Tag: gulf coast fly fishing
If you missed part one on catching flounder with a fly rod, then you may want to look back at the post “In The Woodlands …” which started with the fly selection for Galveston and Texas Gulf Coast area flounder fishing with a fly rod.
As you recall, we are taking the route from the end of the line – your fly selection – all the way up the line, through the rod, into that grey matter between your ears – to enhance your opportunities at catching the seasonally adjusted abundant southern flounder in late fall and early winter. This article on flounder on fly is unusual because I have the good fortune of hindsight, having just spent two days last week and weekend fly fishing for flounder around Galveston, Texas.
When it comes to leaders, I simply tie a two piece fluorocarbon leader with a 20 or 25 pound butt section (at 4′) followed by a 5′ length of matching brand 8 or 10 pound fluorocarbon tippet section. My constant companion is a series of spools of Seaguar Invis-X contained in one of those big box store plastic snap containers that holds and distributes about five spools. Use painter’s tape to secure the end of the line to the container to keep the line from retracting back into the container. You can also use a Sharpee marker to write the weigth above each eye distributing your lines. If you don’t secure the line outside the hole, the vibration of driving hundreds of miles seems to magically retract them back into the container, and you are faced with rethreading them all through the box.
On a typical outing, a single leader and two or three flies suffice for the entire day. That said, I carry three leaders and dozens of flies. I typically supply all my guests with these successful ingredients.
Why fluorocarbon? Fluorocarbon sinks, and it withstands abrasion better than mono. Although the flounder is a toothy fish, I have yet to need a bite tippet to thwart frayed line. That seems to be because of the way the Clousers I tie ALWAYS hook flounder properly, and we aren’t throwing big fat plastics that have to be swallowed (a 10 second pause on a take is what they recommend for GULPs) to be set. – More on the retrieve in How to Catch Flounder on Fly Rod Part 3 –
All my fly lines are set up for loop-to-loop connections, a connection that may not be the most docile for trout presentations, but is highly functional for the rough-and-tumble saltwater species of Texas. For flounder, you are looking at water depths of three inches (no kidding) to five feet. Obviously a sinking line is completely unnecessary, and I believe it to actually reduce your catching ability for a number of reasons (ask for details if you like).
I don’t consider myself to be a “conesseur” of fly lines. I use fast rods, so my bellies tend to be big – redfish line, general saltwater or bass lines are my choice. Remember you can be throwing Clousers that weigh a bit more than a #20 Royal Wulff.
We encounter two distinctly different flounder when fishing this time of year. One type are the younger smaller males who are most abundant. The other … mammasans that can be as big as a galvanized trash can lid. The males outnumber the largest females roughly 40-to-1. Because of the large females, you need to think in terms of an elephant gun, but know there will be a lot of mice caught as well.
So you are looking at a fast six weight as a minimum caliber, and don’t think twice about going to eight weight. Flounder have a funny way of fighting which we will talk more about in Part 3. Saltwater series rods make perfect sense. Heavier “Bass” fly rods make sense as well, although their shorter length can be a problem.
Large arbor saltwater fly reels are your most efficient reels for these conditions. And make no mistake, the conditions are harsh, very harsh.
The sun was trying to rise as I parked at the broken down white gazebo just off the San Luis Pass bridge. I was the first one there, and no one else was in sight. Huge cumulus clouds with immature mushroom shapes were hiding the sun, and rain was reaching down below some to the Gulf of Mexico. Typical fare for June in some years.
There were a lot of things I didn’t bother to do before driving out to the SLP. I didn’t bother to check the solunar charts, the tides, the weather, the wind or the barometric pressure. In short, all the things I truly believe are factors in saltwater fishing, all were thrown to the wind … and, yes, we had wind.
The SLP looked just like I remembered. Low dunes didn’t obscure the view of the pass or the bay. I could not help but think fish would feed around the bend no matter what the fish gods stated scientifically. And that’s the play that I deduced made most sense: Go for the place that could, should, bar none, have enough tidal action to move bait even in slack tides.
The SLP itself is a churn and burn kind of place, with the kinds of currents and wave actions that can strike fear in just about anyone. Add the onshore wind at twenty sustained, and gusts approaching thirty, and the SLP was non-negotiable – not a single boat, wader or fisher to be seen at daybreak.
I walked to the back edge well around and behind the curving open channel of the SLP, and hung onto a long look in both directions. While the wind was keeping mosquitoes at bay, my pant legs were flapping like red flags, but the undulating gold grass along the edge of the bay side afforded ten to twenty feet of wind break to the high water’s edge.
The water was in the grass, so the concept of vast walkable flats flew away on the wind. The vision of red tails, nervous water, and edge-wise action, all gave way to a calm reality of baitfish and nothing chasing or churning. I was all alone again, and I typically take that to mean something’s wrong.
