Fly Fishing the Sand

THERE’S A REDFISH JUST 20 FEET TO MY LEFT. I ALMOST walked by him. How come I didn’t see him earlier? Surface glare! He’s in a foot of water. Stationary. That’s rare. Most are prowling. Most are on the move. He hasn’t noticed me even though I’m close. Maybe I should slowly back away before casting. Then again, he might notice me if I do that. Movement is always risky in the skinny water. No, I’ll stay in place and ever so slowly crouch down and side arm a cast 4 or 5 feet away from him. There. He heard the plop of the fly (maybe too much weight on it) and noticed the cast (fly line). He’s moving away. Accelerating. Now gone. Too bad. He was a good one. Mid to upper 20’s in inches. A missed opportunity and I’m not getting many. Two or three quality shots on a good day. Some days none. Yesterday was a “none” day. The day before I spotted only one. It’s a tough angling gig out here on the Sand.

redfish

The sand flats that I’m fishing are only shin to knee deep, that’s it. Walk several hundred yards out from shore and it’s the same. In the shallow water the Redfish are generally on high alert and usually prowling (moving). I go slow, try to minimize my wading wake, constantly scan the water, try and use whatever light there is to my advantage, constantly fight glare, and hopefully spot one before it sees me. Spotting one from far off heading my way is better than seeing one up close as I get time to prepare, position myself and cast from a safe distance so they don’t detect my presence. Fishing blind is useless out here. I have to see them to catch them. And many things inhibit my ability to see: low light, low and high cloud glare, a wind ruffled surface, sometimes dense morning fog that seems to take forever to burn-off or blow away, and short Autumn days where the sun arcs low on the horizon.

shoreline in distance

Clear, full sun days with no wind are perfect but I rarely get both at the same time. The wind tends to be daily, strong and persistent. A perfect day is a rarity. Maybe a perfect day doesn’t exist. When it is mostly sunny, 11 am to 3:30 pm is my best sight-fishing opportunity. That’s when the sand flats become illuminated. That’s when the Redfish contrast well against the pale bottom. Sometimes I can see them from a long way off…50 yards or more.

barrier island road flooded
redfish

When the light is poor I often only spot one at 20 feet or so, maybe even less. Often they see me first at that range and bolt. Sometimes at that short distance they don’t notice me, so I crouch and I use a roll/flip cast and plop the fly near them and strip. A few have followed my impression almost to the rod tip. So close I end up stripping my leader butt section through the top guides. They follow, see me then flee.

hiking tidal flats to bay
Roman (friend) scanning the water, sand dunes in distance

On the Sand I’ve seen no surface disturbances to give them away. No schools feeding and nervous water to wade to. There are schools of mullet but nothing charging them. I’ve seen smaller baitfish but again nothing aggressively pursuing them. I’ve seen no tails protruding from the water. There’s no real significant structure where they hang out: few troughs, etc. They either show up to feed, or don’t. I usually see them in the afternoon. Of course that could simply be because the light is generally more idyllic for spotting then. They are usually on the hunt when covering the sand; usually moving but on occasion stationary. I’ve seen a few in one spot digging in the sand for prey…lug worms, crustaceans. Those fish are my best chance; the stationary ones; their heads down.

morning fog, intense glare

I came here for the low shin deep clear water, the light sand bottom and the sight fishing possibilities, and of course the challenge. Angling as demanding as anywhere. I drive to the tidal flats as close to the bay as I can get then hike in the rest of the way, always watching the morning sky and light, hoping for that perfect day. Once on the water the search begins; the hunt for Redfish. I’ve seen some in the 30 inch range and had two large ones eat my impression this trip but with no hook-up. Fly casting to a thirty inch Redfish in one foot of clear water…imagine that!

mainland port town

some mangroves on edge of bay and tidal flat (a bit of structure)

redfish
redfish
old port town

stilt structures

redfish

old port town

redfish
redfish
redfish flies for the sand

late october

Late October. Most rivers are closing down. The Brown trout are on Redds. So are the Bull trout. We had our first significant snowfall the other day.

Bruce on pool 85, last Fall

Recently I fished a Cutthroat stream several times with a friend, Bruce. Below are some photos from this season and also last Fall when we visited some of the same rivers. When fishing with Bruce I cover several pools to get a few good trout. Bruce generally stays on one pool and catches many. An outstanding, versatile angler. My dog Abby also enjoys his company as he always brings her a bag of treats.

bruce nymphing
Bruce wading deep
Bruce last Fall, small stream
one of Bruce’s Cutthroats, photo by Bruce
cutthroat, photo by Bruce
photo by Bruce

The photos below are of another outing this Fall where I was privileged to be guided by Vic Bergman owner of the famous Crowsnest Angler Fly Shop: (https://www.crowsnestangler.com/). I worked part-time at his iconic Fly Shop this season and last, and he generously treated me to a day on a British Columbia Cutthroat stream. He stayed in the background and took some action shots and a few fish photos which I fully appreciated as I generally fish alone, and therefore don’t get that type of photo perspective on my blog. Many thanks to him for the day and memorable shots.

fishing a tail-out riser, photo Vic Bergman
hook-set, photo Vic Bergman
landing one, photo V. Bergman
photo V. Bergman
cutthroat stream, photo V. Bergman
nice cutthroat, photo V. Bergman

a river’s nuances

SEPTEMBER. SIGHT-FISHING. IT CAN BE CHALLENGING WHEN there is a smoke filled sky and some high clouds. When the ceiling above me is thick and casting a significant glare on the water’s surface. A glare that’s often blinding at river level. On one of my favorite rivers I reduce glare by climbing its high banks and cliffs. Up high I can see into the water and spot trout when they move into the shallows.

