Two years running, the tarpon season has had
weather change plans. Maxi, a great friend
from Air Force days, was set up with his first
chance at the giant fish just after the fourth of
July only to have massive rain storms wash out the
flats of Carabelle, FL. Never a quitter, he hounded
me to find a place to fish as he had the days off
and just would not go back to work, no how. He
suggested other south Florida destinations and I
suggested we go to Colorado to fish the big carp.
The rain wiped out most all of the Florida waters
and Colorado was too far for us to fly his new fancy
little plane in the time remaining. Both of us had
little room of adjustments to previous commitments.
New Orleans was the best option as it can survive
rain like no other place. When the rest of the
Gulf Coast has water all mucked up this place is
able to take the rain and remain normal, mucked up.
A quick call to my guide buddy Kirby LaCour found
him grounded with a bad knee but his partner, Rich
Waldner, had a day open. A day was all we could
salvage but we set it in motion and pressed. I was
assigned getting the guide, gear, timing and arriving
to pick up Maxi at his plane. Maxi was to find a
place to stay the night and arrive on time for pick
up. Maxi needed to fly home at the end of the fishing
day and I had to leave on a business trip up north
that started the following morning, so we both were
leaving from the same place at the same time. This
chance to fish was really wedged in the only time
slot we had.
I drove over from Florida and Maxi flew in from Atlanta.
He was only 24 minutes late for our six PM meet-up at
the international airport. He did have a six-pack of
cold beer on hand so was forgiven. We jumped in my
truck and joined the NASCAR scene that passes for
traffic heading for downtown New Orleans. I first
tried a back way but got lost. Maxi got me going the
correct direction. I asked him where we were spending
the night and he pulled out his phone. He said to keep
on track toward the town as he dialed. The conversation
started with, "Hey Spike, it's Maxi. There are two of
us driving toward your house for a "no notice hospitality
check. Got room for us on the rug for the night?"
Preplanning be damned in the world of old friends
from the flying business, we got told to, "come on."
Now in a low speed traffic jam, I had him call the
guide, Rich, to ask for timing and directions to
the morning venue. After about half an hour of writing
and blabbing he hung up announcing his brain was fried.
He was not even into the beer yet. I did get chided
for not having one with him but I was worried about
open bottle rules and cops. He informed me that they
did have an open bottle rule down here and it was,
"you had to have one."
Spike's place (palace really) ended up one most excellent
B&B. A brand new house on a lake and golf course, it was
fully equipped with a beautiful wife, Leslie, a full bar
with a 1000 bottle wine cellar, fresh German beer on tap
and a kitchen that would make Emeril jealous. It was
already about 8 PM but trying out the bar and seeing
the rest of the palace went on like we were invited guests.
Our "rugs" were two full suites upstairs.
Dinner with Maxi is always a treat. Spike took us to
the same restaurant we ate in last year where the patrons
of dubious persuasion ogled Maxi. Of course, this time
it ended up being a hang out for all the out of work
airline pilots who were flying with the local National
Guard F-15 unit. Spike is one of these pilots. The
party got big and loud and I took a pounding for
ordering a martini made from French vodka. The
ribbing was mostly from the wine partisans who had
earlier been cradling rare Frog wine back at the house
with 'oohs and ahhs.' Very rare stuff is not on the
embargo list I guess. The dinner ended with far too
much money squandered and then the party moved back
to Spike and Leslie's palace. It seemed nobody was
flying until afternoon the next day. I asked Maxi
what time we were supposed to get up in the morning
and he informed me it was going to be 0415. That
is military time for "damn early."
I fell in bed about midnight after kidding Spike about
his failure to demonstrate the million-dollar kitchen.
The rest of the party and Maxi went on for some time
more but I could not even hear them for more than
seven seconds from head to pillow contact. Spike
and Leslie passed the 'check' with flying colors.
The fishing day started with a way too early wake up
but there was a strange smell coming down the hallway.
Spike was up and had the kitchen going with rare coffee
and a full ham and egg breakfast on the table. He
elevated his 'hospitality check' rating from 'outstanding'
to 'overboard.' Even Leslie got up. Of the four of us
at the table, we had a total of about 12 hours sleep
last night so I guess we were in crew rest for about
anything. It seemed very "Southern" to have the hosts
standing in the middle of the night waving as we left.
We launched from the palace and started the trip down
the Mississippi River to meet at Captain Rich's new
house along the levy. It was a 45-minute drive and
went 30 years back in time. Of course, Maxi needed
to get his license for fishing and managed to spend
another 75% of the ride on the phone. He was not as
crystal clear as with last night's calls but did manage
to do the trick. Too bad we were out of beer for the
We met Rich and got a coffee refill and in the gray
morning light got a short tour of his new house with
a view of the great river from his bedroom window.
