A Taste of the Good Life

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve thrown a post up and it’s for somewhat of a good reason.  Back in October I had serious damage to my skiff as the result of a collision with a phantom underwater object.  That’s what insurance is for though… No worries right?  Wrong.  After submitting my claim to Progressive I was informed that they had dropped my collision and comprehensive coverage.  What??? I ended up taking my skiff back to East Cape in Orlando and they hooked me up big time, doing everything from remounting the motor with jackplate to totally rebuilding and reinforcing the transom for only $300 (I had quotes around $3k in Texas).  All I can say is that you can’t ask for much more from a boat builder in terms of customer service.  TH Marine hooked me up with a new jackplate as well after I had snapped mine in half and I can’t say enough good things about their customer service.  Unfortunately, my Suzuki motor still needed new motor mounts which were on back order and I was not able to get those until the beginning of February.  All I can say is that it was a dark, dark period of my life where I did a lot of introspective thinking – who am I, what am I doing with my life, where am I going…?  Now, after having been through that and emerging on the other side, I understand fully the answer to those questions and the direction is clear.  I must fish.

Part One: Back in the Saddle 

Z had been itching to fish since we had been out of commission and she had had it even worse since I was still able to fish somewhat regularly without her on friends’ boats.  She was definitely feeling due when we got the skiff back to operational and I needed to get back on the water behind the helm.  So, we headed out to Louisiana together to fish and of course, get some good eats.  Apparently, oysters are a fantastic source of iron that babies need for development (that or Z came up with an awesome excuse) so we stopped at Dupuy’s Oyster House for some retardedly good oysters and crabcakes on the way.  If you have never been, you need to stop by Abbeville to get yourself some and trust me, you will not regret it.   It’s no accident that they’ve been doing this for 150 years or so.

With only Sunday to fish (Saturday dedicated to delectable “baby healthy” Cajun treats), we set out to get Z some long overdue fish and score baby Svintos’ first fish at -5 months old.  Here was the moment I had been waiting for.  Finally I was back in the game with my skiff ready to go and then while getting the skiff ready and I noticed the trim tabs and GPS didn’t work.  It’s always something that needs to be fixed I guess.  I finally gave up and decided I didn’t need either for a one day trip and we got out on the water.  It turned into a great day in the marsh with Z and baby landing their first redfish and drum together as a mother-baby combo.

 

Z and baby's first redfish fishing together

Z and baby’s first redfish fishing together

Z showing me that pregnant ladies can still land fish

Z showing me that pregnant ladies can still land fish

Part  Deaux: Riding Again at Full Gallup 

Two weeks later Boutros and I returned to Louisiana to fish with my dad, brother, brother-in-law, and friend of the family Dave.  My brother Jer had fished with me before in Louisiana, but it was the first trip over for the rest of the crew.  I had been telling them epic tales of the best inshore fishery that I’ve ever experienced since I first moved to Louisiana over 5 years ago.  We rented an awesome house in the marsh and stocked up with food, beer, and alcohol to bring with us.  I had been anticipating this trip for a long time and I knew that at least dad (AKA Steiner) and Bill (bro in law) had no idea what they were getting into or what this sight fishing game was all about and I was so stoked to open up this huge part of my world to them, which they had no clue existed.

My brother Jer flew into Houston to meet up and make the haul across I-10 and the world’s crappiest road, US90, with me.  We met up with Boutros to convoy across, him pulling his skiff and me pulling mine.  We left Houston at about 8:30pm after work on a Thursday.  The plan was to get in and the three of us fish Friday before the rest of the crew got in on Friday evening.  We started making the trip and before we made it out of Houston Boutros called me up and was having issues with his  4Runner.  We were troubleshooting for a while and finally threw in the towel.  He would have to turn back and head to Houston to get his truck issues sorted out and Jer and I continued on alone.  We ended up getting in after 4am, totally fried, and crashed out till nearly noon the next day.  So much for a full day of scouting before the rest of the crew showed up.  We got out on the water and it was cold and blowing a steady 15-20mph and it had been colder than hell the whole week as we were just catching the tail end of a front.  Not a good start to the trip.  We got out on the water and explored some new areas, poling what seemed to be some sexy water but didn’t come across a single fish.  Just an anomaly I was sure.  This is Louisiana, this never happens.  The good news was that Boutros had is 4Runner fixed and was headed over to meet us in the evening around the same time as the rest of the crew.  My dad, Bill, and Dave showed up and we immediately began indulging in some good eats from Don’s specialty meats and Hebert’s that we had brought over with us.  Tomorrow would be a different day.  With bellies full of boudin, chicken diablos, and cracklins amongst other things we crashed for the night.

