Brothers and Redfish

As the summer dragged on we had been fairly lucky to not have any named storms knock on our door plus the afternoon storms had been fairly light. What does that mean? Our water levels in the Lagoon have been lower and the lack of rain also helps keep the algae bloom at bay when really affects the water quality.
I received a call from a younger guy who had moved out west for his time in the military and he was taking a week off to come home to Florida and spend time with family and needed to catch his first redfish on fly. He had not seen his brother in some time and wanted to spend time on the water with him as well.

Side note, he got into fly fishing after moving out west and also a shop rat at Fish West, one of the leading fly shops both online and brick and mortar. The coolest part about that is I had no idea until we got to talking while fishing. The reason I think that is cool is he never bragged or beat his chest about working at a fly shop or acting like he knows everything because he works in a shop. Sadly, this goes both ways all too often, and I feel their pain. I managed an Orvis shop a number of years ago while guiding and hosting trips and trust me, people who work in fly shops do not NEED to hear you are a guide. You can travel to new water, shop local, ask questions and there is no need to start the conversation with you are a guide. As with many things, it is not what you say but how you say it…

*Climbs down off Soapbox*

Once he got home he sent me a few note on a blog post he was putting together for the Fish West Website that I will quote in here as I think his writing deserves to be noted as you can feel his excitement and it was my pleasure to have him and his brother on the skiff….”The excitement was palpable, I was finally able to go home to Florida with a fly rod in hand. This was a big deal to me; the guys at Fiswest heard about it for two months. I knew that I would need to be guided to learn the areas for my self-sustained trips; this is when the research started.”

Nathan was the ideal client, we spoke on the phone a number of times, both knew what to expect and I appreciate him staying in touch, asking question and most off all practicing…. “I called him to introduce myself and explain my skill level and intentions. He was more than excited to get out me out on the lagoon and to school me up on fly fishing in the salt. He gave me drills and expectations for my casting distance as well as handling the wind we may encounter. Your guide is most importantly your teacher. Make them aware of what you need to learn.”

Pete’s Redfish

Upon him climbing up on the platform you could see his smile and feel his excitement. The redfish were ready to play, “We saw our first tailing Redfish fifteen minutes into the day and we were on. My first cast of the day went right to him. Unfortunately it wasn’t the fly, it was my line.” I think he got a little buck fever as two healthy groups of tailing redfish right off the bow almost immediately will get anyones heart pumping!

As the morning went on the redfish were a little snobby and I feel it was wearing on the guys a little. Nathan’s brother had made a nice pitch to a bank crawling redfish and that fish jumped all over his jig! It was exactly what we needed. Sometime a quick break is all you need. We had been poling a small bay that was loaded with fish but we were unable to connect and I could feel the wind come out of his sails… “We stopped and sat while I had a beer or two. We talked about our shared love of trout and rap music. My mind was back in the game. The pressure to catch fish is a trap that most of us will fall into if it is a new species or a new body of water. Remember that slow is smooth and smooth is fast. If your cast is bad it doesn’t matter how fast you get the fly out, you won’t catch what you’re after.

Beers for the Boys

Sometimes a couple beers and a few laughs out on the water with your brother is all you need to get back into the game. It worked. His brother grabbed a bank crawling redfish, high fives all around then Nathan hopped back up and you could feel the momentum shift as not 5 minutes later we pushed around a corner and… “we saw them. There was my chance. We had about five tailing Reds without a care in the world besides the food in front of them. Chris turned the boat, I took a breath, and the fly was off. Turning my mind off made it all come easy. My cast was precise, my leading was the best it had been, and I got my eat! Excitement filled the boat and my heart was racing a mile a minute. I set the fly, raised my rod tip, and began stripping. Just because the fish is bigger than you are used to, you don’t have to bring it to the reel. Many fish are lost because people want to watch that reel spin. The fish will let you know when it is time to go to the reel. It was a great feeling to have Chris cheering me on as he knew this was the biggest moment of my fishing career and a top 10 moment of my life.”

