Sunday, August 24, 2014

New Flyfishing Video

I just published my latest flyfishing video on YouTube. I think it's one of my best.  I hope you enjoy it! BTW, Don't forget to select the high-definition setting by clicking the gear symbol in the lower right corner of the YouTube window.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Return of the Sea Grasses

Guides and frequent anglers on the lower Laguna Madre often comment on macro-level changes that they have observed over the years. And what I find is that we are often like the 10 blind men and the elephant. That is, each of us is "touching" one facet of the whole, and describing the whole in terms of their narrow experience. It's human nature to extrapolate on what we see and experience, thereby projecting a highly subjective view upon a rather complex and multifaceted whole.

There are several observations that are factual, however. The seagrasses took a huge hit from the fresh water inflows about five seasons ago. Over 30 inches of rain fell in the Mexican mountains to the south of us, and the water poured into the Rio Grande River watershed over the course about six weeks. The Arroyo Colorado is part of the flood diversion system in the Rio Grande Valley, which is designed to protect riverside communities on both sides of the border. But we will all remember the sights and sounds of the smelly and turbid water that literally raced overland into Payton's bay and created 5-foot troughs in the Arroyo Colorado. Interestingly, we were still able to find clear water to the south of the mouth of the Arroyo that summer, and did fairly well.

The impact on the bay was immediate and long-lasting, especially in areas north of the mouth of the Arroyo. Between the mouth and Port Mansfield, huge amounts of rainwater flooded the bay, and brought carp and gar and alligator into otherwise hypersaline areas. It was a strange and disturbing experience, but the clear water returned after a few weeks of runoff. Unfortunately, perhaps, the seagrasses were decimated in those areas, and didn't recover until…well, really, not until this year, by my estimation (keep in mind that I am a blind man, too!). The odd thing was that some areas that were normally devoid of seagrass--like the sand, and areas south of the mouth--became seagrass nurseries, and still have more grass than they ever did. And now, finally, Payton's Bay looks like a manicured lawn beneath a few inches of clear water. The shoal grass, especially, is thick and unbroken except for prop cuts. The ducks will take their toll on the grasses this fall and winter, as they pluck the grass from the bottom in their search for food, but next year should feature an even thicker seagrass recovery.

Before the flood, turtle grass was replacing the shoal grass as the dominant grass in the lower Laguna. Biologists referred to this phenomenon as a the end point of a long process, much like a "climax woodland." However, the turtle grass has become scarce in the aftermath of the flood. It's as if the flood reset the clock on seagrass development, and created a new opening for shoal grass, which is wonderful habitat for juvenile crabs and shrimp. So perhaps the flood was a good thing, similar to the fires in Yellowstone Park--immediately disturbing and unsightly, but purposeful from the standpoint the big picture.

Another observation, which apparently is false, is that the redfish have declined. Not so, say the Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists. I have to agree that I've not noticed any decline in redfish in the back lagoons. If the reds are not in decline, then why do reputable guides and veteran anglers say that they are diminished in number? It's probably because these observations are based on "sampling" in the same areas year after year. And the fact of the matter is that the reds will move from place to place in search of food. Some areas, such as the lagoon just north of the mouth of the Arroyo (the Mud Hole) can wax and wane like the moon from season to season. Indeed, the Mud Hole can be the highest producing venue one year, and yet be a consistent disappointment the next, probably because of the movements of the shrimp hatch from back lagoons into the Intracoastal on their way to the Gulf. I have waded in the Mud Hole on occasion, to find so many shrimp jumping ahead of me that I could feed my family with a dip net. But that phenomenon isn't reliable. Anglers typically base their conclusions on comparing the fish population in the same area from visit to visit without taking into account changes in food availability, tide, etc. T'is human to deny the larger truth.

Another observation, which is undeniably true is that the big trout population has exploded. This is in spite of the tendency of anglers to hammer them with live croaker--a method that biologists say they cannot resist because croaker are natural enemies that eat trout eggs. Even guides who would fly fish all the time if their client population would support it, will turn to croaker for the purposes of providing "instant success" to anglers who don't know the first thing about these great predators and their rythmns. I may sound cynical, and I am. Still, the trout populations have resisted over-predation from opportunistic anglers, and with the help of the Texas Parks and Wildlife, I have hopes that this greatest fish of the mother lagoon will continue to thrive.

