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Louisiana Redfish Secrets, with Capt. Pete Scafaru

Description: Capt. Pete Scafaru [32:53] is a new Orvis-endorsed guide in New Orleans (he's not new at guiding, just new to the Orvis program), and he shares his vast experience on what to expect at different times of the season, how to present the fly, and how to target redfish in shallow water. Regardless of where you fish for redfish, his tips will be valuable.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Well, my guest today is Captain Feet...Captain Feet. Start that again. Well, my guest today...let's try it a third time.
Man 1: I think they might think you're [inaudible 00:00:14] if you're laughing through the introduction.
Tom: Yeah.
Red fish are off the coast
I was on the beach
I threw out my line to see what fishes came to me
Well, nothing came.
Tom: Welcome to the "Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast." This is your host, Tom Rosenbauer, and I hope you like the song at the beginning of the podcast. We had a little bit different intro music. I'm a big fan of the musician Matthew Logan Vasquez, and he has a song called "Red Fish," which is very appropriate for the podcast we're going to do today. So I got permission to use it on the podcast, and thank you, Matthew, for allowing us to use it. My guest today is Captain Pete Scafaru, and Pete is a new Orvis-endorsed guide. He's not new to guiding but he's a new Orvis-endorsed guide in the New Orleans area, and Pete's a great guy, great enthusiasm, super experienced angler. And we're gonna talk about redfishing on the coast, on the coast of Louisiana.
But Pete's got a lot of great tips on redfishing, so if you're going anywhere South to do some redfishing, or if you live in the South, redfish have such a broad range. In fact, they're the most popular saltwater fish on a fly rod because they have such a long range and they're such a great target with a fly rod. So if you're going redfishing this winter, or this summer, or spring, or next fall, or next year, I think you'll pick up some great tips on the podcast. But before we do that, let's do the "Fly Box." So the "Fly Box" is where you ask questions or you have a tip and I try to answer them. And if you have a question for the podcast you can send it to me. Send me an email to You can either just type your question in the body of your email or you can attach a voice file.
So anyway, let's start out with an email. This one's from Brian. "What tips or tricks do you have for someone who can't see as well as they used to even with progressive glasses? Also, as a mechanic for 35 years, the feeling in my fingertips is horrible. Are there any tools to help tying on a small fly with a small eye? Last summer ended up just using larger flies that the fish were not biting on."
So Brian, I have one big tip for you, maybe you've tried this and maybe you haven't, but your normal, old, progressive glasses or bifocals are really not gonna be good enough for threading a small fly on. You really need something like a 3x or a 4x magnifying lens in front of your normal glasses in order to thread a small fly like that one. You need better near vision than you're gonna get with a pair of bifocals or progressives. So there are a number of things, like the Flip Focal, and the CliC readers, other magnifiers, and I'd advise you to probably get a 3x magnifier. They're hard to get in drug stores and places like that. The close-up glasses that they sell are usually not strong enough for fly fishing, so Orvis has two or three of them on the website that you can take a look at. And you can use these in addition to your normal glasses. You're gonna need that extra magnification.
Also good light always, if you're doing this in the evening. You need a head lamp or something else to help you see. And then if you buy your flies, all the Orvis flies in size 16 and smaller are tied in what's called a Big Eye hook, which has a little bit wider eye than a standard dry-fly hook. And nymphs, smaller nymphs generally have a bigger eye anyways, but dry-fly hooks sometimes have an awfully tiny eye. So try the Big Eye hooks, and if you tie your own flies, you can tie them on Big Eye hooks. There are devices for threading flies. I find them actually, if you start out using them they work pretty well, but sometimes those little tools that you use to thread on a fly are just as hard to learn as just learning how to poke the tippet through the eye of the fly itself.
Other things you can try is, before you try to thread your tippet through the eye of the fly, cut it on an angle so that it's a little more pointy instead of blunt. Cut it with your snips at an angle and that may pass through the eye a little bit better. A lot of this is muscle memory, not so much vision as muscle memory, and you really have to practice how to hold the fly and thread it. So a little bit of practice at home maybe with good light and some good magnifiers might help you when you're out on the river. So good luck, and I hope you can get those small flies on this coming season.
Jamie: Hi, Tom. This is Jamie calling from Vermont. I'd like your opinion on a question I have about the certain styles that flies are tied in, specifically, the tight-line nymphing flies, European nymphs. I've heard you say that a lot of them are tied in the round, which I could see clearly from a lot of patterns. But you also see them tied with their flashback or wing case on the inside of the gap. And so that tells me that, because they ride hook up that the tyer is intending them to be in the back of the fly, not in the 360 degree. So I'm wondering, every time I tie a fly and I don't do that I feel a little lazy. I don't know, what do you think? Does it matter? If they're tumbling down the river and the fish are gonna see them from all angles, what really does it matter?
The other style question I have is about perdigon-style flies. I've seen a lot of them tied lately really, really chubby and short. Maybe that has extra weight underneath so that it gets down deeper, but then I've also heard, "Thin for the win." And so I'm a little confused as to, is that something that the tyer is doing just as a variation, or does it have a real purpose? So that would be great to get your opinion on those things. That's about it. Thanks, bye-bye.
Tom: So, Jamie, yeah, we think of our nymphs as riding the way we intend them to ride but they tumble in the current when we fish them. And also, the naturals tumble a lot. They turn upside down. If you've ever gone underwater during a hatch or place an underwater camera in the water during a hatch, you'll see that those nymphs are upside down, and backwards, and tumbling all over the place in the current, so I don't really think it matters where that wing case goes, or even if you need a wing case. Sometimes the wing case just adds a little bit of...people use flashy materials, it just adds a little bit of sparkle which just might attract a fish.
And regarding those heavier perdigons, there are times when you want a fly to get down very quickly. And sometimes even with a fine tippet and a skinny fly you're not gonna get down into real deep water as quickly as you want, so you have to put some weight on them. And if you're gonna tie a fly with weight on it, it's gonna be bulkier, and so sometimes you have to tie certain perdigons or other nymphs fairly heavy and not so skinny. But if it's perdigon style, even if it's fairly heavy up front, usually they don't have legs and they don't have fuzzy stuff sticking out, so they still sink better because they present less resistance to the water.
Anything that sticks out from the side of the fly, whether it's a fuzzy material, dubbing, or legs, is gonna retard the sink rate. So as long as you tie them like a perdigon, some of the natural insects are fairly bulky anyway, so you may do better off imitating some of those natural insects. So I wouldn't overthink it. If you need extra weight, tie a chubby perdigon. It'll probably work just fine.
Here's an email from Bob. "Love everything you and Orvis do, and you have helped enhance my addiction to fly fishing. Quick question, do you ever tie the tippet of your deepest fly, point fly, to the tippet just above your first fly, rather than the eye or the bend? This allows me to change either fly with ease."
So I had to get back to Bob and ask him to clarify because I wasn't quite sure what he was asking, and what Bob does is he ties his upper fly, you know, whether you call it the point fly, or the dropper fly, or whatever, the nomenclature is often confusing, but the upper fly, he ties to his tippet with a clinch knot. If he wants to tie on a new fly, if he was tying both to the eye of the top fly, or if he was tying to the bend of the upper fly, he would have to untie the knot if he wants to change this one fly. And this allows him to change either fly.
