Enjoying South Louisiana’s Bounty

I’m actually combining three recent outdoors adventures into one. After two weeks of teaching camps, I was finally in the mood to do some serious fishing. I cancelled a kayak trip Saturday because my son wanted to take me frogging to celebrate Father’s Day. I have to admit, fried frog legs are probably my favorite meal! I was super excited to spend some quality time with my 26-year-old son and one of his buddies in the Atchafalaya Spillway.

We launched the surface drive boat around 10 PM and after about a 10 minute drive, my son was pulling the boat over and pointing out a big fat frog. I was apprehensive about using my right hand (my wrist is still broken) so I was using my less dominant (left hand). First attempt as a lefty…bingo! First frog in the box. This went on for quite some time with only a few missed frogs. Actually more misses came because I frankly didn’t seen the darned things and we would cruise right over them.  The evening was absolutely gorgeous! There was a near full moon in the swamp and the the light show from a very distant thunderstorm lit up the sky every now and then. Although it was warm and humid, it wasn’t totally unbearable and I made sure to take in all the sights and sounds that were around me. Now, let me say right now that my son frogs in style, in his surface drive custom aluminum boat with country music blaring on the speakers. I don’t guess the music scares the frogs because they caught 298 of them in two boats on opening night 🙂  Every now and then we would stop the motor and turn the music off to listen to the swamp. That’s some kind of music! To hear the symphony of sounds of the swamp (the deep thumps of bull frogs, crickets, owls, and thousands of tree frogs) is something I hope everyone can experience at least once!

Anyway, we frogged until 2 AM and ended up with 35 nice toads! People ask me if we use gigs. Frankly, my favorite way is to use my hands. Sure, I’ll miss a few and I have to keep a watchful eye out for alligators and snakes but that makes it fun. Here’s a picture we took of a few of them adorning our ProDrive motor:
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I have to say, that my son, Dustin, has a knack for spotting bull frogs. He was able to distinguish frog eyes from all the other little rays of light that you see at night with a Q-beam on our heads. That includes all kinds of floating spiders, baby green tree frogs, and of course all sizes of alligators. By the way, we easily saw over 100 of those that evening! Dustin has a gift. I think being a little color blind makes him able to distinguish a bull frog eye from everything else in the swamp. His buddies agree with me. They have never seen anything like it. I tell you, I won’t go frogging without him! I bet we wouldn’t have even caught a dozen had he not been there to spot them for us.

Anyway, my second excursion of the week had me hoping to make a trip up to Central Louisiana to fish with a buddy of mine but when my iPhone suddenly died Sunday, and the only reservation I could make with the Apple Store was for Tuesday afternoon. It was a good thing I didn’t procrastinate because unbeknown to me, I only had two days remaining on my warranty. I was able to get a brand new phone without being charged! 🙂

So, my fishing options meant that I would have to remain close to home. No problem because I have a couple of productive lakes in my neighborhood and I have students and former students who have invited me to fish their lakes. I took a trip Tuesday to what has become my favorite fresh-water fishery. I’ve been making a bunch of crease flies lately and the fish have been more than willing to come out and play. I’ve even made some to pattern some fingerling bass because I think these bass are feeding on fry from this year’s early spawn. Between the crease flies and my shad fly, I caught and released 15 nice bass. Ten of those were 14 inches or bigger and three of them were 17.5.

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Crease fly bass

Here are some more pictures from that trip:

I think about half were caught on the crease fly popper and the other half were caught on the shad fly. I did notice that I had more hookups and fewer misses on the shad fly. I love to watch a bass explode on a popper but it causes me to react too soon and results in plenty missed opportunities. Other times, when I to hook one, it heads toward me so fast I cannot get a good hook set in it. When I’m fishing a streamer, I feel the fish on first and I’m able to strip set, thus making my chance of landing the fish much better.

