from our RV Park.

Another option is for you to rent the "other guy's" trailer. That is, when you fish with me, you could rent Randy's place, and have it entirely to yourselves. Or vice versa. In this scenario, your wive might like the setting, cost, and simplicity of being on the water near your guide's lodging and boat.

Give us some notice if you'd like to pursue one of these options, so we can plan on having the trailers set up for guests.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Winter Forays

It seems that this year, the cold fronts have coincided with the weekends. I have three sets of clients who are waiting to come down, and every weekend for the past several weeks has been too cloudy or windy or cold or too close to Thanksgiving. But the last two weekends have been fair to middling, for at least one day. So I've taken advantage of the weather windows to go out with my brother and son. Two weeks ago, Chip and I went out for big trout, only to find the tides too high to sight cast for big trout, at least in the areas where they were holding up. So we went to a back lagoon where I'd found big reds a year ago feeding explosively along a shoreline. We planed it a bit too far, and ran over an oversized red before we shut down. I poled into the lagoon, which was about 8 acres, almost landlocked. At first we saw nothing, and then I spotted the back of redfish along the far shoreline, glimmering in the sunlight. We donned our waders, and Chip got out to stalk the redfish, while I poled 200 yards down the shoreline and slipped overboard. Chip got a single shot at an approaching red--probably the same fish I'd seen. Meanwhile, I saw three feeding, and caught the second one--a 24" red. The last one would have been a photo-op. I saw it tailing and rolling in about 9 inches of water, so he was always in view as I waded closer. Finally I made a long backcast and dropped the Kingfisher spoon to a spot about 2 feet from him. I thought it was a winner. I let it sink, and stripped once, and whoosh, he spooked. Apparently, he'd gone over to inspect the noise, and then spooked when the spoon abruptly moved. Oh well, there's always a fine line between a perfect presentation and an insult, and the fish is only judge in the beauty contest. So it was an insult, simple as that.

Yesterday, my son Ryan and I went out after birding for the first three hours of the day. It had been so cold during the night that the last thing we wanted to do was venture out on the boat. So we grabbed out cameras and headed by car to Atascosa Refuge where we hoped to spot various raptors, and maybe be a photo or two. We were pleased to see the usual suspects--Harris's, Northern Harrier (Marsh hawk), Kestrels, White-Shoulder Kites, and huge hawk that I could not identify. The high point was spotting an Aplomado Falcon that shot across the road and took up position in a plowed field. Ryan had never seen one, so he was really pleased. 

It was getting warm around 9:30, so we went back to Arroyo City and launched the Stilt. We checked the East side sand, but there wasn't much to be seen, except for a few Sheepshead. It was the first day of a warming trend, and it's rare to find the gamefish on the sand that early. As a rule, one should target the second day (and beyond) of a warming trend, and skip the first day. So we turned south and headed for north Cullen's Bay. The tides were still a bit high for sight casting to giant trout, but I hoped that the full sun had warmed the shallowest areas, where mats of dark turtle grass warm the surrounding water in the midday sun. We made two long wades after seeing several trout in the 4-8 lb range, and a bunch of redfish fleeing from the boat. Alas, we didn't see much at all during the wade. The wind was so low that the surface glare restricted our view of the bottom; and because the water was knee-deep, which is deep for sight casting, we couldn't see very well. So we picked up and headed further west, and into shallower water. There we found greater concentrations of both species, so we stopped and went for another wade toward the west shoreline. Ryan quickly got a shot at a large tailing red, and then I got an opportunity at a trout in the 26-28" range. I should have caught it, but the fly landed just a bit too close to the fish, and it turned. Two feet ahead of a big trout can be much too close in calm conditions. My second cast was perfect--about five feet ahead of the fish, and just a hair beyond its path, but the fish was already too pissed off to consider it. As I was heading back to the boat, I saw an oversized red tailing vigorously about 150 yards away, and I decided to go for it. Once I got within range, it called for an 80-foot, cross-wind back cast, but I made the cast twice. Alas, the fish never saw the fly, given the thick turtle grass that surrounded it. Finally, it disappeared and I returned to the boat. It was a perfect day with a few good opportunities. Ending up with no fish is very crude measure of success. We will probably always remember the day for its quality of opportunity and fellowship, not its quantity.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Photos Survive Drowned iPhone

