Laissez Les Boutros Rouler

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.

Aint' scared of no wind!

Aint’ scared of no wind!

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.

25oz of American...ahem, Mexican... Glory!

25oz of American…ahem, Mexican… Glory!

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!

 

I've always been a sucker for a pretty face

I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty face.

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.

Svintos tempted this big Sheepshead with a huge redfish fly.

Svintos tempted this big Sheepshead with a huge redfish fly.

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.

Sincerely, 

Boutros

blackwhitetail

Up close and personal.

 

"If I don't look at it, it's not really there."

“If I don’t look at it, it’s not really there.”

 

The Hunt for Red December

The Hunt for Red December.

 

Svintos (aka Alex) put me on my personal best fish at just over 30lbs this year.

Svintos (aka Alex) put me on my personal best fish at just over 30lbs this year.

 

Svintos releasing a Louisiana toad.

Svintos releasing a Louisiana toad.

 

Killing it with my new 9wt H2 from Orvis.

Killing it with my new 9wt H2 from Orvis.

Clearing the Air: A Prelude to Stoke City

First, I always find it hilarious that Stoke City is an actual Futbol (but, you know, not like actual football) Club in Europe, and every time I hear that name I have to chuckle. Makes me picture a big stadium full of super chill, albeit very stoked, surfers, rather than a stadium full of super rowdy, destructive, drunken English hooligans. I also have decided to use it as a descriptive term for a state or place where the overwhelming sentiment is stokedddddd. Second, I have to apologize for my extended disappearance from the blog. Trouble is that I had been in a prolonged drought. Luckily, that drought has since ended but it would be misleading for me to only posts my highlights… So, in essence, this post is my preemptively airing my dirty laundry before getting to the stokeeeee, bra.

Last Spring, I had a pretty well thought out post all teed up for turkey season, but apparently the turkey had other plans. They made that point clear with a couple emphatic lowlights for me. I don’t pretend to be a skilled hunter per se (or a skilled anything, for that matter), so I’ll go ahead and briefly share these two stories for your reading enjoyment… and, well, to clear my conscience. Feel free to not even read this post.

1. Samantha and I took a week vacation about two weeks into the six week spring turkey season. In theory, we planned to hunt 4 days of that week, but in the back of my mind I was hoping we could bag a turkey earlier and then relax a little. Ha. We actually called a couple gobblers in close and had them strutting at about 20 – 30 yards the first day. The woods were absolutely going off with gobbles that morning, but the boys we were working stayed just out of eyesight and I couldn’t get them to close that gap. In truth, I probably got desperate and over-called to them. We were set up along a sandy firebreak so we could definitively see track where they had been strutting on our way back to the truck.

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Scratching out a few love notes

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At least it was a beautiful morning in the woods

Anyway, we worked the same general area (and probably birds) the next two mornings, but to no avail. The last day we set up at a spot where the road met the firebreak, figuring that we had the tom in this area’s daily pattern more or less down. I set up the decoys about 15 yards passed us – slightly beyond where the two roads met – and we cozied up under an oak tree right at the corner, where the paths intersected. Samantha had a flight that evening leaving from FLL, which is about a 5.5 hour drive from where I hunt. Keep that in mind. Around 9:30, we both got a little antsy and I started feeling the pressure was on. I couldn’t believe that we’d had 4 days together – my big chance to get her excited about turkey hunting – and it had been a shutout thus far. (Not to mention, I still have not bagged a turkey of my own.) Earlier we’d heard some gobbling behind us to our right, so I thought we could quietly work counter-clockwise (to our left) along the firebreak and then circle around behind the birds and work them. We left the decoys and started stalking our way around and about 3/4 of the way around the loop, we heard a tom start hammering gobbles. Then we saw drag marks from his wing tips in the road. I called to him a little and he was hot but it sounded like he was still moving away. We tiptoed a little further, jumped into the brush and called to him. As soon as I stopped, I heard him gobble but at this point we were about 7/8 of the way back to our decoys. I thought it was a little weird that he’d be this keyed in to my hen yelps without coming in our direction, but figured it was because he was all henned up and the ladies didn’t want to change course. It then dawned on me, shit, from where he was he could definitely see our decoys in the road. We sneaked out and peaked around the bend but no turkey to be seen so we slinked back to our decoys. Tracks from a nice tom led me straight to the jake decoy first, which he had apparently taken some swipes at and nearly knocked over. Then he’d gone for the hen. You could see the sand on what would have been her butt if she were real… I couldn’t believe it. That tom had snuck in and banged our decoy. Normally, that would be ideal but I guess the point is that we weren’t there to watch (sounds pretty creepy, eh?) and put a shell in him for doing so. We tracked him a little further down the path and attempted to call him in. At this point, it was about 10:15 and I knew we needed to get on the road in the next 15 minutes or there was a good chance she’d miss her flight. Despite his run-in with the decoys, he was still raring to go. He was cutting me off in the middle of each of my yelps, and he was just on the other side of a stand of palmettos. I could hear him pacing back and forth as he gobbled but again wouldn’t or maybe couldn’t get in eyesight. As a last ditch effort, I tried to run around the palmettos and surprise him but he was long gone when I got there. With that, we tucked tail (a little too late for the lady decoy’s liking) and Samantha went home empty-handed.

