For the Record

            The “record book” for Louisiana’s fly-caught fish contains some entries that would be notable anywhere. Here’s how it evolved.

            During the past two decades the sport of fly fishing in Louisiana has markedly increased in popularity, especially when practiced in saltwater. The entries in its division within the state’s fishing records plainly illustrate that Louisiana has some outstanding opportunities for those who are inclined to practice the exercise. It therefore serves as an enticement for non-resident fly fishermen as well as a useful tool for fisheries biologists. Those are two of the primary reasons why I became involved in establishing the ground rules for the division so that everyone would play on the same level. But I am getting far ahead of myself. So here’s how it all came about – to the best of my recollection, anyway!

            Once upon a time, long long ago – well, maybe not that long ago, but back when redfish were second-class citizens and Florida-strain largemouths lived in Florida – the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries maintained the state’s fishing records. They were comprised of three divisions: Freshwater, Saltwater, and Bass Caught on a Fly Rod – or something like that. Notably, entrants into the latter did not have to be caught while the angler was actually fly fishing, only if he was using a fly rod (To soak his shiners, etc.)!

Around the mid-1980’s Mr. Joe Macaluso – then a sports editor for the Baton Rouge “Advocate” and a member of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association (the LOWA) inherited the duties of record-keeper. Shortly thereafter he added a category for redfish caught on a fly. I fondly recall his response to my first entry, which included the fly that had done the job – something like how hard it was for him to believe that even a dumb ol redfish would strike a fly that ugly! But he accepted it – the first of my three top fly-caught reds.

The position of curator of the state’s fishing records passed on to the late Mr. Ed Vice shortly after that. Ed was also a member of the LOWA and still at the time when fly fishing – especially in saltwater – was looked upon hereabouts with skepticism at best. Nevertheless, unlike so many others he saw the potential for growing interest in the sport. One of the ways he thought would help to generate that interest was to establish a separate division for fly fishing in the state’s fishing records – an “all-inclusive” division! Need I say that back then, that was pretty radical!

Anyway, the trouble was that Ed knew almost as much about fly fishing as he did about hunting Siberian tigers. So on a fishing trip that we made together out at the Chandeleur Islands in April, 1993 (Where in the teeth of a young gale I proudly managed three reds and a nice speck on fly!), he asked if I would help set it up by drafting a list of appropriate rules and regulations – again, to keep everyone playing on the same field.

            Much of the finished product was gleaned from International Game Fish Association (IGFA) regulations with a few of my own thoughts added on. It was intended to be entirely fair, it proved to be so, and a few subsequent additions by noted angler and LOWA member, Ms. Susan Gros, made it even more so.

            Due to an illness that was to take him long before his time should have been up, Ed passed the responsibilities of curator to Mr. Bill Ford, who has since done an exemplary job with them. During his tenure many categories within the division have been filled and filled again, and the list has included fish that have received the LOWA’s prestigious “Fish of the Year Award” – and they were well deserving of it, too! A “Fly Fish of the Year Award” was not long in coming – another means of generating interest in the sport. There even appears to be some competition among the state’s fly fishermen to see who can get the most fish “into the book”!

To check out some of the great deeds that have been accomplished by fly fishermen in Louisiana waters, you can Google, and click on “Fish Records” in the left-hand column. The next page leads to all the divisions in the records; click on the one you are interested in, and a list of the various species will appear.  Prepare to get blown away by some of the entrants therein, especially in “Fly Fishing – Saltwater”!

            If I may humbly relate one that I remain very prideful of, it’s my 36-pound king mackerel. Then you might take note of Richard Evans’ 74-pound yellowfin tuna! Mercy – sure glad it was him and not me! And incidentally, to be within the rules the leader must contain a section that cannot exceed 20-pound test!

            Inshore, Capt. Jeff Poe’s 9.31-pound speck is one that should raise some eyebrows, but perhaps no more so than Dr. Jim LaNasa’s 7.21-pound flounder! Some big fish – of both small and large types – have been caught on flies off our coast.

