Welcome to Eye of the Guide

Part Thirty-eight


Life's Little Surprises

By Capt. Kenny Brewer

Licensed Guide, South Texas Coast


It was the latter part of March 1998 and the folks that I had scheduled to take fly fishing that day had canceled the charter two days before. It seems that a late season cold front was wreaking havoc with airports in the mid-west and north east part of the country. To be honest, I was a little skeptical about our chances of finding enough worthwhile opportunities to target, especially since the wind was still blowing out of the north at about 20 knots at 5:00 am.

Now in this part of the country, the southernmost tip of Texas, cold fronts usually blow through within a couple of days. This one had blown 30 knots from the north for 3 days and if you could believe the weather forecasters, was supposed to become calm by midday. Yeah,right!

Have you ever had one of those days where you wake up and say to yourself, "What should I do today, fish or play golf"? Well, I decided that I would fish that morning and play golf in the afternoon. I would go scouting and try to catch a couple of redfish for dinner. This seemed the logical solution for a fly fishing guide that found himself with an unexpected day off. So, I had a plan and I was determined to see it through.

I loaded my gear on the boat and proceeded to head to a spot that would afford the most protection from the still blowing wind. After a 20 minute boat ride through the lower Laguna Madre, I shut down the outboard and began poling the boat into the mouth of the small cove where I could anchor. The water was only a few inches deep and surprisingly clear, considering the wind. I rigged my Thomas & Thomas 'Horizon Series' #7 saltwater taper with the Ross Reels' 'Gunnison' model G-3 and tied a weedless #4 shrimp pattern of my own design to the Ande 20 lb tippet, knowing the heavier tippet would perform better in the wind. The springtime is when the shrimp larvae emerge from the mud bottom so, naturally, a shrimp pattern should work best. Right? Right!

The air temperature and the water temperature were in the mid 60's. The sky was still cloudy but breaking to the northwest and beginning to grow lighter with the rising sun. With only neoprene wading booties, shorts, and a long sleeve shirt on I stepped into the cool calf-deep-water. The area I intended to fish was upwind a few hundred yards.

So I set out, sliding my feet along the bottom in order to avoid an unwanted encounter with any stingrays that might be resting there. As I "skated" along, I was watching for any signs that might indicate potential targets. Nervous or quivering water, a V-shaped wake pushing through the shallows, the tip of a tail or dorsal fin. I didn't see any.

After working my way to the ultra-shallow shoreline and not seeing anything promising, I moved a little farther out to ankle deep water and continued to slide along steadily but very slowly, watching for any signs of game fish. The wind seemed to be laying down just a fraction but I dismissed it to wishful thinking. The surface of the water, even in 4 - 6 inches, was heavily rippled by the wind.

I made a few casts to loosen up and noticed the first signs of life as small schools of mullet were edging into shallows. I moved another 20 ft or so and saw my first target. A medium sized (22in) redfish (red drum) was meandering along with just the tip of it's dorsal fin breaking the surface. He was at an awkward casting angle so I moved quietly to intercept his line of travel.

I managed to present the shrimp fly in what should have been a favorable position and he bolted away like he had been hit by a cattle prod. I continued to look for targets and another redfish presented himself for targeting a couple of minutes later. Again, right after a school of small mullet swam by. I made a decent presentation and again the fish ran away like a scalded dog! Redfish are supposed to eat shrimp in the spring . . . dismayed, I reluctantly changed to a #4 grey/white deceiver.

Moments later a large redfish, I estimated to be 26 inches or more, came into casting range with his entire back out of the water. I loaded the rod and made a 60 ft cast slightly across the wind and placed the deceiver a couple of feet in front of and beyond the fish.

I gave a short strip and the fish exploded on the fly! I was vindicated. After a fairly intense 5 minute battle, the redfish surrendered to my will and I removed the barbless hook and set him on his way. I don't keep my first fish and I never keep more than I can eat.