Nathan’s First Redfish

For me, there is nothing like watching someone stick their first redfish, whether it is 15 minutes into the day or late in the 4th quarter, it is very rewarding and exactly why I do this. In his blog I feel like he expressed a few good points in hidesight and want to leave you with one final quote from his Blog Post… “These last few things are what I figured out for myself. I believe that if you walk away without a few pages of notes you have wasted the day. Do not argue about your approach and do not discredit them because you think you know better. There is a reason they are guiding, and there is a reason you booked them. LISTEN! Remember that they are also on the boat. Chris pushed the skiff for eight hours, imagine how you would feel if someone only talked to you when a fish popped up. Don’t “include” them in your conversation, have a conversation with them. Be a human being, don’t drink too much, keep the fish wet, and enjoy yourself.

I had a blast with the Brothers and look forward to many more redfish with them!

Welcome to the Sickness

Of the charter clients that I push in the Lagoon, a vast majority of them are either new to the sport or looking for that first redfish on fly. I treat it as a great honor that many choose me to help them venture into a new sport or challenge of fly fishing and have the confidence in me to deliver that first redfish on fly. I have always enjoyed a challenge – whether in my has been days of baseball or during my day job and especially on the water. It creates an incredible high from accomplishment and the bond and friendship created between client and guide it unmeasurable. I live for that moment when the client’s hands are shaking as they hold that first Redfish on fly.

Enter Pierre, not new to fishing but brand new to fly fishing. Brand new as in, only hard work, no fish yet, not even a panfish. Needless to say I had my work cut out for me. The good news was, he is an excellent Bass and inshore angler, so he understand fish, movements, what works with the conventional tackle, now all we needed to do was get the fly in front of some willing Redfish and seal the deal. Not always an easy task with our snooty Mosquito Lagoon Redfish.

One of the things that seems to help on the water is a little dose of beginners luck. Not that you have to be a beginner in fly fishing but maybe you have never fished saltwater or caught a redfish on fly, a little beginner vibe helps us all at one point or another.

In addition to being new to fly fishing we only had a short half day to get it done but remember, if it was easy everyone would do it so off we went. Good news, the weather was excellent, a little bit of cloud cover but calm winds helped show a fish pushing or a shy tail barely breaking the surface.

At out first stop we sorted out all the kinks, talk about using 12 o’clock, 9 o’clock… you would be surprised at how few people understand analog time, especially when the excitement of sightfishing takes over. We talked about some basic casting dynamics and explained proper stripping techniques and how to lay line out. Good to go.

The first shoreline we stopped at was one that has produced time and time again with beautiful scenery and happy fish. It was a beautiful March morning.  Wading birds and active bait greeted us as we pushed the first 100yds. Anticipation was high and being sure to help Pierre settle in and let his casting practice take over is always you want to work on with a new angler. They are constantly thinking about trying to do everything right that their mind can get in the way. As I called the first few fish out I could tell a little bit of buck fever was getting the best of him but it was early and he was easily seeing the fish so it was just going to be a matter of time.

As a little stroke of luck would have it a group of smaller, confident tailing fish approached the boat and both of us saw them from at least two cast lengths out. It gave Pierre a few calming breaths to get ready and with two false casts let his shrimp imitation go.. “Great cast, let it sit as they move in, small strips, smaller, keep coming… he’s got it!” Strip set and it was on. A few short bursts and a beautiful small Red made his way safely into the net. The elation and deep breath took all the weight off his shoulders for future Redfish. With shaky hands he gently held the fish for a photo and eased him back into the water and a quick tail kick, he was gone.

First Mosquito Lagoon Redfish on Fly

First Fish and First Redfish on Fly!

 

High Fives and welcome to the Sickness!

A few more good shots as clouds continued to build and one last Redfish to hand before we had to head in made for a wonderful beginning to a new addiction for Pierre. He’ll be back.

Mosquito Lagoon Redfish

Well Done Pierre! Beautiful Mosquito Lagoon Redfish

Bow time for Bonefish

Bow time for Bonefish

So a little while back I got a phone call from my buddy, Johan, about a cool opportunity to fish and work with Oliver Rogers, who is an incredible photographer and filmmaker. (Find him here : https://www.oliverrogersphotography.com ) He has been contracted by huge names in the fly fishing industry as well as worked on killer films like the “Beyond the Horizon” shot in Honduras. You might have seen in the Fly Fishing Film tour. (Watch it here: https://vimeo.com/250590472 ).  Anyway, he is a solid, down to earth dude as well as great with both a camera and a fly rod.  Johan, calls me and didn’t make it through his first sentence about the plan and I said “ I’m in”. Don’t care when, Don’t care where, I will be there. 