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Covering some ground…

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…then gathering as many ticks on my body as possible…

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…but still turkey-less

2. Not wanting to let that tom go, I got back out there and tried to hunt him another time but didn’t get another good opportunity. Late in the season when I’d finally given up on that general area, I decided to head to another spot where I’d seen a lot of turkey activity throughout the year. This time my buddy, Cameron, was with me. The spot we went to is a well-canopied oak hammock that opens into a big field that had been clear cut not too long ago. It’s pretty ideal for these savvy turkeys as they don’t tend to like big open terrain (which is not plentiful in that area anyhow) but this spot has just enough to give the toms a nice zone for strutting will still giving them the safety of the woods nearby. There is a bottleneck that funnels animals from the canopied woods into the clearing, and at either side of the opening there was a pile of cut logs stacked about 3 feet high. I decided to set up at the far end of the log pile looking into the field and then have Cam setup perpendicular to me against a tree to monitor that bottleneck… Or at least, that was the intent. I then set the decoys about 15 yards beyond my and Cam’s spot so that any gobbler working the decoys would be in my line of sight from either direction (and well into Cam’s). The sun rose to my soft purrs, clucks and eventual cuts but the serenity was abruptly shaken by a nearby gobbler freshly off the roost. Just as I’d hoped. He was in the woods but I could hear him picking his way toward us. As I continued to pique his interest, my adrenalin started to pump so much so that I had the pre-shot jitters. I had that sense of anticipation that at any second the crackling leaves would give way to a fat, old tom in plain sight. Instead, the woods just fell silent. After a half hour of silent hope-turned-agony, I heard a gobble but this time it was well in the distance in the opposite direction of where I’d heard the tom. My heart sank. I finally whispered to Cam a few feet away, “What the hell happened?” He shrugged back to me and said, “I don’t know. Couldn’t see anything.” We sat for about another hour but I was too disappointed to keep hunting. When we got up and went over, the deep strut marks were clear as day in the sugar sand and not 10 yards from our line of sight and 25 yards from the decoys (probably equidistant from us). We could see he’d been pirouetting for the ladies, presumably doing his best one-man, interpretative dance to my calls.

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The sun setting on another day in the turkey woods for me…

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Hopefully this black bear had better luck than I

Sometimes, I think it’s the challenge of hunting that keeps me excited. Then again, sometimes I also think I just tell myself that because there’s nothing else to be excited about at those moments. Probably an element of both exists but neither answer satisfies my belly… Or my pride. Next year will be the revenge turkey tour and ensuing feast.

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Potential guest of honor for Turkey Fest 2015

Sixth Sense or Chelada?

So this past weekend I had a chance to get out on the water with two friends, Baron (3B Fly Charters) and Jarid (JM Fly Fishing).  Since I moved to Houston, Baron and I have gotten to fish together frequently and he’s one of the best anglers that I know and fish with.  Oddly enough, even though I met Jarid about five years ago when we were both living in south Louisiana, we had never fished together so I was pretty stoked to get out with him and Baron both.  I knew with two great anglers on my skiff, we would be in for an epic day.

