Thursday, July 26, 2018

Shifting to photography and videography

I will no longer be blogging here, but rather shifting to creating videos of flyfishing on the Lower Laguna. You can already view many of my videos on the Kingfisher site (published on Youtube or Vimeo), as well as articles that I have published in the past. I am planning to compile the articles into  a  new book, and once I do, the separate articles will be taken down from the Kingfisher site, so enjoy them while you can! 

Blogging about my latest discoveries is a sensitive issue for my fellow guides who depend more on making a living, or a part-time living from being "in the know." And, as the Laguna Madre becomes increasingly accessible to extremely high-tech shallow water boats, redfish and trout no longer enjoy sanctuaries from encroaching anglers. I rarely have these places to myself anymore, partly due to my willingness to write about them.

Just this past weekend, I discovered a new phenomenon is very shallow water that is likely to continue if no one messes with the fish. And a second phenomenon, which has been nonexistent of late has resurfaced in an unusual place. So what do I do? Shroud the truth, or remain silent? It takes too much effort to tell a half truth, so I'd rather not do it anymore.

I have always struggled between masking the truth (which does not come naturally to someone who is interested in helping others) and telling too much and making it unnecessary for my readers to do their own exploration. Finally, realizing that this dilemma underlies my resistance to making entries here, I am ceasing altogether. My commitment to videography has increased of late, however, with the purchase of new equipment. I look forward to "showing, not telling" from now on. We will announce the posting of new videos in the near future.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

June Update

I haven't had much time to blog, given my summer school and private practice commitments. But I have had some great days on the water with old and new clients.

About a month ago. Mike Romano from Houston came down and fished with me. He'd never caught a redfish on the fly, and he was able to catch his first four reds with me.

We started, as usual, on the sand and found tailing reds spread out in all directions. Mike was able to stalk several there, before finally hooking and landing his first red on a fly. Once the sun rises, the reds leave the sand and head west. After a couple of hours of stalking single snd pairs, we were left with only sheepshead punctuating the glassy surface. So we left and headed to parts unknown until entering a birding venue at midday. It was a long shot that we would find pods working under birds at 1 pm, but I'm never surprised by what the Lower Laguna offers up. Indeed, we found large pods of 30-50 fish feeding vigorously in 12 inches of water. By that time of day, most of the anglers have left the grassy west-side lagoons, so we had it to ourselves. Mike managed to land three more reds before heading in. 

This past weekend, I had the privilege of guiding an old client, Dr. Dan Casso and three of his friends. Truett Cawlfield worked with me to provide the guiding for the two days. Truett is a gifted angler, and has a great future as a Laguna Madre guide. It was pleasure working with him.

It was tough fishing. The early action on the sand was remarkable on both weekend days, but after that, it was difficult to find catchable fish. It's been turning off earlier than it used to, so I've taken to encouraging my clients to go in earlier than usual, and then go back out around 6 pm. The four guys opted to do that at the end of the first day. I headed as far east as my Stilt could go without needing to be pushed out into the deeper water. Alas, the redfish action was not "on," so we went to a west-side venue known for its large reds feeding just before sundown.

When we entered the lagoon, the gulls were already working in a frenzy, and we could see sweeping groups of large reds circling
the area, driving bait into the air. Unfortunately, the guys didn't hooks up on one of these oft-oversized reds.

Okay, so what the skinny? Fishing early on the sand had been reliably good, but it falls off after a couple of hours. Then the sand is devoid of life, and a guide runs around looking for miracles. There are some fish to be found, such along the Intracoastal spoil banks, but they are few and far between. I have been convinced that that best action is early and just before dark, and have found this assessment to be almost 100% reliable.

When I woke up this am, I realized that today was going to be especially challenging, given the wind predictions above 25 mph. We went into water on the east side that was glassy, even in the wind. The guys had shots at tailing pairs of redfish, but were unable to hook up. Then we headed north to the East Cut, and they opted to wade over the oysters on the north side so they could fish largely untouched water.

It was eerie at sunrise. Glassy water as far as we could see beyond the place I'd shut down. It was perfect conditions; but unfortunately, the number of redfish showing didn't provide enough targets to make it worth our while. So we headed north and entered the east cut before committing to a wade beyond the oysters on the north side of the cut. The treacherous wade across the oyster barrier was enough to make me worry about my liability; but the guys were able to negotiate the oysters and emerge on the north side where we found some tailing reds. One of my clients caught a red before I headed back to get the boat. Meanwhile, the guys spotted a huge redfish, or so they said, and couldn't get the fish to take their flies. I suggested that it was a black drum, but Mark insisted that it was a red because it had a spot on its tail.

