Cuban Time Warp

Sometimes, a once in a lifetime opportunity comes your way and you just have to jump on it. When I received an email from Albemarle Angler about some upcoming hosted trips, it was sheerly by chance that I clicked the link to read more about one. At this point, I don’t even remember what the trip was, because I very quickly got distracted by something that was way cooler. A legal week long trip to Cuba for bonefish, permit, and tarpon. To a virgin fishery. Before Americans are generally allowed to go Cuba. I called up Scott (he’s guided me a couple times before for smallmouth bass on the Shenandoah) to ask a couple questions. It didn’t take much before I was booked. Only 9 months on the calendar until it was trip time.

The preparation phase of this trip was probably the worst. I had done one day of fishing for tarpon on the flats, but other than that, never before done any sort of tropical fly fishing. I was no stranger to the flats targeting redfish, but this was a different beast. Other than pictures, I had never even seen a bonefish or permit before this trip. I had no idea what to expect, what flies to tie, or how much gear I really needed to buy (OK, buying the gear was fun). Luckily, Scott and crew were always a phone call away to make sure I came all set up, well stocked, and well prepared. Note: as good as they are, they can’t force you to remember to pack that rain jacket. Brrrr.

20160220_125946Finally, it came time to get on the plane to Cuba. Well, to Canada first, since we still don’t have commercial flights. My excitement really started building as we’re approaching the Cayo Cruz airport. You could see incredible expanses of flats everywhere. Wetting a line was only a day away, but felt like it was still an eternity.To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it on the trip. I got a lovely diagnosis of the flu four days before I was supposed to leave. Luckily, that tamiflu stuff is a beast.

We landed, hopped in a couple taxis, and made the two hour drive to the lodge. It quickly became quite obvious that we were not in a place we were used to. There were very few cars – although there were far more new cars than I was expecting mixed in with the classics. Sugar cane fields were absolutely everywhere. And the main mode of transportation for people was donkey carts.  Upon arrival to the lodge, we were warmly greeted by the staff and were quickly fed some mojitos. After dinner, we did introductions, met the guides, and planned out the following day. The fishing area is broken out into 6 zones. Generally, they only have one boat operating in each zone, although they’re big enough that you could never run into each other if you share a zone.

OK, well this one wasn't my first, but close enough!

OK, well this one wasn’t my first, but close enough!

The marina was about a 30 km drive from the lodge, which took a little over an hour due to the terrible roads. We got to the marina early the first day to rig up our rods, then hopped in our boats and went off. This is where my forgotten rain jacket would’ve come in handy. The boat spray and the downpour we had in the first hour made for a chilly morning. The first day, I fished with Carson, the owner of Albemarle Angler and co-host of the trip, and our guide Nelson. Carson knew I had never caught a bonefish before and wanted to get some footage of my first. We waded a massive lagoon (it took us over 6 hours to fish half of it), so I had Nelson and Carson’s eyes helping me look for my first bone. It took a while, but we finally found a school of about 10 bonefish swimming right at me. I dropped my Gotcha into the fray and had one bite, but I couldn’t connect. I kept stripping, got another strike, but couldn’t connect again. A quick recast and I got tight. The bonefish took off screaming, but my Hatch Finatic 7 Plus was no match for slowing it down. Before long, my first ever bonefish was in hand.

After the rush of my first, Carson started fishing on his own as well. It was tough conditions with a cold front having come through and lots of clouds. That didn’t stop the fish, nor stop us from catching them. Carson and I combined for 22 bonefish to the hand by the end of the day – 13 for him and 9 for me. I got one barracuda, which was a blast, and had a lemon shark eat about 10 feet from me, but he broke me off 10 seconds later.

As the week progressed, conditions got better and better. On my second day, I finally got a shot at a permit. I dropped the fly in front of the fish, and heard the guide yell “Strip! Strip! Strip! SET THE HOOK!” A long pull with my left hand and…. I pulled up two feet of slack and watched the permit spook away. Whoops.

There was something about me and my boat that seemed to attract permit. I had by far the most shots at permit, delivering the fly to around 20 fish. I only got two fish to eat – that first one, and the very last one I saw – but couldn’t come tight to either. One of the other guys had a bonefish steal the fly out of a permit’s mouth. But, that was the closest anyone got to catching one that week. It was tough conditions all week for permit and not prime time, but we still go in our shots.

Toward the end of the week, we had a glass-calm morning. The guide said we were starting out looking for tarpon. With the calm weather, we had a good chance at finding some of the resident tarpon rolling. We saw the first roller only a couple minutes after getting to the flat. We pulled up, the guide pointed a fish out, and I dropped in the fly. A fish ate, but I only stung his lip. Next cast, another eat, but I set too soon and pulled it out of his mouth. Nothing on my third cast. Fourth cast brought a mangrove snapper to hand. My fifth cast turned out another eat. I yanked on the line and got solid contact. The guide starts telling me to set the hook again. The tarpon started running directly at me and past the boat. As I’m trying to keep from getting slack, let alone another attempt at a hook set, I get jumped. I turned over the bow to my boatmate after that, but we couldn’t get another shot. Carson ended up landing one the next day.

Barracuda stichedOf all the fish I caught the whole trip, my favorite by far was barracuda. I caught two on the trip, with the second being a pretty hefty specimen. These fish will take 100 yards of backing in about 10 seconds. Apparently, most jump, although I only had my second one jump. He was a feisty one. Once hooked, he started jumping and tailwalking as if he was a sailfish. With each jump, he’d easily clear 40 feet of water before going back to swimming rather than flying.

