Saturday, September 19, 2015

Where have all the big reds gone?

(Dictation software often leaves strange artifacts--there may be some left, so please forgive me, if so.)

The title of this blog is the same title as an article that I've recently written for Tide magazine. In it, I present the thesis that I've been developing for two years now--that the big reds are shifting toward nighttime feeding, and into the shallowest sanctuaries on the LLM.

I know that It's hard for people to believe, but the finest fishing is often to be found after 5:00 PM. It's then when all the other boats have gone that the fish often move into some of the areas where we often fish but often do not find them when we think we should. To illustrate the truth of this, I took my dog Rosie with me on an afternoon trip upon arriving at the Arroyo about 5:30. We didn't get on the water till about six and we were fishing at a time when the sun was low to the horizon. I got to the spot where I thought they be feeding, as they often have in the last two years when I've been visiting this place in the late evening. They didn't seem to be there yet, at least, so I got out with Rosie and we waded into the area, a very shallow expense of  5 to 6 inch water. There were a lot of mullet so it was hard to perceive the subtle signs of game fish feeding. But after a while, I can see that there were some redfish starting to come into the area, probably intending to feed during the night. My first cast was a top water to a very large fish that promptly jumped on the fly, and broke off in the heavy grass. I had to three more misplaced shots in the area before I thought it was probably all over, so I moved into even shallower water to get away from the grass so I could walk back to the boat without great effort. Then it happened. I looked out into the glare 200 yards to the north and an equal amount of yards to the west and saw several redfish with the backs of the water that were clearly oversized, meaning over 28 inches in length.  It was so shallow that I thought their eyes would probably be in and out of the water, making it very difficult to approach them. I still had not caught the first redfish, but I realize that even one of these fish would make the day. Rosie is a very good companion, and does not make much noise, but as we walked into the shallow area, I was concerned that the combination of the two of us would alert the big fish and fish them away. We had at least four oversize reds within 100 yards of us, clearly feeding. Every once in a while one could blow up, probably on a crab, and then proceed to saunter along clearly visible at a great distance. Finally, I saw two redfish, one significantly larger than the second. The smaller one was swimming toward me, and almost within casting range when I dropped to my knees and decided to wait for the larger fish. The smaller fish, probably a 27 inch redfish, came up to me, turned sideways and swam by me within 40 feet. The second fish turn directly toward me and I can see its back out of the water, with a head several inches wide approaching me. I stayed on my knees, and urged Rosie to be quiet and be still as I began to false cast. Finally, I dropped the fly just beyond his head, and cringed realizing that I had to strip the fly past him in order to cast again. I stripped slowly so as not to alert him, and the fly came up to within 6 inches of his head. Knowing that it was the moment of truth, I let the fly slow down and drop to the bottom even though I knew it would immediately foul on the grass and algae that covered the bottom. Nonetheless, the big red perceived it and turned sideways, and with its head down its back suddenly coming all away out of the water. He was on, and wow what a fight. I spent the next 20 minutes trying to

coax them in within range of grabbing the line, but he would have nothing of it. If he'd not been in such shallow water, he would've swam much further, but he had such a difficult time negotiating the 5-inch water that ultimately I was able to retrieve him without him becoming too tired.  I pulled him up to us, and I took some photos as best I could before I released him, a 30-inch or better redfish, weighing approximately 11 pounds by my estimation. It was one of the best catches I've had in several years, and it was one of the most exciting angling encounters I've had in my entire life. This kind of evening fishing is so phenomenal, and it's very hard to convince people of just how good it is. But if you want to get out there, and show up just before sundown, you may discover the most remarkable flyfishing you ever had in your entire life.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Great fishing for big reds

I guide an old client tomorrow--John Karges, a Nature Conservancy biologist who appreciates the Lower Laguna as much as anyone I've ever met. It's great to be with someone who looks at Nature through a deep and sophisticated lens. The feeling of the sacred is always closeby when I share my home waters with someone who is so awake.

I had a great fishing day with my son a few days ago. We found the big reds in the "hall of the giants," a back lagoon where the larger reds tend to feed. We got there at 9 am, later than usual. But they were there, feeding aggressively. After I landed an oversized red, I called Ryan over and suggested a particular line for him to follow--up against a grass bed. He immediately caught a smaller red, and then a few minutes later hooked his own oversized red. We're not into numbers, so he escorted his fish back to the boat for a photo, and we went home happier than we'd been together in a very long time. Fishing can deepen and renew father-son bonds. I give thanks that we share flyfishing. So many fathers and sons don't share a common language. Consider teaching you son while you still have time.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Extreme Flyfishing Video

Here's my latest flyfishing video, taken this past weekend when my old client and friend Henry Bone from Austin joined me on the water for two days of incredible action. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Late evening memories

I often go out onto the bay in the late evening, on the day before I guide. It's a private moment in an otherwise pretty public life. So Rosie and I headed out on Thursday before three days of guiding, just to enjoy our home waters. I went to one place only, and noticed birds working in very shallow water, so I pulled over and watched them. Wow, suddenly, redfish were ripping through the shallow
water, throwing water and bait in the air. I took my rod and walked a few yards from the boat, and stood upwind of the melee. I didn't really have any ambitions, but when some wakes started heading my way, I thought, Why not? The first red that came upwind took my fly like a hungry bass, with an audible suck. It was "only" 24 inches long, and after a pretty good fight, I released it and looked downwind. A larger wake approached, so I tried to put the Clouser ahead of it. It was windy, though, and the fly flopped 18" to the side of the moving wake. There was an explosion, and the fish literally came out of the water. I thought that I'd spooked it, but apparently, it had felt the fly on its lateral line, even in the wind-churned, murky water. Suddenly, I was hooked up to a living freight train. A few minutes later, I landed a redfish that was 28+ inches long. I went back to the boat, and enjoyed watching the redfish feeding. They are hammered so much by boats running back and forth over most of the bay. It's nice to see them relatively untroubled in a back lagoon where few anglers every think of going because only a very few boats will take you there, and back home again.

Extreme Flyfishing

Wow, what an amazing two days with my old client and friend, Henry Bone, from Austin. We went way north yesterday (80 mile round trip!), and then way beyond the usual limits of angling to the east this morning, and we enjoyed phenomenal fly fishing. Words fail me. We lost count of how many fish we landed. 

It's hard to believe how shallow the reds were feeding this morning. The nearest boat was over a mile away, and we had to walk 200 yards into shallower water than even the Stilt would go. That's shallow! I got lots of video, and I will be editing it into a finished video in the next day or two. Rosie starred as the second mate. She's bone tired after all of the wading, though. Let's have a hand for great dogs and faithful lovers.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Intense angling, and intense weather

I spent four days last week on the water, and was supposed to spend four more days this week. But my clients opted to reschedule to do a combination of weather and inexperience. I always prefer to reschedule novice flyfishers if it looks like the forecast is iffy. An experienced flyfisher can deal with strong wind, and has learned to see fish in challenging conditions; but to put a novice on the water in such weather is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. The money does not compensate for the sick feeling of watching someone struggle unnecessarily.

