Nearly Skunked but a Good Day Still The Same!

First of all, any day on the water is a good day…whether one catches fish or not. I almost titled this post, “worst day on the water in many years.” But there were many things that made Saturday a good day…catching quality fish just wasn’t one of them.

The morning began at my brother, Keith’s, house at 4 am where we loaded my kayak into his van. He fishes out of a pirogue and I have to give him credit. Back when I owned a bay boat, he would always tell me about all the fish he would catch out of his pirogue. His pirogue is rigged with a trolling motor and he looks like quite a sight when he gets that thing cranked up and moving in open water. The water line goes right up to the gunnel on his pirogue and you’d swear he would capsize out of that thing quite often. I think he’s only sunk it once and that was when a stink pot left a huge wake that sunk him in no time. Anyway, Keith and I are a year and two days apart and we grew up fishing and hunting a lot together. We are both competitive outdoorsmen and neither of us likes to get out fished by the other. It’s been quite a while (maybe over 2 years) since we’ve fished together and I was really looking forward to spending a day on the water with him. We left Baton Rouge with lofty expectations because the wind was going to be relatively calm all morning, blowing lightly from the west, and the tide was going to be falling hard all morning. Keith would be fishing soft plastics all day while I would be tossing flies at them.

We watched the sun try to peak through the fog as we crossed the high rise bridge in Leeville and my brother and I got really excited to see the calm water over the marsh in the are. In fact, I had to tell him a few times to quit looking for redfish hitting in the marsh and keep his eyes on the road! We launched our paddle craft around the Bay Laurier area in a heavy fog. Keith, just as he would do when we were kids, ventured off on his own because he heard some redfish crashing bait real close to the road. I was anxious to hit my usual spots that had been so productive the last three trips down there. Meanwhile I heard some redfish chasing bait on a bank and I began tossing a popper at them. I saw what looked like four or so redfish right up against the grass. I had one redfish attack my popper right as I was lifting it up out the water to toss it back out in front of the pod. When the fish missed, all hell broke lose. The rest of the pod took off and scattered. That was an omen for more things to come.

Ten minutes later, as I was poling through some flats, I saw a large pod of redfish moving toward me. There were at least a dozen or so in the group and I put a gold spoon fly two feet in front of them. Perfect cast right? Wrong. The minute they saw the fly they split up like a bunch of roaches when you turn the lights on. They left a muddy mess of the 11 or so inches of water they were in. I continued to pursue redfish for the bulk of the morning with the same results. I would spot a fish or two…or three or four. Make a perfect cast (remember there was no wind) and they would either go around the fly or they would scatter like crazy. Then there were the ones that I would sneak up on and not see until they were about 10 feet from my kayak. The minute I would lift my rod or move an inch, they would flee. I tell you if I didn’t see 50 redfish that morning, I didn’t see a one!!! It was very frustrating, to scythe least. I tried several different flies (clousers, charlies, poppers, and in different colors) but they all ended in the same futile result.

I called my brother and he said that he had two bites, hooked one nice redfish but lost it at the boat. By about 10:30, the wind started to pick up and my sight fishing took a turn for the worst. I did hit a few areas that were protected from the wind but nothing was doing. I also saw about 30 or so stingrays that morning too. In fact, I witnessed something I hadn’t seen before. On two occasions I saw a redfish that seemed to be following a stingray. Like he was waiting for the ray to stir something up off the bottom and then steal it from the slower stingray. After spooking one of them I found the same redfish about 20 yards away following what looked to be the same stingray.

So, about noon, I decided to try to target some speckled trout in deeper water. I did manage to catch two undersized trout on a charlie under a VOSI, but by now, my brother was ready to call it a day. When we got back to the car, we both remarked that we had never had such a bleak day of catching fish…not in a very, very, long time. Neither of us could figure it out. The water was clear (probably too clear), the tides were good, and the wind was very light. I figure they fed all night on the full moon.

Well, since there were no fish caught that were camera worthy, I’ll just insert a picture from a more successful trip with my brother and my daughter. I can’t get on the water for another two weeks but I hope the next time the fish will be in a eating mood.

