Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Phenomenal Weekend of Tailing Action

Wow, what a great weekend of flyfishing! I had the privilege of guiding my old client Howard MIller of Dallas, who came down with his daughter Becky for two days on the water. It had been a couple of years since Howard had been down, and he hadn't flyfished since. He had rescheduled twice due to the tropical systems that had brought a deluge of rain and high tides. But when we headed out on Friday morning, the Arroyo was no longer draining, and the bay was as beautiful as I've ever seen it. The tides were high, but they always are from Labor Day until early December. The reds push farther back into remote westside venues, and once they get established, they tail in pods day after day, feeding on white shrimp and crabs. The larger reds will also cruise the shorelines of the far westside lagoons blowing up on finger mullet. It's the best time of the year.

I elected not to go into my oft-favorite lagoon in favor of heading farther south in hopes of finding pods of tailing reds. I regretted my decision on the way, sure that I'd effed up and would have to backtrack later. But we shut down in an expanse of glassy foot-deep water without another boat in sight, and it was hard to fault the decision to be there. Indeed, as we poled further and further west, we began encountering small pods of reds tailing almost imperceptibly in the glassy water. We crossed a threshold that normally stops most skiffs, but the Stilt kept floating. We entered a place that rarely sees a boat. It became clear that the reds had taken refuge there, because the dark tips of their tails began appearing in the early morning light, until we were literally surrounded by pods of tailing fish. A single skiff appeared a half a mile to the east. We had it to ourselves. For about two hours, we poled from one pod to the next. The day proved to be an "adjustment" day for Howard, and only a few fish were landed.

The next day, however, we left the dock earlier in order to take advantage of the tailing action. It was twilight when we arrived at the shallow lagoon. Immediately, tails popped up all around us. For the next three hours, we enjoyed some of the best action I've seen in years. Howard landed eight reds on a light chartreuse and white Clouser, all between 24 and 26 inches.  The wind came up mid-morning, so we ran around looking for visible fish, finally returning to my favorite early morning venue. Usually, the reds leave this area by late morning, but in the fall, the water depth is sufficient enough that even during an outgoing tide, enough water remains to support feeding fish.

It was critically shallow, and I am sure we poled through water that only a Stilt could negotiate. Wow, it was full of reds feeding singly and in small roaming pods that were exploding on whatever got in their way. We poled about three hundred yards, and had about 15 good shots. Then we looped back upwind, and poled through the same area, only to have at least as many shots at big reds. Howard was really happy that he'd chosen to wait for good weather.  As we said goodbye, I urged him to return soon. He's 83, and I'm 62. I said, "come soon, because I don't know how long I will be guiding." He laughed and said, "You and I will hire a guide, then."

It's a strange feeling when I say goodbye to some of my older clients, with whom I have had such good  experiences over the past 15 years. We really don't know each other, except on the deck of a skiff. But somehow we learn most of the important things you can know about a person---how they deal with challenges, disappointments, and what role patience plays in their lives. It's a soulful exchange, much more about life than just catching fish. As Sparse Gray Hackle once said, "Sometimes I think the least important thing about fishing is catching fish."

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Voice to text mess

I've been using the voice-to-text program Dragon dictate, and it's barely worth it, given the mess it creates. So if you find that my prose in my last post resembled the incoherent muttering of a recently awakened baboon, please forgive me. I have corrected most of it, and will endeavor to check it before publishing next time.