That being said, the bay has settled down somewhat, in spite of the unstable weather of this past week. I guided my old clients Bob Buchman and Rich Bemm for four days last week. While we didn't land many fish, we saw a ton of reds and large trout in a variety of locales. Bob and Rich had some pretty challenging wind conditions to deal with. Fortunately, or not, they have had stellar results in previous years. Indeed, one of my favorite YouTube videos was one that I did of their last trip. I just discovered, in fact, that I haven't posted it on the Kingfisher site. I will remedy that now, but here's the video in case you haven't seen it:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Very Challenging May

I am not one of those anglers who says, “It’s not the way it used to be.” I tend to see the changes on the bay as natural rhythms that a master angler needs to adjust to, rather than complaining that the bay has deteriorated just because the old tactics no longer work. With that in mind, let me say that this May was the most difficult May I’ve ever seen on the LLM. Not because the fish aren’t there, or because the estuary is degraded, but because the weather was so extreme that sight casting was exceedingly difficult. Indeed, except for the earliest part of the month, when we had low winds and full sun, May was characterized by cloudy, unstable weather, with winds in excess of 30 mph by afternoon on most days. 

To add insult to injury, “birding” was almost nonexistent, as far as I could tell. True, I tended to fish south of the mouth of the Arroyo, simply because water clarity was better down there, but I was able to compare notes with guides fishing north, and there was a general consensus that birding never “arrived.” 

This is not to say there weren’t memorable windows of opportunity. My days with Ted Ruffler from Florida were superb examples of what can happen when low winds, cloudless skies, and expert casting come together. We had two consecutive afternoons of finding fish in the shallowest water on the east side, where single large reds could be seen 100 yards away. Since Ted had an 80+ foot cast, he could get the fly out in front of the fish, even after they’d turned from the sight of the Stilt. It was amazing action.

When a new client, Amir, came down from Maryland a couple of days later, he faced a completely changed situation. I had seen the forecast in time to warn him not to come, but his travel plans were locked in, so he had no choice. Anyway, he was a seasoned saltwater angler who knew that weather was king, but an experienced angler could still prevail under poor conditions. I was not optimistic when we left the dock on our first morning out. The US flag in the RV park was at attention in 25 mph wind, and the condition worsened through the day. I headed for the only place on the bay where I thought we might conceivably see tailing reds, and after a 30 minute ride, we came off plane, pleased to see that the water was still clear. In less than a minute, Amir had stepped onto the bow and hooked up on his first redfish. I breathed a sigh of relief, but knew that we couldn’t count on miracles. Amir got off the boat and began stalking tailing pods that were barely discernible on the windswept surface, and managed to catch two more reds before the podding evaporated. I thought to myself, secretly, “We could probably go home now, and count our blessings.” But, of course, we spent the next seven hours visiting a variety of locales, struggling to see fish beneath the low tumbling clouds in murky water.

On our second day out, I went right back to our starting point, hoping for a repeat of day one. The fish were there, but not as many as the day before. Amir caught only two before we headed north and east, finding nothing for hours. Finally, I realized that his only hope was to do something we rarely do with our clients—have them blind cast. Since Amir was an excellent caster, and could drive the fly 70-80 feet under windy conditions, I suggested that he wade through an area where we’d seen a lot of reds, but could not cast quickly enough to them in the low-light conditions. Amir gladly got off the boat, and waded for about an hour downwind, casting a Kingfisher spoon as he went. Sitting on the boat, and bringing it slowly down behind Amir, I felt pretty useless, knowing that it was all up to chance—not my eyesight, or poling skill—but the sheer luck that most fly fishers loathe to depend on. I was relieved when I saw Amir suddenly hook up on what was clearly a sizable fish. It ran without turning, and finally threw the fly. I was disappointed, of course, but Amir waded back to the boat with a smile on his face. It had made his day.

Most people show you their true colors when they face difficult days on the water. As for Amir, he showed Julie and me the “stuff he was made of” when he had dinner with us on the first night. I was concerned that he’d seen the bay at its worst, and I wanted to show him how good it could be. I took out my laptop, and opened up a video clip I’d taken of Ted just a couple of days earlier. The scene was a golden dawn, with redfish tails waving against a dead calm surface. Ted casted again and again into the tails until the feeding reds spotted his spoon fly and fought over it. I thought Amir would express some envy at Ted’s good fortune, but he only smiled and said, “But that would be too easy.” I laughed and put the laptop away, knowing that there was nothing more he needed to know.

Guiding so much that there's been no time to do fishing reports

Hi friends, I apologize for not updating this report! I have been on the water 15 days during May, and unable to do much else than fish and counsel (my other job when I'm not teaching, too) but I will getting around to the fishing report later today. For now, suffice to say that May has been pretty tough due to the unstable weather north of us. It's been more like March than a typical May. But there have been some good days amidst the unstable conditions, and June is looking much better (lower winds and more stable weather). Look for a lengthy summary of May later today!


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Stellar Flyfishing Giving Way to Winds and Clouds

This is not a lengthy post, given that I simply don't have time to write down my reflections of the past five days on the water. But suffice to say, it was the best of times and the most challenging of times. It's almost never a bad experience to be on the Laguna Madre unless your motor quits, but it can be challenging.

My client, Ted Ruffler, from Florida arrived last Thursday night for three days on the water. We had perfect conditions for the first day, near-perfect for the second, and downright abysmal on the third.  He caught 14, 13, and 1 reds during the three days, revealing the simple formula for success on the Lower Laguna, which is "Choose a day with mild winds and full sun." But who can do that with regularity when you have to plan your fishing trip at least a month in advance? It boils down to making the most of the hand that Nature deals us.

Here's some photos from Ted's three days. I don't have time for a blow-by-blow account, but I think you can see from the photos that we had a very good time.

After Ted left, I had the pleasure of co-guiding with Randy a group of four anglers from Austin. It was tough fishing, with high winds from dawn to dusk, and mostly clouds. It was the kind of days that locals stay home. But our clients were game, so we showed up and did our best. A couple of photos attest to the minimal, but significant catches of the two days. Again, if you can choose your travel, and reschedule as needed, Randy and I are always happy to accommodate you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Catching Fish when Everyone's Home

The other day, Julie, Rosie (our dog) and I headed out late in the afternoon. The wind was at 22+ mph, and straight out of the south, which is not ordinarily a "good" wind, because it blows straight down the Lower Laguna, without anything to break it. Normally, the wind is from the southeast, which makes all of the difference in the world on a windy day, when just a few degrees to the east means that the wind blows across Padre Island, leaving the easternmost areas of the LLM clear, even in 20+ mph afternoon wind.

We'd brought the kayak strapped to the foredeck of the Stilt, but we left it on the deck, because it was simply too windy and shallow for Julie to take off to the north. I might have been unable to get the boat up on plane without her weight in the front of the boat, so she contented herself with the single bottle of bear that she'd brought along.

The sun was low--it was about 4:30--but there were no clouds, so I could tell that there was no clear water on the east side. The way you can tell is to scan the horizon with your polaroids on. If you can see a dark line just where the water meets the sky, then you know that there's clear water ahead. This time, there was no dark line, so I leaned over and shouted to Julie, "There won't be clear water unless it's in the last couple of hundred yards."

Two boats drift-fished nearby, but I passed them both heading for shallower water. Watching my prop wash for that alarming gray-black color that meant I'd gone too far shallow, I finally shut down in about 9 inches of water. I could barely see the bottom, but I knew that clearer water awaited me to the east, and that the reds would probably be visible, even in these conditions, because they would be in 6-7 inches of water, just west of the "shelf" where the water goes from 6 inches to 2.

