Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Stopping and Seeing

A previous essay posted on the dreamanalysistraining.com blog. It's about fishing, but then again...
On two consecutive Friday evenings, Julie and I have taken a boat ride to the sand with her kayak. 
There, she takes her kayak downwind while I wade further east into bootie deep water where a "few good fish" can often be found coming upwind in the low sunlight, visible as dark shadows in the clear water. Then, after half an hour or more, I return to the boat and drift downwind and pick up Julie for our ride home. On the way, I have stopped in a favorite muddy lagoon for just a few minutes, to see if the laughing gulls were working over pods of redfish. We have entered the lagoon on both Friday evenings, and stopped immediately in front of several pods of fish feeding visibly under birds. However, the pods have been comprised wholly of saltwater catfish--not a very desirable catch, since they have poisonous fins that often wound an unwitting angler. Knowing that the reds were probably there, too, but not so conveniently marked in the muddy waters, I stepped off the boat and simply observed the melee of mullet, catfish, and barely discernible signs of larger fish. 

On my first visit to the lagoon over a week ago, while standing and watching, I saw a vague wake and made my first cast. Ten minutes later, I landed a 27+" redfish after dragging it back to the boat for a photo. I released it and we headed home.

A week later, just this past Friday, we returned to the same spot and found the same roily conditions with balls of catfish feeding under crazed laughing gulls. There were no obvious signs of redfish, but again I simply stepped off the boat and walked 50 yards and stopped. After a few minutes, I saw the tip of a tail that I thought was a catfish. But not knowing for sure, I casted to it, and stripped the fly slowly past where its head could have been. I felt a tug, and grimaced, thinking that I would soon have to deal with a spiny catfish at the end of my line. But instead, a fish with considerable authority ripped my line and drove a huge wake in the 9" water. Fifteen minutes later, I landed a 30" red at the boat, took a photo, and released him.

I'm not telling you this as a way of bragging. I am telling you because I was amazed, and believe there's something to be learned from these successes. Both felt, from one perspective, like miracles. But from another perspective, they felt as easy and as natural as a laugh. It happens all the time, as Julie has observed time and again. Why is this possible, you might ask?

What I experience on the water is what I want my clients and friends to experience: To immerse oneself fully in the context in order to perceive what's there, but unseen. 
The Buddhists refer to this meditative process as "stopping and seeing." Both are natural components of experiencing fully.

When all agitations have ceased and not a single wave arises, myriad phenomena are clear, without confusion, without obstruction. Thus seeing is not separate from stopping. Once the layers of obscurity have been cleared and no clouding occurs, the ten directions are empty, without stirring, without agitation.


The "stopping" involves allowing all of the perceptual information into your awareness by surrendering the assumptions that filter the information into biased observations. For example, an angler can stand on an open flat, and say, "There's nothing here," and he will see nothing because he has failed to "stop" his limiting assumptions. Or he can stand there and open himself to the full array of information that normally gets constricted by assumptions. Then, once the full array of information is flowing into one's awareness, one can begin a process of "seeing" -- that is, concentrating on emergent phenomena that may have been invisible beforehand. The "signal" that one is looking for often becomes evident only once all of the data is considered. I have often heard master anglers say, "I can see fish even when there's nothing there." What they're saying is that they are permitting subtle information to pass into deep awareness without the usual biased and constricted filtering. They see things that others don't see, simply because they are more open to the fullness of their experience.

But one cannot be aggressive or ambitious to allow this process to unfold. That shuts down seeing, and it prevents the "stopping" by being attached to crude measures of success. Indeed, the paradox inherent in this process is that, fundamentally, one cannot have much ambition in order to succeed. For myself, I don't much care if I catch a big fish or not, because the richness of the experience means more to me than that. When a person with sufficient skill and experience surrenders one's assumptions and becomes open to the moment, everything becomes possible, but nothing is really needed. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Double Haul Backcast

The first time I fished with Bud Rowland, his son Brandon, who was a teenager at the time, came along. When Brandon casted from the bow for the first time, I was amazed at his cast. In particular, his double haul backcast was a thing of beauty. It was powerful, long and accurate. And it wasn't in my repertoire, even though I was an FFF-certified casting instructor.

My friend Skipper Ray also had this ability. What I have found in the years since is that the backcast is an essential component of a saltwater angler's skill set, and it's not something that will develop without effort.

Nature is the best teacher, I often say. When you get on the flat, and you're casting in the wind, you can't simply use your forehand cast to reach targets in every direction. So what do you do? At first, you turn, and you try to "chuck and duck" on the wrong side of the wind, and you get nailed in the back by your fly. Then, having learned that lesson, you begin adjusting to the demands of the moment by making a sloppy backcast that falls short. And you miss the opportunity.

Most people use their backcast in a pinch, and they are punished for their lack of practice. Since taking the Rowlands fishing with me back in 2000, I have developed my backcast to the point when I would rather use my double haul backcast in the wind than my forehand cast. I can cast further, and more accurately with my backcast, and because of that I am always set up to cast with my backhand as I wade or cast from the boat.