You can do the same thing by tying in an extra dropper with a triple-surgeon's knot in the tippet above your lower fly, but Bob does it with a clinch knot. So yeah, Bob, that'll work. It's gonna slide a little bit but I think that's a really good idea, because if you don't wanna tie...and George Daniel does this sometimes. If you don't wanna tie another dropper onto your tippet, yeah, you can just tie that dropper fly, the one that sticks off to the side, to the tippet with a clinch knot. It works just fine, so yeah, that'll work.
Here's an email from Van from Massachusetts. "I love the podcast. Thanks for everything you and Orvis do for the sport, but seriously, I really do learn something from every podcast. A quick tip about measurements, we get a lot of our information about fly fishing in measurements. A good trout is north of 13 inches, or your tippet should be 18 inches, and so on. Most of the time when I was on the water I used to guess at measurements. I have an experienced eye and my guesses were often wrong."
"Then I came up with the idea of taking some measurements from my body to be more accurate on the water. So with me, my knuckle to elbow is 12 inches. Fingers fully extended to elbow is 18 inches. Fingers to armpit is 24 inches, extended right arm to left nipple is 36 inches, and both arms extended are 4-foot-6-inches. These numbers are pretty close with me but I would not wanna build a cabinet with them. They're not exact. However, they are close enough to be helpful for the rigging that we do when we're fishing," and for measuring fish, Van. That's a great tip, Van.
I only use two measurements, my hand other words, if I stretch my hand from the tip of my little finger to the end of my thumb is 8.5 inches. And then if I extend both arms all the way to my side from my fingertips to my fingertips, that's 4-foot-6-inches, the same as you. Those are the two measurements I use but it would be useful to have more. So yeah, I advise everyone to take out a tape measure and do some of those measurements on your body, and then you'll always have an instant way to measure things if you don't have a tape measure handy. So thank you, Van, for that suggestion. It's a great one.
Lee: Hi, Tom. This is Lee calling from Massachusetts. I'm just finishing up listening to the podcast with Chip about winter fly fishing and I had something to add about fishing out in the cold or just being out in the cold in general. One thing I've found that helps me is not wearing all my layers on the ride up to the river or wherever you're going. I see a lot of my friends getting into the car wearing pretty much all their layers that they have for the day, and the car's all warm and cozy, and you get out, and you're just kinda chasing the warmth for the rest of the day. So something I like to do is travel in pretty close to my base layers, and when you get to the spot, then layer up.
One question I had was, I recently was fishing probably the most popular tail water in Massachusetts. I'm sure you can guess. And when I showed up, it was actually my first time fishing it ever, I met another angler in the parking lot who showed me a giant brown he had just caught. It was definitely north of 25 inches and he explained he caught it on a 10-foot, 2-weight rod. But I didn't know if this is something you could comment on because I do see a lot of seasoned fly anglers habitually reaching for their 10-foot, 2-weight, and lighter, more Euro-style rods, but actually throwing streamers on these rods. So I didn't know if this was a technique I was unaware of, if there were drawbacks, and just wanted your thoughts on it, but appreciate the podcast and thanks for the answer.
Tom: So, Lee, that's a great tip. I remember last winter I had Rachel Leinweber on the podcast and she recommended changing socks before you get into your waders on the river. In other words, driving to the river with one pair of socks and then changing them when you get to the river, but that can extend to your whole body. So I think that's a great tip, not to overdress when you're riding in the car with the heat on and then dressing before you get into your waders, so thank you for that tip.
Regarding throwing streamers with a Euro rod, a lot of people do it, and there's a good reason for doing it in certain types of water. If you wanna fish fairly deep into pockets in streams, and they're short pockets, like in pocket water with a lot of rocks, you really can't use a sinking line or any normal arrangement to get that streamer jigging right down between the rocks. And one of the best ways to do it is to use a streamer with a Euro rod so that there's no resistance that weighted...and you need a small, heavily-weighted streamer. That little streamer will just plunk down into the pocket and then you can twitch it or jig it through the pocket, and it's very, very effective.
A lot of people are doing it, and so I imagine that that person and people that do this generally don't use really big streamers. In the wintertime you probably don't wanna fish a big streamer, but it works very well on a Euro rod, and again, a little heavily weighted sculpin, or conehead muddler, or something like that, something that's got a lot of weight to it. You can plunk it down there with a Euro rod and get it right down into those short, deep pockets.
Here's an email from Kyle, from the eastern part of the Driftless in Wisconsin. "Thank you for all you do for the fly-fishing community. We can't express our appreciation enough. My question concerns the Orvis Superfine fiberglass series of rods. I own four, a 3-weight, 5-weight, and 8-weight from the previous generation, and a 4-weight from the current generation. I love them for the way they challenge and reward me. I'm an addict. I find myself shopping for a dedicated streamer rod, and I was hoping to purchase a 7-weight Superfine. Sadly, Orvis skips just this weight in the series. What's the reason for that?"
Well, Kyle, we have a limited range of fiberglass rods, Superfine fiberglass rods, and if you look at the sales of line sizes, the 7-weight is generally, kind of, an in-between rod, and it's quite a bit below the 4, the 5, the 6, and the 8. So it just hasn't been made yet. That doesn't mean we won't make one in the future, but currently it's because 7-weight line is not that often used, not as often as those other line sizes. There is an 8.5-foot 6-weight, which would make a good streamer rod, so that's about as close as you're gonna get right now in that Superfine series.
Here's an email from Jack. "My question for Tom is, what is his opinion about using strike indicators when targeting native brook trout in small mountain streams? I am what many would refer to as a rookie fly fisherman, and an approach I have seen a lot of people have success with is nymphing in these small streams. I'm having trouble with feeling the trout strike and am curious if using a strike indicator would help, or if this would be too much of a disturbance on the surface and spook the trout? I really appreciate all the hard work that goes into the podcast and have been an avid listener for a while now. I would love to hear more episodes about fishing the Appalachian Mountains, and I particularly enjoyed the blue lining episode. I think there's much more information to be discussed on this topic and would love some more tips."
Well, Jack, I never use an indicator in small mountain brook stream, brook trout streams, or small streams in general, mainly because those fish will almost always strike a dry fly, and often a big dry fly. And I find that I just use a dry dropper if I'm fishing nymphs. Even if I think I'm not gonna interest a fish in a dry fly, I still use a dry dropper rig. A dry fly landing on the water is less likely to spook those fish than an indicator because it lands with less of a plop and it's a little more natural looking. And a foam-bodied fly, like a Chubby Chernobyl or a Fat Albert, makes a really good indicator. And you just watch that dry fly, and if it hesitates or sinks, then you set the hook and it works quite well.
So you can use an indicator. I would recommend if you really wanna use an indicator in small streams maybe a little piece of yarn instead of a plastic indicator might be better, something like the New Zealand Strike Indicator. But I think that you're gonna be better off using a dry fly, and you'd be surprised, even in the dead of winter in some of those Appalachian streams the fish that will come up for a dry fly, so give it a try.
Here's an email from Brian in Maryland. "I have a question about winter fishing using soft tackles and wet flies. Typically I fish them in the spring when, let's face it, almost any method can work well on the swing or at other times of the year as a dropper when using a heavier nymph on the bottom. I love the look and style of soft tackles and wet flies. They're what I imagine flies should look like when I think of fishing. Do you fish soft tackles and wet flies during the cold winter months? If so, do you rig them with added weight, assuming you're using unweighted flies, and or with an intermediate or sinking polyleader to get them down in the water column? If you're not swinging them where the takes are more apparent, would you use them under an indicator when presented upstream on a dead drift? Now that I'm thinking about soft tackles I'm staring out my office window and dreaming about fly fishing on this January afternoon."