IMG_2714There were quite a few unique things about the Cuban fishing. First, these bonefish are stupid. You can completely miss your cast, even dropping it 5 feet behind the fish, and it’ll come back and destroy your fly. You can get a bad hookset, pop the fly out, and it’ll pick up the fly again. Even with a couple cold fronts coming through and less than ideal conditions, bonefish were always fairly plentiful. Over the week, I caught about 30, despite focusing on permit several days. The flats are quite unique as well. There are more than a few areas where the flats go on as far as you can see. Some are easily over a square mile. While I have no comparison since this is my first trip, I was told some individual flats are bigger than all of Ascension Bay. Lastly, no matter what flat you’re on, you always have a chance at seeing a permit. In fact, there wasn’t a day where either I or my boatmate didn’t see a permit. Because of that, more often than not, I wound up throwing my 10 weight Helios 2 just in case we ran into a permit. But, that didn’t stop the bonefish from putting up one heck of a fight. Many would take us well into our backing. While the fish weren’t necessarily too long compared to other destinations, they were far fatter. The average fish was 4-5 pounds, with quite a few hitting the 10 pound mark.

So far, the Cuban fishery has been amazing. Hopefully, it will stay that way. Luckily, the Cubans are very proud of their environmental resources and actively try to protect it. However, as things begin opening up with the US, who knows what will happen. Surely, it will get way more expensive. If you want to go, make some moves quick. Albemarle Angler is hosting another trip to Cuba in December 2016. I highly recommend getting in before things start to change!

October Redfish

“This one’s only a baby!”

How many times have you been able to say that in all honesty while fighting a 12 lb redfish? Well, hitting the marshes of Louisiana during October, you can. I joined Captain Greg Moon of Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters for a 4-day trip to the marshes during some prime October fishing. As luck seems to have it with me, weather would not be friendly for the whole trip. A front moving after the first night in was predicted to whip up winds too strong to fish, so we had to make the good weather on day 1 count since it looked like it would be the only day I’d get to fish.

Fish on the flats

Look carefully at this picture. Every light marking in the water is a fish. This particular school was heavy on the black drum, but had plenty of redfish mixed in as well.

This time of year, the fish school up like crazy. And I’m not talking like in South Carolina where you’re getting schools of 5 pound fish. I’m talking about the big boys and girls. Your average fish is in the twenty pound range. Acres of fish, too. Some schools, like the one pictured, were heavy in black drum, but still had plenty of redfish mixed in. Others schools were predominantly redfish. The schools had one thing in common though – they were HUGE. Acres of fish.

Redfish on the MarshThroughout the day, we stopped counting the fish I caught, but it was somewhere in the ballpark of 20-25 redfish and two black drum. I only caught two fish all day under 20 lbs. The average fish was in the mid 20-lb range, with a few creeping close to 30 pounds. There were definitely some 30+ pound fish in the schools, but I missed my shot on them or had a smaller one take it away. Towards the end of the day, I even stopped casting to fish that didn’t have a shot at going 30+. To put it bluntly, this was the single best day of fishing I have ever had in my life. I know if the weather would have held, I would’ve found my 30 lb fish over the next several days. Look below for the rest of the pictures from the day!

Ready to book? Good luck! October dates book up WELL in advance. In fact, Greg already has all of October and most of November 2016 booked already, so check out 2017. Don’t fear, though – the entire year has fantastic fishing! Give Greg a call at (702) 497-1673. Additional contact information is on his website. Don’t forget to check out his photo gallery for some seriously amazing pictures of fish his clients have put in the boat. Half day trips run $475 for up to 2 people, and full day trips go for $600. Once you go, come back and leave a review!

Big school of redfish

Big school of redfish

Beautiful shot of a tail on the release

Beautiful shot of a tail on the release

Nice action shot

Nice action shot

Black drum on the fly

Black drum

Redfish on the fly

One of many redfish

Redfish release

Redfish release

Redfish on the fly Redfish on the fly

James River Smallmouth with Matt Miles

My wife begrudgingly rolled over when the alarm went off at the hotel. We were to meet our guide, Captain Matt Miles, at the boat ramp for a smallmouth float on the James River in about an hour. Like a trooper, Susanna rolled over and looked like she was filled with regret with her decision to humor me and join in on the fishing trip. I’ve fished with Matt a few times before, twice for musky and once for stripers (yikes, I just realized I never wrote about that trip!), but this would be the first time getting out with him to focus on smallmouth.

We rolled up about two minutes early with Matt waiting patiently and strung up our gear. Matt’s dad ran the shuttle with us, saving us an extra trip by car on each side. Matt told me and Susanna that we would be fishing topwater today – but I already knew that. Who would possibly fish any other way in late August?

We got onto the water, and it was time for Susanna to demo her casting skills. Being a novice as-is, this was her first time casting in about two years, and the rust was really showing. Matt was prepared though. After a five minutes of casting lessons, she already was casting better than I had ever seen before.

With everyone’s casts in check, we began the real float. The first stretch would be slow. For some reason, it seems every single float I’ve ever done is terrible through the first and last half mile of river. We get along some shoreline grass, and Matt tells me to be ready for a fish cruising the grass line. Sure enough, I get nailed by a 12-14” smallie. The skunk was off.

Matt-Miles-Smallmouth-On-The-FlyThe next fish slurped the fly like a trout taking in a midge. It barely even left a surface riffle. It was a true sign of a giant. Sure enough, my 7-weight bent hard. We battled back and forth, and I struggled keeping it out of the submerged grass. Matt gave me pointers on properly fighting the bronzeback. Go figure, after 15+ years of chasing smallies on the fly, you can still learn the right way to fish and fight fish. Matt netted my quarry. It measured just over 20 inches – a Virginia citation fish.

