Tag Archives: redfish

The Seven Most Beautiful Places that I’ve Ever Fished

LakePowell
Lake Powell on a calm day can seem like a mirror.

I have been enormously fortunate, thanks to anglers all over the United States, and the editors at Outdoor Life, Game & Fish, and B.A.S.S., to fish a host of different waters from Maine down to the Florida Keys out to San Diego and up to Seattle. These days I am working on finishing my Master’s Degree, and I’ve been lucky to help out a tremendously talented artist in Salem named Joe Higgins who runs Fished Impressions, but thanks to a number of people who’ve had faith in me over the years, I’ve had the chance to travel and fish more than most. Any time that we can get on the water, it’s a beautiful day, but there are some places on the American landscape that have stood out in my memory as particularly gorgeous. I haven’t fished everywhere, but I’ve tried, and these are places that belong on your bucket list if you’re an angler.

The Florida Keys: The sunrises are surreal. You’ll swear that the ocean is temporarily alight with fire when you see one from a flats skiff. But the variety of species that are available for an angler to target here is almost enough to overwhelm you the minute you get on the Overseas Highway that will lead you out of Miami. Tarpon are the big draw out of Islamorada and Key West, and rightfully so, but yellowtail snapper, barracuda, spotted sea trout, permit and bonefish are all available depending upon the season you choose. Waking up in the Keys is something like waking up on Christmas morning, on repeat, for any fisherman. There are a host of beautiful places in the lower 48 to fish, but you’d be hard-pressed to make an argument that any are, in any sense, ‘better’ than the Florida Keys. The guys at Bud N’ Mary’s are the ones to talk to if you find yourself Keys-bound.

New Orleans: Start an argument in the Southeast about who has the biggest redfish, and you’ll never hear the end of it. Having that said, the environment in New Orleans, the potential forage base, and the climate all give it as good a claim as any Southern city to “Redfish Capital of the World.” Fishing out of New Orleans is such a memorable and incredible cultural experience, that even if, let’s say… Texas had bigger redfish, it’d still be tough to argue that New Orleans is the single best place to go if you want to fish for them. Both Gregg Arnold and Rocky Thickstun are excellent New Orleans guides, and you can’t go wrong with either.  The city is overflowing with art of all varieties, from music to artwork to photography, and where the city stops, the natural beauty starts.

Seattle: Seattle gets a reputation as a rainy city, and it is, but all that water creates an environment rich with life. Whether you want to chase king, silver or chum salmon, it’s hard to imagine a place more beautiful to do it in than Western Washington. If you do get there, try fishing for sea-run rainbows on the fly, too. It’s an incredible experience, especially from shore. The lush greenery, the mountains and the crystal-clear water all make for absolutely stunning scenery. The Seattle expert to talk to, hands down, is Chris Senyohl. 

Montauk: I’ll first say that during the prime striper months, like May, June, October and November, Montauk gets crowded. This is the place to travel to and set wader boot on for striper fishermen in the spring and fall. It is true that more striped bass pull closer to the end of Long Island, here, concentrating in a way that they do in few other places, but the culture is really what makes Montauk memorable. It is seemingly, for a few months anyway, a city built on striped bass, or at least the pursuit of them. Whether you love the crowds, the competition and the frenzy, or you can’t stand it, Montauk is a place to experience as a striper fisherman at least once in your life. The sun rising and casting the day’s first light on all the wader-clad, or wetsuit-wearing fishermen who have been fishing all through the night is simply a sight to behold.

Grand Lake Stream, Maine: This isn’t the southern part of Maine that most of Boston flees to in the summer months for their bumper stickers (although that part of Maine is beautiful, too). Grand Lake Stream is about four hours north of Maine’s southern border, and has some truly rugged and wild country. The landlocked Atlantic salmon that you’ll chase, and perhaps catch, in Grand Lake Stream are every bit as beautiful as the scenery. The crew at Weatherby’s are the guys to talk to if you’re headed to GLS.

