Sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm doing out there running around in a vast estuary with grown men who've spent a small fortune to chase animals with a brain the size of a split pea. When it's like last weekend--cloudy and windy and stormy--it can make me wish that I'd seen it coming, and that I could have warned them off in time.
After two days fishing with my old client Scott Minnich and his son Jeff, during which there were promising opportunities under difficult conditions, I thought it was all over--no fish for two days, and the guys were heading home. I pulled up to the dock after 10 hours on the water, tired and discouraged, and started unpacking the boat. I thought, perhaps wrongly, "they probably won't be back." I was sad about that, because Scott had come to be a friend after several years of flyfishing with me and other NewWater captains on the Lower Laguna Madre. But as I pulled the rods out of the holders and laid them on the dock, Scott said, "So I guess we can just leave some of this in the boat." I was puzzled by this statement, and then Scott asked, "Same time tomorrow morning?" I was shocked, and suddenly realized that they had intended to fish three days, not two. I scrambled inwardly, and said, "Oh, sorry, I got it wrong, but no problem, I'm available."
I was so relieved that I didn't have new clients coming in, or some immovable object that I could not work around. That night, we broke the spell of fishless days by going into Harlingen and having dinner together at La Playa, which is a hellova great restaurant.
Monday dawned breathless and cloudy, so I took the guys into a back lagoon where the water was just above our booties. We'd observed redfish sweeping into the lagoon during the previous two evenings, so I was pretty sure they'd be there in the morning, since the tide was still pretty high. Sure enough, after taking the Stilt as far as I could into the most remote part of the back lagoon, I saw reds spooking ahead of the skiff, so I shut down in glassy conditions. The wind was coming up, but not enough to break the surface tension of the water. After a couple of minutes, we spotted what we'd come for: sweeping groups of reds 200 yards further in, being escorted by one or two terns or laughing gulls, which would hover briefly over the reds whenever they'd drive bait into the air.
Jeff, who is a guide in Wyoming doesn't need much coaching or help, so I was happy to see him head toward the sweeping fish, leaving Scott and me to proceed at a lower pace toward the west shoreline. Fish were everywhere, and would show briefly pushing water before disappearing again. Except for an occasional sweeping pod, the fish were largely invisible.
Jeff hiked toward the back of the lagoon where the water is about 5 inches deep. There he stopped and began casting to redfish that were visible with their backs out of the water. Standing in one area, he proceeded to land his first three reds on a fly rod. Scott and I were so far from him that we didn't get any photos of this inaugural event, but Jeff didn't care. He was so absorbed in the hunt that neither he nor I wanted to take the time for photos.
After a while, the wind came up and "drowned out" the subtle signs of the feeding reds, so we headed south into another back lagoon where I hoped to find tailing pods in clear, shallow water. Sure enough, after poling into the area, we spotted several pods in the breezy conditions, and both anglers managed to get their flies into groups of 8-10 tailing fish. Alas, the action fell off pretty quickly when the sun broke through the clouds. Indeed, podding often breaks up by late morning if the sun is bright. It was like someone flipped a switch and suddenly the pods were nowhere to be seen.
At that point, it was about 11 am, and blue sky could be seen over the east side "sand," so I headed north and east, and ran for about 8 miles before we started seeing a few reds scattering ahead of the boat. We passed a 20-lb jack crevalle hunting on the sand--something we've been seeing this year, for some reason. We
shut down just when the north wind was starting to subside, and ate our sandwiches. I was starting to get excited, even though there was no rational reason to believe that great success was imminent. I looked east toward the "shelf," where the water goes from a foot deep to 4 inches, and said, "I feel the flat turning on. Not sure why."
Scott and Jeff spread out and began walking south with the waning north wind, and almost immediately Jeff started casting at reds, and hooked up a minute or two later. For the next three hours, the guys enjoyed constant redfish action. In fact, there was hardly a time when reds were not visible to the anglers. By my reckoning, they had five double hookups, and landed somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 more reds, even though neither of them counted their catch. Scott, who is a veteran Lower Laguna angler said over and over, "I've never seen anything close to this action!"
I had to agree that it rarely, if ever, gets any better than what Scott and Jeff experienced last Monday. I had a lot of respect for them after our three days on the water. They never complained about the difficulty we'd faced on the first two days, and were seasoned enough to take the goose eggs along with the 40+ fish with the same sense of gratitude. Somehow, their success on the third day makes perfect sense, as a consequence of right attitude and right action. Pictures (and a video) to follow.