The trout in this particular river often leave the deeper water of a pool in the afternoon and cruise the shallows where land-based bugs get blown, or where insects that have hatched collect. They creep along the river’s edge searching for food. The big confident fish don’t mind the shallows, even in mid-day light. Although confident they remain cautious in the skinny water. And they are always in close proximity to deeper water. That’s their escape route if they sense threat.

Up high you can observe a trout’s feeding behavior. You begin to realize that it has a route that it cycles through. A repetitive hunting path. They often travel along river’s edge then circle back downstream through the deep pool water, then re-enter the shallows and creep upstream along the edge/bank again. As long as there’s an occasional reward (food item) they’ll repeat the cycle. Sometimes they deviate slightly. They’ll travel higher up in the pool or start their cycle lower down closer to the tail of the pool. If they are not finding a lot of food they might cross over to the other side of the river/pool and feed in a similar fashion along that edge. They generally stick to one pool. It is their home; their neighborhood. And the biggest fish seem to pick the river’s largest pools. A river’s nuances…

Sun angle, wind, and river temperature can change a trout’s feeding location in a particular pool, and other variables like a strong hatch or the presence of predators. Things can change as the day unfolds. It is never static. You have to be observant. You have to pay attention.

Sometimes I’ll walk for hours along the river’s banks or up high before I find a trout in the shallows. Sometimes I don’t see any. When I do locate one I’ll try and get a read on its hunting route; its cycling pattern. Then I’ll quickly make a presentation plan and from my elevated perch work my way down to the river’s edge. It all seems easy from up high but once you are at river level it changes. A trout often becomes much harder to spot, especially when there is glare. It’s easy to lose sight of it. When that happens I try to remain patient and still. I crouch and keep watching the water. I’m looking for any shadowy movement. It is probably around. It’s usually closer than I think. Trout on a cycling path don’t move fast. They just inch along.

When I locate a trout at river level I don’t want to “hit it on the head” in the shallows with my chosen fly, especially if I’m casting a terrestrial pattern that has some bulk/weight. It might bolt if I do. I try to cast just slightly upstream and off to the right or left of the fish, let it notice the “plop” and then hopefully watch it move over and investigate.

My fly choice has to be convincing. If it rejects it, it will glide back to the deep. That might be it for the day. Gone! If it decides to eat, it is often a slow motion take so I’ll have to be equally slow with the hook set. I match “slow with slow”. A hook-up in an a large pool often means I’ll probably hear the tick, tick, tick of my backing knot as it passes through the rod guides.

It’s engaging, visual angling and always exciting. The more you understand the nuances of a particular river the richer your angling experience.

Some photos …the drive, the river, some trout…

my transportation
Digital Camera
windshield shot…the drive
cuttbow..not sure
smoke filled sky heading home

augusto mosquito

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”–Dalai Lama

THIS AUGUST I MADE THE LONG DRIVE to one of my favorite sight-fishing rivers. On my previous trip, three weeks earlier, the mosquitos drove me off of the river after a few hours of angling. I’ve never seen it that bad. The place is usually very dry and windy, and relatively bug free until nightfall. Not this year. A wet spring and a lot of standing water in the riverside low grasslands created a perfect breeding ground for millions of the pesty creatures.

I picked a hot, full sun and most importantly windy day to go back but the mosquitos were still there. DEET seemed ineffective. I survived for a few hours by standing in the river while encouraging the wind to pick-up. I was ambushed when I hiked through the vegetation to riverside high spots in order to locate fish. In the end I had to sight-fish from water level. Not the best angle in full sun and glare. Not the best angle for spotting the river’s large trout.

Sight-fishing is all about observation, concentration and using the light to your advantage which was hard to do while being constantly harassed and distracted by insects. I did spot a few Rainbow trout and fooled some on terrestrial patterns. After a few hours I had had enough and decided to leave. My dog approved of the sprint back to the car and the quick drive out of the coulee, and on to the highway. Wide open windows at 110km blasted any pesty hitchhikers out of the car. One hour later I removed my wet wading boots and socks at a Walmart parking lot.

The only past bug experiences that were as close or worse would be the relentless black flies while Brook trout fishing on the North Shore of Quebec and beach Snook fishing along the gulf coast of Florida in June where at sunset on heavily vegetated Pine Island the no-see-ums ate me alive while camping. My skin burned. The following morning after no sleep I pulled up tent pegs, rolled up my damp tent, drove to the mainland and got a cheap motel with air conditioning on Tamiami trail where urban sprawl and pavement stretched on forever. Every night after a day of beach fly fishing I retreated to the bugless cool of my room and watched Michael Jordan dominate his opponents in the basketball playoffs. Best B-ball player I ever saw.

Here are some photos of my drive in and out of the prairie river and a few trout pictures. I heard the other day the mosquito situation on the river has abated. I’m not sure whether to believe it or not but I’m willing to go back and check it out…