17
May 21

Getting back out there, with Jim Klug

My Facebook Memory today was me with a very nice tarpon on a trip I had with Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures and Jim Klug in Cuba. I wrote Jim just to thank him for that experience and we got to talking about fly fishing travel and where things stand now. I sent Jim some questions and he took the time to respond. Thanks for that Jim.

Awesome shot by Jim Klug.

For me it is going to be a while longer. I’m vaccinated and employed, so that’s good, but child care is much more complicated and my wife’s doctor schedule is unpredictable for the time being. We’ll need things to settle a bit before I find myself on a flat, but I am thinking a lot more about it these days… looking at pictures, going through my gear, thinking about what plans I need to set in motion.

Jim provides some insight and good advice in the answers below.

How did Yellow Dog weather the pandemic?

Well … We’re still here!  There is no doubt that 2020 was a difficult year for our business and for destination angling in general. We had thousands of trips that were cancelled or postponed 

What did you learn about the travel business and your own company as a result of the pandemic?

We had some interesting and important take-aways from 2020, and we learned some valuable and important lessons about both our business and our customers. All told, Yellow Dog navigated some tricky waters in 2020, and along the way, we identified some key take-aways from the past 16 months:

  1. We learned that for our clients, having a legitimate agent working on their behalf is incredibly beneficial – especially when things get difficult. We saw this play out time and again in 2020. While we were not always able to immediately fix things or deliver the perfect answer for cancelled trips, we worked tirelessly for our customers – operating on their behalf and looking out for their interests. Having an agent like Yellow Dog (the largest creator of trips for many of the lodges in the industry) often-times made a difference. For people that had booked on their own or through a smaller shop or hobby agent, the outcomes – and the solutions offered – were often-times markedly different.

  2. Patience is everything. We’ve learned that tenacity and persistence goes a long way when it comes to re-bookings, re-schedulings and other resolutions. In the beginning of the pandemic, many operators and lodges were unprepared or unable to provide optimal solutions for cancelled or affected trips. Over time, however, we were able to work with many of these operations – on behalf of our clients – to secure better solutions and improved offers. Patience pays!

  3. Being nice matters, and when the shit really hits the fan, you truly see the very best of people, and also the very worst. Luckily, the vast majority of our customers and clients were patient, nice and incredibly understanding throughout the pandemic, realizing that the world shutting down was not our fault nor the fault of the lodges or guides. The entire destination angling infrastructure took a devastating hit in 2020, and – unlike major airlines or cruise ship companies – there were no industry bail-outs or easy money. Every lodge, guide, outfitter and agent was hurt by this, and for every one of our clients who was kind, patient and understanding in the face of cancelled trips and disrupted fishing plans, know that it was very much appreciated!

  4. Trip insurance can help, but it is important to understand the fine print and details.
    For years, trip insurance was the security blanket that promised to make things right if a fishing trip was cancelled or disrupted. And when it came to work conflicts, illness, hurricanes or cancelled flight routes, these policies usually paid off. The problem with trip insurance is that – like all insurance products – the companies know how to cover their asses against big-time cataclysmic events, and way down the list in the fine, fine print of things that were NOT covered was … you guessed it … “worldwide pandemics.” It turns out that most insurance policies would not cover trip cancellations that were pandemic-related, which meant that travelers who seemingly did everything right (booking early, securing a trip with the right deposit, and of course covering themselves with a travel insurance policy) were left hanging when their trips were cancelled due to lodges (and the world) being shut down. Moving forward, we fully expect that travelers will remember this, and we hope that those companies and products that have failed to protect travelers in the pandemic will be replaced by innovative policies and new products which actually deliver. 
  1. Having a solid and healthy destination angling infrastructure is crucial to our sport. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve known that – eventually – things would get back to normal and we’d be able to get back to doing what we love most: traveling and fishing the world. Having a lodge to return to (or your favorite guide still around to fish with) is a big deal, so being supportive of this infrastructure matters. For everyone that accepted a trip roll-over, re-booking fee or new dates, and especially to those that sent along the equivalent of a guide’s tip or donated to industry economic relief efforts, thank you.