Well, Brian, I don't use soft tackles in the wintertime. It doesn't mean you can't but it's probably not gonna be an effective technique. The reason is that a swinging fly, you need active fish. You need fish that are actively chasing emerging nymphs that are rising to the surface, or maybe chasing little bait fish. And during the wintertime the fish typically don't have that kind of ambition and they're rarely gonna open their mouth for something that's dead drifting in front of them that looks edible, so swinging a wet fly, you're not gonna find many hatches during the winter. If you do occasionally find a little blue-winged olive hatch swinging a fly might work, but most of the time those fish are fairly close to the bottom eating stonefly, and mayfly nymphs, and caddis fly larvae, so a dead drift is better.
And yeah, you could use a soft tackle along with a heavier Tungsten bead nymph to get the soft tackle down and use it as a dropper. But again, I would advise you to use a really tiny soft tackle, like a 16, or an 18, or even a 20, because most of the stuff the fish are seeing and feeding on during the wintertime are small. So yes, it'll work but it's probably not gonna be your best option unless you dead drift them.
Here's an email from Kevin. "I'm a longtime fan of Orvis who has recently retired and started to make and post fly-tying videos. As a result, I've gained a whole new appreciation for what you presumably have to deal with. I find it fascinating that regardless of any level of success and achievement from which an opinion is extrapolated, every shared response these days is vigorously challenged. This includes my own experiences and opinions outside of tying flies and fly fishing, regardless of whether or not I can explain how I came to a conclusion. Legitimate challenges, additional information, suggestions, and opinions are usually appreciated and welcome, but it is sad that they come with such contempt these days. I do not always agree with everything that is said, but I choose to understand and consider how you came to your understanding or formed your opinion rather than argue or reveal my ignorance."
"The keyboard, Google, and a general lack of qualifying experience have made enthusiastically contentious self-proclaimed experts out of many who would be average at best. There's very little of this in your podcast and other media. More often than not you're threading the needle by giving solid advice without being pulled into the fray. It probably helps to filter out what material you use for questions to answer but I suspect you have to ignore more than your share of negative feedback. It is great that the Orvis podcasts have not become an outlet for the contentious debate that fills almost every other forum and platform."
"PS, this may not be something for the podcast," I'm gonna read it anyways, "But I seem to have attracted a few haters, which admittedly bothers me more than it should. Maybe I hit the, 'What is this world coming to' age, but even fly fishing is being infiltrated by those who lack respect for others. When you repeatedly have to remind someone not to fish too close to others and they push back, something is wrong. Sorry for the rant. Thanks again for all you and Orvis do for our sport."
Well, Kevin, you know, there's a couple old cliches I could quote to you. One is the old saying, "Doctor, it hurts when I do that," and you know what the doctor answered. Another is a quote from the great fly-fishing guide Steve Herter, who, when the late Leigh Perkins, who was my boss early on in Orvis, used to complain about people complaining about a new fly rod, or a new fly reel, or line, or whatever. And Steve would say, "Leigh, you know, when you ride on the horizon, somebody is gonna shoot at you." And the internet has made this worse.
Now you guys might think that I get lots of hate mail on the podcast and contentious disagreements. Believe it or not, I don't. I really don't. And the ones that I do get I'll read but you probably don't hear me reading many because I don't get many. I think there's a couple reasons for that. I think one is that this is just a nice group of people, and we have a little community here with a lot of mutual respect, and I really like that. But I think the other reason is that when you send me an email I've got your number. I've got your email address.
When people post comments, and you often notice if you look at those comments on YouTube and then you go and try to find out who the people are, they don't have any posts. I think they just established an account so that they can go and rant and complain about things. And it happens in places like Facebook and YouTube regardless of the topic, it's certainly not just fly fishing. But I think, again, it's because these cowards can be anonymous and we can't really tell who they are, and I think that's made some really nasty situations on the internet. But again, I don't get that kind of stuff on the podcast and I thank all of you. You know what? I'd actually like to have a few more rants. It would be kinda fun and interesting but I don't. I don't get people taking me to task in the podcast mailbox.
So just hang in there, and if you're gonna put your stuff up on social media, those people are gonna come out of the woodwork and you just have to be thick skinned, or just stop doing it. It's the only thing you can do. So hang in there, Kevin. I'm sure that for every person that complains about or takes you to task about the stuff you post, there are 50 people who really got a lot out of the things you posted and learned something, so don't let it bother you so much.
Steven: Hey, Tom. My name is Steven and I have a question about a bamboo rod I just purchased. It is a 1976 Orvis Madison rod. It's a 7.5-foot length, 3.5-ounce weight, and it says it's for a number 6 line. I paired it with a Battenkill Mark IV that I found used online. Both are in great condition and I'm super excited to fish them. I did get a 6-weight floating line for that Battenkill, and I'm not sure whether it casts better than the 5-weight line that I had tried on it previously. So curious, before I head out back to Michigan to do some fishing with it, what you think this rod would be best used for. Can I just kinda depend on it as an all-purpose rod since it's a little heavier than a lot of bamboo rods tend to be? Or is it still relatively specialized as a 3 or 4-weight would be in a graphite?
My second question is, I have a park right next to my house and I go there to practice and try to get used to the different rods I have and all that, and they just installed a turf soccer field. So I have a choice to practice my casting on grass or turf, and I just wasn't sure which one is better for the line. I thought you might have some insight there. Thanks so much for all that you and Orvis do. I hope you're well and thanks for getting to this question if you get to it. Cheers.
Tom: So Steven, first of all, whether you put a 5 or a 6-weight line on that rod is really, really up to you. In the old days, everyone was used to casting with a slower cadence before the days of graphite, and even fiberglass rods were quite a bit slower. So when graphite came around people got used to a tighter casting loop, and a faster casting cadence, and a shorter arc in their casting. And so if you like that style of casting then I'd stick with a 6-weight. If you want it to feel a little bit more like a graphite rod, if you don't want that full flexing action, then yeah, you can put a 5 on it.
Since it's a 5 or a 6 it's a good all-around line size for fishing for trout. The only problem is that making a bamboo fly rod longer than, say, 8, 8.5 feet was problematic. People didn't use them just because they got really, super slow and very, very heavy, so they made them shorter. But today, the way we fish, whether we're fishing streamers, or nymphs, or longer casts with dry flies, a little bit longer rod helps. And that 7.5-foot rod, you may find it to be a little short in situations where you have to make a longer cast or hold more line off the water, especially when you're nymphing. But yeah, you could use it, particularly in small to medium-sized streams. It could be an all-around rod. I think that when you go to a bigger river or you got some wind, you're gonna probably want a little bit longer rod to do the job effectively.
Oh, and one of the things I should've mentioned is also mending. Because we do a lot of nymph fishing with indicators, and when we're fishing dry flies you often need to mend, and mending with a shorter rod is more difficult. So that 7.5-foot rod in a bigger river, it's gonna be tough to get a good mend out there. Regarding practicing, whether it's grass or turf, I would say that grass is probably going to be better. It's gonna be easier on your fly line, as grass is mostly softer than turf. I haven't really felt astroturf or turf. We don't have much of it here in Vermont but I think it's a little more abrasive and a little harder. So go out and feel it, and whatever feels softer to you, whether it's the grass or the turf, is gonna be easier on your fly line.
