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Saltwater

I had a family beach trip to the Alabama coast in late July and was lucky enough to find time to fish on two occasions. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on a fishing license, so I stuck to saltwater both days and drove a little bit further east to fish in Florida, where the cost of a license is acceptable. I opted to access the water via the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Perdido Key. This was strictly a wade fishing trip as the kayak didn’t make the cut when it came to packed family beach gear.

On the first morning I decided to see what I could catch on the grass flats behind Perdido Key. I assumed the ground would be hard enough to walk on and for the most part I was right as I only encountered a few soft spots.

Things were pretty slow early on. I was throwing a charlie over and around the edges of grass flats and anywhere that I found deeper troughs. My hope was to run into some speckled trout, but really I would have been thrilled catching anything.

After a couple hours with nothing to show I waded back toward the vehicle and grabbed my nymph box. At this point I just wanted to catch something and I knew there were smaller fish around. With the mentality of “catch anything that swims” I went back out in and waded in a different direction.

With a nymph trailed behind my streamer I quickly got into fish. The first was surprisingly not a pinfish. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a juvenile pigfish, which it turned out were relatively abundant on the grass flats as I’d come to find out.

Shortly after the pigfish I got the pinfish I had expected to get. I knew these were ubiquitous on grass flats in Florida, so it was only a matter of time before I ran into one. I’d proceed to catch several more.

The next species I ran into was the inshore lizardfish, which is one I’ve caught in the past, and another I expected to run into. They weren’t quite as abundant as the pinfish and the pigfish so I was happy to have caught the one I did. I made my way to a pretty significant cut between the bay I was fishing in Big Lagoon and a different cove. It was here that I noticed some nervous baitfish activity and after casting into it a couple times I hooked into a more substantial fish.

After a really fun fight complete with a couple of big jumps I had a ladyfish to hand. This poor man’s tarpon was a hoot on the fly rod! These things don’t get enough love.

I worked the run a bit more, but never ran into anything else. Satisfied with the morning I headed back to the condo to rejoin the fam, but was eager to see what else was out there.

Back in mid-July I managed to get a saltwater kayak daytrip in. The destination I chose was Leeville, for no reason in particular, it just seemed like it had been a while since I fished out of Leeville. I had every intention on making it out super early and watching the sunrise in the kayak, but we had gone to a party at a friend’s house the night prior and getting out of bed was a task in itself. It worked out to my benefit as I’m pretty sure a storm had rolled through the area at sunrise so I was able to avoid that. That was the theme for the day, avoiding thunderstorms, but I was able to do that for the most part.

I piddled around the marsh close to the road early on with no luck and made my way into a bay where I could tell the water was looking pretty fishy. There was a lot of bait activity and that bait was looking pretty unsettled. I even had a mullet jump in my kayak while I was just sitting there. Soon I caught a trout under a popping cork.

I pulled out the fly rod and started throwing my own version of a popping cork bait which was a Vlahos’ combo crab suspended off a an old crease fly Blake had tied. It wasn’t long before I had a nice fish on and after a good fight which had me wondering what the hell it was I had on the other end of the line I soon found out.

It was a gafftopsail catfish, which was definitely a first for me on the fly. It was amusing and slimy as hell. My leader was all slimed up and it took effort getting that slime off my hands. Shortly after that fight a storm chased me off the water.

I retreated back to the vehicle and hunkered down until I felt it was safe. After that I ventured back out toward the marsh. In between storms the winds were actually fairly light so I felt like I might be able to sightfish a redfish or two provided I could find flats that held them. The tide was high when I launched and had been falling all morning so the later it got the better conditions were. Eventually I put myself in a position to catch a redfish.

I kept fishing, hoping to catch a better one for the BCKFC/Massey’s yearlong CPR tourney, but I really wasn’t having much luck. As I got into skinnier marsh I was hearing fish crashing bait, which is usually a sure sign of redfish in the area, but it wasn’t redfish this time. It was sheepshead! Another fish I needed for the tourney and with them acting so aggressively I figured I had a shot to get one to eat and eventually after putting fly in enough of their faces I managed to get a strike.

It’s always fun catching sheepshead on the fly. I really don’t recall when my last one was, I think it’s been a few years. They are picky as hell though, I was thankful to have been on the water with some aggressive ones. I kept searching for reds and sheepshead, but started working my way back toward the vehicle as the afternoon was waning on. As I got closer to the road I connected with a solid redfish that actually broke me off. My line didn’t clear and got caught on something on the boat and the fight was over just like that. I was bummed because it was clearly an upgrade, but undeterred. I paddled around an island and soon enough had another opportunity. This time everything went right and I was hooked up to a nice upper slot red.

