Just about any trip you take, will have some highs and lows, this trip was certainly no exception. The lows probably felt a little higher coming off such a grueling week, and the highs definitely felt like the top of the world.
I finished my third test of the week, calculus two, and couldn’t be happier that it was my last. One test is enough but three grueling exams in one week should be outlawed in educated nationally. Not to mention calc and physics were back to back. On the bright side I was heading into my week long Spring break filled with the spotted tails of Texas redfish. Though it had it’s ups and downs over the next week the Corpus Christi area finally allowed me to relax as I tossed some loops across the crystal clear flats.
Dad and I pulled into the windy, hot, thick air of Portland, Texas around one on Sunday. My grandparents were spending a month in their RV there, so Dad and I took the chance to visit them and set up base camp. The ominous howl of the wind
produced white caps on Corpus Christi Bay which put a little doubt in the back of my mind as to whether our kayaks could handle the weather of the coastal bend gust.
I sipped a little tea and watched mullet jump in the little canal behind the RV. My mind wondered to mangrove lakes and the infinite flats we’d soon be walking. Before I knew it I was there, bouncing down a washed out road to one such flat known as Wilson’s cut. Unfortunately the poetic beginning to my day ended right there.
Before I new it the heat combined with the previous sleepless week and transformed into a pounding migraine. The wind and low sun combined to form an impenetrable surface to the water which even if reds were there, I wasn’t gonna be able to see them. I was in pain, frustrated, and dehydrated. The vacation had not started as planned and after just a couple hours of slogging through empty water the wind blew us away.
I fought the throbbing headache for the rest of the evening. In the back of my mind I was begging for it to subside so I could enjoy what was supposed to be a relaxing break from class, the usual cause of my headaches. Thankfully the next day promised to be better, not that it could get much worse.
Dad and I got up at 6:30 which for college standards is beyond early. The wind was a fraction of what it had been the previous day and with a favorable forecast things were looking up. We’d scheduled to fish part of the day with Captain Jeff Johnson, owner and head-guide of Fly Fish Rockport. Sadly, the weather, fish, and my own inexperience threw us an unhittable curveball.
Typically sight fishing is a little easier to do when you can see. Right? Well due to clouds and a little surface chop we could not. I had sparingly few shots at fish. What shots I had were fast and fleeting. Living in Missouri I don’t get many chances to chase redfish, so every fish I saw gave me a little “buck fever” that I just couldn’t shake.
My nerves had me making errant casts and the pressure of catching a fish began to mount. Eventually Jeff poled me into a school of fifteen plus reds off a jagged oyster bar. However my bad luck wouldn’t be broken that easily. I attempted a couple quick casts into the cruising group but they scattered like a covey of quail only to reassemble twenty yards ahead. On about my third attempt a little “rat” red, no bigger than sixteen inches, grabbed my fly. The short but violent fight spooked the pod for good. That day’s chance at a solid red vanished into the flat just as the fish did.
With an agonizingly slow morning of sight fishing behind us, Dad and I went to a deep drop off to blind cast Clousers for the rest of the day. It was effective, though not entirely for the fish we hoped. We caught mostly specs (Speckled Sea Trout) other than one little red that Dad landed. A fish, is a fish, is a fish though and after the way the trip had started it was nice to feel a pull on the other end. Though most were small, a few bigger fish gave us the feeling that we might’ve found some luck.
The saltwater softened my hands and the line cut up my index and middle finger like cheese. The little specs, and occasional keeper, were a blast but my mind was dead set on a respectable redfish. Dad found himself a 24 inch “gator trout” on an olive and white Clouser but not even the runs of such a respectable trout can match the strength of a red. Still hope lingered for us. The next day we were slated to hit the water again with Captain Jeff.
If hope was lingering the day before it was all but annihilated the next. Despite having the expertise of a seasoned local guide nothing can overcome lethargic fish
and 30+ mile per hour wind. The trip seemed to be defined by one particular fish who sloppily waved his massive tail at us in the back of small mangrove lake. Jeff and I went into stealth mode and drifted with the wind to his location. We didn’t dare so much as shift our weight, but as the boat just tickled casting distance he tucked his tail under and disappeared. That fish felt unrealistically spooky and I felt cursed. In fact I was blessed with so much bad luck that one of the two small redfish I caught had 13 spots. Yeah, unlucky thirteen!
My spring break wouldn’t be risen from the dead until Thursday so I’ll spare you the drab and painfully dull fishing of Wednesday. I’ve never had a lot of great Thursdays. It’s a pretty overlooked day. Of course nobody likes Mondays, Wednesday is “hump day” and Friday is, well Friday. This particular Thursday pulled through in the clutch however and saved my week.
The day started the same as the others, which wasn’t a good sign considering how things had been trending. There was one noticeable difference, our complete and under lack of indifference towards the fishing ahead. We had nothing to lose at that point in the trip, and I’d say both Dad’s attitude and my own reflected that. Our confidence had dropped so low that after pulling on our sand caked waders and soggy boots we didn’t even pack a camera for our day on the water.
I’d originally planned to drift across the endless flat in my kayak while trying to spot reds and cast to them traditionally. That idea was squashed by a massive cloud bank that rolled in and blocked visibility. So I was stuck blind casting for trout off a small drop where the water went from about two feet deep to four. At first nothing, even our fail-safe the sea trout, had itself failed. But after about an hour of fishing Dad tied into something powerful on his spinning rod. His back-reel spun like a top while the fish stripped off fifty feet of line in just seconds. It was his first true redfish and I think, despite his years of angling experience, he was a little surprised at its strength.
Dad landed him about ten minutes later and as he lifted the 31 inch bull from the water the smell of skunk lifted with it. I mean sure we’d caught some redfish but nothing respectable, this was the first legit fish. Just two casts later he hit another, and then another, and then another. All were solid reds in the 24 to 27 inch range. His shoulder began to cramp from their pure strength pulling on his drag, needless to say I don’t think he was to upset.
It wasn’t long after Dad’s streak that I hit a little pocket of my own. I was stripping a big Half and Half Clouser variation tied in olive and yellow. The first fish was a respectable 20-ish inches and fought like a champ. Then I hit the second, which reminded me why I escaped the Missouri monotony to add a little salt to my fishing diet. The 27 inch red striped line from my cheap “college budget” reel as I laughed off the week of failure. Finally, finally I’d done it, sure it took four agonizingly slow days, but I’d done it.
To be honest, from that point forward, I would have been content to just sit on the bank and enjoy the rest of the trip like a true tourist. The incredible amount of hard work and frustration that culminated into that fish made it much more memorable. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have rather caught four or five fish each day of the trip. Of course I would have, but that’s not what happened, I still enjoyed it all the same.
-If you don’t believe that dad and I caught these fish because we don’t have “photo evidence” then I’m a little worried by your general trust in mankind.
-I am not an experienced saltwater fly fisherman, nor do I pretend to be. Don’t take this one little article as an indication of how all trips to that area will turn out. I’m sure somebody with more flats knowledge than me and a skiff could have some pretty impressive days out there.