Although one other thing I just thought of that might make a difference is that grass...your line is gonna probably pick up some dirt, whereas the turf is probably gonna be a little bit cleaner, so maybe turf will work better. I don't know. I would take a look at both of them and see which is less dirty and which is less abrasive, and that's the one you wanna practice casting on. If you can find water that's gonna be the best. All right, that is the "Fly Box" for this week. Let's go talk to Pete about redfishing on the coast.
Well, my guest today is Captain Pete Scafaru, and Pete is with Marsh On the Fly in New Orleans, Louisiana, kind of redfish central for the country. And Pete, in surveys we've done, redfish is the most popular saltwater fish for pursuing on a fly rod. It beats out bonefish. It beats out striped bass, I think, because it has such a wide range along the Atlantic and the Gulf Coasts. If somebody is gonna go saltwater fishing, chances are they're gonna go redfishing. So I get a lot of questions about people who, it's their first time, they're going down on vacation from the North or whatever, or they live in the South and they wanna try saltwater fishing, and I get a lot of questions about what tackle, and what to expect, and what kind of things to maybe practice before they go, which is something I harp on all the time. Let's first kinda talk about what to expect when you go redfishing.
Pete: Well, glad to be here with you, Tom. I remember one of your podcasts that I listened to and you were telling your listeners that maybe expectations are not the best thing to have in any fishery.
Tom: That's true, that's definitely true.
Pete: We have a fantastic fishery outside of New Orleans here and all over South Louisiana, and redfish is definitely a great entry into saltwater fly fishing. I have clients who, not to put too fine a point on it, but are not the best of casters and still manage to catch redfish on fly, against all odds and surprising to everyone at the time. The one line I hear all the time, clients call and tell me about how they've been fly fishing for 40 years and know what they're doing, and yet, a lot of that has been spent throwing Thingamabobbers off the side of a drift boat.
I guess the first thing I was thinking about, this is a completely different sport than trout fishing, than any kind of freshwater fishing really. If there was anything in common with it, I would think that there's some similarities to carp fishing in terms of seeing the carp and trying to get it cast in the right place, and present it well. Some of the guys who've been carp fishing in other places do really well down here because they have that skill set. But in general, I think the saltwater fly-fishing game is just a completely different sport.
Maybe starting with tackle, we're fishing 8, 9, and 10 weights. During the summer we get a run of jacks that are following the pogies and [inaudible 00:36:00] closer into the marsh. They're around maybe sometime in June, maybe it'll be close to our exterior marshes until the first cold fronts in October. That's the 10-weight fish all day. I prefer an 11 weight. I think it does a little bit better. They're all big migratory jacks. But in terms of tackle for redfish specifically, I think a 9 weight will get it done. It might be a little underdone on some of our bigger bull reds but it can handle them if you're having a little bit of experience pulling on larger fish. I like an 8 weight. I'll fish an 8 weight for even some of those bigger fish personally, but I think that's because it's funner to cast sometimes.
I'm using maybe personally a little bit lighter leader. Generally for clients, the leaders are foolproof we're looking at. I'm doing a 2-stage leader, 50 pound to 30 pound. Sometimes I'll get fancy and do a 3-stage leader and taper down even more, but the flies we're tossing are generally pretty heavy flies so you don't have to worry about that leader turning over too much. I know some guys down here are fishing straight 30-pound test as well. I think we do that just to make it a little more foolproof so guys don't break the line as much.
It's pretty hard to break 30 pound, although I see guys do it. Sometimes guys get so excited when they hook their first bull and they do a big strip set, and they kind of lock up and don't let go of the line. And if you're strong enough, you can break 30 pounds if that fish turns and makes a run real quick. But otherwise it's pretty hard to break 30 pounds.
Tom: So when you're tying 30 to a fly, what knot do you use, Pete? I always ask guides what knot they prefer.
Pete: The non slip mono loop, I tie it for everything. I don't ever find a need to have the fly tight to the line with other kinds of knots. I remember I first started tying the lots in mono loops when I was a teenager trout fishing, and I remember it was the first time I could pull my fly out of trees on [inaudible 00:38:23]. It's just it's a really strong knot. Yeah.
Tom: And with that 30 pound it lets the fly swing free a little bit more.
Pete: Absolutely. I try to make it with a smaller loop just to make it prettier. If you tie it carefully you could make it with a much smaller loop, and the fly is still moving around quite a bit, but it's not a big, ugly knot.
Tom: And so we got the rod. What kind of lines are you typically using there?
Pete: Generally all floating lines. Rarely are we blind casting, and if we are blind casting and it's in a little bit deeper water, by deeper water I'm thinking 4 or 5 feet, where bulls may be held up, maybe 5, 6 feet. And at that depth I may make the leader a little bit longer, maybe 10 feet, maybe 11 feet, and with a heavy fly that's fine. It'll get down as far as it needs to go. I've never found a use for sink tips generally for redfishing. Maybe once or twice I've gone out to the nearshore smaller rigs where we're talking maybe 20 feet of water and I cast a weighted line. And I've caught a couple redfish that way but that's maybe one day a year that I bother with anything like that, so floating lines in general.
Leader lengths, I think about 9 feet just out of respect for the sport. You can fish a 7.5-foot leader in Louisiana and get away with it. But what I mean, 9 feet out of respect for the sport, just thinking about the whole gamut of what fly fishing is, some day your listeners may have to go to New Zealand and fish a 16-foot leader trout fishing. And bonefishing, I think, but saltwater fishing in general, other species, bonefish or tarpin, they're definitely using 10-feet leaders and longer. So 9 foots, the rod length, it kind of gives you a good visual cue, too, thinking about where the end of your line is. You can think that that's one rod length's past the end of your line where that fly is.
Tom: Yeah. And what kind of flies are you using typically?
Pete: Really anything that imitates a crab, a shrimp, or a bait fish. I think about the depth that I'm fishing, trying not to fish too heavy flies if we're really fishing shallow flats or fishing the edges of the pond. But then again, if I know we're going to be going after bull reds, something to get their attention, almost 3 to 5 inches long. They seem to like darker colors in the morning, maybe a little bit lighter colors in the middle of the day or if it's very sunny. Sometimes if it's too heavily weighted it can plop too hard, if they're being picky. Often they don't care. They're generally fish that if they're feeding they're gonna eat anything that they see.
I often have, kind of, two rods rigged because we're getting a lot of shops at Sheepshead out there, which is kind of one of our other targets. So I'll have a smaller crab rigged on an 8 weight with maybe a little whole lighter setup, and then I'll have a bigger, 9-weight rig with a bigger fly. And those redfish will eat that small crab if they see it as well. They'll eat anything that looks or moves like a shrimp. A lot of these flies we're using for redfish are not exact replicas of anything. They look a little bit like everything. Those patterns [inaudible 00:42:14] redfish crack, but what does it look like? Could it be a shrimp? Sure. Could it be a crab? Sure. A lot of these patterns look shrimpy or crabby together now, what they call in trout fishing...oh, what do they call those kinds of flies that are imitative patterns, right, just imitating something.
Tom: Yeah. Pete, define bull red for people that aren't familiar with the terminology. What's a bull red, and if it's a big one, what do you call the smaller ones? And where do you make the cut between bull reds, and what do you call the smaller ones?
Pete: The smallest of the small we call rat reds. So it's actually the rarest fish I catch out there, a fish that's smaller than 12 inches. I think this entire last year we only maybe caught four of them, maybe five of them. They're super cute. They have little blue on their tail and they'll keep that blue on their tail all the way until they're sexually mature. So, kind of, the next version up from under 12 inches, and mind you, these fish grow 12 inches in their first year. They're very fast-growing fish, redfish. So already by their second year they're over 12 inches, maybe even pushing up into the 20s.
