Due to very dynamic weather in March, booking a date for a marsh sight casting trip is always risky. Nevertheless, my buddy Rusty Hook and I managed to pull off an excellent marsh trip this past weekend, the 23rd and 24th of March. We had picked the dates a month before, after our guide called and said he had some open dates. After booking the dates we were on a daily weather watch and initially it did not look good, but thankfully, the weather forecast kept improving and the Friday when we left it appeared we might have a little overcast but the winds were expected to be calm.
The first day the wind was almost dead calm in the early morning. In the gloom of early morning, while we were still unable to see into the water, the fish were very spooky and were blowing off at any close cast. The guide suggested trying poppers to allow us to land our flies further away, hoping not to spook them and then try to attract them with a little motion and noise. Well, it did attract them, but when using poppers with redfish, most of the fun is in watching them react to the popper as their natural orientation is downward and they often miss takes on the surface. It was a lot of fun but we didn’t manage to actually hook one on a popper.
I swapped to a Black Charlie when the sun got a little higher and started hooking up with fish. The Black Charlie is kind of a go-to fly for me when I’m not sure what else to use. We totaled out at eight fish but we had quite a lot of unproductive shots due to the fish either being sulky or spooky. I had more flies with me and I really appreciated my false bottom idea to keep flies. It made changing out easy. You can look and tell I didn’t come prepared for big bulls, continue reading.
At the end of the day the guide asked if we wanted to go to Chandeleur the next day in his new bay boat. Rusty and I both looked at each other. We knew Chandeleur was over 30 to 35 miles out. We had always heard of Chandeleur, knew the fishing was great, but we just didn’t realize such a one day trip was possible, in March no less. In fact, I had been planning a float plane trip to get out there as it had been a bucket list item for a long time. Miles explained that the weather was going to be stable and near perfect and on such a day he could have us there in a little over an hour and fifteen minutes of running time. Suffice it to say, we said yes.
We made it easily to Chandeleur the following morning. We fished the leeward side of one small island, amazed at the clear water and white sand flats, but only saw a few sheepshead. Nearby on the water behind the island was a float plane and its fishermen were lined out wading in the flats with waders. After about thirty minutes with no luck, Miles cranked up the boat to move but did not run long before running into a school of bull redfish. The hundreds of fish just made a big pink spot out in the water, they weren’t blitzing, mostly just chilling. I tried to take a photo, but nothing identifiable shows up. The camera just can’t see what we can see with polarized glasses.
After the first run-in with the fish, Miles set us up to drift in to them several times. All that was required was getting a cast to them before they noticed the boat and changed their direction of travel. So distance casting was required. Fly fishers shouldn’t ever let anyone tell them that you don’t ever need to cast distance. Without 70+ foot casts with big flies, well we might have caught fish, but not as many. The fish would not tolerate the boat so as soon as we felt like we could get a cast into them, we dropped our flies on them. The fish were strong and would put themselves on the reel quickly. Having made the trip not expecting to be fishing for bulls, I only had only brought an eight weight and my backup rod was a seven. I think Rusty had a nine. Doubling up numerous times, we enjoyed the Keystone cop effect of fish running together, under the boat, Rusty and I running and ducking each other’s lines. It was great. I love the absolute pandemonium/fire drill drama. My eight weight got a workout and I thought it was broken at one point when a big bull went under the boat, bending my rod against the gunwales. How it survived I don’t know.
The fish below was around thirty lbs, we don’t take time to measure or weigh, and barely take the time for photos or video. All that burns daylight and we were having fun! Check this video out, Rusty’s fish that broke his rod when the fish was right by the boat, the most common place where that event can happen:
Below is where we tripled up when the guide couldn’t stand it any more and had to jump in to the action, which we welcomed. Sorry for the poor video work but fighting a bull redfish on a flyrod and trying to video with a cell phone was a feat I just couldn’t accomplish too well:
I was really appreciating my bucket and rod holder on this Chandeleur trip because it allowed me a certain amount of freedom to run to the bow when Rusty hooked up or run to either side of the boat, depending on where the fish appeared. In fact, I owe the first fish to “the system” because I was locked and loaded with stripping line in the bucket when the guide was running the boat and happened to run up on the school of redfish. As soon as he killed the engine I was able to cast as the fish began running from us and I hooked up immediately. I was not intimidated by the stern with its many line tangling opportunities, like the engine, and I was as able to run to the bow with a ready to cast system if Rusty hooked up.
After catching several bulls from the school out in open water, we decided to leave them alone and see what was happening in the windward flats. I was lucky enough to be on the bow as Miles eased the boat toward a shell bar. I was amazed when, after the guide told me where to look, I could see an enormous school of bulls hanging on the bar.
In addition to the bull redfish, we saw enormous schools of big black drum. The drum were uncooperative and Miles said when they are on the move they don’t tend to bite. In addition to the drum we saw the most sheepshead I have ever seen, most of them very large. We played with them, got a few follows, but just couldn’t get a take. Of course we should have changed to small crab flies to catch the sheepies, but with the schools of bull redfish around, nobody was changing flies.
The final Chandeleur total was twenty-one bull redfish for the day, ten by Rusty and ten by me, plus one by the guide. All were released of course. I made a couple of 60 foot roll casts to catch two of the bulls, just for fun.
At the end of the day my two black Charlies I had used were pretty much destroyed. The guide had suggested flies that were not large, but heavy. Of course we had just basic marsh flies but they were close to that description. Per Miles, the flies needed to be heavy to get down to the fish in the two to three feet of water, but not large like the ones we use at Venice, because we needed to cast long and the water being clear, we didn’t want to give them too much of a look. The Charlies I had were close to that description, tied on Mustad 34007 number two’s, 1/50th oz lead eyes with black cactus chenille and a lot of long black marabou. Of course the marabou didn’t last long in the intense action. My Charlies needed to have been heavier, but again, I hadn’t been expecting to be fishing Chandeleur. The same or similar fly but with the small lead eyes or even large instead of the extra small would have been better. They worked fine though and I kept fishing them when all the marabou was gone, the hooks had been bent and re-straightened, and pieces of the fly were trailing. They continued to catch fish. There were three or four times I stripped through the school that I didn’t get a take and I’m pretty sure it was because the fly was so damaged.
It was a fantastic trip, my compliments to our excellent guide, Miles Larose, and to the weatherman. Without a great guide, his very fast boat and the cooperation of the weather, Chandeleur would still be on my bucket list.