Back on the Water After A Month of Rain

 For the past month, we have experienced almost continual rain and clouds due to three separate tropical depressions. This time of year, most hurricanes that begin in the Atlantic do not reach us. However, the storms that spring up in the Caribbean or especially in the Bay of Campeche, which is just above the Yucat√°n Peninsula, can catch us almost unawares. Indeed only 40 years ago when my father would fish the Mexican beach south of the border, storms would come up quickly and surprise anglers were camping and fishing the surf. On one occasion, my dad was camping with several friends in a large tent about 100 yards from the edge of the water, when they were suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by a large wave that hit the tent and flooded the interior. They  jumped into their four-wheel drive vehicle and drove it as far as they could up into the dunes where they spent the next six hours or so weathering hurricane force winds. That was back before we had the luxury of satellite coverage of approaching hurricanes.  In addition to the immediate wind and rain from a tropical system, we also experience a significant surge in title levels whether the storm reaches us not. Indeed, a storm that reaches the Gulf even as far east as the Florida peninsula will nonetheless push water westward until we experience a significant bump in the normal tides. So, the usual stable weather of late summer can turn into constant rain and wind and high tides, which of course ruins the fishing. But this last weekend, my son Ryan and I went out fishing in order to scout the situation prior to several charters that I have in October and beyond. We found the bay in its pristine condition, having returned to its seasonal title levels, which are still quite high, but nonetheless fishable. We fished in only two venues, and found reds in both places. Ryan who has just moved back from Virginia, and is excited to be flyfishing  again, did quite well on his first outing out. In fact, he caught more reds than I did! We found tailing reds in a westside lagoon that was also festooned with tailing Sheepshead. Interestingly, the sheepshead were quite willing to take a fly. I hooked two big ones there, and landed one. Meanwhile, Ryan landed a very fine red, which he released before I could photograph it. We headed further north into another Westside lagoon that fishes well in sunny conditions. The big reds were feeding on baitfish along a grass free shoreline, chasing bait into the shallowest water. The reds would appear with their backs on the water, giving us breathtaking opportunities to cast a big fish in very, very skinny conditions. I headed in one direction, and suggested that Ryan go in the other direction due to the wind and the fact that he was right-handed. The area that I fished was full of big reds met were feeding explosively, but disappearing just as soon as they would strike. I found it hard to see them, and to cast to them. Ryan, on the other hand, headed in a direction where the water was clearer and even shallower. They were there with their backs out of the water, and Ryan had almost constant action until he landed a 27-inch red.  Not wanting to be left out of the action, I headed over to join him and waded parallel to him, fishing even shallower water up against the shoreline. The reds were still there feeding aggressively an almost impossibly shallow conditions. We didn't catch a lot of fish, but the ones we caught were big ones. The wind and clouds came up in the late morning, so we decided to pack it in.

This weekend, I guide my old client Howard Miller from Dallas, who has rescheduled three times in the last six weeks due to weather. The forecast says that he should have ideal conditions. Beyond Howard's weekend charter, I have several others lined up, and I hope  that the tropical storms have finally run their course. We really needed the rain, and we got plenty of it. But now, it's time to catch a few fish.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Blogger's Remorse

9/2/13  I have blogger’s guilt, having not posted a fishing report for a very long time. Alas, one cannot get around to everything, and I always have believed the words of Saint Kenny, my old fishing mentor who used to say, “Tis a helluva lot better to fish than to lie about it, and a helluva better to lie than to bore your friends with the facts.” 

I will cast back in memory until it fails me, or until I reach the date of my last blog, whichever comes first.

On Friday, and again on Sunday, I guided brothers Clay and Chuck Armstrong, who had  flyfished in coldwater venues, but had never caught a redfish on a fly. Short, precise casts are what you need in a small stream with overhangs, but when it comes to saltwater sightcasting, you need a long, precise cast. Even a long cast isn’t enough, because as you will find you may get one or two casts to a tailing pod of reds, and then they will sense your presence and break up. 

So Clay and Chuck faced the usual learning curve for flyfishers new to sightcasting for redfish. The first day turned out to be what most flyfishers dream of––dead calm conditions. After you’ve stalked reds in perfectly glassy conditions, you may pray for a bit of wind from thereon; because getting close enough by boat or on foot is exceedingly difficult in a foot of calm water. That’s what kept Clay and Chuck from scoring early on Friday, but I didn’t hear them complaining. It was breathtaking to see 20 reds here and 15 over there, and a few more behind us--all tailing and blowing up from time to time on shrimp and crabs that inhabited the grassy back lagoon. We were the only boat in an area that was probably about 400 acres. So, we didn’t land any fish there, but the guys grew in flyfishing stature. As Saint Kenny once said, “Every poor cast and every missed fish keeps you careening toward angling perfection, if depression convince you to quit.”

As if to reward the guys’ willingness to practice in near-impossible conditions, momma nature drummed up a bit of wind so that when we arrived at our second venue and found pods of tailing reds mixed with hardheads, we were able to get within 100 feet of them. There Clay landed his first red on a fly, and Chuck missed one than ran toward him before spitting the fly. Later, on the sand under a cloudless sky, they got shots at scattered reds; and both brothers managed to land reds on small Clousers. Indeed, Chuck’s first red on a fly was an especially impressive feat. He and I were walking downwind when I decided to go back and float the Stilt down to where the guys were. Turning around, I spotted a half-dozen reds feeding behind a sting ray, moving slowly toward us. Without thinking about how nearly impossible it would be to cast a fly upwind with his back cast, Chuck dropped the fly in the middle of the “cartwheel” of reds around the ray, and they fought over it. I will never forget that catch; and of course, neither will Chuck.