Basically, from what I've just, kind of, heard this redfish survey that they did down here in Louisiana, I could be wrong on this exactly, but I think 5 years, and something like 90% of these fish are mature. And I think by six years almost all of them are, so it varies a little bit depending on what area you're talking about. Of course, the Texas redfish are maturing at a little bit different rate than Louisiana redfish and all over the Gulf, just according to where they're living. But we call a bull red any sexually mature fish, okay? Can't tell if it's a bull in terms if it's female or male unless you kill it, unless you took it apart and looked inside.
I kind of have this theory that I could see these bulls if it's male or female based a little bit on their body shape. Some of these bulls kind of get thicker at a certain part, and not right in front of their head, but just right behind their head they get these big shoulders. The way they, kind of, stick out their fins I just think sometimes I could see the difference between a male and a female, but that's purely conjectural because there's no way to really know unless you kill it. So a bull red is any mature redfish, any fish that's sexually mature.
Tom: And how big are they gonna be?
Pete: So I think anything above somewhere around a 20-pound mark, 15 to 20-pound mark they start to get sexually mature. These are really big fish. Even some of the fish that aren't sexually mature are already 15 to 20 pounds. We call those slot reds, slot meaning that it's the slot that's legal to kill in Louisiana, which is a whole other kind of topic that we could talk about later. The slot in Louisiana is 15, 27 inches, but the slot reds are fish that I consider a fish that's maybe an 8 to 15-pound fish, somewhere in there. Anything over 15 pounds I consider a pretty big, mature fish, but you can actually see them. You can see the edge of their tails. There's blue on it, that's not a sexually mature fish and I wouldn't consider a bull.
I see pictures of what they call bulls on Instagram that still have blue on their tail and I think immediately, "Well, that's not a bull." I hear funny stories, too. I always ask clients, "So you know why this redfish tail is blue, right?" "Oh, that's because they're feeding." "No." "Or they're eating crabs, or eating blue crabs." No, no. Any redfish with blue on its tail just means that it's a sexually immature fish.
Tom: Okay. All right, so what is the fight of a redfish like for people that haven't caught one?
Pete: I'll tell you a funny story of the first one I caught. I took a kayak out in the marsh into this little lake area where there was some flooded timber. By flooded timber, we're talking about cypress trees, kind of, on the edge of what we consider swamp, very fresh water, in other words. And I kayaked out there, this was in the middle of summer, and they told me I should fish a spoon fly. And I had a spoon fly on the end of my line, and lo and behold, I saw a group of redfish, fish that I thought were quite big. These were probably 12 to 15-pound fish, big group of them. I took my spoon fly in front of the lead redfish and I thought it was pretty close, less than a foot, because they told me you gotta show it to them real quick. And I had given myself the mantra in my head, "Strip, set, strip, set, strip set, don't lift the rod," which is very important. We'll talk about that maybe a little bit later.
But I showed the fish the spoon fly once, no reaction. I showed it to him a second time even closer, no reaction. By the fifth time the redfish saw the spoon fly he kind of lazily leaned his head over and just took it in his mouth, and I strip set. I was setting really good, I lifted the rod, and the fish barely started swimming away. And it took the fish about 30 seconds to realize he was even hooked before he kinda gave a decent fight, a pretty good fight, especially this was a 12 to maybe 14-pound fish, somewhere in there. And when it was all said and done I thought, "Wow, I feel like I've been bamboozled. These fish are not great fighters, not great action." Only later did I realize that this water was over 90 degrees.
Tom: Oh, my God.
Pete: So when these fish are at the edges of what's possible for them to survive in, water that's over 90 degrees, or water that's much below 50, I've still seen them pretty active even in 45-degree water, but much below that and they'll get very sluggish. Very sluggish at the top end when it's too hot, very sluggish at the bottom end when it's too cold. In general, though, I remember the next few redfish I caught and I remember catching a couple smaller ones as well. And for their size, like all saltwater fish really, they fight extremely well. They're not gonna get you into your backing like a bonefish but just how hard they can tug is pretty phenomenal. These days we'll catch fish that are 15 pounds and I'll tell the client to crank the drag down on the reel all the way just so we can get them in quicker and move onto the next fish, and the fish will pull so hard that it'll move the entire boat, a 1,500-pound boat with two guys in it.
Tom: I saw that on one of your videos in Virginia last week. That was pretty interesting.
Pete: They are very strong fighters. They're very hearty fish. They can survive a lot. There's documented instances where they'll catch the same redfish year after year in areas. There's even a couple that are apparently famous in Florida that are named fish because they get caught so often. It's kind of incredible how hearty they are. I've seen redfish that had pieces of them missing, having been bit by sharks, and were still surviving out there.
Tom: So needless to say, you want a reel with a good, strong drag.
Pete: That's important. I always tell people that you can buy an inexpensive rod that will service you well but don't skimp on the reel. Because a cheap reel, after getting exposed to the elements and saltwater, will fall apart on you. And most of these reels these days that are high-quality reels, sealed drag, saltwater reels, will last you a lifetime, then you can pass them down to your kids. That's how well built they are.
Tom: Yeah, it's kinda the opposite of trout fishing where the reel isn't that important. The rod is more important and the leader, but in saltwater you do need that good drag for bigger fish.
Pete: Absolutely.
Tom: So Pete, take me through a day of redfishing, what it's like, what you're looking for, what kind of water you're fishing, and then where do you wanna present the fly just so people can get a good idea of what a day of redfishing is like?
Pete: That's a hard question to answer just because every month out of the year here is a little bit different. To kinda give you an overview, I'm launching most typically 45 minutes south of New Orleans in a place called Hopedale Marina. We fish the Biloxi Marsh in the outside edges. When the weather is really good and the water is flat calm we'll run out to the islands, the Chandeleur Islands, which is almost an hour and a half into the Marina, some hard-sand bottoms, it's much clearer water, much saltier water obviously, not brackish at all. Once you get out to the edge of the marsh and further out it's pure saltwater.
And the fishing, everywhere from the Marina out to the Chandeleurs can be a little bit different. So we talk about fishing the inside, so when we fish the inside it's water that isn't brackish, so there's a little more fresh water in there. In some of these spots we're catching redfish we're actually catching bass out of the same areas, and a lot of that water has grass in it. That's where these redfish are growing up, in these grass ponds, these estuary ponds, and that fishing looks completely different than anything in the outside.
So we're looking in the edges of these ponds, sometimes even in the middle. They can be hiding under grass. They can be floating on top. These are generally smaller fish, you know, Gulf [inaudible 00:52:39]. Excuse me. And basically, that fishing is typically clear water. If it's right the grasses actually filter the water and it looks really clean for the most part. And the fish that are living on a darker bottom also look much different. They're much more orange, copper, darker copper, much darker colored fish, so that fishing can exist all year long.
We can go to those ponds any time of the year. And we generally fish that stuff if it's very windy and you can't fish on the outside so much, or if the bull reds have already migrated out, say, after March, basically between late summer through March, these bull reds are coming in from the deep and following the bait in, and they're closer to where one would launch, kind of, on the edges of the marsh, and they come a little bit more inside. But for the rest of the year, the slot reds ideally should be all over the inside marsh, growing up before they're getting big enough to spawn and join their brethren out in the deep in the Gulf. So it's hard to answer that, what's a typical day.
