Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Into the Fog, and Summer Too

We slipped out of the shrouded cove as quietly as we could, not so that we wouldn’t wake the girls - the dogs and our stumbling about the kitchen had already taken care of that - but because the morning fog seemed to expect it of us. The ancient Evinrude chugged quietly and evenly, engine rolling in pace with the lap of water against our prow. Wooded shorelines melted into mists as we entered the main lake and turned north. Pulling our hats more tightly to our heads, we opened the ‘rude up and propelled ourselves into soft grey nothingness.

As we pushed across the waters, visibility no more than a couple of boat lengths, we listened for the whine of high torque turbines – GPS directed rocket bass boats that occasionally skip across the lake like thrown stones, all too certain of their God-given right-of-way, visibility or no. Speed, take heed. None appeared.

With a quickie breakfast of coffee and last night’s chocolate birthday cake rumbling in our stomachs, we headed out in search of largemouths. The completion of the spring spawn and the onset of summer weather conditions were changing the game but we still hoped to find fish hanging in the shallow lily-padded fingers of the reservoir. Topwater days are slipping away as the waters warm with summer's arrival, but surface-busting bass are much too fun to give up without a few last tries.

Dewey backed off the throttle as the faint lines of someone else’s wake appeared beneath us. No immediate danger, but someone wasn’t far away. We slowed to a crawl and a low-floating basser appeared out of the mists - a lone fisherman casting deep-running cranks off a rocky point. He’d made the seasonal change. We were more stubborn. Or dumber. Or both.

As the lone angler slipped back into the fog, we picked it up once again and headed for the feeder fingers and the acres of pads under which we hoped to find our spring holdouts. Dewey with his spinning tackle and I with my fly rod, we resumed our friendly competition on his home lake, each quietly cheering for the other to make a good game of it – but not too good.

We found bass where we had hoped and caught a few. Seems that a handful of fish were as stubborn as we. And a few was enough for all were decent fish, a bit slim having completed their spawns, but feisty and vigorous in their hold in the pads.

Just as we’d hoped when we set out into the fog. And into summer.

As always, my deepest thanks to Jo and Dewey for their warm, wonderful friendship and hospitality. And also to Boone for putting up with Wilderness Dog Sammy (who could easily be his chew toy). I can think of no better way to start the summer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Top Ten Texas Outtakes

Just when you hoped pleaded prayed thought that the Texas chronicles were over...

Enough happened while chasing them redfish down south that many noteworthy tidbits fell through the cracks. You simply can't report them all - for a variety of reasons. So, in true Letterman/Pink Panther style, I thought I'd end the series with the Top Ten Texas Outtakes. Here goes.

Warning: Those readers of tender constitution might wish to look away now.

#10. Self portrait: On the flats with my little friend. (above)

#9. On the plane: “In the unlikely event we have cabin pressure loss, four oxygen masks will drop down. Put the mask over your nose, stretch the tube to enable the flow of oxygen, and breath normally.” Are you f**king kidding me?

#8. Todd Quote #1: "I must be on vacation in Texas. At home I don’t even walk on carpet barefooted."

#7. Todd Quote #2: “Do you notice how everyone who slept within earshot of me last night is taking a nap right now?”

#6. First fish of the week: Brandon nabbing a schoolie spec in the spotlights. (left)

#5. Brandon and I agree: Loralie Gilmore. 'Nuff said.

#4. Gavit Quote As We Embrace Our Inner Texan: “You came out here to catch redfish and now you’re trying to foul-hook mullet from the dock. Welcome to Texas.”

#3. Scenes from a (Texan) Italian Restaurant: Feelings. Wo-o-o, Feelings… Hey, barkeep. Another piña colada here.

#2. Thoughts Upon Departure: There’s a different feel to early-morning starts, those heading out for an adventure and those returning. While the former is electric, the later exists muted and bittersweet. Subdued. For the journey – and every adventure is a journey complete - is coming to an end and the longing for the familiar, for the normal, exhibits an attraction stronger than that for the exotic. The tidal pull of home remains quietly relentless.

And the number one outake of the week:

#1. Moon over the Laguna Madre

If that doesn't put a proper "end" to these Texas posts, I don't know what does. Hope you enjoyed them.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Jason and the shuttle guy lean against the truck and speak in low tones, both staring at the brilliant green, yellow, and red blobs that move across Jason’s iPhone screen as Chris and I pull on our raingear and begin to rummage through our tackle. It doesn’t look good. Eavesdropping, I hear the shuttle guy say, “I don’t know. Under normal circumstances I’d tell you to forget floating today. Anything could happen." "But,” he pauses, taking a quick glance in our direction, “you might just give it a shot. These two seem to know what they’re doing.”