The next several fish alternated between the “fun size” 12-14 inch fish and the hefty 17-19 inch fish we were after. We caught so many fish in the 16-inch plus class, we stopped counting. I had another fish in the 20 inch range on the line, but a last second dodge of the net and dive under the boat left him swimming away with the popper in his mouth. I was blown away by the sheer number of quality fish. There was even a huge one that we watched sip the popper. In my excitement, I fumbled the hookset and missed. I said, “Well, that’s OK. It wasn’t quite as big as the first one.”

Matt quipped, “Hey man, whatever helps you sleep tonight.”

Ready to book with Matt Miles? For some of the best fly fishing in southwest Virginia, give Matt a call. Rates start at $300 for a half day float or wade trip.

Our New Blog – District Carp

We’re proud to announce our newest blog, District Carp. This blog details our efforts of fly fishing for carp in Washington, DC. We’ll be giving constant reports on the conditions, but we’ll also be going over everything from techniques to gear to carp travels across the country. Please check it out, read up on our last few trips, and follow us to stay in touch with the latest news!

Sugar Hollow Farm with Albemarle Angler

Moormans River

The scenic Moormans River on Sugar Hollow Farm

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to get out on the water with Cole from Albemarle Angler to target some rainbow trout. We fished a private stretch of the Moormans River that’s on Sugar Hollow Farm just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. Albemarle Angler has access rights to about 3/4 of a mile of this river, and they stock it each year with a hefty number of trout. Unfortunately, there’s really no wild or holdover fish in this river since it’s a tailwater fed with water from the top of a dam, and it just gets too warm during the summer to support the trout. This does make for a hefty smallmouth population, though!

My trout experience is pretty limited in rivers. Growing up on Cape Cod, the only trout you really caught were in lakes, with the extraordinarily rare catch of a sea-run brown trout. Since I focus so much of my time on warmwater or saltwater species, I haven’t had tons of time to learn proper ways to read a river or practice delivering a fly to a trout. I usually only get out for trout once or twice per year, and never in the winter. I was very excited to start picking up new techniques to add to my arsenal.

Rainbow TroutWe suited up and got in the river. It was pretty stained from the previous day’s rain, but wasn’t too muddy. Cole tied on a Kreelex for me, and told me how to fish the first hole. A few casts in, I get my first strike. After a hard fight and some acrobatic jumps, we have about a 14″ rainbow in the net. A few casts later, I was hooked up again with another beautiful, hard fighting rainbow trout.

The trout Albemarle Angler put in the river aren’t your standard stocked trout. They feed on natural river-based food, rather than hatchery food. The fish still readily take a fly, but their natural diet makes them a bit more wily, and much closer to a wild trout than your typical stocker.

Rainbow Trout

Another nice rainbow trout released

I was impressed with how well Cole knew the waters. Despite the stained water, he could tell me exactly where every feature of the river was. He knew where the ledges were, where I could walk out on a sandbar, and where to avoid so I didn’t snag. All I could see was muddy water. This knowledge paid off, though, and he kept me on fish all day. He knew when to switch up the fly, and just how to present it to maximize your chances at a strike.

Ready to book with Albemarle Angler? Be sure to leave a review if you try them out! They can be reached at albemarleangler@gmail.com via email or by phone at (434) 977-6882. Rates for a full day floats are $350 including lunch, and wading trips start at $225 for a half day. Albemarle Angler targets smallmouth bass from mid-March through mid-October, and trout (brook, brown, rainbow, and tiger trout!) from mid-September to mid-June depending on water flows. They fish the Shenandoah and James Rivers for smallmouths, and various rivers, streams, and creeks (including some private water) for trout. Albemarle Angler is also a full service fly shop located at 1129 Emmet St, Charlottesville, Virginia, 22903. As if all that isn’t enough, they also coordinate fly fishing trips across the globe.

Can’t get the Musky off my back

I have my flaws – too many to list here, in fact. But the one that gets me is I get obsessed about things. Fishing, obviously, is one of them. Musky happened to be a sub-obsession. With the weather getting cooler, the musky fishing was picking back up here in Virginia. You might remember from an earlier blog post, my friend Joe and I went after some musky on the fly with Matt Miles Fly Fishing. Joe caught one and had another strike. I got nothing more than a single follow and a tired arm. I felt shunned by the fish. Why didn’t he eat my fly? Mine must have looked just as tasty. I had to have my revenge.

With fall starting to hit full swing, Joe and I set up trip number 2 with Matt Miles on the James River. The weather was crap. Cool and overcast all day. A couple hours of rain in the morning, then misty and a shower or two the rest of the day. It was one of those days where the weather was only good for sipping some bourbon by the fire. And musky fishing.

Matt was determined to put me on my first musky. We hit a different section of the James this time than we did last time. We launched and found the first fish right at the ramp. It swam off as we floated over it, but still made a few throws. I got the follow a couple times, but no strike. Maybe the next hole would be better.

Matt taught us a trick cast, and how to throw a single hand rod with two hands. It was great. I was effortlessly throwing the half a chicken worth of feathers 80-feet plus all day without getting tired. This came in great use working more water with each cast.

It turned out, this wasn’t going to be my trip to get revenge. Instead, the fish just laughed at me. Joe and I combined for over 14 follows the whole day, but we couldn’t coax a strike out of even one of these beasts. We saw some real tanks too – probably some that were close to 50 inches. Even though we never bent a rod on a fish, it was one of the more exciting days I’ve had of fishing. There’s nothing like watching a giant torpedo follow in your fly, then circle around with your figure 8, just contemplating whether it should pounce.