He took us another 40 miles south, to a little town
called Venice. It is about the same as the one in
Italy but there are not as many Italians or canals.
We were now back to the 1950s or thereabouts.
It was still early and the sun was coming through
the haze. Maxi did not include rigging into last
night's activities so we were slow from the dock
in Rich's Dolphin Skiff. The water where we
launched was completely mucked up with mud and
dead mullet floating but as we idled out we slowly
came to 'just' muddy and then up on plane down a
river of silt and alligators to come to 'just'
murky waters. We turned down a couple of side
canals and we came to where we could see the
bottom if you had a good imagination. The Captain
shut down after ten minutes of driving and announced
"I got to tell you, we are sitting among so many redfish
we could not count them in a week of Sundays." It looked
like a boggy lake to me but the Marine's (Rich was and
IS still one) enthusiasm was contagious and we got Maxi
up front to start the quest.
For the first time ever in these waters, we were fishing
with not a breath of wind. Some thunderclouds were
building as forecasted, but so was the promised 90
plus heat and 80 percent humidity. Oddly, there were
no bugs at all. I had put enough booze in me the
night before to kill all sorts of mosquitoes. The
effort was to be wasted, the bugs never showed up.
The heat did.
Rich started poling and the fish started to show in
the foot deep water. Weeds and scum compounded with
white clouds and low sun angle made for some short
visual pickups. It took only five minutes and a
couple of missed hooking-ups for the Rich and Maxi
team to hook a nice red of four pounds. Heck of a
start! It was so quick I let Maxi stay up front as
I readied myself behind him to toss after he got
another one on. We both took shots and Maxi got
a second fish about the same size. Getting behind,
I took the nose position but the fish seemed to
quit eating although there were plenty of them of
all sizes and we both put many of the little epoxy
spoons rich makes right in the basket. We changed
colors several times until we got to the chartreuse
and gold spoon. We toured the lake, about a
hundred-acre pond with islands for about an hour
with little action and then the tide started to move.
Boy was that the signal for the fish to start eating.
Maxi was up when we worked along a bank that had
sheepshead cruising along. Rich insisted we could
catch them with sight fishing but I had only seen
them bite Unk's flies blind casting. Rich said the
spoons would do the trick if we would drop the fly
to the bottom as soon as the fish started to track
the fly. He said the fish would tip over tail up
and bite it on the bottom. Sounded funny to me but
Maxi did it on the next fish and had a heck of a fight
with a nice three-pound black and white stripped
'Coonass permit.' Rich came down from the tower
to show how to unhook and release this kind as they
have a finned back with sharp spikes and teeth like
a piranha. Next we looked out and a big red was
flowing right at us and Maxi launched a perfect cast
right on his nose resulting in an immediate hit and
hook up. This was a monster, estimated eight to ten
pounds, and the gobble and run was snapped off when
Maxi failed to let the fish run. His first two he
had stopped with hand pressure on the line. We had
a discussion on fighting big fish while I tried without
luck to get one of the many sheepsheads flowing by.
While he and Rich re-rigged his rod I got shots at
passing sheepshead and finally got the trick and
bagged one. I also had a rat red take the fly from
between two large reds. I shook him off the line
as Maxi bagged another fair sized red.
Rich motored us back to the starting flat where we
found ourselves in the middle of so many reds we both
kept busy for the next two hours. I managed to hit
my rod with a spoon and the next fish broke the tip.
This only allowed Maxi to reclaim the front of the
boat but it did not matter as both of us were fighting
fish continually. I switched from my eight-weight rod
to a nine.
The next hours blur with the activity of one of the
best two hours of my short fishing career. Not only
were the fish all over and coming from every direction
but all casts were visual and had to be right on the
nose. Rich almost lost his voice calling out incoming
fish, we often had two on at once, and sometimes
talking about different fish at the same time.
The confusion was delightful and humorous moments
many. The learning curve for Maxi was steep and
he went from hook up losses to line breaks to
solid hook ups at every good cast. I got in a
zone and went about six for six casts to fish
on one run. I have no idea how many fish we
caught but at one point in a lull under a passing
cloud, Maxi said he lost count when he had hooked
fifteen and landed thirteen. My ratio was better
for hooked to landed but I had no idea of the
numbers of fish I had landed. We got to where
we would not throw at small fish so most were
between five to eight pounds. We were using
eight weights mainly to be able to launch the
heavy spoon flies. These special little spoons
are works of art Rich makes and were best for
their sink capability and weed free characteristics.
