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.
I’m going back to NOLA, because, of course I am. This time it is a conference (anyone else going to Kidney Week???) and I have a day at the end of things to get on the water. Last year I got out there in December and managed a half day with guide Ron Ratliff, who was booked when I asked, about fishing this time around.
My first redfish, photo from Derek Rust, in the Keys.
Ron taught me everything there is to know about fly fishing for Reds in the 3 hours we had on the water, meaning that now I am not only the world’s leading bonefish expert, but I’m also, like, one of the top experts when it comes to redfish too (if you are taking any this serious, then it means you are why we can’t have nice things).
So, no Ron this time around, I was looking for time on the water. Somehow this has turned into me getting on the water on a SUP in the marshes of southern Louisiana doing some DIY redfishing. I am sure some comedy is going to ensue.
Looking forward to it, although not the falling off the SUP which is about a 50% bet.
Capt. Ron Ratliff and I heading in after a successful few hours of redfishing.
My wife is in Montana with our boy at her parents’ place. My daughter is in Mexico with her mom. I’m in Louisiana for work.
This is my fifth trip to NOLA since August and I had yet to find time to fish for reds. I decided this would be the trip I’d change that.
When I got in on Monday I was surprised at how cold it was. Temps were in the high 40’s at night. It was, ya know, for a Bay Area person, cold. I didn’t fish Monday. I didn’t fish Tuesday, an equally cold day. I didn’t fish Wednesday morning, but after my last meeting of the day at 11:00, I headed south to meet up with guide Capt. Ron Ratliff for a half-day of fishing.
Wednesday was a beautiful day. The chill had gone away, temps were in the mid 60’s and the wind was negligible. I lucked out, pure and simple.
After getting to Chauvin and quickly changing out of my work shirt and slacks, we were off and on the water.
This was my first time fishing for reds in Louisiana. I was reminded strongly of the Marls in Abaco, but in place of mangroves you have the marsh grasses, which serve the same function in pretty much the same way. Small islands and bays and channels all were created by the marsh grasses, creating a maze of habitat for fish and the things they feed on.
We only fished for a little over three hours, but we found fish, a lot of fish, and they were often grabby. I was surprised at how close in the casts were (30 feet was a long cast and my longest, maybe 40′, was five feet past the fish) and how many casts these fish would let you take. They seemed not to care a whole lot about a half dozen casts landing all around them with a weighted fly. They didn’t like being lined, but beyond that, they were extremely agreeable.
Capt. Ron was easy to share a skiff with. He’s a local and he knows his water, and the fish, well. We had to change flies a few times to get it dialed, but we found what worked and the fish were mostly happy fish. We had a good time on the water and brought several fish to the boat in a day that was short on time to begin with. I had no complaints and was all smiles. I like this country and I like these fish.
I also managed to catch my first black drum, which was a nice bit of work.
I’ll be back. This is a special place, clearly, and it needs maybe some more of my time and consideration.
No… I don’t mean Los Angeles. I mean LA as in Louisiana.
“Crazy!” you say?
Yeah… sounds crazy. However… there is some reason to think it is in the realm of possibilities.
BONEFISH: LOUISIANA: Edgar Miller of Lake Charles, who has caught bonefish in Florida, went fishing in the surf off Grand Isle, and this man says he caught several 3-to 5-pound bone-fish on a silver spoon with a yellow bucktail. Next thing someone will hang a sail while casting for sea trout.