We got up and got out on the water and decided to explore a new part of the bay.  I was fishing my dad and Dave and Boutros was fishing Jer and Bill.  It was cold and windy again and we got out and fished spot after spot, on the inside of the marsh, outside of the marsh, in the dead-end creeks that usually stay warmer, the outside creeks with deep water access and every variant between and the result was the same – almost no fish.  I didn’t even think this was possible.  Suddenly, I got nervous.  It was an unparalleled shit day on the water, a day that very rarely ever occurs in Louisiana.  I would never live this down with my old man.  He would heckle me until the end of time about our fishing trip where we didn’t see squat.  I could imagine it so clearly because it had been a reality in the past.  Noooooo!!!!  My dad, Steiner (don’t ask where that nickname came from or why it makes any sense), is probably the greatest hater of all time, especially when it comes to fishing.  This was potentially the worst thing that could ever happen for his outlook on future fishing trips.  We had to get on fish.  We got back to the house and cooked up the last of our Cajun meats from Don’s and Hebert’s, the only thing we could do to lift morale, and Boutros and I began scheming to formulate a new game plan for the following day.  We decided to fish more familiar waters closer to the parts of the bay we usually fished the next day.

We got up and trailered the skiffs to launch out of our usual spot and began running the marsh.  The weather had improved in terms of temperature although there was still a stiff wind present, but this day we actually had light.  We decided to switch it up and I was fishing Jer and Bill and Boutros was fishing my dad and Dave.  We got to the first spot and started poling and it wasn’t long before Jer had a 25lb slob on the line.  I texted Baron and my dad and Dave were doubled up with big drum.  Yes!!  At that point I knew it would be a good day.  A while later Boutros was texting me that Dave had just landed a red over 30lbs.

 

Stein and Dave doubling down on a pair of drum

Stein and Dave doubling down on a pair of drum

Dave's and our biggest red of the trip at just over 30lbs

Dave’s and our biggest red of the trip at just over 30lbs

Jer can catch em, just don't ask him to hold em for a picture

Jer can catch em, just don’t ask him to hold em for a picture

Bill and Jer were getting shot after shot and I was so happy to know that I was able to share the Louisiana I came to know and love with my family.  I don’t know what the final tally was in terms of fish caught, but I do know that it was a great day.  We even kept a few slot reds and a sheepshead to throw on the grill that night.  That plus 30lbs of crawfish made for the perfect post-fish smashing meal to cap off the day.

A nice Cajun permit and Billy Z's first saltwater fish on fly

A nice Cajun permit and Billy Z’s first saltwater fish on fly

 

Boutros couldn't be stopped for a picture

Boutros couldn’t be stopped for a picture

We got up for day 3 to Bill cooking up some awesome eats to start the day again.  Biscuits, gravy and eggs.  Definitely much more satisfying than my usual cup of coffee.  We trailered the skiffs down to the spot and launched again.  We switched again and I was fishing my dad and Dave.  The fog was so thick that I could barely see 20-30ft in front of the skiff.  I was so happy I had taken the time to sort out my electrical issues and get the GPS working (not all of them, because now my jackplate was messed up… always something, right?).  It’s kind of a crazy run through the marsh when you can’t see anything ahead of you.  There are countless pieces of oilfield trash, old pylons, wellheads, production platforms, etc scattered throughout the marsh.  We made it out without encountering any of those hazards and quickly got to work.  The fog began burning off and we were slaying fish again.  Dave had an early flight out so we had to get off the water early for Steiner to run him up to the airport.  We caught some good fish early on with Dave landing a good, 24lb redfish right off the bat.  We got a few smaller fish and my old man was putting a hurting on the drum again.  It was about time we needed to call it a day and Dave took a cast at one final fish, a big black drum.  He hooked up and was fighting that fish and I spotted another nice redfish at 5 o’clock behind the skiff.  I called out for Steiner to make the shot but he didn’t see the fish and the cast was off the mark.  The fish slipped away and then barely came into view.  I grabbed the spinning rod from Steiner and fired a shot out at the fish.  It began attacking the DOA shrimp and charging towards the skiff.  I teased the DOA shrimp away from the fish and then made another cast at the fish, with it now closer at maybe 20ft from the boat and it came almost all the way out of the water to gulp this shrimp and I handed the rod off to Steiner.  Game on!  We finished with a solid double header for the day.