In flyfishing, the backhand cast, especially in the wind is the more powerful and distant stroke. Why? Because when you lift your line out of the water, and power it behind you into a 15-20 mph wind, it takes a lot of strength and rod speed to drive the line into the wind. The forehand cast is the stronger one to use to power the line into the wind. By comparison, the downwind cast requires relatively little strength to execute, and the backhand cast offers plenty of strength to accomplish the downwind cast. So turn to your left if you're right handed, and cast firmly into the wind. Add to that a water haul on the lift out, and then add a second haul on the downwind stroke, and your cast should go further, and more accurately with practice.

I will post a video soon that breaks down the mechanics of the double haul backhand cast. In the meantime, you can take your body to the threshold of this skill, simply by practicing a more primitive version of the backhand cast. Turn to the left if your right handed, and cast into the wind with your more powerful stroke. See if you can get the line behind you, and then drop the line downwind on your backcast. This primitive backhand stroke with serve the need in a pinch, but in time you will find that if you do a single haul on your back stroke by crossing your hands as you cast, your two arms will work together to develop sufficient line speed without as much pivot. So when you power the line into the wind, take your left hand and move it under and across your lower body in the opposite direction, and you will achieve the single haul on the back stroke. Then, as you cast forward, simply uncross your arms, and you will achieve the forward haul. I realize these words need some video support, but see what you can do until Ryan and I post a video on this method. The time to practice is before you encounter the fish.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Changing Face of the Laguna Madre

This past year, I have guided less and fished with friends and Ryan much more. I've always said that the day-to-day working guide cannot afford to take big risks and explore new possibilities, because he's not paid for that. But when he's free to go places that he's only dreamed of, that's when he grows as an angler, and as a guide.

I have learned more startling truths this past year than ever before. It's been hard to write about, for two reasons--1) I'm not sure I want many people to know about these things, and 2) I'm pretty sure most people won't believe it.

If you've followed my blog entries over the past two years, you will know that I have been talking fishing shallower and shallower, as well as later in the day. Starting in May of this year, I began going to places that I once thought were "sterile" locales, characterized by a slick "algae mat" bottom, and very little subterranean crab and wormlife. But over the past couple of years, those places have totally transformed into softer-bottom, highly fertile vast venues that boats -- all boats-- cannot access because the depth runs around 4-6 inches. While the Stilt will float in 6 inches, slight variations on the bottom are enough to cause friction. So poling these areas is out of the question. consequently, those guides who rarely get off the boat will not venture into these skinny conditions which, from a distance, look barren and devoid of life.

I learned about these places from wading miles beyond where the boats can travel. I have to admit that two of the most unbelievable days of fishing occurred when I was with friends who "didn't know better," and walked away from me until my efforts to bring them back fell literally on deaf ears. In both of these cases, there was no life whatsoever to be seen around the boat, except for sheepshead and an occasional lone red. So my friends, not knowing that they were wading far beyond the usual limits of life, headed east onto what used to be dead zone of the algae mat. Passing nearly out of site in both cases, they discovered reds that were congregated in water too shallow to believe.

Even after these occasions, I had to constantly talk to myself whenever I was on my way to these out of the way places. When guiding some of my favorite clients from Colorado, I went ahead of them, to save them a fruitless and tiring wade over a mile east of the Stilt, which was in 8 inches of water. As I waded east on these occasions, I would use the glare of the rising sun to spot surface disturbances half a mile away. If  scan the bright slick just below the sun, you have a unique sighting window that reveals the slightest surface eruption much further away that a person's normal eyesight could discern. On one morning in May, I recall using this strategy to spot some surface action beyond an otherwise barren expanse. It was a struggle to convince myself to go on, to keep wading beyond my clients. But after wading about half a mile, a most amazing scenario unfolded, and it wasn't the only time this occurred. Suddenly tails started appearing, then pods, then acres of reds and black drum, all feeding in 6 inches of water, backs out.

I found this phenomenon on many occasions, and it always varied to some extent. The "best" days were comprised of discovering pods of reds hundreds of yards beyond a lifeless zone that would have turned any thinking person away. If you haven't had this experience, you will turn back without ever discovering an unforgettable opportunity.

The regularity of this phenomenon stands in contrast to the traditional practice of fishing early on the west side, then shifting to the east side sand. That routine is still a good one, but several things have changed since the 1980s, which makes this reliable  strategy less fruitful and less intelligent. For one, the sand has been disappearing for the last several years. Once bereft of seagrass and showing a near-white sandy bottom for miles, it is now covered with sparse Shoal and Widgeon grass, and the uniform whiteness is greenish and brown. While this has degraded the classic Caribbean-like sight casting, it has transformed the east side into far better habitat for worms and crabs, as well as for small fin fish and shrimp. Why has this change occurred? Two things: warmer winters, and no hurricanes. The last hard freeze that the bay experience, during which thousands of trophy trout were killed, was in 1989. Since then, the temperature-sensitive mangroves have taken over vast areas on the west side, to give you one index of warming conditions. Also, hurricanes have a way of sweeping the east of its fragile vegetation, leaving it bright again. We haven't had a direct hit in over 10 years.

