Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fall fishing

It's been a while since I've posted, but I can say that the fall fishing has been as wondrous as the summer was difficult. Indeed, the last few charters I've had have been characterized by big, tailing reds in multiple west-side venues.

A couple of weeks ago, I guided Beau Stark from the Houston area. It was his first time on the Lower Laguna, and he'd never caught a redfish on the fly. We had nearly calm winds at daybreak, so I went into a lagoon that fishes well in low wind. My buddy Roel Villanueva had already arrived in the lagoon, so I gave him a wide berth and shut down about 300 yards further in. We hadn't moved any fish until we approached the far shoreline. As soon as I saw mullet jumping, I shut down, suspecting that most of the redfish in the lagoon were packed into a corner where they often feed at daybreak. Sure enough, within five minutes of our arrival, redfish began tailing between us and the shoreline. They were extremely subtle, with small tips of their tails showing among the milling mullet. At first it was hard to believe that they were reds but hit me that we'd landed in the middle of a ton of feeding fish. Beau was pretty new to this, but he'd fly fished a lot in cold water. So he acclimated to the challenge pretty quickly. Within a few minutes, he had hooked his first redfish of six or seven, on a Kingfisher Spoon. (By the way, I am tying flies for sale again, so take a look on the For Sale page if you're interested. I am not happy with the way my flies are being tied commercially, and want to provide a more durable alternative to those of you who are willing to pay a bit more.)

I think Beau caught another redfish at our first venue and had plenty of shots. But the early morning magic in one spot can come to and end quickly; and the best guides know when to move on. I had other places to go, so we got up and left after about an hour, and headed further south.

Oh my, it was sooo good at the second stop that we stayed there for four hours. It was dead calm, and the water depth was just perfect--about 14 inches. Thick shoal grass had filled the area, and a lot of it was dying as it always does in the late summer and early fall. I'd only poled the Stilt for a few minutes before we spotted the first red tailing. And then, the tailing action was continuous. The problem with no wind, or low wind, is that the fish can sense your approach. Indeed, you usually only get one cast before they will stop tailing. The slight sound of the fly landing is enough, believe it not, to alert the fish to something out of the ordinary. Redfish are tolerant of consistent noises, and even allow seagulls to walk across their backs when they're feeding in pods. It's the anomaly that disturbs them. Biologists call this tendency of organisms to react to anomalies the "orienting response," which brings about a host of physiological changes to allow the organism to prepare for the possibility of threat. But once a fish or person gets used to the interruption, or is able to identify it as harmless, there is a quick return to "business as usual," since it takes energy to sustain the orienting response. If you've ever fished in cold water streams you will know that trout will start feeding all around you after you've held your position long enough. They have to eat, and you're a fixture. So what's the problem, right.

But anglers casting from boats, in particular, activate the orienting response, and that means the tails go down, even if the fish isn't "spooked" yet. He can see what's going on if his head isn't in the mud. So when the tail goes down, the angler should freeze and wait for the moment to pass. The redfish wants to eat, and will resume doing do if the angler simply waits him out.

But it's a good argument for not casting until you can put the fly next to the fish. Even if the fly startles the fish into the orienting response, the fish will take it when he sees that it was "only" an interesting  morsel hastening to its death.

Beau was great company, an obvious sportsman who appreciated what Nature had given us that morning. After the west side action slowed, we headed east onto the sand. Again, it was amazing...big reds traveling in small groups; multiple species traveling together behind rays; and occasional pairs of reds feeding upwind, head down. Beau caught a fine ladyfish on the sand, and was able to cast to several reds before we had to head in for the other half of his group's cast and blast schedule.

A few days later, Julie and I headed for the Arroyo so I could guide David Staub from Breckenridge, Colorado who had also never caught a redfish on a fly. Julie and I often go out in the evening before a charter, just to enjoy the sunset and to give Rosie a boat ride and a romp.

It was windy, so I headed into a back lagoon toward a shallow spot where I'd be able to see the fish feed in the wind. We came off plane in about 7 inches of water, after seeing several big reds shoot away like torpedoes, barely under the surface. Since I wasn't there to fish, Julie and I opened a bottle of cabernet, and watched the sun setting while the full moon rose behind us. But when I saw shrimp jumping, and obvious redfish boils beneath then, I quickly threaded my six weight, and excused myself and Rosie for "no more than 30 minutes." Julie is always cool with me fishing, so I didn't have to feel badly about going after the feeding reds. Actually, my time away from the boat proved to be far less than promised. I walked about 30 feet with Rosie behind me, and surveyed the scene. I could see the evidence of several reds feeding within 50 yards, but it was hard to visually follow them. They would blow up, or push water, then disappear. So I held my fly and stood still, wondering if one might suddenly appear within casting distance. Rosie stood obediently beside me; she always does. Suddenly a fish boiled nearby and shot away chasing something. Another left mud within 20 feet and disappeared. I thought I saw the subtle sign of a fin poking above the surface, so I casted 20 feet, stripped, and then casted again. Pow! A 24-inch red seized the fly and ran into my backing. A few minutes later, I got a picture and let him go. Satisfied, I got back in the boat and resumed the serious business of finishing my cabernet. Meanwhile, the reds continued to feed all around us.

The next day, I skipped that spot, believe it or not.  Something told me to go elsewhere, so we headed south to the spot where I'd poled Beau a few days before. was awesome again. We spent most of six hours wading and poling among tailing reds without another boat in sight. Dave caught his first two reds on a fly--one was 27 inches. It was a beautiful morning, and I think Dave will be back.

I will put some pics up here in a while.

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