My most challenging fishing

People might ask, “Why would anyone want to climb Mount Everest? Why would anyone want to white-water raft a class 10 rapid? Why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?”  Most of these questions could be answered, “Because it’s not an easy thing to do.” So why would I drive five hours to Arkansas to sight-fish for a fish that’s arguably much more intelligent than bass or redfish? Because it’s not an easy thing to do. I would learn that lesson though, the hard way when I joined a fellow kayak fisherman and friend, Drew Ross, near his home waters in Arkansas this past Tuesday. Drew is fortunate enough to live near water that holds a “target-rich” environment of very large grass carp and acres and acres of shallow flats in which to sight fish for them with dry flies! 65967758_2537927943092798_7904278775846666240_o.jpg

So here are some of the reasons why I am so intrigued by these fish.

  • They are big. Some of these bruisers can sometimes weigh between 15 – 20 pounds and will straighten or break hooks and tippet at the snap of a finger.
  • They are smart. Smarter than bass or redfish.
  • They aren’t aggressive eaters and will not track down prey or flies. While they must eat to grow to the enormous sizes you see, they do not readily attack flies and lures like most other gamefish.
  • They are easily spooked, which means in order to be a successful fisherman, one must be very stealthy.
  • They aren’t considered to be good table fare, which means very few fishermen target them.
  • They will eat a dry fly
  • They will eat a dry fly
  • Oh, did I mention, they will eat a dry fly? 🙂

So, spoiler alert..you aren’t going to see any photos of me holding a massive carp in this blog post. I can tell you I never worked so hard to get “skunked” in my life but I had a blast and I look forward to getting a chance to go again.

First of all, Drew is a super nice guy and was probably more disappointed than me that I didn’t land a carp. Because we were going to be sight-fishing, we had to first pick a day that was forecast to be mostly sunny, with very little wind. The good news was, I didn’t have to leave my house at 2 in the morning to get out there at the crack of dawn. I left at 6 AM and made it to his house a little before 11. The bad news was, it was going to be very hot! No problem there, because my mom didn’t raise a wimp!

For the first hour or so, Drew pointed out fish to me. I quickly began spotting fish on my own and was tossing a small dry fly to cruising fish. I soon learned the importance of being very accurate with my casts. That’s when you realize just how intelligent this fish is. As a fly fisherman who frequently sight-fishes redfish in shallow water, I thought I would be able to cast a foot or two in front of a fish and “intercept” it. I would make a “perfect” cast and watch the fish swim right under the fly without even budging. Sometimes they would swim around it like they wanted to avoid it all together. When I practice my casting, I try to land my fly in a 14 inch circle (actually and old drum head from school). It became apparent to me that I was going to have to present my fly to a moving fish, with a slight breeze to contend with, in a circle about the size of a pancake. What a humbling experience!! I struggled! All this time, Drew had not even made a cast. I told him, one of us had catch a fish so I eventually talked him into casting to a few fish for himself. I just wanted to see if it could be done.

Well after about 15 minutes, I heard a loud commotion and saw that Drew was indeed hooked up. It, however, only lasted a couple seconds because the fish straightened his hook out. Meanwhile, my presentations were getting better but twice I missed opportunities because an aggressive bream ate my fly just when I thought I was getting a carp to rise.

Drew and I kept push-poling our way through the flats and I probably cast to over 50 carp in about 5 hours before I got my first fish to eat. I saw a loner heading toward me very slowly and I put a legitimate “perfect” cast out about 6 inches in front of its nose. I watched it rise and its “kissers” opened up and sucked my fly in. I set the hook and….I missed!!! (Insert explicative of your choice here). I was distraught, but I was encouraged that I got and eat. Then I watched Drew get another eat (another straightened hook) and another… this time landing the pretty fish:GOPR0197.jpeg

We were running out of time when I got my second eat. I let the fish actually take the fly down before I set the hook and again, I came up empty. I actually got a third fish to eat my fly and this time I actually felt some weight when I set the hook. Drew heard the commotion and thought I had actually hooked one, but I missed again. Oh well, these are times when I just have to chalk things up to Cormier’s Rule #1 of Fly Fishing: Fish make the rules; not the fisherman.

