This part of the story will have fewer relevant photos for two reasons. Firstly, my GoPro battery died, because that seems to be the alternative purpose of the GoPro and the second reason is we missed the shot of the hand-caught redfish.
So, that story.
James and I were paddling into some really skinny water and finding fish to cast at. Sometimes their backs were out of the water, sometimes they’d just disappear, which seemed impossible given how shallow this water was.
James had just pulled up along side me and was saying something like “You wouldn’t believe how shallow these fish get.” when it all went down. As he came up to me, his kayak effectively blocked the outlet of a very small branch of the bayou. A redfish was sealed off and kind of freaked out. It tried to charge past James’ kayak and you could hear the slap-slap-slap of the tail against his kayak but we were too shallow to get under it and it was too long to get past. The thing was just trapped.
James reached down and just picked up a decent sized red. There was a fair bit of laughter at this, but before I could get the camera on, the fish flopped out of his hands and was on his way.
I ended up picking up a couple more fish, which was great.
I picked up my first redfish on a top-water fly. At some point we had turned back around and were heading back toward the water we had started on and I went back to the little cut where I had seen the giant bull red. In that pocket I found more redfish and I put on a fly that is part shrimp, part Gurgler. I wasn’t really sure what speed or action to put on it, but I figured it should be shrimp-ish, whatever that is. I saw the red follow on the fly and then he opened his gullet and tried to eat it. He missed or I got over-eager and pulled it away. Either way, I missed the first eat.
Further down the cut I saw water moving around and I cast again. I made a cast and was retrieving when something distracted me. I looked away, but heard the take, and came fast to my second red. It was a decent fish, unrecorded for posterity due to my now dead batteries in the GoPro.
I later picked up one more red, in the same cut, but on a Kwan (which may actually be the first fish I’ve ever caught on that particular patter as I just don’t tie or fish many of them).
By the time we got back to our starting place the current was ripping back in and the wind had picked up slightly (so, from 1 mp to maybe 5 or 6 mph). James and I wound our way through some more skinny water on our way back out, but the light was getting harder and the water muddier and I didn’t get another fish.
I ended up with three redfish and one trout for the day and James ended up with 7 reds to and and one BY hand. That’s some Jedi level stuff there.
Don’t you love the hazey GoPro pictures?
The paddle back to the launch was not too bad, despite the current and the light wind.
I got back first and got some beer for the guys. I subsequently left the beer at the launch, thus donating to the fishing gods.
We loaded up the trucks and headed back to the house, avoiding the speed traps and thus refusing to contribute penalties to the local economy.
It was only one day of fishing in the marshes of Louisiana, but it was a good one. I learned I can, in fact, stand up in a kayak and get it done. It was a great experience.
I have been to NOLA a lot over the last 16 months or so. My average is about once a month, all for work, and the trips are packed pretty full of meetings with a quick return flight. In on Tuesday afternoon, meetings Wednesday, meetings Thursday and then the last flight out of MSY that evening (7:40 PM gets me into OAK at about midnight). Not a lot of time for fishing in that mix.
I did get out last December with guide Ron Ratliff for a half-day. That was my first trip for reds in Louisiana and it was pretty awesome.
Part of the work crew, doing work at the conference in NOLA.
This year I had a big conference in NOLA (#KidneyWeek2017), so I was going to be around for a while. On top of that, my wife had a conference in Indianapolis. So… I had a day in play to find another fishing opportunity.
Guides were pretty booked, it is prime time after all, so, I called upon the power of the internet and asked if anyone wanted to split a boat with me. I got a response fairly quickly from James who said he had ~20 guys coming from Alabama to DIY it, an annual gathering, from kayaks. He could get a kayak for me if I was interested. It was an experience I couldn’t pass up, so I took him up on the offer.
The group had two houses rented about a 2 hour drive from New Orleans. After the exhibit booth and flooring was pack up I hit the road. I managed to get down in time to steal some of their dinner (I brought rolls though). I met the crew, saw the kayak I’d be fishing out of, got attacked by mosquitos, had a couple of beers and managed to harass all the white trout under the dock lights (which was more fun than was reasonable).