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Thanksgiving Fishing Trip

Each year we stop to give thanks for all the good gifts we’ve been given. I am truly blessed and I always thank God for the gifts of the “three F’s.” That’s family, friends, and well…yes fishing!  Yes, I know I am thankful for the gift of having good health and I am truly thankful for all the gifts God has given me, but this is a fishing report and frankly, the “three F’s” has a better ring to it. :) This year, I’m especially blessed to have an addition to my family, my new son-in-law, Nandi and his family. The fall is my favorite time for inshore fishing, but we have been busy with the wedding itself and numerous parties leading up to and after it. Additionally, I’ve had school responsibilities on weekends and the limited number of weekends that I could spend on the water have resulted in winter storms with winds in excess of 10 to 15 mph…not the kind of weather where a fly fisherman who fishes out of a kayak wants to be. As the Thanksgiving break was approaching I scoured the weather and wind reports to look for a small window of opportunity to get on the water. That opportunity presented itself this Wednesday morning.

Knowing that we were going to be entertaining people on Thursday, I knew that I would be cutting it close with my wife, so I made sure to take care of cleaning the house, both inside and out prior to Wednesday.  The stars and moon were lining up. Did I mention that I’m thankful for a wonderful wife?

I left early Wednesday morning with a young man who’s like a second son of mine. Well, since my son had to work and I hadn’t seen him in several months, Austin would be a real treat to fish with. I had made plans to begin our day at the southern-most point of Highway 1 (Bay Laurier) and work our way back up north if the fish wouldn’t cooperate. As we approached our destination, the excitement built as we watched a perfect sunrise on a cool crisp morning with nearly no wind at all. While we were unloading the kayaks to launch, my buddy said, “Oh shoot.” He had chained his Hobie Outback to the bed of the truck the night before but he left his keys in Baton Rouge in his truck. Our options were to either find a set of Allen wrenches and unscrew the bolt in the front of the handle or find some bolt cutters and cut the chain. Either way…so much for getting an early start. We kept a good attitude as I headed to Moran’s Marina. I noticed three Harbor Police cars and trucks parked in the front and I figured that one of them should have a set of tools with them. I went in and asked the officer, who was just finishing breakfast, if he had a set of Allen wrenches and he said he did. Three minutes later, I was thanking him and we were heading back down the road to my “plan A.”

Fifteen minutes into our paddle, we were sight fishing for redfish. I was stalking with my fly rod, while my buddy was using a baitcaster with a swim bait. It didn’t take long for him to catch a keeper redfish. DCIM100GOPRO

I followed with my first on a gold spoon fly.

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We continued to see reds all morning long. I had a limit by 10:30 and was playing catch and release when I decided to talk my buddy into switching out his commie tackle for a fly rod. He was only one fish short of his limit so I took him over to a small duck pond that was now being fed by a slight wind. I knew there would be some bait in there as the tide was falling and the wind was blowing into the pond. Sure enough, when we got there, my buddy spied a pod of about 7 redfish feeding on a school of minnows. With the wind to his back, he was hooked up within seconds.

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After that, we followed that pod further into the marsh. I was able to catch two more (I switched from my gold spoon fly to a black one) and my buddy caught two more as well.

Somewhere around noon (I really don’t know because I didn’t have a watch) we decided to quit chasing redfish and try for some speckled trout. By now the wind was blowing 10 – 15 mph and I didn’t like our chances. We had passed an area of deeper water earlier in the day with good tidal movement and I thought that it would be a decent place to anchor up and try with Lafleur Charlies under a VOSI. I don’t know how long I was there before I got a strike. Immediately, I realized it wasn’t a trout. I told my buddy it was either a drum or a big redfish. I usually pull up my anchor pole and let a big fish like that fight my drag and my kayak, AKA the Cajun sleigh ride. I didn’t, however, this time and for the first time since I started fly fishing, a fish had taken me into my backing!  That’s when I saw the fish’s tail break the water and I realized it was a redfish and not a drum. I ended up having to pull up my anchor stake and the fish took me on a sleigh ride. Finally I was able to get some line back but the huge fish kept going on runs and taking more line out. After 10 or so minutes of burning fore arms and wrists, I was finally able to land the beast. The fish ended up being my personal best, not only on my fly rod, but it was my personal best from a kayak! Period. It also will bump me up on the Massey’s CPR tournament.

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I once told someone that I’ve never had as much fun fishing in my life as I have since I began fishing out of a kayak. I was pumped during and after the fight with that fish and I laughed and hollered out loud several times. Meanwhile, I think I got another angler into the sport of fly fishing from a kayak. I told Austin to have his girlfriend call me before she goes shopping for his Christmas present.  :)

My GoPro fouled up the picture I took with my big redfish but I’ll post it anyway here:Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 10.39.28 PM

The Gold Spoon Fly

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you will see that I catch most of my redfish on a gold spoon fly. This isn’t by accident. First, I cut my teeth fishing for redfish in the marsh on a Johnson Gold Spoon. Second, a very wise man (and good friend of mine) says “that a redfish will eat any color fly as long as it’s gold.” It’s been over three years since I tied my first spoon fly and I’ve been catching redfish on them ever since.