I had the pleasure of guiding Ted Thomas and Dennis Matt from Virginia this past September, and I was taking tons of photos and video on my iPhone while they stalked and landed 10 reds along a remote shoreline--one of them 9.5 lbs. and another 8.5 lbs. I was very happy for them, but in the midst of landing fish and photographing fish, I dropped my brand-new iPhone 6 into the water. While it had a water resistant case, it wasn't enough to protect it from 30 minutes underwater. I wasn't able to find it until, miraculously, my foot felt it in the sand. I was fortunate that the iPhone repair place was able to rescue a very few of the photos and videos. My day with Ted and Dennis was a lesson of sorts.  Just the previous day, we had fished the same shoreline from the boat, and had caught no fish. And yet, we had shots at probably 20 different redfish along a 300-yard shoreline. Why the difference? When casting from the boat, we would have a brief glimpse of a redfish tailing or "backing" along the shoreline, and then we'd see nothing. Ted would have to cast on speculation, not knowing where the fish's head was. And in such shallow water, a miss is as good as a mile: the fish simply don't see the fly if it's more than a foot away. So time and time again, Ted would cast, and the fish would blow up and leave the area. The point is: The action was fast and furious, and the opportunities were addictive, but there wasn't a single hookup.  

Fast forward to the next morning when we poled the shoreline again. I'd decided beforehand that we would not stay on the boat if the fish started showing up. So when we saw the first "backing" redfish in five inches of water, I asked Ted to step off the boat and stalk him. I staked the skiff, and spent the next two hours wading the shoreline with the two anglers. The action was phenomenal. One angler would walk five feet from the shoreline, spot a fish coming up the shoreline, and then cast to the fish once it clearly showed itself. After the first angler would hook up, the second man would walk behind him and take up the wade along the shoreline. We leapfrogged like that until 10 reds had been landed. In every case, the fish were so subtle that the guys had to stand still and wait for them to show a fin or a back or a wiggle. But because they were wading, and largely invisible to the approaching fish, the anglers could hold off until the fish showed himself. 

This was an excellent example of why you have know when to abandon the boat, rather than to persist in casting to fish that will see you before you can get off a good shot.  Fishing from the boat becomes addictive, in that you cover a lot of water, and tend to see a lot more fish than when you're wading. But the quality of the opportunity is a better predictor of success than the quantity of opportunities. There are days when my clients and I never step off the boat because the conditions are right for that approach. A great angler is a flexible angler, ready to adjust to conditions whenever they change. Sometimes casting from the bow of the boat is the best way to fish, but sometimes it's only a "tease" that becomes a habit that ruins the day.

Here's a compilation of the surviving photos and video clips.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Flyfishing on the Farquhar atoll, in the Seychelles

This blog entry is kicking my butt. I couldn't get it to format correctly with photos interspersed, so I'm writing above the photos, adding to it from time to time, summarizing my recollections. -- GSS

For my own benefit, and for the benefit of my friends, I want to spend some time recollecting the week that I spent flyfishing in the Seychelles this past October. It was an amazing experience that I'll probably never have again this lifetime. And if only for the reason that I do not want the memories to fade away, I will take some time bringing them to life in words.

Flyfishing is a specific method, but the range of flyfishing venues is vast. A flyfisher can be an accomplished angler in one setting and a rank amateur in another. But then again, amateur is the conjoining of two words, "lover" and "truth," so a great angler doesn't necessarily mind being brought to his knees if the result is to learn something new about the world and about himself.

Bobby McConal and I had no idea really about the demands of Farquhar. I think we both expected it to be an easier fishery than it turned out to be. But it wasn't just another "pretty face" among tropical flyfishing settings that one easily forgets on the journey to the next frontier. It was, at once, a stunningly beautiful and harsh ecosystem defined by five-foot tides, treacherous coral heads, intimidating surf, high winds, big seas, and other intimidating features that framed a paradisical lagoon that is so far removed from the rest of the world that only 40 people live there year round, subsisting for the most part on the harvest of coconuts.