Apalachicola: It might seem unfair that I’ve put Florida on this list twice, but the state just has that many unique and amazing opportunities for fishermen. Traveling through the state, many visitors never make it to the Panhandle, which, in the Panhandle, is just how they like it. The Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce has actually trademarked the name, ‘The Forgotten Coast.’ The Panhandle of Florida feels very different from the remainder of the state: The attitude of the locals is more relaxed, the sand on the beaches is even a lighter shade, and they take oysters much more seriously. Offshore fishing out of nearby Destin is popular, but I’d fish with the Robinson Brothers again for redfish if I ever made it back down: Those guys are the best.

Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah: This one might surprise a few people, but this lake itself, thanks to the surrounding geography, is absolutely stunning. Oh, and the smallmouth bass that inhabit it are a blast to catch on topwater. Seeing the rock formations that have been carved and weathered by time, wind and water reflected in the lake’s mirror-like surface on a calm summer afternoon is a sight that you’ll never forget. Danny Woods at This Side of That Guide Service is the guy to talk to about fishing here, no doubt about it.

Many of us, as fishermen, are hesitant to admit that the beauty is a big part of the reason that we love the sport. But I don’t think any of us could deny that it’s integral to the entire experience, either. If you get a chance to fish in any of these places, take it.

The Amazing Eight, Take II

brookehidell
Brooke Hidell, on Sebago Lake in Maine.

Alright, I undertook the ambitious attempt last week of naming the eight (okay, nine) best anglers I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with. As soon as I started the list, I knew immediately that it’d require a sequel. There are far too many amazing anglers who have helped me along this journey to name them, or rank them, in a single blog. The following anglers deserve every bit as much credit for being incredible fishermen and great human beings.

Brooke Hidell, Maine: I had the pleasure of fishing with Hidell in 2010 on Maine’s Sebago Lake system, and it was not only a great time, but it was a fantastic learning experience. Hidell fishes in a number of ways, but one of the more interesting ones is trolling flies around the perimeter of Sebago Lake. Now you’re saying: “Trolling flies? What?” But that’s not a typo. Hidell has mastered an art of dragging flies at just the right depth, depending on the season, to target the landlocked Atlantic salmon and lake trout that populate those bodies of water. It’s truly a unique experience because unlike traditional trolling, where you’re fighting the fish on a stout rod, wrenching it up from the depths of the lake, with Hidell’s system the fight is every bit as much fun as if you’d hooked the fish on the fly.

Gary “The Toad” Stevens: I first met Gary when Field & Stream sent me, as an intern, out to Montauk to cover the Fall Surf Classic. Stevens is without a doubt, a hilarious character. The nickname “The Toad,” I believe, came from stunts in his younger days when he used to attempt to jump over an entire car in one bound. It’s that kind of crazy courage that makes him great in the surf. He seemingly has no fear and will chase stripers in any conditions and at all hours of the night. He’s definitely one of the characters that gives Montauk it’s unique and wonderful charm, and fishing with him is an unforgettable experience.

Rom Whitaker, OBX: Whitaker and his son fish one of the most abundant offshore grounds off any coast, the Outer Banks off North Carolina. Whittaker was a master at devising and setting a trolling spread to target the yellowfin tuna and mahi that we were going after in 2010. Finding and catching offshore species like yellowfin can be a difficult task, requiring a tremendous understanding of the climate, the ecosystem, and how even a few degrees in water temperature can make a world of difference in finding fish. If you need proof that Whitaker has it down to a science, click here.

Clay Cunningham, Georgia: Cunningham targets striped bass on Georgia’s Lake Lanier, one of the best striper lakes in the South. Cunningham is a master at finding the exact depth that the freshwater stripers will be holding at, and targeting them with a specific approach dependent upon the season. One of the coolest parts about fishing with Cunningham was seeing these fish actually “blitz,” almost like saltwater stripers, forcing bait into shallow areas and going to town. And if website-name creativity counted for bonus points, this guy would get it with catchingnotfishing.com.