Are you seeing the pent-up demand from a year off?

Oh yeah!  Things are absolutely crazy right now. Once January 2021 hit, things started ramping up, and it has only gotten crazier since then. After a brutal 2020, Yellow Dog just closed out a record-setting first quarter of 2021. It was as if someone flipped a switch in early January, and people are now booking and reserving trips at a pace we’ve never before seen. Trip dates are being snatched up as quickly as toilet paper was selling out ten months ago, and the biggest challenges for the year ahead will unquestionably revolve around availability. If you are thinking about planning a trip for the near future – or even 2022 or 2023 – my advice is to start the process now. Getting out in front of the demand will ensure prime dates and great guides at the best lodges and destinations. “Last-minute” trip planning – while still possible – is going to be more of a challenge than in years past. If you know that you want to travel and fish in the near future, then get a jump-start on the planning process and get your dates and destinations on the books.

Many waters got an unanticipated rest over the last year. What are some of the benefits or silver linings after a year-long COVID shut-down?

Obviously, one of the biggest positives that has come from the pandemic is the environmental benefit that comes from literally shutting the world down for months on end. Global satellite images from space in late-2020 showed pollution levels that had dramatically decreased from those of only eight to ten months earlier, showing how nature can heal and recover when we simply reduce our footprint and let the planet do its thing (even for a relatively short period of time). For anglers, the effect of this “global rest” has been evident and abundantly obvious over the past several months in the quality of the fishing and the behavior of fish that we’ve witnessed across the planet. For many of the destinations that have already reopened (Alaska, Belize, the Bahamas, the Yucatan, Costa Rica, the Seychelles and numerous other destinations), we have already seen off-the-charts fishing and numbers that have not been seen in years.  

Were there any operations that didn’t make it through?

That remains to be seen. This is something that will likely play out in the year ahead, but sadly, we are going to see some lodge, outfitters, guides and agents that will likely be gone by the end of 2021. The travel industry and destination angling as a whole were absolutely crushed when the world shut down. People stayed home, lodges closed, and airlines stopped flying. Small business loans and programs designed to keep people employed provided some assistance here in American; however international lodges, guides, outfitters and support businesses were largely left to survive on their own. Many of the guides we’ve fished with and come to know over the years were dealt a serious financial blow, as there was literally no work and no income for most of the year. Some guides were forced to sell their boats. Lodges terminated large numbers of staff, and many in the fly fishing community left the fishing world all together. Every international operation (along with many domestic operations) was hurt by the shut-downs, widespread cancellations and the lack of sales, and it will likely take years to fully recover.

When folks are booking now, do they require proof of vaccination or testing or what is it that has to happen to get back out there?

Proof of vaccination is not required to actually book or reserve anything (at this time) but there are plenty of countries that are requiring proof of vaccination for entry as a tourist. Regardless of how you personally feel about vaccinations, the fact is that life as a traveler and as a traveling angler will for sure be easier in the months (and possibly years) ahead with proof of vaccination. This is going to be true for some time to come with many foreign destinations. 

Are there places that are still closed/highly limited?

For sure, and some that are likely to remain closed into 2022. Right now, New Zealand, Australia and the Cook Islands are all closed indefinitely. Argentina, Chile, India, Canada, Russia, Christmas Island and several other popular fishing destinations are all still closed as well, although we are hopeful that things will open in the months ahead. We’re thinking August for Christmas Island, although that is not a for-sure opening date!

Is there somewhere in particular you are excited to get back to?

For me personally, I’m really excited to get back to the Seychelles for the coming fall season. Honestly, any place that requires a passport stamp is going to get me excited at this point!

Any recent trips that you’ve been able to do?

I actually just returned from an incredible week in the Yucatan, fishing Xcalak and Chetumal Bay. An incredible fishery with some of the best permit fishing I’ve seen in years.

Jim with a permit from his recent trip to Xcalak… on first glimpse I thought it was a GT.

What would you say to the traveling angler who is still hesitant to get back out there?