I turn to see who he's talking about.

An hour earlier, Jason, Chris and I had been sitting in the Silva Wal-Mart parking lot, sipping our morning coffee in the comfy confines of the Jason's truck while dark skies pissed rain and belched thunderclaps. None of us wanted to say anything, but we each knew what the others were thinking – and we didn’t want to admit it. Jason worked the iPhone hard, bouncing between weather radar images, forecast sites, and texts from other guides who were also working their phones hard – calling clients to cancel the day’s trips.

But Jason hadn’t been ready to give up on the Tuckasegee just yet, so we had another doughnut and waited - waited for the first break, then headed down to The Tuck to see. High, a bit, but only moderately stained, though probably not for long. Any window would undoubtedly be small.

Jason and the shuttle guy appear to come to an agreement and walk our way. “All bets are off, “ says Jason. “Conditions are really squirrely. I’d be completely okay with rescheduling to another time. But, there’s a break between the fronts and if you’re willing to take a chance, I’m game. Worse comes to worse, we ditch the boat and hunker down for a while. One thing’s for certain - we’ll have the river to ourselves. Not sure if it will be worth having, though. It’s your call. What do you want to do?”

I look at Chris. Chris looks at me. The rain turns to pea-sized hail.

And, as one, we smile.

The shuttle guy chuckles and turns to take the empty trailer downstream to the takeout.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Adios, Texas

3:30am. Out of bed. 4:00am. On the road. Out of South Padre, heading back to San Antonio to catch our late-morning flights. It's time to go home.

And so it ends, this redfish excursion, with a sleepy-eyed stumble to the truck, an uneventful early-morning drive through the south Texas flatlands, and a hasty goodbye to buenos amigos from the car rental courtesy bus.

Seems anti-climactic. How could it be otherwise?

To be perfectly honest, the fishing stunk. Five days waving a fly rod in Texas Gulf waters and I brought to hand just four. But it was the combination of tough conditions and my well-established piscatorial ineptitude that was to blame, not the place. The place is world class - on better days.

But if you choose to go only when you know - really know - that you’ll catch something, you’d never do it. If you measure the success of a trip by the number of fish caught, you’ve missed the point. I could go on, but won’t. You don’t need an old man blithering on about metaphysical intangibles in this age of rip-lipped video clips. I’ll simply say that I’d do it again, travel thousands of miles to these wonderful waters to catch little or nothing. With Chris and Todd, Brandon and Jen, Austin and Gavit, Thomas and Banning alongside, I’d gladly fish all day and take my skunking with a smile.

For despite the lack of results, I waded the incredible Laguna Madre salt flats, spotted and stalked tailing fish, paddled seaworthy craft, and watched the sun rise and set from the best vantage point imaginable. I sat on the front porch of an off-the-beaten-track salty cabin and laughed ‘till my sides hurt. I toasted good times with aluminum cans and glass goblets - with new friends and old. I cursed the wind and praised the beauty of it all.

In the end, I went to Texas to catch redfish and I did. Never mind that it was only one and accomplished through no skill of my own, but rather by the near statistical impossibility of my blind cast intersecting with his vector through the flats - the belligerent surf god's single concession of the week, perhaps. In the end, I did what I went to do.

But I did so much more. And I look forward to doing it again.

Adios, Texas.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Heavy surf. Really?

We knew we were screwed as we drove north to the end of the beach road and saw, suspended above the dunes, dozens of windsurfing kites. The urgency with which they pulled against their restraining wires told us that our angling day was shot. The kites might as well have been flying No Fishing signs – signs that our final day to cruise the South Padre flats was a blowout.

But that’s not to say we didn’t try – just a little – but the wind gods were against us. Rather, we spent the bulk of the day wandering the dunes, looking longingly into the Gulf surf for diving birds or Jack Crevalle-driven baitfish, and taking one last half-hearted, unsuccessful shin-deep dip into the waters of the Laguna Madre. Disappointing.

But, I’ve got to admit, if you're forced to deal with disappointment, this is a mighty fine place to do it.

Keeping the flags straight.

Prayers to the local surf gods go unanswered.

But there's beauty in the dunes.

And ugliness. (O)ops indeed. Pack it out, asshole.

Practicing. Just in case.

