Fly Water Travel’s Louisiana redfish program needs some work

FYI: The fish photos in this post were caught with Captain Chris Callaway out of Venice, Louisiana — not with our Fly Water Guide. Read toward the bottom to hear more about his program.

redfish

The Fly Water Travel’s Louisiana redfish program needs some work. Here are my two main complaints:

Lack of experience. My guide hadn’t even been a guide a full year, and had only guided redfish for a few months. When the conditions were bad, he fell apart.

Too much set up and breakdown time. Guides picked us up at our hotel at 6:30 am, and we didn’t make our first cast until after 10am. Back at the dock by 4pm, and we wouldn’t be to our hotels until after 6pm. Clients stand around while guides fuel up, clean boats, chat on cell phones, etc.

On the first day of the trip, I knew we had a problem. “Yeah, these are my last four redfish days of the season,” our guide Doug said when he picked us up. “My tarpon season starts as soon as you guys are done. They’re already showing up in front of my beach house in Florida.”

Doug’s mind was elsewhere. I’d spent enough time with guides to know when someone was burnt out – on a season or a species. And Doug was toast. The water was trashed after six weeks of blowing southeast wind, and snowmelt all over the Midwest was dumping into the bayou.

Nonetheless, Doug couldn’t resist pumping up expectations, talking about the potential for fly rod line class record fish. Coming off a winter steelhead season, I was just excited to be around fish that would eat and 80-degree weather.

We spent three days in Doug’s skiff, buzzing around the swamp around Hopedale, LA and each day started out with the same sense of potential — excitement about hooking up with huge red drum in shallow water on the fly rod. But by noon each day, we were staring down a goose egg and our guide would be staring at his map, encouraging us to hang it up for the day.

Water clarity was down to six inches. The only way to spot a fish was to watch for the “push” of water on the surface, near the shoreline. Or spook them right under the boat. Doug was a rookie Florida flats guide who’d spent a few months guiding redfish during the crystal clear prime conditions of midwinter and early spring, and he refused to budge from his program.

Poling from the back of the skiff, he resisted our requests to blind cast likely spots. It didn’t fit his style of fishing. My instinct from chasing predatory fish was to blind cast pockets with nervous water and points sticking out into deeper structure. But Doug said the blind casting was like looking for a needle in a hay stack. Chris and Shauna had gotten similar resistance from their guide Greg Dini, but overruled him and picked up almost all of their fish the first three days in this manner.

We spent 75% of the time buzzing from spot to spot, often places Doug had never been. We’d spent an hour the first day, totally lost in the mazelike marsh. Doug’s new GPS was scheduled to arrive next week, in time for tarpon season. We’d blow into a shallow pond, usually sending off a couple telltale redfish pushes into the reeds, and proceed to pole around for a few minutes before Doug would hop off the platform and buzz us to a new spot.

I understand tough fishing. And I’ll be the first to admit that Julian and I are not experienced shallow water anglers. But Greg (Chris and Shauna’s guide) had adjusted, and ours would not. So on the morning of the third day I took matters into my own hands, bought a Cajun Thunder popping cork at the marina and a bag of Berkley Gulp and caught a 24lb bull redfish on the first five minutes I had the rig in the water, dragging it behind the boat while Julian looked for tarpon.

The clear water in the most secluded ponds was full of alligator gar, some huge specimens up over four feet long, and they chased flies. But we couldn’t get Doug to take us to where we could catch them, and he wouldn’t take our requests to cast to them seriously.

So day-four we cancelled. We had to get to Venice, 90 miles from New Orleans for the next leg of our trip. And we’d already paid for the days in advance and didn’t want to have to tip Doug on top of that, so we got out of town early. Turned out to be the best conditions of the week, Chris and Shauna hooking up with around nine fish on the fly. But we didn’t have any regrets.

