Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Marsh Fishing 2017

Possibly better-titled Questing for Black Drum.  The invitation I got was approximately I'm going down to Louisiana to catch some black drum; come along if you'd like as there is room in the boat.  Quite an invite on the part of JM: see a place and people I'd never seen before, fish a unique and intriguing setting for species I'd never touched.  And on top of that go with the guy who was the Orvis-Endorsed 2017 Saltwater Guide of the Year.  Just another example of how we and in this case me in particular go about by the good graces of others; could say that it furthers the want in your own person to be generous and helpful in turn.  

We had marked five days of fishing with Lucas in his boat, but got three due to weather (rains, lightning, wind).  On the two off days we went about on our own and logged some pretty good ditch fishing.  Here are some photos and captions from each day:
First half day one there were questions as to the winds in the greater marsh so we stayed in tighter and fished a popper.  That was a good introduction; poppers are a pretty good throw for me given some history with bass.  Also I wanted to exorcise the only other memory I had of being on a platform like this one: a half day affair on which a cold front drove every target from the greater Miami area and we boated around fruitlessly looking for fish; never made one cast other than blind hoping here and there.  The platform is really cool and that "sissy bar" is a critical piece of it.  The whole deal made with sight fishing folks in mind. 

The drama of popper fishing.  Here amplified by the understanding that one could hook any of a variety of species, any of which could be fairly large.

We saw and caught fish of a few different species: sea trout, largemouth bass, and this fish which was the first red I touched.  Caught it on a popper, so given the mouth structure it kind of had to follow the popper and set its mouth down at a particular angle to eat the fly.  Not a big fish but great colors and much appreciated. 

Guided days are typically done around 3-4 PM.  We stop fishing in most cases around dark.  So after the marsh we fished a ditch.  Flat out ditch; no other way to put it.  Giant trucks blasting past us (I'm standing right on the road shoulder while taking this photo).  Not a place to take kids fishing; various reasons as to why that is the case.

This banana spider was present every time we walked by particular location.  Thinking a bit about Louisiana: what it would mean to be a kid walking through these forests.  We run into cobwebs here too but generally unlike this deal.  Add to that some snakes of questionable safety level and some gators in the shallows.  It's a different setting.

We caught a lot of gar on that first night; longnose and shortnose species.  We also caught some very dark species; unsure if those were unique or if they were just dark because they were young fish.

We did not travel south to gar fish, so we didn't have gar-specialty flies.  Rope flies, streamers with very small hooks, etc.  Rather we tapped our carp boxes and just played the numbers game.  Learning right away that smaller hooks are better, and the longnose gar are bitches when it comes to hooking.  Mainly we watched the ridiculous burst-strikes from fish suspended in current right near the water surface...  get fly in face and fish crushes fly, clockwork.  No questions.  Some fraction of time the fish was hooked and landed.  The visuals always present though, and given the fish size and lack of big fight it was almost preferable to just watch them slash and scissor on flies. 

Morning of day two we got more serious about black drum.  We had looked in on a group of them afternoon of day one but it was a spooky situation and we couldn't put anything together.  There was a bit of frustration but in my estimation we hadn't encountered that ideal in which a tailing unawares fish was approached with good angle for presentation.  All the tailers in that video stopped tailing before we could get flies on them.   

JM's specialty is assassinating tailing fish.  Not long and he hooked this one.  I had been 100% sold on the black drum the night before after seeing those tails.  Watching it come together further solidified.  In truth JM had actually already caught a black drum but this was edging toward the big one that he wanted: scaled at 22 lbs.  I valued being there to see him get this fish; he was pretty damn happy.  We all were in fact. 

The next tailer we encountered was brought to hand.  Lucas was very good about saying only important things pertaining to instruction: he understood what we could see and do so he didn't talk much but he did give suggestions in the way of "strip" and "stop" "go again" etc.  Keeping his words few and far between thereby giving them sufficient weight and understood emphasis.  In this case the first cast was right on and the fly was directly into the fish's feeding zone.  I was slow stripping through, in attempt to stay in contact with the fly; Lucas directed a couple pauses which were key.  Line came tight.  Saw some backing, although just one major run.  No net; guide landed fish by tailing it boatside.  At that time this was the biggest fish I'd ever caught, scaled at 33 lbs. 

