Sunday, October 28, 2012

Three Days and 59 Reds Later

Some of my favorite clients are fishing guides who live in Alaska. For the past three years, I have had the privilege of guiding Rich Rogers and Kirk Anietsch, as well as their southern California buddy Riz Sheitch.  Fortunately, we had almost three near-perfect weather days before a cold front passed through Saturday midday.

As I said in my last posting, the autumn fishing as been as stellar as the summer fishing was dismal. Various factors conspired to depress the summer fishing, but whatever they were--and no one knows for sure--they have given way to conditions supporting big, hungry fish in all the right places. 

We started each morning on the west side, in two of my favorite autumn tide high-water venues. Interestingly, while places like Payton's Bay have shown significant reductions in seagrasses (and fish as well), other areas have more seagrass than I've ever seen. Shoal grass has been generallydeclining for several years, and turtle grass has been filling in the empty spaces. Biologists say that this is a natural progression. However, the influx of fresh water that we experienced two years ago from the Mexican flood runoff further decimated the shoal grass in areas where fresh water flows overwhelmed the west side salinity. And turtle grass can hardly be found now, compared to the pre-flood years. But in places that were protected from the direct impact of the fresh water, shoal grass has made a surprising comeback. And the weirdest thing is that the so-called "sand" has more vegetation on it--especially up north--than I have ever seen. If, however, we experience a hurricane in the near future, the sand will be swept clean, no doubt.

We ran into a few other fly fishing guides in these places, but fortunately, the other guides tend to gravitate toward slightly deeper water, leaving the best and the shallowest waters for my NewWater Stilt. 

The reds were tailing in pods before the sun rose on Wednesday morning. Rich was out of the boat stalking three or four pods while Kirk was tracking Rich's movements with his Go-Pro video camera. If Kirk had been less interested in getting video, he would have been casting to tails, too. But Kirk is not a "numbers man," so he focused his attention on Rich who, within two minutes, had hooked up on a red that slammed his VIP popper.

The tailing fell off pretty soon, and after landing a couple of more fish, we headed south to another westside venue that has been producing well since the autumn tides flooded the far west venues. Catching a couple of more from the boat, we then headed north and fished some shorelines before turning eastward and heading to the sand. There, we spent the rest of the day casting to countless redfish that were tracking upwind in singles and doubles. They guys lost count of how many they landed, but I made a rough count of 25 fish for the day. The sand was as good as it gets!
The next day, Kirk opted to fish with a friend, while Riz joined Rich and me on the Stilt. We revisited the same two westside venues, and caught only a couple of reds. Indeed, the day started slowly. But once we headed onto the sand at midday, the fishing started improving. After landing a few from the boat, we waded for a while, hoping for a repeat of the previous day's storybook fly fishing. But the reds were scarce. It was time to head in, but I suggested we run up to the East Cut and take a look on the sand on the south side of the spoils. As the sun descended in the western sky, the cloudless sky permitted us to sight cast later than usual, and within an hour wed caught 8 reds up to 28 inches in length. Since we were 45 minutes from home, we arrived at the dock at 6, making for a very long day, but a good one, for anglers and guide. 16 reds were caught, as I recall.

The weather forecast called for a frontal passage by midday, but the conditions at dawn were perfect. Riz, Rich and Kirk managed to find a spot on the Stilt to sit on our initial run out to the Bay. Our first stop took us south, into a glassy lagoon where we found a few tails at daybreak. While Riz waded off on his own (his customary style!), Rich and Kirk took turns wading and fishing from the bow. Everyone caught fish, but the conditions were so still that it was hard to cast to the fish without spooking them. I think they all landed two reds before we headed elsewhere. I took them into a glassy west-side lagoon where we spooked several reds before shutting down. I encouraged the guys to wade away from the mullet stream, so that any surface disturbance would likely signify a gamefish. Before long, the guys were spread out and crouching in stealthy pursuit. It was literally four hours before I saw Riz face to face, but its not surprising that he preferred fishing over gatorade. Indeed, he caught nine reds and two drum, and had dozens of other opportunities. Kirk, too, reported almost constant tailing action. 

The front blew through about noon, bringing cooler temps and low gray clouds. I gathered Rich and Kirk and began poling, or blowing rather, toward the speck that Riz had become on the horizon. We thought the day was done, but on the way down to Riz, we started seeing wakes moving upwind. Casting from the bow, Rich casted to an incoming wake and hooked up on a 6-lb drum! Seeing other wakes, I suggested that we get off the boat and spread out. Rich was in his groove, because he hooked two more drum within a few minutes. Meanwhile, the wind was rising. So we resumed our downwind trek to pick up Riz, whose first words were "Gatorade and food!" or something like that. He was parched and famished, but had stories that would sustain his soul.

It was a great three days, but the high point may have been our Friday night dinner at Chili Willi's. It was the annual Halloween party, and the weekly karaoke led by Richard and Susie Weldon. Julie (my finance) sang three songs, and wowed the crowd with her gutsy voice. It was a fine time on and off the water.

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