Not Kayak Fishing, Not Fly Fishing, But Certainly Fun Fishing!

I received an invite this weekend to fish with a good friend of mine down in Fourchon. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up as I would be fishing with my son, two friends and my son. We planned on targeting red snapper and mangrove snapper but we had to stay within ten miles of the coast if we were going to keep any red snapper. Saturday’s trip turned out to be a great day. The weather was good early on and we managed to put 20 mangrove snapper, a couple redfish (red drum) a large sheepshead, and a black drum in the box before the weather and wind forced us back in. We didn’t land any keeper sized red snapper but one of the highlights of the morning was when one of the guys hooked into an unidentified fish, a UFO if you will, that doubled over his big rod and ended up breaking off. We never did see it but we guessed that it was either a bull red or a large jack crevalle.

Sunday’s trip didn’t provide us with large numbers (we only cleaned four fish at the cleaning table) but we had a blast and caught 12 different species of fish. One of the fun things about fishing our wonderful Louisiana Gulf Coast estuary, is you never really quite know what you might catch. Here is the list of the fish we caught Sunday:

Bonita
Jack Crevalle
Redfish
Black Drum
Mangrove Snapper
Red Snapper
Spanish Mackerel
Bluefish
Trigger Fish
Hardtail
Cobia
Sheepshead

The highlight of the day was when I caught my first cobia. Allow me to set the scene:

The weather looked more promising than Saturday so we decided to begin a little further west than the day before. We tried a few new rigs and Dustin (my son) and Scott (captain) caught several triggerfish and one nice mangrove at our first stop. Since we couldn’t keep the trigger fish, we decided to hit another rig nearby. Well as is typical in our gulf during the summer, you have to watch out for storms and we noticed that a nice little storm was brewing to our southwest and was slowly moving toward us. We picked up and and motored 6 miles to our east to hopefully avoid the storm.  When trying to select a rig to fish, I suggested we try a small platform, thinking that the larger ones had been fished heavily since June. There are literally hundreds of small platforms and rigs to choose from in the gulf. We chose one such platform and I hooked us up to the rig. We all baited up with live shrimp on medium to medium-light rods because we were going to be targeting mangrove snapper. No sooner than Scott had gotten to the bow of the boat with his rod he yells, “COBIA!” Cobia, ling, or lemon fish, as it is commonly called around here, is a sought after species. They are large strong fish that will challenge any angler and the meat is very tasty. When we fish, we bring several rods with us to handle everything from big amberjack and cobia to small snapper. When School yelled cobia, I brought his stout rod to the front and switched rods with him. That was significant because instead of putting Scott’s medium-light rod down, I inadvertently put mine down and fished with his. That turned out to be significant because Scott’s rod (gold Shimano Calcutta reel) was loaded with 50 pound braid and 30 pound mono leader. Mine (also a gold Shimano Calcutta reel) was only loaded with 14 pound mono.

While Dustin and Scott tried to locate the big cobia, I decided to fish on the other side of the boat. On my first cast, I hooked a small hardtail. As I was reeling it in, I saw what looked like a shark attack my fish. It got off and I sighed a big sigh of relief thinking that I had just adverted a problem, fighting a four foot shark while Dustin and Scott were trying to lure a large cobia into eating what they had to offer. I thought for a second, I should actually catch a hardtail and they could use it as bait for the cobia. Yeah! Great idea!  So I put on another small live shrimp and cast to the pilings of the rig. Before the shrimp could get to the bottom I felt a tap and I started reeling in so the #3 circle hook could do its job. Only…this hardtail was much bigger…it had shoulders…really big strong shoulders. Then Dustin yells, “there he is!” Scott tosses his large jig toward the fish and that’s when I realize…it’s on MY line!  Immediately I thought that there was no way I was going to land this thing on my 14-pound test, but I looked down to see that that was green braided line that the fish was peeling off my reel. Wow! I had a chance! Then I thought to myself. “How am I going to land this thing on a medium-light rod?” I was able to put the breaks on the fish a couple of times and was able to turn the fish away from the barnacle crusted legs of the old rust oil platform. After a surprisingly short battle of 5 – 7 minutes or so, Scott had put the gaff in it and was hoisting it over the stern of the boat. It was hard to believe that with all the other large rods on the boat, I had landed a 20 pound cobia on a very small shrimp.

