Our Favorite Color? Reds…

IMG_3530For the last couple of years our families have planned and taken incredible summer camping vacations together. This year’s trip included five days in the New Orleans, LA area and four days in and around Destin, FL. We departed for New Orleans on July 19th about 4am so we could get through St. Louis before the morning traffic got too thick. After more “pit” stops than what were originally planned, bouncing our way across the bridges in Mississippi, then bucking across the bridges entering the wetlands around New Orleans, and 14 hours of road time we arrived safely at our home away from home known as Bayou Segnette State Park. Bayou Segnette State Park is a nicely laid out park inside the city limits of Westwego, LA, but we really didn’t notice we were in city limits once we were tucked back into our campsites. Prior to our departure we had decided on a few things we all wanted to do while in Louisiana and around New Orleans, so we had a couple of things booked to introduce our families to the culture and history of the area. Saturday we toured Lafayette Cemetery Number 1, the Garden District and a portion of the French Quarter and Jackson Square. Sunday was spent visiting Oak Alley Plantation in the morning and a ghost tour around St. Louis Cathedral and the French Quarter that evening. We took a swamp tour with Cajun Encounters then drove through a portion of the city still showing the aftermath of the affects of Hurricane Katrina on Monday.

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Dan and I knew that we were going to fish for Redfish while on this trip, but boat, kayak and canoe rentals were difficult to find to say the least. During our second day in the city, we had a little bit of time to stop into The Uptown Angler Fly Shop located in the downtown area. After sharing stories with one of the employees about our mutual fondness of the White River in Arkansas (small world), he helped us realize that our only real chance of fishing for Redfish was going to have to be with a guide. We were given the name and number of a guide that seemed to be dialed in recent days, and with that we had a decision to make. Hire a guide and fish some of the greatest saltwater flats in the entire world, or miss out on the opportunity on this trip. No brainer. We put a call in to Capt. Greg Moon of Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters. After a day or two of watching tide and weather forecasts, we got a call to meet him at his place at 4am on Tuesday, July 23rd.

 

I have never been able to sleep the night before a big trip or fishing new water, so it seemed as though it took forever for my alarm to go off on Tuesday morning. Dan had a similar night’s (un)rest, but we were both ready to roll by 3:30. We drove past our guide’s apartment a time or two, but we finally found his place, parked, grabbed our gear and loaded up in his truck. We stopped for breakfast at a diner that survived Katrina, and met another local guide that grew up fishing around Montauk State Park and the Current River (small world). We shared some stories, finished our breakfast and headed toward the water. We were able to pick our guide’s brain and try to get to know him a bit while on our drive to the put-in. Capt. Moon is a “salty” guy that studies the tide, weather  and wind conditions so he can put his clients on the best possible situations to see and catch fish. While he chose Tuesday as the best of the days that we had available for fishing, he warned us that the sky was not favorable and that the wind was going to make it difficult to catch fish on that day. He explained that bluebird clear skies are most favorable for spotting tailing fish, and that the wind would blow the tailing fish over causing them to avoid tailing and feeding until the wind sat down.

Once on the water, Capt. Moon pulled into one of many “lakes” in the Biloxi Marsh. Dan was first up, and it wasn’t long until a tailing fish was spotted. But the wind was making casting difficult, and we spooked the fish out of the “hole”. Dan had a few more chances in this “lake”, but the wind remained unkind and he just couldn’t get the fly in front of the fish. We moved to Capt. Moon’s next spot, and I was up on the casting platform. I struggled as the wind and poor casting technique spoiled my chances of hooking a fish in this “lake”. We moved around to a few more locations with the same results before Capt. Moon finally decided to take us further out into the Gulf to an area that had been “hot” lately with the thought that there should be some cover from the wind as well. As we approached we spotted another guide already fishing clients in that location, so off to Plan B and further yet into the Gulf. This ended up playing to our favor, as we ended up in a large “lake” that was relatively free of wind and tailing fish were all over. After a few casts, Dan had fish on and landed his first ever Redfish after a short tussle. We snapped some pictures and released the fish unharmed. I was again up on the platform. After missing opportunities at bigger fish, I was able to drop my fly right under the nose of my first Redfish. Fish on! This fish was smaller than the one that Dan had caught, but just a beautiful specimen. More pictures and a successful release. Back up on the platform, Dan had several shots at some bigger tailing Redfish, but they weren’t willing participants. Capt. Moon spotted a “donkey” of a Black Drum tailing, and Dan had it hooked shortly thereafter. It gave Dan a pretty good fight, but eventually came to hand. Once landed it weighed in at 35 pounds. Ugly didn’t quite describe it as it truly had a face that only a momma could love. Our day was nearing an end, but Capt. Moon circled back to our starting point in this “hole” to give me a chance at some of the fish still tailing. I made a few casts then dropped my fly in the face of a nice Redfish. I had it on ever so briefly, but was unable to get a good hook-set. Meanwhile, a black tailed shark came into the area for a little snack, and all the fish disappeared. Game over and so was our time.