It would be nearly a mile from here to the bend around at the SLP where currents sweep people away to their untimely deaths with unconditional regularity. There’s no mistaking the ten weight in my hand for anything less … this is a cast on sight day, where anything more results in a serious case of fatigue. Feeling the optimist, I also go with a straight twenty pound leader of fluorocarbon that ends with a loop-knotted shallow Clouser in a tested and true palette.
The setup is absolutely textbook – undulating curves of grass to the edge of the bay water, black sticky bottom and some sand spotted with oysters throughout. And this reaches for as far as it can go in one direction, and as far as I can see in the other.
I step off. As I begin to sink into the grey muck that is part of what makes Galveston what it is, I realize this is going to be, for lack of a better word – work. Each step I make toward the goal is heavy by my wet boots, and heavy by the extra gravitational forces that seem to inhabit this grey shmuck (a new word that combines sh*@ and muck). I feel the heat coming to my leg muscles, and remind myself to shuffle slowly over the easy running sand. One stingray, and all these nasty things, the water, the shmuck, will have free admission to my bloodstream.
There comes a time when holding onto a fly, waiting for sight ops, gives way to, “I better warm up my cast, and my arm just in case.” So the ten weight does the job cutting the wind, and the leader certainly turns the fly good enough for a presentation … if one ever comes. Still, it seems kind of like hunting sparrows with a ten gauge. The backcast holds up in the wind, and the forward reaches fifty and then some. Into the wind shortens things a bit, but is within reason.
Once I have warmed up, I think like most fly fishers; well, I may as well cast a few. A few reasonable casts and a few changes of flies just to cover all the bases, with the old adage of a fly in the water versus a fly in the boat keeping me pointlessly going.
I trek all the way around to the SLP, and back past where I stepped off and keep going. I try to think about how it could look any better, and the only thing that could improve things would be fish signs of which there are none. I keep on going, and in behind me come the late risers, and family guys with PFD’d kids in tow. It seems we all don’t know the same thing this day.
My legs are getting heavy, and a distinct sting runs my left calf muscle where oysters ran up my leg as my leg sank into some shmuck – knee deep into schmuck as the scratch will attest. The oysters first lifted my pant leg, then proceeded to take a layer of my epidermis most certainly to form a perfect pearl later on.
I continue for another mile, and my solitude breaks with the sound of the phone in my pocket. Rescued by family, the perfect excuse to turn and do the death march back and out. I am all too willing to make the turn because although miles of the same lie ahead, they look just like the previous nothingness.
I retreat to the car, not a nick, nudge, bite or take to report on this tiny window of time out at the San Luis Pass. Rescued from myself by familial demands, I still am not rid of the stink that doesn’t smell like fish. The next time you are driving across Texas and smell a squished skunk, think “coffee,” and see if you can’t trick your brain. My brain’s all out of sensory tricks. I just need to catch some fish.
Next Time – A few more photographs of Galveston from Ike and now.
The most attractive part of fly fishing around Matagorda, Texas, is the easy access and extensive area of marsh-like waters. These waters look a lot like the channeled marshes of Louisiana, and have that same narrow single wide width, with twists turns leading to wider bays and more channels.
Hint: If you think you are even slightly lacking in the area of navigation, GPS units are mandatory. These channels can all start to look the same, and some are dead ends. If you are beat, and headed for home, taking a wrong turn can be that much more tiring.
However, Matagorda is definitely not Louisiana. Lacking at Matagorda are the lush submerged grasses and vegetation that filters and keeps Louisiana (See the story on Biloxi Marsh) waters so clear. Other Matagorda locations are more clear and vegetated, but all it takes is some wind to muddy things up. Polarized glasses are a must for seeing under water and eye protection.
One of the marshes fished is fed by the tidal movements of the intracoastal waterway, and has a significant constriction at the launch spot shown on the map. There will be no doubt about your tidal action when you see it. This spot amounts to a micro marsh – isolated and smaller with only one apparent way in and one way out.
Kayak – If you have a choice, by owning more than one kayak, or when you go to rent one – choose a kayak that’s what I call “long and straight.” For example, my long and straight kayak is the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140. It’s not much to stand on, and you won’t be turning on a dime, but imagine doing ten miles a day … it’s fast and doesn’t really need a rudder.
Fly Rod – Sevens and nines seem to be the rods that I am gravitating to to reach up or reach down and do the job. A seven or eight weight this time of year is practical, while the possibility of bulls in colder months could drive you to the nines. Regardless, you are going to have to cut the wind.
Fly Line – Redfish line. Depths are no greater than three feet. It’s time to go to straight fluorocarbon leaders – I like a standard (9′) length of Seaguar Invis-X at 20 pounds. This will give you a shot at surviving abrasions, and presentations are not something that will be fluttering to the glassy pool anytime soon.
Flies – For the marshes, you can think just like fishing the sand at South Padre Island, Texas, or most other inshore Gulf Coast fisheries. Gold spoons, shrimp patterns, bait patterns, all are potentially viable meals for redfish here. Personally, I have confidence in all things gold, and that goes especially for gold spoons.
