Monday, August 23, 2010

February in New Orleans

Buck fever.   That's what they call it when a hunter freezes or does something stupid during the perfect moment to attack their prey.
I prefer to call it temporary retardation and it's a talent that I consistently excel at.
Perhaps this is why I fish such large rivers in my home province of BC, Canada. Wide runs and Spey rods, boulders and seams..... the simplicity of silent prayers that a steelhead is somewhere lurking in the current.
Cast, swing, step,pray. Cast, swing, step, pray. (Adam Tavender photo).
See, without visually spotting the fish in advance there is truly no buck fever, only buck surprise; and it's a whole lot easier on the ego when one screws up after the fish has been hooked.
Sight fishing in the saltwater is something that is still quite new to me and I'll be honest in admitting that it doesn't take an overly observant guide to note this.
For example, take the buck fever I mentioned. In my case I instantly turn into an over-sized kindergarten student who's forgotten her lefts from rights, all the while appearing to have never looked at any clock other than a digital Timex with a Velcro strap.  The guide yells "11:00!", I cast at 2:00.....what a mess.
"Oh, THAT one o'clock!" (Glendon Paulk photo).
If I'm lucky I may be able to avoid the sick "thunking" sound as my Clouser nails the back of my head and if I'm reallylucky, I may be able to delay the disgusting slurp of catching water as my overly excited back cast drops to where there are simply no excuses.
Don't let them fool you.....they hurt. (Tim Myers photo).
Another unique newbie talent I seem to possess is my curse of enthusiasm and uncontrollable excitement. My friends call it the happy dance, my guides call it something I can't quite make out as they always seem to mutter it under their breath.
Oh I get so excited!   My feet start to dance like a football player practicing that silly drill atop old car tires while my hands subsequently keep along to the rhythm with ridiculous clapping and nervous squeals. The anticipation kills me.
So when I booked Travis Holeman of Holeman Brothers Outdoors no one could blame me for not telling him about any of these ' buck fever symptoms'. I wanted Travis to take me and several other friends fishing in Louisiana for Red fish; BIG Red fish.
I had heard of Travis through another guide we had arranged to fish with, Greg Dini.
Greg had contacted me several years earlier in an email tempting me to take a shot at the famous New Orleans catch; the spotted beauty and glowing Red Drum. He had twisted my mind (and my arm) and had plagued my thoughts with visions of monstrous, record breaking fish.
Paired with a city that had intrigued me for years, New Orleans, land of Jazz legends, wild parties, historical brilliance, world famous cuisine, swampland and of course, fishing....had me doing my happy dance before my feet even hit the boat.
There were eight of us fishing on this trip and each of us were eager to touch down and settle into a feast of oysters and Hurricanes (a cocktail designed to help rowdies accumulate an abundance of beads...if you know what I mean). We were arriving only one day after Mardi Gras and had no idea what to expect.
Oh Mardi Gras...
Sure enough, beads and red plastic cups littered the asphalt and the lack of life on the dark streets implied that everyone had indeed participated in a wild night just 24 hours earlier.
One of our many refreshment stops during our stay.
We chuckled and made our way to the famous Bourbon street for dinner and drinks.
The next morning came fast (5:30am to be exact) and Travis was waiting to pick me and friend Phil Napolitan up before the sun made an appearance.
A beautiful morning.
The weather was cold but the smile on Travis' face warmed us instantly and within seconds we were loaded up and on the road.
We had a 40 minute drive ahead of us and Travis settled in to give us the lowdown on the latest fishing report and weather conditions.
He went on to explain that February wasn't usually this cold and that the weather had been baffling the locals. Usually warm and sunny, the below freezing temperatures, overcast skies and choppy wind was unusual and overwhelming for some; especially while seated in an accelerated boat in the middle of the ocean.
The boat ride was long but with Patagonia and Buff as my new best friends, the ride was tolerable. Travis wasn't lying; it was cold.
(Tim Myers photo).
Rumor had it that the winter months brought in fewer, but larger fish.
Big game hunters, Phil and I knew this going into our trip so we were prepared for a day of patience and selective stalking.
The sky was gray and visibility was not at its best. Travis stopped the boat and assumed position on the poling platform,pole in hand. He looked like a giant up there, burly, weathered and standing in at 6'4.
Travis Holeman....the Man. (Tim Myers photo).
"Ape," he demanded, "Let me see your cast. I wanna see what I'm working with here." I shot out a bomb and watched my weighted Clouser plummet into the water and instantly pierce through the depths. I smiled proud and prematurely. Buck Fever hadn't consumed me yet.
Travis instructed me to land my fly softly and to keep my eyes open for what looked like a "large Golden Retriever" swimming in the water.
I truly had no idea what to expect but I kept my eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary.
Next, Travis worked on my vision. As he poled us effortlessly he pointed out schools of Sheepshead and tested my eye sight and distance approximations.
Sheer concentration. (Glendon Paulk photo).
The overcast sky and rippling water was not making this easy....
Suddenly across the way, a loud shout of excitement broke the silence and echoed through the yellow grass and marshy tundra. Dini's boat and two of our guys were into a big one and it was taking them for a ride. We had found fish!
(Tim Myers photo).
Travis maintained his cool (something I never was fortunate enough to see him lose) and pointed almost directly in front of me.
"There, fifteen feet 11:00".
I squinted then felt my stomach flip. There truly was what looked like a floating canine almost right at my feet. I cast, stripped and came up blank.
I cast again, only this time clumsily landing the cast on its head. With a tuft of sand and one quick dart, my fish was gone and I was left unimpressed.
(Tim Myers photo).
"Arrgghhh! Idiot!"   Needless to say, there were no pats on my back.
Travis laughed and continued to pole. I handed the rod to Phil.
"Alright Philthy, let's see what you've got."
I watched Phil and Travis work together spotting the next fish. Travis instructed Phil where to cast and Phil landed his fly with precision. He kept his nerves composed and maintained focus. I wondered to myself how much the wad of chewing tobacco stuck inside his cheek helped to ease the anxiety.
Watching the guys intently. (Tim Myers photo).
Again Travis instructed him clearly with casting direction and distance. The fly landed with a soft "ploop".
"Wait....slow strip....strip....strip...he's on it dude!"
Phil set the hook hard and to the side flexing his forearms and preparing to battle.
The water churned and metallic scales had me squealing.... This fish was sturdy and fighting with passion.
Phil fought his beauty like a pro and before long she had succumbed to the battle and was ready for landing.
Nice wad Phil.
Travis leaned over and swiftly brought her into the boat for a photo and a release.
Leeches squirmed on her belly and fins, a result of the cold water and laying close to the ocean floor as Travis later explained.
It wasn't an hour after Phil's excitement that I was putting on a similar show and my rod buckled while I concentrated on landing my first Red. With long runs and intimidating head shakes, it battled hard and teased us as it neared the boat, only to peel line again.
Upon landing, I admired its distinct scales, thick shoulders, blunt face and a spectacular signature dot marking the girth of the tail.
I smiled as I watched her swim back into the depths.
My first Red.  Thanks sweetheart....  (Phil Napolitan photo).
Some photos to tell the rest of the story....
A New Orleans Voodoo doll checking out my "Boots with the Fur".  Whatever.  It was cold... (Glendon Paulk photo).
"You're awfully small to be poling this thing aren't you?" (Glendon Paulk photo).
Phil with a nice one.
A nice New Orleans Red. (Travis Holeman photo).
Love.  (Travis Holeman photo).
Glendon fighting a good one.  (Tim Myers photo).
Glendon lands a nice Black Drum.  (Tim Myers photo).
Trav with a good one.
(Tim Myers photo).