Rosie took up her customary position just behind me, and licked my calf from time to time as I waded further east, leaving Julie sitting on the Stilt in the late afternoon, golden light.

No one I know flyfishes under these conditions. By 3 or 4:00, the guides are in, and what's more, everyone laments the strength and the direction of the wind on a day like this one. But the fish were there in a classic setting, and visible from 60 yards away, heading unwind singly, swimming quickly and darting from one side to the other. Doing what, you might say? Feeding on mullet or anything else they could flush by swimming fast through almost terminally shallow water.

I only stayed about 30 minutes, since Julie was with me. But in that time, I had three shots at incoming redfish. They appeared clearly visible over 50 yards away, as pinkish-dark forms against a uniformly brown bottom, but they also showed themselves as wave forms that interfered with the down-wind waves. I blew the casts at the first two fish,which is easy to do under these conditions. Not only is the water so shallow that the reds are on high alert from anything out of the ordinary, but they are constantly moving, making yesterday's good cast fall on the wrong side of today. The third red--the big one--rushed the Clouser, and and mouthed it; but the tiny hooked failed to connect when I stripped hard. It was then that I turned around and began my hike back to the Stilt, which was a tiny dark sillouette against the bright western sky.

If you can put this kind of flyfishing into your repertoire, you will have covered the "third base" of the angling day on the Lower Laguna, and you can slide into home knowing that you've done something that most people never dream of.
What a strange early season! First a wet and cold winter, and now thunderstorms just about every day. There have been good days, of course, but the weather has been unusual and unstable. Just take a look at today's forecast. Here's an image from Weatherunderground, that shows the next week's forecast.

Due to these conditions, almost everyone has shifted their fishing trips to May and beyond. Indeed, I'm so booked in May that I'm turning away requests. Randy has openings, if you're interested in that time frame.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Finding Fish on a Windy Day

I went out with my guide friend John Pilmer this past Sunday. I may have stayed in port if I'd been able to access the forecast, which called for 20-30 mph winds; but all I had to go by was the flag that flies at Channelview RV Park, which was barely erect at daylight.  Wind doesn't bother me much anyway, and the gentle breeze suggested a pretty fine day on the sand, at least. John joined me on the dock at 6:30, and we took off heading for some westside venues, in search of gulls working over podding reds. Alas the birding was not "on," so we ended up on the sand two hours before the sun would give us sufficient visibility for sight casting.

Even though we arrived on the sand too early for sight casting, it was clear that the fish were there from the blow-ups that we saw as the boat drifted north with the 15 mph wind in 8 inches of water. We poled along the edge of prohibitively shallow water in order to see whatever was there. Slowly, the sun rose in the cloudless sky, giving us progressively better viewing until the fish began showing up 30 feet, then 50 feet ahead of us. Unfortunately, just as the conditions reached "acceptable viewing," the fish seemed to disappear, and we found ourselves encountering fewer and fewer reds on  the sand. John pulled a great cast out of his hat, and hooked up on the first red of the day. After landing it, we drifted for another 20 minutes before I blew my first decent shot of the day.

We ran up to the East Cut and had some good shots near the channel before heading back south onto the sand, where the reds were gathering in greater numbers. We had several shots, and John landed a second red while I hooked up and lost one. The fishing was getting better and better, but we decided to go in, given that Julie was at the trailer, and John's new dog Danny was probably missing him. It was a great early season outing, and we could have caught many more fish. But neither of us need to catch many before we're happy.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Big Reds in February

I had the privilege of guiding Dennis Kreutz from Denver a few days ago, and thought I'd already posted something about our trip. We'd already cancelled two planned days of flyfishing about a month ago due to weather. Cancelling due to weather is typical in February: too many cold fronts, and not enough sunny days to justify getting out on the bay, where the water temps are still so low that the air is 10 degrees colder than over land, and the fish are still in slow motion.

The tides had risen considerably since January, which did not please me. I love the super low tides of January and February, and can depend on seeing fish on a sunny day under such low-water conditions. But alas, there was 6 inches of fresh water in the way, foreshadowing the influx of seawater characteristic of early March. So I adjusted my plans and targeted some back lagoons where the water was only a foot or less deep.

We poled into a back lagoon that I hadn't visited in half a year, so I felt totally ignorant of what we'd find. It was too shallow for any other skiffs to be poling in the 7 inches of water, so I felt pretty confident that the water was "virgin" and likely to host some feeding fish that were beyond the usual margins of anglers. Sure enough, as we poled into the 10 acre lagoon, we started hearing blow-ups along the shorelines, and could spot an occasional back popping above the surface, or snaking through the shallows. The wind was about 12 mph, but I was able to pole the Stilt a full 360 degrees, so I headed down one shoreline and planned to pole back out along the far shoreline.

The action was intense. Each fish was big, and except for one 7-8 lb trout that Dennis casted to, all of the fish were 26-28 inch reds that were feeding alone and spaced out along the shoreline. Dennis was an excellent fly caster, but the fish were in such shallow water that Dennis faced the catch-22 that anyone would have faced: If he casted the fly close enough for the fish to see, it usually spooked, and anything more than a foot from the fish would go unnoticed. Still, Dennis masterfully placed the Kingfisher spoon within inches of several fish, and the fish seemed uninterested. I think we had one fish follow the fly, but otherwise, they seemed somnambulistic. Why? A cold front was fast approaching, and the fish are often very skittish or unresponsive just before the frontal boundary passes through.

We headed north by late morning, and found an abundance of large redfish feeding in pairs and threesomes along a shoreline. By the time we'd reached the area, however, clouds had come up, and were making it difficult to see the fish soon enough to make a decent presentation. Still, the sun would peek out every once in a while, or the clouds would become thinner for a while, enabling Dennis to spot reds 20 feet from the boat, and try to make a clutch cast. He did remarkably well--a testimony to his experience--and placed the fly perfectly in front of a dozen fish. But again, they were touchy and so Dennis landed only one redfish in that venue.

My latest article in Tide magazine was "Don't Blame the Fish." While I embrace the philosoply that all fish are catchable, and it's up to you to close the deal, I have to confess that some fish are far less catchable than others, as Dennis and I discovered on a warm February morning ahead of a cold front.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Caught some reds in super skinny conditions yesterday

My brother Chip and I went down to the Arroyo on Friday night, and stopped on the way in to have dinner at Chili Willis. When we walked in, the karaoke was in full swing, and there wasn't a single open table in the place. So we went on to Channelview RV Park where we have our trailers, and sipped a beer and snacked while we waited for Chili Willis to clear of some of its clientele. When we returned an hour later, there was a single card table by the door--not my favorite place in the joint. But we saw our friends Richard and Susie Weldon sitting under the row of deer heads, and they invited us to join them with Don Shumacher and his wife. We visited with them as best we could while one singer after the other belted out their favorite country songs. It was a vintage Arroyo City scene, and lots of fun.

We got up at daybreak, not concerned so much about arriving at our fishing destination much earlier than 7:30, given the time of year. During the summer, the fish will often tail early, then vacate the warming water by mid-morning; but in the winter, rising water temps only improve your chances.

