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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.


Popper Mania

By Captain Scud Yates, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

My fishing buddy Unk tells that his dear old dad, who fly fished for most of his many years, finally got to the point where he would not fish anything but poppers. I mean, if a fish would not hit on the surface, it was not worth fishing for. I helped sort out Unk's belongings when his house was flooded by hurricane Ivan and I "recovered" hundreds of his dad's poppers dating from the 1940's until his death in the '80s. Those were the ones that did not float out with the receding tide. Unk's whole backyard, the neighborhood and out across the island in the bayou was a trail of fine little colorful poppers ranging in size from a quarter inch to Unk's eight-inch sailfish flies. (The pink sailfish flies made a tree near his house look like cathouse laundry drying.) His dad must have had thousands of poppers and many of his patterns are still on the shelves today. He was probably a charter member in the Royal Order of the Popper club, if there was such a thing. This week's trip to Louisiana might have converted me to the Order. It is not a hard conversion with the action I will describe.

My fishing partner this week was Maxi and the guide was Brian Carter. The water was the Delta south of New Orleans. We had two days of clear, cool weather with less than ten mph of wind and very low tides. These factors and redfish feeding on shrimp on the surface introduced me to popper mania. Something else was in the mix as reds are only popper eaters sometimes, but not often. Rejection usually causes reversion to normal flies. These couple of days were special.

The night before, at the fine Woodland Plantation with Foster serving up steak and tuna, set the stage for the mania. The weakness that comes with many manly drinks over fishing lies further set the mood. Once on the water with almost zero wind and fish charging at the boat completed it.

I resisted poppers as both of us started with the usual flies for these flats, crab patterns and spoons. We had four fish to the boat by nine o'clock, having started at about eight AM. Then the fish really turned on. Both of us were alternating hooking and landing sight-fished reds in the eight to ten pound size range. We had several doubles and this size fish on fly gear can make for interesting fights, let alone two fights at a time. On about my tenth fish, and I was behind Maxi in numbers, I had a feisty ten pounder near the boat and my rod "blew up." It was a "shot" heard for a long way. Pieces flew all over the boat and water if they were not connected to the line. It spooked the white pelicans in the adjoining pond it was so loud. I recovered most of the parts from the three breaks and pulled the fish into the boat by hand. Other fish were still charging so I picked up my next rod in line. It had a popper on it and these fish were eating so readily that even the guide though it might work. The popper was intended to toss at jacks if they happened by.

Maxi

Reds do eat on the surface and I have had several on poppers in the past. But, they have a hard time doing it with their mouth so low on their head and they are usually looking down, not up. Some times of the year the crabs and shrimp are on the top of the water. Crabs because they swim for fun and sex and shrimp because they get bunched up or get chased to the top. A shrimp on the top will jump when chased and a crab will dive for the bottom. All-in-all you get a few on top popper flies but not usually very many. It is usually much more productive to get a crab pattern in front of them.

My first cast had the fish almost do a back flip to get the popper. He did not get hooked as I was so surprised by the attack. I pulled it back to toss it again as the monster was thrashing about looking on the bottom for whatever might have dived from the attack. One "pop" and he looked back up, spotted the fly and sort of "locked on" to the little bug. I just barely moved it and "WHAM" I was hooked and off he ran. It is so sudden that it almost knocks you off the platform. I fought this one and Maxi jumped up front and hooked into another double for the boat.

That started it. The popper stayed in the rotation with Maxi's crab and we were off to the races again. Fish were everywhere in less than a foot of water. Brian would just be working the boat again after helping with a release and the guy not involved in the release would see another and have a cast in front and hook up. I looked down and it was ten o'clock. I would have sworn the day was over. Maxi quit counting when he had 17. I said I had less than that, Brian countered that by saying I was ahead. Maxi had had a run of several that "got off" and were not landed. Maxi was having hook issues in that a hook had "unbent" just enough to make his "debarbed" hooks a bit slippery.

