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 my 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 padded 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 360 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).

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Shoulda, woulda, coulda…

The title of this report says it all…well almost. I went down to Forcheon with a good buddy of mine and the plan was to fish out of his big boat in the Gulf for mangrove snapper and maybe some chicken dolphin. I have never caught snapper or dolphin on a fly rod so I was pretty amped up to give it a try. After some great suggestions from renowned author, Pete Cooper, I tied a few flies that looked like some of the baitfish we were going to be using and was ready to catch a new species or two on my fly rod.

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We were greeted Saturday morning with a few squalls off of Belle Pass but we headed east and skirted around them. The first rig we hooked up to produced a couple of Spanish Mackerel, a few hardtails, a some very hungry sharks. The water was pretty dirty and thoughts of catching fish on my fly rod quickly faded into the murky water that seemingly contained only very mean, toothy critters that were definitely not going to be on that evening’s dinner menu.

We decided to head ten miles south to another set of rigs that had been productive for my buddy a week earlier. The water was noticeably cleaner when we pulled up to this rig (about 90 feet deep) and one of our guys quickly hooked up on the fish we were targeting, a mangrove snapper. We were using live shrimp at the time and the fish wouldn’t touch any of the cut bait (Spanish sardines) or pogies (menhaden) we were offering. For a while, it was very exciting. If we cast a live shrimp anywhere near a leg of the platform and let the bait drop around 20 feet, we were sure to get a hookup on almost every cast. Pound for pound, I think a mangrove snapper is one of the strongest fighting fish in the sea.

The five of us began loading up the ice chest with some prime table fare. I personally had a lot of big fish break me off on my medium light rod with a Calcutta reel. When a mangrove snapper eats, it usually high tails is back to the rig. If hooked and allowed to do so, it can use the barnacles on the rig to cut your line like a razor blade. So, when you get a hookup, you have to get to the back of the boat quickly to pull the fish away from the rig. Then, you’ve got to get it on the boat before the sharks could eat it. This made for some fun, but challenging fishing.

At around 10 AM, with around 35 fish in the ice chest, DCIM100GOPROI decided to try to catch one on my fly rod. I knew it was going to be a real challenge because the strongest saltwater fly rod I own is an 8 wt, which is too flimsy a rod to be able to horse a mangrove out from under its safety under an oil rig. Be that as it may, I was determined so I tied on a clouser minnow with a bit of weight on it. I was fishing with about a 15-foot leader of 20-pound fluorocarbon when I got my first strike. The fish hit my fly like a freight train and I wasn’t able to horse it back to the boat before it cut my leader like a hot knife through butter.

I tied on another fly and tried again. This time, I got a hookup but I could tell it wasn’t a mangrove. I never saw that fish before it pulled off but I think is was a hardtail and the hardtail got eaten off my line by a shark before I was able to land it.

I wish I could say that I had the patience to continue to fish with my fly rod, but the morning was getting late and hot and the rest of the crew was ready to call it a day with a total of 39 mangrove snapper and one almaco jack.

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I was OK with that decision because I knew we would be out at the same rig Sunday morning and I would not fish with live shrimp until I had caught one on the fly rod! We had caught a box full of great-eating fish and even had the thrill of catching a few sharks and a huge Jack Crevalle.

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We got back to the landing and I grabbed the fillet knife. I didn’t let go (kind of like a snapper) until I had filleted all the fish. I was looking forward to making my famous ceviche` with some of the fresh mangrove fillets. :)

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Well, Sunday morning was a complete wash as we were greeted at 4 AM with a mass of angry thunderstorms, some of which were producing hail. We weren’t about to mess with “Mother Nature” so we cleaned up the camp and left early for Baton Rouge. My goal of catching a snapper on my fly rod will have to wait.

Moral of the story…1) don’t wait to try fishing with the fly rod when given the opportunity to do so. I should have gotten it out when the fish were in a feeding frenzy. 2) get a heavier fly rod. An 8 wt. rod is not match for a mangrove snapper, or any other toothy critter found in our Gulf of Mexico :)

 

Red, White, and Blue Independence Day Fishing

My wife and I joined my cousin and her husband at their camp in Dularge for a weekend of relaxation and fishing. After a late start Friday morning (July 4th) I paddled my kayak to some marsh within 10 minutes of their camp. There were already two boats with fishermen in them anchored in the canal when I arrived. I paddled into the grassy flats where the big boats couldn’t go and was greeted to the explosion of a hungry redfish as it angrily ate my frog popper. This frog popper was patterned especially for this area with its hook facing up, because of its thick vegetation. After a nice sleigh ride, the fish got lodged in a thick chunk of salad and I knew it was going to get off. But, I was lucky and landed a 29-inch redfish.DCIM100GOPRO

Now, normally I would release a fish this big, but the long fight and the time out of the water taken for pictures had the fish entirely spent. Plus, I had brought along all the ingredients to make a ceviche and I knew that this fish was going to easily feed the six of us staying at the camp so into the cooler it went. 

I caught two more that morning and had another beast of a redfish break my tippet. All the other reds were caught while sight fishing with my gold spoon fly. Oh, and I caught a small marsh bass on the popper too. 

Three redfish that morning…Red

Now for the White…Did I mention I brought limes, an onion, jalapeños, cilantro, a cucumber, tomato, watermelon, and chips for ceviche? Well, after the redfish cured in the acid (lime juice) it produced a beautiful, fresh, white meat that was delicious with the chips. Everyone enjoyed that ceviche as an appetizer for supper Friday night and there was enough left over for for lunch on Saturday.

Now, the blue…I went back out to my spot Sunday morning and I skunked :( I actually enjoyed my morning as I saw various marsh birds, gallinues, bass, a huge marsh turtle, numerous garfish, sheepshead, alligators, AND REDFISH! I must have spooked a dozen redfish in two hours of push-poling my way through the flats. I was being extremely stealthy but the minute I would raise my rod tip to cast, the redfish would high tail it out of there! 

On a good note, my son joined my cousin, her husband, and their 20-year-old son on an excursion to Lake Mechant Sunday morning and came home with 9 nice redfish and three flounder. My son’s flounder must have weighed close to 4 pounds! Oh, and the chinquapin bite that has been going on over here…well it’s ended. I did manage to catch and release 4 this morning in a new spot in the lower lake. Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 3.25.45 PM