So we pulled into south Cullens Bay as the sun was starting to warm the water. The forecast had called for cloudy conditions, but the weatherman was wrong, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Planing into the westside venue, we immediately started moving big single fish, most of which were trophy trout. We stopped briefly, but realized they were in a bit deeper water than we needed, and that the bottom literally sucked for wading. So we got up again and headed further west where we started seeing a mixture of big trout and small pods of reds fleeing ahead of us.

We shut down, donned our waders even though they proved to be wholly unnecessary on the sunny 75 degree day, and proceeded to wade west and north of the Stilt. Chip missed an opportunity at a giant trout. His fly wrapped around his rod as she was approaching him head to head. I, too, missed a chance at an approaching trout because my line was tangled. I have always said that trout always know when your pants are down! Meanwhile I started to see tailing reds in the glassy conditions to the west. So I hiked in that direction, and soon spotted a couple of pods cruising and tailing intermittently. Interestingly, this is about the only place where I see this particular action, where reds (and big trout) will snake around on warm winter days in very shallow conditions. They tend to appear as they swim over areas that are full of turtle grass, and then disappear again as they enter grass-free areas, which provide slightly deeper water.

I managed to hook up and land my first red from a pod of four cruising reds. The water was so shallow that the fish could not fight very adequately, so I landed it and released it much more quickly than if I'd hooked it on the sand, just three miles to the east. Indeed, a 24-25 inch red can feel like a bonefish on the sand, taking the angler into his backing almost instantly. But where I stood yesterday morning was so shallow that the reds struggled to stay submerged, much less put on a blistering fight.

I saw a couple of big trout. One was "asleep" and unresponsive to 40 casts. Another was cruising, but clearly uninterested in my presentation, if not also my fly. Overall, the fish seemed a bit lethargic--I saw two reds "sleeping," too--so I knew that the tide was not quite right for full-on feeding behavior. Later, we figured out that the outgoing tide had paused, so there no current to stimulate their feeding behavior. That's no excuse--reds and trout will still take a fly during slack tide--but it does make for more challenging angling. I managed to catch another 25-inch red,and miss two other strikes before I went back to the boat. But I have to confess that I casted to a dozen groups of 2-4 fish, and generally  blew the cast. Either they didn't see the fly because of the shallow, grassy conditions; or the cast was far too aggressive. Regardless, I really enjoyed the highly technical fly fishing on my home waters, where a couple of good reds can warm the heart on a late winter day.

Sorry, no photos. Chip and I were too far away from each other to photograph our catch.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Come See Me at the San Antonio Boat Show

I will be heading up to San Antonio tomorrow am with Randy Cawlfield and my son Ryan, to attend the San Antonio Boat Show at the Alamodome. We will be helping Tim and Leslie Clancey with the Proline--NewWater Boatworks display (next to the escalator at the entrance). Randy and I will be speaking twice on "Flyfishing the Lower Laguna Madre" at 6 pm Friday and 1 pm Saturday. We will be leaving Saturday night, so if you want to see us, please drop by Friday afternoon through Saturday evening. I hope to see you there!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Getting Ready for the Spring and a New Video

Julie and I took advantage of a warm sunny day yesterday by going to the Arroyo and getting the boat and trailer ready for the upcoming fishing season. It's been so cold and wet that I haven't been on the water in weeks, nor has anyone else I know. But I could feel the juices flowing as I cleaned up the boat and checked out the motor while Julie got the trailer all fixed up. I may be guiding this week, but another cold front is predicted, so it's likely we'll have to postpone the trip.
Meanwhile, while sitting by the fire last week, I finally edited some video clips that I took while guiding Nature Conservancy biologist John Karges this past fall. I hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Big trout opportunities coming up

I'm hoping to hit the weather and tides right in the next few days and do my favorite angling thing to do, which is to target giant trout in the low clear waters off of Stover's Point and in South Cullens Bay. The tide needs to be exceedingly low, and the sun direct. It doesn't have to be a hot day (except for my tastes), but it needs to be a warming day. Often this time of year, 5-10 pound trout abound off the Stover's shoreline. They are very tough to catch, but it's not because they aren't willing: the presentation is all that matters. And, yes, the fly matters, too, but not as much as people think. Everyone has their favorite big trout fly, but I stick to the Mother's Day Fly in pink or white, with a straight mono weed guard. The turtle grass is pretty thick in that area, and a good bit of it is dead and floating. So it's a tough act to place the fly perfectly and to avoid the floating strands of turtle grass.

The last time I hit it right I caught a 7.5 lb. trout and missed a couple of others. Meanwhile, they were traveling on top in groups of five to ten. Action like that typically brings the worst out of a flyfisher, who begins to breathe hard and cast poorly, and then blame the poor fish for "not eating."

Maybe I'll see you out there. But please don't run the shoreline; that's where they usually are, and that's where I'll be wading!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Hall of Giants Revisited

When I took Tony and Scott into the "hall of giants," they landed some fine reds, but not the huge fish that sometimes find their way into the back lagoon in search of mullet along the shorelines.  I am presently writing an article for Tide Magazine (it won't be out until the summer issue) on finding oversized reds in remote areas, and I find it a special challenge to target these "upperclassmen" during the fall or spring, when the water reaches far back into the west side.
I had the pleasure of guiding Shaun Daniels two weeks after Tony and Scott had fished with me. I took Shaun into the Hall of Giants immediately, since I'd taken John Karges into the same area a few days earlier (see below). I stopped the Stilt in the twilight, and poled over to a shoreline that was lined with glasswort. Immediately, we began to see reds lined up along the shoreline, sauntering into the glasswort in search of prey. They would cruise along, backs out of the water, then suddenly driving a six-inch high wake as they chased a finger mullet out of its hiding place. The first fish we encountered was so big it was hard to believe. Its back stuck out of the water by four inches, but it would disappear, as well, in the foot deep water. I think I could hear Shaun breathing heavily as he casted to the red, which was 31-32 inches long. It kept zig zagging only 30 feet from the boat, so making a precise cast as much a matter of luck as skill. Finally, the big fish headed to deeper water. Again and again, we went head to head with oversized reds, and came up fishless. This is no surprise. These fish are so sensitive and wary that even the best cast is likely to piss them off. You have to wonder how they stay so fat if they're so picky! I suppose, if you could ask them, they would fault the angler, don't you think? But while I tend to hold the angler responsible (myself included), it's worth noting that Shaun was fishing on the first day of a warming trend following a cold front. The first day is widely considered a difficult day, in which the fish are often finicky. Indeed, we found the fish very difficult for the rest of the day.

After checking a few west-side areas out, Shaun and I headed east onto the sand, where we found a pretty good concentration of fish. Shaun asked me to fish with him, so we waded north side by side, about 50 yards apart, where we could give each other a heads up on fish that we were spotting. We had numerous shots, but in almost every case, the fish were exceedingly sensitive. They would run up to the fly, and nip it, and then flee. Such behavior is rare for redfish. Nonetheless, we caught fish, and enjoyed plenty of opportunities. I am glad that I fished and saw how utterly tough the reds were that day, because it made me appreciate the challenge that Shaun had faced all day.

A week earlier, as you will see in my blog entry about guiding John Karges, I guided John on the
second day of a warming trend. You might think that one day shouldn't make a big difference, but the fish often go crazy on the second day, and will often run after a fly from several feet away. Compare that behavior to the lackluster response Shaun and I received from reds on the first day of warming. If you have a choice, always wait until the second day or thereafter. But most of us have to fish whenever we can, so don't stay home just because it's the first day or a warming trend. While the fish may be tough, you'll a better angler for having tried.