A hell of a way to end the day

A hell of a way to end the day

Dave getting it done back in a shallow pond

At this point morale had changed 180 degrees since the first day.  I think I heard the words “best fishing trip ever” floating around amidst the margaritas, beer, and crawfish and we were all feeling great, but there was one last task to accomplish.  We had a half day to fish and Steiner wanted to put a fish on the fly rod.  We got out on the water with Jer and Steiner fishing off of my skiff and Bill with Boutros.  We ran the boat up to the marsh and gave Stein a quick crash course in fly casting.  Let’s just say if we had a longer rod, we’d have had a longer cast to work with.  However, seeing that we had a 9ft rod it was apparent we’d have about a 9ft cast to work with, but in Louisiana sometimes that can be about 5ft too much, so we were still in the game.  We got started and poled around an area with a little bit of a deeper edge that I had been wanting to work and immediately started seeing very large fish.  Unfortunately, the 9ft cast wasn’t doing the trick as we were seeing fish 20-30ft away.  We tried for a while but the floating fish were tough for a first time fly caster.  With the tide now up we could get into the skinny ponds where fish would be sitting still and we could sneak up close, so we picked up and made a move.  We found fish, which all seemingly were about 10ft away.  Damn this 9ft rod!  Haha.  I think at this point Jer was hiding his face where he couldn’t watch anymore.  Then a tailing sheepshead appeared 9ft off of the bow.  Ok, Steiner 11 o’clock! Steiner made a long, 9ft cast and the fish came with its mouth wide open, but oh no! Steiner! No, not the trout set!  Let him eat! Gone. Damn.  I remember when I was a kid Steiner got me this little fish game with a magnet for bait on a line, which you had to drop into the mouths of fish (also magnetized) that were opening and closing their mouths in order to catch them.  Twenty five years later, this was exactly the game we were playing.  Ok, Steiner next time rod tip down and you can get 1 to 2 ticks/strips before you run out of line to work with.  A few minutes later along came another redfish.  Ok Steiner, fish at 10 o’clock.  Rod tip down! No! That damn fish game had left a lasting impression on him again.  Rod tip up, trout set, and right out of the mouth came the fly.  So close.  We were out of time but oh well.  Steiner had come so close that it was hurting him, which in itself is a huge testament to how absorbed he had gotten into the game and what a success the trip was.  He may have not caught his fish on the fly, but to me the objective had been fully accomplished.  I had brought Steiner and Bill into the Louisiana marsh and they had melted into their surroundings, totally immersed in the hunt and the wildlife around them.  Steiner now understood, he told me, that I had been doing something much more than sitting somewhere on my skiff with a beer in hand and line in the water.  At that point I knew he finally understood what this game really means to me and the fact that we now shared it and enjoyed it together gave it that much more depth.

Calling it a day

Calling it a day

 

Skiff Rejuvenation Project

SWAMPING HDR

My skiff, a 1999 Action Craft 1620se is now 16 years old. I bought it from Capt. Dave Saddler back in 2004 as he upgraded to an 18ft Maverick to accommodate an occasional third angler and to take the poundings Biscayne Bay can dish out with comfort. It’s been a great boat over the years, it fishes shallow enough for most of what I like to do and handles the rough stuff ok. It doesn’t make a great Flamingo boat for the flats out front per say, but thats what friends are for. And the 2+ hour haul down there doesn’t happen as much as it used to anyway. The boat is in need of some serious tlc, so I’ll throw some photos up as I go to see how we progress. My buddy Dave Ray has been a workhorse during this, and I can’t thank him enough. We began a couple weeks ago, by sanding the entire hull with 800 then 1000 grit paper, grinding out layers of oxidation, mangrove barnacle grinds, and bridge fender gouges. We followed that up with a good compounding and polish/wax.