Mickey Delamar, Texas: The first thing Mickey would say if I told him I was including him on this list, is that he doesn’t belong. He was one of the kindest, most humble people I met on my journey across the country. One look at the wall inside his house, however, would prove him wrong. He’s got a trophy wall of largemouth bass mounts, the largest of which, the last time I checked, was 11 pounds. He lives near Texas’s bass-famous Lake Fork, and is hands down one of the best anglers on it.

Kevin Shaw, Texas: Shaw is another Texan, but he’s a master of the saltier side of the state. Shaw targets redfish off the Texas coast and he’s one of the best I’ve ever met. It takes a certain amount of toughness to take to the water either as a guide or in a competitive arena. Sure, you get those bluebird days where the weather’s perfect, but more often than not, something goes wrong. When I fished with Shaw in 2010, it rained. And let me tell you, rain is like everything else in Texas: Bigger. I mean… it poured. But we stayed out on the water, waited through the storm, and kept chasing redfish.

Gregg Arnold, Louisiana: Nope, that’s not a typo, Arnold spells his name with two ‘g’s. Arnold is an absolute master of one of the most famous redfish areas in the world: New Orleans. Arnold is known throughout the state as one of the best redfish guides, and with good reason. When we fished in 2010, he met me first for breakfast. I was a little taken aback at the relaxed start to the day, but when I got in the boat, he started tearing to the nearest flat so fast that I tipped over and nearly flew over the side. Suffice it to say that Arnold might seem laid back and relaxed, but he takes targeting giant redfish very seriously, and he’s great at it.

Jimmy Fee, Cape Cod: Jimmy Fee is by far one of the best surfcasters I have ever met. I’ll share one anecdote, and that should be sufficient evidence to back up the claim. Fee timed the dropping tide on a saltwater pond in Cape Cod one evening, and thought that bigger bass would be pushing bait back near the shore. We crept up near an empty area by a saltwater pond without another fisherman in sight, and we each caught and released bass in the 20-pound range in a matter of hours. That type of understanding of the species and the fishery is what sets him apart from so many other anglers in and around the Cape Cod area, all chasing the striped bass that have made the place famous.

The 22-pound striped bass that I caught that night is one of my favorite fish of all time.

 

 

 

The Amazing Eight: The 8 Best Anglers that I’ve ever Met

 

Wettish, Matt
Matt Wettish shows off a large Connecticut brown trout in 2010.

Now, first let me say that I am by no means an authority on America’s greatest anglers. I’ve been lucky to fish with a lot of men and women who are spectacular at the sport, from Maine down to the Keys out to San Diego and up to Seattle, but I’m only 26 (alright, 30) and it’d take eleven lifetimes to meet the myriad of talented and knowledgable anglers in this nation. Having that said, I have been fortunate to meet a few, and these stood out above the crowd.

Mike Coppola, Montauk, N.Y.: I love striped bass fishing, and the surf is especially endearing. Whether it’s the sun pulling itself form the ocean and turning the night into day, or bluefish pushing bunker up onto the beach with such ferocity that the baitfish are literally leaping onto the sand to escape being eaten, there are so many moments when fishing the surf that just make the entire experience an incredible one. But I am far, far from a great surf fisherman. I’ve been lucky at times, I’ve read enough to have a basic understanding, but grouping me with a guy like Coppola is tantamount to saying a Formula One racer and a Go Cart driver are “about the same.” I got the chance to fish with Mike on Fish America for Outdoor Life, and he had the entire endeavor down to a science. We waded into the Montauk surf at night, fished until sunrise, and he swam out to rocks in a wetsuit through breakers that crushed me back onto the beach when I attempted to hold my ground. I count myself fortunate that I survived but Mike? Mike, of course, landed a 20-plus-pound striped bass right before the sun came up. Gary “The Toad” Stevens, is right up there, too, in the Montauk scene.