So, as I sit here waiting out this tropical storm, I am tying a few dry flies of my own to target these beautiful fish the next chance I get and although it was a very humbling experience, I know I learned a lot and will use what I’ve learned to be better prepared the next time I give it a shot.

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Summertime fun

Summertime fun

Each summer, I look forward to putting all those flies I tied during the rainy winter and spring to a field test. Last week, I spent a lovely week in Florida with my wife and we spent four days in St. Augustine. St. Augustine is the oldest city in America and it’s full of historical venues and a few newer “watering holes” to boot. We toured the Basilica, the Castillo de San Marcos, The Fountain of Youth, and more. Here are a couple pictures from that trip.IMG_3796.jpg

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Now before you exit my blog, let me get to the fishing report. As you see in the pictures, I wasn’t allowed to bring my fly rod, so I have to make up for it this week. 🙂

I took a quick look at the weather forecast and figured that my best opportunity would be Tuesday, because the wind, clouds, and rain were in the forecast for Wednesday through the weekend. AND…I start with one of my camps next week. I decided to revisit PAC (Pointe aux Chenes) and do a little sight fishing for sheepshead and redfish.

Since I planned on doing some sight fishing, I decided I didn’t need to get there at the crack of dawn so I left Baton Rouge for the 2 hour journey at 6 AM. I was on the water and fishing by 8:45. Now, I periodically get to fish with a fly fishing icon. Most people just call him “Catch” and that’s because he knows how to catch fish. He has been my fishing partner for the past three years in the Fly Fishing For the Mission Tournament. Anyway, at this year’s event he caught 6 or so sheepshead on the fly! So, I tied up a couple of the shrimp patterns he was using (a tan colored Lafleur’s Charlie) and made sure to tie one of my first rig. On the second, I put a crab pattern. GOPR0183.jpeg
You can see the three flies I used today on the pool noodle to my left.

Today’s conditions were good for sight fishing except, the water was extremely high and dirty. The fish were going to have to make a big mistake for me to see them in that water. I even went to my usual spots which have a lot of grass, thinking that the water would be cleaner there but it was just too high. I think the incoming tide was bringing dirty water from the shrimp boats. From about 9 AM until just before noon, I had the shrimp pattern and the crab pattern on. I was able to spot a few misguided redfish and sheepshead but they were 1) very spooky and 2) they just wouldn’t eat. I made several perfect presentations and watched as the fish followed the fly but something didn’t look right and they just would not eat. Finally, around noon, I figured I had better change tactics. I refuse to get skunked, so I tied on my  trusty spoon fly.

Right away, I spotted a trio of big sheepshead. Great! They hadn’t seen me. So I put a cast out to the left of the group…I didn’t want to put it right in the middle of them because I figured I would hit one of them in the butt and then they would all scatter. As luck would have it, one of them peeled off and took a look at the spoon. Come on…Eat it!!  Eat it!! Nope 😦

Of course, by now the wind had picked up to around 10 mph but I can deal with that as along as I can fish the lee side of the marsh. I spotted a pretty redfish but an errant cast that landed on its snout didn’t work out so good for either of us. Ahh, “there’s another one,” I thought to myself. Maybe I’m finally in a target-rich area. No sooner had I gotten those words out, the fish chased my spoon fly down and gobbled it up. After about a 5-minute or so battle, I landed my first fish of the day. It measured 21 inches and I let it go. GOPR0181.jpeg

After I released the fish I paddled back to my “target-rich” spot. I spied another redfish in the shallows and put one cast toward it. BAM, fish number two! It was a fun little fish but noticeably smaller (probably 17 or 18 inches).GOPR0182.jpeg

I went back to my spot but the “target” had moved on. About 15 minutes later, I was cruising a bank with the wind to my back, when I spotted two really nice sheepshead. I was able to put my push pole in the water and stop my kayak. I placed a couple really nice casts out to the fish but when it was looking like it was interested…BAM! A redfish swam in and smoked my fly! I fought this one for a while and was getting it close to the kayak when it took one more big run and spit the hook.