This project began after discussing an issue thats been happening for awhile now, over rum, which is the deterioration of gel-coat between the non-skid and my desire to get rid of the mechanical steering in favor of hydraulic. For a good portion of its existence, the skiff has been kept uncovered and outdoors, so by no means do I blame the builder for the gel-coat issues. In fact, for the beating this boat has taken over the years, it’s in great shape.  But the outdoor storage has led to serious oxidation of the whole boat, rendering it a chalky ghost of what it used to be, aesthetically anyway. Dave spoke with a good friend of his in the boat biz, and he offered to help with the project. So now instead of just a major detail, we are talking about sanding out the entire non-skid out of the boat, both the deck and cockpit and having a new non-skid sprayed in. I’m on edge over this not only for the amount of work/time its gonna take in prepping, but how it’s actually going to be when done. And, I’ve never done anything like this before, and it’s tarpon season.  Now.

Keep Rollin

As you can see on the gunnels, the black is where gel coat is missing between the non skid.

After sanding and some buffing were complete, we pulled the old steering system out. Due to the layout of the stern, the outboard would have to be lifted to remove the cable without cutting, so, we cut it. The Dremel killed it. The install of the hydraulic was pretty easy, but it did take some time. After the system was filled and bled, we realized the small note in the directions about mounting the helm port side lines to the engine starboard side line. We didn’t do that. And why the F would you design it that way, and not just change the letters under the helm to reflect which side the hose mounts to? We ran out of daylight, but got a lot done.

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With rain the next day, we took a ride up to Ft. Pierce to check out Marine Connection, and what we could find for the project, cause now I guess were upgrading everything? Found some good deals. New hatch locks, new helm switches, Yamaha Outboard Paint, some odds n ends all at a really good price (really, really good).

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Its been a couple weeks in between time spent on the boat. Since then, I’ve picked up a couple tachs on ebay, the first having to be returned because of a cut wire. The second was a perfect match to what is already in the skiff, and cosmetically it looked perfect (and got it cheap). After install, we were bummed to see how faint the display was. The seller has been really cool, and told me to keep it mounted, and when they got another in they would trade me back out. I’ll take that.

Getting a bit ahead of ourselves here. Prior to the tach install, we removed everything except the Remote Control from the helm. Dave got to sanding with 1000 grit on the chalked out console. I added two more coats of wax to the sides of the skiff, and got the drill going with the decal eraser and began to grind off the Yamaha logos from the outboard.

We found wires under the console that were disconnected from their gauges. I had my remote control replaced last year, and apparently they didn’t do the greatest job of cleaning up and securing the wiring nice and neat again. It was a mess, not as bad as in the photo above, thats after we cut tie wraps off, but still a mess. The console came out so good. Dave buffed it out as I was grinding decals, I could see him grinning in pleasure with his work. We’re gonna strip the cowling and a good portion of the outboard and repaint soon, with a friend of mine who owns Shadow Graphics to re-do the decals.

Dave had picked up some starboard, and created a ‘puck’ to go between the console and the new helm. This would conceal a couple old holes from the previous helm, and allow us to caulk both the puck and the helm to keep some salt out. We also fabricated a piece to mount to the top of the console, where we would thru-bolt the GPS and compass. This was a nice riser as well, since the new helm is at least an inch or two bigger than the previous.

The nomenclature plate as well as the switch plate/switches were all just as sun beaten and shot cosmetically. We removed all the switches (which has created some electrical fun), and sanded out the acrylic plate until surprisingly enough, it came clear. Dave put a coat of black paint on the back of it, and it looks brand new. That’s where we are at for now, until tomorrow morning when we get back after it, and finish a few more things. Thanks for reading, I’ll update more as we finish.

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Back in the Game

I know I wrote my last post under the premise that once it was completed, I actually had some good stuff to share, then proceeded to write nothing. But, I actually do have two other adventures that I’ve been meaning to put on paper. Both from out West – one fishing, one hunting.

After leaving my job in July, Samantha and I took August to bounce out to Alaska and see why all these educational channel reality TV shows have been popping up. (Side note: I’m guilty of liking pretty much all of them – Building Alaska on DIY Network being my latest jam.) However, we were hoping to do that in a place where we could lose a sense of what reality actually held (for me anyway). To that end, we decided to head straight to the Brooks Lodge in Katmai National Park to target some fatty rainbows at the tail end of the sockeye run. Svintos and Little Miss Svinny (hehe) showed me pictures from their own Brooks trip the prior summer and I’d been jealous ever since. Although Brooks is probably not known for its seclusion from people, once the salmon run has slowed, the bear congregation largely subsides, and that generally causes the human guests to dwindle as well.