The Search and The Find
I was equipped with two rods for the outing with Immanuel Salas – a ultralight spinning rod, and my short-ish Ross FlyStik-8. My intent was to search with the spinning rod, and once we were on the reds, switch to fly.
We lanuched at a small road bridge that goes over the channel that leads directly from the intracoastal to this specific marsh. Looking out over the marsh and at the channel, two things were apparent; this looked like fantastic habitat, and second – the tide was coming in apace.
For some reason, I was launched way ahead of Salas, and never the one to wait on anyone (sorry, a bad habit), I rounded the first turn. Fifty yards in and there before my eyes is a tail! And right next to the fluttering red tail, a big dark “presence.” I had no choice but to toss my spinning rod, flip it really, about ten feet, and flip the bail fast before the gold Tony Acetta 5H grabbed bottom.
The tail stayed as did the shadow. I tossed again, and the shadow (what must’ve been a black drum) took, and ran. Less than five minutes, and I am onto a fish that has me badly outmatched (six pound test on a 6’6″ TFO spinning rod), and is running at will. He turned the boat, and ripped some drag off. Current and size – all were his.
Somewhere in the melee Salas finally catches up, and supposedly has the video of this whacky fight. You will have to see it to believe it. I fought this fish (remember this boat doesn’t have the Hobie Amas out-rigged yet) seated, and in full circle. The rod spent significant time curved behind my head facing the opposite direction, as it did in every other direction. This wasn’t how I wanted, or intended to start out. The fish did manage to snag some of the sparse oyster clumps along the way, but the line came free, and the tow kept on.
After about twenty minutes, and figuring the odds weren’t going to be turning for another twenty, I grabbed the line with my hand and it was over. Salas questions the decision, but I was confident it wasn’t a red, and twenty more minutes could very easily have ended the same way anyway. There’s nothing wrong with black drum, mind you, but I had visions of reds in my head.
As we threaded our way through the maze of canal-like marsh channels, we were still on the lookout for alligators (we never saw one the entire time), and were seeing a lot of bait and tiny trout and redfish working the channels.
The wind was rouging us up a bit, but we did find our way into some nice wide open spaces – lakes, ponds or lagoons – hard to classify. Once in the open, our main opponent had its way with us. The wind was a double edged sword – clouding the water and pushing us across the open water at breakneck speeds. If it pushed us along the edge, that would be one thing, but across the middle was where we were headed.
Salas and I strategized, and took opposite tacks – him clockwise and me counter. This is a location he knows well, and said that he’s limited out in a few hours, and fished all day for less than a hand full of redfish. We hugged the shorelines, and did get out and stand whenever the bottom would allow.
You’ll have to watch out for all kinds of bad stuff if you decide to walk on the bottom or shoreline. We saw plenty of stingray and another fly fisher claims to have seen the largest swimming rattlesnake he’s ever seen – at Matagorda. And there are those clumps of oysters that can trip you instantly. If you are in a stumble-fest of oysters, and should you happen to head down, Salas advises avoiding putting your hands down to brake the fall. Just go down – your body could absorb the flush hit of the water, slow your fall, and keep you off the bottom. Your hand shoots straight to the bottom and hits razor sharp oysters – end of trip.
To make a long story short, we had a day that didn’t produce as advertised. I did catch a redfish and a nice flounder that I sighted, but for whatever reason, we didn’t have all the ingredients – fish, tide, moon, who knows what else – to give us more chances at fish. If I had to go with a symptom, it would be that the water clarity was way off because the winds really had muddied the water.
WRAP IT UP – My perception of Matagorda is of a place that is about to “happen.” It has that small coastal town charm, right now, that people will reminisce about in a few years. It is just too close to Houston to survive as it now is. However, along with the primitive nature of the town, comes a stripping away of all those things taken for granted – restaurants, hotels, stores, fly shops, bait shops and just about everything we take for granted elsewhere along the Texas Gulf Coast.
As for the location and fishing, Matagorda is a place that won’t be high on my return list. The bottom of the bays is predominately that grey primordial mud that sinks you to your knees, and smells horrible. Wade fishing is hardly widespread. Public areas, like the jetties, are overrun – LITERALLY – with pickups doing donuts on the beach, drunks blaring loud music all night from their open truck doors, mosquitoes by the zillions, and tons of flotsam and jetsam. That said the park trailer sites are new and in great shape. They also buffer the trailer camper from all the aforementioned, have two lighted piers within walking range, and afford families the chance to fish for very nice speckled trout at night. There’s not much trouble, in general, for the 8-18-year-old to get into here, and MTV won’t be broadcasting spring break from Matagorda anytime soon. Put Matagorda, Texas, on your list – just not at the top.
View Matagorda Fly Fishing Map in a larger map