Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Heading North

With my annual migration back to Michigan approaching, I had to make one more trip out on the bayou. Aaron and I headed out on an extremely low tide, expecting superb sight fishing conditions. We found them... for about 30 minutes. We each landed one nice red a piece, and I completely blew a perfectly wonderful chance where I had three redfish feeding right in front of me. After that I paddled around for about 4 hours and only had one more chance where I managed to pull the fly out of a fish's mouth. Bummer. A relatively uneventful day by our recent redfishing standards.

To shake things up I used my 6 wt rod on this trip instead of my usual 8 wt which was a fun challenge. It was pretty difficult to make the quick, line shooting casts required for successful sight fishing. I need a little more practice, but I'm getting there. The goal is to eventually land a redfish on my other 6 wt, a short fiberglass rod. I took it out once earlier this year and was completely humiliated...

I also gave my new Lamson Konic reel its first workout on something other than a hardhead catfish. It performed flawlessly, and its drag is by far the smoothest of any reel I own. I like it.

I haven't seen any alligators on my most recent outings, but the wife and I saw several on a kayaking expedition a few weeks ago before they went dormant, including this one which we found sleeping.

Nice shot honey!
 On our next kayaking expedition, I finally got to show her what redfishing is all about. And she took some great pictures!

In the plans for my trip up north is a repeat of last year's grouse hunting trip. My buddy Nick has once again invited friends to his family's luxurious hunting camp, and maybe this time I'll finally shoot something. Hopefully I'll be back next year with a report on that.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Into the Backing

This has been a good year for my reels. I've spent more time listening to my drag than all of my fishing years combined. A big black drum, a few larger than average redfish, and one large Yellowstone Cutthroat all had me wondering at one point if they would make it to my backing. It never quite happened; they made it within a few wraps, but I always managed to start winning the tug-o-war at that point. This weekend I finally reached that milestone.

This weekend, two friends and I made the journey to the original 'secret spot' for a little bit of redfishing. The tides were super low due to a strong north wind and were supposed to be on the rise throughout the afternoon.

When we arrived, the mud flats I usually fish were bare, but the channels were full of redfish. Most were laid up, holding a position in the current, which was surprisingly still headed out. For the first part of the morning, I had good luck spotting fish, and I quickly hooked up with a good sized fish.  The fish pulled me toward the flat and beached me, then he took off down the channel swimming with the current. The line just started peeling off.  Every time I thought I had stopped his run, it started up again. I glanced down to see how much line I had left and watched as fly line turned into backing. I realized I was not slowing him down and decided I needed to make a move. Holding the rod high with one arm, I stabbed my paddle into the mud and heaved myself forward. As soon as I was free, I started gaining ground rapidly.  A few more minutes and I was holding this beauty in my hands.

Not one of my largest redfish, but certainly a memorable one. Funny that the first fish to reach my backing was of average size. After releasing this guy, I had trouble finding more fish. I don't think it helped that we had three kayaks paddling around in a small, shallow bayou.  So I paddled back to the main branch and started my way up a different bayou.  I don't know what made the difference, maybe the direction from which I was coming or the angle of the sun, but I no longer could spot fish. There were still a lot of fish present - I spooked several at very close range, one of which bumped into my kayak while attempting to escape. I eventually beached myself and just watched for any sign of movement. After a few minutes I noticed a disturbance at the edge of my casting range. I made a cast and retrieved my fly which had collected some debris. After pulling the debris off my fly I looked up to see the back of a redfish 10 feet in front of me. Thinking quickly, I literally tossed my fly with my left hand, and it landed within a foot of his mouth. He immediately ate, and I awkwardly attempted to set the hook amidst the chaos. It didn't feel like a solid hookset, but there was nothing to do as he made a screaming run away from me. This one felt like the most powerful fish I hooked up with on the day. Unfortunately he managed to shake free.