To give you some idea of how things have changed, I walked back to the boat recently because Rosie was with me on a hot day, and she needed some water. I'd left Ryan and Julie's son Tai fishing, while Rosie and I got some water and sat on the edge of the Stilt. I looked down into the water, and studied the bottom. It was like an aquarium. A small eel swam by, and several baby hermit crabs were leaving trails in the soft sand. Tiny fin fish flitted through the sparse grass. Worm holes appeared every couple of inches, and two small blue crabs wrestled. I turned over the sand with my foot, and the first three inches were like powder from the burrowing activity of all of the subterranean life and intrusive game fish. I looked all around me, and there were dozens of dark spots created by feeding sheepshead, black drum and redfish. No wonder the fish were here.

It's not that unusual to run the west side at dawn and find very few fish in places that used to host large pods and schools at daybreak. At first, it puzzled me; that is, until I discovered that life on the bay is moving East during the night and the early part of the day. 

In addition to increasing habitats and food sources on the East side, the water temperature attracts game fish during the night and morning. Temperature is important because it controls the available oxygen. I forget the exact numbers, but oxygen is optimally available to fin fish when it's around d 65 degree. While redfish are hardy, and can thrive in water from the low 50s to the upper 80s, their ability to aggressively feed is limited by the available oxygen. So, during the night, the super shallow east side cool much faster. It doesn't have the thick, dark grass that absorbs sunlight, and thus cools more slowly through the night. So it's probably that fish go East and shallow in order to find cooler water and more available oxygen. When the sun rises, the fish on the East side tend to move West, because now the warming air temperature is raising the shallow water more quickly than the deeper water in the central bay. It's often believed that it's the sunlight that bothers the feeding reds, but I have often found them feeding in shallow water under a cloudless sky, but only if the air temps keep the water temp attractive to them.

If you go East early, go as shallow as you boat will go. Get out of the boat after drinking plenty of liquid, and walk east. When logic and experience tries to convince you to turn back, keep going. When it seems ludicrous to go further, and you find yourself cursing me, don't stop. Look east directly beneath the sun on the glare of the calm morning water. Keep going, and if you don't see anything, do it again later. Of course, water depth is important, but the reds need far, far less water than you imagine. I've have found them so shallow that they would have to literally slither over a mud bump or go around a clue of grass. 

Why do I tell you this? Again, if you're one of the ones who are willing to make the effort, then you deserve to discover this incredible truth. But if you do, there were be 99 others who won't ever go, who will always turn back, and who would've gone to another website before finishing this blog entry.

One fact that might convince you that I'm telling my truth, if not the truth. In all of the guiding I did this year, which wasn't nearly as much as I used to, I started on the west side on only one morning. On all the other days, I went east, and farther east that you may have ever gone.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Welcome to our new website at lagunamadreflyfishing.com!

Hi all,

I've been quiet of recent months, but my son Ryan and I are gearing up to work together starting in 2018. We are now awaiting our new Stilt, and building our new website, meanwhile.

Randy Cawlfield and I continue to work closely together, but I decided to return to my own website, having built websites for 20 years now. It's a creative pursuit for me, and I wanted Randy and his son Truett to be able to do their own thing, as well. So Randy and Truett will continue to use the lagunamadre.net platform, while Ryan and I will use my other domain, lagunaflyfishing.com.

Ryan will be apprenticing with me in 2018, in preparation for taking his Coast Guard exam later in the year. It's our hope to work together a good bit in 2018, guiding single anglers together aboard our new Stilt.

While I am guiding less, I am pushing the envelope more. Indeed, this past year was a remarkable dream-like adventure into going even further beyond the usual boundaries of conventional flyfishing. Our more recent video was taken, for instance, a mile beyond where we usually think that it's too shallow for the redfish.

My goal in 2018 is to teaching the Master Flyfishing Instruction days, while teaching Ryan the secrets of the Lower Laguna Madre. He has flyfished with me since he put down his spin rod when we was 16, so he will be an exemptional guide, I am sure.

I will be getting off my duff and posting more often as we begin the 2018 fishing year. All methods end in silence, but I realize that you still need to hear from me :-)

Ryan will have his own blog on this site. As a Texas Master Naturalist, he has knowledge that few guides have. So if you're into smelling the roses, and identifying the birds you see on the Mother Lagoon, you'll enjoy his enthusiasm for what has become his home waters.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Flyfishing You Won't Believe

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a thousand pictures. If so, you'll get the idea from this video I just posted on Youtube. For the last two weeks, I've been able to do something I've never done since starting guiding in 1999: I've fished for fun for almost two weeks with a friend, my brother and my son Ryan. Here's a video of one of our days. Imagine enjoying such flyfishing, and then catching 44 reds the next day! It was the best flyfishing I've every had for redfish. I hope you get the flavor of what we experienced.