We spent the next two days at the Venice Fishing Lodge with Captain Chris Callaway, one of the nicest, most professional fishing guides I’ve been around, and an IFA tournament redfish pro. He’s up for a position with CCA in Alabama, so may not be guiding much longer. But you should connect with him if you can.

redfish

Captain Chris put us on some huge fish, using popping corks and jigs. And when we ran into a school of sea trout, we’d throw the flies and pull out some nice specimens in the three to four pound range. We even landed a huge black drum. Despite his reservations about it, he helped us hook into a four foot alligator gar that jumped out of the water and spit the hook back at me.

redfish

I definitely feel like I learned a lot about redfish on the trip, and got spanked. But I’m a sucker for punishment. I’d definitely go back to the bayou out of Venice with Captain Chris Callaway, but not with the Fly Water Travel program as it stands.
-MS

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9 Responses to Fly Water Travel’s Louisiana redfish program needs some work

  1. Fred Hayes says:

    thanks for the lesson…..i am too patient with “hired help” sometimes.

  2. Fred,

    I think that the important message to take away from Matt’s experience is not that you should use a firmer hand to keep the “hired help” in line, but rather that you should not hire incompetent fishing guides in the first place. What really sucks for Matt is that he did not hire said incompetent guide directly, but rather trusted a booking agency to do so for him. Flywater Travel is a well respected outfit in the industry, and I am sure his experience was the exception rather than the rule. In general, there is no reason for you to end up with a shitty fishing guide and a sour experience.

    If you do hire an experienced and hard-working fishing guide, instead of trying to lay down the law, I would suggest that you instead follow his directions and listen closely to his advice. The knowledge that he drops on you will be distilled from his years, maybe decades, of experience with his fishery. This will make you a more successful angler on that given day, a better fisherman in general, and who knows, you might even like the guy.

  3. enizzle says:

    That black drum looks like some kinda dinosaur. Hook me up with some Cajun Thunder popping corks. I’m not sure what they are, but they sound awesome.

  4. MR says:

    Matt,
    It’s understandable that your experience with that burned-out guide left a sour taste in your mouth. Too many “guides” forget that the day out is for the guests and not for them. Unfortunately this can happen anywhere, any time, as it is a reflection of the specific guide’s professionalism (or lack thereof).

    I’m sure that Ken and Brian at Fly Water Travel would be very interested to get your feedback on your experience at one of their featured fisheries. Unfortunately, as booking agents (as opposed to outfitters), a company like Fly Water Travel can’t oversee the actions of all guides in all fisheries they recommend. However, they have a strong interest in ensuring that their clients are satisfied with their experience, and input like yours is valuable to them whether positive or negative.

    Fly Water Travel is a good company, well-respected in the industry. The substandard service you received on your trip is not typical of Fly Water’s featured fisheries as a whole. By all means, let them know that you were unsatisfied, and I am sure they will do everything they can to ensure that it won’t happen in the future.

    I’m glad you were able to call an audible and set yourself up with a better guide while down there. Those big bulls look awesome! I’d love to tug on some like that someday.

  5. Bob Laskodi says:

    Thanks for the honest and objective reporting of your trip. I see way too much “hype” on exotic FF travel being pimped by many third party bookers, and honest and objective information seems to be a rarity these days.

  6. Matt says:

    Sounds like you’re pretty dissapointed, I would be too. The lack of experience bit was interesting to me though. These guide have to start somewhere and I’m sure you would have rather spent a day with a guy whos been there 20 years, but at one point those veteran guys also had their first year out there as well.

  7. Chris Weber says:

    A coast guard six pack license and skiff doesn’t automatically make you a fishing guide. You should have found a genuine Louisiana redfish guide that lives there all year round. Capt. Gary Taylor is a good one .

  8. Oregon Fly Fishing Blog says:

    Good point Chris… but to be clear, that’s why you go through a service like Fly Water in the first place, so you don’t have to do the legwork to find the best guides. They’re supposed to do it for you — which was the point of my rant.
    -MS

  9. Richard Smith says:

    I went fishing with Chris for two days last October. I live on the coast of South Carolina and do a lot of fishing for Reds here but had always heard about Venice and decided to give it a try. I had know about Chris from a reference that used his services in the past. I booked through Venice fishing lodge but made sure we would have Chris as a guide. We fished two days and caught some of the biggest reds I have ever caught in my life. Not was the fishing great but it is obvious Chris knows the area and adjusts for tide clouds, weather, salinity etc. I suspect he has a GPS on his boat but he knows the delta like the back of his hand and never had to use it. would highly recommended him to anyone .

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