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.
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.
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.
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.
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.