Here's some still photos from the week...

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Terns Tell the Truth

It has been said by many anglers that terns are liar birds. Today my son Ryan and I went into a back lagoon during a breezy morning when the water was already churned up and off color. We saw a few Forester terns working over the water, a phenomenon that most anglers would treat as insignificant. But I said to Ryan that in this particular area the terns always tell she truth. So I stopped and poled into the area watching the water surface carefully until we saw some explosions beneath the terns. They weren’t any other boats in the back lagoon, and I doubt if any anglers fish this action midday--in the wind, and in off-colored water. But we got out of the boat and moved slowly into the area armed with small Clousers on our seven weights. Within minutes, the area under the diving terns revealed a line of wakes that began approaching us. I yelled at  Ryan to sweep to the right so that we could intercept the group of obviously large red fish that were feeding aggressively on fin fish and shrimp and whatever was in there way. I held off casting hoping that Ryan could get in front of the redfish, but they swept to the wrong side of the wind, and he found it difficult to put his fly out in front of them. They blew up and headed in all directions, at least a dozen large fish. We spread out and walked down wind hoping for a repeat performance. Sure enough within a few minutes, we saw some more waves approaching as a couple of terns picked up the fish and began feeding over them as they approached. Ryan was closer to them than I was and was Ryan crouching preparing to cast, I saw a wave break off from the group and start heading directly toward me. It was a large fish with his back out of the water, and one tern followed him as he pushed a wave of water toward me. I could see his dark tail swinging in the shallow water, which was only about seven or 8 inches. Like Ryan, I found it difficult to put my fly where I wanted it in the stiff breeze. But finally I landed the fly within 3 feet of his head, and was surprised to see the redfish perceive the fly and swing to it aggressively. He missed it, so I casted again and he sensed it again although the fly had to 3 feet from him. It is amazing that these fish can pick up a small fly hitting 3 feet away from them in off-colored water and heavy wind. Finally I put the fly over his back and dragged it over him aggressively hoping for one last chance. The 30-inch redfish turned and snapped the fly audibly and took off.  I could see his huge pink back as he stripped all my line out, pulling the knot to my backing roughly through the guides. He was halfway into my 100 yards of backing in within a few seconds. I knew he would stop, but it was hard to believe, given his power.  He ran out a little further and begin to slow, and then the fly popped out. I was guilty of tying my fly on a cheap hooks, and paid the price for my silly savings dearly that day. Ryan and I went on the cast to several more big reds feeding in almost no water and I finally landed a 24 inch after hooking two more. It was a great action, but very tough. No one else on the bay was aware of this action, and probably would not have seen anything but a few small terns diving or what appeared to be only bait. But between you and me,  there are some places on the lower Laguna Madre where the terns always tell the truth. The key is knowing where to believe them.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Changes on the Bay

Every year brings new surprises, or a return to familiar features of the Laguna Madre system. From our narrow, anxious perspective, it's easy to believe that one year points to the next, and that degraded areas of the lagoon may portend a tilt away from clarity and fertility. I recall that not long ago, the brown tide would bloom each winter-spring, and the clarity of the water could be degraded by the brownish orange algae. Indeed, many pronounced the end of clear water, and a shift toward a 1000-year cycle of turbid conditions. And then...it went away. Or at least it comes and goes without seizing the entire bay system.

About eight years ago, there was a hurricane that went into Mexico about 100 miles south of the Rio Grande. While it barely impacted us on landfall, the torrential rains that fell in the Mexican mountains--30 inches in a shorter period of time--rushed downstream and filled Falcon Reservoir so quickly that a crisis ensued. The dam was opened and the two floodways of the Rio Grande Valley that normally divert flood waters from overwhelming the Rio Grande cascaded into the Arroyo Colorado, and then into the Laguna Madre. For months, smelly river water clouded the normally pristine lagoon, and alligators, carp and other freshwater species came into estuary for most of the summer and beyond.

At that time, the turtle grass was literally replacing the shoal grass, and biologists predicted that the LLM would soon see a climax growth of turtle grass. And yet, after the fresh water flood, the turtle grass died off along with a lot of the other species as the fresh water, and lack of sunlight choked off the hypersaline species.

It has taken several years before areas adjacent to the floodways, such as Paytons Bay (north of the Arroyo Colorado), returned to their former selves.  And now it seems that the seagrasses are developing in areas that have been devoid of vegetation for many years.

When I guided the other day, I saw seagrasses in flood-vulnerable west-side locales where I haven't seen them during the spring in almost a decade. It could be that a combination of warm winters, and time since the Mexican flood, combined to produce this seagrass recovery, but it's clear for anyone to see. Indeed, I poled my client Alec along a shoreline last Sunday that has been bereft of seagrasses for years, even though the venue is nonetheless one of the most productive shrimp nurseries for the brown and white shrimp populations.  During many years, the grasses are nonexistent early in the season, and only by June and later does one find well-established seagrass in many of the west-side lagoons. At the rate of seagrass growth this spring, the bay should be grassy in most areas by early summer, creating the conditions that flyfishers love to see in mid-summer---extremely low tides, and crystal clear water.