After a few pics I sent him on his way. I was satisfied to call it a day after that fish. I didn’t catch many, but I caught a few memorable fish and I figured I came out ahead having to dodge thunderstorms.

I put a link to the fly that caught the sail cat, but I wanted to take another moment to plug Nick Vlahos and his flies, which you can find at Sandbar Flies. Nick actually went to the same high school I did over in Georgia, Milton HS in Milton (was in Alpharetta I went there). Nick is a great guy and a fantastic fly tier, you can buy flies tied by him at his site, but you can also find some of his patterns at Orvis stores. I don’t know if it’s Fulling Mill or Orvis that carries his patterns, but the Baton Rouge store tends to keep them in stock as he did live in Baton Rouge for a number of years. Nick’s got some great patterns, be sure to check them out.

Met up in Grand Isle with the boys from Alabama this past weekend and despite conditions being pretty favorable the fishing was still somewhat tough. I’m not sure if Hurricane Zeta had anything to do with that, but it seems like a pretty convenient excuse that I’ll go ahead and use. The island had just got power back a few days prior to the trip so the locals were still feeling impacts from the hurricane, maybe the fish were too.

I drove down after working Friday morning and got a few hours fishing in off the side of the road in Leeville. It was windy, the tides were high, and the water was dirty back in the marsh – so sightfishing wasn’t happening. The bays were in decent shape and I was able to get on a trout bite right at dark catching 12-15″ trout that I found holding behind an island in a bay where the water was being blown around it.

After talking with everyone that night it seemed like high dirty water was everywhere, so since I found some clean water in the bays outside of Leeville I decided to head back up there Saturday. The tide was actually low in the morning so there was some optimism that fishing would be pretty productive. That really didn’t prove to be the case as fish were few and far between for me. I did a ton of paddling and really didn’t come across many fish at all. At about 10:30am I caught one red out of a pair of cruisers I saw after a morning where I may have seen a handful and had very few opportunities to even get a cast off to a fish. Just tough fishing.

Fishing was so slow I actually stopped and ate lunch, something I almost never do because I’m usually so focused on fishing I never remember to eat, but Saturday I was hungry. I did catch a rat red a little later on in the day, he was hanging out in front of a broken weir that had water moving around it. Shortly after that I got on another trout bite. I had seen some diving birds in a bay and near where some canals meet and I went to invesitgate and sure enough trout were holding there. Unfortunately none of them were keeper sized. They were still pretty fun though as everything I caught was on the fly, it was a mix of small specks and white trout, and they were pretty voracious tearing apart a clouser I had tied on. When I was tired of catching them I headed back to the truck, paddling into the wind to get there.

Sunday would be the best day of fishing for me. The tides stayed low longer, winds weren’t as steady, and a move to a different spot proved to be a good decision. We fished the mangroves on Sunday and even though the water was fairly dirty I was seeing a lot more fish in this area. I was seeing less mullet and more shrimp popping out of the water too. For some reason there was a ton of mullet in Leeville.

My best fish on Sunday went 28″ so no kayaker bulls as the skiff guys call them, just a bunch of mid to upper slot fish, which are still a blast on the fly. One of my favorites was a 24″ fish I caught was way back into one of the skinny mangrove creeks and he was hot when I hooked him. It was kind of chaotic as he ran up and down this tight channel, there was no way to keep a tight line the whole time, but thankfully I was still able to land him. Another red had the eye of Sauron, which was pretty crazy looking. I have no idea why that happens sometimes, but I’ve seen it before, not often though.

Sunday morning was a lot of fun, I left right after lunch to make the drive back home, but Sunday was a good redemption day for me. This weekend the fishing wasn’t easy, which was a shock to some of those Bama guys. It ain’t always topwater blow ups and bull reds down here in Louisiana, especially when you fish from a kayak. The weather cooperated too and I think that’s what was throwing people off.

This is the 10th year a group of guys has been coming down to Grand Isle from Alabama to fish, so they’ve experienced the good times and the bad and everything in between by now. I look forward to their trip every year because even if the fishing is bad I have a lot of fun hanging out with them. They’re good for a belly laugh at least a few times throughout the course of the weekend. It reminds me of the early days of kayak fishing when there weren’t so many folks doing it and it was a real small tight knit community. Tournaments weren’t cutthroat, they were excuses to just get together and fish. That’s what attracted me to the sport after getting started in it and I’m glad that idea still persists in places.