It was getting to be about 2 PM (my self designated time to start heading back in) when I saw a very large dark shadow. At first, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me but when it turned, I saw the telltale stripes on its side. Well, what do you know? I finally got a big sheepshead to eat my spoon fly! We engaged in a battle that lasted a couple of minutes. It too spit my hook back at me. That’s one of the things about sheepies. They have that mouth full of teeth. It’s hard to find a spot in there to get a hook in.

I know I say that any day on the water is a good day. It’s just some are better than others. Today was not one of those great days. The water clarity was poor, the water was high, and the wind picked up to make things even more challenging. The two fish I did land were beautiful. I’m going to have to rethink PAC for a while. I think my next trip south will be to Grand Isle. In the meantime, I may take a trip up north to try my luck at some big carp.  I’ll leave you all with a few closeups of these beautiful fish.

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Things are starting to warm up!

We have had one weird winter in south Louisiana. We must be the only place in America where you have to run your air conditioner during the day and your heater at night. It can be 83 degrees at 2 PM one day and 37 degrees with a 25 mph wind the next morning. And then, there’s the rain! I was looking forward to having the week off to do some fishing during my Mardi Gras break. The weather was cold, windy, and wet the entire week!

So, I’ve been filling my free time with getting some “honey do” projects done around the house and I finally found some time to get on the water this past Sunday. My plan was to head south and try to catch some trout and redfish. The weather was predicted to be sunny with a high around 75 degrees and winds from 5-10 mph. This is were I usually have to report that the weather man got it wrong again, but I have to say he was spot on this day. Well, the wind probably got up to about 12 or 13 mph at times but it was still fishable.

I met a buddy of mine around 5 AM and made the 2 hour trek to our spot. Plan A was to fish for trout. We arrived a little later than we had intended but I was just glad to be on the water and enjoy the beautiful sunrise. When we got to our spot we saw there were no fewer than 8 motor boats already around our spot. I picked up my first trout around 7:30 on a pink Charlie under a VOSI.GOPR0119.jpg
Right away, I thought we would get “into ’em” but that was the lone trout either of us caught that day. So, it was off to plan B to search for redfish in the shallows.

We poled off to some nearby broken marsh and began sight fishing the leeward sides of some small islands and duck ponds. I saw a good bit of redfish but honestly, they saw me before I could get my rod up to make a cast. I was spooking a lot of fish when I finally got one to slip up. My first redfish ate my gold spoon fly.GOPR0129.jpg
It was a nice 24-inch fish that I decided to harvest (I trade fish fillets for fresh farm eggs with a colleague of mine).

My morning continued about the same way. I lost a big one (weak hook set), another monster (set the hook too hard), and a third undersized fish before I was able to land this 27-inch beauty.GOPR0133.jpg
After releasing it back to the Louisiana marsh, I figured I had better try to find my buddy. I  caught up to him  about a half hour later and learned that he was having similar luck with his bait caster.  I was seeing more and more redfish so I was determined to get another one to my kayak. I was treated to one more beauty before we called it a morning.GOPR0139.jpg
These “Louisiana Pumpkins,” as we like to call them have a gorgeous bronze luster to them. Their big brown eyes are a sight to behold too.

It was good to be on the water with an old friend, witness a beautiful morning in the South Louisiana marsh, and have a redfish take me into my backing once again. I’m going to be unable to fish for a couple of weekends but after that I’m going to have to get down to the marsh again to get my fix of Louisiana Pumpkins.

The Purists are going to Hate Me!

I’ve learned that fly fishermen are a different breed. We look at nature from a different perspective. We typically are more aware of conservation. We constantly think about tight loops, back casts, etc. and we look at all materials, both natural and synthetic from a different perspective too. So, over the Christmas holiday, I saw what appeared to be a large earthworm on the floor in my living room. Now, with a two-year-old granddaughter, nothing surprises me anymore. However, upon closer examination, I saw that it was a broken ponytail rubber band that had belonged to my daughter (the two-year-old’s mother). I just knew I had to put that thing on a hook and give it a shot one day.