The Hall of the Giants

On the second day with Tony and Scott, we didn't find pods working in the same place as the day before. So after stopping in a couple of other spots, and finding few fish, I took the guys to the hall of the giants, to see if the big reds were feeding in a far, far, western venue, where virtually no one ever fishes. Since I couldn't wade with them, I oriented them to the area, and gave them my blessings as they struck out on a rather longish wade into water so shallow that I could not follow with the Stilt. I had mixed feelings as I said goodbye to them, because even though it was one of my favorite venues of all time, I also knew that the fish were often elsewhere. Given the distance that they had to wade just to find out if the fish were "home," I was a bit anxious that I'd set them out on a fruitless mission.
I sat and squinted for over an hour and a half while they spread out and waded into a shallow, murky flat that was full of mullet, and punctuated by areas of glasswort sticking above the water. After a while, I noticed Tony in his heron pose, obviously stalking a fish. He hooked up and landed a 26" red, and released it only minutes before hooking and landing another fish of the same general size. I breathed a sigh of relief. It had been a tough two days thus far, given the rain storms and virtual absence of sunlight. Fortunately, my clients were the kind of anglers that can make the best of any situation.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Backcasting and yesterday's big boys

A perverse aspect of modern life, with its demands on one's time, is a tendency to postpone writing about the best stuff, because the best stuff is always more complex than the 140 characters permitted by Twitter, or the sound bites spouted on talk radio. The best stuff is about loss as much as gain.

So it's taken me a while to get back to the long weekend on the water with Tony Woodward and Scott Minnich, two old clients that appreciate the Lower Laguna Madre more than most natives. In this lengthy blog entry, penned in segments, I will cover that weekend, as well as yesterday's outing with my old client and friend Shawn Daniels from Wimberly.

Tony and Scott arrived two weeks ago on Thursday night, and met me at Channelview RV Park before sunrise. I had visited with a visiting guide, Capt. Kirk from Alaska, on the dock the previous night, and we'd enjoyed one beer too many along with a cigar longer than my foot. I almost threw up when I returned to the trailer. Julie had cooked salmon, and all I did was to sit there hungry and nauseous at the same time, celebrating friendship and cursing my excess. Fortunately, Julie understood and saved the salmon for the next evening.

When Tony and Scott arrived at 6:30 the next morning, the mosquitoes were so bad that we had to run to the boat, and pile our gear aboard while slapping every patch of unprotected skin. It was a hasty departure.

The feeling I had while planing down the Arroyo in the predawn darkness was gratitude. I had broken my ankle only five weeks earlier, and was supposed to be on crutches. So I had offered to refer Tony and Scott to another guide, so they wouldn't miss out on their planned trip. Tony replied, "We are sure that we will do better with you simply driving the boat than with another guide." It was hard to say no to that.

Since the guys hadn't been able to assemble their rods before leaving, we arrived at one of my--and their-- favorite spots unprepared to exploit the opportunities that surrounded us--pods of "happy" tailing reds, some within 100 feet of the boat. It was hard to say nothing while the guys threaded guides and tied flies in the low light, so I periodically reminded them that the reds were continuing to be patient, even though the guide was about the burst at the seams.

After a few casts from the boat in the extremely sensitive windless conditions, the guys opted to slip into the cool water and head west and north toward multiple tailing pods. Within minutes, Tony had hooked up on a 24" red, while Scott hooked and lost a red that had been tailing along a shoreline.

The action didn't last long: the wind came up and the tails went down, and we were soon headed elsewhere. I had found some reds in a very remote area a couple of weeks earlier, so we went there first, and the guys stalked reds that were passing from one part of the bay to the next in a four-foot wide channel. They took up positions at each end of the channel and got shots at reds that were using the channel as a conduit. Alas, no reds landed, but it was an intriguing new venue for both anglers.

We went a couple of other places on the west side, and found a lot of reds and trout along a shoreline; but because of the fickle sunlight, it was hard to see them in time to make an effective case. We eventually pulled the plug there, and headed east onto the sand about 10:30 am.

While the wind comes up on the west side, the east side often remains glassy. Why, you might ask? When the sun warms the mainland, the air rises, and the air from the ocean is pulled in to replace it. This creates the classic southeast seabreeze, which is our prevalent wind year round, except for when cold fronts reverse the direction of the wind for a day or two.

If you get far enough from the mainland, the seabreeze effect dies, so the wind speed four miles from the mainland is usually lower than the windspeed over the mainland. So, when we headed east, we could see the reflection of the clouds on the mirror-like finish of the east side sand. It makes your heart leap to go from breezy, semi-rough conditions into a sanctuary from the wind where the horizon line disappears in the haze, and the sky is perfectly mirrored in the water surface.

We stopped the Stilt a few miles north of Green Island, after planing about as far east as we could run. Wakes retreated from us in all directions as we entered the sanctuary at minimal planing speed; and as we passed the fish, we could see that the reds were good sized, and either alone or paired up with another red.  As we stepped out into six inches water, Tony exclaimed, "I love this. It's like hunting deer with a knife!"

But despite the calm conditions, the fish that feed in these conditions are "sharp set," to use a falconry term. That is, they are ready to pounce. Scott waded off toward Padre Island to the east, which showed itself as a sliver of white sand in the distance. Tony headed east, but turned north sooner than Scott. Since I was recovering from my broken ankle, I stay on or near the Stilt, and walked it north while the guys stayed out in front of me.

After a while, we began to spot tailing reds popping up slow-motion-like in the sheen. Sometimes there would be two tails; but regardless, the fish moved with such stealth that when they weren't tailing, they gave no evidence of their presence, even in seven inches of water.

We heard Scott yelling after a while, and we could see his rod bent in the distance. He was too far away for me to reach with my camera, given my bad ankle, but he measured the red before he released it, and it was at least 26 inches long. Meanwhile, Tony targeted a couple of fish that were tailing almost imperceptibly in the dead calm surface, but the fish kept moving away from him.

We picked up and headed north and began seeing quite a few reds, so we stopped again. The clouds were becoming quite a problem, but we committed to a long wade, nonetheless. Surprisingly, the guys had such good eyesight that they were able to spot reds in the muted light, and managed to catch a couple before we headed back to the west side.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Great flyfishing at dawn

I had the pleasure of guiding John Karges, who is a biologist with the Nature Conservancy. I have been Facebook friends with John for quite a while, and have see him at the San Antonio Boat Show, but have never guided him. He had been at South Padre Island for a whale cruise on Saturday, and used the occasion to come over the Arroyo City and fish with me on Sunday.

It was a new moon, and that means big swings in the tidal levels. By "big," I mean nearly a foot between the highest high tide and the lowest low. You see, we have two high tides per 24 hour period during the full and new moons, and one of them is significant, while the other is a mere bump between the low tides. During the mid-moon phases, we have only one high tide, and the absolute change between the high and low runs around 6 inches.

Which is all to say, I have to figure out where it's high enough to fish, and where it's too high to sight cast. Some anglers head directly to Paytons, but on a big tides, there's too much water in Paytons. Others might head south to the back lagoons west of Three Islands, but if you hit the low tide during a full or new moon, you'll find water that's too low to host reds.

