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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The Cajun Permit

There are few people who will argue that the permit, AKA the “Grey Ghost,” is one of the most difficult salt water fish to catch on a fly rod. To actually catch and land one of those is indeed an accomplishment any fly fisherman would be proud of. While we don’t have permit stalking the Louisiana flats, we do have one adversary that is every bit as elusive as the the permit. Ours wears prison stripes and has teeth that  basically look like human teeth. It’s the sheepshead, AKA…the “Cajun Permit.”

While sheepshead may be easy to catch around docks with market shrimp, they are very difficult to catch on a fly rod. First of all, it isn’t easy getting them to chase an artificial bait or fly. Now, I know many people have caught them on artificial and even flies but there are several factors that really make catching this fish on flies even more challenging. First, there are those big eyes. They have good eyesight and are known to feed in very shallow water on shrimp, baby crabs, and other crustaceans (that’s why they have those crushing teeth). They also tend to turn a little on their side while they are feeding which gives them a good vision of their surroundings. So, one must be very stealthy just to get a cast to a feeding sheepshead without spooking it. Another challenge is, well…those teeth. It is extremely hard to get a good hook set with a small fly hook with all those teeth.  The only real chance a fly fisherman has it to get a hook in the fleshy side of the mouth. 7314923468_3bc028cf7f_z-1.jpg

A third reason they are so hard to catch on the fly rod, I think, personally is because they have good noses too and are looking for bait that smells like bait. My flies do not smell like bait 🙂

Over the years, I think I have caught 2 sheepshead on flies. I have, however, watched them follow a fly for several feet, only to stop and turn away. Usually, I’m fishing for redfish when I spot one of those toothy critters and I offer it the same fly I’m using for redfish, which is a gold spoon fly. I have fished a couple of fly fishing tournaments where there has been a special sheepshead pot. Frankly, I haven’t even bothered because I just haven’t been lucky.

Well, that changed this past Saturday. I finally made it down to the marsh to do some fishing. It’s been since late May since I’ve had a good opportunity (good weather, good health, light winds, no work or family-related obligations) to get down to the beautiful Louisiana marsh that I love so dearly. Allow me to pause here to explain why I love our estuary so much. (WARNING: HERE COMES MY SHORT RANT!!)

I don’t only love it only for the fact that we have the best estuary for gamefish, and edible seafood. There is a beauty that envelopes our delta that many people down here, sadly don’t see. They drive down winding roads with beautiful live oaks draped with Spanish moss daily, yet they don’t “see” it. They sadly, fish our marshes and don’t stop to see the beauty this it possesses, and even worse…they use it as their own personal dumping ground. I’ve visited Colorado, Oregon, and Arizona during the past two years and you just don’t see all the trash. It not only saddens me but it makes me sick in my stomach to see the trash along our waterways. OK rant is over.

Here are some pictures I took yesterday of some of the beauty I witnessed:IMG_2871.jpg
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These pictures were taken with a camera phone and really don’t do the subject matter justice, but I think you get the picture (pardon the pun).

OK, so back to my sheepshead story…I arrived at my fishing destination to find that the water was still very high due to the recent tropical system that entered the coast to our east. Additionally, we were experiencing a very high incoming tide Saturday, so conditions were not favorable for site fishing. Places that normally hold a foot or two of water were 3 – 4 feet deep. Add to that the fact that the water clarity wasn’t good and you can see that I had a long day push-poling through the marsh and didn’t get many chances to cast at many redfish. I did manage to catch a couple small ones by blind casting GOPR3951.jpgGOPR3944.jpg

It was getting to be about noon, when I came across a patch of grassy flats that was what I call, “sheepshead rich.” I spooked several nice ones and made a couple casts to others only to watch them chase my spoon fly down and then refuse it. I was determined this time to catch one of these “cajun permit.”  I quickly grabbed my other rod and snipped off the popper I had tied on it. By the way, I had two redfish attack that popper earlier in the day but I couldn’t get a hook-set on either one of them. I tied on a merkin-style crab that I had tied for such an occasion.IMG_2869.jpg