But if the fishing's poor, this ain't a bad fallback.

A day well spent - fish or no.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Fine Bit of Fishin'

It was a fine bit of fishin'. Perhaps the best sequence I've ever witnessed. As fun to watch as it was to do.

After a tough morning fighting the winds, we had taken a leisurely lunch at the Palm Street Pier, imbibed a bit to drown our disappointment in the conditions, and contemplated our next move. In truth, not much contemplation was really necessary. We settled our tab and Chris and I headed back to the flats. Wind, be damned.

The blow gave us no quarter, ignored our attempts to dispatch it with mid-day spirits, so we moved northward, pushing a mile up-island, around a wide sweep of dunes in hopes of getting a little protection from the blast. We were moderately successful in attaining the protection, but there was no improvement in the fishing. Until…

Fish, says Chris. Where?

There. Three of them. Forty feet, along the edge. Looks like sheepshead. I saw nothing.

Chris casted. The fish looked. Hesitated. Wandered on. At least that’s what Chris said. I still saw nothing.

He quickly stripped in his line and dug in his fly box. Crabs, he said. They eat crabs, which, we had noted earlier, we had seen none of.

But he dug out a small, leggy, tan crustacean-looking piece of fluff, tied it on, and resumed looking. Said his “fish eye” was dialed in. I still saw nothing.

There. Eighty feet. Same three. Moving away. One shot.

And he made it. One false cast. Laser straight. Dropped it on their noses. Eighty feet. In the wind. It’s only right that a cast that good gets a take. And it did.

It was a fine bit of fishin'. Perhaps the best sequence I've ever witnessed. As fun to watch as it was to do.

But don’t tell Chris that I said so.

Monday, May 7, 2012

El Viento

I should have followed Austin’s advice.

As we sat around the cabin’s front porch a couple of nights earlier, the conversation had inevitably gotten around to fly casting. What? Doesn’t yours? It beats the hell out of talking politics, my friend.

Anyway. Austin suggested that, when the Laguna wind gets to howlin’, it’s easy to cast your entire fly line. You simply strip it into a pile at your feet, pick up the pile, and throw it as high into the air as you can. El viento will take care of the rest.

Today, I could have added my backing.

We had a wicked tailwind as we drove north out of South Padre, up the island, Gulf of Mexico over the dunes to our right, the Laguna Madre over the dunes to our left. Twenty-five to thirty-five knots the disgustingly cheerful weatherman had said. He, obviously, wasn’t a fisherman. Sand blew across the road like snow drifts in a Montana blizzard. Stung like bees. Simply stringing our rods was a challenge.

Over the dunes and across a half-mile of tidal flats, it never relented. Once on the open lagoon, our loose fishing shirts whipped us like we were thoroughbreds fading down the stretch.

Todd remained close to shore, focusing around the small isles held together by scrub brush, fishing what he knew – structure - unable to wrap his head around the vast, featureless body of water that spread before us. Chris and I waded out without a focus - a quarter-mile, a half, more, the water never reaching our knees, as we embraced the apparent endlessness of the flats. We had hoped to sight-fish, what this body of water is famous for, but instead we blind casted into whitecaps, unable to see more than churn, let alone redfish.

We put our left shoulders into the wind and casted perpendicular to the howl. Facing opposite would have us draped in line, at best - playing pincushion to airborne clousers, more likely. Casting directly into, or with, the wind was impossible.

It seemed hopeless, but after an hour of prospecting I heard a yip from upwind and turned to see a blessed bend in Chris’ Hardy. The persistence in his quest for Texas reds had finally been rewarded. Not a particularly big fish, but the species was represented. I waded over to get a picture, a high-five, and the pattern he was using. Orange and yellow.

I got close – an orange and brown from my box – and within fifteen minutes received my blessing as well. Another small red that, despite his modest size, insisted on being on the reel and stripping his share of line. I can only imagine what a big one can do. My first, and ultimately only, redfish of the trip. Dumb luck, I figure, but I took it.

From El Viento, I’d have taken anything.

Note: Read Chris' take on this windblown day at Sandblasted. He captures the frustration so much better than I.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Texas Transition

From the upper Laguna Madre to the lower Laguna Madre.
From a postage stamp, sliver of land to the plushy spring break destination of South Padre Island.