The wind turned form windy to fierce about midday, and the flats were devoid of life. Running south from the East Cut after fishing there for a while, I realized that the best opportunities were behind us. So I circled back to the Cut where I suggested we fish the little channels that cut into the flats on the north side of the channel. Choosing one that we hadn't fished yet, I anchored the Stilt and encouraged Tom and Mark to fish the inlets for reds and giant drum. As it turned out, the inlet I'd chosen was full of black drum from 15-45 pounds. After casting a few times, Mark hooked up on the biggest fish he'd ever caught on a fly rod. We figured it was 40 pounds. After a few photos, he released it and we soon headed south again, back to the Arroyo.

More and more, I'm offering my clients to split the day into two halves. We come in midday, nap, and then go out in the evening. Whether this divided action is due to hotter temperatures or something else, I am convinced that the Lower Laguna Madre is fishing differently than it used to. The summer afternoon action on the sand seems a thing of the past. But the sunset drama is worth the tradeoff.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Fish Tales

I guided an old friend and legendary flyfisher Joe Averill, and his son Trey, yesterday, and I took them out for fun the evening before with my brother Chip. We went far east, hoping for the phenomenon I discovered two years ago--reds pouring into the super shallow sand before sundown. Alas, it wasn't great like it was the evening before, when my buddy Bobboy McConal and his sons Scott and Sean had a stellar evening in the same area. Nonetheless, we landed four before coming in. After running a favorite west side venue at daybreak, finding little to entice me, I headed back to the same general area and shut down in about 10 inches of water. I laid out the plan--Walk east until we find the fish. It's quite counter intuitive, because it gets almost prohibitively shallow--about 5 inches--and all you see is sheepshead. It's temping to turn around. But on faith and experience, I kept the guys heading further through a dead zone until the water deepened again, and...tails sprouted ahead of us. We proceeded to cast to pods for the next two hours. Joe landed a bunch before the pods started to sweep around and head west. After a while, it was only sheepshead again. But it was a great morning, and as it turned out, it was the best we found.

Warning: Don't try to take your boat where you think we're fishing. One guy did just that yesterday am in a boat that was not equipped to go shallow, much less in 6 inches of water. He and his friends were 1/2 mile north of us, and they spent hours pushing their boat back to deeper water. Stop and wade, unless you have a Stilt or the equivalent. Or you'll regret the adventure.

More later. Got to do some counseling!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Learning New Things Takes Risks

Since I've guided less in the last few years, I've been able to explore areas of the bay formerly off limits to my guiding regimen. I would follow certain patterns designed to optimize my client's ability to land fish during the day without venturing into more speculative, more mysterious venues. However, the in past three years, I have progressively shifted away from the standard guide MOA and explored areas that have turned out to be the best action I've ever discovered on the LLM, at least in the past decade. And I have flyfished the bay since 1978, Before 2005, certain phenomena were more likely to occur, such as schools on the east side in the morning, or the redfish parade on the westside in mid-summer. Those things still happen, but I think everyone will agree that the average water depth is creeping up. Just an inch of extra water combined with warmer winters has conspired to create an entirely different ecosystem, especially on the East side. Then, with added boat traffic, the larger cohorts of redfish have shifted to nighttime feeding. It's pretty new stuff.

This past weekend, I enjoyed the best of the "new" patterns. I fish just before dark on Saturday night in an area which hosts oversized redfish at night, and caught two in the 27-28" range, and missed the cast on the dozen others that were streaming into bootie deep water as the sun touched the western horizon. The two weekends before had reaped 29-30+" reds on two consecutive outings, underscoring the robustness of this pattern. There are several westside venues where this is happening, so pick your favorite spot and check it out.

Then, on Sunday morning, Ryan and I explored the east side "new" action, which is simply hard to believe. We go to a certain area on the east side, get out in about a foot of water, and then walk east for about 500 yards. We saw nothing except a few sheepshead for almost half a mile. Anyone with a brain would have turned around and left. But having done this several times with phenomenal success, we keep wading until I ran into the first red. Ryan was 200 yards behind me, and on the basis of having seen only one red, I yelled at him to speed up and join me. Sure enough, I looked ahead and began seeing tails as far as I could see, and they were almost entirely redfish. Small pods and singles were feeding and blowing up in 6 inches of water, backs out and happy.  Ryan came up and hooked up on our first red. A while later, the north wind came up and the fish left. 
But not before we'd landed four reds and hooked a couple of more. In water that no one, not anyone fishes. It's too shallow to pole, and like I said, there's nothing for hundreds of yards. If you can walk that far on faith alone (in what I've told you), you'll probably be grateful. But not many of you will, which is also fine with me :-)

Photos to follow.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Oversized Reds

