Svintos (aka Alex) and I have been fishing together pretty regularly this past year. We’ve chased the elusive gatuh’ trout of the Texas flats, the giant bull reds of Louisiana and the glorious, 25oz Mexican delicacy in the form of aluminum breakfast tacos. Or Cheladas, if you want to refer to them by their Christian name.
Svintos and I just got back from Louisiana a few days ago, so it seems only appropriate to focus my first post on our Cajun marsh trips… and our first La trip was this past September.
Captain’s Log: September 21, 2014. Our first trip to Louisiana was last minute. I didn’t get off work til 7pm on Saturday night, so we decided to leave as soon as I clocked out, grab the boat and hit the road. We’d drive all night, catch a couple hours of sleep and hit the water around 8am for a full day of fishing on Sunday. Unfortunately, Svintos had to work Monday morning, so we were going to have to leave that evening and make the 6 hour trek back to Houston. Oh well, we’ll sleep when we’re dead.
We arrived at the marina and managed to get a little shut eye. Despite our lack of rest, we were more than a little excited to hit the water. After a season of slot reds in Texas, the idea of overgrown, aggressive bull reds had us salivating. Our attitudes did take a slight dip when we loaded up the boat, however. The wind was blowing 20mph and the water was around 1 to 1 1/2 feet high. And dirty. Very dirty.
No worries, two seasoned saltwater veterans don’t balk at weather. Plus we had sun! We launched the skiff and started idling out. Just before we jumped on plane we realized we hadn’t packed any of our aluminum fish-catching grenades, the Holy 25oz BudLight Cheladas. We briefly considered turning around to grab some of that sweet Mexican nectar, but quickly chose to forego our ritual and head to our first spot… a mistake we would never make again.
Svintos shut down his East Cape Fury and began to pole the skiff. The wind continued to howl as I made a few false casts to get warmed up. Water clarity was awful; warm water, runoff from the Atchafalaya and the chop all contributed to a stained, brownish muck. This was not good. We checked another spot or two, only to find the same thing: high, dirty water. It’s simple, high water means the fish spread out and can be more difficult to locate. Dirty water means you can’t see them, which is a fairly important aspect of sight fishing with flies.
We decided to change strategy and make a mad dash for the barrier islands just south of our current location. Even with the strong south wind, we anticipated the north end of the island would be fairly calm and protected, and possibly have better clarity.
After stowing rods and the stripping bucket, we set off to find clean water. There’s something to be said about gliding through a chop in a flats skiff at 30mph. It’s not exactly a smooth ride, but it feels good to rebel against the wind and tide: man and machine versus Big Water. The sun is warm on your face, all stress and work-related worries vacate your thoughts. Hell, we haven’t caught a single fish, but it’s early and we’re on the water. How much better could life get?
I close my eyes and feel a sly smile creep across my face. “Bring it on, weather!”, I think to myself. My blissful state is immediately interrupted as Svintos belts, “OH, SHIT!” My eyes jolt open in time to see a massive rogue wave overtake the bow and crash down over my head. Svintos took a direct shot to the chest, able to stay on his feet only by clutching the wheel. As soon as I emerged from the salty bath I looked down to see the hull completely filled with water. I spun around to confirm my comrade was still in the boat. Svintos stared down at me, wild-eyed and drenched. He uttered one offering: “Bail.”
I sprang upward, grabbed the stripping bucket and began plunging it into the water-filled hull, bailing as fast as I could. Svintos snagged a hand pump and furiously went to work in the stern of the boat. The automatic bilge immediately started pumping to drain the partially submerged skiff. We worked relentlessly in silence, very aware that we were still in open water, and another wave could result in a long, tiring swim. Svintos had wisely left the outboard engaged and cruising forward as we bailed, keeping the bow high and above the breaking waves. The skiff was dry in less than 60 seconds.
We began to rehash our experience as we collected the various items that had become dislodged during the near-catastrophe. Everything was accounted for except for a single flip flop; not bad for what was nearly a sunken boat. But we were alive and well, and it was only 11am. We still had fish to catch, so we pressed on. We arrived at the barrier island and discovered what we had anticipated: the water was high, but it was much calmer on the leeward side and considerably cleaner. Jackpot!
Svintos quickly jumped on the platform, eager to begin poling toward the nearest shoreline. I armed myself with a 9wt fly rod and reached down to hand Svintos the push pole. It was gone. I immediately turned toward the stern, hoping he had grabbed it before climbing up. He was empty handed. Svintos was still scanning the water, looking for signs of bait or tailing fish.
“Man, the pole is gone,” I muttered.
Svintos instantly swung his gaze downward to where the push pole should have been. Nothing. We raced back to where we swamped the boat, hoping that we’d miraculously find the pole floating with the tide. Nothing. We motored around for nearly an hour, searching for any sign of the lost pole. No dice.
Now this was a dilemma. We weren’t about to sink, but without a trolling motor or push pole, we couldn’t fish. How much worse could this day get? No fish. No flip flop. Now, no push pole? We contemplated returning to the marina, loading up the boat and limping back to Texas with our tails between our legs. This was not the Louisiana trip we’d had in mind… Luckily, Svintos has a friend that keeps a skiff in the area. After a few phone calls, we got the OK to borrow his buddy’s push pole.
Back in business! We grabbed the spare push pole and a few cold beers to appease the angry fish gods before heading back out to the marsh. This time we decided to stay inshore and brave the dirty water. No sense in risking another wild ride in the deep water! We fished the rest of the afternoon and managed to scratch out a few fish before dark.
I’m constantly reminded how humbling Mother Nature can truly be. The trip was full of ups and downs but we had an absolute blast and learned a lot. Being prepared with proper equipment and outfitted with both automatic and manual pumps was the difference between a successful outing and a costly, dangerous experience. We’ve made several more trips to Louisiana since our inaugural cajun voyage together in September, and each one has been progressively more successful. And we’ve not once forgotten our Cheladas since that fateful day… not once.
Also, Svintos says push poles are expensive.