Fall is my favourite time of the year. It’s a fact. It’s the best time to be afield, and it’s the best time to be on the water. The marsh goes through a predictable transformation every fall. The spartina grass begins to brown off; shrimp course the creeks like blood through veins. The fish begin to school up and feed heavily before the coming winter, and the water begins to clear up a bit. These things combine for the perfect setup for sight fishing with a fly rod. My good friend Rich Walker and I watch the tides with a careful eye this time of year. The week before thanksgiving I had a free weekend. I hadn’t been on the water yet this fall as I had been enjoying my oldest son’s first foray into the game of soccer every Saturday morning.
Rich and I have fished together for many years. He gave me my start in saltwater fly fishing. He endured my less than stellar poling while I was learning how to manage a skiff in the wind and put him in position for a shot at the fish. He willingly shared everything he knew about the art and sport of sight fishing. He’s one of my friends that I no longer need to talk to on the boat as its all automatic. So, when a text came that week inquiring if I was free to hit the low tides Friday and Saturday the answer was also automatic. We opted to camp and enjoy the cool fall weather, a fire, and sleeping outside. We had both been busy at work and dealing with life in general and it was quickly agreed upon that an immediate infusion of time on the water was the only treatment.
As my skiff backed down the ramp Friday afternoon I hit the trim and turned the key bringing the motor to life. Tucker, our ever-faithful skiff dog, quivered with anticipation and whined softly. I pulled around and slid up next to the dock, Rich stepped aboard, and we were off. Rich took the wheel and the skiff jumped on plane. We raced down a winding set of creeks headed to our first spot. I had tied up a few black and purple clousers and was pulling my loop knot tight as Rich shut her down. Without a word, he grabbed the pole and ascended the platform and Tucker and I made our way to the bow. Rich pushed us along slowly and methodically, and as we scanned for signs of fish we caught up like good friends do. We saw a couple of single redfish but no dice. We had, had a lot of rain recently and the water was semi clear and tannic coloured. We made a quick run to our money spot known to us as” The Corner Store”. I had caught my first redfish on fly here years ago, and we had spent many great days there since. It’s a wide flat littered with oyster rakes at its edges and divided by a couple of creeks. We prospected for a bit without luck and then Rich called out an orange popping cork. He commented that it appeared to be moving. Sometimes a fisherman will break a fish off and their popping cork remains in tow. After minutes of scrutiny it became obvious that the float was indeed moving. Rich gave a gentle push and spun me into position. I hauled softly and the line shot 30ft and laid the fly just ahead of the cork. I gave a quick strip and the cork plunged beneath the surface in a scene reminiscent of the movie Jaws. The fish charged the fly but I didn’t connect. The cork resurfaced next to the boat and I reached down and grabbed it. The redfish bolted and snapped the brittle monofilament line spraying me with water as he made his escape. I rolled over on the deck and laughed loudly. We both did and it was good for our souls. We caught a dejected look from Tucker signalling play time was over and we needed to get serious about putting a fish on the deck.
With afternoon quickly fading into evening, Rich considered our options. We decided to hit one more spot we hadn’t tried in quite a while. It was just a small flat on the way back to the ramp, but it had saved the day more than once. We made the short run and went to work. It quickly became apparent we had made a good call. A small school was pushing around the disappearing oyster mounds and busting bait along the way. Rich already had me lined up for the shot and I tossed the fly, made a single false cast, and sent the line on its way. The clouser plopped a few feet ahead of where the closest fished had swirled. I stripped the fly slowly, felt a thump, stripped hard and was hooked up. The fish dug in and refused to give up surprising me by doubling my 8wt. After a short fist fight I slid him to the boat and into my hand. He was a stocky, broad shouldered fish. Tucker swiped his obligatory lick. Rich took a few quick photos as I held the fish high, the afternoons light shining through his fins and illuminating his turquoise tipped tail. I returned him to the water, and Rich commented he couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen more fish today. I quietly watched the sky fill with a pallet of pastels as the sun dropped below the marsh grass. I turned to Rich and said, “Just one, that’s all I needed”. Without taking his eyes off the evening light show, he rubbed Tucker’s head and nodded in affirmation.