In between guiding the Armstrong brothers, Julie and I took Rosie and went out for one of our memorable afternoon excursions onto the sand. This time, Julie took along a beach umbrella and chair, looking forward to setting it up next to the Stilt in the clear water of the easternmost LLM, and reading while I flyfished. As usual, I planed slowly over several miles of fishless water, looking for enough reds to justify shutting down. Growing impatient, Julie finally turned around and said, "Are we going to run around all day?" So I shut down, and set up Julie's umbrella and chair, fully expecting to encounter not a single redfish on my wade. Rosie joined me, as always, taking up a position just behind me. For the first 30 minutes, I didn't see a single fish, even though I could literally see 100 yards downwind in the perfect sight casting conditions: There was a moderate wind to break the surface tension of the water, and not a cloud in the sky. But suddenly, I spotted the first redfish coming upwind and feeding head down. I casted to him, and spooked him. I thought that he was probably the only fish within a mile radius, but soon after missing that fish, I began spotting one red after another until it was almost constant action. I landed three fine reds from 23-24 inches, and then headed back. I don't have to catch many fish any more before I'm happy and want to leave them alone.

Let me see: Going back a bit further, I had the pleasure of guiding Doug and Steve Gauntt from Dallas. The Gauntt brothers have probably caught more reds per day than any other regular flyfishing clients, having caught over 45 on one memorable day, and well over 20 reds per day on several different days. No wonder they keep coming back. But except for our first day, we had tough fly fishing. On the first day, they landed around 15 reds and a nice trout, mostly on the sand. After that, it was single digit days. Windy and cloudy conditions keep the Gauntts from doing their usual thing. Alas, every fine angler meets his match from time to time, and when it comes to saltwater flyfishing, that happens with regularity. The great days keep us coming back, and the bad days keep us learning.

The three days before the Gauntts came down, I guided my old client Jack Miller from Arizona, along with Roger and Greg––two of Jack’s buddies from the Arizona Fly Casters. I had guided Jack on two previous occasions with his old friend Dario, who has since passed on. Jack and Dario had enjoyed some of the best flyfishing conditions on the LLM imaginable. But this time, the fishing was not so easy, mainly because we faced unstable, cloudy weather for two of the three days. I think it was the second day when we were run off the water by a storm approaching from the Gulf. After taking the guys in at midday, I began to feel badly that they were just sitting, unable to fish. So after the weather cleared, I called them and suggested we go back out and check out the far east side action that I’d been enjoying (see earlier entries). The guys enthusiastically agreed that a late afternoon foray onto the sand would be a welcome antidote to an otherwise lackluster day.

We headed out a bit too early for the sand action, so I headed for a westside lagoon that just might have some birding action. Even in August, birding can be “on,” especially in the late afternoon, if you know where to go. I drove into the area, and couldn’t see much gazing into the low sun, but suddenly, there they were: gulls working low to the water. Looking beyond them, we could see several groups of birds hovering and dipping over large pods of reds. As I poled into the lagoon, it became clear that we stumbled upon a veritable convention of redfish. Gathering as they often do once the boats are off the water, and they have full sway of the back lagoons, the redfish were all around us, sweeping under birds, and driving waves that you could surf on. It was very exciting for the guys. But the bottom was very soft, and there were three anglers on the skiff.  It was going to be a juggling act to get everyone on fish before the evening was over. Greg opted to wade, even though the conditions were as close to impossible as you will find on the entire LLM. The high point of the day was when Roger was on the bow, and Jack was casting from a seated position behind the console, and I waded alongside the boat, and turned it at the last minute so both anglers could cast to a tailing pod. Both Jack and Roger hooked up and landed reds. Here’s a shot of them with their reds before we released them.

Enough for now. As we go into September, I look forward to fishing some areas that are normally too shallow through the summer. Already, I am finding abundant pods in areas just deep enough to host reds feeding on maturing white shrimp. It’s going to a great fall, I can tell––very similar to last year. Come on down and fish with us!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A New Discovery at Dusk

So much has happened since my last posting. I was gone for three weeks in June, but have been on the water quite a bit since returning.

Fishing has been excellent, even "wild" in the words of one old client. Whenever I think I know it all, nature teaches me something new, if not strange, that I didn't know before.

