and a brief PSA regarding proper footwear
In recent years, fishing on my birthday has become a bit of a tradition. I go, regardless of conditions. And, as a result, I’ve found myself faced with more than a few subpar days. In 2016, it was 25 mph winds on an otherwise clear, sunny day. Last year, lows near 30 derailed an overnight run to the Florida panhandle. Every once in a while, however, the stars align, and I find myself gifted with a perfect day.
Such was the case earlier this week, when I met up with Brian Roberts for a joint Birthday outing along LA1 in south Louisiana.
On the road before 4 AM, Brian and I zigzagged our way through cane fields, swamps and small towns enroute to the LA1 corridor. Skies were clear, temps were mild and, best of all, winds were absent. Reds were on the docket, and reports had been good as of late with Ben Roussel landing his personal best in the same stretch of marsh the day prior.
With tides falling throughout the morning, we’d begin our day targeting shallow ponds and flats before retreating to drains and deeper channels as the water dropped.
Pulling to the shoulder as the sun began to inch above the horizon, we found ourselves engulfed in a swarm of gnats. Seemingly undeterred by bug spray, we donned buffs, gloves and long sleeves in hopes of keeping them at bay. Shoes would have come in handy as well. However, I had brought only sandals on this particular morning and elected to add an extra coat of Deet as we prepared to launch.
Combat launching through a grass break in the road side scrub, we headed off. The rising sun at our backs.
And Away We Go
Making our way across the main channel, we began the less than half mile paddle to a pair of ponds that Jake and I had first visited in early January. Extremely shallow, even at high tide, they had contained tailing reds that morning. An occurrence that I hoped would repeat itself again today. As luck would have it, that was indeed the case.
Though visibility was significantly less than on that prior January visit, fish were evident as we arrived at the first pond. Bait could be seen fleeing in the far corner, and, after spooking one red near the entrance, I became aware of the faint wakes and other signs nearer to me.
Eventually keying in on a tailing red in the corner nearest to me, I began as stealthy an approach as I could muster from a 15’ kayak and began placing cast after cast in front of the feeding red. When the fish finally inhaled my Redfish Ritalin, it quickly became apparent that it was the largest fish I’ve hooked on my 8wt H3 Blackout to date.
Bringing the fish to net a few minutes later, I was pleased to have started my day with a small bull. At 28.5”, the thick red was my best of the year. Snapping a quick picture for the Massey’s CPR contest, I returned the fish to water as Brian, now in the back of the pond, hooked into his first fish of the morning.
Moving on, we worked our way through a series of flats, ponds and canals as the sun rose. Fish were everywhere, but did not always come as easily as we would like. We each suffered numerous follows, refusals and spooked fish, but hook ups proceeded at a consistent enough pace to keep dejection at bay.
Scraping mud as the tides began to fall further, we returned to the original pond once more before heading for more open waters. That detour paid off as we quickly doubled up on slot reds. While Brian’s was a quick release as he grasped for his shock tippet, mine came to hand for a quick photo. No where near as large as the first, it was a respectable fish and Brian snapped a quick photo with his camera.
Escaping the falling tide, we moved on from the productive series of ponds and began to explore the vast stretch of marsh extending to the south. Winds beginning to pick up from the North-Northeast, sight fishing would become a struggle, and we spread out in hopes of increasing our odds.
Hugging the leeward shoreline as Brian scouted a series of nearby marsh islands, I quickly encountered my first sheepshead of the day. Positioning as best I could given the wind and tide, I took my shot. To my surprise, the sheephead followed…and followed…and followed…all the way until it was no more than 3’ off by bow. Then, as has been my experience with so many sheepshead in the past, it spotted my boat and made a quick retreat to safer waters.
Moving on, I shook off the disappointment and quickly encountered a slot red cruising in the opposite direction. Less than 10’ to my left, the picked up pace as it saw my kayak. Flipping my fly back on a trajectory that would lead the fish, I was less than shocked as the red did what reds so often do and inhaled the offering without second thought.
A brief fight later, I attempted a quick selfie with my prize and sent it on its way.
Not to be outdone, Brian sent me a picture message from somewhere on the far side of the series of marsh islands he had left to explore. A well-placed fly presented to a large tail protruding from the stained waters had resulted in the best fish of our trip. The ~34” red had taken Brian for a sleighride across the flat, but eventually came to hand (literally, as Brian had forgotten to pack a net).
His personal best on the fly rod, his catch would serve as the penultimate moment of our trip.
Regarding that note about proper foot care…
Winds intensifying, I made my way back at our launch shortly before 2 PM.
The tide now significantly lower, I was greeted by a previously submerged mud flat extending from our launch site. Forcing my kayak as far forward as the laws of physical allowed, I weighed my options.
Recognizing those options were few, I slid on my flip flops and stepped out, hoping to find terra firma. Instead, one foot sunk as the other slipped, grazing a clump of oysters protruding from the mud. Pulling my foot free, retrieved the sunken sandal and dragged my kayak barefoot through the remaining few feet of sludge.
Safely ashore, I proceeded to the opposite side of the highway in search of clean water to rinse my feet and footwear. The sloshing sound that followed was what first alerted me to my situation.
Glancing down, my now clean right foot was painted red. That glancing blow from the oyster had apparently been a direct hit, and I now found myself gushing blood along the side of the road.
Quelling the flow of blood as best I could, I rinsed the wound with my remaining drinking water and treated it with hand sanitizer (the only disinfectant I had on hand). Wounded pinky toe now “clean,” I helped Brian load the kayaks and began the two-hour drive home.
Unable to see the wound directly (a testament to my lack of flexibility), it was only after returning home that I realized how significant the laceration was (I’ll spare you the photos). Cleaned and bandaged, the pain began to increase and, at my wife’s behest, we made our way to the local urgent care.
The outcome…an hour and a half with a slightly panicked, but rather thorough and competent Nurse Practitioner. By the time it was over, I’d received a shot in the arm (tetanus), a shot in the rear (antibiotics meant to combat the risk of Vibrio), some broad spectrum antibiotics and a scheduled follow up with a podiatrist to check for additional damage once the risk of infection has passed.
Needless to say, this was not the type of eventful end I would have foreseen for my birthday. But, as tends to be the case, knowledge is gained with age and experience. Perhaps at age 40, I’ll have finally learned to pack proper footwear for the marsh…