You need to be comfortable to travel right now, and that is a personal thing for everyone. DO your homework, research what is involved in traveling to a destination, and above all have someone in your corner that can help if problems or unexpected delays pop up. But travel is possible right now, and there is a lot of great fishing that can be accessed and enjoyed in a safe, easy manner. Regardless of your destination, however, when you are ready to get back out there, we are absolutely recommending that anglers begin their planning and booking processes earlier than normal. As a result of losing the entire 2020 season, there are countless trips that have had to be rolled over and rescheduled for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, which means that availability for the foreseeable future will be tight. For those destinations such as the Seychelles, Cuba, prime permit destinations in the Caribbean, and others that were already in high demand, it will be even more important to look ahead and plan well in advance. Even destinations in Belize, the Bahamas and the Yucatan are likely to book up quickly for this season and well into 2022. Our recommendation for those that know they want to get back out there is to start the process now.


16
May 21

Cooperative

My SF Bay fishing has been… off. Don’t know why. I don’t claim to understand the habits, patterns or ways of the stripers that sometimes, in theory, are in these waters.

This morning I did a little dawn patrol fishing. Falling tide, not much wind, a few people out. Pelicans were out, which seemed a good sign.

No love though… just casting and retrieving and repeating the whole thing. Just when I figured there were no fish in the whole bay there was a splash just 50 feet away.

Now, here in the Bay, if you see a splash it is one of two things… a halibut or a ray. I figured it was probably a halibut and the first cast I put in was grabbed immediately.

Very kind of the fish to show me where it was. Down right cooperative.

Thanks.


15
Nov 20

A lack of local knowledge

There’s not much that can substitute for local knowledge. That point was driven home over the weekend when my fishing plans went all pear-shaped.

I had planned to go fish the McCloud for the season closer, but got concerned the winter storm warning would shut the pass I needed to cross and generally prevent getting there, as well as maybe resulting in the three of us having a pretty rough day on the water.

The plan was altered. We decided to float the Lower Sac instead. Weather looked decent and so we made a go of it.

Here’s the thing… while I’ve fished that river many, many times, I don’t fish it often. This was my first day on that river this year. I know it enough to have a “Plan A” but not well enough to have a “Plan B.”

Plan A didn’t work. We managed ONE FISH between the three of us (I caught it in the first hour and we didn’t touch a fish after that). It was my buddy John’s first time getting skunked on a float trip on that river in 20 years.

Our guide sucked. I was our guide.

If I had fished the river 40 times this year, I bet I’d have had a better idea where to set up the raft at those flows and what flies we should have cycled through. But… well… that’s not the life I have. The opportunity cost of living the good and fulfilling life I have in this place is losing that local knowledge. Maybe we still would have headed to the Mac if I was more in touch with what was happening or maybe we would have had a better third or fourth option.

My friend Shane was guiding a slightly lower section of river on that same day. They boated just shy of 20 fish. Shane knows the river. That’s the difference between knowing a place and having a casual acquaintance with it.

It was good to share the water with friends, but I refuse to say the fishing was good and the catching was bad, because every time someone says that a trout loses its spots.

The raft. She’s a good raft. I like her. I’ll keep her around.

01
Feb 20

Memories of Christmas

My buddy Shane just sent me a picture of his big Geet from Christmas. I think he’s still there, but he managed to send me a picture of him, smile stretching ear to ear, holding up a big GT. Pretty cool to see. Very happy for him.

It was a year ago I was in Christmas Island with him and I was looking for my own GTs. I caught a small one (a giant trevally the size of a small trevally), I lost a mid-sized GT to the coral at the Korean Wreck and I cast at and failed to catch a big one.

That last fish I can recall pretty well even now.

It was the last day and we were on our last flat. The light was fading and the water reflected a silvery gray making it almost impossible to peer into the water even a few feet ahead of us. I thought the guide was just running out the clock and I didn’t blame him. We’d been looking for GTs and we never seemed to quite be where the fish were. He’d put in a good shift, but we just hadn’t done it.

Then the guide points.