I got my inspiration for my flies from a guy named Walker Mangum. I use gold metallic scrapbook paper (purchased from Hobby Lobby). You can find clear instructions, the how-tos, and whys on Walker’s website: http://www.nwmangum.com/spoonfly/index.html 

Gold spoon

Gold spoon

A Fly Rod Limit

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I’ve been trying to get down to do some coastal fishing on the South Louisiana marsh but every time I get a free weekend, the weather gets bad or the wind picks up. Then, of course, when the weather has been favorable, I’ve either had an engagement party to attend or I’ve had to work. Experience has taught me that it just isn’t worth making the nearly three-hour drive south to fish if conditions aren’t going to be favorable. I’m lucky that I live in a neighborhood that has a couple of lakes with bream and bass that can pacify my when I cannot get to the marsh. Well this past Saturday, the stars lined up as I had a Saturday off and winds were predicted to blow from 5 to 10 miles per hour. To top that off, there was going to be good tidal movement.

I had a late football game Friday night but I had planned early and had everything loaded so all I needed to do was get a cup of coffee and jump in the car when the alarm clock rang at 3:30 AM. I was really stoked because I had gotten a few descent reports of lots of redfish down the Highway 1 corridor.

I launched right as the sun was coming up around Bay Laurier and paddled north to the broken marsh. The water was high and the tide had already begun to fall. After a ten minute paddle, I saw the tell-tale sign of feeding redfish as something was busting bait up against the grass. A good cast with a gold spoon fly and I had my first fish of the morning pulling me around the marsh. I was determined to get some video but fooling with the camera and two minutes into the battle the redfish broke my tippet and the score was redfish 1, Doc zero. No problem because it was early and there were signs of feeding fish everywhere. Five minutes later I was targeting a nice red against the bank but my fly came up short and got eaten by a hungry 14-inch rat-red. I continued to work the bank and about 15 minutes later, I intercepted another feeding redfish with my gold spoon fly. It too made a strong run and broke my tippet.

I couldn’t believe it! After about an hour on the water, I had only landed one small rat red and the action had stopped. I continued to push-pole my way around but the only redfish I saw were those that I spooked as I passed over them in my kayak. I made several blind casts over some of the oyster beds and decided to paddle over to some deeper water to try for some trout. Along the way, I kept spooking redfish as I passed over them. Again, I tried to blind cast a spoon fly over some oyster beds but I didn’t get a bite. Finally, I heard some big splashes in a small duck pond way in the marsh and I knew where I was going to get my first keeper redfish. I paddled through a small trenass (small cut in the marsh were water flows from a smaller body of water to a larger one) and I saw a nice keeper redfish sitting on some oysters in about eight inches of water. I put my spoon fly about six inches in front of him and watched him eat. In my excitement, I set the hook way too hard and lost my third gold spoon fly of the morning. My frustration was building and to make matters worse, I realized I was out of gold spoon flies. I had some black and some blue and pink but no more gold. A wise man once told me that a redfish will eat any fly as long as it’s gold. I did have 3 of my black and gold Charlies so I decided to give that a try.

So picture this scenario. I’m trying to tie another fly on my tippet as I hear redfish crashing bait in the nearby duck pond. Well, my fingers and forearms were cramping up. You know what it feels like when you’re dehydrated and you cramp in your legs? I was having that problem with my fingers and my forearms. I realized that I didn’t drink enough water the night before (my hot and very humid football game). All I had after the game was a beer and then I had a cup of coffee on the drive south…all diuretics. I chugged the rest of my Powerade and a liter of water as I struggled to tie the fly. It was about five minutes before I was even able to cast my fly again but this time I was rewarded with my first keeper redfish of the morning. I took my time and let the fish tire itself out before easing him into my kayak. As I fought the fish, I noticed there were about six other redfish in this small duck pond and my kayak was blocking the only exit for the fish. After I put the redfish in my ice chest, I continued to work my fly toward the feeding redfish. DCIM100GOPROThey were very reluctant but after about 10 minutes or so, I was able to coax another redfish into eating the gold Charlie. I eased my second redfish into the ice chest and tried my luck to see if I could possibly fool another redfish in that duck pond into joining his friends for an ice bath. After about 20 minutes and no takers, I decided to leave that duck pond and work some more broken marsh. After poling my way around I came across a perfect spot that had “redfish” written all over it. There was a little cut coming out of the marsh and the area was riddled with oysters. Sure enough, I saw several big wakes and one fish had its back out of the water as it was gorging itself on baby shrimp and crabs. I was thinking to myself that I was going to be able to fill out my five-fish limit in this one spot.

