Persistence Pays Off

Persistence Pays Off

After weeks of looking for an opportunity to head south to fish the rich marshes of southeast Louisiana and not having any luck, it finally looked like I was going to hit the jackpot with a “picture-perfect” day. Winds were forecast to be 5-10 mph, and the sun was going to shine brightly all day. Add to that, the temperatures were forecast to start in the low 40s and I had dreams of catching bull trout in deep holes on some fast sinking clouser flies. Insert dream sequence music here:

So, Friday night, I set my alarm to wake me at 3:30. I was packed, I checked my list twice to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, and I even slept on the sofa, so I wouldn’t wake my wife up when I got up. I was as giddy as a school girl (no offense to school girls). I tossed and turned all night and dreamed of what would be plan A, plan B, and heaven forbid, a plan C. I think I even dreamed about tying flies…all while I sang music in my head that we had rehearsed in class this week. There’s my tribute to Count Basie. All I’ve got to say is, thank God I can operate on little or no sleep 😊

At 3:30, my feet officially hit the floor and I was in my truck and on the road by 3:50. My excitement would build as I made the over two-and-a-half-hour drive to my plan A. The temperature on my car read 37 degrees and I saw nothing was a star-studded, clear sky. As I got closer to water (Highway 1), I noticed just how calm the wind was. The water was literally slick as glass and I began to wonder if I had packed my Victoria’s Secret, Amber Romance to ward off those nasty No-see-ums (biting midges that aren’t bothered by deet insect repellants). I pulled over at a gas station to empty my bladder and I saw that yes, indeed, I had remembered to pack it. Everything looked like it was going to be perfect!

I was greeted to one of the most splendid predawn sunrises ever. The colors, which were magnificent, reflected back on the smooth-as-glass water. I wanted to get a picture but I knew that there would be a lot of competition at my combat launch spot so I didn’t want to slow down and jeopardize my chance of being the first kayak on my favorite point. When I crossed the high rise overpass in Leeville, I noticed there was a slight chop on the water and I looked at my outside temperature gage on my truck, which read 48 degrees. I murmured to myself, “Where did that wind come from?” “What happened to my cold temperatures?” Then, I noticed a cloudy haze developing in the east. I thought, “that’s not good.” However, my attitude changed when I got to my launch spot when I noticed I was one of the first people there. I was shaking in anticipation as I tied on a deep water clouser. I paddled out to my point, dropped anchor and fished…and fished…and fished some more. WHAT?? Nada! I moved around and noticed a few other cars pull up and out came the roadside fishermen and a couple of other kayakers. No one stayed very long, no one caught a fish, and I decided to opt for plan B.

Plan B was to move further east and fish the marsh for redfish. Surely that haze was just fog and I was going to be able to sight-fish for Mr. Poisson Rouge. Well, of course, the haze never lifted and by now the wind was blowing 10-15. I push-polled my way through the marsh and spooked many redfish that surprisingly, were in fairly shallow water. After a couple hours of this, I was thinking about Plan C.

Those of us who fish the marsh know all too well the sign of a spooked redfish, drum, or sheepshead. They leave behind a ball of mud in their escape path. I kept seeing these balls and I decided to begin fishing points and cuts that looked fishy. I even tried casting to escaping fish but unless I was going to hook them in the butt, I wasn’t going to be successful. I was just about to head to the truck when I stuck a big girl. I was leaving a small duck pond and I saw a couple wakes about 20 feet in front of me. I waited for them to settle down and I made a cast out about 40 feet in some deeper water. That’s when my line went tight and I strip set the hook. I knew it was a big girl because she was dragging my kayak all over the place and she took me down into my backing twice. Not knowing how well it was hooked allowed me to play the fish for about 10 minutes before I noticed I was being pulled close to the stakes that hold down the power poles along the highway. I decided to put my stakeout pole in the mud and fight the fish from there hoping neither  the fish nor I wouldn’t get tangled in the barnacle-encrusted wire. My plan worked and a few minutes later, I had the big fish securely in my fish grips. I was able to get a few pictures and revive her before releasing her (she was full of eggs) to go make babies. I was reminded of a valuable lesson I learned a while ago. Never give up. Your next cast could be the cast to turn a skunk into a winner 🙂 GOPR0043.jpeg

 

 

 

Advertisements

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
IMG_2877.jpgIMG_2875.jpgIMG_2873.jpgIMG_2874.jpg

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 😦

I released itGOPR3949.jpg
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.