Returning to the main branch, I found my friend Jason pulling in redfish after redfish out of the deep hole at the mouth of several bayous. He landed 18 on the day! It seems that on the low tide, all the redfish that usually inhabit the mudflats were forced out. Tempted by these adverse tactics, I began blind casting and ended up picking up three redfish, including one nice one.

My friend Aaron also had a good day, landing several good fish - all of them by sight fishing. He didn't need to resort to adverse tactics! It was another great day on the bayou. The water never rose high enough to cover the flats like I had expected, but we found fish anyway. I learn something new every time I go. We stayed at the mouth until it started getting dark and headed back to the launch amidst a beautiful sunset.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Corny title, I know.  Two weekends ago, I finally got out on the kayak to do some sightfishing.  Due to a late start and the increasingly earlier sunset, I only had about an hour to fish by the time I actually paddled to my spot.  Wouldn't you know I saw more feeding redfish than I've ever seen in my life.  There were multiple occasions where I could see three crawlers at the same time.  It was insane.  The most insane part?  I didn't catch any.  I had one eat, and a bad hook set resulted in a spit hook.  It was a combination of bad luck, bad casting, and some spoiled fish that wouldn't eat anything unless it bonked them on the nose.  I ended up leaving the fish, still crawling in mere inches of water, in order to get back to the launch with some daylight left.

The missed redfish haunted me all week.  I knew what I had to do to treat my condition.  I had to catch a redfish.

My buddy Aaron and I checked out the tides and decided to meet up Sunday morning.  The predicted tide looked decent, but I was slightly concerned that it wasn't quite low enough.  On my way to the launch, my fears were quickly allayed and reversed!  A large area of marsh that is typically underwater lay completely exposed, a small channel of water running through the mud.  I realized that the strong north wind that had been blowing all weekend was producing, in essence, the opposite of a storm surge - probably a familiar concept for most coastal fisherman, but new to me.  With the water level down at least a foot from predicted levels, we were forced to abandon our planned destination and opted to paddle into a bayou we'd never explored.

With our typical sightfishing locations seeing less than optimal conditions (no water...), this place was experiencing perfect conditions.  We immediately spotted redfish crawling along the bank, squirming in what is typically more than a foot of water but was now only a few inches.  I spotted one approaching casting range on my right.  It took me a few casts to get the fly close enough, but my third cast landed a picture perfect three inches in front of his face.  No hesitation: fish on!

Did I mention it was cold?  By Mississippi standards anyway...
After a spirited fight, Aaron snapped a picture for me, and then we split up and went into full redfish hunting mode.  In a few minutes I saw another redfish crawling in some extremely skinny water across a sand bar from me.  I paddled straight for it, conveniently beaching myself on the sand bar.  Fish #2!

I kept heading further up the bayou, and I kept seeing fish!  I had one coming straight for me that I spooked, but in a matter of seconds, I spotted the silhouette of another fish (or possibly the same one) just under the surface.  The water was clear enough to allow limited visibility even from a kayak.  The nicest red of the day ate on the first cast.


He/she was particularly fat presumably from the huge amount of shrimp that were in the bayou.  In fact, you could tell when a redfish was on the move because a line of shrimp would jump out of the water wherever the fish swam.

After that I spotted a couple more fish, and lost one after a brief battle.  From there the action cooled down and we called it a day.  And a great day it was.

Be sure to check out Aaron's blog as he's got a couple recent posts up, including his report on this trip.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Back in Action

 So I'm sitting at work anxiously waiting for the clock to hit 5:00, and my buddy Aaron sends me a picture.  Its a redfish that he just caught wading off the beach.  That's it, I thought, I'm going fishing tonight.

The past few months have been crazy busy for me, and fishing has been put on the back burner.  My few short fishing outings have been relatively uneventful, and I have not once had the opportunity to get out on  the kayak and stalk some redfish, despite this being an excellent time of year for that.  Meanwhile, my buddy has been tearing it up this fall (although not documenting much of it in his blog).  It was time for me to ignore my responsibilities and just go fishing.