At about two PM, (the 'bite' started at about ten
thirty) it slowed. We had forgotten about time or
even stopping for lunch. There was still no wind
and hot as the devils bedroom on a good Saturday
night, but other than water intake going on, we
just kept on tossing at the fish appearing at all
clock positions. They were getting less hungry
as the tide slowed but still there. Clouds were
occasionally covering the sun and stopping
the burn-felt good but made seeing the fish tougher.
About this time Rich called out a tugboat-sized
wake coming at us from about 100 yards. Maxi was
up front so had the shot. At thirty yards we could
see a monster red shape in front of the wake and
Maxi's first shot was just off to the right and
about ten feet in front of the fish. The fish
stopped and started looking for the cause of the
splash. The second shot was right beside him but
he looked the wrong direction and the third shot
was right on his nose. He ate.
Maxi set the hook and the fish moved about ten feet
to the left of the bite spot and stopped. This guy
was about a yard long and just sat there. Maxi
thought he might have gotten off but I called out
that he was still hooked but just had not figured
out what happened. A little pressure and off the
beauty went and Maxi was maxed out trying to get
to the reel and keep the weeds from building up
on the line. This fish would let Maxi get him
to twenty feet from the boat and then see us and
leave again for another 40-foot run away. We
adjusted the drag a couple of times so Maxi would
not have to hold the line with his right hand so
hard. He was getting burned on the runs. This
fight went along for about 10 minutes until Rich
decided he would take over the netting act. As
soon as the fish would see the net hit the water
he would go back out to the 20-foot range or under
the boat. Maxi was alternately stopping a run and
keeping from breaking the tip by thrusting the rod
under the boat. I got out of the way and laughed
at the whole act but Maxi and Rich worked well as
a team and Rich finally got the net down and snatched
the monster up. High fives and then some pictures
and weighing, followed by a long recessitation, had
the beauty headed back to the safety of the flat.
This fish would have been tough in clear water but
was harder yet in all the soft weeds of this flat.
It was well over a yard long and weighed just over
12 pounds. That is a rare fish for the shallow flats
and we figured this was probably a seven-year-old
fish. They leave the safety of the flats about
this size and start reproducing. This one will
have a story to tell its' grand kids.
It was slowing down some in redfish sighting as the
tide slacked but there were more sheepsheads showing
up. Maxi threw at a big one and had a heck of a
fight with a five-pounder. It was a classic Rich
style hook up. I got serious and managed to get
another myself to hold up my honor. We both had
two of them for the day to add to our conservative
estimate of twenty redfish each. Maxi surely won
in both fish size wise and perhaps in numbers but
we just could not keep up with the count. We fished
until the time we figured there would be enough time
to make my flight. Asking several local folks, in
the know on such matters, had derived the time. We
were on the road about four PM after fond farewells
to Rich and buying a bunch of his spoons to try on
other parts of the redfish world.
The glow of the day was coming over us as we drove
north through the years back to the 21st century.
The glow was diminished slightly when we were a
half hour behind schedule as we arrived at the
1990s with years and miles to go. In traffic up
to our ears and in the early 2000s it was evident
I was not going to make my flight. The roads are
a mess down here with no traffic but this was
quitting time. The roads are built on water so
what can you expect. Both of us went to the cell
phones but it was not going to hurt our navigating
or driving at the speeds we were going. I got on
another flight that would get me to my destination
at two in the morning if I made the flight. I had
to drop Maxi on one side of the airport and he tried
to get me to drive to his plane as he had a load of
gear. With several calls he thought he had the gate
opened but when it was still locked, I just dropped
him on the roadway and left him standing among his
stuff as I peeled off. I managed to make my flight
at the door closing time. I was sitting in a pile
of sweat waiting for the plane to taxi as Maxi took
off for his two-hour flight home. It was then I had
time to reflect on the great time we had just had.
I was wedged between two elderly ladies who took
some exception to my fish slime deco and fish
If there is a moral to the story it might be to never
give up a chance to fish or never underestimate an old
Marine Colonel, now fishing Captain. Whatever, we had
to make this happen and a planned event anticipated for
months could not have been better. The two guides down
there, Captains Kirby LaCour (prior Army special forces)
and Rich Waldner, can be reached at 504-464-1697 for
Kirby and 504-656-7337 for Rich. They cannot guarantee
that Nature will give you a day of no wind or good
visibility but they sure can put you over the fish.
Either one will have you in stitches. Both have secret
flies but contacting Rich and ordering some of his spoon
flies may insure your success for most any species along
this coast and I'd bet inland for most species too. They
are works of art he sells for $5 plus shipping. Orvis
once sold them for about twice that, when he would sell
them some. I am trying to get him to sell me a hundred
but we are still negotiating. He will give you the ones
you fish with and that is, by far, the best way to get
them. Say 'hi' from me when you contact these guides.
~ Capt Scud Yates