To get to the middle of nowhere, we flew from Houston to Dubai, waited 8 hours, then flew to Mahe (the "big island" in the Seychelles), and spent the night in a hotel with the rest of our 10-man group. We were nine time zones from home, and still not fishing! We were delayed the next day when the plane that usually flew to the atoll once a week was grounded. Fortunately, the Seychelles air force provided us with two planes that flew our group the final 2 1/2 hours to the meager landing strip on Farquhar. As we made our final approach in gusty, windy conditions, the little plane caught a cross wind at the last moment, and veered sideways before the pilot abruptly pulled it back up and then set it down safely. I thought, "To have come so far only to fish, and then to die on this tiny runway would be the ultimate irony." Shaking off the anxiety, I stepped out of the plane only to be greeted by our very white and very black South African and native guides who had lined up to shake our hands. Then we piled into a cart pulled by a tractor and were carried a mile across bumpy terrain through coconut groves to the lodge on the north shore of the atoll. (More to follow)

Second entry:
Bobby and I were so beat from the trip that we went to bed about 8 pm while the rest of the guys--most from south Africa, stayed up doing what guys do away from home--drinking and telling stories. The sounds of their laugher weren't enough to keep me up, however. I awoke at 5:30 and immediately listened for the wind. It was howling. 
We headed east from the lodge, across a choppy expanse, toward the leeward side of the atoll, and then south toward a flat that was downwind from the crashing surf. Bobby had forgotten his raincoat, and by the time we had reached the calmer water, he was drenched. It was a strange sight to see huge breakers only a couple of hundred yards away as we anchored the boat in four-feet water. The tide was dropping, and we couldn't anchor in shallower water; for if we did, we could face a beached boat only an hour or two later. We jumped into the water, and held our cameras above our heads as we tiptoed to shallower water.

Looking back, it may have been the best day we had in terms of opportunities. The low tide was midday, and moving quickly to the evening, and by the time the week was over, we were limited to incoming tides and deep-water venues, and shorelines. 

The main goal for fly fishers in the Seychelles is to catch giant trevally. We'd been told that the previous week's group had landed over 30 GTs, so the chances were good that we'd score a GT. But they were suddenly nowhere to be found. On the first day, I managed to hook one briefly from the bow of the boat, only to lose it. 

Nick was quick to point out my error--that is, to lift my rod. I was a bit annoyed, because I knew I'd hooked it before lifting the rod. But Nick clarified by saying that you should never lift your rod, but rather to crank down on the fish, and to keep the rod low. The fish have such hard mouths that we were supposed to keep the rod low and apply maximum pressure. Oh, well, I thought...I'll do it right next time. And next time never came. Why, you might ask (as I did)? Because, as it turned out, there was a "hatch" of small swimming crabs offshore, and the GTs has abandoned the atoll to feed on the crabs. Our buddies, who fished offshore with conventional tackle caught 145 GTs during the week. That's where they were. We'd traveled 10,000 miles to catch one, and they moved a few miles to deep water. Pretty ironic, huh? Nick had us stay close as we stalked a group of 40-60 lbbumpy-head parrot fish that spooked on the first cast. Then we waded a shallow "tabletop" flat where we spotted some parrot fish, and a couple of giant trevallys passing through beyond our casting range. 

We carried 12-wt and 9-wt rods, so that we could cover all the bases. Nick carried whatever we weren't using. Bobby and I were so used to a self-sufficient form of angling that we found it hard to have someone carry our spare rods for us. Indeed, all of the guides carried a sizeable backpack, filled with cameras, food, water and flies, while the clients carried only one rod and our flies.

Third entry--It was a wild place. Imagine a half-moon sliver of sand, coral, lava, and cocoanut trees, separating the crashing surf from a protected lagoon that varies in depth from one foot to 10 feet deep. Coral heads ring the island making the surf extremely treacherous for surfers and boats, and dot the lagoon like cauliflower, making navigation a dangerous proposition. 

One of most interesting fishing areas is where the surf has broken through the atoll, creating a half-mile passage that you can walk through. On two separate days, our guides Peta and Jason opted to lead us through the passage into the surf where we spent several hours at low tide casting to bonefish, triggers, spangled emperors, and bumpy head parrot fish. What was surprising to me was how shallow the schools of bonefish would go, and yet how difficult they were to see against the mottled bottom and amid the churning water.  

We didn't spot any giant trevally, but were able to land a few bones. Here's a bonefish and a Spangled Emperor that Bobby caught on the surf side.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Where Have All the Big Reds Gone--Part 2

I have been "there and back again," since my last blog entry. It's a long story, filled with some accounts that you don't want to hear and others that you do. I have been half way around the world to fish the fabled Seychelles only to return home with more gratitude than ever for what we have on the Lower Laguna Madre. Every fishery has its unique character, but the LLM is unique for what it offers sight casting flyfishers. In regards to guiding on the LLM, I have a very good story that I will tell in the next couple of days, but until then, here's an article that I recently penned, and which should appear soon in a national magazine. -- Scott

Where Have the Big Reds Gone? Fishing Shallower and Later on the Lower Laguna Madre
Capt. Scott Sparrow