So, I tied it on a 2/0 hook, put a small dumbbell eye on it and colored it with a sharpie to make it look like one of those purple plastic worms that I cut my teeth bass fishing with. Last weekend, while I was fishing my favorite bass lake, I found an opportunity to do some “research” with the fly. Now before some of you storm out of here mad as a hatter, know that I do call this a “fly.” Sure it’s made with synthetic materials but if one can catch fish on spoon flies, foam flies, and other streamers made of synthetic brush material, then “Doc’s Ponytail Worm” is a legitimate fly.

So, I told myself I would only fish it for about a half hour and if I didn’t get any bites I would change it out for something else. It took me about 15 minutes before I hooked this beauty. worm fly bass.jpeg

I have since tied up a few on Eagle Claw weedless hooks. Now it’s time to do some more research on them. IMG_3550.jpg
Tequila sunrise, olive green and the Bill Dance Blue. 🙂

Bass Thumb?

Bass Thumb?

The Robert Palmer’s song goes something like this: “Doctor, doctor, give me the news. I’ve got a bad case of …. BASS THUMB!”  Haha. I had a Saturday morning free so I headed to my buddy’s lake for the first time this year to chase some bass on poppers. When I got there, I saw one of my former students, his dad, and some other hunters, who were making a late season rabbit hunt. It was cool to be fishing in a kayak while listening to the dogs work. Every now and then, the silence was shattered by the sounds of shotgun fire, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the peaceful solitude, and the constant blowups on my deer hair poppers.

I probably had my first blowup about five minutes after getting on the water, and as one might expect, I missed it. I thought to myself, “I’ve got to get my bass mojo back.” My next blowup resulting in a large 15-inch bass doing acrobatic maneuvers out of the shallow water. After a substantial fight, I gently lipped it, snapped a picture, and sent it back to the water to continue its annual spawning ritual. GOPR0060.jpeg

After that, I began to catch a lot of 12 and 13-inch bass. I kept hearing gun shots from the rabbit hunters and I thought to myself, I’ve got to keep up with them 🙂

I was up to bass number 7 (all caught on a frog pattern deer hair bug) when I got a HUGE blowup. I didn’t have a chance! Note to self, after catching 7 bass on the same fly, you MUST RETIE!! When I inspected the line, I saw the line had been frayed by the tiny teeth bass have. Those teeth act like sandpaper. When I spend a morning constantly catching and releasing fish, those sandpaper-like teeth will gnarl up my thumbs; thus bass thumb. Well, one can imagine what it does to fly tippet too.

So I retied, this time with a fire-tiger popper and was treated to some more action. GOPR0079.jpeg
Fire-tiger catches big bass.

The top water action slowed down and I tied on a new fly that I tied a while back that I’ve been wanting to try. One day while cleaning my house, I saw one of my daughter’s hair rubber bands laying on the floor that had broken. I tossed it into the garbage and notices that it had an uncanny resemblance to one of the earthworms I see that make it into my pool. I fetched it up out of the garbage and put it on a hook in my vice. I’ve been saving it for a moment like this when I could do “some research.”  I told myself that I would fish it earnestly for about a half hour before changing to something else. 15 minutes later, I hooked into the largest fish of the day. Sorry, I don’t have a picture. I only have video that I’ll have to try to add to this post at a later date. I will also do a step-by-step on the “hair rubber band worm fly.”

I tried fishing the worm fly some more, but I was catching grass and algae (it’s not weedless) and I heard some commotion over by a nearby woodpile. I new I had no chance with the worm fly so I retied my popper.

I think it was my second cast when I connected with another 17-inch fish. GOPR0072.jpeg

Again, a couple quick pictures were taken and the fish was released.

I was getting hungry and so I decided to call it a day. I met up with the hunters at the truck and asked how many rabbits they killed. They kept up with me 🙂  They killed 20 rabbits and I caught 19 bass. I guess they had shotgun shoulder but I wasn’t complaining…I had bass thumb 🙂

Slabs in the neighborhood lake.

