Back in September my wife I were attending the Friday night dinner that opened the Gulf Coast Fly Fair in Ocean Springs. It’s a fun gathering and everybody has a favorite thing, whether it be the blind auctions or raffles and certainly the good food and fellowship by themselves make it worth attending. It’s all good, but what I was looking forward to was the live auction of the donated trips, especially the saltwater sight casting trips.
I wasn’t familiar with any trips that were to be auctioned but I was determined to bag at least one. The first saltwater trip was a trip with guide Dave Best. I don’t know Dave but had heard a lot of good things so I jumped into the bidding quickly. Unfortunately someone across the room was wanting it more than I did. I got squeamish on the bid and let it go. Letting that trip go made me feel like a redfish must feel when he stares through the wire at a crab inside a crabtrap. So, when the next trip with Peter Scarafu came up for bid, my mind was made up. Knowing it was the last trip to be bid, I was on it like a bull on a crab fly!
It pleased me to no end when Peter scheduled us on a late October date, even though it’s the most heavily booked month for redfish.
The morning of our trip, at the Breton Sound ramp, the weather was sunny, dry and still, just what’s needed for sight casting. I was excited for my son. Chris has accompanied me on many kayak redfish trips, but this would be his first time on a guided flats boat.
Peter took us almost to the Gulf, stopping at some small islands. The first little island was by itself in a large expanse of water. It was a remnant of what was once a more intact and healthy marsh. Unfortunately it was still very early in the morning so the sun wasn’t helping and neither was the dingy water and black mud bottom. Suddenly a big bull shot out from under the boat followed by his buddies. We made a turn around to the opposite side of the island and hadn’t gone far before we noticed two fly-fishing boats working the area where we had spooked the bulls. A little later there were THREE boats, all guided by well-known guides. Our boat made FOUR fly-fishing flats boats working the same general water. We didn’t see anyone hook up by the way. You can’t say Peter pushed in on those guys, we were there first. It was kind of strange seeing that many fly fishing skiffs that close together.
It was too crowded so Peter took off us to another island where I spotted the fish in the photo below, cruising the shoreline. My first cast was on the money, except maybe for the fact that it was to the wrong end of the fish. I then lost sight of the fish and when I saw him again he was moving and getting further away. I did a quick “combat” cast. It’s not really something the guides like, picking up line in a Belgian style manner and then laying it down holding the rod high to hold back the slack and shorten the cast. It worked, the fly landed directly in front of the fish. Luckily, I was able to yank the slack out and get a good set when he took the fly. It’s not something I recommend, no guide would ever recommend it because of the slack left in the line which could have gotten me a take but no set and therefore no fish. We all laughed about it, but it is something that can only be called “combat” casting, doing what you think you have to do to catch a fish. In my defense, sometimes you just don’t have time to strip in and get it all perfect or the fish may disappear. Any way it gave us something to talk about it and I gave it an appropriate name and associated acronym. I am calling it my Belgian Slack-Line Aerial Mend Especial. That’s BS-LAME. Although you may prefer to just call it “BS” or “Lame”.
After I wrote the above, I found a video by Bruce Chard using Belgian Casting as a saltwater sight cast. Bruce is using it for handling wind over the casting shoulder, but he says some things that I believe intersect with how I use it to accommodate a quick short cast with, admittedly, some slack line on the water. (Now I am just talking about follow up casts to short fish. In other words you have made a cast to a fish and he runs to the boat or another fish shows up short while you have your line still out.) The guides always say your cast MUST leave a tight line to the fish and I get what they are saying about setting the hook. But, another school of thought says you can’t catch the fish if you can’ t get the fly in front of him before he spooks. Bruce makes a point, indirectly, that the Belgian cast allows you to change casting planes quickly. Think about it, the cast is made keeping a tight line, therefore you CAN change directions easily. My own “value add” is that I use an “arial mend” using the tight line and high cast to “pull” the fly to where it needs to be before letting it drop. Yes, there is slack line on the water, but if you can get that fly in front of the fish’s movement with a little lead, you can give yourself a little time to start working on getting that slack out before he takes and of course AFTER he takes, I do the Jose Wejebe thing and keep yanking to set that hook because I know I’m living on a prayer. BUT, it works, I have caught a lot of fish that way. The traditional cast makes you strip in line to the correct distance, but each two to three foot strip takes about a second. A close fish is going to spook in only seconds, you just don’t have time to pick up all that line and also you will probably need a false cast to change directions. Personally I think my “Belgian Slack Line Aerial Mend” or “Belgian SLAM” is valid. I am dropping the “E”, its not LAME after all. The casting Gods at IFFF can just choke on this “Belgian waffle”!
Though we did manage a couple of reds each over near the MRGO jetties in some very shallow water with a light sandy bottom, the sight casting was pretty slow, even though the wind was low, the water was dirty and a light haze in the atmosphere plagued us all day. A haze in the sky is just a bummer for sight casting, which really needs full sun to light up the water. Nevertheless, after a few misses, Chris hooked up with decent sight cast red, sorry about the grainy video and no audio, I used my phone instead of the GoPro. My mistake:
Peter tagged Chris’ fish before releasing it (below).
At one point we decided to move to try another area. On the way, we noticed a flock of birds over a school of pogies and and as we watched, something big blew up on the surface.
Peter pushed the boat up as close as he dared and then turned on the trolling motor to push us up in the pogies and we hurriedly made casts near where we saw activity but to no avail.
As Peter cranked then engine and pushed the throttle forward, the fish blew up again, almost exactly where we had been casting and this time we were close enough to see that they were big bull redfish.
Again Peter killed the engine and we attempted casting to them. Weird as it may seem, we repeated this exact scenario a total of three times, giving up, cranking up and then having the fish come to the surface.
On our last evolution, several big reds remained on the surface long enough for us to cast to them. Unfortunately I made a cast which could have been golden but for the fact that I didn’t have enough line pulled off the reel and it landed short. Why I hadn’t rigged up my Samurai System with plenty of line, I do not know. I guess it was just that each time we really thought the fish were gone.
Luckily after my short cast the fish moved toward the back of the boat. Chris moved back by the poling platform and just ten feet from the engine, a big red and three of his buddies blew up. Chris is no man to miss an opportunity and he dropped his fly in the melee and hooked up. A bull redfish at only ten feet or so with your flyrod next to the platform makes for real pandemonium in the boat! Chris managed it very well while I freaked out that the rod would break. It took a little while but Chris got the fish in and Peter weighed it at 22 lbs.
Peter broke out some beers and we celebrated right there on the spot. That fish really turned our trip around. I would like to say that we really enjoyed our trip with Peter. He is a very safe boat handler, knows the water and where the fish are and, very importantly, anyone will enjoy a day on the water with him. I highly recommend Peter for any upcoming trips. I also think it’s great that Peter would donate a trip to our Gulf Coast Council of the IFFF and support our organization. Peter is a certified IFFF casting instructor and is working his Master certification. Peter can help you with your casting, but you have to ask him, he won’t critique you unless he knows that it’s welcome.
To reach Peter go to his web site, marsh on the fly.
Thanks Peter for a great trip!