A little planning, weather watching, and group chat Bullshitting we finally decided on a place and time.  South Florida was the destination and although I am not going to reveal the exact location you can narrow it down to about a 100 mile stretch of Florida. I rode down the night before so I didn’t have to drive all night for a 630a meetup at the ramp. At my  5am wake up call, it took about two seconds to cuss the weatherman. Cue the howling winds… but if you let that scare you, better stay off the flats.  From all my times traveling, hosting trips or fishing, if you are chasing Bone, Permit or Tarpon you have to fight the wind, period.  At times you actually come to appreciate the wind, although it can make casting a little more difficult, it takes the edge off those sharp eyed bastards on the flats.  After a keep meetup at the ramp, load up all of Oliver’s gear we were idling out the cut and had Johan’s Chittum pointed to the horizon. 

Johan's Chittum Islamorada 18

Plans were set to intercept some bonefish at a beautiful, turtle flat on the incoming tide that was due to start moving around 8am. We had plenty of time to get into position, get the drone up, and watch these bonefish arrive right on time. This location offered everything you need to succeed with bonefish and permit.  We had the sun at our back matched with the tide so when the fish eased up on the flat, we would be there to nail’em. 

Even with the perfect setup shit can go wrong, fish can refuse a fly or you can make a less than perfect cast. Well, both of those happened. I am not one to sugar coat my screwups.  A weak shot delivered on my first opportunity wasn’t ideal but I sharpened it up from there. Next good fish followed to the the leader in the rod tip which although super exciting, something wasn’t just right.  Now, some people will immediately change a fly if they get a refusal but that just isn’t how I roll.  Whether, I am chasing Redfish, Bonefish or Permit, I don’t chase the right fly, if I don’t immediately get an eat. I want to make sure I am not the problem, whether presentation or retrieve, I have confidence in all flies I tie on, or I wouldn’t have tied it on in the first place.  Unless I have fish scattering when they see the fly I will not swap it out with just one refusal.  So, with a few quick shots, I felt like at least one of those should’ve eaten but that is how it goes. On to the next spot. 

Photo Oliver Rogers

Photo Oliver Rogers

When you see fish in a location and it is time to move on, we always try and replicate that first spot in-regards to the bottom, adjacent to a channel or a point…etc. There is always a reason they are on each flat at a specific time. For me it is about all parts of the puzzle that make this game so rewarding when you get to fly The W. Our next spot we had to do a little photography in addition to fishing, so to get the light and scene right we had to setup a little different than we would have liked but business is business.  Tide is still moving let’s get going. 

The next stop was the one I was looking forward to all morning, I have seen plenty of fish in the area each time I have fished this place, on this tide. It is going to happen.  We were not setup two minutes and Johan spots a group at One O’Clock, 80 feet. Johan spun the boat as we had a little room to give which allowed me to setup on these fish for a good shot. I hold a little more line in the air than I usually do when fishing for Redfish, as most of my Bonefish leaders in pressured water are around 14ft and turning it over quietly is a big part of this game. My Shrimp pattern lands, two of four fish turn to have a look and they are on it, one pins it as he is looking hard but just wouldn’t commit and we ran out of room before they turned off the fly. Hmm, maybe I need to speed it up a little. It was almost like the fly didn’t looked scared enough to make them commit. Keep in mind each fish we have seen so far is 7lb+ so they aren’t the 2lb dummies like in many tourist traps that eat bologna. 

I almost changed the fly and went for my box but we spot a massive fish slow rolling the mangrove shoreline with his back out of the water.  I had no time and had to take my shot. Fly lands, fish does not alter course, tracks right to it, noses down, I bump it once and he has it, he turns, I come tight…he is gone. I was shook. I had him, check the fly and its all good, still no idea what happened but I still think about that one. I have been very blessed to dance with a lot of bonefish on my fly rod but never a two digit fish. Good thing was, no need to change the fly! We had reached the end of the push and still had plenty of time for the tide so eased off to let those fish reset before pushing in on them again. 