Alec saw pods of redfish in about 9 inches of water, as well as dozens of larger singles and pairs feeding aggressively in the clear, grassy conditions. Shrimp leapt out of the water, and an occasional gull would swing into place over the feeding fish, even though the low winds made it impossible for them to hover in place for long.

Alec was relatively inexperienced as a flyfisher on the LLM, but he landed two nice reds before we moved on.

What we didn't find in our explorations were fish on the sand. Indeed, I went east around 9 am, and then again during the afternoon, and the sand was barren. We ended up going in a bit earlier than usual because the wind "blew out" the water clarity on the west side, and there simply no fish to be found on the east side, where you need them during midday and beyond.

When I spoke a good friend later in the day, he confirmed my suspicions that the fish were feeding late on the east side. He said he'd been "surrounded by reds" the previous evening. As you know, I've been talking about the late action in several of my previous posts, and in my latest article in Tide magazine, as well. There are several reasons the reds have shifted to later, east side feeding, but we do know that when the seagrasses died on the west side, they began to proliferate on the east side, creating attractive conditions for shrimp, which historically have gravitated to the vegetation on the west side. Add to that the daytime boat traffic in the central part of the LLM, and you have perfect conditions for nighttime, east side feeding.

I don't mind you knowing, because most guides do not stay out that long, and if you're a local flyfisher who's willing to go out just before dark, you're one of the few, and you deserve to know.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Lost in the Fog

I guided for the first time this year on Saturday, and I saw more giant trout than I've seen in a very long time. It's been a very warm winter, and it's fairly easy to find a day here and there where the winds are low and the temperatures are in the 70s and 80s on the water.

My niece's husband, Art Perez, and his buddy Kevin enjoyed one of those incomparable winter days characterized by full sun, low wind and temps in the upper 70s. But before all of that happened, we left the dock in fairly thick fog, and took turns with another boat taking the lead as we headed east in the white haze. I'm used to this stuff, but I've been lost a few times ("a mite bewildered," as Davy Crockett once said about getting lost for three days on one occasion) when I've lost sight of land. I was sure that this would not happen again, but just as soon as I let myself lose the sight of land, I got turned around, and ended up heading north in the fog instead. Fortunately, Kevin, who is ex-military, didn't lose his bearings, and was able to convince me of my error--not an easy task, just ask Julie.

So we turned around and headed south, without getting lost again. Indeed, I felt pretty sure of myself as we headed into south Rattlesnake, and lost sight of land again. I decided to drift a while, and let the sun burn off the fog before heading even further south to Cullens Bay. A noise came out of the fog, and a heavy boat swept past us into west Rattlesnake, which is critically shallow during the low summer and winter tides. I said, "I hope that guy knows what he's doing," knowing full well that he was heading for a tough lesson. We listened to his motor for a while, wondering if he'd found his way out of the back lagoon through one of three exits. 

A while later, I headed into the back lagoon, dead reckoning through the fog for one of the "triple guts" that would us take out of the shallow lagoon toward our destination of South Cullens. Luckily, my aim was perfect this time, and the pass between the line of mangroves suddenly appeared in the fog just where I'd hoped to find it. Turning into it, I noticed a boat off to the left that was completely beached--and about four feet from the water. It was the same boat we'd seen earlier! The boat had apparently plowed onto the shoreline, over the mangroves, and finally onto soft mud two feet above the water level. The boat was about 2000 pounds, and the four duck hunters who had managed to orchestrate this nightmare were hunting ducks, since there was nothing else to do. They had not been able to move it at all.

They were a long way from deeper water, and they probably would have been there the rest of the day, if not also the night. Fortunately, seven men proved to be the tipping point for breaking the suction between the boat and the muddy shoreline. We finally managed to slide the bow around. We then heaved it up onto the mangroves, and over them into the water. I've never seen such a grateful captain, who was probably looking at least $1000 to get an airboat to pull him to safety. I have one friend who paid over $3000 to get his boat back from his "rescuer."

We went on to have a great day on the water, finishing up on the sand up north of the Saucer where we found reds and big trout cruising in the crystal clear water. We caught a couple of nice reds, but I took no photos.

I have finally edited a video that I shot back in the fall, with three of my favorite flyfishing friends, Dennis, Ted, and Rusty. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

I just guided on Friday a gentleman from central Texas.  We're on the verge of a major tidal change, but the bay water has not yet fallen to its winter levels. When it does, it's dramatic, and requires an entire shift of focus for flyfishers--from the remote lagoons that most angler never see, to the main areas of south Cullens Bay and Rattlesnake Bay, which become so shallow that the deeper-draft boats hug the deeper troughs near Green Island, the Saucer, and Three Islands. For myself, there's no better time to flyfish than early December through mid-February; that is, if you can hit the sweet spots between the cold fronts that bring strong north winds at a time of the year when the low Southern sun will blind you as you pole or wade downwind. From two days after a north wind turns around until the next front, an angler has unparalleled opportunities to see and catch world-class trout (the one shown was caught on a sunny February day), and well-fed reds, both of which gouge themselves on finfish such as baby piggy perch in the absence of shrimp.