So...the most stressful part of the day is when a guide reaches the mouth of the Arroyo and has to decide where to go in the context of all of these variables. I committed to an area where I haven't fished much at daybreak, even though it's as familiar as the back of my hand. No matter how many times I have fished a certain area, if enough time has passed, I become as timid as a man on a first date, even though once I touch her face, I remember the important things.

We went into a back lagoon, and ran just about as far as you can and stopped along a glasswort-lined shoreline. Glasswort is a plant that grows in the water, and appears green in the spring and rusty brown in the fall. The reds will often cruise in and out of it looking for prey, so casting to "backing" fish along the edges of glasswort can require steele nerves and an accurate cast. A few inches one way or the the other and the fish won't see the fly; or you may hook the top of the glasswort.

John was as appreciative of the beauty of the Lower Laguna as about any client I've ever had. He sees so much more than most of us, since his profession as a conservation biologist requires it. We stood on the boat the drew in the sights and moist air. A light fog mantled the east shoreline, and the low sun  gave it a luminous appearance. Soon, however, these entrancing images gave way to the sounds of feeding redfish and the sights of tails appearing in the calm water all around us. As a guide, I'm always a bit impatient at this hour, because I know that the window of opportunity can close in a minutes once the wind rises, and the tide shifts. I try to measure the success of the day by the number of fish caught, but I also hate to look back upon the time wasted.

John tied on a fly that he'd tied--a root-beer-colored impressionistic crab pattern that would have been at home at the Museum of Modern Art, looking like everything and nothing and conveying the elusive fishy feel of a great fly.

John hooked the second big fish that we casted to along the shoreline. The sun had barely broke the horizon when the big red was into his backing. We could see it was a big fish, so John took his time bringing the red to the boat. I jumped the boat into the rather cold water, grabbed the 27" red by the tail, and handed it to John. As they say, "the stink was off," as we both relaxed a bit. We had several more fish along the shoreline, but this kind of sight casting is pretty tough: the fish don't see the fly very easily in the low light, and they are in constant motion turning this way and that, making your precision cast obsolete just as soon as you release.

We poled out into the main body of the lagoon, but after 15 minutes of surveying the open water, I concluded that we needed to move. It was a fortuitous decision. As we approached the exit to the back lagoon, I noticed Forrester terns diving along a shoreline. Shutting down the boat, we poled toward the commotion. As we got within 50 yards of the area, it became clear that we had discovered a motherload of feeding redfish that were milling around under the birds in small pods. As far as we could see, small patches of disturbed water announced the presence of feeding fish. And as it turned out, they were big fish. Indeed, the first two fish he landed in this mouthwatering venue were 26 and 29 inches long. 

When I realized they were all redfish, I urged John to get off the boat and wade slowly into them. That turned out to be fortuitous, because there were so many feeding fish that we would have set off a chain reaction if we'd poled into them. John casted a fly he'd tied that seemed like a credible choice, but after a couple of half-hearted follows, I did what I rarely do: I blamed the fly, and suggested that he shift to a spoon fly. He'd never used one, and didn't have a great deal of faith in them, but within a couple of minutes, he'd hooked up on a 26" red that had been tailing by itself 30 feet away. While he fought the sizable red, a group of four reds swam right up to us, and turned away only when they were within 10 feet of us. After landing the red, John turn his attention to the shoreline, where groups of reds were feeding in even shallower conditions. Casting ahead of a group of four or five, he hooked up on the lead fish, and was into another lengthy fight. This time, the red was 29+ inches. We released the fish, and continued the hunt. But the fish were starting to disperse. Two boats had come into the lagoon, and an airboat passed by less than a half mile away. The surface feeding ended in minutes, and the fish disappeared. After stalking a couple of stragglers, I decided to head elsewhere. John caught three more reds in various venues, but the phenomenal gathering that we'd witnessed along that shoreline never repeated itself. Still, it was a magnificent day--six reds, and three of them over 26 inches.

(More later, along with some of John's photos. I will also be reporting on last weekend's fishing with my old clients Tony Woodward and Scott Mennich from Colorado.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I'm back!

I just spent three days guiding, and wasn't sure if it was wise to be out there on my recovering ankle. But yesterday I saw my surgeon, who said, "The x-rays are magnificent. Full weight bearing! You can throw your crutches away." So, what a relief to be walking unassisted again. I will be posting an account of the last three days soon, but I wanted you to know that I'm available for guiding from here on.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Healing Quickly, and looking forward to guiding late October and beyond

Well, I had surgery three weeks ago on my ankle, and have ten screws holding my leg bones in place. My surgeon seems impressed with the speed of my recovery. Indeed, I am ready to do whatever he'll let me do. The pain is gone, and it's just a matter of putting the right amount of pressure on it, and nothing more.

I cancelled a ton of charters in late September and early October, but I was really pleased when an old client said that he's rather have me guide him even if I could only drive the boat and do nothing else. So I'm on for three days, beginning the 17th of October. After that, I have some bookings into November when I should be able to pole, and do limited wading. For my more experienced anglers, that's probably enough. But I'm quick to warn them that I might be fully restored until mid-November.

I did go out on the bay two days ago to take a look. The tides are very high, partly due to the seasonally high solar tides, and partly due to an influx of seawater from a series of tropical disturbances we've had over the past month. Any rotation, however minimal, brings extra water onto the shoreline, and through the passes. Add to that the outflow of the consistent rains we've had, and you have a three sources of high water.

Of course, the fish are always there. You just have to know how to adjust to the higher tides. I look forward to being back on the water, guiding and fishing, within a couple of weeks. Give me a call if you want to fish in November. It's looking like it could be a very good month, once the bay settles down from all of the sources of extra water.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Casting back to some great flyfishing with the McConals

I'm laid up recovering from a broken ankle right now, and hoping to be back on the water by mid-October. So in the mean time, I'm catching up with fly tying and other non-physically demanding activities, including reflecting on recent fishing trips.

The last time I was out with clients was two weeks ago, and it was an unusual three days. Leading up to the weekend, I'd watched the weather like a hawk, fearing that my clients would be dropping into a tropical storm. But the forecast never quite triggered my alarm, so I planned to do my best for the three days Bobby McConal (from Kerrville) had planned for his sons, Scott and Sean.

Bobby has his own boat--a NewWater Ibis--and has a good knowledge of the Lower Laguna. However, he wanted his boys, who are brand new to fly fishing to fish with a guide who doesn't do anything else, and who could give them pointers about mastering the "quiet sport."

We awoke to thunderstorms on Friday morning, so we agreed to wait until the weather cleared. We didn't get on the water til almost noon, but it was beautiful out there. After a storm, when the winds die, the fish can turn on and begin tailing in ernest. The wind never quite died, but we headed for an area where the reds often tail in the wind. I hoped that we could see them in the low light of overcast skies.

Scott and Sean are athletic, and have a lot of angling experience on the Texas coast. So even though they are new to flyfishing, they have a feel for the bay that newcomers often lack. Indeed, they were attuned to the subtle signs of redfish, especially after I urged them to remove their sunglasses in the low light. Most people leave their sunglasses on when the sun goes behind the clouds, but it's very difficult to see tails unless the eyes have a high-contrast field of vision. Indeed, when they removed their glasses around 2 pm, they started seeing tails that other people would never have seen. Youthful vision combined with high-contrast low lighting proved to be a great recipe for sight casting.