My very first cobia

A little later, I hooked into another big fish and thought it might be a companion, but it got off and I never saw it. Things slowed down at that rig so we moved on over to another nearby rig. Dustin spotted another big cobia swimming by the legs of the platform and right away we all started casting around the fish. Dustin actually hooked it and fought it for a while but sadly, it broke his leader :(  We weren’t done for the day because Scott hooked a monster jack crevalle and then both of us hooked and landed bull reds.

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You can see from the second picture that the storm died out before it got to us and the sun came out. Anyway, it was great to spend some quality time with my son and a couple of friends of mine before I start school. Yes, I start with my camps in the morning.

One a side note. I’m going to have to save up to get a 12-weight. I bet that would be a thrill catching one of those on a fly rod!

A quick morning. Quick trip. Quick Report

All work and no fishing makes for a very dull…  Someone must have written those words but I just can’t remember who. :)

Anyway, I’ve been pulling up bushes and clearing dirt to prepare to install over 250 square feet of pavers in my back yard and it has been a back-breaking, soaking-wet sweatfest. On my son’s advise, “Dad, take a break. Go fishing.” I decided to hit the lakes in the neighborhood this morning.

We are now entering the dog days of summer in south Louisiana and the heat index pushes 100 degrees and over each day. The fishing gets really tough, especially with the fly rod. I was fortunate this morning to catch two quality bass on a frog popper. There were small pockets of baitfish near the banks early on so I tied on a shad fly. I actually caught a nice chinquapin on the shad fly early on but decided that frogs were going to be on the bass breakfast menu for the day. By 6:30 AM I had hooked up on a very nice fish. It was a jumper, which frankly, I hate. Jumpers find a way to throw the fly so I let this one run so it would not try to jump. Even then, I counted, one jump, two jump, then three…holy cow, I’m going to lose this fish. I tried to keep pressure on it but not so much that it would rise to the surface to jump. After seven jumps I started to feel that I was destined to land this fish, and I did. It weighed 2.97 inches and was a little over 19 inches. A trophy fish for any fly rod enthusiast. I was beating myself up for not bringing a camera. It took a while to revive it after the extended fight but it eventually swam off strong.

About 20 minutes later, I caught one that was a bit over 14 inches. On the way in (at 7:30), I decided to switch back to my shad fly because I saw some bait working a shady bank. On my first cast, something inhaled it and took off toward me. When I went to set the hook, it cut my line. I’m thinking it may have been a garfish.

Anyway, it was a fun morning. Now time to get back on the shovel. Gotta finish this project before school starts.

Putting it all Together (an epiphany of sorts)

My summer break from full time teaching is almost over. With only two weeks left until I start camps for the 2015 year, I take a moment to look back on the past few weeks of fishing. What were some of my accomplishments? What were the disappointments? More importantly…what did I learn, and why write about it here?

One of the side benefits of this blog is that it serves not only as an outlet for me to express myself creatively but it provides me with a comprehensive fishing log of all my trips. I can look back on several years of blog entries and look for patterns. Does tide affect marsh fishing? What does water clarity have to do with it all? What flies worked or didn’t work under various conditions? How about the weather? I think that this has made me a better angler and this entry is my way of documenting what I’ve learned this summer about bass fishing.