            And that finely illustrates to the non-believers of yesteryear as well as to the doubters in other states that it can be done here in Louisiana. Indeed, in some of the categories our state’s top fly-caught fish is second to none! And anyone anywhere can Google it up on the internet to see for himself, thanks to the fly fishing division of the state’s fishing records. Every one of us who fly fishes or who benefits from it should give the memory of Ed Vice a bit of thanks for his vision.

            And I must avow that I was and still am awfully proud to have been a part of bringing it to fulfillment.

(Note: If you have caught a fish that you feel might make the top ten in the fly-fishing division – or if you’d like to be prepared, just in case you do, there are links to application forms just below the listing of the various divisions on the LOWA’s web-page of fishing records. Click on the appropriate link (Hopefully it will be the one for fly fishing!), and print a few copies. And be SURE to read and understand the rules before you submit an entry! Fact is, it’s best to be familiar with them BEFORE you catch a potential record-holder!)

(Louisiana Conservationist April 2007)


Jan. 3, 2011

The First Bull

            Three redfish which I have caught over the years have held the top spot in their category within Louisiana’s fly-fishing records. The first weighed just over 11 pounds, and it made the grade only because there was practically no one fly fishing for them hereabouts back then. Because of that, the fish held its position for some time before it was dethroned.

            Incidentally, I caught it along the north edge of Bay Pomme d’Or, not a quarter of a mile from Joshua’s Marina in Buras!

            The third red that held such lofty status came from the east jetty at Southwest Pass. That one was a real brute – 36 pounds – and I was quite proud of it when I caught it. Still am, too, but not nearly as proud as I was with the capture of record red number two. It was the first “bull” red known to have been caught on a fly in Louisiana waters, and the events that led to its capture are every bit as memorable – and every bit as treasured – as the actual contest and its subsequent results. The fish was taken in the Chandeleur Islands – Grand Gosier to be exact – and I am certain I would have never caught it had it not been for the late Capt. Bill Herrington.

            He and I had a thing for wade-fishing – the way we both had fished parts of the Texas coast in our younger days, and I guess that was the basis for us becoming such friends. The Chandeleurs were made to order for folks like us. Before we met I had made several trips to them with other friends while he guided parties of anglers out there. The fishing normally ranged from good to great, but prior to meeting Capt. Bill I had never considered fly fishing the islands. Neither had I been to them during the cool months.

            One hot afternoon during the first summer of our friendship, I was down at the marina sipping a happy-hour whiskey with him and his wife Sandy on their live-aboard houseboat, and he owned up that he indeed had a very nice 9-weight outfit. He had considered using it at the islands, but he had no clue about how to construct leaders or what flies were appropriate. So not long thereafter I rigged it up for him and gave him a small box of flies that were suitable for reds and specks. Then we waited for a day when we were both free and the weather was favorable for us to go make a test.

            That day did not arise until the following November – the time when chest-waders become a prerequisite for wade-fishing the islands, and early on I discovered that mine had dry-rotted. They didn’t simply leak, the left leg separated from the boot! Besides being pretty chilly throughout the day, walking around with a boot-full of water got tiring real quick! But we found some fish.

            The first were in a deep pocket alongside a bar extending away from the south point of Grand Gosier. There were bulls in that bunch, and Capt. Bill caught and released two of them while I missed easy shots at two others. Rattled, I guess – I wanted one badly, especially so since my record red number one had been topped a few months earlier.

            Late that afternoon we found a big school of “regular reds” in a trough through that island’s back-side flats. After both of us had released a couple, I suggested that Capt. Bill return to the boat to swap out his casting rod for his fly rod. While he did so I sat on the bank and waited for him, not wanting to chance spooking the fish while he was gone. And I’ll tell you this – sitting there for a few moments at the waterline of a barrier island and soaking up that handmade autumn afternoon was every bit as good as catching those fish!

            And upon returning, Capt. Bill was able to cast the relatively short distance that was necessary to reach the fish and caught two nice reds – his first saltwater fish on a fly. He was really proud of them, too – and I believe not a little amazed that he did catch them. I wasn’t, but I was sure happy for him.

