Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Finding Fish on a Windy Day

I went out with my guide friend John Pilmer this past Sunday. I may have stayed in port if I'd been able to access the forecast, which called for 20-30 mph winds; but all I had to go by was the flag that flies at Channelview RV Park, which was barely erect at daylight.  Wind doesn't bother me much anyway, and the gentle breeze suggested a pretty fine day on the sand, at least. John joined me on the dock at 6:30, and we took off heading for some westside venues, in search of gulls working over podding reds. Alas the birding was not "on," so we ended up on the sand two hours before the sun would give us sufficient visibility for sight casting.

Even though we arrived on the sand too early for sight casting, it was clear that the fish were there from the blow-ups that we saw as the boat drifted north with the 15 mph wind in 8 inches of water. We poled along the edge of prohibitively shallow water in order to see whatever was there. Slowly, the sun rose in the cloudless sky, giving us progressively better viewing until the fish began showing up 30 feet, then 50 feet ahead of us. Unfortunately, just as the conditions reached "acceptable viewing," the fish seemed to disappear, and we found ourselves encountering fewer and fewer reds on  the sand. John pulled a great cast out of his hat, and hooked up on the first red of the day. After landing it, we drifted for another 20 minutes before I blew my first decent shot of the day.

We ran up to the East Cut and had some good shots near the channel before heading back south onto the sand, where the reds were gathering in greater numbers. We had several shots, and John landed a second red while I hooked up and lost one. The fishing was getting better and better, but we decided to go in, given that Julie was at the trailer, and John's new dog Danny was probably missing him. It was a great early season outing, and we could have caught many more fish. But neither of us need to catch many before we're happy.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Big Reds in February

I had the privilege of guiding Dennis Kreutz from Denver a few days ago, and thought I'd already posted something about our trip. We'd already cancelled two planned days of flyfishing about a month ago due to weather. Cancelling due to weather is typical in February: too many cold fronts, and not enough sunny days to justify getting out on the bay, where the water temps are still so low that the air is 10 degrees colder than over land, and the fish are still in slow motion.

The tides had risen considerably since January, which did not please me. I love the super low tides of January and February, and can depend on seeing fish on a sunny day under such low-water conditions. But alas, there was 6 inches of fresh water in the way, foreshadowing the influx of seawater characteristic of early March. So I adjusted my plans and targeted some back lagoons where the water was only a foot or less deep.

We poled into a back lagoon that I hadn't visited in half a year, so I felt totally ignorant of what we'd find. It was too shallow for any other skiffs to be poling in the 7 inches of water, so I felt pretty confident that the water was "virgin" and likely to host some feeding fish that were beyond the usual margins of anglers. Sure enough, as we poled into the 10 acre lagoon, we started hearing blow-ups along the shorelines, and could spot an occasional back popping above the surface, or snaking through the shallows. The wind was about 12 mph, but I was able to pole the Stilt a full 360 degrees, so I headed down one shoreline and planned to pole back out along the far shoreline.

The action was intense. Each fish was big, and except for one 7-8 lb trout that Dennis casted to, all of the fish were 26-28 inch reds that were feeding alone and spaced out along the shoreline. Dennis was an excellent fly caster, but the fish were in such shallow water that Dennis faced the catch-22 that anyone would have faced: If he casted the fly close enough for the fish to see, it usually spooked, and anything more than a foot from the fish would go unnoticed. Still, Dennis masterfully placed the Kingfisher spoon within inches of several fish, and the fish seemed uninterested. I think we had one fish follow the fly, but otherwise, they seemed somnambulistic. Why? A cold front was fast approaching, and the fish are often very skittish or unresponsive just before the frontal boundary passes through.

We headed north by late morning, and found an abundance of large redfish feeding in pairs and threesomes along a shoreline. By the time we'd reached the area, however, clouds had come up, and were making it difficult to see the fish soon enough to make a decent presentation. Still, the sun would peek out every once in a while, or the clouds would become thinner for a while, enabling Dennis to spot reds 20 feet from the boat, and try to make a clutch cast. He did remarkably well--a testimony to his experience--and placed the fly perfectly in front of a dozen fish. But again, they were touchy and so Dennis landed only one redfish in that venue.

My latest article in Tide magazine was "Don't Blame the Fish." While I embrace the philosoply that all fish are catchable, and it's up to you to close the deal, I have to confess that some fish are far less catchable than others, as Dennis and I discovered on a warm February morning ahead of a cold front.