Every anger and guide longs to find a "secret" that can produce again and again. But few discoveries repeat themselves on a dependable basis. Over time, however, these discoveries work their way into an enduring data base the informs the angler about what to do when a variety of variable come into alignment.

About a month ago, I went out late in the evening with Julie. We often arrive before dark on the day before I guide, and take the boat out for a spin and brief fishing "date" on the bay. Julie loves the sand, so even though I prefer the west side at dusk (for birding and other visible phenomena), I headed east onto the shallowest sand so Julie could get out and frolic while sipping a beer. Meanwhile, I grabbed my rod and waded further east toward the Padre Island "shelf" that defines the edge of fishable water. Beyond, the glassy 3 inch water stretches all the way to the distant dunes.

Reds were clearly visible swimming upwind with their backs out of the water. Sheepshead were so plentiful that it would have been easy for a novice to confuse the species and catch nothing. But to a trained eye, the reds were streaming just to the east of the sheepshead hoard. Wow, it was great fly fishing. I caught one, then missed four before I realized my hook had broken on the second fish! Laughing at my inattention (I really didn't care to catch any more), I hung it up and went in.

I went back to the same are the next weekend before another weekend gig, and the reds were doing the same thing. I landed four reds from 24-26 inches in 30 minutes, and missed two more. I could have stayed longer and caught more, but I don't have much need to rack up numbers, anymore.

All to say...this is one of those incredible, repeated angling opportunities that virtually no one fishes, or even knows about. How many guides will take their clients out at 5 pm? How many fly fishes will go out on cloudy, windy evenings, expecting to catch as many reds that they can handle?

There's so much that I know after so many years on the water. I know that most of it remains a mystery to most people, and that's just fine with me. But starting next year, I will begin compiling my culminating fly fishing book on the Laguna Madre. There will be plenty of secrets for those who wish to exploit them. But in most cases, I am sure, very few people will go out of their way to find out if such apparently rubbish can be true.

What I discovered that evening was a real "wow," even for admittedly "know-it-all" guide like me. Thinking that it was a fluke, I have returned twice only to find the redfish doing the same thing.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Bad Day Turns Good

I guided Tom Dorrell from Corpus and his buddy Steve Elliot from Houston the other day. We almost rescheduled because the forecast called for 20-30 knots. Ouch. But they opted to come down anyway. We headed out on Tuesday in 20 mph wind (destined for 25+ later that morning) and found no birding in my two favorite places for early morning birding action. I was getting ready to pop a Prozac,but as we left the second place, I noticed birds working just east of the Interacoastal. Trout, I surmised. So we looped upwind and floated down to them. We could see tails popping up under the birds in the low light. Steve's first cast scored our first redfish of the day. The day was looking better, but no one expected much after that. But we were all surprised. About 18 trout later––many of them in 17-18 inch range––we picked up and headed south, hoping to find birding in a third venue. Nope, it was too shallow. So we headed east onto the sand, and found crystal clear water in 20-25 knot wind. For the next few hours, we waded there, and landed four more reds. We had plenty more opportunities, but the reds weren't feeding head down, and therefore could easily spot you as soon as you moved.  For a crappy weather day, it turned out to be a glorious catching day. You never know what you'll find. You just have to show up, and few angler will show up on bad days. So they never know what's possible.
Here's the link to a new video  of my day with Dr. Sam Fason that I just uploaded to YouTube. It has some of the best "birding" footage I've ever shot.  The redfish are going crazy feeding--I just love to watch them when they're doing this. Not many people have ever seen this. By the way, Does anyone know the identity of the small black tern diving on the reds? -- Capt. Scott

Friday, May 24, 2013

Extreme Birding

I have been guiding a lot lately, and this past weekend I had the privilege of guiding my old client Sam Fason from Austin for his 75th birthday. Our first day out was very windy--so what's new, right?-- but he did quite well considering. He landed two reds and two trout in weather conditions that kept most flyfishers in bed. At least that's where I assume they were, because they weren't on the water!

But the second day was phenomenal. We found birding in three different areas, and it was still "on" when we headed home at 4 pm.

I will be preparing a video of some of the best footage I've ever recorded of birding. I was able to video close-in groups of 20-30 reds tailing en mass and snapping at shrimp while laughing gulls were going nuts overhead, trying to intercept fleeing shrimp. It's a sight that few anglers have ever  witnessed, and so I look forward to putting this video together for all to see.

