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Louisiana Flyfishing

I guess everyone knows about the tragic effects of hurricane Katrina on southeast Louisiana. Among the thousands of people seriously impacted by the storm are several dozen fly fishing guides, many of whom lost their homes, their boats, and their lively hood. For these men and women to rebuild their lives and their businesses, they and the region will need a steady flow of paying clients. One way that RMFC members can contribute to the recovery from hurricane Katrina AND have a good time doing it would be to make a trip to south Louisiana in 2006 and have a go at some of those big reds on a fly rod. Members can check the Red Stick Fly Fishers website <http://www.rsff.org/> in Baton Rouge for links to several guides. Also, Orvis lists several endorsed guides and outfitters in the area.

To whet the appetite for some red fish fishing, I am attaching a description of a trip in mid-March, 2005. My neighbor Jim Marvin and I flew to New Orleans, rented a car and drove to Houma, LA and fished two days with Dan Ayo <http://www.flyfishlouisiana.com/>. Here is the fish story as I told it to some friends in an e-mail shortly after we returned to Fort Collins.

The fishing in Louisiana was not as good as we had hoped but we had a great time. We followed a cold front into Louisiana Sunday night and Monday was forecast to be cool and breezy. It was more of both than was forecast. On our run out Monday morning, after 30 minutes bucking 2 ft waves hunkered down in our rain suit, the guide pulled into a slightly sheltered area and told us it was much worse than he had expected and we could call it a day if we wished. But Jim and I had nothing else to do so we stuck it out. We decided to have lunch early and see if the wind might die a little in the afternoon. While we were waiting, the guide suggested that we let him check our leaders and knots. Jim had attached his backing to the fly line with a rather large knot and he and the guide debated whether to re-do the connection. The linkage appeared to be plenty strong so they decided to leave it alone. The guide started winding the backing onto the reel and when the backing-fly line union reached the tip top there was a slight pop. We paid little attention until we saw that a 4 inch section of the rod tip had broken off—no fraying or splintering, just a clean snap off. The rod and reel are brand new; a 9 ft, 9 wt, 3-piece outfit. Jim was a sick puppy when this happened. However, the rod has a lifetime guarantee and the guide had a rod Jim could use. So Jim transferred his reel to the guide’s rod. The reel at least performed flawlessly and even drew kudos from the guide, which made Jim feel a little better. (When we got home Jim contacted the maker who replaced the broken section.)

Tuesday was supposed to be warm and calm but it was neither—just slightly less cool and windy than Monday. Fly fishing for reds is strictly sight fishing. When the wind blows, it stirs up the silt in the shallow water—where we fished the water depth was less than 2 ft.—making it difficult to spot the fish until they are nearly next to the boat. Imagine, if you can, standing on the bow deck of a flats boat, rod in one had, fly in the other, straining to see into the cloudy green water ahead while bracing against a wind gusting to 15-25 knots. Suddenly the guide shouts, “Fish! At one o’clock about 20 ft. moving to the right. Get on him!”

Following the guide’s directions, you spot a 3-4 ft brownish shadow in the murky water, moving away from you to your right. Being a right-handed caster you must shift your feet, judge the fish’s speed, the effect of the quartering wind and whip out a quick cast that places the fly a foot or so in front of where the fish’s nose is going to be when the fly sinks to the depth where the fish is swimming. You have to do this within 10-15 seconds or the fish will be gone. Also you must not be too jerky with your motions or you will spook the fish. Imagine repeating this exercise 40 to 50 times a day and you will get an idea of what it is like to fly-fish for reds when the wind is blowing hard.

The first redfishBut we managed to get it right about 4 or 5 times in a hundred or so attempts. Monday afternoon during a lull in the wind, Jim landed a red that weighed just a hair under 15 lbs. It was his first redfish and the first fish on any kind over a couple of pounds on a fly rod. It more than made up for the broken rod. This was the only fish we managed to get in the net. For some reason, I couldn’t get the hook set well enough to hold the several fish I had strike. One bruiser took off with such a rush that he burned a notch in my finger before I could let go of the line and grab the reel handle. After a bulldog run and a couple of head-stands in an oyster bed, he came to the surface, thrashed around and spit out the fly. Jim also lost a couple of nice fish.

The best fish of the trip never saw my fly but left me eager to return to south Louisiana. Monday, the wind was from the northwest but during the night it shifted south-southeast. In the Louisiana marsh, the wind has more effect on the water level than the tide. A north wind blows the water out of the marsh and a south wind blows it in. On Monday, the water level was slightly below the base of the marsh grass and the reds were cruising along the edges, often with their back out of the water, looking for crabs, minnows, etc. in the shallows. But Tuesday, the water was a few inches higher and the water’s edge was a foot or so back in the marsh grass. The fish were likely to be anywhere, near the edge or 20-30 feet off shore.

It was late Tuesday afternoon with only an hour or so before we would be heading in. We were drifting with the wind, the guide making an occasional touch with the push-pole to hold a position about 30 ft. off the shoreline, when an enormous tail broke the surface about 70 feet in front of the boat. I hastily worked out line and cast my lure—I was using one of the guides Cave spoons—to a point I thought would be just ahead of the fish. While I was waiting for the fly to sink, I glimpsed a large dark shadow on a course of about 45 degrees to our bow moving away from where I had cast. I picked up and fired a cast a few feet in front of where the shadow, which had disappeared, was last seen. We were closing on the fish too rapidly but, with the wind to our backs, there was nothing the guide could do to slow us down. While I pondered what to do next, the huge tail popped up about 3 ft off our starboard beam. But, alas, before I could make another cast, the fish apparently raised his head, spotted the boat and decided to try another part of the bay. We watched in frustration as a mushroom of gray silt boiled to the surface marking the spot where the big red had begun his exit. We could only guess at this fish’s size, 20 lbs.? perhaps even 25 or 30—the tail looked a foot wide. But it was bigger than any red fish I have seen before and I would certainly like to get another shot at such a fish.

Spoonbills over the marshOur guide, Dan Ayo, a native Cajun, born and raised in Thibodeaux, said that fall and early winter were the most popular times to fly-fish for reds but, just like the springtime, the weather is highly unpredictable which makes a thousand mile fishing trip vulnerable to busting out as we almost did this week. Dan suggested we consider August. He said the fishing is excellent and the weather quite stable, calm and clear except for frequent thunderstorms in the late afternoon or evening. (Little did Dan know how wrong his description of August weather would be in 2005.) August in south Louisiana means 90-100 degree temperature and similar humidity. However, I lived for many years in such temperature and humidity frequently doing such a bizarre thing as going outside in a shirt, tie, and 3-piece suit. Standing on the front deck of a flats boat holding a fly rod, wearing tropical weight shirt and shorts, sunglasses, a wide-brim hat and an pound of sunscreen doesn’t seem like it would be too bad; especially if foot-wide tails were popping up or cruising by. The Best Western Inn in Houma, LA, where we stayed, is new, clean and offers something I had not seen before at a motel—a Happy Hour from 6-8 pm every day with complimentary draft beer. That would be especially appealing in August.

Houma is in the heart of Cajun country and the new, modern supermarket we visited was a food and wine enthusiast’s dream come true. We brought back fresh-frozen Gulf shrimp, fresh crawfish tail meat, frozen frog legs, boudin, and andouille sausage. I spent this afternoon whipping up a big batch of crawfish etouffee. This weekend I plan to make up some gumbo and red beans and rice with the andouille. When the weather gets nice, we will have a shrimp boil. “I guarantee”, as the late Justin Wilson would say.

Mason C. Carter

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Last updated on 11 Jun, 2011