I got fish to slurp, gulp, slash, smash and swallow popper from about any angle. You needed to deliver the fly in front of them but when that happened and you were able to pop it just right so they still had turning room and could see the fly, they would leap at it. You had to make sure the sun was not directly behind the plug or they would get confused and just stir up the mud looking for the fly. Some would run in and out of the mud looking for the crab and you had to let them know the "shrimp" was still on the surface. I think I got another dozen popper fish in the next hour.

One fish was way up in the shallows almost out of reach. It was a "popper" fish in that is was half out of the water. That makes it easier for a fish looking at the bottom to see things on the surface at eye level. While poling up to get within sixty feet of this one, Maxi hooked into another one and was fighting it while I tossed and hooked into this shallow one. Brian grabbed a rod from the tower in back and was attempting to get a "triple." With all this we needed one of these for the records. I let pressure off mine, as Maxi did on his, so not to scare away Brian's. The third did not bite. Strange, but then again we might have already caught that one somewhere else in the pond. Fish with sore jaws must have been all over the marsh by then.

Brian's Fish My fish wandered off towards the shore while I was not "pulling" on him. I did not see it but there was a passage behind an island and the fish went behind the island and there I was with a fish in another pond and no way to get him off the hook. I tried everything and Brian could not get the boat nearer. It was only a two-foot fish so I tried to pull it over the island and through the grass. The fish dropped in the deep grass and broke the line. That was not a good "catch and release" so Brian quickly pushed us around the end of the pond and got almost to the island from behind. He finished the rescue by wading onto the island in knee-deep mud and picking up the fish. It recovered and swam off. The boat looked like a mud wrestling arena. Good guides do good things for fish.

Back to fishing, the bite continued. The pace slowed as the tide filled the ponds. It was almost three PM. Someone said we might want to eat lunch. Heck, nobody had even remembered we had it with us. For the next hour or so we caught fish at a slower pace: probably every ten minutes or so. The seven doubles we could remember were to be all for the day. Seeing the "second" fish in the deep water was too tough. At 4:30 the sun angle was not "perfect" and who would want to fish with anything less than perfect conditions after the day we had had. Home and in the bar by six served as a perfect end to the day. We had one fish that was hooked in the gills and died. Foster cooked that one for a perfect dinner. We tried to remember when poppers had worked so well and how many fish we might have caught today. Brian was the one watching most of the day and his count was, "you all hooked about sixty." Not all that many got off so our count, not really important, was high, even for this place. Bed felt great at about nine. That was a half day earlier than the night before.

Maxi had a seven-hour drive to Atlanta and had to be rested for work the following day so we left at 0630 the second day to get an early start. The Plantation had the lunches for all three of us ready again and we hit the marsh in the early sunrise. Seeing at least a thousand white pelicans flying along beside you at two feet off the water, watching birds diving on schools of trout in the deep water, driving by dozens of magnificent frigate birds waiting for the bait fish to come up and seeing the many herons, egrets and osprey starting to hunt for their breakfast, makes you happy your eyes are clear and blood free of demon rum on a morning like this. The wind was zero but some puffy clouds hung in the air like pantaloons on clotheslines on a summer day. I guess that dates me some. I was called a "complainer" for warning that, "we cannot have two days like that, ever." Well, we didn't. We had a better one!

At just after seven, with a red sky at our backs in flat, calm water, we spotted the first fish of the day. Maxi was to be primary as were going to drop him off at noon and I could fish more after he left. He requested my popper rod while handing me the "crab" pole. He got the first one he tried, the second and then a third without me even standing up. On his fourth try, I got a shot at a second fish and we had a double. It was not eight yet and you could not see the fish under the water more than 20 feet away. By about nine we had settled in to switching the popper between us. The popper guy got the first shot at a fish. It worked better for getting a clean bite if there was not another fish fighting right beside him. We were hooking them so fast that Maxi got "trapped" with the crab in his hand since I could not hand him a rod with a fish on it before he would hook another fish with the crab first. When he started whining like a kid not getting chosen for a sandlot game I knew he was getting converted to the "Order of the Popper" also.