May has been expecially windy, so the clarity of the water has suffered. On Wednesday, though, the wind decreased to a mere 15 mph, which resulted in clear water everywhere. It was a fitting way to celebrate Sam's 75th year, and the eight reds he landed while wading attested to his angling prowess. He apologized for not doing better, which says something about the kind of day we had. I've never seen so many happy redfish tailing under happier gulls.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Classic flyfishing for reds

I hadn't planned to fish. My nephew Spencer from Denver and his buddy Micah from Houston had come down for three days of flyfishing with Chip, and a fourth angler on the Stilt can be an official "crowd." But when I tried to turn down the invitation to join them, they made it clear that they wanted me along. "Hell, I've never seen you just fish. You're always guiding," Micah said. So I went down and launched the boat so they guys would be able to hit the water at daybreak after driving from Weslaco.

I was elected to drive the Stilt, which was fine with me. We decided to fish south rather than to go north for birding action. When I'm fishing for fun, I usually leave the pods alone, preferring to go after the larger reds in the back lagoons and shorelines. So we headed into the first lagoon south of the Arroyo, and shut down and started wading toward the south shoreline where the water became progressively shallow until it was only bootie deep. There weren't many reds, and when they tailed, it was only briefly. I finally landed one, and headed further west hoping to find the big reds that feed only on finfish along the far west shoreline of this most favorite lagoon. I finally had one shot at an incoming monster, but I blew the cast.

We headed much further south, hoping to find big trout mingled with redfish, and succeeded, even though the sight casting was tough. Staking the boat 300 yards from the west shoreline of south Cullens, we all waded toward the shallower and clearer water along the mangrove-lined ridge that runs north and south. We didn't see much until we were within 100 yards of the shoreline. I spotted a tailing red and caught him, and then saw two larger reds tailing along the shoreline, and landed one of them--a 26-inch fish. I was feeling in the zone. I headed further south, leaving the guys behind me, and noticed that they were starting to make the long wade back to the boat. I fought the inclination to wade back, finally deciding that they could come pick me up. It's hard for me to let others do that after years of doing the "boat chores" as a guide. Looking further south, I saw only clear foot-deep water stretching out for another 600 yards before the shoreline of Stover's point rose abruptly out of the shallow lagoon. Then suddenly, I heard the explosion of a huge redfish or trout. A reddish egret was dancing around the  area, where a large school of mullet was circling slowly in the glassy water. I couldn't see the remnants of the fish's surface break, but I took a bead on the sound and headed slowly toward it.

I was happy that I'd worn my new polaroids. I'd ordered a special pair, and installed side shades that I'd made out of leather. (If you want to order incredibly cheap, high-quality prescription polaroids, go to You can get single lens prescription glasses for $45, and progressive trifocals for about $90, depending on the frame.) They broke the glare that normally streams in from the side, and I could see over 60 yards ahead of me. Wading very slowly, I scanned the water for the signs of the mystery fish until I spotted a large pink shape moving slowly from left to right. It turned sideways, and I saw that it was a huge redfish, probably 30 inches or more.

I waded into position, and luckily it turned and headed toward me. Casting my Mother's Day Fly on my TFO six weight, I dropped the fly just beyond and ahead of the fish's head. Not wanting to spook it with an approaching fly, I let it sink and twitched it slowly along the bottom, hoping for the best. The red spotted it after it had passed, and shot forward to inhale it. It was on! But it ran toward me, and the fly popped out. I stripped the slack in, and laid the fly ahead of it as it came within 25 feet. Alas, a mature redfish rarely falls for the same trick twice, and he shrugged off my effort. Turning sideways only 20 feet from me, he stopped and eyed me before lumbering off. I was happy, even though I didn't land him. It was a compliment that he'd accepted my presentation and taken an MDF that I'd tied while watching TV only a few days ago.

We headed onto the sand, which is my favorite place to fish. We put Chip and Micah out, and Spencer and I headed 1/2 mile further north and staked the boat. The conditions were perfect: not a cloud in the sky, and the sun at a slight western angle. Spence and I spotted several reds and a couple of trout before Chip and Micah picked us up. I managed to pick up one red on my MDF before we headed further north. We had intended to head in, but we ran over a passel of reds, and several big trout. So we shut down one last time and slipped overboard. While Spencer and Micah didn't seem much, I found a line where I spotted continuous reds for half an hour. They were spooky given the high-vis conditions, but I managed to hook two before Chip poled up behind us and officially pulled the plug on a perfect day.

