"10:30, thirty five feet, heading right." Brian made a decent cast but I could tell the fish was spooked. Not so spooked that he would not eat but you could tell he was on to us. What I call a low percentage fish. They still might eat but the odds are a lot less than that of a fish that has no idea you are there. So, when I saw another fish, a high percentage fish, learking at 9:30 I told Brian to break off of the fish he was casting to and "shoot for the one on the left, left at 9:30"!
I wasn't sure how this was going to work out. In the weeks leading up to our trip I had been telling Brian that, whatever you do, don't ever take your eyes off a fish once you spot him. If you glance away, even for just a couple of seconds, you will loose him. They have a knack for just vanishing when you look away. When you look back you just can't find them again. With the wind blowing, the boat moving, the fish moving and they can turn, even slightly, and the light reflecting off them dulls or they sink lower in the water or grass, and they are gone. Forever. So the question was, would he listen to what I had been preaching to him for weeks or would he listen to what I was throwing at him now.
Brian Kellar had never fished saltwater. I think the first time we fished together (if not, surely by the second time) I started telling him stories about it. About how all the fish have teeth, razor sharp gill covers and fight like hell. That alone is enough to get most people interested. Then there is the astetics aspect of it. The stunningly beautiful sunrises over the bay, the crazy variety of birds, the sea life you come across while poling a boat in clear, shallow water and all the wildlife, plants and landscapes you see on any one of the many spoil islands that dot the Lower Laguna Madre - where I spend most of my salt water fishing time. But, I also warned him about the flip side to it. It's hard. Sight casting to fish in shallow water can be really challenging. Particularly on the Texas coast were the wind blows on a calm day. There always seems to be a cloud ready to block out the sunlight just as you are lifting your rod tip to make a cast at a fish. And speaking of lifting your rod tip, pretty much all fish on the flats have really good eye sight. If i had a dollar for everytime a fish spooked when starting to make a cast... Sometimes it's just a moral victory to get within casting range of a fish that hasn't seen you yet. Then, there are all the distractions. Mullet are everywhere on the Texas coast. Schooling, jumping, cruising along, pushing a wake that looks game fishy to new eyes. Even tailing sometimes. Add in Stingrays that have the same coloration as Redfish, schools of Pinfish, big Blue Crabs, redish colored clumps of grass and shadows from passing birds can have a guy that's never fished in salt wearing his shoulder out, casting at "ghosts". This is why I told Brian not to take his eyes of a true Redfish once it's a confirmed game fish. All these distractions can pull your attention away, even for a short time, and now you know that the flash of red to the left is a Stingray but you've lost sight of the real Redfish.
I don't know if it was the excitement in my voice or if he just forgot the advice I gave or, more than likely, he has better common sense than to listen to what I had told him prior to the trip but Brian pulled off the first fish and took the shot at the second, unbothered fish. The cast was good, the fly landed were you would want it to, a couple of strips and the Redfish pounced on it. Just like that, Brian had his first saltwater game fish hooked up. I staked the boat out and took photographs of the fight, landing and release. A solid four pound Red. We decided to have a celebratory drink of a particular good whiskey that Brian had brought. It was only about 9:30 in the morning but we decided that, seeing as we had all week off work and we were about ten miles from civilization, we couldn't hurt anybody but ourselves.
This was our second day of fishing. The first day we spent at an erea known as Three Islands. We saw only a few Redfish and some Speckled trout that we really never had a shot at. Most of them were right under the boat before we ever saw them. The Redfish we did have shots at were missed because we were working out the kinks of communication between fisherman and the guy poling the boat about clock directions and distances from the boat to the fish. Once that was worked out it was fly placement for a given direction the fish was traveling in. After that it was "are you sure that's not a fish"?!? A big mullet cruising can look like a lot of differant game fish to a rookie. I told Brian that all we needed was a fish that hadn't seen us yet, was actively feeding and ready to play. Once your first fish eats a fly then it seems pretty simple. Which it is when everything works right. That's what we had going on the second day. Brian had a fish in the boat pretty early and was starting to spot fish I hadn't even seen yet. Real fish. Not the "ghost" kind. That's a big deal. If you are poling the boat and spot a fish first, especially if the fish is close, in the time it takes to point the fish out to the guy with the rod, the fly should have already been in the water. If the guy with the rod spots the fish first it greatly increases the odds of getting a fly on it before it gets spooky. Of coarse the best way to get a high percentage of fish is to see one far enough away from the boat that both guys have time to locate and get a lock on the fish and the guy poling can position the boat for the guy with the rod to make a reasonably easy cast with respect to wind speed and direction without the fish ever knowing you're there. That's not usually how it happens though.