After our flight from Anchorage to King Salmon, we jumped a little float plane out to Brooks. High winds forced us to land on the Upper Brooks Lake, rather than the typical Lower Brooks Lake, giving us a quick glimpse of the headwaters we’d be fishing before heading down to camp (located on Lowers Brooks Lake).

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Beautiful day for flying

When we arrived the ranger checking in the day’s new park guests (8 of us) announced to everyone that there had not been a bear seen at Brooks Falls or around camp in 7 days. While it felt like someone had let the air out of the rest of the room, Manth and I were still stoked. Less fishing pressure for us.

Once we’d received our mandatory Bear Encounter Training, we got ourselves settled in.

Not a bad front door view

Not a bad front door view

After making our collective appetites’ presence felt at the lodge’s dinner buffet, we decided to take advantage of the long Alaskan day to do some recon. I checked in with the lodge’s outfitter to see if he had any intel – he wasn’t particularly helpful but said the guides had mostly been throwing streamers. No egg patterns yet. Meh. We decided to check out the Brooks River ourselves and even jaunted over to see the famed Brooks Falls, although there were no other guests (bear or human) present. We game planned to get to bed, destroy the breakfast buffet, rent some waders, then teach Manth how to fly fish (i.e., unleash the beast).

With bellies uncomfortably full and waders in hand, we got to the top of the river without another angler in sight. I was pumped – we’d have all this beautiful trout water to our own. I made the ill-advised decision to scope out potential starting points before tying anything on. Convinced that I’d found the money spot, I sat down on a log 25 yards away but by the time I had my fly box out, there was already another group (led by a fly-in guide) in my prized spot. It gave me a greater appreciation for how the bear world handles these situations (Death! Death! Death!).

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It was a sick log though

I quickly got flies tied on and hopped in the mix. It was a few minutes before I got to fish my spot but Manth felt understandably uncomfortable learning to throw a fly amongst the crowd. After changing around my fly a few times, I landed a few little rainbows and was just happy to be on the board. At that point, I had gotten my eyes trained to identifying the trout versus the various colored spawning salmon still lurking around. I spotted what, at the time, I thought was a big rainbow laid up on a green algal bed and I started throwing at him. I switched over to a streamer based on the outfitters intel and placed it perfectly in the fish’s field of vision. Not interested. I fed him again and saw him strike at it but no hook up. I sat there and threw everything I had at this same fish for another solid 30 minutes. In hindsight, I should have moved on but for whatever reason I couldn’t let that fish go. FINALLY, he took my offering and I landed my first satisfying-sized Alaskan rainbow.

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Having spent most of my trout fishing time in NC, I thought this was a decent fish

Maybe I have Dikembe Mutombo hands…

However, in the process, I had completely exhausted Manth’s patience as she sat on the bank in her waders, watching me hopelessly throw at this fish. Fortunately, I find patience and stomach space are directly proportional to one another (when one is full, the other is too) so I offered up an early lunch before heading back out to try her luck. After lunch, we decided to start at the opposite end of Brooks River, which is the end closer to camp, to avoid the upper river anglers. There, we started Manth on the arduous, frustrating process of learning to cast. She actually picked it up pretty quickly so we both started working the banks.

As we moved up the river, we became focused on a number of massive rainbows hanging in deeper pools along the far bank. Almost without realizing, two anglers moved quickly from upstream and also began throwing at these fish. Their guide was directing the action and telling them what to do. Manth was livid and couldn’t figure out what was going on. I understood the situation but I was also a little peeved. When the angler hooked a big rainbow that Manth had had her eye on, which then proceeded to literally run between her feet, she stormed passed the angler, while he giggled out his half apology. She took a few minutes to let off steam, then announced she was going to practice her cast upstream and away from these clowns… me included. I tried to keep her in my periphery, but she moved upstream faster than I and soon was out of eyesight and around a bend about 150 yards away. After a couple minutes of not being able to see her, I got uneasy with the thought of leaving her alone in the heart of bear country. At almost that exact moment, I saw her come running, or as close as one can get to running in knee-deep water, back into view. My first thought was that the Bear Training had been a total failure on us, but then I noticed she looked like she was trailing an outrigger on one side.

I high stepped my way up the river to meet her and, as we closed the gap, I could see what was causing the bend in her rod. It was a big bull dolly varden.

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In the infamous words of Loblaw…

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“FIRST FISH!”