Yesterday, I hosted Don Puckett from Katy Texas, who came down to video me while I tied the VIP Popper and Mother's Day Fly. I will be posting the Vimeo links just as soon as he edits the video. 
Don arrived around noon, so we proceeded to do the video, and then took off for some evening flyfishing. I took Don directly to the venue where I'd caught a 30-inch red last Saturday, and could have caught several more.  We entered the area much earlier than the previous week--about 3:00 instead of 4:30. I fully expected to take a look, and find nothing, in which I would go elsewhere for a couple of hours and then return for the hoped-for evening action. But we hadn't gone far before I saw single gulls working close to the water, signifying feeding redfish. So I staked the Stilt inconveniently downwind of the action, and we proceeded to wade upwind to the working birds. It wasn't long before some of the reds that were sweeping around headed our way. Casting a red VIP to three or four wakes that were clearly visible under a single gull, one of the fish grabbed the fly and shot off. It didn't take me long to realize that the fish was at least 30 inches long, perhaps as much as 32 inches. It created quite a commotion blowing up and ripping through the shallow water. I had fought him for about five minutes, and he really hadn't turned yet. Fortunately, he stayed in the area, and then unfortunately he headed straight for me while he was still clearly "green" and far from ready to come to the hand. I waved my free arm, and kicked the water with my booties, hoping the fish would turn, but alas he sped up and shot a foot past my right leg. The line whipped under my arm, and pow! The tippet parted at the blood knot connection! 

I replaced my fly with a Mother's Day fly, and turned back to the fish that were sweeping upwind. Within a few minutes, another pair of big reds swam by me about 40 feet crosswind. I managed to get the MDF to the lead fish, which came out of the water and hit it explosively. I landed that fish, and it was 28-29 inches. Don and I did not land any more fish, but we both had several more shots. The conditions were difficult--windy and casting upwind, murky water, and oversized, wary fish. It was easy to blow them up or miss the cast. Nonetheless, it was a spectacle we'll never forget. Don was happy just to see the number of large reds in such shallow conditions.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Very Best Action is Before Sundown

It was a windy Saturday, and my partner Randy had had his trip canceled because his clients were afraid of the wind. Rosie and I went out about 4:30 to do one of our favorite things, which is to fish on the sand, and/or in one of our favorite westside lagoons. I ducked into the lagoon since it was on the way more or less, and I saw some single gulls working in very shallow water. So Rosie and I got out of the boat and walked over close to where the birds were tracking up wind, obviously following single reds or small groups in about 7 inches of water. Even though the wind was blowing 25 miles an hour, and the water was completely muddy, I knew I could see them coming upwind. The problem is always getting the fly close enough to where they can see it, but far enough away from them to where they don’t spook--almost an impossible compromise, but the fish are incredibly sensitive in this condition, and will sometimes sense the fly from three feet away. The reds coming in to this area late in the evening, tend to be very large, often oversized. So they are wary, and especially smart. I had shots at probably eight or 10 fish, some of which would appear 80 or 90 yards out under a single bird, giving me a chance to get into place for the cast. But between the wind being so strong, and the fish so wary, I blew up every opportunity. In addition to seeing the fish coming upwind under a bird or two, I would occasionally see a back out the water 10 or 15 feet away from me, cruising by. It was very hard to cast to these fish that were so close to us. But I didn’t get frustrated, because I’ve caught so many reds in the past, I don't need much to satisfy me: I just enjoy being out there. So after while, I decided to head toward the Eastside and check out the sand, where the reds often pour into the shallowest water before sunset. But after getting up, and before I had left the westside lagoon, I saw some birds working along another shoreline, so I ran over and stopped, and got out and walked over to where the birds were frenetically working over fish. Before I could get to the place with the birds were working, I saw a single huge redfish working toward me up the shoreline with his back out of the water, zigging and zagging as the baitfish flared in his path. 

I was getting ready to make a cast in a very difficult scenario, in which there was about an 80% chance that the fish would spook when the fly hit the water, when I saw a single bird working upwind to my left about 50 yards. I could see some dark tails coming out of the muddy water moving upwind, so I decided to make a cast to those fish before heading back to stalk the big red on the shoreline. I fully expected the group of fish to be smaller, but perhaps more eager, so I made a long backhand crosswind cast just to the head of the group--a cast that I couldn't have made 10 years ago. I hooked up on a red that shot away so fast that I almost lost my grip on my rod.  The powerful fish turned out to be a 30-inch redfish that almost spooled me before I finally turned him. It was a long fight, and after landing him I took a couple pictures of the fish on the shoreline before releasing him. Satisfied with my success, I walked back to the boat with Rosie and prepared to leave for home, when I noticed that the west side of the lagoon was festooned with laughing gulls dipping to the water and clearly working over fish in water that was no deeper than six inches. In the past, I have encountered this scenario on many occasions, in which a large cohort of oversize redfish come into this particular area at dusk, and leave before morning. Almost no one knows about this phenomenon. I have a friend who fishes just a few hundred yards from the mouth of this lagoon and catches oversize reds regularly in deep water on bait and Gulps. We’ve often wondered where the fish went to feed, but I think I know now, because on many occasions, I found groups of 27-32 inch reds cruising into this area right before sundown (see earlier posts). Anyway, Rosie and I took the boat over close to where the fish were feeding, and watched the birds and crashing fish for a while before deciding that I didn’t need to catch another oversize redfish to be happy. So Rosie and I headed home and got back to the dock well before the sunset. 

