Little Swamp Donkey Love

The Internet lied to me. Catching redfish on the fly is supposed to be relatively easy, at least compared to other challenging targets. Selective Railroad Ranch rainbows on a dry fly. Steelhead on the swing. Permit in Belize.

I’ve watched endless videos of folks casting to big gangs of aggressive reds, in Florida, Texas, Louisiana… You read reports from guides in the area and the action is hot! Schools of reds busting bait against the shore! Topwater action! Everything is great!

Since the weather turned generally warm at the end of March and the water has warmed with it, I have spent hour after hour walking flats on Redfish Bay, following the best advice I could find from the local experts. And you know what? It is damned hard to see a redfish beneath the water unless the conditions are perfect. They don’t often show themselves at the surface, even in water that’s barely a foot deep, despite what You-Tube wants you to believe.

It took me a while to come to grips with the fact that 95% of the fish I’m seeing are mullet, stupid baitfish that are too big for most predators on the flat to chase. A 15″ mullet can make a really sizeable wake. Everywhere I’d paddle, big boils in the water ahead of me signaled a fish spooking away.  Was that a red that I could have cast to if I’d known it was there?

The second time out after getting my kayak, I spotted a group of fins barely poking through the surface, but clearly acting as though they were feeding, focused on a patch of bottom in dirty water. I couldn’t see through the surface, the sun was only up for an hour and there was too much glare, no matter how expensive a pair of glasses I might have had. I was so excited that I’d found some tailing fish, not realizing what they were. I eventually figured out the pointy tips of mullet tails look nothing like the rounded tails of a red. And reds seem lazier in their motions than the darty mullet.

Later that day, I saw one solitary tail. A huge fin in the middle of a flat in 18″ of water, but I could not see the fish before or after the moment its fin broke the surface. In all of the outings since then, I’ve spotted a single tail a couple of times. Once or twice, the water clarity been such that I could see the bottom of a shallow flat, and one of those days I saw seven redfish, but always right at the last moment before they spotted me and spooked. The wind always seems to come up and stirs up the bottom the next day.

A couple of days ago I finally found a slow moving tail and the fish was cruising with his back showing, so I was able to make a couple of casts and could have scored a huge win, but I blew it and missed.

Invisible Giant
There is a massive drum just in front of me here, and I could easily see it with my polarized glasses… it is all but invisible even though I was sure its dorsal fin was above water.

Finally, yesterday I lucked into the right spot at the right time. The sky was patchy, 50% clouds so visibility came and went. The dark grass bottom would entirely disappear each time a cloud blocked the sun, and the water was slightly off color from the 15 mph winds. I was searching the flat with the wind and sun both at my back, and I was complaining to myself that this was stupid, I’m never going to find my redfish. Of course, just then, a pair of them emerged, cruising directly towards me thirty or so feet out, an easy shot. And good adult fish, not puppies.

I was ready with my fly in my hand and enough line out to make the shot. I wanted to land my fly just left of them so I could pull it across their path and my first cast was a bit wide. I got another one off without spooking them and the one on the left chased and ate the grizzly seaducer; unlike the previous day’s desperate failure, this time I got the hook set right and the water exploded! Little swamp donkey hauled ass and I carefully fed the free running line out until the fish was on the reel and zinging my drag away, rod thoroughly bent into the butt.  I can barely state just how excited I was to finally get what I’ve been searching for and almost immediately I began sweet talking the fish, “Please baby, I will cradle you ever so gently. Please don’t go.”

It went about as well as you’d want: the fish got tired, I got it by the tail and I managed to get a few pics before saying thanks and giving it a big kiss on the forehead.

A Beautiful Redfish
My first sight-cast red was a pretty thing.

Wow, that was everything I had imagined it would be. What are the odds I can do it again?  Maybe I should just pack up and call it done.

I spotted a decent size sheepshead moments later and unlike every prior encounter with the fish in the prison pajamas, I got a cast in front of it without spooking it, AND got it to chase my fly until there was nothing but leader out of my rod tip. It didn’t eat though, turning away at the last moment.

The sun was now behind me as I made my way back towards where I’d planted the kayak so I was looking for fish facing the wind, and over lighter sandy bottom with oysters and some grass. I spotted five more reds, but all too close. It’s incredible how they can vanish like ghosts inside twenty feet. There were many sheepshead though and I tried my damnedest to get one to eat.  A couple of follows, but it was really tough to cast with the wind in my face and to see through the chop on the surface.

So I called it a day and paddled back to base, really the best day on the water that I’ve had out of four months on the Texas coast. But don’t believe the hype, sight fishing for reds ain’t easy.  Getting them to eat might not be too hard, but finding them on foot… without a guide motoring you around from spot to spot… finding them and being in a position to cast to them ain’t easy. It just might be worth the effort anyway.

Redfish Spots
This fish had some shoulders on it.




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