At about 9:30 I decided to see if any of the hybrid bass would be willing to come out to play.  I replaced that shad fly with a chartreuse and black Clouser minnow. I cast the fly out in deep water and counted to ten to let the fly get down deep enough. On my first strip, I felt weight and set the hook. I knew right away it wasn’t a largemouth bass because this fish had some extra power. I was right! It was a hybrid striper!

I tried to catch another one for about another half hour before calling it a morning. There was no need to stay out there in the hot June heat past 10 o’clock!

Well that afternoon, I got a new iPhone and saw all my missed calls and texts. There were the expected Happy Fathers Day messages but I got a four-word text from my cousin’s husband that got my interest. It was, “Can you fish tomorrow?” My cousin has a 24-foot bay boat and I suspected that he was itching to do some fishing in the Gulf for some speckled trout. A quick phone call confirmed my suspicions and we found ourselves heading to his camp in Theriot after supper. We left at 5 AM Wednesday morning and headed to one of the barrier islands off the coast of Dularge. I brought my fly rod but the wind was blowing just a bit too much (forecasts were 5-10 but the morning started off closer to 10) to risk hooking my partner in the back of the head so I just stuck to my conventional tackle.

The morning was absolutely perfect. A near full moon gave way to a beautiful sunrise. The ride out to the barrier island was a bit choppy but both of us had fished in higher seas than that. On my second cast of the morning, I got a nice blowup on topwater. A few casts later and I was slinging a nice chunky trout in the boat. Meanwhile, my buddy, Neil, had put 3 or 4 nice ones in the boat on soft plastics. The big girls had definitely come out to play! I decided to make the switch and for a couple of hours we put some nice fish in the ice chest. It wasn’t gang busters but the bite was just consistent enough to keep us from moving from our spot. We saw a couple of guide boats in the area and one of them stopped pretty close to us. They caught only one and then left. By then we had twenty-eight trout that measured between 15-18 inches each on ice. The bite had slowed down considerably so we hopped decided to hit a couple more rock jetties. We were just about ready to call it a morning when the bite picked up again. This time, the fish were considerably smaller and we had to cull out a few 11 inch trout but by the time we called it a morning at 11 AM, we had boxed up 44 speckled trout. The ride back in was less choppy and we both had a celebratory beer! I couldn’t have asked for a better day…great company, great weather, and great fishing! We cleaned fish (two full gallon bags of fish fillets), cleaned the boat, and took a nap before making the drive back to Baton Rouge. The only regret I had was in my haste to leave the house, I forgot to pack my cameras so I didn’t get any pictures. Uh, NO, I didn’t bring my new iPhone and risk getting it wet 🙂
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School is Out. Guess What?

School has been out down here in south Louisiana since last Wednesday and I’ve taken advantage of the time to get on the water. My first excursion was a trip to Grand Isle with a good friend and colleague of mine. We were able to fish only one day  (Thursday morning) because the wind picked up Friday and made it just about impossible to fish from a kayak with a fly rod. I did manage to catch three pretty speckled trout on poppers by anchoring and casting with the wind to my back to a wind-driven point. I had numerous misses and even lost a real nice one at the net but was able to land this one before the wind just got impossible. I actually foul hooked her (look under the pectoral fin) so for a while there, I thought I had Moby Dick on the end of my fly rod!
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I came back home to spend time with family, as my daughter and her husband were coming to town for the Memorial Day weekend. The whole time, I kept a watchful eye on the winds and decided there would be a window of opportunity to get some trout fishing in the surf Tuesday. The CCA STAR Tournament began Saturday and I finally decided to enter the tournament and fish it in the fly division. I caught 8 speckled trout Tuesday morning but they lacked the size of the fish I caught the previous Thursday. I had two fish that were 15.5 inches so I entered my biggest and low and behold…Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 3.36.28 PM
I received a text from a former student of mine and I agreed to meet him early Wednesday morning to fish for a couple of hours in what has become my favorite fresh water hangout. It’s ashamed it’s a private lake but it has afforded me hours of chill time and I’ve caught 44 bass there the last two visits! I was able to sight cast for bass on crease fly poppers. I would see a wake and cast to it and then watch as the bass would explode on my popper. My largest of the morning was 2.87 pounds.
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I’m still fighting the pain of two broken wrists. I’ve had my left splint off for three weeks now but the right one is still bothering me. Here’s a copy of the X-ray:
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It doesn’t take a radiologist or a hand surgeon to see the crack on the radius bone. It will be seven weeks tomorrow and I still cannot land a fish without my wrist brace. The darned thing (the brace, not my hand) is beginning to stink now 🙂