Once again, no one was there with us to see the action, and it’s pretty hard to believe it when you hear me tell the story. But I assure you, it’s one of the most durable phenomena on the bay at this time, and is the very best action I’ve encountered in years. I went back the next morning with my brother and son, and the reds were completely gone. So unless you go late in the day, you would never know that the area is regularly populated with oversized redfish just 12 hours before the usual "best time," that is, at daybreak. Fortunately not many guys stay out late in the day, and there’s not many people can access such shallow water without a $50,000 boat. So I don’t mind telling you about this. If you’ve got what it takes, please feel free to join me! That is, if you know exactly where I’m going. Close won't do it.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Casual to a Fault

Julie and I headed for the bay on Friday afternoon with our friends Alex and Bethany following behind us. Our goal was to be on the sand by 5:30, enjoying wine and cheese as the sun made its way home. We launched the Stilt, gathered Rosie's requisite treats, and headed east about 10 miles. Two men were hanging out at the launch grousing about the Easter holiday boat traffic, but they rarely go out, and they never go to where we go, where virtually no other boats can go. By the time we arrived at the eastmost Leaning Towers spoil banks, about 2 miles from the Padre Island dunes glowing golden to the east, there were no boats within site. No buildings, no people, either, except us. It was, in today's world, a rare experience. Nothing except dunes to the east, and the sliver of the western shoreline beneath the setting sun.

Rosie and I went wading for a few minutes, and located a couple of reds that were feeding in about six inches of water, with backs breaking the surface. My unpracticed cast was less than perfect, and the reds fled to deeper water. I didn't care, because catching fish wasn't my goal. I headed back to the boat and joined our guests, who were eating all kinds of delectable finger foods on the front deck of the Stilt, and sipping drinks in the low, dramatic sunlight.

We headed in before the sun actually set, and tugged on Swisher Sweets and Cuban cigars for a while before Alex and Bethany headed back to Reynosa, where Alex works as an orthodontist.

The next morning Julie, Rosie and I left the dock before sunrise. For all of the times Julie and I had been out on the bay together, we'd never gone out at daybreak together. We headed for a place I often  go at daybreak to see if the reds are gathered and tailing beneath gulls and terns. The breeze was low enough to see tails if the fish were inclined to pod up. We ran into the shallowest areas of the lagoon, and shut down when I saw gulls and terns diving and hovering above the water ahead of us. Then I realized that not only had I left the push pole back at the trailer (on purpose), I'd forgotten my booties, as well (not on purpose). So my goals were necessarily limited due to my casual preparation. A week before, I'd been similarly non vigilant, and had forgotten to bring extra gas for the boat. These are early spring phenomena; that is, I often mess up before I get my equipment in place, and my honed-in guide mentality up and running.

But I wasn't going to be deterred from casting to the giant red that I immediately spotted heading our way, about 200 yards north of us. I had just enough time to remove my rod from the holder, slip into the water, and wade through the yucky mud far enough from the boat not to catch the poling platform or Julie with my back cast. Armed with a size 8 Clouser, I thought, "What are the chances the red will perceive this fly in this off-colored water?" Then again, I recalled many occasions when I'd been in the same lagoon on windy days, when fast-cruising reds would perceive the fly when it was fully five feet away in rough water. Sure enough, when the wake approached, and I put the tiny fly about three feet to the front of the red, it shot forward and took the fly. Since my line was slack, and the red was barreling down on me, I couldn't get a good hookup. Finally I got tight to the fly, and the red--probably 30 inches in length--porpoised in the 8-inch water, and showed me most of his huge body before plowing by me and throwing the fly.

I don't need much more than that to be happy, so I stood in one spot for a while and made a few casts at nervous water before wading back to the boat.

We spent a while watching the birds working over the feeding reds, and then headed east for a boat ride. Julie was so happy to see the Laguna Madre at dawn, and wants to go out with me before sunrise more often. That was the biggest "catch" of the day.

I know you want something more than casual fishing stories. More serious tales will soon follow, because I can assure you that the Laguna Madre is going to fish very well this year. All of the signs are in place: low algae on the west side, a comparatively cold and wet winter, and several "turned on" days on the east side already documented by the usual suspects. You should consider coming down.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Rekindling Desire

Ryan and went out together last Saturday, and poked into Parker Lake to see if the reds were gathering there, yet. Sure enough, we passed a small school on our way in, but we headed past them,  back to the southwest shoreline, where few boats ever go. We could tell that the fish were there, but our hearts were elsewhere; so after registering the fact that Parker Lake was "on," we left and headed north toward the East Cut. Running about 9 miles north of the mouth of the Arroyo, we skimmed across the shallowest and most remote portions of the Lower Laguna, where boats rarely go because it's not on the way to anywhere.

