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Anglers who are fortunate enough to be able to travel for their fishing tend go through periods when they want to catch a particular fish more than any other in the entire world. Permit inspire this kind of passion in some anglers. So do tarpon. And bonefish, too, though that particular passion tends to strike early and then moderate over time. My own particular passion at the moment is the redfish. Not just any redfish, mind you, caught any old way. What enthuses me is trying to catch giant Louisiana-size redfish on the fly. Sighted fish only. No guide allowed. Just me and the beast face-to-face. It’s odd the way we all tend to complicate our game as time goes on, no? As I write this, I am slowly coming down from a near-month-long Louisiana high that saw me camped out at Shell Beach, which provides access to Biloxi Marsh, and on the outskirts of Venice, the last highway stop along the Mississippi River before it dumps the topsoil of the Midwest into the Gulf of Mexico. I have my own flats skiff, an Egret, that I tow to Louisiana at least twice a year all the way from my home in Miami with a Sprinter van configured as an RV. The rig allows me to just “sleep in the car” like a bum or find a VRBO. This kind of DIY fishing is catching on like wildfire, incidentally, and you will be reading more about it in upcoming issues. At any rate, the main point of this missive is to tell you something new has arisen in the asteroid-size world of Louisiana redfishing: FLY REFUSAL. I realize trout anglers reading this are smirking at the idea that this is something new anywhere in fishing, but it really is in Louisiana redfishing. There are difficult aspects of Louisiana redfishing, but getting a sighted fish to hit has not ever been one of them in my experience. Just find clear water, spot the beast, and throw! The challenge was all in the first two steps. Why that wasn’t so this year has two possible explanations. First, it was a very warm fall, way too warm, up there in 80s day after day. Big reds like cooler water, and there was just not much of that around the entire month of October. As I write this on November 7, I just checked and the daily temperature there is still in the mid- to high 70s. The other possible explanation is the amount of fishing pressure Louisiana redfish are seeing these days. The number of guides launching their skiffs in Hopedale nowadays, the most convenient place to access Biloxi Marsh, is something to behold. Perhaps even more important, all of the out-of-state enthusiasm for redfishing seems to be creating new interest on the part of Louisianans, who used to think it was crazy to chase anything but seatrout (you can keep 25 a day of those in Louisiana and only five redfish a day). I incline toward the weather explanation for what was going on this October, but perhaps there are other opinions? Eager to hear them at: [email protected] The big takeaway for me from this unexpected difficulty was the need to get back to basics when fashionable things aren’t working. In this case, that meant abandoning all of those elaborate crab and shrimp flies that sell for up to $7 each and going back to a simple $3 chartreuse-and-white Deceiver. It also meant using poppers for the first time, at least early in the morning. Interestingly, I got the idea for a chartreuse-and-white Deceiver from Pete Cooper Jr., whose book (Fly Fishing the Louisiana Coast) is one of the wisest outdoor books I’ve read in a while. He knows whereof he speaks. You can find the book on Amazon, but you will need to type the entire title of the book into the search line of Amazon to make it come up. Here are some other worthy points about the evolving Louisiana fly scene: • There is no longer a fly shop in New Orleans, where most Biloxi Marsh anglers stay and where fly anglers headed elsewhere in the state have long stocked up on flies and such. The nearest thing to a replacement is Olde Town Fly Shop in Slidell (www.oldetowneflyshop. com). It’s across Lake Pontchartrain, about 34 miles from downtown New Orleans, but the owner, Christian Daire, is a guide, and so are all of his employees. I stopped at the shop myself and was impressed with the depth of everyone’s knowledge. Importantly, Christian says he is able to overnight flies to any hotel in New Orleans. The guys at Olde Town clued me in to the unusual effectiveness of poppers this past fall. They also told me they tend to work only in the early morning. You need to abandon poppers sometime around mid-morning. Both pieces of advice were spot-on. • The state of Louisiana has literally scores of places to go redfishing: Dulac, Theriot, Delacroix, Port Sulphur, West Point à la Hache, Grand Isle, Cocodrie; plus, it’s not widely known by visiting anglers, but there is a road that runs down the east bank of the Mississippi three quarters of the way to Venice that offers access to a zillion acres of lightly used redfishing. The mind reels at the prospect. Looming over all of these places, including Biloxi Marsh, is Venice. Almost certainly, this is where the largest redfish are found in all of the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Seasonally, there are also some of the largest concentrations of tarpon anywhere in the world. I’ve personally seen 50-acre masses of them rolling almost as far as you can see. They are extraordinarily hard to catch, mind you, but that is a subject for another report. As for the redfishing here, given the quality of the resource, it seems odd, at first glance, that fly fishing has been so slow to reach this area. But the more you learn about Venice the more you realize why. First, there is a lot of muddy water around Venice. At times, that is about all there is around there. In the best of conditions, you have to look hard to find the kind of sight-fishing water fly anglers like. The second reason fly fishing has been slow to develop in Venice is the looming presence of the Mississippi River. Pull Venice up on Google Earth and you will quickly see that only a small fraction of the waters around Venice are fishable without navigating across and/or down the river, and the simple fact is most fly fishing skiffs are not appropriate for navigating the Mississippi. If you are invited to book a fly fishing trip that departs from Venice, be sure you ask if time on the open river will be involved. If the answer is yes, ask to see a photograph of the skiff. My own skiff, an Egret, has very high gunwales, and it has a 175 Evinrude strapped to the back. Even so, I never go out on the river without my kill switch engaged and everyone in the boat wearing lifejackets. I liken the challenge of being on the river in a skiff to landing an airplane. The wakes come at you from every direction. Tankers and freighters and service boats abound. The latter deserve a bit more attention. Service boats look a bit like small tug boats, but they are heavy as lead and have gigantic engines in them that push the things forward at unbelievable speed. The wake they create is a good six feet high, and the individual waves are very close together and almost straight up and down. Their wake is simply unmanageable in a flats boat, even my Egret. It will swamp you. Not just on occasion either, but every single time you try to cross it. Legally, service boats are responsible for their wake, and most skippers stop for sportfishing craft. It’s the ones that don’t that make the lower passes so dangerous. They are almost certainly the single largest impediment to the wider expansion of fly fishing out of Venice. In time, I am sure boat makers will come up with a skiff that will handle this problem, but in the interim there is just no safe way to fish the best waters south of Venice in a reasonably poleable skiff. I include my boat in that point because my boat is not reasonably poleable with a 175 hp engine on it. This does mean there isn’t some good—and safe—fly fishing around Venice. There are a couple of passes you can reach without crossing the river and a large area called the wagon wheel (looks just like what it’s named for). On top of that is a sprawling body of water called Yellow Cotton Bay. Full of redfish, I’m told, but I know nothing about it. One technique I saw fly fishing guides out of Venice using involves the guide tossing a noisy, hookless topwater lure as he lets his skiff float across a likely expanse of mud flat. When a big red comes up to smack the top water lure, the client is urged to toss a fly or popper into the same spot. Not my favorite idea, personally, but it apparently works. Some big reds are caught that way, I’m told. So far, I have done all of my fishing out of Venice on my own, so I have no guide recommendations on the area. I’ll remedy that next time I am there. In the meantime, weigh in if you have fished with a recommendable guide out of Venice, Louisiana. Write: [email protected]

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