Sunday, February 15, 2015

Caught some reds in super skinny conditions yesterday

My brother Chip and I went down to the Arroyo on Friday night, and stopped on the way in to have dinner at Chili Willis. When we walked in, the karaoke was in full swing, and there wasn't a single open table in the place. So we went on to Channelview RV Park where we have our trailers, and sipped a beer and snacked while we waited for Chili Willis to clear of some of its clientele. When we returned an hour later, there was a single card table by the door--not my favorite place in the joint. But we saw our friends Richard and Susie Weldon sitting under the row of deer heads, and they invited us to join them with Don Shumacher and his wife. We visited with them as best we could while one singer after the other belted out their favorite country songs. It was a vintage Arroyo City scene, and lots of fun.

We got up at daybreak, not concerned so much about arriving at our fishing destination much earlier than 7:30, given the time of year. During the summer, the fish will often tail early, then vacate the warming water by mid-morning; but in the winter, rising water temps only improve your chances.

So we pulled into south Cullens Bay as the sun was starting to warm the water. The forecast had called for cloudy conditions, but the weatherman was wrong, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Planing into the westside venue, we immediately started moving big single fish, most of which were trophy trout. We stopped briefly, but realized they were in a bit deeper water than we needed, and that the bottom literally sucked for wading. So we got up again and headed further west where we started seeing a mixture of big trout and small pods of reds fleeing ahead of us.

We shut down, donned our waders even though they proved to be wholly unnecessary on the sunny 75 degree day, and proceeded to wade west and north of the Stilt. Chip missed an opportunity at a giant trout. His fly wrapped around his rod as she was approaching him head to head. I, too, missed a chance at an approaching trout because my line was tangled. I have always said that trout always know when your pants are down! Meanwhile I started to see tailing reds in the glassy conditions to the west. So I hiked in that direction, and soon spotted a couple of pods cruising and tailing intermittently. Interestingly, this is about the only place where I see this particular action, where reds (and big trout) will snake around on warm winter days in very shallow conditions. They tend to appear as they swim over areas that are full of turtle grass, and then disappear again as they enter grass-free areas, which provide slightly deeper water.

I managed to hook up and land my first red from a pod of four cruising reds. The water was so shallow that the fish could not fight very adequately, so I landed it and released it much more quickly than if I'd hooked it on the sand, just three miles to the east. Indeed, a 24-25 inch red can feel like a bonefish on the sand, taking the angler into his backing almost instantly. But where I stood yesterday morning was so shallow that the reds struggled to stay submerged, much less put on a blistering fight.

I saw a couple of big trout. One was "asleep" and unresponsive to 40 casts. Another was cruising, but clearly uninterested in my presentation, if not also my fly. Overall, the fish seemed a bit lethargic--I saw two reds "sleeping," too--so I knew that the tide was not quite right for full-on feeding behavior. Later, we figured out that the outgoing tide had paused, so there no current to stimulate their feeding behavior. That's no excuse--reds and trout will still take a fly during slack tide--but it does make for more challenging angling. I managed to catch another 25-inch red,and miss two other strikes before I went back to the boat. But I have to confess that I casted to a dozen groups of 2-4 fish, and generally  blew the cast. Either they didn't see the fly because of the shallow, grassy conditions; or the cast was far too aggressive. Regardless, I really enjoyed the highly technical fly fishing on my home waters, where a couple of good reds can warm the heart on a late winter day.

Sorry, no photos. Chip and I were too far away from each other to photograph our catch.

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