Welcome to Salt Water Fly Fishing

Welcome to Fly Fishing The Salt! If you are just discovering the joys of fly fishing the salt (or salt chuck as some call it) here you will find information to steer you in the right direction. Tips on what equipment to use, why, where and how to fish. And we will try to include a little inspiration to get you going. For the experienced salt water angler, there will be personal stories about real fishermen and their experiences, tips on what flies for which fish and techniques that work. Your stories and articles are also most welcome. Share the knowledge and adventure. Pass it on! This is for you.

Winter on the Bayou

By Captain Scud Yates, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

T'was the day before Christmas Eve when the skies cleared over the bayous and the fish called. "Scud, stop the bah humbug act and go fishing." I called Rich Waldner and he said he was at a dead spot in his rebuilding, had the new boat ordered and he needed a break from the "too close" living with his family while the rebuilding goes on. I loaded up the boat and drove over and we went to visit the fish. I got a room from Brian Carter for the night and slept the short night guilty about the shopping I had not started yet for my bride. (See Capt. Yates previous article, Katrina Did Not Kill All the Fish).

Rich and I joined up for coffee and started out after the ice was scraped from the boat. The main roadblock has moved south past where we wanted to fish but we still had to pass a control point at the FEMA/National Guard base at the high school in what is left of Port Sulfur, LA. There is actually nothing left of the original town but the FEMA trailers are starting to pop up for folks to use while rebuilding. Rich has one behind his house now but the electricity was not "on" yet. He expected that to happen any day. In fact, Rich is about a month from being back in his place and having a boat. He can buy the trailer from FEMA to put up fishermen too. There are still few places to stay over there. Brian's trailer was given to a lady who needed out of a hotel room the day I left.

We hit the water with the temp about thirty-five and the wind from the NE at twenty, but it was absolutely clear as a bell. It was about nine AM. Of course, nothing goes exactly as planned and I had taken my winter coat off to hook up the boat and left it on the stoop at the trailer. My summer wind jacket and three light layers had to protect me. That mistake kept the boat speed down a bit on the eight mile run out to the gulf edge of the flats where we would hunt for the bull reds on this day.

We pushed along a short canal about half way out to see if any of the fish were "inside" only to waste about thirty minutes and about half freeze me standing in the wind with no action. The water was extremely low and the tide was going out already so more of the flats were out of the water than in, no doubt freezing the exposed oysters making them very tasty. Had we not taken a break in the running my hands might not come off the wheel. The gloves and earmuffs were in the jacket pocket.

Once on the "outside" and at the real starting point, we were just about at a perfect sun angle if we could find a canal with a flat along the edge to push along. Rich started at a perfect place with the sun behind and both the 20 mph wind and a strong current to push against. He likes some of that pressure off the front end so he can stop the boat easily when fish are sighted but this combination made him take off his jacket quickly from overheating. I was still mighty cold until the first fish was sighted ten minutes into the poling. It was a black drum on the flats' edge. My technique for them is to put it in front of the nose and then let it drop straight to the bottom. Then I just move the crab fly in two-inch strips. This guy nosed over and sucked up the fly. A short fight later and we were admiring a 15 pound black drum, not pretty like a red, but a nice fish to start with. It was a short fight as the water was 43 degrees at this time of the day making the fish sluggish. Revival was quick and I think he was just getting warmed up when Rich released him. Rich tied off the boat to come down and help and still lost about twenty yards getting the momentum going again in the conditions. The tide flow was getting stronger with two hours before it was to turn.

Up popped a couple of big reds (12-14 pound) and I got them both with short fights too. I landed them myself to let Rich keep the boat from losing ground. I was finally getting warmed up some. Rich would not get down from the tower so I had to continue. Next fish was noted from a big black tail sticking out of the water, three feet of water at that. It was another black drum but much larger. I tossed and did my trick and this one did his and I was off to the races. He was big enough that a short fight was out of the question. Rich did stop and tie off to the pole to help so I would not break my rod trying to land this lug. The fish warmed up during the fight and put on a run of sorts of about fifty feet after seeing the boat but came to side in about seven minutes or so. I was using 20-pound leader so I could put some pressure on the fish. It was good he did not run downstream though. This one maxed out the 30-pound Boga grip scale but by only a little bit so it was probably in the 32-pound arena.