What do you think has changed about the bay? Do you think your observations are objective, or based on "touching one part of the elephant?" Let us know.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Return from Colorado and Occam's Razor

Julie and I just returned from a week in the South Park area of Colorado. My brother Chip and his wife Sandi have a house about 9200 feet above sea level, and near several top flyfishing streams. So, of course, we had to go visit :-). Actually, my main goal in going to CO was to show Julie some country she'd never seen, and to visit our family. Chip and I don't get to fish that much anymore, because he spends the best part of the season in CO. He and I flyfished three days in a row, and had the privilege of having his son Spencer, who lives in Denver, join us for the second day. The fishing was disappointing for Chip and Spencer, but I was pretty happy with our success. We caught over 30 trout the first day, fishing a stream that was only a few feet wide. The second and third days were less productive, but the fish were larger.

When Julie and I returned home, she surprised me by saying that she wanted to learn to fly fish. I was stunned, because she had told me previously that fishing wasn't important to her. But I think she finally caught the flyfishing bug by watching, and by becoming entranced by the beauty of casting. So…we left the dock yesterday morning with our companion Rosie, and headed for the sand where I proceeded to give her her first fly casting lesson. I'd thought about how I would approach the lesson beforehand, and it went really well. I can tell within a few minutes if a person has an aptitude for flyfishing, and it was immediately evident that Julie's innate capacity for mind-body connection was evident in the way that she was able to incorporate each piece of instruction into her body memory. After only a few minutes, she exhibited a clean stroke, and was shooting line. Given her obvious aptitude, I opted to take her on a wade, to see if we could get some close-in shots. Alas, we only saw sheepshead, so after a few minutes, we went back to the boat and headed west to a favorite west-side lagoon where I've had remarkable success on our last two outings. See my posting, "Stopping and Seeing."

We went to the lagoon, mainly to locate and mark an underwater obstruction that nearly sank my Stilt a couple of weeks ago, when I hit it while leaving the area with two clients aboard. But it was much too windy and the tide was too deep to see whatever it was that we hit. So I gave the area a wide berth, and stopped along the edge of some clear water, where my clients have done so well over the past month or so, and where I have landed some very big reds.

Julie didn't have her wading boots, so she couldn't wade the soft bottom; but she encouraged me to fish alone. I had very little desire to fish, but nonetheless, I grabbed my rod and waded with Rosie into the area where single casts had landed 27.5" and 30" redfish on my last two visits to the muddy lagoon.

I waded without casting, observing the water carefully and hoping to see a big trout in the secluded area. The water was clear, but the fish were clearly elsewhere. Rosie and I waded a half circle around the boat, and were ready to head back to the Stilt, when nature called. My hands were occupied when I spotted the only game fish I'd seen since leaving the boat. The redfish swam up to me, saw me (my face, of course!), and spooked. I thought it was all over, so I went back to the business at hand; but then I saw the redfish again, swimming only a few feet away. Somehow I freed my casting arm, and casted the mother's day fly ahead of the cruising red. It was my first cast of the day. The red saw the fly, and struck it with force. Somehow, I was able to set the hook, and put things to right while the red streaked off on its first run. A few minutes later, I lifted the red out of the water so Julie could touch it before releasing it.

Three consecutive visits to the same muddy lagoon, three casts, and three redfish. We went home pretty happy, mainly because Julie had been "hooked" by the joy of fly casting, but also by the Zen-like quality of hooking three fine fish with only three casts. Should I return for a fourth time, or leave the memory in place as an unmarred example of what Pablo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, refers to as elegance, or simplicity? When I heard the famous author on NPR two days ago, he spoke reverently of the concept known to mathematicians and philosophers as parsimony or elegance; that is, the bare essentials without adornment. The medieval philosopher Occam stated that nothing extraneous or unnecessary should be added to the truth. Scientists know this principle as "Occam's Razor," or the belief that the best theories and the best proofs are devoid of unnecessary steps and details. Certainly, flyfishing at its best involves an economy of movement and effort. Getting there may involve significant effort, only to require the relinquishment of effort at the upper levels of performance. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Managing Not to fish during TIFT

Somehow I managed not to fish during the TIFT tournament. Months ago, an old client asked me to guide him, but I said no, thinking that I would guide my son. But that didn't happen. So I almost fished with my old friend Henry Bone, but thought better of it, so I backed out before we firmed up our plans. In the final analysis, I spent a very nice weekend at home with Julie, getting ready to flyfish in Colorado with my brother. Having won TIFT the first time I fished it, I have to admit that the tournament beckons to me each year, and yet offers very little allure for me, at this stage in my life. Standing in line with a bag of dead fish doesn't appeal, even though the competitor in me sometimes overrides these sentiments. I will probably fish the TIFT again, but only to guide someone I care about. 

I am happy, however, that my fellow guide and friend Randy Cawlfield guided his son Truett, who won second in the fly fishing division. Congratulations Truett!! 

I'll be back guiding after the 17th.