Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Guiding in February

I joined my fellow guides Rick Hartman and Eric Glass on Sunday in guiding a group of flyfishers from Houston. This time of year, it's often foggy in the morning. The air temperatures are often much warmer than the bay water, and that can make for foggyconditions. When we left the dock at Adoph Thomae County Park, it was clear, but we encountered a wall of fog at the mouth of the Arroyo.

To play it safe, I could have hugged the Intracoastal Waterway until the fog lifted. But not knowing how long that would take, I opted to take a hard right through the Intracoastal spoil islands and enter Rattlesnake Bay at low tide. Remembering the previous week's debacle (see below), I gave the shallowest areas a wide berth and ran into the fog and shut down. We poled downwind for a while until I ascertained that the reds would not be showing, and then headed back to the ICW.  That's where it became a bit difficult. There weren't any landmarks to guide me at first, so I used the wind in a disciplined way to hold to a course that would take me into the deeper areas of Rattlesnake Bay, and into the ICW. At one point, my client Richard turned around and asked, "How do you know where we are?" Good question. I said, "Experience," but I knew that experience could fail me, especially when I became distracted, such as last week.

We made it back to the ICW, and dropped into a couple of west-side lagoons only to find off-colored water and no visible fish. So, I headed east as the fog lifted, affording me enough visibility to navigate comfortably toward the shallowest east edge of the east Laguna Madre. I recalled several years earlier that a friend of mine had planed into the same waters during winter tides, and had stuck his boat so badly that it was months before it could be recovered.

As we approached the edge of the vegetation-free sand, we began to move singles and pairs of redfish, along with countless sheepshead. I ran up onto the sand, hoping to find them in 7 inches of water, but no, they were along the edge of the sand, in foot-deep water. I shut down, and began to pole downwind in the white sheen of fog lit by midmorning sun.

We were blessed by the appearance of redfish tailing, and some were big. They were spread out and interspersed with tailing sheepshead, but my clients quickly learned the discern the difference. For hours, we poled from one tailing red to another; but it was exceedingly difficult flyfishing. We would cast to one tail after another, but the reds would go down after the first cast. On some days, you can get several casts to a tailing fish, but in early spring, in particular, the reds on the east side are perversely sensitive to the sound of the fly hitting the water, and to the sight of the approaching boat. So we didn't catch much, even though the opportunities were aplenty. Looking back, we should have waded, but the water was chilly, and my clients seemed happy staying aboard the Stilt.

I just received word today that my article on "How to Catch Reds on the Bad Days" will appear in the May-June issue of Tide magazine. I am also writing an article for the July-August or Sept-Oct. issue on "Don't Blame the Fish." I haven't written that one yet, but I look forward to putting some thoughts to paper that have influenced my guiding for the last 15 years.

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