“GT”

A fast moving bulge of water, 80-90 feet out, heading our way, pushing water like a snow plow. I made a good cast in front and beyond the fish so I’d pull the fly in front of its nose. The guide was in my ear yelling “FASTER! FASTER!” and I was stripping as fast as my top gear could manage. I swept the rod to add some speed as I’ve done from time to time with cudas and you could see the fish light up on the fly. He was close and you could see the open mouth and see the eye and the water sheeting over his back.

In my mind I was thinking “THIS IS IT! LAST FLAT! LAST DAY and damnit, it is going to HAPPEN!”

Except it didn’t. The fish saw us and just turned off and away and that was the end of it. I was just left there shaking, wondering how this crescendo somehow managed to fall flat. I had seen the fish in my hands, but it had only been in my imagination, a brief projection of what success and joy would feel like.

Shane had that look on his face today in that picture. It isn’t a great quality picture (he’s going to send better pics when he gets a chance as he’s still there), but you get the point, don’t you? Victory. Success. A dream realized.

Awesome.


14
Oct 19

Captain

I have a boat now. It isn’t going to see much, if any, saltwater, and it won’t see a bonefish ever. It takes a lot of effort to put together… yes… put together, and then take apart. But, it’s a boat. I’ve made it to 45 without having a boat and you’d be well within your rights to say I don’t have one now. It’s rolled up in my garage at the moment and in pieces.

It’s a raft. A 13 foot raft with a fishing frame. I call it the green goddess. I don’t have a trailer. I have to strap the frame to the roof of the car in pieces and the rest has to make it into the back of the Highlander. I’ve managed to get it out twice now. Once on a shakedown cruise with a couple buddies and once with my dad and a buddy. Fish were caught. I stayed on the oars. We did a short drift I’ve done probably a couple dozen times in my life, but had only rowed once on my own before now.

It was hoped I’d get my dad out in this and maybe it will happen. His reactions have slowed, his casts have gotten shorter. It was hard for him to get to the lane or stay in the lane. He missed fish and his back hurt, but he got in the boat and out of the boat without injury, which maybe is what victory looks like at this point.

The drive from here to Redding to float the Lower Sac is about three hours and it is about an hour to assemble the raft and about 5-6 hours to fish. Then an hour to break-down and three more to get home, where I have to unpack the frame, at the very least, so some tweaker or opportunistic scavenger doesn’t make off with the aluminum tubing. Long days. Maybe I’ll learn the Yuba, which would reduce the drive by an hour each way, but the Lower Sac and her rainbows of unreasonable size are closer to my home waters and, to the extent I know anything, they are what I know.

I’m contemplating taking my daughter down the S. Fork of the Snake this summer, or at least doing a couple drifts out there with her. Kind of depends what girl I have at that moment, which is hard to predict. She’ll be 13 and sometimes hates being in the car (that’s about a 900 miles roadtrip, so…) and other times she’ll barely talk to me and others she’s still my girl who wants to fish and hang with her dad and look for snakes and frogs. I don’t know what planning looks like for a fishing trip with a 13 year old. These are the known unknowns.

I also need to get my 5.75 year old boy out in the raft. Maybe in the flat water of San Leandro Bay, right by our house. I haven’t figured that out yet, but I will.

So, don’t call me Captain just yet, but I have a raft and a frame and I’m figuring out how to use it… where everything goes, what needs to be tighter, what needs to be left at home. Hoping I see a lot of water in the green goddess and that I get to share that water with my friends and family until I tear a shoulder loose or get a bulging disk.

See you on the water.


04
Aug 19

Getting back home

It’s been hard to get up to my old rivers and childhood home. Life is just full of obligations and plans. Two of the last three weekends I did manage to make the trek. One trip with the whole crew and once with just my daughter and myself. We got to hang out with my old man, which was a very good thing to do, and, of course, we went fishing.

The first trip I had a goal of getting both kids into fish. We went up to the South Fork of the Upper Sacramento River and I managed to get the boy his first trout.

Oliver’s First Trout

I also managed to get the girl fishing, although her fish didn’t come until the next day.