After landing two reds in the shallow, clear venue, we went to an area that is often muddy by afternoon, but attracts huge reds that are feeding in virtually no water on baitfish. I don't know anyone who fishes this particular area, and it's a real treasure. It doesn't look like much, so it's not likely to attract anglers looking for visible fish. But in the 7-8" water, the big reds show themselves as they sweep around like sharks looking for inattentive mullet. Indeed, when the oversized reds suddenly attack their prey, they can be 10 feet away, and it can be heart-stopping.

We waded slowly into the area, and were rewarded by the explosive sounds and sights of feeding redfish. Foamy craters were visible in the aftermath of the explosive predators, and it was a bit intimidating to enter their sanctuary, where thousands of finger mullet were milling around waiting to see if their time was up.

The fishing was tough! Most of you know that I rarely "blame the fish," but these wary, oversized reds were as tough as any fish I've ever targeted. In the off-color water, it was difficult to get them to see the fly, and when they finally did, they were usually offended. Sean and I briefly snagged one of the big boys apiece, but both of the fish came off after a brief hookup. Meanwhile, we all had excellent shots at three or four 27-30" fish, but except for the two brief hookups, the fish reacted badly. We vowed to return to the "hall of giants" the next day in hopes that the water would be a bit clearer, or the fish more willing, or both.

The guys only landed a redfish apiece by the time we went in, but they had several other pick-ups and a hook-up or two more, as well. They were definitely ready for the next day. But the conditions were, once again, prohibitive at daybreak. A line of thunderstorms swept up from the south, and pommeled the Lower Laguna. We watched the radar for a couple of hours, and concluded that it would be a while before we could safely go out. So I decided to go back to our RV and take a nap. I asked the boys to text me if the radar cleared before my return. Well...I slept through their text. I awoke to the message, "Dad and Danny have already left, and they say the bay is clear." I jumped up and hurried back to Bobby's house, feeling that I'd screwed up by sleeping through the alert. But the guys weren't upset at all. Leaving a few minutes later than we otherwise would have, I finally shook off my sense of having failed them, and shifted my focus to deciding where to go first. It was only 8:30, and a whole day still lay before us. And a great day it was.

We started in the same area where the guys had caught a couple the day before. I was thinking that we'd start there, and end up at the "hall of giants" at the end of the day. Everything else was up in the air. But, unfortunately, there weren't any pods working in the shallow clear water. The tide had risen to fall levels in response to the tropical low pressure circulation, which had water westward into the lagoon. So I found myself poling into a more remote part of the back lack, hoping that there was enough water to have drawn the reds into the back areas. As we poled along in the low wind, we could hear the birds and other natural sounds in all directions. That's when we began to hear exploding fish hundreds of yards away. We couldn't see them at first, but we took a bead on the sound, and poled closer. Then, against an "island" of exposed glasswort we saw the first unequivocal redfish explosion. Poling closer, we could see the fish saunter into the vegetation, feeding like a big bass among the lily pads.

That was too much for Sean, who grabbed his rod and slipped overboard into the 10" water. We left him approaching the island, and turned further west toward some other explosions that were announcing the presence of multiple redfish feeding. Soon, Scott was off the boat, as well, walking stealthily toward a pass between two glasswort islands, where an abundance of mullet were milling and jumping in the tidal exchange. Before Scott could get into position, Sean yelled and we saw that he'd hooked up. Later, he told us that he had to cast into the glasswort thicket in order to get the fish's attention. Knowing how hard it is to present a fly in that kind of situation, I was full of praise. Meanwhile, Scott waded into the pass between the islands, and surveyed the water carefully. He said to me that there were several very big reds working along the edges of the islands. He began casting and after a few minutes hooked a red that ripped through the shallow water and headed for the next county, albeit unsuccessfully. Scott fought the big fish masterfully, and brought it to him as I approached to assist him. I could see that it was a pretty big fish, to which Scott said, "the other one was larger." And then I saw that the one he had hooked was huge. It turned out to be a solid 29 inches, perhaps even 30. We photographed it and released it. An excellent start on the day.

I wasn't sure where to go next. We poked our way northward along the west shoreline until we came to a spot that I hadn't fished in a quite a while, because the tides had been too low to justify it. On speculation, without a great deal of hope that we'd find anything, I turned west and headed into a very remote area. Black drum were everywhere, and we soon saw a couple of reds, as well. Still, I wasn't too optimistic; that is, until I looked ahead and saw the back of redfish near the left shoreline, heading in our direction. Things were looking up. I got Sean into position, so he could cast from the boat. 

Sean put the fly to the right and left of the fish, but the fish didn't see the fly. Finally, the fish was literally 10 feet from the boat when Sean got the fly to the sweet spot. Breathlessly, we all looked on as the fish inhaled the fly and shot off. As Sean fought the red, I looked up the shoreline, and there were at least two more reds heading our way. Scott grabbed his rod and jumped off the boat so he could cast. Within a minute, he was hooked up, too! The guys waded into the area, and had several other shots, but because the sun was hidden behind the clouds, it was had to keep the feeding fish in your sights. Scott landed another nice red before we headed elsewhere.

Our hope, of course, was that the reds would be back in the hall of giants, but alas, every day is different, and they weren't there. For that, I guess I'm glad. Not that I wanted the guys to struggle and have a bad day, but it's good to know that no place is always "on," and that every day presents us with challenges and puzzles for which there is no easy answer.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New Flyfishing Video

I just published my latest flyfishing video on YouTube. I think it's one of my best.  I hope you enjoy it! BTW, Don't forget to select the high-definition setting by clicking the gear symbol in the lower right corner of the YouTube window.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Return of the Sea Grasses

Guides and frequent anglers on the lower Laguna Madre often comment on macro-level changes that they have observed over the years. And what I find is that we are often like the 10 blind men and the elephant. That is, each of us is "touching" one facet of the whole, and describing the whole in terms of their narrow experience. It's human nature to extrapolate on what we see and experience, thereby projecting a highly subjective view upon a rather complex and multifaceted whole.

There are several observations that are factual, however. The seagrasses took a huge hit from the fresh water inflows about five seasons ago. Over 30 inches of rain fell in the Mexican mountains to the south of us, and the water poured into the Rio Grande River watershed over the course about six weeks. The Arroyo Colorado is part of the flood diversion system in the Rio Grande Valley, which is designed to protect riverside communities on both sides of the border. But we will all remember the sights and sounds of the smelly and turbid water that literally raced overland into Payton's bay and created 5-foot troughs in the Arroyo Colorado. Interestingly, we were still able to find clear water to the south of the mouth of the Arroyo that summer, and did fairly well.

The impact on the bay was immediate and long-lasting, especially in areas north of the mouth of the Arroyo. Between the mouth and Port Mansfield, huge amounts of rainwater flooded the bay, and brought carp and gar and alligator into otherwise hypersaline areas. It was a strange and disturbing experience, but the clear water returned after a few weeks of runoff. Unfortunately, perhaps, the seagrasses were decimated in those areas, and didn't recover until…well, really, not until this year, by my estimation (keep in mind that I am a blind man, too!). The odd thing was that some areas that were normally devoid of seagrass--like the sand, and areas south of the mouth--became seagrass nurseries, and still have more grass than they ever did. And now, finally, Payton's Bay looks like a manicured lawn beneath a few inches of clear water. The shoal grass, especially, is thick and unbroken except for prop cuts. The ducks will take their toll on the grasses this fall and winter, as they pluck the grass from the bottom in their search for food, but next year should feature an even thicker seagrass recovery.