Clearing Line

Photo Oliver Rogers

Thankfully, in our past experience, as long as the tide is moving, these fish refresh pretty good. We did a wide loop while I gave myself a little on the water pep-talk, because you can never let one blown shot cost you the next shot.  As we eased into the crease, I had the line stripped out and was on point. About 80 feet out we see what looks to be a group of 6-7 good fish working our way, very little boat correction was needed and I laid one out their way. It was a good shot and two fish were on it immediately, but you could tell they wouldn’t instantly commit, so I wasn’t going to let them look at it long.  A couple quick strips and they were back on it and interested. I quick stripped them and made them chase it, their competitive nature took over and in a few strips I had four fish hot on my shrimps tail. It was going to happen I could feel it, they just had that look. Well, I was running out of room and the leader was coming to the tiptop in a hurry when I dropped the fly, all four fish nosed down and one quick pop made one commit, I stuck him and next thing I know I was clearing line and we were on. Frustration when to laughter as both Oliver and Johan were cheering and although I was relived I had one we needed, this fight was far from over. The fish went from rod tip to the backing in a split second and decided to make one charge back at the boat but I had him tight the whole and in just a few minutes we had him boat side. 

Headed to the Horizon

Photo Oliver Rogers

It was nice to have three on the boat so the second he was ready, Oliver landed him while Johan held our position. A few quick photos on the deck and in the water and the fish swam off strong. What a relief. Sticking a difficult fish is pressure enough but knowing you need photos certainly do not make it any easier. Right near the end of the tide we convinced Oliver to put his camera down and he hopped up on the bow but he never really had a clean shot even though he made some great casts at hard angles but we got what we needed with time to spare. 

Good Bonefish

Photo Oliver Rogers

It is these ups and downs on the water with good friends that bring us back time and time again.

Although my bow time is limited and love watching others experience the thrill of a fish on fly, it is nice to kick the rust off and dance every now and then. Again, if you need a talented dude behind the lens, hit up Oliver, he never disappoints.  Also, if you are in the Keys or South Florida, get with Johan(@tarpon_tails), he is a great guy and one fishy dude. You will have the time of your life in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. 

Meet the Band

Ladies and Gentleman… The Band

Everyone has that group they fish with. Sometimes it is 10 close friends, sometimes it is just a few but they know it as the team, or squad, or whatever. Our spots stay between us, flies and lures that work are kept close to our chest…and so on. Well you have seen photos of this bunch and you will see more so I should properly introduce them. Look, I don’t mean to pump these guys tires but…

Mind if we Dance with your Dates?

Up first, we got Guffy, it is a mix of a nickname with his last name that I never spell correctly and lets be honest, there are plenty of Matt’s in this world but so far we have only seen one Guffy. We have been fishing together now about 2.5 years. He came to work in our office as a writer, well more of a wordsmith and creative storyteller honestly. He really should be writing all of these but y’all are just going to have to make do with me. Anyway, his fishing knowledge and experience was limited at the time but wanted to soak it all in like crazy and is a really fishy dude. He dove into flyfishing head first. Started building his own fly rods, tying flies and we got him out on the ponds to work on his cast before he took his first shot at a redfish. His chosen stick is always a 7 weight on the redfish flats and he slings it well.  His first redfish was a perfect cruiser on a grass flat, laid down a great shot with a gurgler, and he got to see the redfish eat in gin clear water. That will be one I can always look back and see in my mind. He is a big LAX guy, goal scorer, hockey guy, unparalleled sense of humor, Jaguars Fan, sports a hell of a beard, Fly The W guy, got a solid Top 5 Babes list, student of the rap game, Patagucci fan, loves Trout in the snow and his dog. 

Catch Redfish. Go Jags

Next up we got Taylor Belinger(one L), he just pretty much just gets called Taylor and he is ok with that. Taylor joined the team at work as well and had some fishing background. He really wasn’t steeped in the fly game yet but he flocked to it like the salmon of Capistrano. He is a graphic designer by trade and enjoys coloring pictures. You would think since he sits behind a camera so much that the lens might not love him, but you are dead wrong. The camera loves him, he is really the 2019 Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I. but with a dad bod, which is really in right now.  Builds his own fly rods, ties a mean fly, *Cheat Code* is his go to pattern and can shoot ropes. His first red on fly was on a gurgler a well. There was a small group of tailing fish on the back edge of a flat and a few blown shots didn’t discourage this new fly fisherman and the one that worked was a killer shot off the edge of the feeding school when one fish broke away and slammed it. His rod of choice is an 8wt and can send it. He is a big TB Rays guy, lives for a good rope hat, loves skinny bitches, keeps his ear to the street for sick beats, keeping dad bods sexy, big UCF guy, loves weddings, a digs a long frisbee on the beach. 