We had gone out after the sun had risen, because Ryan had awakened with an upset stomach. I'd waited by the boat, watching the fog roll in and then lift above the Arroyo, giving us a clear view of the water ahead. It was fortunate, in one sense, that Ryan had arrived so late. For not only did it save us from the impulse to run in the fog but it gave the sun time to burn off the low clouds until the day finally became cloudless.

We stayed in one area for the rest of the day. The tide was very high, a spring tide that had pushed water way above the shelf. Normally, we fish in 6-9 inches of water, but the cloudless sky enabled us to fish in slightly deeper water than usual. Since we saw big trout and reds running, we came off of plane, staked the Stilt, and proceeded to wade northward, with the sun at our backs.

Rosie was with us, and she didn't hesitate to jump off the stern and join me on the first of three long wades. Ryan and I agreed later that we never lost our focus--that there were enough fish to keep us attentive and eager.

The reds were very sensitive, as they often are in March and April. I'm not sure why, but it's typical for reds to spook so far out that even the best casters cannot reach them before they turn. They weren't that spooky, but they were very sensitive to the fly, and often reacted to a near-perfect presentation. And then, when they chased the fly, they often nipped at it, or turned off before taking it. It was challenging, to say the least.

But the highlight of the day were the large trout cruising on the sand. I had three shots at 24+" trout. I missed one, lost one, and landed one--which is about as good as it gets. In contrast to the reds, the trout were especially aggressive. Indeed, when I saw the one I caught approaching me, I casted to her and the fly landed about 6 feet from her. Thinking that she wouldn't see it, I lifted my rod to make my back cast, only to see her rush forward after the fly as it left the water. I casted the fly again, and this time it landed about a foot ahead of the frustrated fish. She came to the surface and exploded audibly on the fly. A few minutes later, I released her after getting a couple of photos.

The big trout are typically on the sand until about mid-May when they begin to spawn. At that point, they gravitate toward the grassy areas nearer deeper water, and spawn once a week or so until the end of the summer. The spring is a special time for seeing big trout on the sand. It takes a lot of skill, and even more luck, to entice one of these consummate predators. They are in a category by themselves. Good luck in your quest.

Monday, January 22, 2018

How to Tie the Kingfisher Spoon

We will be selling precut bodies for the Kingfisher Spoon on our website soon. But here's the simple tying instructions:

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Eve on the Laguna Madre

Tai, Ryan, and Rosie wading wet on Christmas Eve
When I awoke this morning, which happens to be Christmas, I realized that we -- my son Ryan, son-in-law Tai, and my angling dakini Rosie--hit it just right yesterday. The day before, it had been cold and breezy, and yet the wind settled and the temperature lifted just long enough to make for a perfect Christmas Eve of flyfishing sandwiched between typical south Texas wintry days.

We didn't hit the water at sunrise, nope, no way. It was 50 degrees, and while that may seem warm to some of you hailing from the north country, it's fireplace weather down here when it gets below 65. But the daytime high was supposed to be 77 by early afternoon, so we arrived at the dock at 9:30, and launched at 10 after loading our new Stilt with gear for its maiden voyage. 

I'm teaching Ryan how to guide, so as we left the dock, I said, "This is a standard mid-winter extreme low tide, and that means we go south." We headed for south Cullens Bay, and after a chilly 10-mile run, we crossed over into Cullens Bay through the Wreck Channel and headed west toward shallower water. I expected to find a ton of fish in two feet of water, which we did, but the question was whether we could find them in a foot of water where we could see them.

Only one other boat was in south Cullens, so we had it mostly to ourselves. I ran southwest until we were moving small groups of reds and pairs of very large trout. I shut down and saw that we were in water a bit deeper than a foot, but there were plenty of fish, so I hoped that we could spot them tailing or pushing wakes in the glassy water, or visible in the nearly full sunlight.  The wind was from the east at 6 mph, which meant that the surface was largely glassy, with rough patches here and there.

South Cullens can be quite difficult fishing. It's typical to find hoards of reds and trout in the winter, but remember the sun is half way to the southern horizon at the Solstice, and thus it's in your face if you have a north wind and wade or pole downwind. And when the wind is low, glare becomes a problem. On top of that, these fish get a lot of boat traffic, so they are touchy, especially the big trout. 

The guys slipped into the water, complained briefly about the chill, then remarked on how firm the bottom was. Wading in Cullens Bay is a real mixed bag: It can be easy, or it can be a death march for a less-then-fit and short-of-crazed angler. As luck would have it, I stopped in one of the firmer areas, and the guys set off to the south, targeting the surface tailing and waking that ensued for the next two hours. Meanwhile, I hung back, and went further west and shallow, hoping that the big trout were shirting the edge of the biomass, which is common for them.