The fish of 10,000 casts is beginning to live up to it’s name for me. I’ll be back out there soon, and hopefully I’ll get one to cooperate. In the meantime, look up Matt Miles and see if you can beat me to the punch and get one of these bad boys to eat your feathers. After you go, come back and tell us about it, then leave Matt a review!

All pictures are courtesy of Matt Miles Fly Fishing.

Fly fishing for Musky

Hard at work trying to coax a musky into taking my fly

James River Tree

A brilliant tree on the James River.

James River

The foliage was beginning to turn on the James. Made for some nice scenery.

The Ghosts of Redfish Past

Ever since my first trip down to Louisiana to fly fish for some of the giant redfish, I haven’t been able to get those pigs out of my mind. I think redfish, sleep redfish, and, well, eat redfish. Luckily, I get down to New Orleans quite a bit and always try to tack a day of fishing onto my trip. But just one day was never enough. Getting great weather on any one single day isn’t a guarantee, and even if it is great, the day goes by WAY too fast. So, I booked a three day trip back down to the marsh with Captain Greg Moon of Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters.

As it turns out, three days isn’t enough either. I booked this past weekend almost one year ago. September and October is historically some of the best weather and fishing conditions you can get, so those months are often 100% booked six months or more out. The best tide days can book more than a year in advance. Of course, booking that far in advance, you have no idea what the weather will be like and if you’ll have seasonally unusual conditions. It didn’t cooperate.

Day 1

The forecast called for high winds and an 80% chance of afternoon thunderstorms. To top it off, the marsh had been dealing with high water conditions for almost the entire month of September. Nonetheless, Greg said we’d be able to get out there.

Morning time came, and we hit the launch, greeted by the predicted high winds and overcast skies. We ran out to where Greg thought the water would be the cleanest and we’d have a little protection from the wind. Not too long after we get out there, we see some fish working, but I couldn’t deliver the casts. Battling the wind and low visibility from the cloud cover made fishing a challenge. A few giants came and went, ignoring my inaccurate casts.

Greg finds me a medium sized fish that was eating and happy, and I finally deliver a decent cast that the fish sees. It chases down the fly as I’m stripping it back to the boat. Just as the fish lunges to eat, I snag a small piece of marsh grass, tricking me into thinking that was the strike. I strip set, only to realize I hadn’t connected and simply pulled away the fly from the fish.

Close to noon, we see a tail waving at us from 100 yards away. We both knew this fish was a monster. We worked the boat closer and closer, Greg doing everything he could to keep the boat on the flats in 20-plus knot wind. The tail looked to be the size of a dinner plate. I got the line ready as we slid into position. This fish was as happy as could be. I knew if I can drop the fly in the right spot, I’ll be battling a 35 pound redfish.

I double haul and shoot the line out. The wind carries my fly about 4 feet left. I pick up and cast again with the same result. One more pick up, but I compensate for the wind this time. I drop the fly, and the wind dies, leaving my fly 4 feet right. One more pick up and lay down, and the tail disappears. I blew it.

We stayed out another 20 minutes or so as the wind kept picking up even more. Finally, we had to call it a day. Casting was near impossible, and holding the boat in position was even more of a chore. The giants evaded me today, but I still had two more days.

Day Two

I wake up at 5 AM to get ready. Ten minutes later, I see my phone light up from Greg. It’s the dreaded call. Winds are even crazier, and water levels are a foot higher than the already high water levels. Rain was certain, too. Greg said he’d take me out if I wanted, but recommended we save up for tomorrow. While you never want to lose a day fishing on your trip, it’s a sign of a great and ethical guide to not take you for an expensive boat ride in crappy conditions with little chance to catch fish.

I hit the hay for a few extra hours of sleep before waking up, watching some football, and grabbing a couple beers and raw oysters.

Day Three

My last day on the marsh was shaping up to be a little better. The forecast called for the clouds to clear and the winds to lay down. We couldn’t shake the high water though. No one is really sure why the water won’t fall. According to the local guides, the only time you see water levels like that is right after a storm – which they didn’t have. But, we were still going to make the best of it.

The morning started off with a few clouds and still a pretty good breeze, but definitely fishable weather. With the high water, fish were more spread out with more places to find food. Most of the fish were laid up on the bottom. Since the water wasn’t gin-clear yet, the low light made it tough to spot most of them until you’re on top of them. My sweet spot for casting on the mark is 30-50 feet – we were getting 10 foot shots at best. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried casting an weighted fly accurately with little more than a leader, but it is not easy.

I get a shot at a 20 pound fish. Stripping the fly, I can tell it was just far enough outside the fish’s strike zone for it to ignore it. Out of nowhere, a decent slot redfish nails the fly. I put it in the boat, happy to have the skunk off my back for the trip.

The clouds finally start to part, giving us some much needed light. It was still tough seeing some of the laid up fish, but at least we had more shots from more reasonable distances.

We still hadn’t gotten the giant I was hunting. Greg found me another, but I just never saw the fish. It’s pretty amazing how a 40 inch fish can be completely invisible to someone 30 feet away. I put several more slots in the boat over the rest of the day, but that would be last giant fish we’d have any opportunity to catch. One more bull made an appearance, but disappeared before we were in casting distance.

Even though I didn’t get the trophy I was after, I still had a blast. The weather didn’t particularly cooperate, but that’s part of fishing. The difference between a good and great guide is in how he handles the situation. With the high water and tough weather, many guides would either call it, or give up before the day even started. Greg dealt with what he could control – reading the conditions, finding the fish, and positioning the boat for me to get a shot – in the best way possible and gave me as many opportunities to catch a fish as possible. I have learned my lesson though. Next year, I’m doing four days.