I have had much success of the past few years in the neighborhood lakes by my house. Much of that, I was told, was because of the large stocking of Florida strain bass that were stocked in the lakes after the fish kill caused by Hurricane Gustav. A few years ago, it was nothing to fish with a fire-tiger popper and catch a dozen bass in an hour-and-a-half. Most of these bass, however, have been caught and removed by the locals. So the past few years, the fishing has become increasing more difficult. Oh, during the spawn, I’m sure I could catch many bass like so many of the locals do with plastic worms, lizards, and spinnerbaits, but that’s too easy. :) I like the challenge of fooling them with foam, feathers, fur, and, balsa (cork). I like fishing for them when the spawn is long over and most of the locals don’t even think about fishing for them in June, July, and August.

Because the water temperature is hotter and the spawn is over, I have to learn to become a better angler. That brings me to the thing I’ve learned the most about this past summer. There have been times when I have witnessed a bass feeding frenzy. I have documented some of these on my videos. The bass would feed on the shad at the bottom of the dam after a heavy rain. I thought the shad were attracted to the dam because of the foam. I have learned in fact that it isn’t the foam. It’s the structure (the concrete) and the moving water that attracted the shad there because they were spawning!

There is much research on the internet about bass, but I decided to seek more information about their food supply. Here’s an interesting read about the shad spawn. All summer long, I’ve been able to predict the feeding frenzy based on the water runoff from the dam and the fact that the shad would show up a half hour before sunrise to just a little after sunrise. I caught my personal best on a fly rod a few days ago (July 2). That’s significant and I’ll tell you why in a moment. I also venture out and caught 6 very large bream (4 over 10 inches) later that morning. I ran into a guy who was “wearing them out” with worms that very same morning. Two days later, I fished the dam and only caught one small bass. The shad did not show up! I was puzzled but I just knew I could pass the next hour or two by catching and releasing some more of those big bream.

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I did catch a few, as the pictures suggest but ONLY three this time and the gentleman who has slammed the big bream just two days earlier, didn’t catch one over 8 inches! I was really perplexed.

Jump to this morning. We had a big rain yesterday and I knew that conditions would be perfect to catch some bass by the dam before church. I showed up very early and fished until 6 AM without getting a tap. The shad didn’t show up at all and neither did the bass! That’s when I questioned what was truly attracting the shad to the dam and after reading about the spawn, I figured that they had spawned out…for now. Remember the July 2nd date? That was the most recent FULL MOON. According to the research I found on the internet, shad will continue to spawn through September. I will continue to check the dam in a week or two but I bet the activity will pick up a week before the next full moon. I know that the big bream were spawning too, because three of the six I did fry up last week had eggs. That would explain why the bream had lockjaw yesterday.

So, to summarize what I’ve learned:

  1. Shad spawn in schools very early in the morning and will disperse shortly after the sun comes up.
  2. While shad may feed on the foam by the dam, it’s the structure (concrete) that attracts them. The eggs will stick to the structure. They will also spawn near woodpiles, plastic (docked boats), floating docks (styrofoam), and grass lines.
  3. Other factors that effect the spawn are moving water.
  4. They will spawn through the full moon and will not after the full moon.
  5. When they start another spawning cycle remains to be discovered :)

Dam it! Bass!

Well, I’ve given the neighborhood fish a bit of a break but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to fish the bottom dam again this morning after the torrential rains we had yesterday. It didn’t take long for me to be hooked up on a big bass…and it didn’t take long for me to try to overpower the fish and have the fish break my line. :( I never saw this one but he had to be 2 and a half to three pounds. A few minutes later, I had another one smash my fly but miss the hook. I started thinking that this would be another one of those mornings when the fish would beat me. I foul-hooked a shad and curiosity got the best of me. I cast the now wounded shad out where all the action was and let it sit for a spell. Seconds later, I hooked a small bass. It made one jump and threw my bait back at me.

Well, I remained patient and kept reminding myself, “strip set.” “Don’t try to overpower the fish.”  Minutes later, I was hooked up again. I kept my mantra going. “Take your time.” “Don’t try to overpower the fish.” I landed my personal best on my fly rod at 20 inches. I didn’t have my scale with me :( but it had to go over 3 pounds. It was early and overcast so my picture came out disappointingly blurry.