The guys waded so so far that I couldn't tell how they were doing, but by their intensity of posture and frequency of casting, I could tell that they were not bored. For myself, I soon noticed that my slight waves were turning fish that were cruising on top, so I settled into a meditative attitude, hoping that the fish would come to me if I could tame my aggression. Sure enough, a nice red finally swam right up to me, and I hooked him on a pink Mother's Day Fly.  The guys were Kingfisher spoons, which perform better than an MDF in the thick turtle grass, but are a bit harder to cast--a tradeoff, as most things are in flyfishing.

Ryan had three encounters with big trout, and it's not surprising that he didn't hook any. I had two shots at catchable trophy trout (6-8 pounds), but I casted too close to one of them. After botching the cast on that one, I did some corrective self-talk, reminding myself to lead a big trout enough not to telegraph my cast. Redfish can be forgiving when you hit them on the head with the fly. But trout give you one chance, and if you're too aggressive on the first cast, it will be the last you see of her. A good lesson in many areas of life, I would say.

So my second encounter was a perfect opportunity. I saw the big trout coming over 200 yards away. She was coming out of the far southwest side of Cullens, probably moving with the outgoing tide. Anyway, I gave Rosie a little lecture about remaining still, since she has a way of shaking herself periodically while wading beside me, as if she can dry herself off when wading in shoulder deep water. I normally don't complain about this because her companionship is far more valuable than the occasional missed cast, but when there's a trophy trout heading for me, I strike a more serious tone with her. She understands, I am sure.

Finally, the big fish came within range. He big black tail could be seen swinging like a snake behind the wake, and the air of nonchalant confidence was palpable--perhaps it was my human projection--but clearly she wasn't worried about anything.

I put the fly a bit further from her approaching head than I'd hoped, but she felt it hit the water, and turned to it. I crouched, even though I was sixty feet from her--I didn't want her to spot me before she took the fly, and I knew that she might follow the fly all the way to my rod tip. Sure enough, she ran forward, as if to take the fly, then swerved, and came at it again. My heart was racing, and the distance between us was closing. Finally, I stripped the fly and it must have startled her because she exploded and was off for the hills. I was happy because I did everything right. But when it comes to big trout, you need a lot of luck, too.

We headed for the sand a while later, where we found reds mixed with sheepshead. It was a perfect afternoon--low breeze and glassy conditions. But we only had a few "takes" from sheepshead, which were surprisingly aggressive toward small chartreuse clousers. At the end of the day, we felt extremely blessed to have been granted such a beautiful day to spend together on the water.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Stopping and Seeing

On two consecutive Friday evenings, Julie and I took a boat ride to the sand with her kayak. 
On my first visit to the lagoon over a week ago, while standing and watching, I saw a vague wake and made my first cast. Ten minutes later, I landed a 27+" redfish after dragging it back to the boat for a photo. I released it and we headed home.

A week later, just this past Friday, we returned to the same spot and found the same roily conditions with balls of catfish feeding under crazed laughing gulls. There were no obvious signs of redfish, but again I simply stepped off the boat and walked 50 yards and stopped. After a few minutes, I saw the tip of a tail that I thought was a catfish. But not knowing for sure, I casted to it, and stripped the fly slowly past where its head could have been. I felt a tug, and grimaced, thinking that I would soon have to deal with a spiny catfish at the end of my line. But instead, a fish with considerable authority ripped my line and drove a huge wake in the 9" water. Fifteen minutes later, I landed a 30" red at the boat, asked Julie to take a photo, and then released him.

I'm not telling you this as a way of bragging. Heck, there's no fun in being alone with what I have discovered. I am telling you because I was amazed, and believe there's something to be learned from these successes. Both felt, from one perspective, like miracles. But from another perspective, they felt as easy and as natural as a laugh. It happens all the time, as Julie has observed time and again. Why is this possible, you might ask?  The Buddhists refer to this meditative process as "stopping and seeing." Both are natural components of experiencing fully. As a Zen master once said,

When all agitations have ceased and not a single wave arises, myriad phenomena are clear, without confusion, without obstruction. Thus seeing is not separate from stopping. Once the layers of obscurity have been cleared and no clouding occurs, the ten directions are empty, without stirring, without agitation.

The "stopping" involves allowing all of the perceptual information into your awareness by surrendering the assumptions that filter the information into biased observations. For example, an angler can stand on an open flat, and say, "There's nothing here," and he will see nothing because he has failed to "stop" his limiting assumptions. Or he can stand there and open himself to the full array of information that normally gets constricted by assumptions. Then, once the full array of information is flowing into one's awareness, one can begin a process of "seeing" -- that is, concentrating on emergent phenomena that may have been invisible beforehand. The "signal" that one is looking for often becomes evident only once all of the data is considered. I have often heard master anglers say, "I can see fish even when there's nothing there." What they're saying is that they are permitting subtle information to pass into deep awareness without the usual biased and constricted filtering. They see things that others don't see, simply because they are more open to the fullness of their experience.

