Our good friend, Dustin Schouest, from Louisiana shares with us a recent trip in his new Vibe Kayaks Sea Ghost, where he got into some redfish on top water flies!
The night before a fishing trip is always stressful. I end up lying in bed thinking over and over if I packed the right gear, if I charged up the GoPro, if I have the right clothes picked out, or if I had the right flies in the box. But there was something different on this night. It was the stress of testing a new boat that I had only a few hours of time in previous to the Salt. I smirked in the glow of my television, and laughed to myself. “Time to see how you can adapt and overcome,” I spoke to the black and orange cat sleeping peacefully at my feet. She cooed in response, and I interpreted it to say “Shut up fly guy, some of us need our required 12 hours of sleep!” I finally fell asleep, and rested for the coming gauntlet of a paddle.
The new boat I had gotten was the Vibe Sea Ghost 130. While I loved my paddleboard dearly, I was starting to have problems with my joints from the posture of standing and sitting on an ice chest. With no way to stretch out and relax, I was coming home in chronic pain just from chasing fish. I had to do something to change it. I sold my board and my extra kayak, and used the money from that to put a down payment on a brand new Sea Ghost. The center console with a thick gasket seal, Larry-chair style seat, and rudder all for the price of $899 was a deal I was not going to pass up. My boat got in on June 10th, and I drove to Laffayette’s premiere kayak shop, Pack & Paddle, faster than Sonic the Hedgehog. It was love at first sight. There were a few things I saw I would need to change, but, I was ok with it.
Saturday I tested the boat along with my friend Thomas Musso, chasing perch in Bayou Terrebonne. For a few hours we threw popping bugs at bluegill and baby bass, boating a handful before the heat became too extreme for us to face. I had a feel for the operation of the boat and the options for storage, and I was ready to take on my precious marsh.
For once I was driving to a fishing spot without any kind of metal blasting in my speakers. Instead of letting Opeth or Ishahn pump me up, I was instead focusing on the conditions around me. The ground was still wet from the rain storms of the previous night, and the clouds seemed to shift and morph as though they were alluding to a coming squall. The water in the bayou seemed to be normal: not too high, not too low: much better than the high, high tides that we had been enduring thanks to weeks of near steady south winds.
My journey would take me to the Pointe Aux Chenes Wildlife Reserve. I arrived at the launch point, and got the Sea Ghost into the water. I looked around the water and couldn’t help but smile: pockets of dozens and dozens of mullet and minnows were swimming along the surface. Further down the canal garfish were busting and breathing. These were the perfect signs for the morning. I had one goal in mind for this day: to catch a redfish on a top water plug. I had struggled for the longest time to get a redfish to eat a popper, and today I wanted to prove that I could do it. In the recessed paddlekeeper to my right was my Temple Fork Outfitters 9wt rod, with a green and yellow cupped face popper. I had one other popper in my box: if I lost those two, it would be game over for the day.
Along the canal I paddled, watching the ripples of giant schools of minnows and the wakes of needlefish and baby gar chasing them. It took a few minutes, but I made it to my favorite stretch of marsh, lined with the graves of cypress trees that couldn’t take the salt water that had poisoned the brackish area decades before. But in the shadows of the dead, life had taken over. Thick weeds provided cover for bait forage and garfish. Ospreys perched upon the branches of the cypress tombstones and would dive down on any food they wanted. Yes, even in the death of trees, life could thrive.
The fish were here too. I passed between two islands, and saw three tails sticking out of the water, wagging at me, alluring me. My heart started to beat faster and faster: the pressure of a perfect cast was upon me. With a few false casts, the popper hit the water with a splash. Two of the tails dipped into the water, but one remained. I stripped the fly once, twice, thr… It came from the right side of the fly: a bulge in the water as though a primordial creature had been roused to hunger. The black water slowly became a copper color in the wake behind the popper. Then I saw the big brown eye. As my own eyes widened in shock, a vacuum opened behind my fly, and it disappeared into the black hole of a redfish’s mouth.