While catching large bass, bull redfish, and speckled trout are fun, nothing gets me excited as when the crappie (sacalait) start biting down south. These fish are some of the best tasting fish in fresh water and can provide some good fun on a 5 weight fly rod. I heard during this past summer that our neighborhood homeowners association stocked the lakes with bass, bluegill, catfish, and sacalait following our flood of two years ago. I recently caught a random catfish but I hadn’t had any luck with the “sack of milk.” I did catch a couple of small (up to 10 inches) ones early this winter during a scouting trip, just to get on the water. That all changed this week.

We recently welcomed into this world my new grandchild, a grandson, Benson Philip Wijay. I have been so excited and the joy of welcoming him into our family (no I haven’t officially bought him a fly rod just yet) has been the only thing on my mind. That all changed early this week when my daughter (Benson’s mom) was rushed to the hospital with some major postpartum complications. The good news is, my daughter is now home with her children and her health is not in danger. My wife has been in Texas with them and we’ve been communicating via cell phones and texting for the past four days. Now that things have cooled down, I was in need of some some stress relief. IMG_0653.jpeg
Big sister is counting his toes and checking him for ticks. 🙂

The relief came earlier this week when I was home early (about 4:30) and figured I’ll walk my kayak down to the lake to try a little afternoon fishing. I was armed with one fly rod with an olive fluff butt tied to the end of it. I took a moment (like I usually do) to  make a quick pass around the launch area and clean up some of the trash that the recent winds have knocked into the water. After that, I began hitting the banks, looking for some big bream, sacalait, or anything else that might be fooled by the marabou jig. The fishing started off pretty good when I hooked into a 12 inch bass. Then I fished around a stretch of water that usually holds bass during the summertime. I immediately hooked into what I thought was a big bass. Come to find out, it was a 13.5 inch sacalait! Hold on, now. I usually practice “catch and release” when I fish freshwater, but when I catch big chinquapin or sacalait, I practice catch and release…into a skillet of hot grease :).  A few casts later, and I had another one on. I noticed that these fish didn’t fight like normal crappie. Once hooked, they took off like a missile. They didn’t jump out the water, but they fought ferociously. I ended up having one straighten out an old hook (no kidding) and two break off my 6 lb. tippet. I frantically tied on some stronger tippet and was down to my last olive fluff butt. I finished up my stringer of 7 fish.GOPR0056.jpeg

I can’t remember fresh fish tasting so good. I had to fillet them because they were so big and I ended up eating three for supper. The other four will be frozen for a supper in the near future (lent is coming soon).

So I gave the fish a day off and my schedule freed my up two days later. I was in luck because it was the day before a cold front was predicted to hit Baton Rouge. I got out earlier this time and went to the same spot I caught fish earlier in the week. This time, I rigged two rods; one with a black and chartreuse fluff butt and another with an olive fluff butt. I was going to see which one was more productive.

Within the first couple of casts, I was fighting an angry slab of fish, caught on the black and chartreuse fluff butt. GOPR0047.jpegAfter two of those, I switched to the olive. I caught four quick fish before switching back to the black and chartreuse. By now, the action had slowed and I think I caught one more on the black and chartreuse to bring my total to 7. I left that spot and searched a few other promising areas but didn’t get anything else except a few small bream. I did manage to catch two sizable chinquapin (one touched 10 inches) before heading back with a neighbor to my original spot. He wanted to see me catch one with the fly rod and I promptly caught two more to finish my stringer (those last two were caught on the olive pattern). I left him to fish with a black and chartreuse beetle spin but I don’t think he got any hits. It was starting to get dark and I had fish to clean so I bid him farewell and walked my kayak home.GOPR0052.jpeg
Nine fish were all I felt like cleaning tonight, so I left them biting 🙂

Anyway, the fishing sure was therapeutic and came at a perfect time. I’ll give those fish a rest and try some new water next week. According to local reports, it’s on like gangbusters right now…and the next full moon isn’t for a couple of weeks. Time to get some fish for those Friday Lenten Fish Fries. By the way, I was able to land 6 fish on the olive fly and 3 on the black and chartreuse. I think I need to do a lot more research 🙂