About the other day--Late fall fishing can be spectacular and lonely. Indeed, I took my client into a back lagoon where not a single angler could be seen. True, there was an airboat and several duck hunters who disturbed the peace from time to time, but the tailing reds did not seem to mind. They were as active as I've ever seen them, cruising in 8 inches and coming out of the water, backs and tails as they foraged for crabs in the shallow, cool water. We enjoyed low winds at dawn, and the winds were still nearly calm by late morning. In fact, we were so hot that my client and I were relieved to finally leave the area and enjoy the stiff breeze over the bow. But before we left, we'd sight casted to 20 reds, all of which were in the 24-28+ range. It was one of those mornings when the lagoon was truly "Lake Wobegone," where all the reds were above average.

If you're interested in experiencing winter fishing, let us know. We recommend that you consider it only if your travel plans are flexible. We like to watch the weather carefully, and advise you to reschedule unless the conditions are just right. Neither Randy nor I will ever have you come down for poor conditions. We'd rather reschedule you two or three times than have you encounter less than optimum winter sight casting.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fall Flyfishing

I had the privilege of guiding Ted Thomas and Dennis Matt from Virginia for the third or fourth time. Last year, we had "storybook" flyfishing--some of the best I've ever experienced, even though we had north winds and cloudy conditions for much of the time. Once again, we faced north winds every morning during their three days on the way--pretty low breezes at dawn, but stiffer north winds from late morning onward. This makes for difficult sight casting, because as the sun gets lower in the southern sky during the fall-winter, it creates a glare against the water surface. During our normal prevailing southeast winds, the sun is behind you, so there is less glare on the surface of the water.

We went immediately to a place where we'd scored big time last year, and poled into the area only to find no fish, and a strong-enough wind to hide the subtle signs of feeding reds, even if they'd been there. After half an hour of fruitless poling, I got up and headed out of the back lagoon. As we passed a shoreline, suddenly there were v-wakes everywhere, so I abruptly shut down and began poling into the shoreline. As the water settled, it became clear that we'd found the motherland of reds. For the next two hours or so, we waded the shoreline and had one shot after another at reds feeding with their backs out of the water in calm conditions. It was quite dramatic to see two or three golden backs reflected in the early morning sunlight slowly making their way toward the wading anglers. It was not easy flyfishing, however, given the calmness of the wind, and the sensitivity of the fish. A hard landing, or a foot short of the mark resulted in a lost opportunity. But Dennis and Ted are old hands at this subtle action, and managed to catch several nice reds before the wind came up. Here's two photos of 'doubles' that occurred during that initial wade.

The rest of the three days were difficult because of the north wind, and clouds, but nonetheless quite productive. We returned to same shoreline on the second morning, leaving the dock much earlier than usual in order to make sure we were the first ones there. We shut down and tied knots with the help of flashlights as the rosy dawn brightened to the point of being able to see the reds feeding in four or five inches of water along the glasswort-lined shoreline.

On each day we hit the sand by midday and landed a few fish there, even though the sunlight was intermittent, and the tides higher than usual. 

On the third morning, we returned to the same west-side lagoon, hoping for another bountiful early-morning wade along the shoreline. Alas, the fish had were not there, so we headed further south poking in and out of intimate backwaters, hoping to find some cruising or tailing fish. We stopped at one place, because 100 terns were diving on bait, and we thought that perhaps a few feeding reds could be found in the area. We saw nothing but decided to pole through the area. Just as soon as I climbed up on the poling platform, I saw a wake approaching from the west--about 100 yards away. Dennis grabbed his rod, stripped some line into the casting basket and prepared to intercept the incoming red. He made a perfect cast of a Kingfisher spoon fly, and hooked a nice 26+" red, which he landed after a lengthy fight.

After prospecting further south, we returned to same lagoon where we'd been catching fish at daybreak, and tried another shoreline. Ted got out and waded ahead of Dennis and me, and found cruising reds in water so shallow that I had to leave the Stilt 50 yards offshore while we waded in closer to capitalize on Ted's discovery. The guys had several shots at singles and doubles that were cruising down the shoreline with backs out of the water. Interestingly, it was the same exact location where we'd caught 10 reds a year before when they'd fished with me.