But one cannot be aggressive or ambitious to allow this process to unfold. That shuts down seeing, and it prevents the "stopping" by being attached to crude measures of success. Indeed, the paradox inherent in this process is that, fundamentally, one cannot have much ambition in order to succeed. For myself, I don't much care if I catch a big fish or not, because the richness of the experience means more to me than that. When a person with sufficient skill and experience surrenders one's assumptions and becomes open to the moment, everything becomes possible, but nothing is really needed. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Double Haul Backcast

The first time I fished with Bud Rowland, his son Brandon, who was a teenager at the time, came along. When Brandon casted from the bow for the first time, I was amazed at his cast. In particular, his double haul backcast was a thing of beauty. It was powerful, long and accurate. And it wasn't in my repertoire, even though I was an FFF-certified casting instructor.

My friend Skipper Ray also had this ability. What I have found in the years since is that the backcast is an essential component of a saltwater angler's skill set, and it's not something that will develop without effort.

Nature is the best teacher, I often say. When you get on the flat, and you're casting in the wind, you can't simply use your forehand cast to reach targets in every direction. So what do you do? At first, you turn, and you try to "chuck and duck" on the wrong side of the wind, and you get nailed in the back by your fly. Then, having learned that lesson, you begin adjusting to the demands of the moment by making a sloppy backcast that falls short. And you miss the opportunity.

Most people use their backcast in a pinch, and they are punished for their lack of practice. Since taking the Rowlands fishing with me back in 2000, I have developed my backcast to the point when I would rather use my double haul backcast in the wind than my forehand cast. I can cast further, and more accurately with my backcast, and because of that I am always set up to cast with my backhand as I wade or cast from the boat.

In flyfishing, the backhand cast, especially in the wind is the more powerful and distant stroke. Why? Because when you lift your line out of the water, and power it behind you into a 15-20 mph wind, it takes a lot of strength and rod speed to drive the line into the wind. The forehand cast is the stronger one to use to power the line into the wind. By comparison, the downwind cast requires relatively little strength to execute, and the backhand cast offers plenty of strength to accomplish the downwind cast. So turn to your left if you're right handed, and cast firmly into the wind. Add to that a water haul on the lift out, and then add a second haul on the downwind stroke, and your cast should go further, and more accurately with practice.

I will post a video soon that breaks down the mechanics of the double haul backhand cast. In the meantime, you can take your body to the threshold of this skill, simply by practicing a more primitive version of the backhand cast. Turn to the left if your right handed, and cast into the wind with your more powerful stroke. See if you can get the line behind you, and then drop the line downwind on your backcast. This primitive backhand stroke with serve the need in a pinch, but in time you will find that if you do a single haul on your back stroke by crossing your hands as you cast, your two arms will work together to develop sufficient line speed without as much pivot. So when you power the line into the wind, take your left hand and move it under and across your lower body in the opposite direction, and you will achieve the single haul on the back stroke. Then, as you cast forward, simply uncross your arms, and you will achieve the forward haul. I realize these words need some video support, but see what you can do until Ryan and I post a video on this method. The time to practice is before you encounter the fish.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Changing Face of the Laguna Madre

This past year, I have guided less and fished with friends and Ryan much more. I've always said that the day-to-day working guide cannot afford to take big risks and explore new possibilities, because he's not paid for that. But when he's free to go places that he's only dreamed of, that's when he grows as an angler, and as a guide.

I have learned more startling truths this past year than ever before. It's been hard to write about, for two reasons--1) I'm not sure I want many people to know about these things, and 2) I'm pretty sure most people won't believe it.

If you've followed my blog entries over the past two years, you will know that I have been talking fishing shallower and shallower, as well as later in the day. Starting in May of this year, I began going to places that I once thought were "sterile" locales, characterized by a slick "algae mat" bottom, and very little subterranean crab and wormlife. But over the past couple of years, those places have totally transformed into softer-bottom, highly fertile vast venues that boats -- all boats-- cannot access because the depth runs around 4-6 inches. While the Stilt will float in 6 inches, slight variations on the bottom are enough to cause friction. So poling these areas is out of the question. consequently, those guides who rarely get off the boat will not venture into these skinny conditions which, from a distance, look barren and devoid of life.

I learned about these places from wading miles beyond where the boats can travel. I have to admit that two of the most unbelievable days of fishing occurred when I was with friends who "didn't know better," and walked away from me until my efforts to bring them back fell literally on deaf ears. In both of these cases, there was no life whatsoever to be seen around the boat, except for sheepshead and an occasional lone red. So my friends, not knowing that they were wading far beyond the usual limits of life, headed east onto what used to be dead zone of the algae mat. Passing nearly out of site in both cases, they discovered reds that were congregated in water too shallow to believe.