When I showed up,  Aaron had already landed several flounder in addition to the redfish.  He just needed a speckled trout to complete a Mississippi slam.  It only took me a few casts to get on the board.

From that point on, I could do no wrong.  Every cast resulted in a hit and most resulted in a hookup.  Oddly, I had on the wispiest little Clouser, stripped of the majority of its bucktail by previous fish.  I've heard that sparsely tied flies are sometimes the best ones, and I may have to experiment a little more on this theory.

In the midst of countless speckled trout, I managed to land a few small redfish as well.

Since I was used to the feel of a speckled trout, every time I hooked a redfish, I thought for a moment I had a real big one on.  Redfish fight so much harder than comparatively sized specks.

Aaron managed to complete his slam, and even added a couple white trout (super slam?).  We ended the evening throwing gurglers in the dying light.  It was hilarious to see specks shoot completely out of the water, flipping head over tail, after missing Aaron's gurgler.

It was a great evening of simple, fantastic fishing.  Wade fishing from the beach here in Mississippi can be a feast or famine experience.  This feast has re-energized me to do more fishing.  It doesn't have to be a day-long kayak trip to a secret location.  It can be simple as fishing from the beach for an hour or two after work.  I'll gladly go through a few evenings empty handed for another evening like this.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Adventures in Gator Country

A couple weeks ago my buddy and I spent an evening on the kayaks half-heartedly casting despite less than ideal conditions.  We stupidly launched in the Sound only to realize it was quite rough and fishing would be just about impossible, especially for me with my skinny kayak and fly rod.  So we took shelter in the closest bayou where I've never had any luck catching anything, but at least we could cast without being in danger of capsizing.  We cruised through the bayou and my buddy pulled up next to the mouth of a tiny creek or ditch, really just a gap in the marsh grass with a couple inches of water over some mud.  After making a few casts from that spot he snagged a tree and paddled over to retrieve his lure; I pulled up to where he had been.  It was then that I heard something move.  Something back in that tiny creek.  Something large.  Something very close.  It was almost like a twitch.  I had about one second to analyze the sound when all hell broke loose.

Now, learning the sounds of spooked animals here in Mississippi has been a slow progression.  I can remember the first few times I spooked small mullet in shallow water.  There must be redfish here!  Then I actually spooked a good-sized redfish and just about jumped out of my kayak.  Never content to make a mistake only once, I once stated that a spooked redfish can be so explosive, it sounds more like a gator.  I need to stop saying things like that!

It was like a grenade exploded back in that little ditch (here I go again).  A 3 ft high wall of mud was headed my way as strange sounds came out my mouth and I paddled backwards like a madman.  In a matter of seconds, it was over, with only a wave sloshing back and forth indicating the craziness that just occurred.  But then I heard my buddy freaking out, and he snapped his line out of the bush and paddled back to me as the water boiled beneath him.  Neither of us actually saw an alligator the whole time.

After taking a few moments to settle down, we realized what had happened.  I startled an alligator who was chilling in the small creek.  Realizing he was nearly cornered, he freaked out and ran/swam out of there as fast as he could, probably going underneath the bow of my kayak.  His hasty exit resulted in a lot of mud being flung into the air.  He then searched for another usual hang-out spot.  Coincidentally, the bush my buddy was snagged on was right next to another small creek and, even more telling, an area of matted down grass.  So the alligator headed over to his usual hang-out only to find another kayak, and he freaked out again.  Frightening for us, certainly, but the alligator probably thought he was being hunted! 