Preston Clark, Florida: If you grow up in an area where you do enough largemouth bass fishing, a funny thing happens. You remember, distinctly, the days when you couldn’t get a lure back to the shore or the boat without landing a fish, and you tend to forget the fruitless days on the water. This can lead to the misconception that bass fishing is “relatively” easy, or something that “everyone can do.” Truth be told, if you do anything enough, you’ll succeed at some point, which is exactly the reason I prefer the driving range to playing 18 actual holes of golf. Something about rooting around in the woods for another lost ball is harder to forget than driving a practice shot into the woods for the umpteenth time. For that, and many other reasons, there’s no shortage of people who’d describe themselves as “good,” or even “great” bass fishermen. Clark, however, is the real deal. I was fishing with Clark in 2010, on a million-degree June afternoon when the Florida bass were impossibly hard to fool. Me? I managed one small fish on the afternoon. Clark caught a largemouth that was in the seven-pound-plus range. Think that was “luck”? Nope, me neither. Clark has been both a professional angler and a guide and I’m here to tell you, he’s one of the best.

Chris Senyohl, Seattle: Seattle gets the reputation as a place where it rains all the time and is generally unpleasant. Guess who is responsible for maintaining that reputation? The people in Seattle, who are aware of the amazing outdoor opportunities that they’d like, if they can, to prevent the rest of the country from finding out about. Senyohl guides in and around the Seattle area and is one of the absolute best (not to mention kindest) anglers I’ve ever fished with. Senyohl, in only about a week’s time, put me on a silver salmon, a pink salmon, and his brother even scared the life out of me on a whitewater rafting adventure. If he could hook a novice salmon fisherman like me up, I can only imagine the wonders he could accomplish with a more experienced angler.

Todd Kersey/Brett Isackson/Steve Niemoeller: I’ll group these guys together because all three work for BassOnline, Florida’s largest freshwater guide service. Kersey amazed me with his knowledge of targeting and catching Florida’s favorite invasives, the peacock bass. Isackson actually invented a lure that looks and acts like the snakes that live near Florida’s freshwater ponds and lakes. Isackson noticed that larger bass, looking for a more substantial meal, were eating snakes that either fell from a tree branch or were slithering over lily pads, and designed and crafted a rubber lure to take advantage of that phenomenon. It takes a certain amount of faith to cast a “snake” bait to largemouth bass, but it’s quickly rewarded when the thing gets devoured. Niemoeller is another guy who invented a lure, his Steel Shad, which you can customize to fish exactly the way you’d like to to target finicky bass. All three are absolutely amazing bass fishermen.

Randy Oldfield, Texas: Randy is another bass guy, in another great bass state. If I were to dare speculate that Texas is second to Florida in terms of its ability to produce giant bass, I’d need to change my name and enter witness protection, so I’ll say that the states are about equal as far as producing big bass goes. Oldfield, however, is (in my opinion) without equal in the Lone Star State. He guides on and around Lake Fork, one of Texas’s most prized bass lakes, and he’s another one of those guys that has bass fishing down to an absolute science. While fishing with Oldfield in 2010, it was overwhelmingly evident once again that bass fishing involves about as much luck as most things in life, which is to say, some, but not much.

Chris Robinson, Florida: Now, I’ve told you about the best Florida bass guides that I’ve met, but you can’t mention Florida without talking about the salt. The Robinson Brothers Guide Service is located in my favorite part of Florida: The Panhandle. Miles away from the traditional “Disney” atmosphere that most people picture when they think of Florida, the Panhandle has beautiful white sand beaches, delicious oysters and some great inshore saltwater fishing. Robinson guides out of Apalachicola and his ability to dial in and target big redfish is incredible.