            When I was a child, the five-mile trip down the Arroyo Colorado to the Lower Laguna Madre seemed to take forever as the old 25-hp Sea King struggled against the weight of my dad’s plywood boat. As we’d chug past the entrance to one of the back lagoons, which revealed itself as only a sliver of silver on the horizon, Dad would often say, with the assurance of one who believes in things unseen, “There are big reds back there.” At least that’s what he’d heard from friends who knew people who had somehow fished there at a time when the only boats that could go that shallow were tiny one-man “scooters” built in someone’s garage. When my dad was near the end of his life, I surprised him one day by turning my skiff into the narrow passage between the black mangroves, and taking him on his first tour of that storied place.
Thinking of Dad, I returned to that lagoon in my Stilt just this past week with my dog Rosie. It was an hour before sundown, and the glare on the water was nearly blinding. But the screams of gulls following sweeping and crashing groups of redfish could be heard in all directions. Rosie and I walked slowly into the melee, and I was torn between catching a redfish and leaving them alone, but the exposed back of an approaching red in seven inches of water pushed me over the edge. After landing the 28-inch red that somehow found my fly in the windblown, murky water, I walked back to the boat, thankful, and just watched them continue feeding.
            I was recently talking to a sight casting guide friend, who said, “The fishing is not what it used to be. There are so many boats out there, and the fish are hard to find.” I had to agree that the fishing on the LLM had certainly changed in response to increasing pressure. Not long ago, it was common to find herds of redfish in the morning, and to see oversized reds among countless smaller fish cruising and feeding in the clearest water of the east side “sand.” But the large schools are scarce, and sight casting on the sand is rarely as good as it used to be. However, in the face of my friend’s pessimism, I privately thought to myself that the fishing was still excellent, even better in some places, but that the locus of activity has shifted away from the popular areas. Indeed, from my experience after fishing the LLM since the 50s, and flyfishing the LLM since the late 70s, the largest redfish in the Lower Laguna Madre feed increasingly in very shallow and hard-to-access locales during active feeding periods, and then withdraw into deeper water, where sight casting is impossible, until favorable conditions recur. This may have always been true, but today we can actually observe this phenomenon with the help of modern shallow-water skiffs. One might reasonably ask, Why do the biggest fish feed in water that’s barely deep enough to host them? There are several reasons, not the least of which is that the fish can feed without dealing with crisscrossing boats. But the larger reds have other reasons to spend time in five to seven inches water. For one, as they mature, reds and trout alike tend to move away from a predominant diet of smaller prey such as shrimp and gravitate toward feeding on fin fish. In the shallowest backwaters, hoards of finger mullet will often gather, making these venues especially attractive to the larger reds. Since these places are so shallow, top-end predators can feed, essentially, in two dimensions, driving baitfish that have no place to go but up, and then down again, into waiting mouths.
            Everyone wants to know where to go, and I usually tell people if they ask. Any aerial map will tell you where the shallowest areas can be found, but such places often have submerged shallow bars that can destroy lower units and leave all but the shallowest skiffs high and dry. If I were to draw a map, “X” would not only mark the spots where the big fish can be found, but it would also signify a dangerous place to take most boats. Fortunately, if you can gain access to these areas on the Lower Laguna, your prop won’t do much damage to the grass. For, except for widgeon grass––which grows rapidly in these areas during the summer months in response to fresh water runoff––and glasswort that grows in the non-navigable areas, the waters in these back lagoons are usually devoid of sea grasses because the areas are periodically dry during extreme low tides.  The problem isn’t so much what your motor will do to the bottom, but the impact it will have on the fish. The big reds feeding in the back lagoons are exceeding sensitive to boat noise, and will often completely leave the area once disturbed. So if you want to target these “refuges,” then you need to pole in, or get off the boat and wade the last couple hundred yards.  Your effort will be amply rewarded by fish that overlook your presence. Of course, anyone without a shallow water skiff can, if dedicated, wade into these areas. But the fish aren’t always there, making it practically necessary to know more than just “where.” It’s even more important to know “when” and “why.”