Magnum P.I. Poon

There you have it, you will undoubtly see more of these two so if they offend you, better bow out now. 

Couples That Fish Together…

The wife and I have known Jason and Cathy for a number of years now and they were one of the first couples we became friends with when we moved to Central Florida from Jacksonville.  Jason and I fish together a bunch, we have traveled together, fish locally, fish tournaments, you name it, we have chased it.  The wives are great together too and enjoy a day on the boat as much as a day by the pool. For all the trips and days on the water, it was brought to my attention, Cathy had yet to catch a solid Redfish up on the flats. Needless to say I was surprised, she bass fishes with Jason and also has caught Bonefish in Mexico along with a host of other saltwater species… how could the redfish have eluded her? Well, let’s do this. 

Full disclosure…(Flashback) I found this out one afternoon when Jason and I were planning on chasing some tailers on a summer evening and Cathy wanted to join and just relax on the skiff.  We had a few hours one evening, the storms dissipated and we made a break for the Lagoon. Foss (jason) had a hot hand on the bow and grabbed a few tailing fish before he let me take a few shots.

I connected with one before taking my place back up high and as we approached a small group of tailers, Cathy says, “You know I have never caught a redfish like this”. I about fell off the platform. So obviously she was up, right now. The first group didn’t go as planned and light was fading but a upper-slot fish appears out of the grass not 10 feet from the bow.  She gives a shot backhand with the jig and since shots like that rarely work…. shit, HE ATE IT!  Cathy leans on him as he proceeds to cut a swatch across this grass flat, the Stradic is screaming, Jason has his fist in the air and I am cheering… The Line Goes Slack… My heart sinks and expletives fly from the pretty blonde on the bow. Although the few hours were great by most standards, we all felt the wind out of our sails when that hook pulled. The hook was sharp, the knots held… sometimes weird shit happens. 

Fast forward to now, a few months later, Cathy is still talking about the one that got away, and we all remember it a little to vividly.  Got the new skiff, and it is a calm January day, perfect for us to get Cathy on one she deserves.  We launched in the north end of the Lagoon as the water was clear and I had been following some solid fish in the grass over the past weeks and it was setting up to be ideal.  Although a little convincing was needed she was first up. We pushed a low water, slick shoreline that had clean patches of grass where the flat was beginning to wake up. Cloud cover was present but it played into our favor as we were in skinny enough water that full sun might have given our location away to the sharp eye of over-slot redfish.  If they were in here, we would see their backs out of the water and could approach with caution. 

Ahead, there were signs of a redfish slow cruising, a long, lazy wake with just the very tips of his tail peaking above the surface. Cathy, on the casting platform was armed with a DOA and ready to take her first shot. The fish paused and put his head down to eat and now was her shot. Direction was good but she over shot him a little and as he got back to cruising, the line grazed his back and he was gone. No worries, plenty of fish here, and not 40 feet up the shoreline was one going away from us super tight to the mangroves. He ducked behind a small island about the size of the skiff so I made the decision to cut him off on the other side. Two quick pushes and he came around the island just as we approached him. “It’s a nice left to right, go head and give him a little room and he will swim right to it”, I told her. “What if I throw it in the mangroves?”….. I said ”you won’t, let it go”…

It was a textbook cast at a shoreline crawler. Her lure landed softy about 10 feet in front ,and as he approached, I told her “hit it once and he will jump it”… she did, and man did he crush it.  He went from 30 foot off the bow out to 100, in a split second. It was another impressive run by a Redfish but the hook held this time and Cathy countered his runs by gaining on him little by little. Pretty soon he was taking one step forward and two steps back until she eased that over-slot red into the net. Not sure who was more excited and relieved, Cathy, Jason or me! A few quick photos, healthy release and toast of a cocktail, Cathy had her skinny water Redfish and it was a gem.  Even Jason snuck in on the photo, they joked and said this is how married couples with no kids do a Christmas card! 

