I had never seen a redfish, and it was high on my bucket list, so when I heard that my good friends Peter, Ron and Ricky were planning a week in New Orleans, it didn’t take me many seconds in agreeing to make up the four! In my usual lazy fashion, I paid the required deposit, noted the dates, and left all the arrangements to the others! As always seems to be the case, the departure time was upon us in double-quick time, and it was four excited anglers who met up at Manchester Airport, ready for ‘the off’.
Virgin Atlantic Airways looked after us pretty well on the flight to Atlanta, followed by the one hour hop to New Orleans, and having picked up the hire car without any fuss, in less than forty minutes Ron had delivered us to our comfortable Best Western hotel on Saturday evening. Journeys seem to take much more out of me than they used to, and I think we were all glad that Sunday was a free day, giving us plenty of time to relax and get our tackle ready for the early start on Monday.
We met up with the guides, Jim and Paul, at 06:30 and fell in behind them for the 30-minute drive to the dock, where they soon had their boats launched down the slipway and into the water. Unfortunately only one of the two boats was suitable for Rick’s wheelchair, despite clear communications prior to the event, but one was better than none – if neither had been capable it would have completely ruined the trip!
Anyway, Peter and I were soon skimming at high speed along the waterway in Jim’s boat, increasingly surprised by the distance we covered before it was time to fish. Eventually the motor was cut, and Jim started poling us steadily in one-to-three feet of slightly murky water, in close proximity to some reedy islands. Peter took up position on the casting platform at the front. It took some time before the guide spotted the first fish, and started giving my pal somewhat excited instructions where to cast. Neither Pete nor I could see the fish, and our slight deafness did anything but help the situation!
I am not too bad at spotting bonefish in crystal-clear water, having done quite a bit of that over the years, but this seemed to be a different ballgame altogether. Redfish move fairly slowly, and apart from a reddish-pink tinge they seem more or less the same colour as the water they’re swimming in. We both struggled spotting the fish, and on the few occasions when we managed an accurate cast, they either ignored our flies or, worse still, fled!
I had what seemed like a good chance in one winding shallow channel, sheltered from the breeze. On this occasion I could see the fish at reasonable casting distance (i.e. twelve-to-fifteen yards, as opposed to under the rod tip), but my efforts were received with total indifference! It was all a bit depressing, and we didn’t get even a follow between us for the day. When we met up back at the dock, we were pleased to hear that Ron had in fact caught a 20-pounder. He’d had several ‘shots’ at this fish, which resulted in it shooting away from the scene, but a very long, accurate last effort put the fly in the right place, and the fish spun around and ate it. Ron was the hero of the day! It was not the start we had been looking for, but we were slightly heartened by the other anglers’ reports that the fishing had been unusually tough.
No good news followed on Tuesday morning, when one of our guides didn’t turn up at the appointed hour. After some discussion it was decided that Ricky should go out on the one boat at our disposal, and the remaining three would go into New Orleans, and explore the renowned Bourbon St. I would have preferred to be fishing, but as that was a non-starter Ron and I took a taxi into the city, while Pete decided to laze the day away at the hotel. That famous street was in fact quite fascinating, with its flags, colours, restaurants, bars and much joyful music, and after a couple of beers in an open-air bar with a live and accomplished band, followed by an exquisite ‘seafood gumbo’, I began to think that I would have a job tearing Ron away! I also came across a rather delightful cigar factory shop, where I purchased two boxes of really nice, and reasonably-priced, Nicaraguan hand-rolled cigars – a good result!
That evening when Jim dropped Ricky off back at the hotel, although once more it hadn’t been easy, we learned that he had caught a 20lb redfish and a 30lb black drum, and was one happy fisherman. Next morning, in the inevitably perfect, warm, sunny and windless conditions, I felt anxious to break my duck, and having scored himself the previous day, Ricky kindly gave me first go on the casting platform.
Before too long Paul, our guide, said:
_”Just look at that f_____ng great monster tailing off that point!”_
Sure enough, within a metre of the swampy reed-covered island we could clearly see a very big fish heading slowly in our direction, tail up and head down! Shaking with excitement, my first cast fell a bit short, but the second was on the money, and to my delight the fish shot forward and engulfed my fly. In a flash all spare line was gone, and the reel screamed in protest, as the beast took off for the horizon. “Wow – this is more like it”, I thought, as I settled into a long and fierce battle, at the same time being congratulated by Rick, I hoped not prematurely!
I needn’t have worried, redfish have large, rubbery mouths, and rarely come off once hooked, and fortunately this proved to be the case in this instance. Paul eventually grabbed my magnificent prize and lifted it aboard. At 30lbs and in perfect condition it was beyond my dreams, and I said that if that was my only fish for the trip I would not complain. Thankfully that statement was not put to the test, as Ricky had a twenty pounder in the boat shortly after taking over, and by the time we paused for lunch, we’d had one more each – both nice fish. We weren’t seeing as many fish as we had expected prior to the holiday, but the average size of those we did see appeared to be between ten and twenty five pounds – well worth catching, especially on fly tackle.
Ron and Peter hadn’t fared as well as us, but their chance came in the afternoon when they came across a school of big feeding fish, mostly black drum but with redfish in amongst them. Peter was the first to hook a large one, which turned out to be another 30lb black drum, and before that one was boated Ron cast and was also quickly in business – a double hook-up at a time when fish were pretty scarce! Our boat was fairly close by, so Paul poled us close enough for me to get a cast into the shoal and, sure enough, I hooked into a third fish – another 20lb-plus redfish. Three on at the same time, and some frantic manoeuvring to avoid the fly-lines getting tangled! Events like this are rare, and sure enough it was over as quickly as it had started – the shallow water seemingly empty except for a large area of mud.
That evening, as we tucked into our T-bone steaks at the Waffle House, the mood in the camp was far more cheerful and the pattern was set for the following two days, which passed by in similar fashion. The only other anomaly was that Ricky, the demon wheel-chair fisherman, hooked and eventually boated a very large alligator-gar, which fortunately was hooked in the scissors – avoiding a bite-off. It made for an impressive photo!
We lost Saturday due to high winds, which made fly-fishing very difficult if not impossible but, to be honest, no-one was too bothered. We had very much enjoyed the four days, and all had some notable fish to remember.
After a week away, no matter how successful and enjoyable, I am always pleased to get home to Sally and my black lab, Max, and the taxi journey back from Manchester in deluging rain provided plenty of time for reflection on another great fishing holiday!
Bring on the next one – but not for a while!!