Monday, January 11, 2010

Redfish and the Big Easy - New Orleans, LA

By Jotham Lane

Having fly fished many areas around the US, Canada, and the Caribbean, one place that I return to year after year is New Orleans. Fishing in New Orleans you say? That’s right, just an hour outside New Orleans along the gulf coast boasts some incredible opportunities for big red fish. What’s more is that if the fish don’t cooperate you can still have a terrific time visiting the Big Easy.

This would be our third trip to New Orleans in search of big red fish in the Land of Giants; a name given to a specific area of the eastern side of the Mississippi delta by Capt Greg Arnold. Capt Arnold has guided here for decades and holds several IGFA records for red fish and black drum.

Our flight left in the early evening on a day that would not register above zero degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer in our home state of Vermont. A few hours later on this mid December day we would be walking to our hotel in light spring jackets. A $40 cab ride from the airport brought us to several hotels in the downtown area to choose from. There was no need to rent a car as the guides picked us up at the hotel and the heart of the city was in easy walking distance.

The challenge to sight fishing for reds in the Land of Giants is largely dependent upon good weather. Perfect sight fishing conditions call for low wind and a high sun. This combination makes seeing the fish much easier from the boat deck. Our first day in the Big Easy would be anything but. Winds close to 40 MPH kept us off the water that first day. We touched base with Capt Greg in the early morning and he advised us to take in the town and prepare for the next day. One of the things I have learned over the years is to always listen to your Capt and if ever there was a place to have a great time not fishing it would be New Orleans.

Jackson Park photographed just a few yards from the banks of the Mississippi River.

Byron and Blain enjoying a few open containers and hand rolled cigars.

The dining in New Orleans is second to none, with traditional dishes like rice and beans, shrimp gumbo, crab cakes, and raw oysters; it’s an easy place to get used to and a great way to spend the evenings after a full day on the water. Each trip down we were sure to spend a few hours strolling down the infamous Bourbon Street where open containers of alcohol are not just legal, they’re encouraged.

A view of the infamous Bourbon Street as the night begins to come alive. Enough bars and restaurants to keep you eating and drinking well for many trips while never visiting the same establishement.

A street entertainer putting on a show. Live still portraits are a common site in the French Quarter.

Raw oysters, a Big Easy specialty!

Let us not forget about the music. New Orleans is best known for its Jazz. Each and every day you can experience great Jazz right out on the streets in and around the French Quarter.

The fine food, beautiful French Quarter, incredible music, and energetic night life would be enough for any visitor, but for these traveling anglers it was secondary to the excitement of sight casting to red fish with a fly rod. The basics of New Orleans red fishing opportunities are simple. On the west side of the river delta the fish are smaller, 6 to 12 pounds, but in greater numbers. On the east side the fish are not as numerous but can reach 40 pounds with 20 pounders common when conditions are right and you’re fishing with an experienced guide. The east side’s access to the deep waters of the gulf is what brings the larger specimens to the mud and grass flats of that area.

On both sides of the river, over the years we have been able to spend our time with some of the area’s top guides. On the west side we fished with Capt Mark Brockhoeft and Capt Barrett Brown, and on the east Capt Greg Arnold and Capt Travis Holeman were our mentors. If you go, all of these guides come with the highest recommendations I could give. Knowledgeable, easy going, understanding of the fish’s movement and most of all a ton of fun to fish with.

Capt Mark Brockhoeft polling us around the west side. At the time of this writing, Capt Mark leased the land he fished which kept anglers away from not only other fisherman, but also the many waterfowl hunters on the marsh during the fall migration.

Flats style boats were the vehicle of choice and are best suited for sight fishing. The areas we fished looked like flooded grass prairies and while the tide does play a factor in the movement of water the wind is what affect s the water most of all. In the late fall and early winter the wind tends to come from the north pushing the water out towards the gulf lowering the water’s level. It is common to see a redfish’s back or tail sticking out of the water as they forage for food. Another interesting note about the redfish is that when it is in the feeding mode, their tail will often turn a bluish color and their bodies appear to almost glow in the water which can aid in spotting them. A fish with these attributes is typically eager to strike a well presented fly.

Skiff of Capt Barrett Brown. The platform above the motor is used by the guide to spot fish. As he stands atop the platform, a long pole seen laid across the length of the boat is used to push the boat along in search of fish. The angler stands in the front or bow of the boat with his or her line stripped out on the deck or in a line tending basket while holding the fly in their hand. When a fish is spotted the guide will pole the angler into position and call out the position of the fish. The guide uses the hands of a clock and the distance from the boat to direct the angler… “11 o’clock 60 feet moving left to right”. It is important for the angler to know and understand these directions prior to sight fishing to improve his or her chances of hooking up. When ready to cast, the angler drops the fly in the water and begins a back cast. False casting should be kept to a minimum and it is often desirable to practice these short, quick casts prior to diving into sight fishing.

Flies of choice on the west side of the river were spoon flies developed by guides like Capt Barrett Brown. The advantage to these flies is that they are tied weed less and can be placed very close to the banks where the fish will often crawl on their bellies along the shallow mud flats in search of food. Tackle requirements are 8 to 9 weight 9 foot fly rods with a good reel. Lines of choice are saltwater floating lines with heavy front tapers to throw heavily weighted flies. The Wulff Bermuda Triangle and the newer clouser lines worked very well for us. Casts are very often short and quick as fish in shallow water tend to be spooky.

Average sized west side redfish. Note the blue color on the tip the tail.

A nice west side red fish taken on a spoon fly using an 8 wt Loomis GLX
and Wullf Bermuda Triangle Taper line.

The beauty of these red fish is only matched by the beauty of the surrounding area. The marshes are teaming with wild birds and grasses. During our days on the water we hardly saw another soul on the marsh. The guides would pole us around small ponds that were connected by bayous. Water clarity, wind, wind direction, and cloud cover are all factors at play in the game of sight fishing. Once a fish is spotted it is often imperative to make short, quick, and accurate cast to the fish so they are not spooked by the approaching boat. The guides recommend that casts be no more than a two foot radius from the head of these moving targets.

Saltwater stripping techniques tend to be longer and faster than their freshwater counterparts. When a fish strikes, it is important to strip strike versus raising the rod tip. A good tip for those new to saltwater sight fishing from a flats boat is to continue stripping the fly until the fish turns and hooks itself. A raised rod tip will raise the brow of one of these seasoned guides.

A quick well placed casts lands this average sized east side red fish. Capt Travis Holeman, a seasoned professional red fish angler has recorded multiple wins with his brother Bryan and Team Holeman Bros. Capt Travis takes great care of his fish, is among the most knowledgeable red fish guides to be found anywhere, and is a downright hoot to fish with.

While we were not able to land any of the giants that we go to what has become an annual trip to the Big Easy for, there is enough great fishing to keep the most experienced angler occupied while always having an opportunity and hope of catching a world record red fish on fly. Capt Greg Arnold currently holds seven IGFA world records on various tippets in this area at the time of this writing.

A trip to New Orleans is a fantastic late fall and early spring fishing trip to take with a group of friends or significant other. The fishing coupled with the sights, sounds, and taste; of the Big Easy make this trip one that we will remain on our annual to do list for many years. With three excursions to the Land of Giants under our belt, we have found these trips to be relatively inexpensive, if they are timed right, fun, and have become an essential part of our easing into a northern winter and the long months of frozen waters that follow. Put this trip on your list and visit Captains Greg Arnold, Travis Holeman, Mark Brockhoeft, and Barrett Brown in the Big Easy, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

Note from editor: Photos courtesy of Jotham Lane



Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More