It was a wonderful three days, even though the north wind made it difficult at times. Ted and Dennis adjusted well to the demands, and as always were deeply grateful to be able to flyfish such an extraordinary flyfishery.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Not Holding Back Back: Master Flyfishing Adventures

Master Flyfishing Instruction

Lucille Ball once said that she would rather regret the things that she’d done than the things she hadn’t done. The Master Flyfishing Instruction program is about not holding back. So at this juncture in my life, when I don't want to be guiding 100 days a year, but want to make a difference in a few mens' lives, I now offer Master Flyfishing Instruction. I've always enjoyed working with passionate flyfishers who want to push the envelope of their knowledge and skills, and to experience new surprises in saltwater flyfishing. This is available for one angler at a time. The cost for this service is $850. It encompasses a dawn-to-dusk adventure on the Laguna Madre, comparable to two half days, or 12+ hours on the water (normally $900). The MFI includes the following:

  • Fishing with me. I have always believed that the best way for you to learn advanced methods is for you to flyfish with me, in order for you to learn what’s possible in every conceivable venue.
  • Wading as the ultimate full-immersion experience, and the key to non-invasive fishing methods.
  • Learning advanced casting methods, including, in particular, the double-haul backcast, and the Heron Haul upwind cast. These casting methods will allow you to fish 360 degrees in moderate winds.
  • Overcoming assumptions that impede your success, such as “the fish aren’t eating,” or “they’re finicky.” I will coach you on challenging these self-limiting assumptions.
  • Sight casting on the sand just before dark, a radical departure from the usual guiding schedule.
  • The day includes an assortment of 12 flies tied by Capt. Scott, a copy of his book, Healing the Fisher King, and a wine and cheese ceremony at sundown.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Extreme flyfishing, part 2

I have been guiding, or fishing for fun every weekend for the past month, and a few weekdays in between, as well. So what are the headlines? We have been catching most of our reds from 6 pm to sundown. It's the most reliable action that I've found in years, and it's the least popular time of the day to fish.

I don't keep this a secret, because the only people who are going to capitalize on it are the hardcore flyfishers. The fish are in extremely shallow water, so you can't take your boat there. Anyone with a standard boat won't be able to get within a mile of the fish. Even on my Stilt, I often have to stake the boat 200 yards from the fish. And then, they aren't there in numbers. It's very reliable flyfishing, but it's more like hunting than fishing. Are the reds hard to see? If they go shallow enough, as they often do, they are easy to see. That is, if they are in 4-5 inches of water, they're easy to spot; but if they stay in 6-8 inches of water, which is deep (believe it or not), they are more difficult to see once the sun is too low to help you see beneath the surface.

Here's the second video I've done of this action. Henry Bone (from Austin) and I fished two evenings together three weeks ago, and got into major redfish action each evening. You may have seen the first video that I did of Henry and me last year, which I posted on Youtube, and provided a link in a previous blog post. The late-feeding redfish are wildly aggressive at this time of day, and will come from three feet away in low light to grab the fly. You have to be ready for the strike, because it's fierce.

More recently--this past weekend--I guided Doug and Steven Gaunt from Dallas. They are old clients, and rank among the most successful clients in sheer numbers of fish caught year after year. We landed 19 reds and 2 trout (one 26")on Sunday, and for the Gaunts this was about average. Monday was pretty poor, but we caught 19 reds on Tuesday. Most of our success was on the sand after midday, but we had a pretty good morning on the west side at daybreak on Tuesday, finding aggressively feeding reds in thick grass. It wasn't easy fishing at any point during the three days, but the Gaunts did pretty well for two reasons: They cast well, and they prefer to wade.

I came in after our Sunday outing and spoke to another guide. He was stunned that we'd done so well. I didn't tell him why I thought we'd done so well, but I am convinced that the key to doing well with intermediate to advanced fly fishers is getting off the boat just as soon as you see the fish are turning away 40 yards out. They do this when they are cruising with their heads up, rather than feeding with their heads down, and thus able to spot the boat from 50 yards out, or more. Many guides will continue to pole, even though in my opinion it's a cruel and fruitless approach when the fish are seeing boat so far away. But that's always been my opinion, after guiding for 15 years. I may be narrow minded, having grown up stalking trout and reds on foot, but I believe that unless the fish are actively feeding with their heads down, wading is always preferable to poling, as long as the bottom is firm enough to support the angler. Unfortunately, once clients see so many fish from the boat, and believe that they cannot see fish while wading, they will prefer to remain on the boat and cast again and again to retreating fish.

Recently, I got two newcomers to wade after poling them for a couple of hours, and getting dozens of shots (without hookups). Within minutes, one of them had landed his first red on a fly rod. He exclaimed, "The reds behave so differently when I'm wading!!" I smiled because a lot of clients believe that the reds are often "not biting," when really they're simply uninterested in large objects barreling down on them.

Doug and Steve once caught over 60 reds on a single day, and they caught them all wading. Keep that in mind the next time you're on the front of a skiff and seeing the tail end of redfish, and not catching many. You might want to step off the boat and experience what redfish act like when they're not offended.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Flyfishing the Delaware

I've been visiting family and friends in Pennsylvania, and have been revisiting some of my favorite flyfishing waters. The upper Delaware River system (including the tributary streams, the Beaverkill and Willewemoc) is one of the best fly fisheries, if not the best, in the East. My friend Paul Robilotti said the other day that it makes Western flyfishing look like a piece of cake. I can remember plenty of low-catch days on Western streams during my four trips out there, but I have to admit, the upper Delaware makes them look like put-and-take streams by comparison. No surprise that it's where Lee Wulff once said that the trout have Phds (specifically in regard to the fabled Cairn's Pool of the Beaverkill).