You may want to consider this: When I wade fish with others, we all experience different things. I can wade beside someone who doesn't see one fish in an hour, and I can see 30 reds in the same period of time. This may sound like boasting, but I'm just stating the facts. What makes the difference? It has to with three things: experience on the water, stopping, and seeing. Obviously, the more experience on the water you have, the easier your eyes and brain can separate information from the background noise. But beyond sheer hours on the water, you can increase your chances of success by stopping from time to time while you are wading and observing very carefully. If you observe herons, you will see them move forward, then freeze, move forward, then freeze. You can perceive movement when your head is stationary far better than when it is movingl. Also, don't cast unless you see something. If you cast, the movement of your head will keep you from perceiving movement in the water. Further, get the best glasses you can find. Don't scrimp on polaroids. Your vision is the most important ally on the water, and if you scrimp on your eyeware, you won't see half of what's there.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

New Video

I just posted a new video on YouTube, and embedded the html here. I hope to be putting some more videos up soon.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Birding--more challenging than it looks

Birding is "on" right now, as it always is this time of year. Randy and his son Truett went out yesterday and got into birding, but didn't land a single red. Why's that, you might ask? The reasons that most people fail to catch fish under birds are all related to a single problem
--getting the redfish to see your fly. There are variations on this theme:
1) They start casting too soon, and the fish have time to move or disperse;
2) By casting too soon, they catch grass, catfish, small trout, or ladyfish––all of which accompany the redfish, and encircle them––which gives the reds even more time to move on or disperse;
3) They cast a fly that sinks so slowly that the reds, which have their heads down, never see it.

Randy and Truett are expert Laguna Madre anglers, so I had to wonder how they, of all people, came up empty-handed (not that I have :). Sometimes it's simply the weight of the fly. Indeed, Randy admitted that they had used ultra-lightweight Kingfisher spoons, which are usually a very fine redfish fly. But in deeper water (meaning calf-to-knee-deep), a lightweight spoon like the KF Spoon will flutter slowly to the bottom, giving opportunistic ladyfish and trout time to snatch the fly before the reds (which have their heads in the sand) from seeing the fly.

So, to succeed...Cast a fly that will get to the level of the redfish immediately. A Clouser works best in more than a foot of relatively grass-free water. Also, cast slightly beyond the pod. The fly typically swings toward the angler on the drop, so to get the fly in front of the fish, you need to overcast the pod by a foot or so.

Also, you need to assess where the redfish are going. Typically, they move in the same direction, sweeping the grass as a group. If you cast behind them, they'll never see it. So look at the direction the tail is pointing, and you'll be able to discern the direction of the pod's movement (the other direction). Or if you can't see the tails clearly, look at the birds, and see which way they are moving against the horizon. The birds are always oriented upwind, but the fish may be going in the opposite direction, or sideways.

And above all, get there quickly! Observe the principle of early arrival, for otherwise, the fish will move away, or explode in a cloud of mud, leaving you wishing you hadn't allowed yourself to be mesmerized by the sight of dozens of waving tails in the early morning sunlight.

On one occasion, I guided two experienced fly fishers who were stalking large pods of redfish surrounded by small trout. I said, "Don't cast before you can reach the tails. Otherwise you will catch a small trout." Well, eight trout later, the guys hadn't been patient, and every cast fell short. They walked back to boat with that hangdog look, knowing what they'd done.

Remember Omar Kyam's words, Tis many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, and maybe you will exercise the patience and discipline to make an easy play an easy play.

I am guiding three days this weekend, and hope to get some good video of birding. I will let you know.

Good luck!

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Smartest Fish

If you haven't reviewed my list of fly fishing articles recently, I have just posted a new article that will appear in the next issue of Tide Magazine on fly fishing for trophy speckled trout. Most of our new clients are interested in redfish, which are not only tough fighters, but usually willing to take a well-presented fly. Trout can be a bit more difficult. But as I've said before, if you target big trout, you are raising the bar on the angling challenge. Consequently, your angling skills will increase, and your ability to catch other species--including redfish--will be significantly enhanced.

The article can be found here:

Another thing: I will be spending much of the month of May on the water--guiding, writing, and fishing for fun. Consider coming down and fishing with me. May is a magical fly fishing month overall.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Guiding old clients

Yesterday, I had the privilege of guiding Tony Woodward and his buddy Jim from Colorado. We could see that a cold front was forecast to pass through on early Sunday, and that they would only have one good weather day. Usually, I recommend rescheduling under such conditions, but Tony had fished the lower Laguna on many occasions, and wasn't into numbers, anyway. So I left it up to him and Jim. They came.

