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Ten to 12 years ago, if you had predicted that Louisiana would become a major destination for saltwater fly fishermen after redfish, you would have been considered a bit strange, as this state’s big bull reds just weren’t on the radar screen of many anglers. Today, hundreds of fly anglers are making their way to Louisiana. And, remarkably, there are no signs that interest is about to plateau, though it is shifting in some new directions, a development I will say more about in a moment.
So, why is there so much interest in Louisiana redfish? Size is a big part of the attraction. Think about it: other than tarpon, how many 30-plus-pound fish can you catch on anything but a bluewater fly rod? Add the element of sight fishing to the mix and the number of species is miniscule.
As one who has had the pleasure of sighting a 30-pound redfish and then successfully casting to it, I can attest to the excitement involved. A redfish that big is just mind-boggling. Typically, you suddenly see it as your guide poles you down a marsh edge. There is no warning. It’s just there, red as a ruby and four feet long or more. Buck fever does not begin to do justice to the emotion. As for the fight of a redfish, it is not spectacular and splashy but dogged. The local expression, “Cajun sleigh ride,” captures the experience almost perfectly.
Another factor at work in the growing popularity of Louisiana redfishing is the proximity of New Orleans. It’s a great city, and it grows on you with each visit. You can stay in downtown New Orleans, eat good food at night, and be on the water by sunup. Alternately, you can visit the city on the tail end of a trip devoted primarily to redfishing. Non-fishing spouses love the place.
The final ingredient in the growth of interest in Louisiana redfishing is the emergence of guides who have the savvy, the wherewithal, and the proper equipment to chase bull reds. It is not an easy task by any means. Dingy water, wind, complex tides, and confusing topography all conspire to make things hard. Add to all that the fact that redfish move around quite a bit seasonally and you have a very tough problem on your hands.
You can start a fight in a hurry if you say out-of-state guides helped launch the current boom in out-of-state angling for redfish in Louisiana, but I think the evidence is overwhelming. Some of the early guides brought important knowledge of flies and techniques. They also accelerated the move to poleable, shallow-water skiffs that are absolutely required when casting to a sighted redfish. Most important, though, out-of-state guides are the ones who began to promote the fishing nationally by uploading sensational You- Tube videos of huge reds wallowing in shallow water and slamming poppers.
The videos and buzz these guides created had a major downside, however: they overpromoted the redfishing, making it look too easy and too much of a sure thing. The hype created expectations of success so wildly divergent from reality that it left a lot of anglers unhappy. Beneath the excitement about Louisiana redfishing is a dark undercurrent of disappointment on the part of many anglers who came to Louisiana expecting paradise, only to collide head on with cold fronts, muddy water, and day after day of no fish.
Indeed, Louisiana redfishing can be hard all year for different reasons, most of them related to weather. In the winter, there are cold fronts that roil the water and make it almost impossible to pole shorelines for days on end. Cold fronts also mean it is cold in an open skiff and so windy it is hard to fly cast. In the summer, the biggest reds are offshore or around very distant islands where only the most experienced guides can find them. Also, the heat of summer causes the water inside many (but not all) of the marshes to become almost opaque with plankton growth. Sight fishing in such conditions is almost impossible. Again, only the most experienced guides know how and where to find good sight-fishing water in the summer.
In sum, Louisiana redfishing is not the slam dunk it’s cracked up to be in some quarters. It is, in fact, a weather-dependent fishery that produces moments of euphoria separated by periods of hard work and frustration. It’s a fact: you can be skunked on a Louisiana redfish trip, and you will be, eventually, if you keep at it. On the other hand, with a competent guide, you will be thrilled to the core often enough to keep you coming back if you go into the experience with the proper expectations.
Personally, I have grown to like Louisiana redfishing almost as much as any other kind of saltwater fly fishing. The marshes are starkly beautiful to my eye, and they have a wistful, almost tragic, quality to them because of the forces arrayed against them. Go see for yourself. And, afterward, become a supporter of the organizations trying to save the marshes. Two you may want to consider are Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (www.crcl.org) and Coastal Conservation Association (www.joincca.org).