What Rich made me do after this was keeping on catching reds, one after another, for an hour. Once a giant sheepshead showed up but he made me skip it for another shot a big red, or what looked like one, way up in front of us. When we got to tossing range it was one big black drum, almost white in color that looked like a red at first. The fish was up in 12 inches of water scooping along on his side eating God knows what on the shelf. It dropped off the shelf and started working the bottom in the depths but I could still see the dark shadow in the clear water. The fly hit the bottom and the fish turned the massive tail up and ate it at the first strip. This fish was really sluggish and I was glad he was. It was a real tugging contest as to who would pull whom to the meeting of fish and boat. This fish bottomed out the Boga leaving us only to ponder the real size. A good guess was 40 plus.

I was getting a knot in my rod arm and damn tired of throwing upwind shots. The smile on my face did not reflect the pain in the arm. I talked Rich off the platform. We might have boated twenty fish in that first ninety minutes. We had not seen any of the big reds yet but the blacks were sure nice sized.

Rich started where I left off and had a nice red in the first five minutes and one cast hooked him. I was sure not as good at handling my own boat as he was and lost ground just trying to hold the boat for him to land his own fish. He got another and then missed a big black drum that had two monster reds right behind it. The recognition the others were reds was late and the three fish got spooked before he could get a shot in front of one of them. I, with mighty effort, got us up into a little bayou off the canal that held some nice reds. These fish were in very shallow water and no matter how close Rich got to them they would not eat, or run away. They just moved and I fought to get Rich in position to try them again. When we were both pondering the change in the fish's attitude we noticed a big porpoise just outside of us in the deep water. Usually, when these fish get this way the reason is one of these mean things is beating up on them. The reds are too big for these bullies to eat but they bite and bat the reds around for fun. We have followed the porpoise into ponds to catch fish with large fresh bites out of their backs. There are almost no sharks down here so that leaves only one bully in this schoolyard. One day last year we observed two porpoise tossing a big redfish up in the air and batting it back and forth with their noses and tails. The poor red got about ten feet up at one hit. I don't think he would act "normal" for some time after all that fun.

Rich caught a couple more and took over for the last part of the day from the tower. He likes to catch fish but I think he likes being in charge better. The water never got to the "rumored" 50 degrees where the fish start biting. I think we saw 49 as a high late in the day.

We continued along the canal but the tide changed to help the pushing even thought the wind stayed on the nose. Rich might have let me push longer if the tide would have stayed on the nose. I went back to throwing up wind and catching fish after fish. The farther we got from the Gulf, as we pushed straight away from it, the smaller the fish. The last few were in the eight pound size and the dark colors and blue tails got much more pronounced. We ended with a very slow cold ride back in with the sun setting just as we hit the ramp. We think we had over thirty reds and five blacks from 11:00 to 3:30. We forgot to eat or drink all day.

It would have been a hard day for a fisherman who could not take the wind in the face or operate while frozen, but for us this was very high on the list of best days in the delta. Most boat handlers could not have polled the whole day into that wind and current either. From the other direction, with the winter sun so low, the fish would not have been visible. Rich made this day possible.

We fished a second day but the clouds rolled in and out limiting our ability to see the fish. I got half dozen nice reds, a black drum and even a sheepshead though. The wind was down and I had the damned jacket so if we could have seen them it would have been a warm easy casting day with many fish. It was still a great day.

If you get a chance to fish the flats south of New Orleans, anytime, it can be wonderful. Winter is the hardest time of the year to get the "correct" weather conditions but it is worth the late decision and long drive/flight at the last minute to get in on the big fish on the cold flats. Brian Carter has a boat and some openings in January while Rich is waiting for his boat. Brian had anglers boat several fish in the high thirty-pound range this last week. With a southeast wind more of the big fish places are available.

Call Brian at 504-329-5198. ~ Capt Scud Yates, scudyates@cox.net December 2005

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