I suggested that we do a dawn-to-dusk trip on Saturday, to which they wholly agreed. I had a plan, and would have bet big money on it; but the day turned out to be difficult. I left the dock at the Arroyo City RV Park and picked them up near the county park. We left the dock earlier than most guides would have, in order to take advantage of early "birding" action. In fact, I navigated with a q-beam down the Arroyo, and found it harder and harder to see. Unbenownst to us, we were driving into fog. By the time we reached the Intracoastal, we couldn't see more than 75 yards ahead. Shining the q-beam through the fog was as useless as driving with a car with your brights on in a thick fog--not very effective, and blinding. After a while, the sun finally rose and transformed near-inpenetrable darkness into a dim white haze. The birding wasn't on, so we headed south to check out some other west-side venues. The fog was so thick, however, that when I finally had to leave the sight of land, I got a bit turned around. Finally, I finally managed to find my way to our destination--a back lagoon that is virtually landlocked. I was relieved that I could only get so lost before running into a familiar shoreline.

Tony caught a fine trout  from the bow, but the redfish action was spotty. We had a few shots here and there, but the lighting was pretty poor, given the fog. When the clouds finally burned off, we could see that pods of redfish were moving into the area, so the guys got out and waded. Alas, they weren't tailing or doing much of anything. Perhaps it was the near-full moon, but I think it was unstable conditions ahead of the cold front. The winds kept changing, and sometimes the fish just don't do much until the front passes. After a while, we headed east onto the sand, hoping for what Tony (and I) like best--fishing the crystal clear water for cruising reds and trout. Yes, the big trout were up on the sand--not in numbers, but they were a steady presence as we planed north toward Mansfield. The tides were high, having recently surged due to the solar effects. So while we found reds, they were in deeper water than we could fish sight casting.

When we got in, Tony spoke with some fly fishers from Houston, who had fished way south, where I'd been fishing for big trout during January and February. Tony learned that the big trout were still there, but they weren't eating, according to the anglers.

So it's not always great fly fishing on the Lower Laguna. If I told you it was, I'm sure you would think me a liar. It doesn't give me much pleasure to tell you about a one-fish day. But then again, we had a very good day. Sharing stories, eating chips and sauza, and smoking the rare cigar. As Sparse Gray Hackle once said, "Sometimes I think the least important thing about fishing is catching fish."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Julie and I went to the Arroyo this past Saturday, to get a break from school and taxes and therapy and such. I thought that the conditions could be right for big trout, but this time of year the water begins to rise and then the big trout action moves from Stover's Point onto the sand. I wasn't sure if the change had begun or not, but thought that the only way to find out was to show up and see. We took Rosie for the outing, which is a separate source of pleasure for both Julie and me, as we've come to love her enthusiasm for the water. She is the perfect companion: she joins me as soon as I'm off the boat, and walks just behind me, sometimes touching my leg with her nose, but never getting ahead of me or making any noise whatsoever.

We headed for the far west side of Cullens Bay between Cullens House and Stover's Point, knowing that shallow clear water could be found near the mangrove covered islands. It's often the only place to see fish during the windy day of early March, when the water clarity is reduced by the combination of wind and the flow of water into the bay. The water was off color elsewhere, but not brown and orange as it would be if brown tide had possessed it, but a subtle tint of blue that bespoke of the incoming Gulf water that would effectively replace the winter bay water with new blood.

We poled into the clear water with the 10 knot East wind, and saw almost nothing. A few signs of nervous water alerted me to the presence of a very few game fish that were prowling the shallows. Knowing that one or two good shots might be all the day had to offer, I staked the boat and grabbed my six weight. Rosie joined me while Julie stayed on the boat, looking like a tiny Eskimo in the Frog Togs and layering. It was only 65, but the breeze on the bay can take the warmth from your body like a pickpocket; so better to wear more than less in the early spring.