From a one-room cabin to a three-bedroom hotel suite at The Inn at South Padre.
From a cold-water, gravity feed, cistern shower to a 102˚ jacuzzi hot tub.
From crap 3G to WiFi and 100 channels on the TV.
From a 23-mile boat trip for gasoline to walking-distance bar-hopping along the SPI strip.
From meals on a tortilla to dining on linen at Marcello's and the Sea Ranch.
From PBR and Lonestar in cans to margaritas and turbo piña coladas in fru-fru stemware.

From chasing Texas redfish with friends to chasing Texas redfish with friends.
The important things didn't change.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Laguna Sunset

The end of the day, much like the end of our visit here on the upper Laguna Madre, comes all too quickly. I suspect it's not that the darkness falls fast, but rather that I've been enchanted by the light and failed to notice its approach. Good fishing and good times are like that.

My heartfelt thanks go out to Mike and Brandon and Jen for making this gathering possible (although each quickly defers any credit to the other two), to Thomas for putting us on the water in such devilishly high style, and to Austin for teaching us a thing or two about this saltwater haven and its residents. But for other plans, I'd have happily stayed all week. If they'd have had me.

But Chris and Todd and I are off to points south, to the lower regions of this magnificent piece of the water, towards our country's border with Mexico, to South Padre, to try our hand once again. But we leave this place with the desire to return, to reunite with this group of new friends, and to once again settle comfortably into the laid-back lifestyle of Bohemia, Texas.

Perhaps next time the redfish will see fit to join us.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

On the Board

I beached the boat, unloaded my rod, box of flies, the couple of empty water bottles that had been rolling around under my seat during the paddle home, and headed for the cabin. Tired.

"How’d it go?"

Silly question.

Brandon and Austin had been sending updates for the several days leading up to our arrival - warnings that the fishing conditions were deteriorating due to wicked T-storms, churned water, and the hint of a brown tide (which, by the way, became a running punch line throughout the trip, every bit as disgusting as it sounds) - so, as we stood shin-deep in the waters of the upper Laguna Madre, we were not surprised that we were unable to see our feet. Disappointed, but not surprised. Sight casting to cruising fish was out of the question. We had to find tails.

There were none to be seen during our morning foray.

But, refreshed after a quick bite of lunch and a brief mid-day nap, we tried again and, to our delight, began to see raised tails, mudding fish, coming into casting range. But the tails didn’t belong to redfish. Black drum. In the absence of reds, they became the target.

And a tough target they were. The fish could see no better than we could so our presentations had to be right on their noses and the fly had to be dark to be visible in the murky waters. I ended up trimming the tan bucktail out of a Borski slider – butchering it down to nothing but dark hackle and rusty craft fur tail – and finally picked up my first fish, a bulldog black drum that refused to come in the last fifteen feet without a few frenetic tests of my reel's drag settings. A second fish followed shortly, every bit as stubborn, fooled by a black clouser.

That was it. Five hours on the water. Two fish.

"How’d it go?"
"Tough afternoon. Picked up a couple of blacks late. Had to work hard for them, though."
"Yeah. You’re not alone. Be sure to put them on the board."

Just two. But I was on the board.

Alleluia, I was on the board.

Photo Credit: The final shot of me and my cute little friend was taken by fisherman extraordinaire Austin Orr. Well done, lad!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fishing With the Devil

It was a sight - or so I’ve been told. An odd duck family moving down the intercoastal. Gavit’s nineteen-foot Action Craft momma skiff followed by six Adios babys with a Chupacabra ugly duckling bringing up the rear. A daisy chain of bobbing boat birds. The Diablo brood was on the move.

Twenty–three miles, two-and-a-half hours. The same twenty-three miles we smoked in forty minutes the next day. Bless Thomas (Diablo Paddlesports' co-founder), Gavit and Brandon for their patience and care in keeping the watercraft from ending in a wad.

Two-and-a-half hours. Ugh.

But it was worth it.

The sturdy boats gave us the flexibility to come and go on the flats as we pleased – alone or in numbers. Take it out, stake it out, and walk the flats. Stable enough to scout or fish from - standing or sitting high, dry, and comfortable in the Larry chair.

Gavit suggested that such a thing has never been done before – a concerted assault on these waters by a group of kayakers. We certainly got some strange looks from the guided skiffs that occasionally wandered through our domain.

Where did you come from?

If Gavit's right, I don’t understand why no one else has done it. It was an absolutely perfect way to attack the far-flung flats.

Fishing with the devil.

I want one.

Note: A huge thanks to Thomas Flemons for towing the fleet out and turning us loose on the flats with his boats. It was a fine gesture. Better yet, it was great to have him around.