Okay, so there's the inside fishing that we fish the ponds, and then there's the outside fishing, where at certain times of the year there's schools of redfish running around out there, and you see them under bait. Excuse me, you see them on the birds. The birds are coming down on bait and there's schooled up redfish. There can be schooled up jacks with them. That's more of a summer, late summer, early fall situation. Once those schools start breaking up after the first cold fronts they're, kind of, on the edges of the marsh, then we're following them on the edges, or looking for them in slightly deeper waters, 3, 4-feet-deep water, or maybe even a little bit deeper. We're looking for the clear water. Our water generally out on the edge of the Gulf is not that clear because of all the sediment that gets pushed in from the Mississippi River and from the Pearl River in our area.
The wintertime is a nice time to come down here and fish because generally as those water temperatures cool down the sediment settles. So our water in the winter is generally much clearer. That being said, if it's blowing 20 to 30 miles an hour, it's gonna churn up the mud, because most of everything outside of those grass ponds further out you're talking about a mud bottom where the oystermen fish are putting rocks down on that mud, and they're seeding rocks with oysters, and they're out there basically farming oysters in a lot of these areas. Same areas that shrimpers are going, even a little bit further out in the passes. All over these areas there's also crabbers out there. In these, kind of, open bay areas on the edges, there's a lot of crab pops out there as well. So every month has something a little bit different going on.
Even in the summer months we're going out, and at the edge of some of these open bays out on the edge of the marsh there's blacktip sharks coming in. We go further out to the islands and we're seeing all kinds of stuff out there, bluefish, and tarpon, and different species of sharks, and just a lot of different things going on in the summer. Now for the purely redfishing thing, as I mentioned, it can happen all year long in the inside marshes where there are smaller fish, and also, summer through fall, early spring, those bigger fish, a little bit further out on the outside edge marshes.
Tom: And so you're fishing really shallow water, right? I mean, you said deeper water, like 4 feet, so you're fishing very shallow water and you're sight fishing most of the time, right, if you have the option.
Pete: That's the goal. If it's not very cloudy and very windy, we're trying to sight fish every day. I've been having a little more luck, especially this last season. On more foul weather days or if it's foggy, we had a fog this last November, December, and I've been seeing these redfish that are schooled up. And when I say a little bit deeper water, yeah, that 4 or 5 feet of water, they seem to like hanging out there more if it's not too cold, so there's a temperature situation going on as well. We've seen a lot of warm days this winter in the 70s and those big bull red fish are not going up into the ultra skinny flats that are a foot deep, or sometimes even less, 2 feet, anywhere from 2 feet to 8 inches. They typically do that in the winter as the water cools off and they're going up on the flats, looking for bait. And also, some of those flats that are mud flats, the sun is beating down on them and they're warming up quicker than the deeper water.
Tom: So the fish are in water that skinny, they're pretty apparent, right? They're gonna show. You're gonna see them.
Pete: Oh, absolutely, even if the water is a little bit dirty. When you're looking at a fish that's between 30 and 40 inches, they're not too hard to see.
Tom: And where do you place the fly in relation to the fish, and how do you strip? What do you do?
Pete: Well, thinking about what someone is gonna be confronted with on a poling skiff, especially if someone hasn't done a lot of saltwater fly fishing. When I say a poling skiff, there's a casting platform up front on the bow and there's a poling platform in the back, so I'm standing higher, 6 feet off of the deck. Well, not quite, maybe 4.5, 5 feet off the deck, and I'm back there with my pole and I have a little better of a vantage point from up there, and I'm poling around these skinny flats. And the guy up front is standing on the casting platform, which may be about a foot off the deck, a foot and a half. The first thing I always think about telling clients is, get your feet placed as if you were in a fighting stance and try not to move them.
As soon as you start moving, shuffling your feet left, or shuffling your feet right, every time you're bouncing on the boat or making any thudding sound, it really scares the fish on the flats. These fish are called drum, red drum, sciaenops ocellatus, so they have a muscle on their swim bladder and it's as if you were rubbing a wet balloon. And they'll drum when they're scared or when they're sexually active. That's a mating call for them. But when they're scared and they make that drumming sound, it's a very similar sound as if you drop the cooler lid, or as if you took a step on the casting platform, or were banging around the boat. The boat is very resonant. It's kind of a hollow object, so any time you're shuffling your feet you really can spook those fish.
I think this applies to any kind of saltwater fishing but I think it's especially pertinent to what we do because a lot of these shots are very close. Sometimes we're literally casting 5 feet in front of the boat at these fish, 10 feet in front of the boat. I'd say the majority of our shots are 30 feet or less, okay? So I want somebody to plant their feet. I have what they call a sissy bar in back. It's a little back rest and you can kind of put your butt up against that to get more stable. It's a pretty big casting platform, the one I have. Actually, the one I have, it's on a Maverick and it's designed to put a casting bucket. Now what's a casting bucket? It's a big bucket that people are putting their line into, stripping their line into when it's on a windier day. I don't like casting buckets. I'm not a fan, personally.
Anyway, getting back to it, so planting your feet and not moving around, and most important thing that I could tell listeners is, when you're practicing casting, learn to cast all around yourself. If you can only cast on one side of your body, your typical, anywhere from...if we're looking at a clock face and you can only cast at your 1:00 or 2:00 on your right shoulder you're going to be limited on what's possible. So if there is wind and it's pushing into your right shoulder, you can't have the fly line over there, you're gonna bury your hook into yourself. So you're gonna have to learn how to cast on the opposite shoulder. Making an opposite shoulder cast is crucial.
And because a lot of our game is based on accuracy, you're trying to show it to the redfish as quickly as you can, sometimes we may see that redfish swing by and we'll have a three-second window to present a fly in front of him. And you ask, how closely to present that fly? Well, we're talking as close as he'll see it. If it's clear water they'll see it a foot away from them, okay? If it's ultra shallow their field of vision is limited, and if you're not putting it 6 inches in front of their face they're never gonna see that fly.
I think our redfish, as opposed to redfish that are growing up in other places with much clearer water year round, for example, Florida redfish, I've fished over there and it's a completely different game, much longer leaders. You have to lead the fish much more. You'll never get anywhere near the fish with a trolling motor. Those fish are much more pressured, so all of those things are the opposite of our fish, right? So our fish are growing up in a slightly dirtier water, more sediment-filled water. They're hanging out in shallow stuff and their field of vision I just think is quite limited compared to other places. So if it's not 6 inches in front of their face they just won't see it. And even then sometimes they won't see it because there's so much other stuff going on, 6 inches is not a lot. But when it's ultra shallow we're talking 4 inches they need to see it that close.
Tom: So if somebody wants to come redfishing with you I would bet that they wanna practice their accuracy up to 40 feet because 4 inches is pretty damn close, and also they wanna practice that on their off shoulder, so if you're right handed, casting over your left shoulder so that you can cast to the right side of your body.
Pete: Absolutely.
Tom: So that's something to practice before you go, people, before you go. You don't wanna be getting casting lessons from Pete when you're standing in the bow, okay? Practice at home so you can go fishing and have fun.
Pete: Yeah. I definitely do a lot of casting lessons on the boat but that's not the ideal place for a casting lesson. It's something you wanna do in the park.
Tom: No, it's a waste of their money and your time, right?
Pete: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I can't believe you'd pay me that much for a casting lesson.
Tom: Yeah, really. So you've got the fly 4 to 6 inches in front of the fish. What do you do?