Before the flood, turtle grass was replacing the shoal grass as the dominant grass in the lower Laguna. Biologists referred to this phenomenon as a the end point of a long process, much like a "climax woodland." However, the turtle grass has become scarce in the aftermath of the flood. It's as if the flood reset the clock on seagrass development, and created a new opening for shoal grass, which is wonderful habitat for juvenile crabs and shrimp. So perhaps the flood was a good thing, similar to the fires in Yellowstone Park--immediately disturbing and unsightly, but purposeful from the standpoint the big picture.

Another observation, which apparently is false, is that the redfish have declined. Not so, say the Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists. I have to agree that I've not noticed any decline in redfish in the back lagoons. If the reds are not in decline, then why do reputable guides and veteran anglers say that they are diminished in number? It's probably because these observations are based on "sampling" in the same areas year after year. And the fact of the matter is that the reds will move from place to place in search of food. Some areas, such as the lagoon just north of the mouth of the Arroyo (the Mud Hole) can wax and wane like the moon from season to season. Indeed, the Mud Hole can be the highest producing venue one year, and yet be a consistent disappointment the next, probably because of the movements of the shrimp hatch from back lagoons into the Intracoastal on their way to the Gulf. I have waded in the Mud Hole on occasion, to find so many shrimp jumping ahead of me that I could feed my family with a dip net. But that phenomenon isn't reliable. Anglers typically base their conclusions on comparing the fish population in the same area from visit to visit without taking into account changes in food availability, tide, etc. T'is human to deny the larger truth.

Another observation, which is undeniably true is that the big trout population has exploded. This is in spite of the tendency of anglers to hammer them with live croaker--a method that biologists say they cannot resist because croaker are natural enemies that eat trout eggs. Even guides who would fly fish all the time if their client population would support it, will turn to croaker for the purposes of providing "instant success" to anglers who don't know the first thing about these great predators and their rythmns. I may sound cynical, and I am. Still, the trout populations have resisted over-predation from opportunistic anglers, and with the help of the Texas Parks and Wildlife, I have hopes that this greatest fish of the mother lagoon will continue to thrive.

What do you think has changed about the bay? Do you think your observations are objective, or based on "touching one part of the elephant?" Let us know.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Return from Colorado and Occam's Razor

Julie and I just returned from a week in the South Park area of Colorado. My brother Chip and his wife Sandi have a house about 9200 feet above sea level, and near several top flyfishing streams. So, of course, we had to go visit :-). Actually, my main goal in going to CO was to show Julie some country she'd never seen, and to visit our family. Chip and I don't get to fish that much anymore, because he spends the best part of the season in CO. He and I flyfished three days in a row, and had the privilege of having his son Spencer, who lives in Denver, join us for the second day. The fishing was disappointing for Chip and Spencer, but I was pretty happy with our success. We caught over 30 trout the first day, fishing a stream that was only a few feet wide. The second and third days were less productive, but the fish were larger.

When Julie and I returned home, she surprised me by saying that she wanted to learn to fly fish. I was stunned, because she had told me previously that fishing wasn't important to her. But I think she finally caught the flyfishing bug by watching, and by becoming entranced by the beauty of casting. So…we left the dock yesterday morning with our companion Rosie, and headed for the sand where I proceeded to give her her first fly casting lesson. I'd thought about how I would approach the lesson beforehand, and it went really well. I can tell within a few minutes if a person has an aptitude for flyfishing, and it was immediately evident that Julie's innate capacity for mind-body connection was evident in the way that she was able to incorporate each piece of instruction into her body memory. After only a few minutes, she exhibited a clean stroke, and was shooting line. Given her obvious aptitude, I opted to take her on a wade, to see if we could get some close-in shots. Alas, we only saw sheepshead, so after a few minutes, we went back to the boat and headed west to a favorite west-side lagoon where I've had remarkable success on our last two outings. See my posting, "Stopping and Seeing."

We went to the lagoon, mainly to locate and mark an underwater obstruction that nearly sank my Stilt a couple of weeks ago, when I hit it while leaving the area with two clients aboard. But it was much too windy and the tide was too deep to see whatever it was that we hit. So I gave the area a wide berth, and stopped along the edge of some clear water, where my clients have done so well over the past month or so, and where I have landed some very big reds.

Julie didn't have her wading boots, so she couldn't wade the soft bottom; but she encouraged me to fish alone. I had very little desire to fish, but nonetheless, I grabbed my rod and waded with Rosie into the area where single casts had landed 27.5" and 30" redfish on my last two visits to the muddy lagoon.

I waded without casting, observing the water carefully and hoping to see a big trout in the secluded area. The water was clear, but the fish were clearly elsewhere. Rosie and I waded a half circle around the boat, and were ready to head back to the Stilt, when nature called. My hands were occupied when I spotted the only game fish I'd seen since leaving the boat. The redfish swam up to me, saw me (my face, of course!), and spooked. I thought it was all over, so I went back to the business at hand; but then I saw the redfish again, swimming only a few feet away. Somehow I freed my casting arm, and casted the mother's day fly ahead of the cruising red. It was my first cast of the day. The red saw the fly, and struck it with force. Somehow, I was able to set the hook, and put things to right while the red streaked off on its first run. A few minutes later, I lifted the red out of the water so Julie could touch it before releasing it.

Three consecutive visits to the same muddy lagoon, three casts, and three redfish. We went home pretty happy, mainly because Julie had been "hooked" by the joy of fly casting, but also by the Zen-like quality of hooking three fine fish with only three casts. Should I return for a fourth time, or leave the memory in place as an unmarred example of what Pablo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, refers to as elegance, or simplicity? When I heard the famous author on NPR two days ago, he spoke reverently of the concept known to mathematicians and philosophers as parsimony or elegance; that is, the bare essentials without adornment. The medieval philosopher Occam stated that nothing extraneous or unnecessary should be added to the truth. Scientists know this principle as "Occam's Razor," or the belief that the best theories and the best proofs are devoid of unnecessary steps and details. Certainly, flyfishing at its best involves an economy of movement and effort. Getting there may involve significant effort, only to require the relinquishment of effort at the upper levels of performance. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Managing Not to fish during TIFT

Somehow I managed not to fish during the TIFT tournament. Months ago, an old client asked me to guide him, but I said no, thinking that I would guide my son. But that didn't happen. So I almost fished with my old friend Henry Bone, but thought better of it, so I backed out before we firmed up our plans. In the final analysis, I spent a very nice weekend at home with Julie, getting ready to flyfish in Colorado with my brother. Having won TIFT the first time I fished it, I have to admit that the tournament beckons to me each year, and yet offers very little allure for me, at this stage in my life. Standing in line with a bag of dead fish doesn't appeal, even though the competitor in me sometimes overrides these sentiments. I will probably fish the TIFT again, but only to guide someone I care about. 

I am happy, however, that my fellow guide and friend Randy Cawlfield guided his son Truett, who won second in the fly fishing division. Congratulations Truett!! 

I'll be back guiding after the 17th.