If you want to fly fish for some trophy redfish on the fly rod, there’s no better place than the marshes of Louisiana. If you go, look up Greg Moon and let him know we sent you. After you go, come back and leave a review for Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters!

Matt Miles, the King of Musky Fly Fishing

I’ve long known about the musky populations in Virginia rivers such as the New, James, and Shenandoah. Going after them has always been a fleeting thought in my head, but never made an honest effort to try to catch one. That all changed after a post on the message board of my local fly fishing club, Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders, with a picture of one of these beast’s toothy grin caught on a trip with Matt Miles – who I’ve dubbed the King of Musky Fly Fishing – of Matt Miles Fly Fishing. The wheels started turning. At a Tidal Potomac “Beer Tie” (a beer tie is an excuse for a bunch of guys to drink beer while tying flies and trading fish stories and lies), I met Joe and the musky idea came up. It was all but a done deal after that, and we were on our way to try to catch the fish of 10,000 casts.

Our first attempt at going out with Matt was postponed due to a massive rainstorm completely blowing out the James River. Early June brought around our second attempt. This time, a rain storm added a little bit of flow and quite a bit of color, but not too much to call it off for a second time. Our 6:30 AM meeting put us on the river around 7 AM. We’d be targeting musky, but throwing some smallmouth flies in between musky holes.

Matt likes to throw big flies for musky. I don’t mean “big” like 4 inch deceivers. I mean BIG. The flies look like they’re the product of a weird science project to combine a full size chicken and squirrel. We’re talking 10, 12, or even 14 inch flies. Throwing a wet sock is no easy task. Minimizing your false casts and double hauling is a requirement to having a chance of throwing this 11 weight all day.

Matt likes to throw big flies for musky. I don’t mean “big” like 4 inch deceivers. I mean BIG. The flies look like they’re the product of a weird science project to combine a full size chicken and squirrel. We’re talking 10, 12, or even 14 inch flies. Throwing a wet sock is no easy task. Minimizing your false casts and double hauling is a requirement to having a chance of throwing this 11 weight all day. If you learn to water-load, that will really help you late in the trip when you think your arm is about to fall off. My nice long casts from the early morning turned into mustering all my strength for a pitiful 30 foot cast by the last hole.

James River Smallmouth Fly FishingOur day started off pretty slow. There were no musky to be seen. No strikes, no follows, nothing. You shouldn’t expect to see one every cast or every hole, but we were just getting blanked completely. To top it off, we couldn’t even muster a strike or follow from a smallmouths between musky holes. We were starting to get suspicious if fish actually lived in the James at all. Matt changed up my fly to a Tequilly and that woke up the smallies. This section of the James is still recovering from a fish kill and a few poor spawns, so most of the smallmouth were pretty small. That was OK, though, because this river isn’t a place we would have gone to target the smallies. Even still, I ended up with a couple decent size fish that are an absolute blast on the fly rod. Joe wasn’t having quite the same luck and was quick to blame me for stealing all the good holes from the front of the drift boat.

We stopped for a stream-side picnic lunch before picking back up to try to find that elusive Musky. Joe took over the front of the boat (no more excuses from him now!) and we started slinging our water-logged birds. We approached a hole that Matt said was ripe with potential. Joe just about had his fly in the boat when I hear “MUSKY!!!!” and see Joe’s rod doubled over with an angry torpedo taking flight. It must have been his 10,000th cast.

James River Musky Fly Fishing with Matt MilesThe musky tried its best to escape, but was no match for the 11 wt Helios 2. Joe subdued the fish and Matt scooped it up. It was officially the first Musky either of us had ever caught, and the first one I had even seen in person. At about 33 inches, it wasn’t the biggest fish in the river, but was no baby either. Matt whipped out his camera and snapped a few pictures. As you can tell from the photos, Matt definitely has some photography skills as well as fishing skills. Matt got the fish back in the water and release him to fight another day.

About 10 minutes later, we pull up to another hole. Matt points out some fishy water, and Joe tosses his fly towards the spot. BOOM! An enormous musky hits his fly. This fish had to have been at least 50 inches. Unfortunately, the hook point didn’t find its way home and the best view we got was the flash of the fish. Joe and I each got one more follow, but couldn’t coax either fish to eat. By the end of our long day, Joe and I were both exhausted. I’ve never wanted to stop fishing before – and this wasn’t didn’t become the first time – but I just could make another cast to save my life.

For a unique fly fishing experience, be sure to call up Matt. Central and Southwest Virginia has some fantastic fishing, and this definitely needs to be on your bucket list. Matt guides year round for smallmouth and trout, and recommends September through June for Musky. I’m already starting to make plans to get back out there with him this fall. Rates start at $275 for a half day and $375 for a full day. Book a trip with Matt and come back and leave a review! Check out a short GoPro-filmed version of the trip on YouTube.

James River Musky with Matt MilesJames River Musky with Matt Miles Fly Fishing

How To: Fly Fishing for Grass Carp

Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series of “How To” guides created and published by Find the Fishing.
Proof positive that the grass carp can be successfully targeted on the fly rod!

Proof positive that the grass carp can be successfully targeted on the fly rod!