Pete: You gotta get it moving. So backing up a little bit, thinking about how we present this cast, another crucial element to getting it out there is not false casting, so not just getting comfortable with casting at different angles around your body. And if you can practice this, just imagine if you were staring at a clock face, ideally you'd be able to plant your feet and cast flat over on your right parallel to the water, every angle around yourself, even over the guide's head. If you can make a shot at 12:00 over my head, that's awesome. I'll duck. I want you to catch the fish. I spend a good part of my day's out there ducking clients' flies.
But then not just the 12 straight over your head, also everything on your left side, too. If you practice you'll be able to cast flat over on your left side, and that really requires you lifting up your elbow and casting over your head. You don't wanna stop your hand in front of your head, or in front of your torso, anywhere from the neck to your chest. You want your hand to be over your head when you do this. And I always think about line of sight. So if you bring that fly rod right to your hat brim if you're casting over your strong side on your right side, if you're right handed, almost like throwing a dart, bringing that rod just above the handle right under your right eye to your hat brim, you'll get really accurate that way close up.
So okay, there's that whole thing. The next thing is, don't false cast. I can't tell you how many times I see guys on the front of the bow that are casting at a fish. They go back and forward, back and forward false casting, and about by the third time they do that, the fish sees them waving their rod around and takes off, and it's game over, or they're waving their rod around, they're false casting, and the shot's getting worse, and worse, and worse. And by the time they finally drop it they've missed their best opportunity.
So another thing to practice, they talk about it, is the saltwater quick cast. There's different ways to go about it. You can fold up the leader in half and you're holding onto the back end of the fly, and you're holding onto the connection of the leader and the line, okay? And that first move you make, right I want you to point at the fish. So let's say the fish is at your 11:00, slightly left, I want you to point the rod at the fish, and then you swing off to the side, right, and over the top, and straighten out that line and that leader. And always stripping in a straight line to your fly, if you cock out the rod sideways and you're stripping, you will not be able to get a good hook set on these guys. And they have very bony mouths so you really have to do a hard strip set. So they're not quite like tarpon but closer to tarpon than, say, bonefish, redfish have really hard mouths. You really have to yank on that line and point that rod to sit straight at your fly and straight at the fish.
So how do you strip? So this is maybe the part where it's not as much technical as it is about experience. You have to be looking at the fish. If the fish is moving fast, maybe you wanna move that fly a little faster. And you'll notice immediately what happens when you get their attention. Sometimes the fish will see the fly and they'll start following it. Well, that's when you maybe wanna speed it up if you have on a bait fish pattern. Now if you have on a crab pattern, crab don't swim away fast. What they do when they're being attacked by something, they sink down on the bottom and try to hide in the mud, or hide behind something, so you almost have to stop it. And a shrimp is somewhere in between. A shrimp does not move terribly fast, but it does twitch a little bit and it can move at a pretty good clip, but nothing like a bait fish will.
So if it's a more bait fishy pattern, I always think about, move it a little faster. If you get the fish's attention with it, to make it look realistic you're gonna have to move it faster and almost try to take it away from them within reason. Because it's really easy to pull back once and make a really big strip, and just pull it out of the zone completely, okay? This is the part of the whole equation where I think, like, you just have to cast at a few redfish and start feeling your way out and seeing their behavior. Sometimes in the winter I'll see these balls that are moving very slowly in these real shallow, muddy areas.
And if the fish is moving slowly you probably wanna move that fly slowly. Yeah, because if you're moving it quickly and you just pull it past their face really quickly and they're not very active and they're moving around slowly, perhaps between tides, when they're not actively feeding, you wanna keep it in the zone as long as you can. And by keeping it in the zone, you just wanna keep it in their field of vision as long as you can.
Tom: Okay, so reading the body language of the fish is important.
Pete: It's a little bit about that, for sure. Ultimately some of these shots are so close I call it combat fishing because I can't tell you what kind of casts to make when the fish is 10 feet away. There's not a proper cast. Really you just gotta get your line in there and gotta get your fly in front of the fish and show it to him. It's amazing, and I'm saying this on the boat all day long. "You just gotta show it to him." If you don't show it to him you're not in the game. And I've seen guys make the craziest sets because there's almost no way to strip set when the fish is right at your feet in front of the boat. I've seen guys turn sideways and lift the rod.
Sometimes the best anglers are not the ones of the previous casts. It's a matter of showing it to the fish, and seeing what's happening in the moment, and reacting accordingly. And the only way you're gonna figure that game out is to come down and go redfishing.
Tom: Yeah, okay. So talk a little bit about your seasons there and what's available when, just so people know when to plan a trip.
Pete: So this is probably the number one question I get asked all the time, and my best answer is, the fishing is great year round when the weather is good. I was recently looking through some photos to update my presentation and I had been thinking lately, "April and May the last couple of years hasn't been so great." But then I was looking through these photos and we had a couple setting days last April, and a couple awesome days last May. It's hard to know what's gonna happen. Generally, if you're looking at the tides, there's twice a month where you're gonna get bigger tidal activity. And for a big tide, for us I'm talking about 2 feet. That's a big tide for us, and that may happen a couple of times a month.
And generally, when there's more water moving the fish are gonna be more active. All right, so getting into the different species, so as I mentioned, those jacks are coming around maybe June and hanging out until the first couple cold fronts in October. This last October, I had one of my best clients come on October 31st, we went out to the islands, that hour and a half run across the Chandeleurs and the jack fishing was incredible. The bull redfishing was incredible out there. And this client that tells me, who's been all over the world, who's been at the Seychelles, he said, "You know, these are the same fishes, the giant trevallies, they're in the same family." And he said, "And I didn't have to pay $25,000 to catch them."
So they're a lot of fun, those jacks. That's something that I feel like everyone should try to come down here and catch jacks on fly. They're schooled up. We're throwing poppers at them. It's top-water action. It's some of the craziest eats you'll ever see. They're one of the fastest fish out there. I mean, they're every bit as fast as tuna. It's unbelievable how fast they can come at you and how fast they can move around. That's a lot of fun.
Fishing time, you know, sometime in June depending and into October. It seems like the height of the summer, June, July, August, we're getting some really good blacktip fishing. We don't chum for them. They're just around. Throwing big, red flies on a 12 weight with wire leader, 50, 80-pound blacktips. I think I've seen a guy hook a 100 pounder out there. They're incredibly fun just in terms of how aggressive they can be when they get hooked. They'll run out. They'll leap out of the air and do flips, like smaller mako sharks, in a way.
They'll run out there and then they'll run back in the boat. And when you have a fish coming back straight at you it's kind of always this crazy moment of trying to stay tight to them, and what are you gonna do to strip the line as if you had a smaller trout in there, or trying to reel it up real fast. And they're also a lot of fun because they don't fight as long as jacks. A jack on a fly rod, if it gets hooked in the mouth, and what I mean by that is sometimes they're so aggressive they'll eat the fly and they'll get it into their gills. If they get it into their gills you might fight them 10, 15 minutes. If they get it in the mouth you might have that fish on for half an hour if you have no experience fighting big fish. I've even seen guys fight them for 40 minutes and I'm trying to tell them, "You gotta pull harder. You gotta keep that rod lower," right?
So the jacks will fight that long. The sharks will generally give up after about 15 minutes, which honestly, is the funner fight. Half an hour is a bit too long to have a fish on there. You wanna go do something else, but 15 minutes is just about right, super fun. Let's see, so in terms of redfish seasons, those bull reds we start seeing closer to the Marina on the edges of our marshes maybe half an hour out of run. Perhaps August, some schools are coming in around there. Definitely by September we start seeing some bigger fish around. By October, it's happening, all the way through March. Pretty much by the end of March they're starting to swim out to the edges again, and maybe cross Chandeleur Sound, and go out to the more open water.