The boy helped land a larger fish the second day and he told me we were a team, so it was kind of his fish too. It was pretty interesting to see his competitive juices flow when it came to beating his sister. Haven’t seen that before, but I guess he’s growing up. He wanted to point out “our” fish was bigger that his sissy’s.

The next trip the girl and I put in a good 6 hours (maybe her longest fishing day ever), although we were down a rod, as I fell hard and broke one about 5 minutes after getting to the water.

Beautiful water up there, including a trip to Mossbrae Falls. The girl again managed to get a fish on the board and had several other grabs. It was a good trip and she said she had a good time.

The girl with a wild rainbow trout

The girl is just growing up pretty fast at this point. She still will spend time on the water with her dad, which is great and I won’t complain about. She’s no longer such a little girl though. Just found a picture of her at 2.5 with her first fish. How time flies.

It had been a while since I brok a rod until these last two trips… where I managed to go 2/2 on trips/rods broken. So, I’ll be trying out some warranties.

I do miss the rivers up there and I do miss seeing my dad up in his natural habitat. We’ll see if I can carve some more time out and get up there a bit more. Seems difficult, but I’ll try.


09
Feb 19

The purist and the milkfish

Now, don’t get me wrong. You CAN catch milkfish the hard way. In fact, in our group a guy named Barry did just that. He went 2/3 on milkfish down at the Korean Wreck. He caught them on algae flies. It’s an impressive feat.

That’s not how I caught milkfish in Christmas Island though. How I caught milkfish in Christmas Island would make a fly-only purist want to puke a little. Luckily, I’ve moved away from purity in my fishing and have, largely, adopted a “Is it fun?” approach.

Milkfish are fun.

When the tuna boats are anchored off London, Christmas Island, you can go and catch milkfish. First, you stop by one of the giant fish processing boats to get some small fish in a burlap sack. Then you anchor up to one of the ships and your guides start ripping the fish apart with their hands, throwing chunks of chum into the water. Seconds later the water around your boat is full of milkfish and various types of trevally (mostly blues, some golden and deep, deep down, maybe some giants).

Simply get your algae or flesh fly near the chum and see if the milks eat. If you let your fly sink too low it is fare for the Bluefins. If you get a milkfish to make a mistake and eat your fly (mostly, they’ll avoid it… like, 99% of the time, they’ll avoid it), well, hold on. Milkies pull and they pull hard and often straight down (although they also jump). Lines get tangled and rod arms get a bit worn out.

Milkies are built for speed and strength and it really shows. Odd looking fish, but, ya know… after they strip off a bunch of line they get much more adorable.

We got our share of milkfish and the guides kept every single one. They take these fish home to feed their families. There is no C&R when it comes to milkfish.

If you’ve ever fished in the back country in Christmas Island, you will have seen the roughly 100,000,0000,000,000 young milkfish milling around and looking a bit like bonefish on the flats in the back.

Some of the other fishing hanging around aren’t so bad either…

This particular bit of fishing isn’t for those who aren’t up for feeling at least a tiny bit dirty. It was a great time and the highlight of the day.

If the boats are in and you find yourself on Christmas Island, go get some milkies. If you have a pulse and aren’t a pretentious pain in the keister, you should have a good time.


08
Feb 19

Everyone wants to know about GTs

GTs, Geets, Giant Trevally. Everyone wants to know about the GTs of Christmas Island. Everyone who goes there wants to catch one. They are undeniably special and when you look at all the species in a place like Christmas Island, the GT stands out, in relief, and your finger keeps finding them on the page.

Yes, I saw some big geets in Xmas. The first one was at the Korean Wreck when a good fish (40#? more?) smashed a bonefish I had just released about 8 feet from where I stood as I was looking the other way. This was right on the shore. Scared the hell out of me (and the guide too). It gave me an impression of just how impressive these fish are and underscored just how precarious is the life of a bonefish.

Later that day the guide took me out to one last spot and in a couple of minutes found me a small GT on shore patrol. One cast, a couple strips and he was on. Not a big fish, but a GT. It pulled hard, very hard, and I could imagine what this fish multiplied would feel like.