So I poled my way back to my “sheepshead rich” environment and saw two big ones working the edge. I put a good cast between the two of them (about a foot and a half in front of them) and watched as they both moved in to investigate. If you look at my fly you will notice that is has several sets of rubber legs. I let the fly come to rest on the bottom and watched the rubber legs tease one so much it just couldn’t keep its teeth off it. It picked up the fly in its mouth and kind of shook its head like a shark would if it had grabbed a chunk of meat. I strip-set the hook and the darned thing took off like a rocket! It made one or two more big runs and then seemed to kind of give up. I was determined not to loose it so I took my time and played it just right. Finally, I played it right into my landing net. Mission accomplished! GOPR3947.jpg

In hindsight, I wish I would have weighed and measured it because I think it’s my largest sheepshead to date on my fly rod. It felt like it was every bit of five pounds and it also reminded me why it’s NOT a good idea to wear sandals in a kayak because one of those big dorsal fins found its way into my big toe 😦

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and poled around the area a couple more times to see if I could catch another one. I got one or two more casts off but was rejected, so I tied on a shrimp imitation. I guess all the commotion that fish created and my poling around the place was too much for the fish so I didn’t get another chance at a sheepshead. I explored more water for about another hour and decided that I had had enough for one day. I was able to drive to Thibodaux to visit with my mom and dad for a few hours and then visit my mother-in-law too, so it was a perfect day! It’s not quite on just yet but in four to six weeks, the weather will cool down and the fishing will get hot! I’m looking forward to getting back out there and experiencing what our South Louisiana waters have to offer again.

After I published this, I checked out some of my old pictures to see if this was indeed my largest sheepshead. Come to find out, I have caught several and 2013 was my most productive year.

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This is a small one that ate a spoon fly in the winter.100_0086_2.jpg
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Another Leeville sheepshead caught in 2013 on a spoon fly.GOPR3059.jpgGOPR0156.jpg
Well, either way, I’ve got to give my spoon fly more credit than I did. All those other fish were caught on a spoon fly.

 

It’s almost “That Time”

It’s almost my favorite time of year to chase redfish and speckled trout down in the south Louisiana marsh. From about mid October until mid December, the shrimp migrate to inside waters and the predators follow them. Additionally, a series of cold fronts pushes water out of the marsh leaving cooler, shallower water which in turn makes spotting feeding redfish a lot easier task.

A quick look at last year’s blog entry from the same weekend showed that I was able to catch a limit of redfish in the Bay Laurier area. I was hoping the conditions this Saturday would be similar. Alas, the weatherman messed up the forecast and instead of 5-10 mph winds, I was greeted with 10-15 mph winds nearly all morning. The water was also unseasonably high, very dirty, and there was very little tide movement. I saw a lot of baitfish and an occasional jumpy shrimp but I didn’t see any predator fish except for a few sheepshead. I did manage to catch my first sheepshead of the year, a 19 inch beauty.

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It’s always fun to fool one of these with a fly!

I was able to then catch a small redfish while blind-casting over an oyster bed.

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10 inch redfish ate the spoonfly.

I finished the morning around noon with an interesting story. I was fishing a stretch of water that has been real productive for me in the past. I push-poled my way around the lee side of the marsh and didn’t see anything except mullet and baitfish. I then decided to check the windy side. By now, there were white-caps in nearby Bay Laurier and the wind was pushing me rather quickly down the side of the marsh. As I rounded one point, I saw a redfish cruising the grass line and then quickly noticed that he wasn’t alone. It was a pod of about 15 redfish!  I was so close to the edge of the marsh grass and the wind was pushing me toward them so fast that they literally swam right into the bow of my kayak before I could grab my fly rod. They quickly spooked and I waited around for them to regroup. Sadly, they never regrouped. I continued to work the windy side of the large duck pond I was in and I saw something that looked like another nervous mullet. This one, however looked a little suspicious, so I stuck my park n’ pole in the scupper hole and waited. A couple of seconds later, I realized it was another pod of redfish. These were a lot smaller in size than the other one I spooked. I made a great cast, considering the wind, and placed my gold spoon fly about three feet in front of them. I waited until they were about six inches from the fly and I made a short strip. Wouldn’t you know it, a small redfish out hustled the larger slot sized redfish in the pod and ate the fly. I put a tag in it and released the 16 inch redfish to fight another day.

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Last redfish of the morning.

Although it wasn’t a very productive day, I did learn a few things. I saw a few reports form others who caught fish further inside (Golden Meadow). The water there is considerably cleaner (more grass to filter the dirty water). The fish just aren’t quite ready in the Laurier area just yet. In another week or two, it should be dynamite though! I hope the wind can only cooperate.

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