Once she’d caught her breath, she told me that she was just practicing her cast in some rapids below the falls when all of a sudden she felt something at the end of her line. It took a minute to register that it was a fish and her initial joy turned to panic as she realized my quick tutorial hadn’t yet covered this step. Anyway, she was stoked about that fish and I honestly think it entirely redeemed fly fishing for her. Hoping to end on a high note and keep that fresh in her mind, we decided to call it a day and hit the dinner buffet.

After dinner, we hung around to have a couple drinks and play some Yahtzee (aka, the Game of Kings) at the lodge. Completely by luck, the only bear of our trip decided to stroll by the lodge and try his hand at fishing during that same period. Along with the dozen other guests hanging around the lodge, we  ran out to catch a glimpse (and some pictures) of the activity. When in Rome…

Sight fishing...

Sight fishing done the local way

The next morning we opted for a long hike to check out the “high country” before getting back on the river.

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Obligatory gluttonous lunch concluded, I ran over to the small shop on-premise to check out their fly selection. Since watching Eastern Rises years ago, I’d always wanted to “skate” mouse patterns to big rising rainbows. The shop had some large, pink mouse-ish patterns, so I had to give them a shot. As if to encourage me further, I heard a guy saying that mouse patterns never work. It was the same guy who told me to fish streamers. Either he isn’t doing it right, or he was trying not to let the secret out…

A slightly different, “Oh shit,” face than the one I had on later that day…

A slightly different, “Oh shit,” face than the one I would have on later that day…

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Mutombo. Hands.

I tied the same fly on for Manth and let her loose with the secret. A couple minutes later, she hooked up. The fish ran hard a couple times and we both held our breath the entire time hoping she wouldn’t lose that fish…

And (luckily) my knot didn’t pull either

Love at first sight…

Little did I know that it would give her bragging rights over me for the remainder of the trip (and beyond).

The one that didn't get away

Of all times for my knot to actually hold, am I right?

We didn’t have anything to measure with though, so I’m still calling it inconclusive. Anyhow, no longer satisfied with catching mediocre rainbows, we threw the mouse pattern for large trout the remainder of the evening.

Stoked about our success, we headed back out after dinner and figured we could get ~3 hours in before “sunset”. Over the next few hours, a few hookups but no landed fish only increased my resolve.

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My dream of fishing a mouse pattern under the overgrowth: fulfilled

Stupidly, I hadn’t been watching the clock closely as Manth pointed out it was almost 9:45. I realized we were on an unknown stretch of water that I estimated was halfway between the Upper Lake and the Falls. It would have taken us a long time to back track upstream and I certainly didn’t want to do it in the dark. I thought there must be a trail to bypass the Falls so we headed downstream.

After a couple belly button-high pools, I made the call to hoof it back on land and risk the bear factor over the swimming (at best) factor. At this point, it was about 10:15 and we were quickly losing light. The trail (maybe game, maybe human, maybe both) we were hiking started to part from the river and I was growing increasingly worried. I knew the general direction we had to push in order to hit a road, but I also was not excited to go traipsing through any pockets that didn’t receive frequent human traffic in this area. We stayed on the trail and saw the Falls viewing platform about 50 yards away. While that was somewhat relieving, there was still head-high grass and a minefield of bear wallows between us and that platform.

Singing as loudly and menacingly as I could, we started across the tall grass. I’m pretty sure I was either singing something from Aladdin (the scariest Disney cartoon I can think of) or the Thunder Song from Ted. Not being able to see where I was going, I accidentally stepped directly into a huge wallow and onto a long, dead branch at its edge. The combination of the wallow and the branch rustling the grass around me caused me to nearly shit myself, but I quickly gathered what was left of my composure and continued on… “Prince Ali, glorious he, Ali Ababwa!” At last, with waders wet from what I hoped was just swass, we got to the platform. Man, there’s no better feeling than the moment when you finally get to laugh about a situation that previously has your butt cheeks perma-clenched, ya know?

On the darkish walk back (~11:00), we decided to just fish the lower section of the river in the morning before flying out of camp. The next morning I landed one more decent rainbow, albeit not as large as Manth’s and that was it. All in all, we had a great time. Most importantly, we headed out of camp with a newly minted fly fisher(wo)man. From there, we went down to SE Alaska to kayak, camp and enjoy the beautiful Alaska summer for another 4-5 days before returning east.

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Back to watching shows about Alaska

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.