The lesson learned here is to know alligator habitat and keep close watch when paddling through alligator territory, avoiding likely hide-outs such as matted grass and small creeks.  I've noticed that I see the most alligators in small bayous that have trees or shrubs bordering them and are out of the way of boat traffic.  Kayaks are great for fishing because they are very stealthy, but that also allows kayakers to sneak up on alligators unnoticed.  If you really want to avoid alligators, make a lot of noise; they'll get out of your way.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Yellowstone - Part 2 (Avalanche Peak)

We did a lot of hiking on our trip out west, and my favorite hike was a climb to the summit of Avalanche Peak, near the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park.  Only 2 miles from the trailhead to the summit, this is one of the easier mountains to conquer, but there are 2,000 vertical feet in those 2 miles, making it more strenuous than you might think.

The hike began in a somewhat haunting forest around 8,500 ft above sea level.  The trail was steep from the very beginning and remained so throughout the entire climb.  We crossed a small but beautiful meadow, and from there the vegetation gradually thinned leaving sick looking pine trees and grasses. 

 Eventually it opened up onto bare rocks and scree, where we saw a marmot scurrying around, apparently not too concerned about our presence.


A false summit loomed ahead with scraggly looking trees holding on for dear life.  The trail wound around the edge of the mountain, the steep drop on our left making my partner quite uneasy.  After reaching what we thought was the summit, we discovered that we still had a long way to go.  From there it was all rocks; the trail was simply a long trench carved out of the scree.  Each step was treacherous as the stones have a habit of shifting.

The final stretch was a 5 ft wide ridge leading to a small peak inhabited by a ground squirrel(!) and covered with sharp rocks.  The view from the top was glorious.  There was actually another peak 50 yards further down another narrow ridge.  I couldn't tell if it was higher or shorter than the first peak, but I decided to go check it out anyway.  Mrs. Michissippi stayed glued to the first spot, satisfied that she had completed the climb, and not wanting to move until she absolutely had to.

On the way down we saw a pika, which I was actually quite excited to see.  I remember seeing one in Rocky Mountain National Park as a kid, and I thought it was a very cool animal.

I highly recommend this trail for its views, challenge, and nice length.

Monday, August 27, 2012

No One Has Ever Been Here Before

I launched the kayak and started across the bay
The mist shrouded the other side
No one has ever been here before
Then I saw the boats
Except for the fishermen

I paddled farther until the boats were behind me
A secluded bayou awaited me
No one has ever been here before
Then I saw the crab traps
Except for the crabbers

I paddled farther until no crab traps were visible
The bayou split up into a maze of channels
No one has ever been here before
Then I saw the bridge over the marsh
Except for the workers who built that bridge

I paddled farther until the bridge was out of sight
The bayou opened up into a huge marsh pond
Finally, I saw what I was looking for
A deep red slice of a tail poking through the surface of the water
And then I knew for certain, no one has ever been here before

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Yellowstone - Part 1

Well, I'm back.  I made it through a wedding in Michigan and a week in Wyoming and still managed to bring my new bride (shall we call her Mrs. Michissippi?) back to Mississippi with me.  This being an outdoors blog and all, I'd like to talk about our trip out west.  We spent half of the week in Grand Teton National Park and the other half in and around Yellowstone National Park.  The hiking was great.  The views were fantastic.  The animals were abundant.

Okay, I'll 'fess up.  I did a little bit of fishing too.  I brought my lightly used Cabela's Custom Glass 4 WT all the way from Mississippi and was very excited to use it on some wild trout.  Also, I had potentially my very own personal photographer with me if I could keep her from getting bored.

I convinced Mrs. Michissippi to go on a hiking/fishing expedition one of the days we were staying near Yellowstone.  We drove a few hours (it would have taken about 30 minutes if not for wildlife jams) to the Lamar Valley in the northeastern portion of the park.  There we hiked 2 miles to a certain creek based on the recommendation of a park ranger.  I hadn't heard of this place, but apparently it is fairly well known, because, while it wasn't crowded, most of the people we saw hiking had long tubes strapped to their packs.

And for good reason.  The place was amazing.  A cutthroat trout aquarium.  The creek meandered slowly through an endless meadow, and large trout could be seen, not holding a position as expected, but cruising up and down the river.  Even better, they were very eager to rise.  There wasn't a visible hatch, but every few minutes, a large nose would poke its way through the surface and suck something down.

