Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Very Challenging May

I am not one of those anglers who says, “It’s not the way it used to be.” I tend to see the changes on the bay as natural rhythms that a master angler needs to adjust to, rather than complaining that the bay has deteriorated just because the old tactics no longer work. With that in mind, let me say that this May was the most difficult May I’ve ever seen on the LLM. Not because the fish aren’t there, or because the estuary is degraded, but because the weather was so extreme that sight casting was exceedingly difficult. Indeed, except for the earliest part of the month, when we had low winds and full sun, May was characterized by cloudy, unstable weather, with winds in excess of 30 mph by afternoon on most days. 

To add insult to injury, “birding” was almost nonexistent, as far as I could tell. True, I tended to fish south of the mouth of the Arroyo, simply because water clarity was better down there, but I was able to compare notes with guides fishing north, and there was a general consensus that birding never “arrived.” 

This is not to say there weren’t memorable windows of opportunity. My days with Ted Ruffler from Florida were superb examples of what can happen when low winds, cloudless skies, and expert casting come together. We had two consecutive afternoons of finding fish in the shallowest water on the east side, where single large reds could be seen 100 yards away. Since Ted had an 80+ foot cast, he could get the fly out in front of the fish, even after they’d turned from the sight of the Stilt. It was amazing action.

When a new client, Amir, came down from Maryland a couple of days later, he faced a completely changed situation. I had seen the forecast in time to warn him not to come, but his travel plans were locked in, so he had no choice. Anyway, he was a seasoned saltwater angler who knew that weather was king, but an experienced angler could still prevail under poor conditions. I was not optimistic when we left the dock on our first morning out. The US flag in the RV park was at attention in 25 mph wind, and the condition worsened through the day. I headed for the only place on the bay where I thought we might conceivably see tailing reds, and after a 30 minute ride, we came off plane, pleased to see that the water was still clear. In less than a minute, Amir had stepped onto the bow and hooked up on his first redfish. I breathed a sigh of relief, but knew that we couldn’t count on miracles. Amir got off the boat and began stalking tailing pods that were barely discernible on the windswept surface, and managed to catch two more reds before the podding evaporated. I thought to myself, secretly, “We could probably go home now, and count our blessings.” But, of course, we spent the next seven hours visiting a variety of locales, struggling to see fish beneath the low tumbling clouds in murky water.

On our second day out, I went right back to our starting point, hoping for a repeat of day one. The fish were there, but not as many as the day before. Amir caught only two before we headed north and east, finding nothing for hours. Finally, I realized that his only hope was to do something we rarely do with our clients—have them blind cast. Since Amir was an excellent caster, and could drive the fly 70-80 feet under windy conditions, I suggested that he wade through an area where we’d seen a lot of reds, but could not cast quickly enough to them in the low-light conditions. Amir gladly got off the boat, and waded for about an hour downwind, casting a Kingfisher spoon as he went. Sitting on the boat, and bringing it slowly down behind Amir, I felt pretty useless, knowing that it was all up to chance—not my eyesight, or poling skill—but the sheer luck that most fly fishers loathe to depend on. I was relieved when I saw Amir suddenly hook up on what was clearly a sizable fish. It ran without turning, and finally threw the fly. I was disappointed, of course, but Amir waded back to the boat with a smile on his face. It had made his day.

Most people show you their true colors when they face difficult days on the water. As for Amir, he showed Julie and me the “stuff he was made of” when he had dinner with us on the first night. I was concerned that he’d seen the bay at its worst, and I wanted to show him how good it could be. I took out my laptop, and opened up a video clip I’d taken of Ted just a couple of days earlier. The scene was a golden dawn, with redfish tails waving against a dead calm surface. Ted casted again and again into the tails until the feeding reds spotted his spoon fly and fought over it. I thought Amir would express some envy at Ted’s good fortune, but he only smiled and said, “But that would be too easy.” I laughed and put the laptop away, knowing that there was nothing more he needed to know.

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