 

We learned plenty during our time out in the salt with Capt. Moon. First of all, you gotta be able to cast with precision to salt species. Redfish and Black Drum need that fly to be placed right under their noses. Secondly, the tide and weather make a huge impact on salt fishing, but especially on species that “tail” when they are feeding. Thirdly, Skiffs are pretty special fishing boats. With a draft of about six inches and the ability to cut across three to four foot wakes, skiffs are versatile fishing machines. And finally the flats in the Gulf near New Orleans are a healthy fishery full of big Redfish that are a ball to catch. Dan and I both left ready for more saltwater action and wanting another crack at the Redfish of the Biloxi Marsh.

 

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The Upper Current in a Drift Boat?

Dan Ritter and I had been trying to work out a trip together for a while, and we finally got our opportunity this past Thursday. I happened to be on vacation, and Dan managed to talk his boss into letting him have the day off to fish on his birthday. Earlier in the week Dan and Matt Tucker (Ozark Chronicles) had swung by the Current River in Missouri after a recent float on The North Fork of the White River, and thought it to look Sexy. After exchanging a few text messages, I put a phone call in to Jadwin Canoe Rental to set up a shuttle, and our plans were set. I know what you’re thinking. “The Upper Current in a drift boat?” Stay with me here.

Thursday morning came and after pouring myself a BIG travel mug of coffee and gathering up my Missouri Delorme and iPhone, I hit the road with the Hyde in tow right around 2am. The plan was to meet Dan at the Highway 50 commuter lot around 4:30, and from there we’d travel together down to the Baptist Camp access to drop the boat in and float down to Cedar Grove access. But we couldn’t get on the water without having a little breakfast, so we made a little detour through Licking, MO to grab a bite at PJs Cafe. Tummies full, we made our way down to Baptist Camp through Montauk State Park where marshmallow, corn and cheese fishers lined the river in their lawn chairs and stared at our “funny looking sail boat” as we passed.

Upon reaching Baptist Camp access we agreed that a streamer and nymph rod each were the way to go for this float, so we quickly rigged, dropped the boat in, and started our float just as rain started to fall on us. Fifty feet into our float Dan hangs his fly in a tree, and explodes his (borrowed) sink-tip line and the tip section of his 8# Sage Xi3 rod with it. Yep, 20 pound Maxima is just that strong. Good news is that we were still close enough to the truck for him to run and grab another streamer rod. I’ll get back to the bad news later in the report. While he was retrieving his rod, I pulled out my nymph rod and picked up a nice rainbow just as Dan was returning – always nice to have a witness to the day’s first fish. Dan got streamer rod number two tied up, and our float was back on. To say that the action was good would be an understatement. Dan was on fish with his gray and white Double Deceiver right away, quickly boating a couple of rainbows, a stocker brown and having several more rolls and follows by a mix of stocker size and larger browns and rainbows.

The rowing was a little technical at times as we passed through narrow stretches, around root wads, down trees and boulders, and through tight turns with swirling currents. Through these areas, the casts were more like flips than actual casts. We floated through big water flanked by big beautiful bluffs with plenty of room for long casts and equally long retrieves. And we found a couple of nice riffles and runs to stop and nymph. I had an LDR (long distance relationship) with a nice brown, and Dan picked up a couple more ‘bows. He also moved a brown in the 24 inch range stripping a white Boogieman through one of those runs, but he couldn’t get it to commit. That had kind of become our luck midway through our day, but we chalked it up to the sky changing from cloudy to sunny back to cloudy several times and the front pushing through once the rain dried up. Once the sun finally came out to stay, the fishing became more consistent again, but the catching wasn’t. We had follows and bumps on streamers ranging from 3 inches to 8 inches, Double Deceivers to Sex Dungeons and in colors of white, chartreuse, black, olive, purple and tan, but no quality fish to show for all of our work though we saw plenty. Until…

If you remember, earlier I promised to share the bad news with you. The bad news is that Dan somehow managed to break the tip off of his other streamer rod. After a choice word or two (one rhymed with truck), Dan kicked me off the oars. I decided to tie on a yellow Sex Dungeon, and began casting to deep, fast water. A few casts and SLAM (I love feeling and seeing that). A nice chunky brown in the 15 inch range attacked that Dungeon from the bottom of a deep, dark hole. After a short fight, I had him boated, pictures taken and released to swim away unharmed. I had my fish, so I talked Dan into sucking up his pride (and fear of breaking another rod), got him off the oars and back fishing. After just a few casts (and follows) he had his first quality brown of the day. This one was feisty and decided to get a little payback. While Dan was trying to get the fish positioned for a quick picture, the fish gave a quick squirm and enacted sweet revenge shoving the hook through Dan’s finger. Note to self, and all of you, keep a pair of side cutters or a good multi-tool handy when on the water. We managed to get a picture of the fish, but failed to get a shot of the finger. Dan fished on with a fresh yellow Dungeon, and got himself a brown a little nicer (size and demeanor) than the previous. He fished out the float, picking up a decent ‘bow before we reached our take-out at Cedar Grove.