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I caught a second bass by the dam before the feeding frenzy stopped. It was 6:15 so I decided to put my kayak in and test the bream. I wasn’t disappointed as I caught a half dozen over 8 inches. The two biggest went over 10 inches.

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I noticed last week I had a few fish that tried to inhale my VOSI. I went to Hobby Lobby and purchased (on sale) a fluorescent green which was nearly identical to the color of the VOSI. For some time now, I’ve been thinking about tying an Accardo Round Dinny so I put together a couple of those and fished one this morning. I caught about a dozen feisty bluegill on it and a couple of spunky bass too. Looks like I’ll be tying a few more of those soon!

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Cute little bug, isn’t it!

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The Research is In!

The data does not lie. Or does it?

I hit the same spot this morning with the fly rod determined to see which fly would reign supreme. Would it be the hare’s ear nymph, dyed brown or would it be a black and chartreuse fluff butt? Yesterday I began my morning fishing with the nymph and caught four red-eared sunfish (chinquapin) over 9 inches long before I switched to a fluff butt. I caught 3 over nine inches on the fluff butt.

This morning I began fishing with the fluff butt and it did not disappoint! Right away I started catching these big guys.

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I had four on the stringer in a half hour.

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I threw back three that were over 8 inches but under my self-imposed nine-inch or better limit.

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I got my fly caught in a tangled mess at around 8 am and decided to switch to the nymph. I didn’t get a hit for about 15 minutes so I changed back to the fluff butt. I proceeded to catch another under-sized chinquapin and another keeper in the next five minutes.

One of the added features of fishing with the fluff butt is you will occasionally catch one of these.

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I caught my personal best too. A bream over 11 inches long on the fly rod.

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Overall a great way to spend an early summer morning. Just two days before my birthday. :)

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Got fish?

Since there isn’t much else going on in the fly fishing world (at least around these parts :) ) I’ll just have to post another report. I’ll let the pictures do the talking. If the specs and reds won’t cooperate, then the red-ears, aka chinquapin, lake-runners, or shell crackers will have to do.

I ventured out this morning in my neighborhood lake to find these big daddies of the bream world biting.

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And you micro guys…well I had a couple like this one for you too. :)

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This big daddy touched the 11-inch mark when I pinched his big tail.

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I actually tried to see which fly, a hare’s ear nymph or the fluff butt would catch more fish. I put 4 on the stringer with the Hare’s ear and three with the fluff butt today. I’ll have to go back in the morning and do some more research. ;) Gotta love that research.

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I kept seven (released everything under 9 inches) for a fish fry tonight. I filleted these so my wife won’t have to worry about bones.

The One That Got Away

I usually don’t post reports about poor fishing. To be honest, I usually have good days on the water and I don’t think a report about a bad trip is usually a good read, but I assure you this one is. Spoiler alert! I did battle with Redzilla on the fly rod. Redizilla won! Read on if you dare!

First of all, let me make it clear that it wasn’t a bad day of fishing. The weather was good, light winds, sunny, and hot. I had a chance to take my brother and one of his sons fishing for redfish and specs this weekend. My brother now lives in Atlanta and doesn’t get to fish our marsh very often. With the tropical system that passed through earlier this week, I had my suspicions about how the fishing would actually be. Would the water still be very high and muddy? Would the tidal surge have brought in more bait? I contacted many of my fishing buddies to get a report from Friday and Saturday’s fishing and the reports didn’t look promising. The only good fishing I heard about was in Delecroix and I had never fished there before. Thus, I wasn’t going to take a couple of inexperienced kayak fishermen to a place I didn’t know well. I opted for an old faithful spot near Bay Lanier. I had caught redfish there a few weeks ago and I knew there would be some grass to clear the muddy water up a bit.