Anyway, here’s another picture from yesterday’s bass fishing:

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My hand surgeon made me promise to keep some of the bass from the lake that were under 15 inches, so I kept these 8, filleted them and gave them to some of our custodial workers at school. They were thrilled!
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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!

Quality time on the water with my wife!

I had planned on fishing our Paddlepalooza Kayak Tournament when I received a better offer from my wife on Thursday morning. We were invited to my cousin’s camp in Dularge for some well-need R and R. I knew that I would have to bring my kayak along for good measure 🙂  We drove down Friday after work and were treated to a delicious fried speckled trout dinner and a gorgeous sunset over the marsh from the back of their camp. The plan was to take the ladies out on their Ranger and do some scouting or a “soft trip,” as we like to call it. We knew the winds were forecast to blow 15 – 20 mph and there would be little or no tide.  I knew that the girls wouldn’t be getting up at the crack of dawn so I decided to paddle out to some grass flats behind their camp to do a little scouting of my own for redfish.

The minute I eased into the area I was going to fish, I saw a couple of large “backs” cruising within a hundred feet of me. The wind was surprising flat so I pulled out my fly rod and began stalking them. They disappeared into some deeper water but I was able to track one down by the slight ripple its tail made every now and then. A couple of close casts, and I finally put one 2 feet in front of the redfish…Bam! Fish on! The redfish took off like a freight train and stripped line off my reel. However, it was too much for me and it broke my tippet. 😦

I push-poled my way around the area and didn’t see any more fish. I was treated to some of the beauty that gets overlooked by so many who live here. I wish I would have taken pictures…I know, next time, I promise! There were the usual gulls, great white egrets, grey herons, coots, and a pair of wood ducks and another pair of blue-winged teal. As I rounded one small corner, I heard a weird sound and located its source as a very young alligator tried to hide from me. I thought to myself, “How cute,” but then thought, “What if his mommy comes barreling out of the marsh grass?” I quickly vacated the spot and continued my search for redfish. I didn’t see any more redfish in that particular area but there were garfish everywhere! And, they were spawning!  I did see a couple of redfish blow up on some bait in the outer perimeter of the grass flats that I was fishing and I proceeded to cast a plastic ribbit frog through the area. I got one HUGE blowup and a miss before I received a call from the camp saying that breakfast was hot and the wives were ready to get on the water. I didn’t need to be told twice, as I really wanted to spend time on the water WITH my wife this trip.

After a ten-minute paddle back to the camp, I was boarding my cousin’s 23 ft. Ranger bay boat. We took the half hour ride to lake Mechant and took in all that the marsh has to offer. (I also saw numerous alligators). By now the predicted winds were picking up. We had a hard time positioning the boat so everyone int he boat could cast by Neil did a great job and was rewarded with the first speckled trout! I followed with a nice slot-sized black drum. We fought the wind and finished the morning with 13 nice trout in the 15-17 inch range and two drum.