But who should you book your Louisiana redfish trip with? At the risk of appearing to take sides in the outof- state versus local guide turmoil in Louisiana, I will make a few observations on the matter. First, some outof- state guides who fish the Louisiana marshes are gifted anglers who excel at what they do in their home area, as well as in Louisiana. They are sort of alpha guides, who just know how to catch fish and create a terrific experience on the water. They tend to have good social skills that facilitate their learning the marsh from locals. It’s not hard to find these guys, as they have a reference list a mile long. They live in a sort of penumbra of promotion.
On the other side of the ledger, it’s a fact that out-of-state guides don’t contribute as much in taxes as local guides. Some of them are not even properly registered to conduct guide service in Louisiana. Moreover, some of them don’t really know what they are doing in the marsh. Some verge on being hucksters who happen to have good promotional skills and a gullible client base from another part of the country. Think about it: how can a seasonal guide from outside an area know as much as a local guide who fishes local waters year-round? Yes, locals can develop ingrained habits. They can become blinkered to new developments in flies and techniques. But local guides are not stupid. Personally, I will take a good local guide over a hotshot migrant guide every time. You may or may not agree. Dissenting comments are welcome. Write [email protected].
In our coverage of Louisiana redfishing in recent years here at The Angling Report, we have devoted space to write-ups on out-of-state as well as local guides. The balance of our coverage has been about Biloxi Marsh, however, and the guides who operate there. Biloxi Marsh is where a lot of the out-of-state guides operate. Typically, clients who fish Biloxi Marsh stay in New Orleans, where they are picked up by their guides. Alternately, some drive down to the marina in Hopedale daily in rental cars.
The new wrinkle we have largely failed to mention is a shift to the south, to the Point a la Hache area, where Foster Creppel has turned an antebellum plantation house called Woodland Plantation and a restored church (dubbed Spirits Hall) into an important redfishing hub (www.woodlandplantation.com). The guides that operate out of Woodland Plantation are virtually all local guides.
The Point a la Hache area is almost perfectly located for redfishing, as there is a nearby ferry that allows guides to trailer their boats to the eastern side of the river when wind and other conditions make that desirable. Point a la Hache is also only about 45 miles from Venice, where there are launches that allow access to all three mouths of the Mississippi and to the open gulf, where species other than redfish are available, including tarpon during certain times of the year. Woodland Plantation, like Hopedale – the prime launch area for Biloxi Marsh – is about 45 minutes from New Orleans.
One of the main attractions of Woodland Plantation is the “big house” itself (as Foster calls the plantation house he has so lovingly restored) and the general good will and camaraderie that prevail there. Woodland is not a redfish lodge; it is a bed and breakfast that also serves dinners and lunches. The place even caters weddings and hosts business groups. Still, anglers feel comfortable at Woodland Plantation. They get the joke-telling, the one that- got-away stories, and the good food and fine sleeping of a lodge, plus an ambience that is truly one of a kind. I know. I’ve stayed there twice.
An artist rendition of Woodland Plantation graces the label of every bottle of Southern Comfort Whisky. Elegantly restored and comfortable, Woodland is a wonderful place to stay. The old floors of the building creak and pop like an old man’s bones. The floors slope in various directions. The antiques in the room are amazing. With a few drinks under your belt, you can imagine hearing Rhett Butler call up the stairs for his beloved Scarlet.
In addition to the plantation home, Foster has also exquisitely restored an overseer’s home nearby, a fixture on plantation homesteads. He has also moved another structure in place, a restored general store that also serves as a sleeping place, bringing the total number of guests he can accommodate up to more than 40. Sometimes, he needs every bit of that space.