The long standing debate in the fly fishing world: Is a carp a trash fish or game fish? We’ve really seen a trend towards game fish, lately, as we see more people try for the carp, and more people realizing the prize once they hook their first one. Plenty of articles are out there on fishing for carp, and there are even many guides that now specialize in fly fishing for carp. And there isn’t much reason not to – they willingly take a well presented fly (think like a bonefish, not a sunfish), they grow to significant size for a freshwater dweller, and they can even put up a few drag-eating runs. The vast majority of carp people target, though, is the common carp. A much less frequently targeted species on the fly rod is the grass carp, or white amur.

About the Grass Carp

The grass carp is not a native species to the United States. It was imported from eastern Asia as a method to control aquatic weeds. Like the Common Carp, it is also a member of the minnow family, and shares the appearance as well. Just way bigger. They can now be found in 45 states throughout the US, but generally, cannot reproduce naturally in our waters – because few areas have spawning conditions that meet their needs, and most stocked species are sterilized. There have, however, recently been confirmed reports of the Grass Carp reproducing in the Great Lakes Basin. Grass Carp are mainly vegetarian, but will occasionally munch on other animals. These fish can grow BIG (the IGFA World Record is 87 pounds, 10 ounces), and they grow fast. In the ponds I fish, a 5 pound specimen is small, and 10-15 is normal. There are a few bruisers that likely push 20 pounds.

Where to Find Grass Carp

If you’re fishing for Grass Carp in the US, they’re almost certainly stocked. You’ll often find them in man made lakes and ponds, such as community ponds or golf course ponds, to help control the weed population. Make sure you have permission to fish these waters, though, since they’re often private. Some states or localities also stock them in public waters, too.

Once you’ve located a body of water with grass carp, it’s time to find the fish. I’ve found the fish in all parts of the pond – the mud flats, weed/tree lines, the edge of grassy banks, and cruising the depths. When fly fishing, you’re fairly limited to targeting the fish you can see. The fish in each pond tend to develop habits, so you can quickly figure out the best place to find them depending on the time of day. I prefer fishing mud flats and edges of the bank, since the fish tend to be most willing to eat when they’re holding in those areas of the pond, and they’re generally the easiest to see.

Grass Carp Flies and Equipment

Whatever set up you use for Common Carp is fine for Grass Carp. I use a 7 weight Orvis Helios 2 with a Mirage reel, but I’d be just as happy throwing a 6 or 8 weight. A good drag will be very useful. Going lighter than a 6 weight could get you in trouble with some of the bigger fish if you need to apply much muscle to keep it out of thick weeds or obstructions. I typically use a flourocarbon leader, but a floating mono leader will work too. You can go light if you like, but I prefer 0X tippet. 3X broke too often on the hookset.

Despite their primarily vegetarian diet, Grass Crap will eat bugs – both your typical subsurface nymphs and insects that fall into the water. I really prefer fishing on the surface. I generally have a much easier time convincing fish to eat and fly visibility is much less of an issue on long shots or overcast days. Some of my favorite flies:

  • Boogle Bug – this fly can catch almost anything. It’s a surface popper that’s killer for most warmwater species like smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and sunfish. I’ve also caught crappie and perch on it. Bigger versions have seen success in saltwater, and there’s even several accounts of these flies catching trout. Add Grass Carp to the list of species. I’ve had success with their “popper” style in “Solar Flare” (chartreuse), “Electric Damsel” (bright blue), and “Mossy Green.” I prefer smaller sizes for grass carp since despite being bigger fish, their mouths aren’t huge. They have a propensity to “miss” the fly, and I’ve found if a part of the fly touches their mouth before it’s completely eaten, they’ll abort the strike.
  • Terrestrials: Beetles, Ants, and Hoppers – Grass Carp have a hard time resisting a well placed bug that “fell” into the water. I haven’t had any luck with a dragon/damselfly on the surface yet, though. Whatever you do, make sure the patterns are tied on an extra strong hook. You aren’t going after 12″ trout. I’ve had several fish straighten the hook on a small beetle. My favorite fly is a beetle pattern from Orvis in size 12.
  • Soft Hackles: I prefer fishing these without beads so they stay higher in the water column and can be fished much slower.
  • Damselfly Nymphs: These work better in the summer when damsels are actually present. For most species, I like bead chain eyes, but I like lighter weight eyes (like burnt monofilament) again to fish it slower and stay higher in the water column. My go-to damselfly nymph in general is the Rob Snowhite Damsel Nymph.
  • “Grass” flies: These are really simple. In community and golf course ponds, people will cut their lawn, and the Grass Carp will feed on the grass clippings. Tie a piece of fake grass (like from a sushi platter) to an extra-strong dry fly hook, and cast it among the feeding carp after the lawns are mowed. This is kind of cheating though.
  • Nymphs and bugs: Try a scud pattern, a Hare’s Ear Nymph, or my favorite, the Steelhead Hammer in chartreuse. I use the bright color for ease of visibility. The carp don’t seem to mine. Most other aquatic “bugs” have the potential to draw interest as well.

I’ve personally never had success with bonefish-like flies typically used to target Common Carp, such as a “Headstand” or “Tickler.” Most of those imitate a small crayfish. I’m not sure if the Grass Carp just don’t want to tango with a crayfish or if there aren’t any in the ponds I fish, and therefore look unnatural, but I’ve never even had a second glance. Or, maybe I’ve just never presented those flies well enough…

Presenting the Fly

Grass Carp on the FlyYour presentation starts before you even think about your cast. Grass Carp are probably some of the spookiest fish I’ve ever targeted. You need to creep around like you’re a lion stalking its prey. If I see a fish near the bank, I don’t walk closer than thirty feet. Keep this in mind with every cast you make and every fish you approach. I’ve found fish are more spooky in the winter – or at least what counts as winter in southern South Carolina – than in the spring, summer, and fall, but all still require adequate caution. We’ll break down the presentation into two sections: topwater and subsurface.