After a terrific lunch, we relaxed and watched the LSU baseball game. When the Tigers had put away with the Arkansas Razorbacks in the 9th inning, I headed back to my redfish flats spot in my kayak. I push-poled around looking for fish for about an hour before I saw my first tail…and boy was it huge! By now the wind was whipping close to 20 mph and I would have to cast toward the fish INTO the wind! I decided to pole around the area where I last saw the tail and come at it with the wind and sun to my back. Well in the process I managed to loose it completely. So I figured the redfish were only working the edge of the grass flats so I stuck my push-pole in the water and anchored myself in an area where I could fan-cast the edge of the flats. I managed to catch, tag, and release a 16-inch redfish on the ribbit frog. I was getting ready to call it a day when I saw the big tail again! It was at the edge of my casting range but I didn’t want to lose it by relocating and moving closer to it. I put about three casts in the area, which was very difficult in a stiff crosswind, but the third cast produced a strike that looked like someone had dropped a hippo in the water! I felt the fish on and slammed the hook home. The line stretched. My rod bent. I was determined not to lose this fish. I held my rod tip up and released the kayak from the stake-out pole to get ready for the cajun sleigh ride of the century! Not long into the fight though, the redfish dug into some of the thick vegetation and got off, leaving me with about 6 pounds of salad and no fish!

Oh well. Can’t catch them all. I paddled back so I could clean the fish we caught from earlier in the day before the sun went down. We had a delicious grilled chicken dinner and we turned in for the night with great memories and a full stomach.

Sorry, the only picture we got was one of Lisa and me and that beautiful sunset on the marsh.
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Hunt for Red October – Reminiscing About Fishing Trips From Long Ago

With the hint of cooler weather that the month of October brings to south Louisiana, I long to get down to the marsh to stalk my favorite prey, the red drum (redfish). Because of my active performing and teaching schedules, I have not been able to take advantage of the recent cool spell that we’ve been treated to. That all changed for me this Sunday afternoon when I was  presented with an opportunity to make an afternoon trip down Highway 1, an area that I’ve fished since I was a boy. I still have memories of bank fishing with my five siblings, my parents, and my grandfather as a kid. I happened to catch this little fish on my fly rod during yesterday’s trip and it had me reminiscing about one of my early fishing trips.Image

I was a young teenager and I thought I had this “fishing thing” down. My grandfather, Pawpaw, as we called him, was a bass fisherman, a hunter, an animal trainer, (hunting dogs and horses) and an avid outdoorsman. We loved to fish with him and hear him tell us fish stories from a time long ago. Paw Paw used to fish with these Crème plastic worms completely rigged from the manufacturer with hooks already in them.  ImageThis one trip had us bank fishing the marsh down Highway 1 and we “know-it-all” teenagers were having some limited success with market shrimp on a tandem shad rig under a popping cork. We tried to get my grandfather to switch from fishing with the crème worm and put on some bait and a popping cork, but he just smiled, gave us a wink, and kept on chunking his worm out to the bay and would reel in it like he was fishing for bass.  Lesson number one from Pawpaw, be persistent! Lesson number two, don’t be swayed by peer pressure! I don’t remember how long it took him, but before long he was catching big trout on that plastic worm. I still recall him catching a MONSTER trout that day that was larger than any speckled trout I had ever seen up until that point. I just knew that earthworms weren’t on the redfish and trout’s dining menu.

Well I now know that the worm imitated another food source for the saltwater species we were after, most probably a needlefish or some other type of baitfish. Yesterday’s needlefish reminded me of that and that fishing trip from so very long ago. I think I’m going to experiment and come up with some kind of needlefish pattern. Oh, there’s one more important lesson that I learned from my grandfather and it’s probably the most important thing I learned from him.  The entire time he spent fishing with us, he wasn’t necessarily trying to catch fish. He was trying to catch us. That, my friends he did very well. So, Pawpaw, this fish is for you (even though I caught it on a gold spoon fly and not your favorite crème worm) I love you and know that one day we will be united together again when I can share some of MY fish stories with you!
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Live Bait for Trout?

I know some of you don’t fish without fresh or live bait. So, I’m doing a short poll to 1) determine if this polling software is as cool as it says it is 2) really find out what’s the “go to” live bait used by most of the fishermen and women out there.