A bit of serendipity next, as my friend Peter from Copenhagen happened to ALSO be right where I was going. After leaving the AL crew, I made my way over to where he was staying with Jesse and Brody. We put some additional hurt on some white trout and caught up a bit.
The next morning I got back to the Alabama crew an hour later than intended, because, see… the clocks changed and my alarm got me up at 5:45, which was more like 6:45 the day before… so… I was both late and on-time. After breakfast, we headed off.
Heading off was short-lived, as I left my rod at the house and we had to return to get it, because I’m sometimes forgetful. This would be a fast trip were it not for the obvious speed traps and the ever vigilant police (sheriffs?).
Now, the only time I’ve ever fished out of a kayak was in Maui a couple years ago, and that was a peddle kayak and you didn’t have to stand up in the thing (I mostly got out to fish, although we did throw some spinning gear sitting down and trolled some flies). Turns out you DO need to stand up in these kayaks, at least when you get where the fish are. I was… not steady. I have a high center of gravity and a lot of other excuses if you are interested, but man… I just felt like I was going to fall in pretty much every time I stood up for the first couple of hours.
Amazed I’m not falling in. Photo credit James Eubank
While there were about 18 guys, only four of us took to the trucks to hit different water. It was James, Ben, Drew and me. We launched and paddled out over some open water to some islands not far away. James and I went one way, Drew and Ben the other.
I need to point out I was just plain lucky on conditions. The wind in the morning was non-existent. In saltwater fishing I just expect there to be wind, sometimes a lot of it, sometimes too much of it, but very seldom is there none. That’s what we had when we started the day. The fishing gods were smiling down on my. Thanks buddies.
Within minutes of reaching the first island I immediately saw some sheepshead, but was way too close and WAY too unsteady to get a shot in at them. It took me a while to figure out where everything needed to go. How do I get my rod ready? Where do I put the paddle when I reach for the rod? How do I do all of this without flipping over and sinking to my waist in the muck? I had questions and it was going to be a trial-and-error kind of day.
One of my favorite sayings is “Sucking at something is the first step to becoming good at that thing.” I was at the first step toward kayak fishing greatness, very much in the sense of that quote.
I soon started seeing redfish, but I was not all put together yet and the fish would either be gone by the time I got sorted out or the kayak would have drifted on top of them when I was ready to cast. I’m glad I took my spinning rod out of my gear bag because it would have been really, really tempting to just sit down and fling things without risking tipping over and feeling foolish. Sometimes it feels like we can live our lives in a pretty much constant quest not to be embarrassed. Glad I took the chance.
I found a little cut out of the main channel that had some identifiable redfish in it. There was also something sticking out of the water in the middle of this side pocket which I took to be a log. As I got the kayak in the side pocket the log started slowly swimming out. It was a bull red. It was just massive. Biggest red I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. I was going the wrong way by the time I realized what it was. No casts were made at it and I’m sure that salty old beast was way too smart for my novice redfishing skills (and meager kayak fishing skills).
Out in the main channel and in some slightly deeper water I was seeing fish-sign. I cast at it and was tight to a fish. This was to be my first ever speckled trout. A decent fish and nice to feel the tug of something to compensate for my feelings of inadequacy in the kayak.
That there is a crappy, gopro picture of my first speckled trout.
Soon thereafter I got on the redfish board. As I was paddling along a mangrove edge I saw water pushing, coming toward me. I could see the shapes of several fish, moving deliberately. I managed to get the rod ready (minor miracle), to get the cast made (also minor miracle), before they were on top of me. They were REALLY close when they ate, but ate they did. I was tight to my first DIY redfish.
My first DIY redfish
It was a nice fish. I was feeling pretty good after that. I had picked up a red on my first day really fishing out of a kayak and my first day DIYing for redfish and I was dry.
This whole time James was working up the other side of the cut from me and he was getting into fish as well. He’s been doing this a while and never looked like he was about to go in the drink. James was a pleasure to fish with and I’d do it again.
This is now one of the longer posts on the whole blog, so I’ll pause here and put up Part II in a day or two, which will include the story of James catching a redfish with his bare hands (no kidding).