Foster’s close associate in turning Woodland into a redfishing hub is David Leake of Tailwaters Fly Fishing Company in Dallas. Leake says he now books more than 200 redfish anglers into Louisiana each year, most of whom stay in Woodland Plantation and fish with local guides on the west bank of the river in Plaquemines Parish. Leake says that number of clients is growing, too. In fact, if you want to ensure booking in the months of October, November, and December, he says, you need to make that booking 12 months in advance. He says he has to turn away two to three trips a day at that time of year.
Here is how Leake described his growing involvement with Louisiana redfishing in an e-mail near press time:
“I personally became involved with Louisiana redfishing as a traveling angler sometime around 2002. I recognized right away how fantastic the fishery is, but I did not see any way at that time for a booking agent to get involved in selling trips there.
“Following Hurricane Katrina, the fly fishing community banded together to support the handful of redfish captains on the Gulf Coast. Yes, that is all there were at that point. To do my part, I referred as much business as possible to the guides in Plaquemines Parish, who by that time had become personal friends. After several hundred gratis referrals to both Woodland Plantation and to the guides, it dawned on me that I needed to get organized and offer trips down to southern Louisiana on a more official basis.
“At this point, I have developed an organized package trip program that sends more than 200 anglers a year
to Louisiana. In the process of building this program, I have become very close, personal friends with many of the local guides and the ownership, management, and staff of Woodland Plantation. Foster and I now have customers fishing in Louisiana almost every week year-round.
“One of the key reasons I have been so successful, I think, is the accessibility and affordability of my Woodland Plantation packages. Specific to my local clients in the greater Dallas area of north Texas, and to redfishing clients generally, it is easier for most of them to fly to New Orleans and drive 45 minutes to the marshes of southern Louisiana than it is for them to travel south to one of the major competing areas, the Texas Gulf Coast. Another factor is the charming and totally unique accommodation Foster provides at the plantation. His restaurant in a restored church next door serves wonderful food, including a four- to five-course dinner every night. The overall package is just hard to beat.
“I also like the idea that the Louisiana redfishery is truly year-round. Whether it is the late spring and summer months characterized by more predictable weather, green grass, and loads and loads of happy five- to 15-pound reds or the ever-popular fall and winter months when you have consistent opportunities for the bigger bull reds, there is almost never a bad time to go. The same cannot be said for most domestic and international saltwater destinations.
“The Mississippi Delta is simply exploding with life, and despite all the abuse the area has taken from coastal erosion, channelization of the river, commercial fishing interests, and the oil and gas industry, I don’t know of a more vibrant fishery so close to home. I love the place personally and go back every chance I get.”
Leake’s redfish packages are indeed quite affordable. A two-night stay with two days of fishing (shared guide and room) costs only $1,015. If you want a private room, the rate goes up to $1,125. Add a day of lodging and fishing to the above package and the rate is $1,525 (shared guide and room), $1,670 if you want a private room. Those rates, mind you, include lodging, three meals a day, guided fishing, quality rod and reel outfits, and required flies and leader material.
Recently, on a trip through Louisiana, I booked a simple one-night stay with dinner the night of my arrival, plus breakfast the next morning and a box lunch. I fished with guide Alec Griffin. Alec is originally from North Carolina so he is not technically a local guide, but he has fished and worked in Louisiana for ten years. In fact, he managed Uptown Angler, a local fly shop in New Orleans, for many years before going into guiding full time.
Alec has an easy manner and sure knowledge of the marsh. For my day of fishing, we elected to stay on the west side of the river, launching at Port Sulphur, about 15 minutes from Woodland Plantation. Alec had some big reds pre-spotted around an outer island, and we indeed saw several of them after the wind died down about midday. Ultimately, we had to settle for roughly a half dozen medium-size reds found in another area of the marsh. Uncharacteristically, the reds there were slamming bait on the surface. You could have caught them with a bream popper, but I settled for keeping a slow-sinking shrimp fly on my line. It was a fine, affordable day of fishing. I recommend the overall experience and Alec Griffin in particular. Enjoy! – Don Causey.
Postscript: You can reach Leake’s Tailwaters Fishing Company in Dallas at 214-219-2500. The Web address is www.tailwatersflyfishing.com.