I waded slowly, enjoying the clear water. It affects me deeply, and it really doesn't matter if there's any fish at all. After about 20 minutes, however, I saw a huge fish push away from the shoreline and make way toward me. Hoping that it would keep moving and pushing a wake, I slid sideways to intersect what I was certain was a 8+ pound trout. The wake came within casting distance, probably 80 feet out, and then disappeared as the big fish settled into a slower mode. I casted my Mother's Day fly ahead of the wake, not sure any more exactly where the fish had gone. After driving 65 miles,  sleeping overnight in the trailer, driving 20 miles by boat, taking great care to prepare my gear and terminal tackle, and finally making a fine cast in the area of a great fish, I still needed some luck. The fish still needed to see it, and as luck would have it, the big trout certainly did not see the fly. She disappeared and that was all.

We then headed east onto the sand, which was crystal clear. We ran for miles without seeing much, then angled back toward the mouth of the Arroyo and headed west toward home. We both felt cleansed by the time on the water, happy and "good tired." There's something about the Laguna Madre that takes care of the loose ends and the regrets.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Quest for Trophy Trout Pays Off

My son Ryan and I went out for trophy trout on Saturday morning. I had pitched an article to Tide magazine, and the editor took me up on it immediately. In fact, he wanted it much sooner than I'd planned to do it. So...I decided to go for the long shot--catching a trophy trout on demand.

We headed to South Cullens Bay, where there are often lots of big trout during the winter. I was pleased to see that the tides were about as low as they get, forcing us to go around the spoil islands and enter Cullens opposite Stover's Point. The water was off color in the deeper water, but as we approached the shoreline, it gradually cleared up. We began seeing wakes, but could not identify the fish in the early morning light.

We'd arrived far too early to sight cast using the sun, but the wind was almost calm, so we were able to see breaks and wakes all around us. We decided to wade toward the shoreline, hoping that the shallower and clearer water would hold trout that were avoiding the boat traffic.

Almost immediately, we began spotting game fish breaking and driving dramatic wakes ahead of us. Hoping that they weren't sheepshead, I decided not to blind cast, but to remained cocked and ready for any surface disturbance within casting distance.

About that time, two boats headed toward us from the south, giving the shoreline a "haircut." Annoyed, I watched and listened to them yelling back and forth between themselves. Suddenly, they all started yelling. "Trout, they're all trout!" I heard one guy scream. As they approached, I waved my arms, hoping they'd run to deeper water before they gave all the fish a severe case of PTSD. As they turned away from the shoreline, I could see a dozen big wakes slowly heading toward us. Big trout tend to spook straightaway, rather than zig zagging, and these wakes were slow and straight and had a stately, even slow-motion quality. They were trout, all right.

They all settled down and disappeared, but I knew they were all around us, so I watched for the inimitable signs of fish snaking across the surface. Reds do it, too, in South Cullens, since the turtle grass forces the fish into the upper water column. But trout behave slightly differently when snaking on top. Within a few minutes, I spotted a few fish snaking toward me, wagging their tails. Casting just ahead of them, a wake sped forward and took the Mother's Day Fly, The trout's head came out of the water, thrashing; and the fly popped out. I knew that it had been a pretty big fish, and even though I'd lost it, the experience told me two things: most of the fish were trout, and they were willing to eat.

Ryan and I took a break on the boat a bit later, then headed westward into an area where the surface was glassy. We'd be able to spot fish a long way off, as long as the wind stayed low.

We began to see incoming pairs and small groups, and I got a nip from one of them. But big trout are exceedingly demanding when it comes to presentation. As long as they are heading toward you, you have a chance, but once they turn, it's very hard to get them to eat, because the fly is usually crossing their path.

Wondering if all of our luck had played out, I suddenly spotted a group of fish--probably a dozen or more--heading toward me in the glass. I yelled, "They're probably reds," but I hoped otherwise. As they approached my casting distance, I laid the Mother's Day Fly out ahead of them, and began stripping slowly. The wakes overtook the fly, but frustratingly did not take it. I felt some resistance and pulled only to find that the fly was fouled with grass! A big trout that had been dogging it suddenly went head down, perhaps to take a look at the unnatural acting fly, and a black tail the size of my hand waved at me. I knew they were all trout at that point. I stripped the fly in, tore the grass off, and looked up only to see that the group had broken up. A couple of singles had spooked and were breaking off, while the remnants of the pod were swimming slowly away. Desparate, I quickly stripped more line off and casted ahead of where I thought they were. It was a low percentage play, but there was a swirl, and one was on! It jumped out of the water on hookup and shot away. I could see that it was 26-27 inches and knew that there was a good chance I'd lose it.

But a few minutes later I landed her, got some photos for the article and released her. We fished a while longer, but didn't catch any more trout. Perhaps it's needless for me to say it, but...we're going back soon!