First On Fly

With a 7:30 a.m. meet-up time, I did not have to wake up as early as I normally do for a fishing trip. My mom and I were driving to Port Sulphur to fly-fish for redfish with Captain J.P. Morel. The only other time I had (unsuccessfully) done this was from my kayak. I had high expectations about this trip. I hoped to catch my first redfish on the fly, learn presentation strategies, and casting techniques from an experienced angler. When I was informed of later start time I was surprised because most of my fishing trips start before daylight. Captain J.P. explained that we needed daylight for this type of fishing, which makes perfect sense since we were sight fishing.

We pulled onto a gravel driveway leading to Woodland Plantation, a historic inn on the Mississippi River and a favorite destination for guided fishing trips.  I was immediately excited about seeing all of the boats lined up. My mom went too far down the road and we were stopped by a man, “I think you are looking for me. I’m Captain JP.” He guided us to where his boat and truck were parked. Our boat for the day was a well-equipped Beavertail skiff complete with both polling and casting platforms.

After looking over the boat, it was time for Captain J.P. to look over my gear. I ran to the car and grabbed my 8wt rod, reel, and fly box. “Go ahead and put your rod together and let me see what you’ve got there, Gabe,” he said looking over my stuff. Right away, he gave me my first tip, “When you’re lining up the rod segments, put them together so that they are slightly offset, and twist and push to align the eyes. That way, the rod segments will not come apart when you cast.” Captain J.P. tied one of his custom-made flies on my line. Although he said that flies are one of the least important parts of fly-fishing, I was honored that he gave me one of his. After that, we were on our way to the launch and soon on the water. Captain J.P. remarked that the conditions looked pretty good for the day, even though it was still a little early in the season and the water was high from a slow moving tide.

Captain J.P. parked the boat at the first spot and said, “Alright, time for Redfish 101.” He spent around 10 minutes giving me tips on how to properly place my hand on the grip, and explaining the rhythm of my cast. He had to remind about 100 times that day to keep the line in my left hand. He had me practice some blind-casting to work on my technique. Then, we spotted the first redfish. “11 o’clock, Gabe,” Capt. J.P. whispered. “Place your fly a little bit in front of him and use 2 inch strips.” I casted and missed the first one. The second cast was good, but the redfish wasn’t interested and swam away. I was kind of bummed because it was a nice fish and would have been my first. Funny enough, I did catch my first speckled trout on a fly a little while later. Searching for more clean water, we moved on to the next spot.

Unfortunately, the next few redfish we saw were moving too quickly in the opposite direction. I did see a fish, or at least the back half of it, at the edge of the marsh. Captain J.P. explained that a fish in that position isn’t one that will likely go after my fly. I finally spotted a decent sized redfish and I casted toward him. He immediately turned and inhaled my bait. “Keep the rod tip up, Gabe.” Capt. J.P. said. “Don’t let him get any slack!” At the last minute, he spit the bait. There were two fish in the area and the other one spooked when I lost the first one.

Captain J.P. switched my rod out for one of his: a beautiful Hardy fly rod and reel combo. I had never fished with anything as nice as this. We switched out the fly, too.

He specifically told me not to lose this one, a spoon-fly with a cool fleur-de-lis painted on it. We fished for another hour or two and saw a couple fish; none that would commit. We poled our way to a small, shallow pocket where there were several fish. I casted at one and he took it, but, like a doofus, I swung the rod as hard as I could before stripping the line. By God’s grace, I still got a good hook set. I fought the fish for a few minutes with a combination of reeling and waiting, and then reeling some more until I finally landed my first redfish.

It was an average sized fish but a way above-average experience. I think at the same time that I landed the fish, my mom and Captain J.P. let out a huge sigh of relief. All I know is that I wanted to do it again, but our time was running out. Our captain said we would try one more spot and then head back to the launch. But first, he revisited our “Redfish 101” discussion and gave me feedback on what I had done right and where I needed to improve.

We took a decent ride to the last spot and began poling along the edge of marsh. The water had dropped quite a bit, so it gave us better visibility. Then I spotted something. It wasn’t a redfish, but it was familiar fish to me. As a matter of fact, Captain J.P. had mentioned earlier in the day that these fish are not often caught on the fly.

“That’s a sheephead!” I exclaimed. “Go ahead and cast at it!” He instructed.

I placed the fly right in front of his head, (it was my best cast of the day) and he whipped his head, snatching up the fly. I was super excited to hook this fish. Captain J.P. was pretty excited too. He cautioned me to take it slow and keep my rod up. Once it was in the boat, he smiled and said, “Cajun Permit, on the fly!” We took lots of pictures and then released my second big catch of the day back into the water. 

On the long boat ride back to the launch, I had time  to think about what an amazing experience it was to have fished with such an experience angler and what a privilege it was to land those fish. All of information I gathered will help me for the next time I go out looking for redfish.

This experience was different than any other type of fishing I have ever done. It was very challenging and required a lot of focus. I certainly have a greater appreciation for the skill level that saltwater fly fishing requires and I can’t wait to do it again.