Tommy Scarborough, South Carolina: I have a distinct memory of the first time I ever fished with Scarborough in 2010. Tommy decided it would be fun to see if I could handle a shark on some lighter tackle, and I’d been lucky to hook up. I’d asked him if he’d be willing to film the fight so that I could later document it for Outdoor Life. As the dusky shark peeled drag and I stood there helpless with the rod bent, Tommy howled in his distinct southern accent: “Looks like you’re getting your butt whooped!” Aside from being a great guide, like all of these guys, Tommy is a great human being. He put me up on his couch (to spare me a night in the Jeep), fed me a home-cooked meal, and continued making fun of me even after he’d put me on enough sharks and redfish to make anyone jealous.

Matt Wettish, Connecticut: This wouldn’t be a list if we didn’t have a trout guy, right? But Wettish isn’t just any trout guy. He designed a system that allows conventional spinning-gear anglers to get (almost) as much fun out of trout fishing as the fly guys do. He fishes in and around Connecticut’s trout water with mealworms on ultra-small hooks, using super-light spinning gear. We’re talking about line as light as 2-pound test, used with a six-foot rod. Connecticut might not seem like it deserves to be in the conversation with Vermont and Montana in terms of “Trout” states, but I changed my mind completely about that notion after seeing a 20-plus-inch brown trout caught out of the Farmington River with Wettish in 2010.

(Joe Demalderis: Okay, I have a tattoo that says “One More,” did you really think I could keep it to eight? Demalderis of Cross Current Outfitters guides on the Delaware River and is an absolute trout savant. The man seemingly knows more about targeting trout on the fly than I know about any single thing. His understanding of the river system and his ability to find and target fish is among the best I’ve ever seen from any trout guide, anywhere. Period.)

If you get a chance to fish with any of these guys, take it… and take notes.

Another Fishing Magazine? Why?

DSC_0060 27
This redfish was caught in the backwaters near Georgetown, S. Car. in 2010.

Thanks to the people at B.A.S.S., Tyler Wade especially, this past trip had a dual purpose. The first, which I’ve no doubt bored you with to death, was to use the generosity of our sponsors (Get Vicious, Native Eyewear, Sunology, Rick Roth at Mirror Image and our original sponsor, Buff) to deliver a roundhouse kick to melanoma, a disease particularly dangerous to outdoorsmen, and one that unfortunately my family has more experience with than we’ve ever wanted. Thank God the people at the Melanoma Research Foundation are working tirelessly to stop this disease in its tracks.

The second was to go town to town, shop to shop, and try to give future readers a chance for us, together, to build a fishing magazine, by asking them exactly what type of magazine they want to read, what magazine they think is missing. With Emerson’s help, I’ve designed a survey to do just that. I couldn’t hit every town with water, but by God I tried. From Oklahoma to Florida, Georgia to South Carolina, the Outer Banks to Delaware and back to my native Northeast, I tried not to pass by a tackle shop without stopping in.

But before we build something, there’s the essential question of: Why? And it’s one I’ve been asking myself since the notion of my own publication first came into my head, probably more than two years ago… initially just the kind of crazy dream you have that won’t leave you alone.

There are objective reasons. I believe we’ve seen quality, print fishing content become more scarce for a number of reasons. The recession hit boat manufacturers especially hard, and since much of the fishing content we read is supported by ad dollars from boat companies, we did see a lot of the content we loved come close to vanishing.

But there are still great, great publications churning out tremendous fishing stories. Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, The Drake, The Fly Fish Journal, Saltwater SportsmanFlorida Sportsman, and recently, Anglers Journal, all routinely amaze me with stories told in unique and beautiful ways about the waters we love.

So, why another fishing magazine? Part of it, certainly, is that I think there’s a type of fishing content that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. We see a lot of great content about trout and salmon fishing in the fly-fishing magazines, bass fishing gets its share of coverage, and magazines like Marlin and Sport Fishing do a great job of depicting the beauty of offshore fishing. But for us inshore, conventional guys, without the money for a boat, and especially those of us who love the southern coastal states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia… there’s less content than I think we’d like to see.