We had only just arrived and I was struggling with my decision making.  Part of me wanted to throw my stuff down, set up my rod, and start fishing right where the trail met the river.  Another part of me wanted to walk a good distance to find less pressured trout.  Another part of me wanted to eat lunch.  I ended up doing all three.  I set up, walked down the river bank until I just couldn't handle it anymore, made a few casts, and then decided to sit down and eat lunch.  The trout would be there when I was done.

With all things now made ready, I finally began fishing in earnest.  This was ninja fishing.  Crouched in the tall grass on the bank, I would wait for a big cutt to cruise by and then make a very short cast, landing my grasshopper pattern in front of the fish.  If it was a good cast, the fish would usually make a subtle change in its course, heading toward the fly, rising in the water column, increasing my heart rate, only to pause two inches below the fly and return to its previous course.  Agonizing.  It was almost too easy, but then it wasn't.  I couldn't decide if the trout didn't like the pattern, or if they could see the line, or if it wasn't realistic enough, or what.  But the pattern I had was about as realistic as I've got, and I was already using 6x tippet, so I didn't bother changing anything. 

Trout checking out my grasshopper
On a sidenote, you can get surprisingly close to a fish without spooking it if you are not moving.  If I crouched completely still on the very edge of the river, trout would swim just 2 ft away without a care in the world.

Eventually everything came together.  I had wandered onto a small island, and Mrs. Michissippi was on the opposite bank.  She spotted a fish for me, I found it, and I made a cast.  We watched as the trout meandered over like normal, paused under the fly, and sucked it down!  I was so surprised I think I strip set the poor guy!  He brought the fiberglass to life, and after a decent battle, I pulled in a beautiful Yellowstone Cutthroat trout, my very first, about 13 inches long.

Stylish, I know...

 From there the action increased.  I had two fish eat an unweighted pheasant tail nymph only to somehow avoid being hooked.  I felt weight on the hookset but the hook pulled right out of their mouths.  Perhaps I need to start sharpening my hooks...

The highlight of the day occurred in the late afternoon.  I had been chasing a particularly large cutt up and down a long, deep bend in the river.  I was back with a grasshopper pattern and had been denied by him several times already.  I wasn't leaving because he was a big one.  Somehow I just knew that he would eat if I got enough good drifts by him.  I was right.  He slurped my fly down and my rod bent severely on the hookset. This guy slowly went deep and started a series of mighty headshakes.  Partly due to the large fish, and partly due to the small, medium action rod, I've never felt headshakes like this.  The force was frightening.  I was scared for my 6x tippet and my barbless hook.  I was relieved when the fish started swimming upriver.  Now I started regretting every time I've told people that good reels aren't important for trout fishing.  This guy just kept going.  I've never had a trout take out line like him.  He didn't make it to my backing, but I could see it through the 3 or 4 wraps of fly line I had left.

Attracting a crowd
 After a few moments of tug-o-war, I started pulling him in.  I think it was at this moment, I thought, OMG, I'm going to land this guy.  In his tired state, he started some desperate thrashing.  I made it through a nervy two rounds of thrashing and started pulling him into the shallows.  I reached out to grab the leader.  He made one more thrash, and the hook popped out.

This guy was in the 20 inch range.  Really too good of a trout for a casual trout angler like me to catch on a short day trip to a river I've never fished.  But boy it was sweet while it lasted.

I haven't been this disappointed about losing a fish since a certain redfish, and that loss was quickly avenged with many other redfish caught.  Unfortunately, this loss will not be avenged for a loooooong time.

I had said at the very beginning of the trip, I would be happy if I could catch just one cutthroat.  And I am happy.  But that big cutt continues to haunt me...

Overall, the trip was fantastic.  Fishing was just a small part of it.  I'll be posting more on the trip here in a few days.