On a side note… thanks guys. The Alabama group welcomed me in straight away, made me feel comfortable, lent me their gear, let me snag a couple beers and fed me and, overall, were just a solid group of guys. It reminds me of the Northern California Fly Fishing Message Board Bashes we used to have, way back in the day. Nice to have a fishing crew.
I have now spent more than five hours fishing out of a kayak for redfish in Louisiana, DIY-style. This, I’m confident, makes me somewhat of an authority on the subject.
In the picture below you can see me fishing Southern Louisiana with James from Alabama. Being the internet star that I am, I was quickly able to take all of James’ knowledge and feed it right back to him. I was so successful at this that James out-fished me, out paddled me and didn’t once leave his rod back at the house after having driven all the way to the end of the frigging island through the various 25 mph speed traps (I may have been guilty of the latter).
Here I am, spreading my expertise.
Here are the overly broad, sweeping generalizations I’m prepared to make on the topic.
There is almost no wind. Yup, from my vast, vast experience (see above) there is almost never much wind in the bayous of southern Louisiana. This makes fly fishing much easier than windy places, like, for example, everywhere else.
Only magic and dark forces keep you in the kayak. I have been told it is the design of the kayaks that make them stable-ish for an angler standing up, but I am convinced it is a combination of dark, unseen powers and magic. I constantly felt like I was going in the drink, but didn’t and I think the supernatural is the only plausible explanation here.
Redfish will eat topwater. Yup. They will.
There are bull reds and they look like logs. Like… they look a lot like logs and you should cast at them, not wander over near them only to find out that it WASN’T a log, but the biggest redfish you’ve ever seen.
There are a lot of guys from Alabama fishing Louisiana. Specifically, around Grande Isle, once a year, and they know how to cook and have a good time.
I’m sure there are more lessons to impart, but I haven’t slept a whole lot in the past few days and I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, I should.
And… because I know you are thinking it… you are welcome.
This place is legendary and for good reason. It is a fishing lodge in the best tradition. The iconic red buildings greet every angler on the way back in after seeing what the Marls have had to offer (which, generally, is a huge number of bonefish). The meals are chef prepared and delicious. The rooms are comfortable, clean and resort-like. The staff, including new managers Matt and Valeska, are warm, welcoming and strive to give you the best stay possible. The guides are knowledgeable, most with over a decade of guiding experience. The boats are Hell’s Bay and ride smooth and float skinny. The dock even had dock lights and a resident swarm of grey snapper (and a few visiting bonefish). It draws anglers, real anglers, and you are likely to hear stories about Montauk, the Seychelles, Cuba and Yellowstone over drinks or dinner or drinks after dinner.
The place is just pure class.
Shooting the breeze after a day on the water
I’d go back… I’d go back right this minute if it wouldn’t mean losing my job and getting a divorce (I love my wife and enjoy my job, so that would seem to be counter-productive). It is the kind of place that stays with you.
Part Two – Bahamian Fishing Village
We called this “The Real Bahamas.” We stayed at a small motel/guesthouse in a small fishing village (I’m not going to hotspot it for you). Everything in the town was owned by the same man and everyone seemed to work for him in some way or another. The room was simple, if a bit rough. The bathroom had a notable ant problem, but maybe that is what the lizard was there for. There were cockroaches at night if you were foolish enough to turn on the lights when you had to go pee. There was almost no discernible water pressure in the shower. There was trash all over the place, including in the water right below the room. The restaurant/bar (owned by the same guy) sold hard booze in pints that could be collected on the street the next morning drained of their soul crushing nectar. There was often loud shouting from up or down the street. Men carried sticks with them, I think to beat back the potcakes when they got too aggressive. We had six people tell us they were fishing guides and that we could hire them to take us out for $150 a day. No one had a boat though, or much of an idea about fly fishing.
The first comparisons to life at Abaco Lodge were a bit jarring, to say the least. Still, there was more about this little fishing village than cosmetics.