But I’d be remiss to leave out the essential factor that is at the heart of this mission. From about age 9 or 10, when our father, or an aunt or uncle, first shows us how to make a tepee out of kindling, stuffed with newspaper, and start a fire, we have an inherent and undeniable desire to create something of our own. This desire is more often attributed to men than it is women, but I think that’s an unfair bias that hopefully we as a society are moving away from. Without women, after all, there wouldn’t be any of us to create anything.

And I’d be lying if I said that the desire to create something of my own accord, from scratch, from the ground up, wasn’t a big part of my motivation for trying to build a fishing magazine for you, because it certainly is.

But here’s the thing about building something, whether that’s a fire when you’re 12 or a magazine when you’re 29…

If you build it alone, and just for yourself, whatever meaning it has will be minimal. Of what value is the warmth of a campfire if not shared? It’ll keep you alive, but that’s about it.

I designed this survey, and went town to town, shop to shop, dropping it off… because I want to build this magazine together. I want to share the beauty of this sport, that I’ve loved my whole life, with new friends who feel the same way. I want to create something they’ll love, yes… but I also want their input so that we might build it together. I don’t want to pave a one-way street where I’m delivering you a product that I hope you’ll like. I want a path that goes both ways, where I listen and use what feedback you’re willing to give so that the warmth of a combined love for the sport is all the greater, and so that it grows. I was reminded of this core ideology today when I heard a phrase that I’d heard before, but one that has a new meaning to us at each stage in our lives: “Nobody wins unless everyone wins.”

No matter how beautiful, poignant or intelligent of a magazine I might start… it’d be nothing without readers who enjoyed it and contributed their unique experience toward my continued effort to improve it. They’d have to love it for me to love making it. I couldn’t win unless they, unless you, won by embracing the content I hope to create.

I’d be honored if you’d help, and as always, thanks for reading.

 

While Fishing for a Cure, Fishing is The Cure

A Louisiana redfish tail set against the Gulf sky
A Louisiana redfish tail set against the Gulf sky

The strange and beautiful thing about fishing, is that it is so complex in its nature, it’s beloved for a host of different reasons. When a man is “fishing,” he is in reality doing a great many things and perhaps for a number of different reasons, some even unknown to him. 

Fishermen at the dawn of humanity were only seeking sustenance. A hook and a line was a means of avoiding starvation and although we’ve evolved from cave drawings to blogs that can reach all corners of the earth, that motivation remains. For a great many anglers, the simple act of providing their own meals, with their own two hands, is the most rewarding aspect of the whole business.

Still others seek some sense of self-satisfaction, or bragging rights. Certainly fishing is an arena in which, with time and effort, we can excel, and who would keep such feats secret?

Most anglers would admit that the sheer beauty of the surroundings we so often find ourselves in while fishing play at least a small part in their love for the sport, although that varies depending on the fisherman and his chosen water.

For me, and I can’t help but wonder if this feeling motivates others, fishing is about separation. On a boat 15 miles off the coast, or in the surf being hit by waves while heaving bucktails, we are in a very real sense removed. We are removed from daily tasks, obligation and anxiety. How possibly worried can you be about a landlocked problem when the coast is only a shadow off the bow?

While this motivation hasn’t been there my whole life (certainly I was more about bragging and accomplishment than anything before adulthood set in) it’s one I find myself coming back to more often now as an adult.

With the Atlantic crashing against your ankles in the surf, or the deep hum of the outboard pulling you afraid from land, it’s almost impossible to dwell on those dry, pesky problems that find us at desks, in our cars or even in bed.

Fishing for me, for the last ten years at least, has been a blissful escape from any and all anxiety that you find yourself facing without a rod in your hand.

And certainly cancer is far from the only thing that can kill us. Worry, doubt and fear are as dangerous as anything you’ll see on an X-ray. And in that way, maybe fishing, in many respects, is the cure.