Thrill Ride- Fly Fishing for Redfish
By Casey R. Smartt
We are all drawn to fly fishing for different reasons. Some of us simply enjoy the gentle whisper of fly line streaking overhead and the sights and sounds of the outdoors, while others like the exercise and peace of mind angling brings. A handful of anglers fish because it is a competitive challenge. But most of us fish because it’s thrilling. We spend countless hours dreaming and preparing for that single moment when everything comes into focus and we hook into a muscle-bound predator making a bareback run for the horizon. Our hearts pound, our ears ring, and for a few minutes everything else fades away. It’s cool.
The primary target of Texas saltwater fly fisherman is the redfish. They are plentiful, accessible, and willing to bite under a wide variety of conditions. Sightcasting redfish with a fly rod in shallow water is one of angling’s great experiences. The jolt of adrenaline triggered by the sight of a lumbering 5lb redfish easily explains why they command so much control over the behavior of 200 lb men. Redfish compel us to do strange things. I suppose the adrenaline rush is linked to some ancient gene. A cat stalking a cricket has it. A pointer locked on a covey of quail has it. And buried beneath our 100-dollar shirts and neoprene boots, most of us still have it. We are thrill seekers.
When it comes to fishing, I am definitely a thrill seeker. I’ve spent more time than most, and less time than some, chasing redfish with a fly rod. There have been successes and failures and lots of wonderful memories over those years. I have learned a lot and hope to learn much more. Here are a few of my observations on the up’s and down’s of fly fishing for reds. Take them for what they are worth.
Let it Be
When you first spot a fish, or group of fish, sometimes the worst thing you can do is toss a hurried cast at them. There are several reasons why I say this. The most obvious is that firing a cast from the hip is a low-percentage choice. The classic situation that comes to mind is when you spot a fish slowly cruising away from you. You are tempted to cast over his shoulder. “He’s getting away,” you think. But you ought to hold back because trying to throw a lasso at him as he swims away will bite you in the butt nearly every time. The usual outcome is that the line or leader lands alongside him… by his eye. Redfish don’t really like fly line in their eyes. Even if you manage to make a good cast and your fly lands safely on the other side, your retrieve will bring the fly right back at him- straight at his face. This is not a natural presentation and although redfish are suckers for an easy meal, they’ll know that one is too good to be true.
Perhaps the best reason, though, to holster your sidearm when you first spot fish is because you can learn something by waiting and watching. I am not suggesting we all become avid fish-watchers, but choosing to pause often has the same effect as talking less and listening more. You can benefit from it. By spending just a little time watching redfish you can find out whether they are feeding or cruising, what they are feeding on, and how they are responding to the current and structure around them. And you can take advantage of the opportunity to photograph these fish while they do their thing. Your buddies might roast you for passing up the cast but they’ll love your pictures. There is a wealth of information for you in those few moments of observation.
Show them Your Fly
Not long ago, I was fishing with a friend in a shallow clear lake that was absolutely full of feeding redfish. Honestly, it was a bit freakish how many tailing, slurping, writhing gangs of redfish were in this particular lake and we both knew it. Sadly, my buddy failed to hook up on anything all morning long. I watched from a distance as he flung his fly at fish after fish. These redfish were aggressively feeding, he had the right fly on, and he was making quiet stealthy stalks to no avail. Finally, I slipped up closer to see why things weren’t working for him.
It quickly became apparent the fish could not see his fly. His casts were landing too short- way too short. He was visibly frustrated, so I asked if he wanted me to offer a suggestion. “Please!” he said. “Hit ‘em in the head,” I told him. “If you can cast farther, cast farther. If you have to wade closer, wade closer. Do what you have to do, but hit one in the head and see what happens. You can work back from there.” After a few tries, he hooked up.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but if you want to catch redfish you have to show them your fly. Sometimes that means you have to put it right in their face. They won’t eat what they can’t see. If your casts are landing too short or way off target, you’re squandering the chance of a hookup. Fix it. Disregard your fear of failure and move closer. Watching the outcome unfold, for better or worse, is sure to be thrilling.
I have learned the hard way that a balanced life is a fundamental key to success and enjoyment on the water. There is nothing more distracting than leaving for a fishing trip with unfinished business behind you. You keep looking at your watch, checking your cell phone, and quietly fretting over the burdens you know await you when the trip is through. It poisons your piece of mind, ruins your focus, and makes it altogether tough to have a good time.
When your fishing partner is pre-occupied with worry, it’s almost as bad. You do your best to keep him motivated, but his stress ends up bringing both of you down. I would rather have my buddies call me at the last minute and back out of a trip than have them go and then worry they should be somewhere else. I know they expect the same from me.
We all have to own up to our choices and play the hand we are dealt. First things come first. We owe it to our friends, family, and ourselves. As much as I love the thrill of fishing, I have never found in fishing any magical ability to take care of the other aspects of life that require my attention and my time. Only I can do that. The best I can do is to live clean and simple, tend to the important things first, and show others I care. And when it comes time to fish I can do it with a healthy attitude and a feeling of balance. If you have that, the thrills you’re looking for will fall neatly into place.