I always wondered why anyone would ever want to run a marathon. Legend has it that Pheidippides, a Greek soldier relaying a message to Athens: “the persians have been defeated in Battle of Marathon,” delivered the message, then collapsed and died. This is where the word Marathon comes from, people running really far and hopefully not dropping dead. Don’t ask me why, but my girlfriend Sara, a dedicated runner decided to run a marathon about a year ago. When she decided New Orleans was a good place to run the 26 miles and 385 yards the first thing that came to my mind was Red Drum, or more commonly referred to as Red Fish. I did some research and if you’re willing to sell a couple rod/reel outfits on craigslist you might be able to afford a guide. A fly fishing addict friend of mine suggested looking into renting a kayak. This was the best idea yet, but finding a place that rents kayaks in New Orleans is impossible. No such thing. I did find a good ole’ boy named Ken Linn on Grand Isle that rents Kayaks and will even come out on the water “Hosting” you to fish.
I got in late friday night, rented a car and drove south towards Grand Isle. I Passed a variety of signs saying swamp airboat tours, crawfish for sale and what looked like shrimping boats and other large commercial fishing boats that lined the canal at night. Navigating through the labyrinth of back roads finally lead me to Hwy 1 which winds through the bayou and swamp that butts up to the “low shoulder” on either side of the road. Beached and broken down boats, turned over cars, wrecked and abandoned houses lined the shore line as evidence of hurricanes such as Katrina and Ike were scattered through the area.
Outside my motel, the sunrise over the Gulf Coast shimmered over the countless silhouettes of oil rigs far off the shore. As I filmed the sunrise a dolphin cruised across the breaking waves in front of me. Appearing to be feeding its fin slashed back and forth through the water moving swiftly across the gleaming break. As I sat at the Star Fish Restaurant enjoying an omelette with grits and a homemade biscuit Ken Linn, my host for the morning explained the dolphin was most likely scratching itself on the sandy beach bottom. We talked fishing and he showed me a calender chart of the tides for January, he pointed out that not only the did I choose the last day of the month, I also chose the worst day to try to catch a fish. This was due to the small fluctuation in the tide that day. On the plane ride out there I read a tidbit in one of the best fly fishing mags out there, if not THE best: The Drake In the midst of amazing big bull red fish pictures it elegantly explained how winter was pretty much the toughest time of year for red fish. So here I was on the worst day of the worst time of year to go out and catch one of these.
I had been red-fishing once before while visiting New Orleans for my brother’s bachelor party. In the midst of the debauchery we managed to get in a day of red-fishing on conventional tackle. Which, by the way was totally sweet.
My brother Tony’s red-apparently he doesn’t remember catching it, even though it was the biggest fish of the trip. Bachelor parties are great.
On the worst day of the worst time of year, I thought to myself. I’ve already caught red fish before, its not going to be a big deal if I can’t hook into one today. I’m just happy to get a day on the water. Well that notion passed quickly. After loading the yaks and a quick interview with my gracious host, we hit the water. Ken paddled slowly in front while we navigated through the marsh. Akin to trout fishing, stealth was important. Apparently I was muscling through the paddling and Ken had to keep reminding me not to. We hit a couple holes where different channels converged and shores turned into shelves. When the tide is stagnant so is the food. So the best technique is to throw where fish might be holding and waiting for a convenient meal. Such as shelves and deep holes. The 4th or 5th place we stopped Ken told me to throw it across a spot where 3 or 4 channels merged into one. On about the 5th cast I felt a hard take and set the hook. After a diligent battle on the 9 wt I landed my first red on a fly. I handed the fish in the net and my rod to Ken so he could parade the fish for my cameras:
I was pretty stoked to have actually caught a red on the fly during potentially the worst day to fish of the year….
despite the unfavorable tide it was a gorgeous day, I’m sure there are worse times to fish than this. Fishing in a hurricane would not be very sweet.
A couple hundred yards down from an oil processing plant we drifted with the wind down a long channel lined with tall stakes sticking up. They were marking an oil pipe line below. A long bridge like structure constructed of wood stood at the end of the channel. Ken stopped, anchored, and threw his grub in at the edge of the barrier. Almost immediately he yelled “FISH ON.”
I was glad Ken got a fish before he had to leave, but more importantly I was glad he showed me his money hole. I think the reason this hole was so money was because I was sitting in my kayak in no more than 8 inches to a foot of water, and the hole was probably 8-9 ft deep. This man made barrier made a great shelf for the fish to sit and wait for food at. I was able to fish a couple other spots to give the hole a break, but as soon as I got back I hooked into fish.
I caught fish using a variety of patterns, this one I nailed on a crab pattern, most commonly used for permit. I used a variety of stripping techniques and found when the action slowed down the fish liked the slow long strip then abruptly stripping short and quick
I once heard the reason red fish have the big black eye-like spots on their tails is to trick predators in thinking their tails are really their heads
Fishing from a kayak is challenging but relaxing. Ken had a great anchor set up. It was a 5 ft piece of 1 1/2″ pvc pipe on a short rope. When you find a spot you want to set up at, you just shove that thing down into the mud and it holds you in place. Ken also showed me that sitting “side saddle” with your legs off side of the yak can be pretty comfortable and can help position you in the desired direction.
I spent all afternoon in that hole catching a handful of these 15-20 inch fish. All, including the 5 or 6 that spit my fly, were a kick in the ass on the 7 wt.
Here’s a nice one I caught on a borski deer hair slider, a killer bonefish pattern also Ron Volk’s favorite fly
The day ended with a great sunset while birds surrounded the nearby sky. One peculiar pelican didn’t mind flying right over my head back and forth numerous times as he crashed down into the water feeding on fish.
Now that the fishing was over, it was time to head to New Orleans. Sara and her 2 crazed marathon running friends got plenty of sleep while I got to party with their 8 wild friends on Bourbon Street. Which, lets just say… is a little different than partying with a group of 15 guys and a bachelor on Bourbon Street. I’m sure my girlfriend and her running partners loved my pre-game speech at 5:30 am. The moral of my speech: don’t collapse and die!