I got one to eat, only to have it spit the hook five minutes into the fight. I wasn’t going to let this get me down. I told myself to be patient and enjoy the moment. After all, I hadn’t fished the marsh since July. I circled my way back to the same spot and looked for another redfish to make a mistake. I was targeting one fish on my right without any luck when all of a sudden I spied a big bronze blur about six feet on my left. I just dropped the fly about a foot in front of the fish and watched it flare its gills and eat. I enjoyed a really nice Cajun sleigh ride before easing the beauty up over the side of my kayak. It ended up being the largest redfish of the morning at a little over 24 inches.

DCIM100SPORTBy now, the tide had dropped nearly a foot and with three redfish taking an ice bath in the back of my kayak, I just knew that if I continued to target fish over the oyster beds about 5 feet from the grass, I should be able to finish out my limit of five before the heat would send me back in. The fish were getting real picky and were either ignoring the gold Charlie or fleeing in a panic. I lost another fly but this time it was to an oyster and not a redfish. I decided to try a black spoon fly, but again, I couldn’t get any takers. As I fumbled through my fly box, I found one more gold spoon fly. My guardian angel was looking out for me because no sooner had I tied it on, I was tossing it toward a feeding fish. Shortly thereafter, it too was swimming in my ice chest. I must have worked for another hour to try to get my fifth fish but the fish had definitely gotten a case of lockjaw. Exhausted and out of water, I decided to make my way back to the car. I did, however, decide to make one more visit to the water where I began the day. I worked up the left bank of a dead-end canal that’s really shallow (silted in from years of tropical storms). It was loaded with large mullet but no redfish. I was just about out of real estate on the right side when I saw the most beautiful sight for any shallow water fly fisherman. It was a pod of feeding redfish! A pod is like a school of fish, in this case, about a dozen or so of them. They seem to collaborate and work together as they work the shallow water stirring up crabs, minnows, and tiny shrimp. I could feel my heartbeat quicken as I quickly paddled ahead of the pod to position myself for an ambush. I snapped a few pictures with my Kodak Playsport. (I left my GoPro running and the battery had died. I checked this morning but the pictures didn’t come out. :( ) Then, they seemed to vanish into some deeper water. I thought to myself. “Oh no. Trying to take pictures was going to cost me again!” Then they made themselves visible again, only they had done a complete 180 degree turn and were heading the other direction. I put my last gold spoon fly about 12 inches in front of the lead fish and only had time to make one short strip before I was culling a nice 18-inch redfish from the pod. Much to my surprise the rest of the pod tried to follow my hooked fish for a while before they saw me and departed. After I landed the fish, I tried looking for the pod again, mostly out of curiosity. I found them about 25 yards further down on the other side of the canal. Again, a well-placed cast and I was culling another feisty redfish from the pod. I took my time to enjoy the thrill, put a tag in him and released him back to join his buddies. By now it was about 1:30 and I was extremely hot and dehydrated, so I decided to pack it in.

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Any day on the water is a good day and this one was no exception. I also caught and released two sheepsheadDCIM100SPORT and I saw more stingrays than I have ever seen in the marsh! I wish I would have found some trout but the season is early and the trout don’t really get in the marsh until November anyway! Not all my pictures came out. With the glare, I wasn’t able to get the pictures of the redfish pod. I guess the biggest thrill for me is to catch a limit of fish on flies that I tied myself. I was reminded by my friend, Catch, that it’s a good thing too because spoon flies can cost up to $10 each. I lost three of them and a Charlie but I can make them for a fraction of that cost :)

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Box Shot

Fishing the Summer Doldrums

My late-summer fishing has been pretty boring, to say the least. I’ve had to cancel two trips down to the marsh because of weather. It’s been hot, muggy, and whenever I get a free weekend to fish, either the wind picks up 10-15 mph or a line of huge thunderstorms decides to camp out right where I’m heading to fish.  Even the quick excursions to my local neighborhood lake have been pretty fruitless. Although I haven’t completely skunked, I’ve not caught anything to write about.