Mudfish

I gave him the front of the boat, and the popper rod, and realized we did not need the crab fly at all. I started to clip the crab off with Maxi fighting another nice one. Brian pointed out a monster way out front coming at us. I jumped up front with the crab and reeled off a long cast, maybe about 70 feet at the fish coming down the pike. I was trying to hook him before he got to Maxi's fight. It stopped and started to look for the food. I tried again but while such a long cast was in the air the fish did a full 180 degree turn and the fly landed at the non-eating end. I picked it up and tossed again only to have it happen again. The fish tired of this after about four tries and started away from us. Maxi was busy with wrapping his fish around everything aft of the front platform and Brian could not push to follow. I stripped line hard from the reel and corked off a cast of a lifetime. It hit in front of him and he hit it like a freight train going away. I had all the line out and was into the backing when it hit and then I was so surprised that I actually got it there that my set was not all that good. It could also have been the full fly line and leader has a bunch of stretch in it also. Result was the fish turned and the fly dropped out. He then started chasing it toward the boat. I got about 60 feet of line stripped back in and dropped it in front of him as he came out of the original mud patch he created. I was pulling it along in front of him but he did not see it. I picked up and finally got it to him at 40 feet out. He ate it as soon as it was right in front of his nose. Maxi had recovered his fish from the muck and released it to see the end game. Brian does not offer a lot of compliments but he said that cast was a lifetime shot. I know it was lucky but I could not change his mind. I didn't try all that hard.

I changed the other line to a popper so Maxi would quit squawking. We were both now fully in the business of the "Royal Order." It did not take long for the first double on poppers to occur. Brian says he has never seen such a day for popper eating reds. I sure have not.

It was almost eleven and we had another hour to play. The pelicans were above us swirling in a bunch of a thousand, spooking some of the fish around us by shadows alone, so we relocated to one last pond. The clouds would put us in the "dark" every now and then and a couple fish bumped into the boat without us seeing them. Brian then noted that we might not have hooked everything we saw this day but it was close. Maxi was not losing fish this day. Both of our casting abilities had peaked earlier in the morning. We caught only one more double but Maxi first ate his lunch while I got a fish, Brian sat down and had a rest and a coke and I got a fish during that break. I ate while Maxi got the biggest fish of the trip. It was a very nice 12-pound fish. He used one of his patented methods of subduing this one. He lets the fish swim under the boat and then steps to the side and plunges him down into the mud. I use the "depowering" method myself. I fight them hard and get their noses out of the water so their motor can only send them out of the water instead of away. Maxi's way seems to confuse them more and once cleaned off, they come into the boat a little more docile than with the depowering.

After that big fish Maxi sort of deflated. He missed two in row and we told him he could not leave until he got one last fish. It came and so did noon. The half hour ride back was another fantasy cruise. The same bids, sitting full bellied now, watched us on the way out. Porpoise played along the way. The puffy clouds were coming back and growing. Brian had a hot date later in the evening. He might have been thinking of other things.

Sheepshead

At the launch we all had had enough. Brian would have fished me all day, keeping the lady waiting, but I was "cooked" for one fishing trip. It could not have gotten better and for me to keep up that pace without someone else to share the load might have killed me. I think we arrived at a count of about 40 for the 4.5 hours of fishing. Nine an hour seemed slow for the activity level we kept. It may have been more, many more. Besides that we had several sheepheads to the boat with the biggest being five pounds. I cannot help myself and toss at other species that will pull on my line.

There are great days in this fishing game and there sure are bad ones. But days like this come only rarely in a lifetime. You have to pay your dues to have them but in a place like the swamps of Louisiana, you have a better chance than anywhere on earth. This time replaced some of my greatest days near the top of my list.

Woodland Plantation

Come on down and join the Royal Order of the Popper. Deacons Scud and Maxi will let you in and Brian will swear you in. Meetings will be held with headman Foster in the "Spirit House" of Woodland Plantation. All you will have to say is, "Hi, my name is (first name only) and I am a popperholic." ~ Captain Scud Yates October 2006, scudyates@cox.net


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