As we drove home, we discussed what we agreed was a great day on and in the water despite two broken rods and the hooking incident. The scenery was amazing having seen the largest Bald Eagle that I have seen up close in the wild, beautiful rock bluffs, and clean deep and fast water. The fishing was excellent with easily 60 follows in addition to the fishes that we landed on a river that appears to be extremely healthy with tons of structure and plenty of flow from the springs. We will return to do that float again. Oh yes, we will return.

Thanks for reading.

Paul

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Best Laid Plans…

First post….

So much for our plans to spend less time on the road and more time fishing close to home. WIth our home waters blown out by the recent rains, Dan and I started looking for alternate fishing “opportunities”. We had an open day or two this week  thanks to some days between jobs for Dan and my use of the last of my vacation days from my anniversary year at work. Our goal: Hook on to the Hyde, pick up Dan’s Dad, and travel to the closest navigable Trout or Smallmouth water. While Missouri has had similar rain patterns to Illinois lately, we knew that we stood a better chance of finding floatable and fishable water on rivers that aren’t being managed as part of a flood control water system. Our first thought was to float the Current River from Cedar Grove to Akers Ferry, so we began to put our plans into motion. We got the obligatory “If you must” approval from our wives, called Jim to tell him our plans, and began the pre-trip fire drill. For those of you that have never fished with Dan and me before, the fire drill goes something like this: About five days out we discuss and establish what weight rods, fly line and flies we intend to fish based off of water conditions, we monitor the weather forecast so we know what clothes we’re packing, and we start watching the river gauges in case we have to rethink fly lines or call an audible on which river we’re heading towards. Best laid plans, right? Well Mother Nature tried to spoil our plans when she opened up the heavens over the Current River, so the audible was on. New plans: Head further south, leaving for North Fork of the White River, also in Missouri, on Sunday evening and fishing on Monday before heading back to Flatland (i.e. Illinois). Fortunately the weather held, and we were able to get out of “Dodge” with no concerns about unsafe floating conditions. We got a hold of Justin and Amy Spencer at Sunburst Ranch while we were driving south to establish a place to rest that night and a shuttle for Monday.

Monday morning we awoke around 6am and started prepping the boat and our rods for the day’s float. With the river flowing at a decent clip, plans were made to chuck meat at the lower NFoW browns. Streamer rods were rigged with Double Deceivers and my 13 inch spin on the Drunk and Disorderly at the end of 250 and 300 grain sinking lines. After a breakfast of Nutty Bars and Diet Dr. Pepper (hey, there’s protein in peanut butter), we finished gearing, stopped and finalized plans for a couple of shuttles with Justin, then headed down to Patrick Bridge. At roughly 1100cfs and slightly discolored, the river looked primo for streamer action. We shoved off with a very real threat of rain in our future as we could hear thunder rumbling out in the distance. We weren’t far into our float when the rain started to fall. Rain gear on, we continued down the river. I’m not sure if the fish were afraid to get wet or what the problem was but, I will admit that fishing was a little slower than expected. After about 45 minutes the rain dried up, and the temps and fishing heated up a bit. Dan was able to get a couple of browns to eat a black version of a fly he’s been working on (He’s calling it the Wholly Mammoth). We had several bump, bump, bumps, but no real commitments until Dan was finally able to boat a decent NFoW Smallmouth. I did spend some time fishing on the float and managed to boat a fish. While I’m not terribly proud of it, I did boat an 8 inch Sucker (or as Dan says, “Suckah!”) on the 13 inch Drunk and Disorderly fly. It actually ate (hook in it’s mouth) a fly almost twice it’s size, so that tells me the fly works. I’ll tweak my version a bit (I’ll tie it Tommy Lynch style, too), and I think it will become one of my standards on big water. We finished out our float, and decided to call another audible.

Since lower NFoW was by our standards a bit of a bust, we decided to cut our losses and head back toward Flatland after the first float, but not before stopping by Tan Vat Access on the Current River to spend about an hour wading/fishing what is probably my favorite Missouri river. More on that in my next post. While Dan and Jim spent their time dead-drifting open water, I found myself a nice little tail-out to pick up several (and lose a couple, too) decent rainbows. The timer went off on Dan’s phone – yep, he set a timer – so we knew it was time to get back on the road to finish our trip home. Other than our stops for dinner in Sullivan, MO and in Columbia, IL to drop Jim off, we hurried home so Dan could rejoin the working world and I could finish out the rest of my vacation week.

 

Thanks for reading

Paul

Fire Tiger Double Deceiver locked and loaded for a float on NFoW

Fire Tiger Double Deceiver locked and loaded for a float on NFoW

 

NFoW Brown - May 6, 2013

NFoW Brown on the Wholly Mammoth – May 6, 2013

Dan with his Wholly Mammoth in Blue

Dan with his Wholly Mammoth in Blue

NFoW Smallie - May 6, 2013

NFoW Smallie – May 6, 2013

NFoW Brown taken on the Wholly Mammoth

NFoW Brown taken on the Wholly Mammoth