Our plan was to get out for a half day and try to whack some fish and then head back to Jarid’s family’s house for a fish fry with the spoils of our outing.  We met at Jarid’s in the morning and crushed some scrumptious breakfast tacos Jarid had picked up to start the day.  I was already liking Jarid’s style and I immediately knew two things.  One was that we would definitely fish well together and the other was that he must take his Mexican breakfast experience to the next level.  Little did Jarid know of the rich sustenance in which Baron and I indulge at the start of each of our fishing trips.  We launched the skiff and rode out through West Bay and it was time for us all to bring our Mexican breakfast to a higher level.  Of what do I speak, you might ask?  That’s right, I speak of none other than the 25oz bud light chelada.  Yes, the bold, full bodied beer bloody mary with just the right amount of clamato twang is a staple in our fishing diet, giving us the strength to pole and fish the flats all day in any condition that mother nature might throw at us.  We popped open our cheladas and Jarid quickly gave his approval.  And thus with the strong nutrient of Mexican breakfast filling our bellies, the tone of the day had been set.  With a new energy and and a healthy buzz we made our way into the marsh in search of redfish.

We rode deeper into the marsh, killed the motor and Baron started poling an area that I’m not entirely familiar with.  Jarid inched forward towards the bow of the skiff and said “there are schools of redfish here, I can hear them”.  I thought to myself yes, that’s the type of optimism I like to surround myself with on the water and I shared in his optimism, especially following our excellent breakfast, that we would find many fish in the marsh that day.  Ahh yes, the redfish are calling… I day dreamed and sunk into thoughts of schools of redfish sucking down our flies.  Then as I saw Jarid look around and say “over there” and point over 100 yards to the other side of the marsh lake I realized that he was not just day dreaming of schools of redfish.  “Yeah, I see the shrimp popping”.  He had actually heard a school of redfish on the other side of the marsh.  Now was this the result of a sixth, super sense or fish sense if you will?  Or possibly the consequence of an epic Mexican breakfast involving tacos and cheladas, yielding strength to an already strong sense of hearing and sight?  That is the question I chose to pose to on this blog today because I cannot answer it.  While I have experienced the awesome power of a chelada early in the morning, my senses have never been so heightened that I could sense the presence of schools of redfish hundreds of feet away.  All I can say is that it was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen.  Baron pushed the boat as quickly as he could as Jarid pointed out what neither of us could see or hear yet and then when we reached within 40 yards we saw what Jarid had long ago sensed.  Shrimp were popping as a school of 6 or so redfish chomped down the shore line.  I threw the fly out in front of the school and waited for them to approach but then wait, something happened and they veered off course and I was not in the strike zone.  I tried to turn quickly to fire off another cast and then Jarid said, don’t worry, another bigger school is coming.  I wheeled around and another school was approaching down the same shoreline, chomping and with shrimp popping in front of them.  Jeez, this guy’s fish sense is ridiculous.  Baron positioned the boat and I fired a shot just ahead of the school this time not wanting to miss the opportunity and hooked up with a nice marsh fish immediately.

The result of Jarid's sixth sense... or chelada...?

The result of Jarid’s sixth sense… or chelada…?

The man with the sixth sense ( ...I see red fishes... )

The man with the sixth sense ( …I see red fishes… )

 

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Baron in a Mexican standoff with a bay fish

 

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Just another day in the marsh…

All in all it was a great day on the water topped off by an awesome fish fry with great company.  Z came over, we fried fish, played frisbee and enjoyed the rest of a beautiful day.  Jarid’s family’s hospitality and cooking were amazing and while I have a tremendous amount to reflect on an be thankful for in that day, my mind keeps going back to dwell on just one thing… Was it a sixth sense or do I need to start pounding more cheladas?

Count Down to LA

Sitting around tying some flies on this breezy day for the upcoming trip to the marsh in November.  We are pretty fired up about getting out there.  Here’s a quick time-lapse video from the keys earlier this year, along with some of the back end of the craziest shallow water snapper session ever.