            Although I visited with Capt. Bill and Sandy off and on throughout the following winter, he had to spend the good days running charter trips. It was late February – two days after a screaming but short-lived nor’wester – when he rang my phone, proclaiming that the next day would be “The Day”, and he was going out to the islands. Did I want to come along? Take a wild guess!

            The day dawned clear, almost cold, and flat calm. The old Wellcraft never missed a lick as we sped across Breton Sound, cleared the ship channel, and made our way up to Grand Gosier. There we found very low water and not a sign of a fish, so around mid-morning we headed up to Little Gosier, found nothing there either, and decided to save our energy until the tide began to rise in early afternoon. Then we headed back to Grand Gosier.

            As we passed its north point I asked him to let me out so that I could wade across the broad flats that lay along the back-side of the island back then and meet him at the south point where he intended to anchor the boat. Besides the potential for running into some skinny-water reds out there, wading those flats on a picture-perfect winter day with not another soul in sight is a pretty heady experience. During my slow trek across them I stopped occasionally to look around – soak up the scenery – and in the process noticed Capt. Bill secure the boat, disembark, and disappear behind the grassy dunes.

            I doubt I had waded more than 100 yards when he suddenly reappeared at the top of a dune. At that distance – a quarter-mile or so I’d guess – I couldn’t hear him, but I could tell he wanted me over there right now. So my flats-induced reverie quickly ended as I waded as fast as I could to the island’s south point, crossed it, and staggered a little as I saw his 41-inch bull red swimming easily in the first trough, tethered to a piece of drift-wood with a long cord stringer. He said he had lost another, smaller one, and during winter where there is one – or two – there will be others.

            For 10 minutes you couldn’t have proved it by me. Bill stood off to my right a ways, only watching, occasionally giving me a nod of encouragement. Nothing. Then, with the big Clouser Minnow at the point where I was about to pick it up for the next cast, there was a flash behind it, and a cloud of sand erupted as a following bull spooked from my presence. I was sick!

            By then the motions had become mechanical: cast, pause to let the fly sink a bit, strip-strip, pause, strip-strip, cast again. Nothing. Then the line came tight, and for a few moments I felt the previously unknown thrill of a bull red on a fly rod. Then it slipped the hook – and I felt like throwing up. But at the islands during winter, where there’s one… and I hooked up solidly on the very next cast.

            At just over 22 ½ pounds it was almost double the size of record red number one. A picture Capt. Bill took of it and me graced the month of September in Salt Water Sportsman’s 1996 calendar; a copy occupied center stage of a wall in my loft at my home in Buras until it was swept away by K. Now, thanks to the guys at Salt Water Sportsman, another copy rests atop a shrine of sorts that I created to celebrate my life down there. And the fish held the top spot in the state’s fly-fishing records for almost four years before I bettered it with record red number three. Bill and I raised sundowner glasses to it many times during the few months he had left. I believe he was as proud of that fish as I was – pretty close, anyway.

            He passed away almost exactly two years before I caught the biggest one, so he wasn’t around to see record red number three. I’m sure he would have congratulated me for it, but I doubt he’d have had the feeling for that fish that he did for the Chandeleur bull, and as I mentioned earlier, neither did I.

            During the years since the capture of record red number three, other anglers have contributed to that category in Louisiana’s fly-fishing record-book. The Southwest Pass bull held its lofty status for over six years before a guy from California caught a bigger one on a guided trip. That might have sounded a bit bitter, and I meant it to be. Fish like that should be special – like another larger one that was caught by Kevin Natalie of Lake Charles a year or so later.

            On his own!

            But all that aside, the Chandeleur bull, which once stood in such a prestigious place, was bumped from the list a few years back. Records are indeed made to be broken, but that was a sad fate for the first bull red caught on a fly in Louisiana waters – a piece of fishing history that could very well be lost forever.

            I’d bet Capt. Bill would have had something to say about that…

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