We got there bright and early and paddled out to one of my more promising spots. Right away, I saw a couple of big swirls working the banks. We cast to them multiple times; my brother and nephew with spoons and myself with my fly rod. We got no hits at all. Even more surprising was there were no redfish in the grass. Just three weeks before, there were hungry reds in the grass feeding on shrimp and baitfish. I didn’t see one fin or blowup at all for a half hour or so.

We left that spot and headed out to fish some other promising water. During our paddle, I spotted a couple of shrimp jumping out the water near the bank ahead. I stopped paddling and placed my gold spoon fly a foot ahead of the commotion and I was hooked into my first redfish of the day. “This is how it’s done,” I chimed. Wow, I must have jinxed us all. We proceeded to fish the rest of the day and not land another fish. My brother and nephew never got a bite. I actually hooked up on three redfish but two broke my tippet and one got away while I was fooling with my camera.

It’s the last one that made the day memorable for me. In the past, I’ve seen and done battle with what some of us call ‘redzilla.’ Redzilla is the Moby Dick of inshore bull reds. On my paddle back to the car, I spotted a small tail sticking out of the water near a marsh bank. I knew the area had oysters on the bottom so it always was a promising spot. However, I originally thought that it was only another of the thousands of mullet that we had been seeing all day long. As I got closer, I was able to make out the telltale pumpkin-orange color of a redfish. I stayed seated in my kayak to keep my presence less noticeable and started casting my gold spoon fly toward the fish. From this far away, I estimated the fish to be a slot redfish but nothing really big. After a few casts that were clearly rejected by the fish, I decided to stand to get a better view of my adversary. That’s when I noticed how big the fish really was. Yep, it was redzilla! It looked like a submerged submarine out there! I must have been putting the fly over its back and it hadn’t spooked it! The fish looked like it was sunbathing in a foot-and-a half of water. Of course my knees started shaking as I cast several more times. The first landed too far away from it. It slowly turned away from me and my next cast sailed too far out in front of it and my line was resting on its back! I just knew that I was busted and it would spook. I slowly stripped but it casually turned again to my right and never saw the fly. Now the fish was facing me and I presented the fly to it like I would a carp. I put my fly three inches in front of its nose and I let the fly wobble down to where it could see it. Strip ever so slowly…slowly…slow. Bam! Fish on! At first, I don’t think it even knew it was hooked. It kind of lumbered off, taking me on a slow sleigh ride with it. When it finally figured out that it was hauling a twelve-foot kayak and a fisherman with it, it got angry and slammed around to my right. It circled the kayak once and I winced as I tried to maneuver my fly line around my other rods behind me. I thought about calling my brother to tell him that if he was near me, this was going to be quite entertaining for the next 15 minutes or so. I dared not lose my concentration so I didn’t pick up my phone. Then the redfish started coming toward me. I stripped frantically to get back my line and banged on the kayak to keep it from going under me. It veered again to my right and I thought it would circle me again. Then it took off to my left like a rocket. I have seen videos of guys fishing for big game fish where you see the fish jumping about 20 yards away from where you see the line. Redzilla didn’t jump, but the wake from its explosive run was about 20 yards ahead of my line. I didn’t know what to do but hold on and my line sliced through the water. There’s a cool feeling I get when I see my drag working on my reel. The fish is stripping line out. It’s still on. My reel is doing its job! Excellent! Well, when that run ended it started back toward me. Again I stripped frantically because I couldn’t reel the fly line in fast enough. I probably had nine feet or so of line in my lap before the redfish slowed and turned away from me. I let it take more line out on its next run and to my dismay, my fly line got tangled around the handle on my reel. NNNOOOOOOO!!!! Without much effort, it broke my tippet!

At first, I was so mad. What an idiot I had been. I hate losing fish! After I settled down, however, a peaceful calm came over me as I thanked God for the opportunity to battle such a worthy adversary! I estimate the fish to have been well over 30 inches and probably 15 pounds or so. As for you Mr. Redzilla, we will meet again. We will do battle again. I’m sure it will be epic, but you better bring your “A” game because Musicdoc won’t make the same mistake twice. J