Life seemed, and certainly was, hard. The sea provided what livelihood there was to be had. When the weather was good, there was fishing to be done, even on Sundays. Everyone seemed to help with everything. People got us ice or water or beer in the morning and I have no idea how they were connected to us or the owner, they just helped out. Everyone, even the most sour looking locals, said good morning to us, most of them even reaching out a hand and introducing themselves. Everyone shared their best ideas about where we should look for bonefish. Everyone was happy for our business and some even had business opportunities.
Where we stayed.
We brought school supplies for a local elementary school and got to meet some of the kids, who were drilled and trained to a T when asked “How are you doing today?” It was equal parts inspiring and terrifying.
The “Real Bahamas” was something I’m glad I got to see. You don’t see much of that with the Lodge experience. It is good to get out and talk to people and see how they live, see what their challenges are, as well as their joys. I got a real sense of the positives and negatives of life in the Out Islands here on this trip.
I have a new found respect for these people making a hard life in a beautiful place and pitching in to help their neighbors. That’s one of the things the DIY route offers, the chance to get a little closer to the people there in the place you are fishing, to see what life is actually like.
It is hard to beat the lodge experience for pure angling, for the comfort of it, for the ease of it, the quality guides, good night’s sleep and when you just want a solid vacation. If you want to put a little cultural understanding in your next trip, consider a day or two out in the “Real Bahamas” as well.
On our first day of DIY on Big Huge Bonefish Flat the wind was up. Way up. The water off the flats was full of good size swells and the lee we found didn’t have the fish we were looking for. Someone forgot to tell the wind it was supposed to be coming from North East, not East. Silly wind.
We saw fish as soon as we got to the flat. Big fish. Bigger than seemed likely, really. Moving away. Moving 70 feet away in a 20-25 mph blow. This was going to be hard.
We walked up the flat toward the creek system. It was a long, slow walk. There were no targets to cast at.
The flat looked like a place bonefish would be and there were plenty of signs they had been there recently. That was promising, but still, they remained elusive.
In the creek, and close to the end of what would seem like a good college try of finding fish here I actually found some. Two, to be exact. These were nice fish, backs out of the water on the extreme edge of the tide who had not gotten the “fish leave the flat on the outgoing tide.” They were going in and I was following them.
I didn’t think I’d get a shot. They were going in, I was behind them and I never have been a fan of the “over the top and back toward the fish” presentation. Fish, generally, dislike that… a lot.
Then, they turned and were now heading back toward me, backs still out of the water in about 4″ of outgoing tide at about 35-40 feet.
I put the cast in ahead of the fish and waited. I twitched the fly as the fish swam almost on top of it. It pounced, pinning the fly to the mud. I striped slowly, only to feel the fly pull free, gently, of the fish’s grasp. The fish, determined to eat that damn shrimp, spun in circles looking for the prey. I twitched the fly again, but he didn’t see it. The fly was traveling further from the fish at this point and he was unlikely to pick it up again.
I picked up and re-cast closer to the fish. Again, he pounced with a sudden charge and then stillness meaning the fly was being crushed in the mouth of this bone. I strip set and the fish exploded.
Two long runs confirmed this as a 2X backing fish. Aaron actually thought I had lost the first fish and was landing a second, but it was all one fight and one very nice bonefish.
When landed the fish looked huge, although the measurements I got put the fish more toward 7 pounds than the 8 I first thought. It was my second largest bonefish ever, but the way it was hooked, the closeness, the intimacy I had in the whole affair, makes it one of my favorite bones of all time.
It was a perfect moment.
It was the only fish we caught between us all day and it was worth it.
The last few days of the trip Aaron and I were on our own, doing the DIY thing. We’d look at the map and Aaron would say a variation of “This is going to be loaded with fish.” My reply was a variation on “Maybe.”
We’d arrive on the flat and see the feed marks… the thousands and thousands of feed marks and Aaron would say “They are so here right now!” I’d say something like “We’ll soon find out.”
More often than not it was a shade of “recently, yes,” but mostly it was “not at the present time.”
This visual absence of the main reason we were on these flats and in this country often left Aaron incredulous. I was less so.