The clouds were breaking up to the east out over the Gulf and the sun was struggling to break free. The light condition was made more difficult by the rippled water which was making the targets a little hard to spot. But the wind was slowing and the water was calming just a bit, so I was hopeful. I continued to wade along taking advantage of the opportunities as they presented themselves. Catching and keeping two medium sized redfish that I intended to eat that evening and breaking off another redfish that would not be turned. I didn't have another grey/white deceiver and had to settle for a green/white #4 deceiver.

After 15 minutes or so, I spotted what I perceived to be yet another redfish easing along in the shallow water. This fish appeared to be medium to large in size and was moving steadily toward me so I stood still and waited, watching. The sun was trying to break through now thinning clouds and was creating quite a glare on the surface of the water due to the low angle. It was as if the fish was aware of the situation. It moved into the glare, making visibility very difficult. I waited until she submerged and watched for a slight quiver on the water's surface. There it was.

I cast to about 50 feet to my left at 90 degrees to the wind and made a couple of slow short strips. Nothing. The fly was ignored. I picked up the fly and with one back cast re-directed the fly back in front of the 'nervous' fish as she snaked along in 7 inches of water. This time I waited a second or two and gave one short strip and the line went tight.

All hell broke loose.

The fish inhaled the fly and began to 'tail walk' across the flats for a distance of 20 feet giving a vigorous, mouth open, head shaking display trying to dislodge the hook. Then she settled back into the 6 - 8 inches of water and ran for the deeper, open end of the little cove we where in, still shaking her head. (I call this fish 'SHE' because it is widely believed that the vast majority of seatrout this size are female. Biologists don't think that the males live to get this large.)

My heart was racing. My mind was running faster trying to remember all the right things to do when you have a trophy fish on! Always, bow to a leaping fish, play the fish, don't try to muscle 'em in. This was no redfish on the end of my line. It was a speckled trout (spotted seatrout) and it was a big one! The fish ran to and fro sometimes shaking it's head, sometimes just playing tug of war. Slowly, I was gaining the upper hand as this trophy "Texas speck" began to tire out.

Her runs were becoming shorter with less power. I had retrieved nearly all my line and had worked the fish to within 20 feet. I was nearly on my knees as I tried to bring the fish close enough to land without her seeing me.

Trout have excellent eyesight. It didn't work. She saw me and then opened and closed her mouth 'popping' trying to spit the barbless hook. She stood on her tail once again and 'walked' about 10 feet more before collapsing. She was exhausted. The fight had gone out of her and landing the fish became a simple task.

I admired the fish as I slipped her onto my stringer to join the redfish that I intended to have for dinner that evening. The time was 7:55 am and I was only a couple hundred yards from where the boat was anchored.

Being a fly fishing guide, I am aware that new records are possible any given day. This fish was not only a fine specimen, but it just might be a contender for the IGFA World Record for the species in the 20 lb class tippet.

I worked my way back to the boat and measured the length of the trout at 31-1/4 inches and guessed her weight to be at least 8 lbs. I don't carry a scale on my boat, much less a certified scale, so I made tracks to the nearest certified scale at a marina on South Padre Island.

Spotted seatrout are not a hearty species, as they are (depending on the biologist you talk to) a member of the weakfish family. So I knew that this fish was losing weight every minute. The trip took a little over an hour and I felt a little giddy with excitement. Arriving at the marina, the fish was weighed and verified at 8 pounds 6 ounces! Then it was certified by a biologist for species.

In the meantime, the wind had died to nothing. The lower Laguna Madre had turned to a sheet of glass and the sky was a deep, bright cloudless blue. I played golf that afternoon and shot a million. For some reason I couldn't keep my mind on the game. The information, sample of the fly line, leader, tippet, and fly was sent to IGFA headquarters in Florida for verification and after several months was approved as a new World Record and holds 1st Place Spotted Seatrout in the 1998 IGFA Annual Fishing Tournament.

To see this fish, visit my website.
"Keep your rod bent and your line tight!" ~ Capt. Kenny Brewer


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