The fly line in my fingers went taut, and I quickly stripped the fly and hammered the hook home. Line disappeared from my paws faster than my eyes could comprehend. Little knots in the fly line straightened out as my reel started its haunting melody. The Sea Ghost under my butt began to build momentum as the fish pulled me in the ever so amazing Cajun Sleigh Ride. The fish wasn’t dumb either: like that scene in Jaws, he was a smart, big fish and went under the boat. I pulled him out from under it and got the fish boat side. I shouted to the skies, letting the gods know I had conquered my goal of the day. The redfish was heavy for 18”, and very healthy. With a tag in its fin, I kissed my first fish of the day on the head, and released him to the briny deep.
I took a moment to calm down: my hands were shaking and I was in sensory overload. I had just seen one of the coolest things in my life: a topwater strike from a redfish. I would never get that beautiful image from my mind, ever. I paddled around the next set of islands, but noticed the grass was too thick for any kind of casting: even topwater. I did also see that fingerling bass and small bluegill were swimming in and out of the tunnels the garfish had made in the thick grass. Perhaps the fresh water was finally coming back to Pointe Aux Chenes. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a huge push of water: a school of redfish were swimming toward me. I gulped, and tried to fire the fly in front of the school. I worked it, and saw another bulge of water, but I stripped the fly from the redfish before it could eat. Rats!
One of the reds started to slip behind a tiny patch of marsh. I threw the fly, but it got caught in the grass. I struggled to get the fly out, and luckily I did without spooking the fish. With three more false casts I put the fly right on the nose of the red. With one strip, the giant head broke the water tension and inhaled the fly. Around the island the fish pulled me, giving me glimpses of the giant tail he had. My SaltLife Optics let me look into the water and make out the size of the fish. It was huge! But, my excitement quickly died. The redfish dove into some thick grass, and with the added weight of the grass and the heavy fish pulling, the fly broke off, the redfish swimming away with my cupped popper in its mouth. I cursed loud and shook my head, tying on my last popper.
The clouds were beginning to look mean, so I would only fish for another half hour. I noticed some commotion by a bank, and placed the fly right on it. As soon as the fly hit the water, something hit it hard! What felt like a bass or speckled trout turned out to be the biggest needlefish I had ever caught, and my first one on fly! I managed to get the fly out without getting teeth in my fingers, and I started paddling back towards the entrance to this pocket of marsh.
As I got my bearing to the main canal, I saw two more redfish backs out of the water. The first one, on my right, quickly ate the fly, but spit it out soon after. That just left the one in front of me. I paddled towards it, and got within five feet of it. I tried to roll cast the fly to it, but butchered the cast. I cursed and flung the fly quickly where I thought it would be. I stripped the fly three times. The fly was maybe two feet from my boat. Yet, that didn’t deter the water from boiling as a hungry redfish destroyed the fly! I kept tension on the line, but had to let go for a second as the friction was burning my fingers.
Around and around this redfish took me, diving under the boat and around me, crossing me all up. He managed to get a little grass on the line, but I managed to shake it off before it could further accumulate. After five minutes, the redfish was played out. I unbuckled the top for the center console, and laid it in front of me: on the top of it were measurements in inches and centimeters. I laid the redfish on top of it: the tail hung far past the twenty inch mark: easily right at bull red size. The popper was so far down the red’s mouth I couldn’t even reach it with pliers. Knowing the hook would rust out in a few days, I cut the line, put the red in the water, and watched it kick off with the vigor of an angry beast.
I took to paddling quickly: my shouts and hoots and hollers were being infringed upon by the crash of thunder miles and miles away towards Catfish Lake. I took that as a sign to bug out, and I paddled the Sea Ghost as fast as I could. I got the kayak on the trailer, cinched it down, and started to head home. The day had been perfect: my Vibe Sea Ghost performed perfectly, and my skills had improved greatly in fly fishing. Now, all that was left was for me to get home, grab a cold drink, and replace those poppers I lost. Because soon, I would need to return to the water to go after more redfish!
About the Author
Dustin Schouest is a veteran angler from the small disappearing village of Pointe Aux Chenes, La. When not fishing, Dustin is usually found tying flies, editing video, or writing about his adventures from his YOLO Stand Up Paddleboard. He is a member of the Hook1 Fishing Team as well as a member of Team Filthy Anglers.