What followed each and every disappointment was a spin on “101 Reasons Why There Are No Bonefish on This Flat”
Here… play along.
The water is too cold.
The fish are mudding in deeper water somewhere.
The tide is too low.
The tide is too high.
The barracuda are spawning.
Maybe the bonefish are aggregating.
Maybe they are spawning.
The wind has changed the tide.
They are up in the mangroves.
My favorite…. they ARE here, but this flat is so huge, so expansive and the conditions are so crappy our cone of vision is tiny and we just can’t see them.
I’m pretty sure at least one of those was partially correct on any given flat we found and didn’t find fish on. The truth is that we simply lacked the native intelligence needed to accurately know. Even the guides get it wrong sometimes and we were trying to find these fish on our own in a place we had never been to before. We know a bit about bonefish, but nothing around this particular area so the best we can do fits into the “educated guess” column.
A few times, we even guessed right. Something about a monkey and a typewriter and an infinite amount of time jumps to mind.
I’ve talked to a few people and here is what I’m going to say is the current state of affairs.
The bill will not come up for a vote in February. It isn’t ready. No one has seen it. The most recent comments from Gray are pure politics in the worst sense of that word, which is saying something.
There is no reason to hold off on planning your trip.
When and if ANYTHING happens, there won’t be some short little window of notice. Folks in the know don’t think anything is likely to happen, or at least nothing that really impacts the DIY angler more than maybe buying a license.
So… while Gray’s comments are irresponsible, he is a politician and that seems to be mostly what they do.
2015 saw some pretty acrimonious discord for the Bahamas. Efforts to shut down the DIY fishery in spirit, if not in fact, were brought out and paraded around and the ensuing arguments left no one happy.
And then… nothing happened. It has been at least a couple of months since the Attorney General’s office took the proposed legislation and we’ve heard not a peep out of them. The potential reasons for this are many. Here are a few possibilities:
The AG’s office is waiting for US anglers to be distracted by something shinny before breaking out something really controversial.
The AG’s office is waiting until they deal with more pressing issues, like hurricane relief, before picking something like this up.
The powers that be are just letting it die a quiet death, knowing there is no interest in estranging Yank and European anglers who come to the Bahamas and drop some serious coin, year after year, especially with Cuba coming on-line and other destinations like Belize and Mexico still being pretty competitive.
All of that is just total speculation and speculation is all I can really conjure up because the news out of the Bahamas is just the sound of the wind through the mangroves.
As I write this, here on January 1, it seems very likely nothing much will change in the Bahamas in 2016. So, plan your trip. If anything does happen, it won’t be over-night and you’ll have plenty of time to alter if things go badly, but I think the odds of the most odorous of the proposals coming to pass is fading away like that school of bones moving off the flat into deeper water.
I recently received a nice package in the mail containing the book “Do It Yourself Bonefishing,” by Rod Hamilton (with Kirk Deeter). I spent some time with it last night and I have to say, I wish I had this with me on a few previous trips to the Bahamas.
The risk, with this kind of book, is that the locations listed will get more traffic. The more traffic a bonefish flat gets, the worse the fishing. Bonefish visit the same flats relentlessly and if you teach one school of fish not to eat a Gotcha, that same school will remember it for the next angler… and the next angler… and the next.
Good Book Rod!
The alternate view one could choose to adopt would be that by alerting the DIY set to the truly large number of possibilities, the few hardest hit flats might see less pressure. I also have to consider that really, there aren’t too many of us out there looking for a DIY bonefishing flat. It may seem like there are, but I think there are a far greater number of anglers who hope to take such trips than number of anglers who have wet their toes in pursuit of bonefish, on their own, in these far flung locations.
So, I say again that I wish I had this book prior to my earlier Bahamian DIY efforts. It would have helped a lot. The book is full of information and even gives cautionary tales when needed. I’d say it is a must-have if you plan to visit the Caribbean on your own, on foot, in pursuit of bonefish.
Just a little reminder… the more you fish a spot, the worse it is going to fish. If you find fish one day on one flat, don’t go back. Find a new spot. Explore. Expand. It’s the only way to keep the good spots good.