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Sightfishing

I made it back out to Johnson Beach a few days later and this time I decided to put some miles under my feet before I wet a line. There’s about 7 miles of beach I could cover in this section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and so far I’d only fished the bay side. On this morning I decided I’d try and cover both the bay and the surf.

I got out there a little later than I probably should have as people were already beginning to line the side of the road, but I was still early enough to catch the sunrise and greet a fellow angler of the avian variety. He was a local so I didn’t have any beef with him being there before me.

I walked a couple of miles down the beach, stopping and casting around anything that broke up the homogenous sand flat. There really wasn’t much action going on in the surf. That’s not to say there wasn’t fish there, it just wasn’t happening for me. I decided to move to the bay side and try my luck on the grass flats there.

Eventually I made my way into a bay off of Big Lagoon proper and it was there that I began catching fish. The pinfish were in abundance at this spot and I caught several of them, this was one of the bigger ones I caught. It was also here that I saw a few different redfish. I never got a good cast off to any of them, but at least I saw some Florida redfish.

I waded along the edge of the bay and into a very shallow inlet tucked away that looked fishy and figured if I was going to catch a red it would be here. I did catch a fish along the edge of the spartina, but it was small, a longnose killifish as I’d come to learn.

I was still throwing a charlie with a nymph trailer as there were a lot of smaller fish around. In the back of this inlet though was a big fish lying still on the bottom, a nice sized gar. I had no idea the species as I was in brackish water and the only gar I knew that liked brackish water in Louisiana were alligator gar. This was no alligator gar as his snout was way to narrow. With research I found out that longnose gar are common in Perdido Bay so that’s what I assume this was. I made several casts running my charlie along the length of his body and finally managed to get him to follow and then swipe at it. Surprisingly I was hooked up!

The fight wasn’t all that glamorous, he made a few strong runs, but was easy to wear down with my drag. As he got closer I could see that there was some trauma to his upper mandible as the top part of his snout was missing! That may have played into the fight and why it was so easy to make a solid hookset. I brought him to hand, thanked him for coming in easily, popped my fly out, and sent him on his way. It was definitely a cool experience to catch a gar while wading a sand flat. The close combat fight was a thrill.

I exited the inlet and kept covering water in this bay, making sure to fish all the grass edges, deep troughs, and deeper shoreline spots I came across. This tactic landed me a pretty good sized cocahoe minnow (Gulf killifish), more pinfish, and the juvenile pigfish showed up again.

It was starting to get close to lunch time so I made my way back toward the surf to make some casts there while walking back to my car. While walking the beach I came across a massive conch (I assume) shell that was partially buried in the swash zone. It was the biggest I’ve ever seen.

It was a hell of a find and really made the day that much cooler. Not long after that I noticed a school of fish in the surf and after a few missed eats I got a solid hookup. After the first jump it was clear it was another ladyfish.

After a fun fight with some aerial acrobatics I got him to hand. The ladyfish was really the cherry on top of a pretty stellar morning! I kept walking and casting at fishy looking spots down the beach, but never hooked up with anything else or came across another solid school of fish like that.

After two mornings I had quite the mixed bag on Perdido Key and came away really enjoying the experience of fishing both the grass flats and the surf. It was totally different than the style of saltwater fishing I do in Louisiana which is typically from a kayak, purely out of necessity. If I could wade fish for reds in Louisiana I would absolutely prefer it to the kayak. There is something about covering ground and catching fish on my own two feet that I really appreciate.

After finishing first in the fly division of the BCKFC/Massey’s CPR kayak fishing tourney last year I have been brainstorming ways to spend the store credit I was awarded. Without actually going to the main store in New Orleans and seeing what I could walk out with this was proving fruitless. So one rainy Sunday in late June I trekked my way to New Orleans to do a bit of shopping. The first stop though was to City Park to try and catch a Rio Grande cichlid. It had been quite some time since I last targeted them so I was a bit rough around the edges.

A distant waterspout is a sure sign of good luck, right?

I started off near the New Orleans Museum of Art and didn’t venture too far from there as I was on fish from the start. They weren’t the target species, but I was catching a LOT of bluegill, as they got bigger things got more exciting.

Fishing a popper/dropper I got into a few coppernose hammers. They were manhole covers compared to their native cousins. I caught a couple other species too, but no Rios, so I started to walk around and check out some other spots.

Eventually I did find a Rio cruising the shallows and after a well placed cast and a casual eat I had my target fish to hand. Man, these things are pretty!

At this point I needed to make my way to Massey’s before they closed. I found a few things I’d had my eye on but never wanted to spend my own money on, I walked out feeling like I robbed the place. Store credit might be the greatest thing I’ve ever won in a kayak tournament! Let me expand on that a bit and make my case below.

Big kayak tournaments typically give a kayak to the winner, sometimes awarding kayaks to the top three places. That all makes sense. It’s a big prize, has a bit of a wow factor for the crowd, but does it make that much sense? Let’s be honest, the winners of kayak tournaments already own kayaks. They likely own really nice kayaks or they paddle for one brand or another, meaning they likely HAVE to use that particular brand kayak. So what happens to the kayaks they win? Well, they hit craigslist or Facebook marketplace and get sold the next week for cold, hard cash. It’s a bad look for the local clubs and I fail to see what it does to help the local shops that sponsor these events, outside of the pub they get at the awards ceremony.

Now, I don’t know that store credit helps the shops either, that would probably depend on what gets bought as the margins are different for different items. But as someone who has won kayaks in the past, this was a very welcome change as it gave me an opportunity to upgrade some of my other gear and purchase merch I’ve been gun-shy to buy in the past. Shoot, I’ve been pedaling the same bike for the last 20 years, but not anymore, and I still have credit remaining too!

I don’t want to sound like I’m being picky, as I will always be happy and appreciative of anything I’m awarded for placing in a tournament, but I can definitely get behind store credit taking over as the main draw. Big thanks to Massey’s for continuing to sponsor the BCKFC CPR tournament, the fly division is always one I enjoy competing in.

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.