Topwater Presentations

I limit my topwater fishing to spring through fall. The fish just seem way too spooky in the winter to put up with the splash of a popping bug landing on the surface, and there just isn’t that much terrestrial or surface activity in the winter either. I prefer not to cast to tailing or mudding fish when doing topwater. They’re rarely looking up, so are less likely to see your fly.

The ideal fish to target with topwater is one that is slowly cruising along near the surface. You have a narrow window to present the fly, so accurate casting abilities are crucial. I’ve found the ideal placement is between 2 and 3 feet in front of the fish, but not on the exact line of travel. I believe the placement of the fish’s eyes on the sides of its head makes it more difficult for the fish to see things directly in front of it, and my unscientific studies of hours targeting them seem to support my theory. Drop the fly 6 to 12 inches closer to you than the path of the fish. You can usually do this by using refraction of water to your advantage. Aim to where the fish appears it is, since it will actually be a little further away due to the wonders of physics. I avoid casting to the far side of the fish for a couple reasons – he’s less likely to see the line, and if you miss on your cast, you have less of a chance of spooking the fish. Similarly, I try to avoid casting to a fish swimming away from me.

Sometimes I like a little bit of splash when I drop a popper – you don’t always need to cast it like it’s a size 26 midge. It seems to get their attention, but definitely isn’t a requirement. Good luck with getting a size 16 beetle to make much of a splash. You have to walk the fine line between a small splash and throwing a boulder in the water, though. Once you’ve hit the water, just let the fly sit and don’t twitch it. You’ll know pretty quickly whether the fish is going to take your fly. They seem to make their decision on whether they will eat almost immediately, so you can’t give them any time to consider whether it is really food. You’ll see the fish slowly angle itself upwards and open its mouth to engulf the fly. Nothing is quick about this strike. I’ve never had a fish take topwater after the fly has been in the water for more than 5 seconds, and I’ve never had a strike on a fly that has been moved.

If you miss your cast, it isn’t always the end of the world. Just wait for the fish to swim past before you pick up and try again. The colder the season, the longer you should wait before you pick up. Once the fish is a two or three feet past the fly, it’s usually safe to start stripping it in a few times to make another throw. The only exception to waiting until the fish is past is if you are in danger of “lining” the fish. If the fish feels the leader or line hit its body, it will definitely spook.

Subsurface

Presenting a subsurface fly isn’t significantly different than topwater. You’ll have a little more luck casting at fish that are tailing, since they often are looking for things that got rooted up by their nosing around. You still want to drop the fly about 2-3 feet in front of the fish, but accuracy is less important. If you throw too far ahead, you can wait for the fish to swim closer. Imitate the natural movement of whatever nymph pattern you are using, but slow it down. I have never seen a grass carp chase down a meal. They seem to like to just stumble upon them.

Unlike my topwater presentations, I like casting across the fish when fishing subsurface patterns. Giving the fish the opportunity to see the fly with both eyes seems to help. Bring flies of several weights so you can more easily match the place in the water column where the fish are swimming. I’ve never had one pick something up off the bottom, but that doesn’t meant it won’t happen. I’ve never used an indicator with a nymph since I only sight fish, they might help in lower light or lower visibility situations. The strike is all visual for me, and once again, does not happen fast.

Setting the Hook

Yes, setting the hook requires its own section for no reason other than it took me at least ten strikes before I was able to actually hook a fish. These fish eat S-L-O-W-L-Y. Remember that. Drive it into your head like it is all that matters. Unlike a bass, their food rarely flees, so they don’t need to close their mouths quickly to make sure it doesn’t get away. Remembering that tidbit becomes extremely challenging to remember when you see a fish engulf your fly, particularly on topwater strikes. When you see the take, the key is to count to two or three and slowly and steadily strip in the line. When you feel contact, give it a little bit of a harder tug while being careful not to rip the fly out of the fish’s mouth or popping your leader. Depending on the angle of the fish, you can help make sure it gets into the corner of the mouth by slowly lifting the rod in the direction opposite of the fish’s path. The fish will often hook itself, but not always. If you react as soon as you see the take, you’ll simply pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth.

Once you’ve come tight with the fish, be ready for the battle. Some fish will act like a big roll of paper towels until you try to land it, then it’ll make a drag pulling run. Others will take off immediately and even jump a bit. Make sure you’ve got a good sized net with you, too, because these fish are not easy to land by hand.

Now that you’re ready to get out there, send us pictures of your success!

Redfish on the Biloxi Marsh

Back in September, I tried to go out for some redfish on the flats of the Biloxi Marsh, but the weather conspired against me. Luckily, I found myself needing to get back down to New Orleans for a wedding, so I called up Captain Greg Moon of Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters to get me back out on the water. The perfect timing of the wedding got my Christmas vacation started a little early with a flight down to the Crescent City on Wednesday night just in time to grab a fantastic po’boy from Tracey’s before resting up for my Thursday excursion. The excitement of targeting this bull redfish was already building, and sleep did not come easily.

Captain Greg picked me up from the hotel early on Thursday. Even though my hotel was right on Canal St., I’m not sure how he managed to navigate that trailer through the old city streets. We headed southeast towards the launch, stopping at Penny’s Cafe for a hearty breakfast and to pick up some sandwiches for lunch. I had one of the best ham and cheese omelettes my taste buds have ever had the chance to savor. This was starting off to be a great trip.