So I'm thinking maybe mid-July through March, those bull reds, where you don't have to run out terribly far. That being said, there's always some stragglers out on the edges year round. I'm always surprised if I go fishing outside and check out some of those edges. There will always be a couple fish that just didn't join their brethren for whatever reason. And fishing on the islands, you can see bull reds out on the islands any month of the year. The more important thing is getting the weather to be able to go out there.
Tom: Yeah, you gotta have pretty flat water, right, to make that run.
Pete: We see sheepshead around all year. They're a real fun fish. We jokingly call them Cajun permit because they can be so picky and hard to catch on fly.
Tom: They're tough. They're really tough, yeah.
Pete: Yeah, they can be. It's kind of amazing to make a nice cast, show them the fly, and the sheepshead will swim around it two or three times and then just take off. I've never seen another fish do that. That's not what always happens but I've seen that happen quite a number of times, and it's always like, "Well, what are you gonna do?" I'm generally fishing smaller [inaudible 01:16:27] patterns for them, and that's even more of a game of, how do you move this fly? Trying to, first of all, just make sure they see it, which now you're talking about a fish that will actually have a much better field of vision than a redfish. So a sheepshead can see it from further away, not bonefish distances but at least a foot or two sometimes, and they're also much spookier. They won't suffer having the boat right on top of them. It happens, everything out there happens.
One thing I love about guiding is that even some years into it, almost every day I'm out there I see something I've never seen. One of those things is, oh, my gosh, somebody just got a sheepshead 2 feet in front of the boat on a spoon fly. Crazy stuff happens. But generally, these fish are much spookier from the boat. And they're kind of the wariest fish out there, too, but we see them on the edges. They're really trying to pick up for stations on the grass edges, on the marsh, and that's a year-round fish. I see them more on the inside, in the spring and summer.
We have a sheepshead fishing tournament here in March called The Sheepy. I'm about to fish that with a client coming up and that's always a lot of fun. Mostly guides come to this thing but I remember I fished it one year, and out of 20-some boats that went out for 2 days, only three or four sheepshead were caught. Now mind you, the weather was pretty miserable those couple days but they can be a really tough fish. Anyway, so that's another species that's out here. One of my favorites is the alligator gar, a really neat fish that is all throughout the Mississippi River drainage. They can live to 100 years. The record alligator gar is 327 pounds. We regularly get shots of these fish that are 5 feet long, around 30 or 40 pounds.
They're ambush predators. They're not gonna chase the fly down, so if it's not right on their nose, and we're talking 2 inches, they're not gonna eat it. But they're often pretty darn bite-y. And it's amazing that I'll have clients cast past their face two, three times, and I say, "You gotta get it closer. You gotta get it closer." And that fish, it's been laid up and just sitting there in shallow water, sometimes 8 inches, a foot of water. And finally, on the fourth or fifth cast the client gets it close enough and the fish just erupts and whacks whatever fly is presented with them. We're not target... Sorry, go ahead.
Tom: I like gar fishing. Up here I fish for smaller gar but I'd really love to catch an alligator gar. Now do you use yarn flies for them, or do you use just a standard fly? Because our gar up here are smaller and their teeth are really small, and we have to use yarn to hook them. Do you use standard flies for those alligator gar?
Pete: Well, for us there is a [inaudible 01:19:31] or bycatch, as it were. We're throwing whatever fly we have on there. Redfish flies will catch them, sheepshead flies will catch them. So I'm not out actively trying to target alligator gar with yarn flies. We're out there redfishing and suddenly there's a 4 or 5-foot-long fish, then I think all fish are wonderful so I'm encouraging everyone, "Catch that fish. That's a huge fish, cast at them." So whatever fly we have on there, that's what we're throwing.
Tom: So you can hook them on a standard hook?
Pete: It's difficult. So I'd say maybe for every 10 gar that eat it, we may only get 1 to the boat. Their faces are pure bone. There's just nothing to hook. Even the ones that we're getting next to the boat, that hook isn't in anything. It's just the sharp hook that's in being held by just a point of the hook and the bone. And you get lucky sometimes because if it's in the corner of their mouth it can work better, but they'll also break lines. They have really big teeth so I definitely see them cut lines. If we're fishing for sheepy with some lighter test 15-pound tippet instead of 30 pound, they'll break it. It'll get cut.
Tom: Yeah, cool fish, though. Interesting fish.
Pete: Yeah, we call them marsh tarpon because now and again we get one that'll just jump like crazy for no apparent reason. And they can play possum, too, so you'll try to get one on the boat for a picture, and if it's not really tuckered out they'll try to bite you. I've had a client drop it, kind of, let a gar slip, and the gar was on the bottom of the boat and he was going after this guy's ankles, trying to bite him. It was definitely a tense moment there.
Also a really creepy fish, creepy in terms of you're holding a gar and it'll take a raspy breath, and it just gives you, kind of, a chill down your spine to be holding a fish that can breathe. They have a highly vascularized swim bladder that's, like, a primitive lung that they can breathe air with, like tarpon, for example. So they can tolerate all kinds of conditions, like, extremely hot water, or salty water, fresh water. Whatever it is, they can survive in anything. They've been around since the Cretaceous Period, 150 million years ago, one of the oldest species on the planet. I'm fascinated by them. I think they're really cool.
Tom: I am, too. I am, too, they're a really cool fish. All right, Pete, well, that was a great overview, and I think a good primer for people who are planning on a Louisiana redfish trip and what to expect. Don't forget the casting practice.
Pete: I think that's really true for all saltwater fly fishing.
Tom: Yeah, it is.
Pete: Yeah.
Tom: And keep your false casts to a minimum. Practice casting without a false cast, right? Put it down there.
Pete: Practice casting for accuracy with no false casting. That's right.
Tom: And off your off shoulder. All right, Pete, so people can reach you. You're an Orvis-endorsed guide, right? People can find you on the Orvis website, Marsh On the Fly.
Pete: That's right. Yeah, or just online, I'm pretty easily found, Marsh On the Fly. And I'm local down here probably fishing 200 days a year and working with some other great local guides, so be happy to take anyone fishing.
Tom: All right, Pete, well, thank you so much for taking the time to educate us today, really appreciate it.
Pete: Well, thank you, Tom, and thanks for all the great work you've done educating all fly anglers everywhere over the years.
Tom: It's been fun. It's been a fun ride.
Red fish are off the coast
I was on the beach
I threw out my line to see what fishes came to me
Well, nothing came.
I picked a fight with an off-duty cop
Yeah, he told me how it was
Too many Mexican martinis
They got into my blood.
They hit when they swing
And I saw two
They hit when they swing.
On the curb they made me sit
Zip ties around my wrist
Thinkin' to myself that it might be funny
To put it on black, I bet all of my money
It hit red.
I took the chips at the table
Could I make it to the exit
I might be able
Security had the upper hand.
And I saw two
They hit when they swing
And I saw two
They hit when they swing.
Red fish are off the coast
Red fish are off the coast
Gotta get out of this mosquito pit
Gonna let my lawyer handle it
Hey, Dave.
I picked a fight with an off-duty cop
Yeah, he told me how it was
Too many Mexican martinis
They got into my blood.
They hit when they swing
And I saw two.
They hit when they swing
And I saw two
They hit when they swing