GOPR0234.jpg
This is a small one that ate a spoon fly in the winter.100_0086_2.jpg
Here is one from a different trip the same year.GOPR0293.jpg
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.

 

One more trip before he gets married.

“This morning was just what I needed. I was determined to experience that “thrill.”  My adversary, the poisson rouge, is a very worthy opponent. This apex predator of the shallows feeds on shrimp, small crabs and unsuspecting baitfish in our vast Louisiana marsh. The “thrill” is to be able to push pole my way through the marsh among ducks, shorebirds, otters, and nutria while I look for signs of my adversary. Sometimes it’s as subtle as shrimp making a dash as they try to elude that king predator. Sometimes it’s just a dark shadow that looks out of place in the shallow water among the clumps of oysters. Other times, it’s being able to actually spot the pumpkin-colored mass of gills and scales before it spots me. To be able to sneak up on this predator without being noticed, cast a fly about the size of my fingernail to it, and then watch it turn and eat it is the “thrill” I seek. Nothing else in sport makes my heartbeat rush or causes my knees to shake like the moment I put that fly six inches in front of a redfish and watch him eat.” That was taken from a post from earlier this year…much earlier. In fact I caught 9 redfish that day down in Southeast Louisiana and I haven’t had a day like that in quite a while until today. I was able to hook up with my son’s best buddy, Austin, one last time before he gets married in December. In fact, he’s a lot like my own son. The difference lies here. My son likes to fish, but he LOVES to hunt. Austin likes to hunt but absolutely LOVES to fish! AND to top that off, I turned him on to fly fishing a couple of years ago and he’s been chomping at the bit for me to take him to some of my spots off LA 1. I even taught him to tie a few flies and he tied a couple of my new purple flies that he calls, “the Purple Assault.”

Someone wrote that his favorite month to fish the Louisiana marsh was November. We actually have moderate weather and you can find times when the wind blows 5-10 mph with sunny skies. That’s perfect for sightfishing redfish in the marsh. We did have one of those big storms blow in for the weekend, which made it impossible to fish (even the big bay boats and fishing guides couldn’t get out on the water). Austin and I planned to leave Baton Rouge around noon to do some fishing Monday afternoon and then fish all day Tuesday. We actually left later than I had hoped but we did manage to get on the water and fish for an hour and a half. I wanted to try a spot another buddy had told me about for speckled trout. The trout bite wasn’t on but I was able to hook this tournament worthy 26-inch redfish that must have weighed 8 pounds or so. Sorry, no picture 😦

We woke up early Tuesday morning and headed to one of my redfish spots where I had taken Austin two years ago. On that trip, he caught his first redfish on a fly rod. Today his goal was to catch a five-fish limit…on his fly rod…on the purple assault! (see my post on the evolution of a fly )

Five minutes into our entrance into the marsh, Austin caught his first redfish…and then another. I finally got into the action and by the time the sun came up, I was seeing lots of redfish. Austin and I each had one redfish break our tippet, but for the most part, the redfish weren’t getting the best of us. Sure, we had the usual missed strikes and spooked fish but for the most part, if the fish ate the fly, it made it to the landing net…or Austin’s hand (he forgot his landing net at home). I ended the day with 11 redfish and Austin probably caught 7 or 8. Most of them were in the 18-20 inch range so we kept a few fish for the grill. It was a great day to be on the water with a great friend. I’ll let these pictures speak for themselves.

GOPR3790.jpg
Austin’s first redfish
GOPR3793.jpg
A pretty release.

GOPR3792.jpg
Sunny skies and low winds made it easier to spot these guys. The water clarity wasn’t very good because of the constant strong winds these past two days. It resulted in a lighter colored fish. None of our fish had that “pumpkin” color. I guess I’ll have to get my pumpkin on Thanksgiving 🙂

GOPR3808.jpg
Another redfish for Austin. GOPR3795.jpgGOPR3804.jpg
It went on like this throughout the day. By 11 AM, there were redfish in nearly every cut gorging themselves on tiny shrimp. I love the action that rabbit zonked has in the water.
GOPR3798.jpg

GOPR3797.jpg
I thought this picture was cool, with Austin in the background.GOPR3817.jpg
The purple assault did its thing!
GOPR3811.jpgGOPR3812.jpg
Say ahhhh…Happy Thanksgiving!!