We got down to the boat ramp, and Greg pushed us off and started motoring through the bayou. Despite the relatively warm forecast temperatures, I was glad I made the last second decision to pack my Under Amour and sweatshirt. We pulled off to our starting point, and Greg readied the fly rod. Since this was my first time on the flats for reds, he explained what I’d be looking for, what he’d be doing to get me in the right position, and how I’d need to present the fly and set the hook. We weren’t going for slot reds, so this trip would be all strip sets as if we’re targeting tarpon. I stepped up to the casting platform and readied my line. Greg had barely finished the instructions before I look down and see a giant redfish maybe 10 feet off the boat. Unfortunately, this one was too close to really do anything with, and it swam off to the horizon.

A few minutes later, I spot another redfish. Like the first, this one looked enormous – or in Greg’s words, a “donkey.” I laid down a perfect cast, and Greg says, “Strip! Strip!” The bull turned on the fly and inhaled it! In the moment of excitement, I lifted the tip and the rod bent in half. The weight of the fish became quickly apparent, then suddenly, everything went quiet. There was no longer a brick on the end of the line, and no longer a bend in the rod. Remember when I said the fly would need to be strip set? Well I didn’t. The trout-strike just didn’t have enough power behind it to drive the hook point into the tough mouth of the redfish, and it popped the hook out of its mouth. I hope I don’t make that mistake again.

What looked like it was a beautiful day to my untrained eye turned out to be actually somewhat challenging conditions. The past several days had seen nearly perfect conditions – light prevailing winds, bluebird skies, and lots of hungry fish. For my trip, a new weather system came through, bringing moisture in from the gulf. We had some clouds come through, plus slightly hazy skies – which makes it incredibly difficult to see fish. The wind changed from the prevailing northerly direction to coming in from the south, which made water levels change. A full moon likely had the fish feeding all night. All these conditions combined for finicky, spooky, difficult to see fish. Luckily, I had Greg on the push pole.

We kept getting stifled by the spooky fish, or by the time we could even see them, the boat would be on top of them. Greg moved us on to another flat and set up the drift. Shortly thereafter, Greg spots a big “floater” – which is just like what it sounds. The redfish looked like on the surface. “9 o’clock!” he calls out. I peer off the side of the boat, but just can’t pick it up. Greg starts feeding me more location details as I start up a cast blindly. “Give me 30 feet, 9 o’clock! It’s the it’s orange blob!” I still can’t pick it up the fish, but could manage to hook myself mid-cast. Of course, as soon as I do that, I see the bright, jack-o-lantern-like redfish glowing on the surface. It’s simply astounding that I couldn’t find it in the water to begin with, but that’s what comes with experience and bow time for this type of fish. All was not lost, though, Greg kept a bead on the fish while I untangled myself. Sure enough, it disappeared from my sight again somehow. Greg kept trying to give me directions on the fish as it swam off out of reach and permanently out of sight. I guess all was lost on that fish.

Despite my screw-ups, Greg wasn’t deterred. He moved us to another flat, and sure enough he found the fish one more time. This time, every direction we looked, we had some donkeys swimming around us. I cast at one, but it spooked. Greg saw one he wanted me to target and called it out. Once again, I couldn’t find the fish. I cast blindly in the direction Greg was telling me. I somehow managed the right distance, and managed to get it pretty close to the fish. “Pick up and go a few feet left,” Greg instructed. “Strip, strip, strip!” I managed to pick up the fish at this point. Suddenly, I felt the resistance on the end of the line. My instincts still started the lift of the rod, but I corrected myself halfway through and gave the line a good, strong tug.

This time, the hook stuck. The fish took off, immediately cleared the line from the deck, and started peeling off backing. Between my hoots and hollers, you couldn’t wipe that grin off my face. I’d reel in a little line, and lose a little more. I started gaining some ground, finally getting all the backing back on the reel. The redfish must have sensed this and made another blistering run. Greg explained how to “put the wood to the fish” so we didn’t unnecessarily prolong the fight. Sure enough, it worked, and the fish gave up the good fight.

29 pound Redfish

29 pound redfish with Captain Greg Moon of Louisiana Fly Fishing Charters

Greg dipped the net and got the fish. My first redfish on the fly was successfully put in the boat. Always prepared, Greg pulled out his big camera, positioned me with the fish, and snapped away masterful a few masterful photos. That’s right – not only can the man put a first-timer on a big fish, he can take a damn good picture of it too. After the photo session, it weighed in at 29 pounds on the bogagrip before he had me release it to swim another day.

I had another shot or two at fish the rest of the day. Despite a couple well placed casts, we could only drum interest up from the fish instead of another bite. With the lighting challenges being difficult enough, the sun began falling lower in the sky making sight fishing near impossible. We called it a day – a fantastic one at that.

If you’re itching for some of the best redfish fishing in the world, you really can’t beat Louisiana. Combining that with a trip to such an incredible city like New Orleans, and I’m hard pressed to come up with a better vacation. When you go, I highly recommend looking up Captain Greg Moon. Everyone knows the “best” guide for an area, but few that make those claims actually have fished with more than one or two – so I can’t tell you if Greg is the best. What I can tell you is that Greg will work his butt off to put you on a fish. He’s a guide that knows the area extremely well, knows how the fish will react and respond to different weather situations, and knows how to coach his clients. Whether you are a seasoned pro or it’s your first time on the flats, Greg will give you a fantastic chance at putting a bull redfish in the boat.

Ready to book? Give Greg a call at (702) 497-1673. Additional contact information is on his website. Don’t forget to check out his photo gallery for some seriously amazing pictures of fish his clients have put in the boat. Half day trips run $450 for up to 2 people, and full day trips go for $600. Once you go, come back and leave a review!