Even after these occasions, I had to constantly talk to myself whenever I was on my way to these out of the way places. When guiding some of my favorite clients from Colorado, I went ahead of them, to save them a fruitless and tiring wade over a mile east of the Stilt, which was in 8 inches of water. As I waded east on these occasions, I would use the glare of the rising sun to spot surface disturbances half a mile away. If  scan the bright slick just below the sun, you have a unique sighting window that reveals the slightest surface eruption much further away that a person's normal eyesight could discern. On one morning in May, I recall using this strategy to spot some surface action beyond an otherwise barren expanse. It was a struggle to convince myself to go on, to keep wading beyond my clients. But after wading about half a mile, a most amazing scenario unfolded, and it wasn't the only time this occurred. Suddenly tails started appearing, then pods, then acres of reds and black drum, all feeding in 6 inches of water, backs out.

I found this phenomenon on many occasions, and it always varied to some extent. The "best" days were comprised of discovering pods of reds hundreds of yards beyond a lifeless zone that would have turned any thinking person away. If you haven't had this experience, you will turn back without ever discovering an unforgettable opportunity.

The regularity of this phenomenon stands in contrast to the traditional practice of fishing early on the west side, then shifting to the east side sand. That routine is still a good one, but several things have changed since the 1980s, which makes this reliable  strategy less fruitful and less intelligent. For one, the sand has been disappearing for the last several years. Once bereft of seagrass and showing a near-white sandy bottom for miles, it is now covered with sparse Shoal and Widgeon grass, and the uniform whiteness is greenish and brown. While this has degraded the classic Caribbean-like sight casting, it has transformed the east side into far better habitat for worms and crabs, as well as for small fin fish and shrimp. Why has this change occurred? Two things: warmer winters, and no hurricanes. The last hard freeze that the bay experience, during which thousands of trophy trout were killed, was in 1989. Since then, the temperature-sensitive mangroves have taken over vast areas on the west side, to give you one index of warming conditions. Also, hurricanes have a way of sweeping the east of its fragile vegetation, leaving it bright again. We haven't had a direct hit in over 10 years.

To give you some idea of how things have changed, I walked back to the boat recently because Rosie was with me on a hot day, and she needed some water. I'd left Ryan and Julie's son Tai fishing, while Rosie and I got some water and sat on the edge of the Stilt. I looked down into the water, and studied the bottom. It was like an aquarium. A small eel swam by, and several baby hermit crabs were leaving trails in the soft sand. Tiny fin fish flitted through the sparse grass. Worm holes appeared every couple of inches, and two small blue crabs wrestled. I turned over the sand with my foot, and the first three inches were like powder from the burrowing activity of all of the subterranean life and intrusive game fish. I looked all around me, and there were dozens of dark spots created by feeding sheepshead, black drum and redfish. No wonder the fish were here.

It's not that unusual to run the west side at dawn and find very few fish in places that used to host large pods and schools at daybreak. At first, it puzzled me; that is, until I discovered that life on the bay is moving East during the night and the early part of the day. 

In addition to increasing habitats and food sources on the East side, the water temperature attracts game fish during the night and morning. Temperature is important because it controls the available oxygen. I forget the exact numbers, but oxygen is optimally available to fin fish when it's around d 65 degree. While redfish are hardy, and can thrive in water from the low 50s to the upper 80s, their ability to aggressively feed is limited by the available oxygen. So, during the night, the super shallow east side cool much faster. It doesn't have the thick, dark grass that absorbs sunlight, and thus cools more slowly through the night. So it's probably that fish go East and shallow in order to find cooler water and more available oxygen. When the sun rises, the fish on the East side tend to move West, because now the warming air temperature is raising the shallow water more quickly than the deeper water in the central bay. It's often believed that it's the sunlight that bothers the feeding reds, but I have often found them feeding in shallow water under a cloudless sky, but only if the air temps keep the water temp attractive to them.

If you go East early, go as shallow as you boat will go. Get out of the boat after drinking plenty of liquid, and walk east. When logic and experience tries to convince you to turn back, keep going. When it seems ludicrous to go further, and you find yourself cursing me, don't stop. Look east directly beneath the sun on the glare of the calm morning water. Keep going, and if you don't see anything, do it again later. Of course, water depth is important, but the reds need far, far less water than you imagine. I've have found them so shallow that they would have to literally slither over a mud bump or go around a clue of grass. 

Why do I tell you this? Again, if you're one of the ones who are willing to make the effort, then you deserve to discover this incredible truth. But if you do, there were be 99 others who won't ever go, who will always turn back, and who would've gone to another website before finishing this blog entry.

One fact that might convince you that I'm telling my truth, if not the truth. In all of the guiding I did this year, which wasn't nearly as much as I used to, I started on the west side on only one morning. On all the other days, I went east, and farther east that you may have ever gone.