            Before the proliferation of bay boats, the answer to “when” may have been simpler than it is today. Indeed, it’s probably true that tide mostly governed the coming and going of large redfish into the back lagoons before the modern era. In support of this idea, I have found that on weekdays or on relatively quiet weekends, the reds will populate these areas on the incoming tide, and tend to leave as the tide begins to go slack. It’s almost as simple as that. However, since the advancement of shallow water boat design, the extent of truly inaccessible places has shrunken to a narrow band of habitable water surrounding an increasingly pressured bay system. This means that as the tides fall, and the shallowest backwaters lose their luster, the fish tend to go to the other extreme—into deeper water where they can sit out the noise and disruption of boat traffic. Between the two extremes, anglers often scratch their heads and wonder if, by chance, something has gone terribly wrong.
            One of the most exciting things I’ve discovered pertaining to the question of “when” and “why” in the last few years, is that the redfish are feeding later in the day, once the boats have vacated the flats. This phenomenon is so robust that I’ve often taken to fishing after 6 pm, at least with friends and family, in the summer months in order to capitalize on the changing rhythms. I discovered this phenomenon, somewhat by accident a couple of years ago when I had to flee a thunderstorm with some clients early in the day. I felt so badly that the day had been abruptly ended that I offered to take them back out once the weather had cleared. I headed to one of the back lagoons after 5:00 pm, and poled into 100 acres of eight inches of water. At first we saw nothing, but then birds appeared over sweeping fish, and before the sun had set we had poled into hundreds of redfish sweeping around the inlet feeding noisily. We had double hookups, and it was an angler’s dream.
My assumptions about when to fish changed from that moment onward. As to “why,” I realized that the fish were simply adjusting to boat and angling pressure. After all, most guides and recreational anglers will hit the bay at daybreak and fish hard until early afternoon. By 3:00, the LLM is virtually devoid of boats, even on a Saturday, except for night fishing anglers who tend to anchor in the deeper troughs, and fish quietly with cut bait. Any fish with a brain in its head would soon gravitate toward the latter part of the day, given the obstacle course that we have erected.
            Since then, I have found redfish pouring onto the east side sand, as well as into the westside back lagoons, just before dark. This fish are not simply “left over” from the day, but exhibit an aggressiveness that bespeaks of pent-up hunger. While I do not know if this phenomenon is new, or simply new to me, it makes sense that the game fish have adapted to the disruption of boat traffic and angling pressure by holding off until the environment is less cluttered. It gives me a lot of hope to believe this; for otherwise, I might agree with some of my friends who simply lament that it’s not the way it used to be.
            While feeding redfish may be shifting to the evening hours, big reds can still reliably be found on the incoming tide, in particular, during the daytime hours on the shallowest frontier of the Lower Laguna Madre. This past fall, for instance, I was guiding two young brothers––Shawn and Scott––who had just taken up flyfishing. We went into a back lagoon at daybreak that, until a few years ago, had probably never seen a boat. I was poling along the edge of a vast, shallower area stretching out to the west of us that I believed was devoid of game fish. The wind was so low that we could hear whatever was happening around us. Suddenly, I heard a recognizable explosive sound somewhere out in the shallowest expanse. “Did you hear that?” Both guys nodded. “That’s the sound of a feeding red, and it’s out there in virtually no water.” Moments later, we heard the sound again, but this time it was off to the right of the first one. Clearly, there was more than one fish in the critically shallow area. Shawn grabbed his rod, and announced, “I’m going hunting.”  While he waded on a firm clay bottom toward a nearby “island” of glasswort from which the sound had originated, I turned the skiff west with Scott on the bow, hoping that I’d be able to get out of there later on without having to walk my boat back to deeper water. After poling for about 100 yards, we spotted the backs of two large redfish near an opening between two glasswort islands. Scott slipped into the cool water as quietly as possible, while I staked the boat and grabbed my camera. We hadn’t gone very far before Shawn’s cries behind us announced a hook-up. And then, a few minutes later, Scott followed with hooking and landing a 29-inch redfish. Needless to say, it was a memorable morning for two novice flyfishers.

            It may be tempting to believe that the glory days of redfish action on the Lower Laguna Madre have passed, because the fish don’t seem to be where they used to be. But a closer examination reveals that many of the larger reds in the estuary can be found feeding aggressively in the shallowest venues beyond the reach of most watercraft. Surely, it makes sense that game fish are spending more time in these shallow venues in response to boat traffic and angling pressure. It also makes sense that they are turning away from daytime feeding, and exploiting the unpressured conditions of the evening and night. While we may regret the changes in the historic patterns, we might take heart that the fish are finding ways to survive, if not thrive, in spite of us. And if we’re willing to acknowledge why they’re in these places, and limit the impact of our presence by poling or wading in and out of them whenever possible, it’s likely that the big reds will take refuge in these special places for decades to come.