I had to cut all the excitement short as there was a tailing fish about 80 feet and closing quick. Cathy graciously deferred the bow to Jason and what seemed to be all in one motion, he stepped up, made a cast and was hooked up as soon as it hit the water. All I did was a quarter spin to give him a better angle and I was back down to net his fish. Of course his was smaller, which we joking was fitting but as we released him, Cathy and Jason both said, “Your turn”. Now I don’t get on the bow much, mainly because I enjoy putting people on fish but it seemed right to try and all get at least one each. Well Jason wasn’t on the back long as another crawler was tight to the shoreline.  I took my shot and lead him about a rod length and all it took was one hop and he had it and was headed to the horizon.  Cathy played net lady, I eased him in and after a quick photo he was on his way again. 

Sometimes things just comes together and we made one stop and didn’t have to push more than 50 yards of a shoreline for all three of us to get on the board. Jason grabbed another tailer before we had to head in but it was an eventful few hours on the Lagoon. 

FRIDAY

I know ya love redfish, I know this. And I’m gonna get you a redfish on fly cause it’s Friday, you got the day off and you ain’t got shit to do…

Sometimes it just all comes together. 2018 is nearing the end, you have a few vacation days to blow, although the weather men are calling for some wind, there are very little clouds in the forecast.  Anyone one who has fished the flats, or guided on the flats knows they would rather have wind and no clouds rather than clouds and no wind, generally speaking. Y’all know my thoughts on clouds, I have the stickers to prove it…

I had my boy Guffee on the bow for the trip as he too snuck out of the office. The weathermen were right on both accounts, there was wind and there were no clouds! Thankfully plenty of redfish to be found but there was also one of the first cold snaps of the year, so it had the redfish in a slight funk. We hopped around to some of the typical haunts as the sun got up but I had a feeling they would be in Mosquito Lagoon that has softer, slightly darker bottom looking to warm up with the bring sun.

On our second mud flat we started seeing fish. I pushed one shoreline that wrapped an island and dead ended into one of the famous mosquito ditches and found 3 redfish sunning. Two casts at these uninterested fish and we decided to push into the ditch as we could see activity down what was a long hallway of mangroves. Casting was tight and difficult and the fish still seemed lethargic so I spun the boat and out we went.

We didn’t make it 50 feet before I spotted a lower slot fish actively working the shoreline with his eyes down searching. It only took Guffee one shot to put it in the zone and two bumps of the black/purple and the redfish was on. Beautiful smaller fish and love the energy they have during the winter. Great fight, shot a couple quick photos and off he went.  That wasn’t the only fish we came tight on but the only one we got our hands on, shit happens and you loose fish, but it is always good knowing you fooled them.

As with most fly fisherman we love accessories, some are worth it and some are worthless. One of the good ones comes from Carbon Marine with their LineLair II, mine is in Ice Blue but they have a number of other colors to match your skiff. Plus, they work as good as they look at keeping your fly line on the deck and help keep it from turning into a cluster.

First Trip in the New Skiff

December 8th was the delivery day and after just six weeks the Chittum Skiffs, Mangrove 18, was on her way home. The wife rode down with me to their Palm City, FL facility to do a final walk through and see the place. Her last visit down was during the initial test ride and looking at colors and layouts. She was a big help during the process as she spends quite a bit of time on the skiff and has to constantly listen to my ideas or thoughts on making improvements to the setup on all my past skiffs.

This one was different. I had notes, sketches, and ideas on how I wanted the side console, casting platform, fuel capacity, rod holders…etc. George and Hal and even a few of the team members there walked me through all options and ideas I had to make sure this was the skiff to end all skiffs.

Options were as follows, Carbon package, Side console, quick release trolling motor mount, Simrad NSS9 EVO3, Florida Marine Tracks, Setup on Poling platform, Aft facing stair stepped rod holders, 13.5gal tank(which could be replaced without cutting the deck), 12in heigh casting platform with deck fittings, Tohatsu 50Hp as the power and a Ram-Lin Aluminum trailer.

As you can imagine, our first trip was the following morning and it did not take long for Melissa to claim her spot on the bow and land a beautiful over slot fish to claim the, “Queen of the Boat” title.