Again, this weekend, I had a weekend pass to fish anywhere I wanted. Lisa is out of town, there are no rehearsals, concerts, or engagement parties to attend. Wouldn’t you know it, a weak cool front blew throughout the state and the winds picked up to 10-15 mph on the coast. I made a short, late-afternoon trip to a friend’s pond before the LSU game and picked up four bass and about a half-dozen bream.   The bass were all dinks but they looked healthy. This morning, I fished the neighborhood lake and caught two bass and a dozen bream (two of those were chinquapin) The big bass of the day (15 inches) was actually caught on a slow-sinking spider that I was using to target bream. Oh, yes, I nearly forgot…I also caught a turtle on a clouser minnow. I was hoping the bass would be in their fall mode with the water cooling off a bit, but I guess I’ll have to wait a couple more weeks. Anyway, it was a beautiful morning and the low-humidity was nice!

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This August bass saved the trip

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A couple of late summer bass caught on a shad fly

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This bream ate a black and orange slow-sinking spider

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I hit the century mark in bass for the year but 30 speckled trout and 16 redfish is pitiful. I’ve got to get down to the marsh soon! :)

Summer Heat, Algae Bloom, where are the bass?

After my offshore trip, I’ve been looking for a chance to do a little early morning bass fishing before school begins. Actually, it has begun for me as I taught 2 days of computer training to incoming freshmen and I’ve had a week of percussion camp. Although camp hours are in the afternoon and evenings, I’ve been too sore or exhausted to get up early enough to catch the morning feeding spree. 

That changed this morning as I crawled out of bed at 5:30. I’m thankful that the days are beginning to get shorter as a month ago, that wouldn’t have been early enough. I snuck quietly out the house so I didn’t wake Duke, my son’s 10-week-old lab, got my gear together, and began the two-block walk to the neighborhood lake.

No sooner had I got on the water, I noticed schools of shad working the banks. The schools weren’t as large as those from earlier this summer. I guess the bass have reduced the population but that’s life in the ecosystem. The surprising thing was, the shad were able to do their thing without any bass chasing them. I found that quite odd. Then all of a sudden, it was like someone flipped a switch. There were explosions along the bank as bass were targeting these schools of baitfish. I didn’t know whether to throw my weedless frog popper or my shad fly.  I did both and I got three blowups on the popper without a hookup.

After about a half hour of futility, I decided that my weedless popper may also be fish-less. Instead of cutting the weed-guards off I just decided to tie on another popper the same size. Immediately, I got my first hookup, a small, but chunky bass. I continued to catch and release and ended up landing 6 bass before 7 AM. 

The largest bass (probably around two-and-a-half pounds) was an interesting catch. I saw a snake chasing some shad around some lilies. I watched as the snake turned its interest to my popper. I teased it and worked it to my kayak so I could see what kind of snake it was. When it got real close to my kayak and about to eat, (I really did NOT want to catch that thing) I moved the frog away from it very quickly. That’s when the bass exploded on it (about two feet from my kayak). I don’t know who was more startled. The snake or me!  Well after several spectacular jumps I landed the bass. 

It was a beautiful, peaceful, and productive morning. In my haste to get out the house, I forgot to bring my camera (sorry no pictures here) or my forceps (glad I didn’t gut-hook any fish).

 

Doc’s Summer Ceviche` Recipe

            1.5
 pounds fresh mild fish, snapper, redfish, or drum

            5
 limes (just under 1 cup of juice)

            1/4
 cup purple onion (or vidalia), chopped

            2 
jalapeño peppers, chopped finely (more or less to taste)

    1
 cup, fresh tomato, chopped into cubes about 1/4″ or a bit bigger

            1
 cups cucumber, chopped into cubes about 1/4″ or a bit bigger

            1
 cup watermelon, chopped into cubes about 1/4″ or a bit bigger (mango may be substituted for watermelon)

            4 
tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

            salt and pepper

 

  1. Cut fish into flattened cubes, roughly 1/4″ on a side. Mix in a bowl (do not use an aluminum bowl) with the limejuice, onion, pepper, and salt (to taste). Transfer fish mixture to a plastic sealable bag and place in refrigerator to cure while you prepare the rest. Total cure time should be about 15 minutes, turning the bag every 5 minutes to make sure all fish pieces are coated with the limejuice.
  2. While the fish cures, combine the tomato, cucumber, watermelon, and cilantro in a bowl. Add some salt and pepper. Mix gently but thoroughly.
  3. After the fish is cured (all outside surfaces should be white and appear “cooked;” the fish should be sushi-quality), transfer it along with the lime mixture to the final serving bowl. Feel free to hold back some of the lime juice, which may seem excessive. If you prefer to be more cautious, you may cure the fish for a longer time in the limejuice in the fridge.

Pour the tomato mixture onto the fish and stir gently but thoroughly to combine well. Serve immediately, with restaurant quality nacho chips (I like the thick ones).

7:12:14 ceviche