The tide was pretty low and the fish were hanging out in the grass that was just at the surface making difficult for the fish to see the fly. We missed several opportunities because the fish would just swim by the fly without seeing it or the fly was tangled up in grass. Then we came to a stretch of shoreline were there is a sandy beach that stretches several feet out from the shoreline. The water is very clear here and when a Red is cruising along this stretch it is very easy to spot and easy to get a fly in its view. The fish are also very pretty in this clear water over the sand. They remind me of Bonefish in Belize. I wanted Brian to see one here just because of that and I wasn't too terribly disappointed when we didnt land the one we hooked. We were just about to the end of the beach when one came cruising right were you would want it to be. I pointed it out and Brian was about to cast when the fish turned and headed straight towards us, heading into a row of grass that paralleled the beach. But Brian was ready and as soon as the Red poked his head out on our side of the grass Brain had the little crab fly right on his nose. This pattern isn't weighted and Brian had to strip it pretty quickly to keep it from tangling in the row of grass so it was waking the surface when it reached the fishes nose. The Red hit it with that sucking/ munching noise they make when hitting something high in the water column. I still hear that sound when I close my eyes at night. Brian set the hook and the fish shot right towards us, under the front of the boat and out the other side. There was so much slack in the line Brian thought the fish had gotten off. When the line went tight again and the fish still running wide open it caught Brian by surprise and he set up a little too hard, snapping the tippet. I could tell he really wanted to land that one but I assured him it was worth loosing the fish just to see one in this spot and to hear that sound of the eat. It was also the first time we spotted a fish at a distance, stalked him, made the cast and got an eat. So that was awsome.
In the weeks leading up to the trip I told Brian how cool it was to see schooling Reds in shallow water, tailing. I saw a painting once of a school of tailing Redfish out in front of a dilapidated duck blind with the sun setting behind. Still gives me goose bumps. I got excited when Brian asked me what kind of birds those were hovering over the water out in the middle of a bay. I honestly didn't know what kind of birds they were - and I'm usually pretty good at being able to identify the local birds down there - but I suspected they were on a school of fish. The problem was, they were down wind of the stretch of shoreline we were fishing. If we moved out to the middle of the bay i would'nt be able get us back to the shoreline against the wind and we would loose that whole stretch. I really wanted Brian to see a school of tailing fish so i rolled the dice. As i poled the boat closer we could see the redish cloud just under the surface, then the distinctive paddle shapes tails with the blue stripe down the back and the black dot at the base. Redfish for sure. They were small, "rat reds", maybe two pounds or so but I wanted Brian to catch one because I thought it was important to catch his first schooling fish. Besides, I think rat Reds are beautiful fish. Thier colors seem way more vibrant than the bigger fish. And, after all, a Redfish is a Redfish. Brian dropped the crab on them, a fish ate Brian set up and the fish was off just that quickly. I was afraid the commotion would spook the entire school and we would miss our chance but they settled down quickly and went back to feeding. Brian made another cast and was hooked up immediately. A very colored up, beauty of a little Red. Brian handled the little guy very carefully which made me warm inside. I hate seeing people mistreat small fish just because the small fish had the misfortune of being caught by someone who feels small fish are a neusance. They are after a trophy and, by golly, these little fish are getting in the way of that - without seemingly realizing the trophies they are after were once little fish.
The tide was moving out and the little bay we were in was getting pretty thin. There is a cut that you need to get to that leads out to water deep enough to run on a plane but you have to reach the cut before you end up spending the night in a mosquito infested lagoon with the boat high centered. I was poling the a bit faster than a guy would be if he were seriously fishing. I was fairly serious about fishing but I was damned sure determined not to spend the night out there.i don't remember now if Brian saw the fish first or I did but I remember Brian setting the hook and me thinking that as soon as this fish was landed, photographed and released, we needed to get to some deeper water. At the same time, I was ecstatic for Brian. It seemed, he now had the hang of this. He was spotting fish, making casts and put them in the boat. In a nutshell, that's about all there really is to it. The rest of it is astetics and commrodery, both of which were top notch.
We made it through the cut with little time to spare - i had to got out of the boat and push to get through the tail end of the where the cut dumps out into the bay. We had a few more shots at some fish in the mouth of the cut itself and on the bank that runs along the bay side but, by then, I think we were both getting pretty tired. We had a long boat ride, into the wind all the way to port and it was getting late so we called it. Three Reds in the boat and a fourth broke off. Not a bad day for a rookie. Not bad at all.