We weren't really targeting redfish and as such we didn't catch that many.  I don't have enough experience with them to offer any notes of deep substance but at a really basic level I can say (1) they are beautiful fish, (2) they fight pretty hard, (3) they are easier to catch than carp by a pretty longshot because they appear to be mean aggressive SOBs and they eat whatever they see.  Further on this last note Lucas had to break our carping habits of being too careful - too finesse and/or leading the fish by too much.  Basically he said punch those damn fish in the face with the fly; most of them won't spook, rather it'll serve to make them eat.  That worked.

Morning of day three was a repeat, only Lucas had to apply his local knowledge to deal with a curveball i.e. certain good water being fouled by dolphin activity.  By all accounts he knows the marsh in and out; which is unreal in itself because there is so much water; so many channels and ponds.  A true maze.  So he dealt with that and brought us here, where JM hooked another giant black drum.  I like this pic because it shows what a big fish looks like giving its last effort to head marshward.  

What a dinosaur.  Scaled at 27 lbs. 

The fly we used was a black and purple streamer that got down pretty quickly.  Big saltwater hook and pretty heavy tippet.  We weren't dealing with tippet-shy fish. 

By fish number four we were in a pretty good groove.  Overall summary regarding the lure of these black drum: (1) anticipation: they tail, which is explanation in itself; you can see tails from a long way off, (2) technically challenging in that they don't charge flies, they need to be fed, similar to the carp deal, (3) they get really big.  This one scaled at 34.5 lbs. 

And again just to keep fishing, each night we took on the DIY ditch monsters.  Gar.  True prehistorics.  In this case I looked at JM and saw him violently strip-setting (we made a conscious decision to strip set very hard thereby either hooking or losing the fish immediately) and crouched down in predator mode.  He exclaimed something to the effect of I've got the biggest gator fish you've ever seen, etc. 

And indeed he did: estimate I got on age was 6-10 years.  Caught from a roadside ditch with a little carp streamer from the Lake Michigan box.  A number of challenges including seeing the fish, getting fly to it before it disappeared to depths, fighting the fish to shore (couple good and scary (for thought of losing it) thrashing runs), and landing it with our folding carp net.  This video isn't much but it does convey the vibe of urgency we had going.  I realized in short order there could be no video.  All hands were needed.

Biggest I landed which wasn't close to the monster but still a sweet looking fish.  Very small window of encounter that afforded only one cast; it was sufficient. 

My clothes probably should have been burned: mud, saltwater, rain, sweat, fish slime, fish blood and human blood all ground into the very fabric. 

Weather days we did some solid eating at local restos. 

Another ditch or more appropriately stormsewer I'd say.  We caught a lot of carp on the days on which we couldn't get out.  People driving by had to think we were feral beings or idiots or both.  Nothing new for carpers though. 

Each morning we met at this cafe to examine the coming day, weather, etc.  The waitress called us her babies which cracked me up. 

Small urban Louisiana carp were everywhere feeding; we got a lot of shots in fairly regular pattern; pretty fun. 

New species: Rio Grande cichlid.  Dapped a carp fly on it; ate.

Last night we tried to get into an oyster bar seafood joint but it was packed.  Just down the street: an empty resto that serves Honduran food.  What a good stumbling-into.  The man is from Ecuador, the woman from Honduras and another woman from El Salvador.  The whole deal had the vibe of authenticity.  We watched them flatten balls of flour and water to make these tortillas on the spot.  In parting I walked back into the kitchen and said Buenas noches; gracias por la comida; gracias por la cena.  They laughed appreciatively at the gringo and just kept say ok, bye; ok, bye.  That was our exit.  Thanks again JM and Lucas; great chapter.