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.
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.
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.
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.