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

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Grand Isle – Feast or Famine

I joined fellow teacher and colleague, Coach Neil Borel, down in Grand Isle for a couple of days worth of fishing. I heard the water had been beautiful last week and the fishing was good in the surf on the island. Well, of course, that would all change if I went down there 🙂

I got a somewhat late start (left Baton Rouge at 5 AM) but was on the water in my kayak a bit north of Grand Isle in a new area that I wasn’t familiar with. The water was high and still rising but disturbing to me was the visibility was not very good – maybe 6 – 8 inches at best because I couldn’t see the tip of my bright yellow paddle in the water. The marsh was full of bait (mostly mullet) as I stood up and push poled my way through what looked like very “fishy” water.  After about 20 minutes I spooked something along the bank that was not a mullet. The huge torpedo-like wake was a telltale sign of what was to follow for the next 30 minutes or so. A short distance later and the morning stillness was shattered by the sound of something big crashing bait up against the bank. I spotted the redfish and noticed that it was moving parallel to the marsh grass. I quietly paddled in an effort to intercept its path but I lost the darned thing. Not a problem, because about 70 feet ahead of me was another larger commotion on the edge of the marsh. This time the reds were heading toward me. I think there were about three of them in a pod which seemed to be nosing themselves in the marsh grass, which would send shrimp scurrying out into the open where they would be picked off by the hungry redfish.

I made a well-placed cast of one of my gold and pink spoon-flies and bam, I fish on! While I was fighting the 24-inch leopard red (it had 10 spots), I noticed that the pod kept going down that stretch of marsh, so I took a mental snapshot of the direction they were heading while I took a snapshot of the pretty redfish I had just landed.

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After I iced my first fish down, I was quickly on another redfish. It measured in at 16 inches but I was still noticing several larger-sized fish working the area. So, I quickly put a tag in it, released it and continued my stealthy search for the other reds. That’s when I noticed that the area suddenly went quiet. It was like someone turned a switch on…or off in my case. I push-poled my way further down this little stretch of marsh and noticed that it was a dead end canal that got very shallow and there was grass in it. Remember, the visibility was still quite bad but in this ultra shallow water I was mesmerized by the sight of a large stingray. I curiously cast my spoon-fly in front of the stingray to see if it was interested. I definitely didn’t want to hook it…only see if it was interested in the fly. Well it wasn’t but what else came curiously by was another nice redfish. It passed me up and didn’t see me. After a couple of excited, bad casts, I was able to get the fly in the classic two feet ahead and two feet above eating zone and watched the bronzed beauty flare its gills and inhale the fly.

Now this is where I usually have to report on my fishing report about how I set the hook too hard and the fish broke off…no, NOT this time! I’ve learned to be patient, to make a short strip set, and then let the fish take off before really sending the hook-point “home.” Five minutes later and I had another 24-inch redfish in the box.

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The morning bite stopped and I think I saw only one more redfish or two (both were spooked and I didn’t even get to cast a fly at them). I did notice some gulls diving quite a bit away from me in a large bay so I decided to make that paddle over to them. I tried a topwater popper on them but not takers. I noticed that the gulls were eating small shrimp, so I switched flies to a chartreuse Charlie under a VOSI. On my third cast something big annihilated my strike indicator!  Two seconds later and I had a big fish on. I never saw the fish but when I got my fly back to me, I saw the tell-tale fish slime that meant I had had an encounter with a sail cat. I caught and released 6 undersized speckled trout before deciding to head in.

Neil and I decided to fish the Gulf side of the island by the rocks the next morning. After waiting out a rain shower we got an unusually  late start. Neil fished with live shrimp and I brought my bait caster and a fly rod. It wasn’t until around 11 AM before I got my first fish, an undersized trout on the Charlie. I continued to catch a few specs here and there and a frustrated Neil decided to call it a morning after catching a dozen nasty hardheads. I was contemplating a good lunch and an air-conditioned camper when my strike indicator (VOSI) went down. This time, I could tell that it wasn’t a “dink” trout and I was right. The trout circled my kayak before I netted it. It was a 16 inch fish and it was an upgrade to my Massey’s CPR Tournament. Image

I couldn’t catch another speckled trout over 12 inches so I decided to call it a morning a little after noon. I went out later that afternoon to make an evening trip but I got “skunked.”

I can’t complain though, because I had a wonderful time on the island with a good friend. It seems that every weekend is a “rodeo” weekend and this weekend was the Creole Classic Fishing Rodeo. There were plenty people around, plenty of food, drink, music…and, well you get the picture. I wasn’t going to be able to make the three-hour drive back home Friday night. 🙂 I got up early Saturday morning and made the trip home, making a brief visit with my mom and dad for coffee and conversation. Perfect!Image

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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