Texas Redfish with a Native Son
I had the opportunity to visit Texas a few weeks ago to visit some customers and we extended the trip to sneak in some coastal fishing too. Anyone that knows Matt and I is surely familiar with our love of in shore, saltwater fly fishing. The hunting and stalking aspect of saltwater fly-fishing speaks to our trout fishing background. The challenges of performing well in the exacting environment presented by the salt always provides a worthy challenge. Accompanying me on the trip was Bob Jones, our e-commerce guru and fishing buddy. Bob had never been red-fishing before and I was looking forward to helping him get his first fish.
We arrived in Houston only to discover, due to my lack of planning, that we were not fishing in Galveston as I’d planned, but in Rockport, about 150 miles further away. So, after picking Bob up at the airport I let him know we would be driving for the next 3 hours into the darkness. Planning snafu aside, we had a great trip, remarking on the open Texas countryside we sped past outside our windows. We touched upon all the usual topics, fatherhood, fishing, politics, et cetera. Little did we know how prescient those topics would be for the next two days.
On the drive I spoke to our guide, JT Van Zandt, about our plans for fishing. You may recognize the last name. He’s a scion of a well-known Texas family. Most notably the son of Townes Van Zandt, a renowned Texas singer/songwriter and one of the original outlaw country artists. He wrote numerous songs considered masterpieces of American songwriting such as Pancho and Lefty, I’ll Be Here in the Morning, If I Needed You and more. I’ve always found music to be an ideal companion on a good fishing trip and I reached out to some friends before this trip for advice, they recommended that I listen to Guy Clark, The Flatlanders, Terry Allen, and Ray Wylie Hubbard to get started, along with Townes of course. So, we had our music for the trip, now on to the fishing.
The conditions we found on the first morning were going to test our mettle for sure. Winds and clouds greeted us at the boat dock, less than ideal for sight fishing. We found the water clouded and the glare from the clouds reduced visibility considerably. The old adage of a good day fishing beats just about everything else circled around my had as we awaited JT’s arrival. Outfitted with a beautiful Chittum skiff and some new TMR rods to fish, we ripped out into the bay in search of some Reds. Cruising the islands, marshes, ponds and creeks of the barrier islands was as much fun as riding motorcycles with your best buddies.
TMR recently introduced 8 and 9wt saltwater rods, along with offering our 7wt in a saltwater durable build. As many of you know, our rods have a steady, progressive taper. Allowing loading of the rod at close distance as well as the necessary power to propel casts into the wind at distance. With greater feel through the mid and butt sections Tom felt you could achieve better accuracy and presentation without sacrificing distance. I knew from past experiences that redfish were often found close to the boat and having rods that load at closer distances would improve our chances of fooling them. We weren’t mistaken. The rods performed perfectly. They allowed us to delicately present flies to fish in inches of water. It almost felt like fishing dry flies to sipping trout on the Henry’s Fork. We also had plenty of power to punch casts into steady winds for schools of feeding Reds and cruising singles on turtle grass flats.
Cooler temps made spotting the fish challenging, they seemed more silver than red, but JT was able to put on several large schools of feeding reds. We spotted them by looking for red spots of nervous water. Apparently, the Redfish “color up” when they are excited and eating. Slowly poling towards a school of churning, bright colored fish was an unforgettable moment we repeated many times over the next two days. We hooked and lost fish. We broke fish off. We even landed some. But I would be remiss if I said this trip was all about catching fish. It was remarkable in many ways.
To say we hit it off with JT would be an understatement. I can’t remember the last time I fished when the fishing seemed so unimportant. We covered every topic you can think of. All of the common third rails we spend so much time avoiding these days. Politics, religion, current affairs, environmental change and stewardship. But we kept circling back to the topics of fatherhood, being a good man in today’s world and finding our way. We spoke of our legacies. How our example would affect our sons and daughters and how we could do better by them.
For me, fishing has been so much more than catching for some time now. It refreshes and resets me. It prepares my mind for the challenges of being an old dad with young kids in a challenging world. Exploring a new fishery and resource and meeting some of the people that care deeply for it always adds a layer to the experience. The fishing was great, but the whole experience was better. We had dinner on our last night with JT and his family. A great meal of Antelope harvested by JT, vegetables from his garden and even a few original Texas Ranch Waters were consumed. We talked and remarked on our time together, laughed and played with the kids and his wife. We made some friendships along the way and the memory of playing the guitar with JT at midnight, as he slipped into one of his Dad’s songs, will stay with me for a lifetime.
Many thanks to Bob, JT and Texas. I can’t wait to get back there soon.