A mini Geet

Another, about the same size, came by about 2 minutes after releasing the first fish. Didn’t have my act together enough to get a cast in.

The next day I was out at the Wreck again and the first fish we saw was a GT with it’s back out of the water. It wandered off into the breakers and we followed. I put some long bomb casts out into that area just where the breakers do their breaking, but I wasn’t getting any love. The guide told me to reel in and so I put out another cast and was putting the line back on the reel when something kind of magical happened.

You’ve seen when the face of a wave becomes a window into what is below the wave? As I reeled in a wave came rolling in and when the face of the wave was in full view I could see my bait fish imitation clearly and I could also see the GT come up and eat it. It was like watching it all happen on a high-def screen.

Here’s where I made my GT mistake. When you get a GT in this sort of environment you CAN NOT LET IT RUN. Just where those waves were breaking is a drop off and along the drop off there is pretty much nothing but a bazillion coral heads waiting to snag your line or your tippet and to free that fish from you. You are supposed to immediately crank down your drag and not give one god damned inch to that fish (if possible).

The fish was off the edge in a heartbeat and threw the first wrap against the coral a split second after that. I could still feel the fish pulling, but I knew it was in danger. I walked out a bit further to see if I could get it unattached and could see the line come back toward me and wrap on another bit of coral. There, about 20 feet from me, right at the edge of the drop, I could actually see the GT. He wasn’t huge, maybe 20 pounds (25?), and he was still attached. I walked out a little bit more and picked up the fly line winding from the point it was wrapped to my left to the spot it was wrapped in front of me. That bit of added tension did it. The leader cut on the coral. The fish was free.

Fast forward to the last day and the last flat. I was still without a big GT. I don’t think one was actually landed on the trip. Largest might have been about the size I had lost to the coral, but the 40 and 50 and 60 pounders, or those elusive 90 pounders were all un-landed. One guy had lost his whole fly line on a GT when trolling and there were other anglers with other good shots, but nothing in the books. I was fishing with one of the top guides, TK, and we were walking a flat not far from a GT highway. The sky was grey and the light was flat and diffused. I couldn’t see anything in the water at all.

Guide TK

At this point I started to wonder if TK was just riding out the last minutes of the trip. I couldn’t imagine you could walk out on a flat like this and find a GT without being able to see in the water. Part of me was also telling me to trust my guide. He was very much searching the water, not going for a stroll. He knew the water and the fish, I didn’t. I should just trust him, right?

With time running out and the 10 weight primed in my hands TK pointed at a fast moving bulge of water headed more or less in our direction. “GT!” It was a short cast, maybe 30 feet. I cast ahead of the fish, just beyond his path and when TK told me to strip, I stripped like mad. The fish reacted, veered toward the fly and it all seemed like it was going to happen.

“How perfect?” I thought. “Here I am on the last day, on the last flat, and I have this monster GT chasing down my fly in two feet of water and this will be the crowning moment of this trip. You can’t write a better story!”

Except… the fish then exploded and altered course in a direction distinctly not toward the fly. Maybe it didn’t like the fly. Maybe it didn’t like the strip. Maybe it saw us. I don’t know, but I watched the massive shape displacing a lot of water quickly fade from view.

I had the shot. I had a good shot presented by a guide who knew his water and knew his fish and it just didn’t happen.

We walked a bit more, maybe 10 minutes, to the edge of the flat where the boat would pick us up. TK turned to me and said, simply, “Maybe next time.”


21
Jan 19

Dr. King in the Bahamas

A cool little story about Bimini and Dr. King. Reposted on MLK Day.

Ansil brought us to an open space in the mangrove. “They call this Bonefish Hole, but I call this Dr. King’s Creek of Peace because this is where I brought Martin Luther King.”

 

I first published a version of this in 2013 after finding out King had been to the Bahamas and been out with Ansil into the mangroves.


08
Nov 17

DIY Redfishing in Southern Louisiana with a crew from Alabama – Part 1

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.