I fished the West and upper East branches of the Delaware every other day for two weeks, usually with Paul, who knows these waters better than I do, having lived in New York all his life. These waters are big and cold streams--converted to tailwaters years ago--with classic, abundant hatches and large fish. But wow, you can't imagine how difficult it can be until you've casted 12 different fly patterns to one rising fish for an hour without a single take. Of course presentation means a lot, but after making an entirely drift-free cast, you have to have the right fly in the right color in precisely the right size. And then the trout has already seen so many artificials, that it's attained an almost unbelievable level of discrimination. So I won't tell you about my daily take. Actually, the catching part was so unimportant compared to the rest that just being there was good enough.

Paul and I divided time between his half-mile of land on the East Branch--where we worked on pouring concrete for his pole barn--and flyfishing the West and Upper East branches. It had been so hot that the hatches were off and the fishing even more challenging than usual, even though the water temps vary from 48-the upper 50s on these upper branches. If you don't wear extra clothes, you'll be on the edge of hypothermia once the sun sets behind the mountains.

Here's two recollections that have nothing to do with catching fish, which I will remember far longer than the buttery browns that took our flies:

6/21/16 I met a man fly fishing on the West Branch of the Delaware yesterday. The flies weren't hatching so we sat and visited. He told about the recent loss of his wife after 52 years of marriage, his crushing grief, his subsequent drug addiction and full recovery into a new sense of meaning at 72. He felt like an old friend, but I'll probably never see him again. I cherish such moments.

6/29/16 It was my last day on the water yesterday, so it was hard to answer Paul's question, "Where do you want to fish?" We'd gotten into good action on the upper East Branch three days earlier, but had returned all prepped and ready only to find nothing going on. So, we opted for the West Branch above Hales Eddy. Although it was a weekday, there were a lot of flyfishers on the stream, probably because the rains had lowered the air temp, creating better conditions for the evening hatches. We made a good decision, and found rising trout along the far bank. But you had to wade half-way across the river, and it was too deep to get within easy casting. So the casts had to be 70-80 feet with a drag-free float. Not easy. But both of us landed nice browns before committing the cardinal sin of "leaving fish to find fish." We headed back upstream, and drank a beer while we contemplated our next step. Meanwhile, there was a little motorhome parked beside the road, with a generator running announcing the presence of its owner. I was surprised that Paul went up and knocked on the door, but then again, Paul is so outgoing and I am so introverted that I often want to go hide and watch from a secure location. An elderly man came to the door and came outside, carrying a toothbrush and wearing a faded scarf around his neck and a white dress shirt and sneakers. His near-toothless smile made me wonder how little time it must have taken to brush them, but then it occurred to me that he carried the toothbrush with him for some other reason, as security or somesuch. At first I was a little alarmed by him, but then he began talking about flyfishing, and about the morning blue-winged olive hatch. Suddenly he was speaking a universal language with such fluency that I was immediately impressed. Unassuming and eccentric, he was nonetheless a master angler, and a sweet soul beneath the odd exterior. At some point in the conversation, he mentioned spending many successive years on the stream, coming down as he did from Canada each year, and parking his RV in the Methodist camp ground. As we began to say goodbye, he mentioned another man who had spent many years on the river, driving from place to place in a Lincoln Town Car. He said, "I saw him every year, and then one day he was gone." 

When Paul and I got into the truck, He told me that he'd met the French Canadian years back and had run into him from time to time. He said that he also knew of the man in the Town Car, and that he was in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimers. I knew then why Paul hadn't told the Canadian where the other man had disappeared to.

Hours later, and miles downstream, Paul and I headed toward a bridge that would take us to the parking lot where we'd left the truck. I was shivering and clumsy from wading the deep, swift waters, and I looked forward to making a sandwich on the tailgate of Paul's truck before driving back to Binghamton, where Paul lived. A fog hung over the riffles, creating a dreamlike effect. But not a fish was rising.

A man sat on the side of the stream below the bridge. It was, of all people, the Canadian holding a fine bamboo rod and a worn Bogdan reel, bedecked in well-worn waders, vest, and long-brimmed cap. I didn't recognize him at first, but then he turned and smiled his near-toothless smile and reported what we already knew--that nothing much was happening. He and Paul talked a few more minutes before we climbed the rocky slope where I'd fallen and bruised my elbows on the way down, and made our way across the bridge where the sandwich meat awaited us. As we stood, eating and talking about the day, the voice of the Canadian rose out of the twilight fog. 

"Hey Binghamton! Will I see you on the river tomorrow? Will I see you soon?" Paul shouted back, "I will see you soon." But I knew that the three of us were thinking the same thing and treasuring the moment.

I'll be back on the Laguna Madre this coming weekend, and will let you know how the fishing is. -- scott