Within the past decade or so, a large number of Louisiana's saltwater anglers have broken long-standing tradition by laying aside their meat-sticks and taking up fly rods to pursue their sport. These days the long wands are no longer looked upon with skepticism; those who wield them are no more considered to be unmanly sissies fishing with sissy-gear. I am quite proud to have played a major role in all of this. So has Capt. Bubby Rodriguez.
For most of my life I have been of the temperament "If it's there, then fly fish for it." Because of that, I was one of the first to cast flies at most of Louisiana's popular saltwater species, and I have had the great fortune of catching some which were very noteworthy. Through my writings about fly fishing in numerous national and regional magazines, along with many seminars and lectures to groups across the state, I have told a lot of people where, when, and how it can be done. Bubby became the state's first licensed saltwater fly-fishing guide to let people discover for themselves where, when, and how it can be done.
I've known Bubby for almost six years now, and he has become a close friend - and I am pretty particular about "close friends." Let me tell you a little about him - and his way.
Bubby has spent a lifetime fishing and hunting in the delta marshes, and when he decided to retire (Much earlier than most folks do) from his career with Ma Bell and become a fly fishing guide, he had many considerations to make. One of primary importance was determining an area he could fish that would not be overly prone to "blown-out" trips.
The broad expanse of broken marsh between Myrtle Grove (A tiny community just below New Orleans on LA 23) and Lafitte was ideal for that purpose, and during his "fun-fishing" years he had determined it was usually full of reds. It is also very shallow, limiting the competition as well as rough water - another consideration for a good location for guiding fly fishing trips. And it is only about a 30 minute drive from his home in the New Orleans west bank suburb of Gretna.
If the competition couldn't access this area in their boats, then how was he going to? Simple, he would use a "mud boat", in his case a 20 foot shallow-draft aluminum flat bottom boat powered by a straight-drive, air-cooled 25 h.p. motor known as a "Go-Devil", a mud-slinging, stump-chewing rig. These units are used very effectively by such folks as crawfish farmers,
alligator hunters, and trappers. With him and two clients aboard, it will run about 18 knots, makes little hull-noise in the normally calm marsh, will traverse liquid mud, and is easily push-poled in water even a redfish could not swim in. Simply put, there's nowhere a red can go to escape him!
The boat was built to be fly fishable to the max. A large casting platform on the bow has no fittings of any type on which fly line can foul, two swivel seats are amidships over dry storage compartments, and a small poling platform is on the port quarter. While one client fishes from the casting platform, the other sits and watches while Bubby pushes the boat from red to red. It's a very effective set-up.
And the tactic is almost entirely sight-fishing.
That is undeniably the most exciting way to present any lure to a fish; with flies it becomes the pinnacle of the sport. Since the water in Bubby's marsh is usually quite clear, you can often see the entire fish. Normally, though, indications of its presence which are above the surface are most common. Reds can "spot" - barely break the surface with the tip of their tail, "tail" in the classic sense, and "crawl" - move along slowly with part of their backs exposed. All make great targets.
The problem is, in the marsh where Bubby fishes it is easy to become distracted. Although signs of subsidence are growing more common there in recent years, the water's salinity remains fairly low, allowing for lush growths of both surface and sub-surface vegetation. Because of that - and the profuse amount of forage it both creates and sustains - on any summer day you can encounter alligators, otters, and nutrias, see three different colors of morning glories on the hummocks, and witness some awesome bird-life, in numbers as well as in types. And if you do any amount of blind-casting, you are likely to catch a largemouth bass! But in doing so - and while soaking up all the aesthetic pleasures the flora and fauna offer, you are apt to miss spotting the next redfish tail.
To make it easier for you to do so, Bubby utilizes the "clock system", with the bow of the boat being twelve o'clock. If he suddenly says "Ten o'clock, 50 feet, moving right", you will have a precise visual target area, and if you are still unable to see the fish, you will have an exact spot to make your cast. And on that note, most of your casts will have to be fairly long and very accurate, since the fish can detect the presence of the boat if it gets too close in this extremely shallow water.
While Bubby is an excellent fly fisherman himself and a member of the G. Loomis Pro Staff, he is also a certified casting instructor. Although he is reluctant to "instruct" a casting lesson on a trip (You learn to cast on the bank, not while you are fishing!), he will offer you an occasional helpful hint - a "refinement", not a fundamental procedure. You would be wise to heed it.
He ties some great flies, too, and if he offers you one in lieu of those in your fly box, you would also be wise to thank him and immediately tie it to your tippet. Redfish in this area will strike a variety of patterns - size 1 poppers and Bendbacks are usually effective, but occasionally they become picky. His remedy for that little ailment is the "spoon fly" - a creation of mylar piping and epoxy that wiggles just like a Johnson "Sprite." It casts easily with an 8-weight outfit - a good choice for these waters, and only a very tight-lipped redfish can ignore it.
On a typical day you will be amazed at the number of reds you will see. Many of them will be at a very close distance as Bubby maneuvers that 4WD boat of his through the nooks and crannies in the marsh, but you should get plenty of casting opportunities. A couple of dozen good "shots" are an everyday occurrence, and a pair of clients who are decent casters can usually expect to catch from six to ten good fish between them. Sometimes it's twice that - or many more, and while Bubby does advocate catch-and-release fishing, he doesn't mind if you keep a few for supper. Just don't try to smuggle a spinning rod aboard and expect to make a meat runwith him!
If you get to fish with him, I'll guarantee you will like him. He is soft-spoken with a thick Cajun accent, personable, unpretentious, and very knowledgeable about his marsh as well as fly fishing. He has eyes like an osprey, too, so don't get all bent out of shape with yourself if you can't see the fish he's spotted. Even in the clear water, the grass and mud create a mottled bottom which makes reds that aren't breaking the surface difficult to see. Trust his "clock system" - and his eyes.
Most of the best fishing in this area takes place from roughly mid-February through November. That does not mean you can't experience great action there during winter. Two weeks into this past January he and I found some fine reds waving their tails at us in the shallows along the edge of a big pond - didn't catch many of them, but we had several good shots. Let's just say that he was getting the feel of a new rod, and since I hadn't fly fished for them in over a month, I had a bad case of the "flinches".
After over 27 years of casting flies at redfish I could plainly see - and catching right at 700 of them like that, you might think I'd be totally immune to buck fever while fishing for them. Not hardly. There's something about standing on a boat's bow platform with a fly rod in hand and looking right at a fish I am about to cast at that really wires me. It is exciting, and it is having the same effect on a lot of other people these days. You should seriously consider joining the party.
If you don't fly fish already, you will find a selection of suitable outfits in most outdoor-oriented mail-order catalogs for about the price of a top-line casting outfit. A casting lesson costs about the same as a tennis or golf lesson, and practice (On the bank!) - as in any other sport - helps to perfect. Once you feel comfortable with it all, give Bubby a call at 504-366-2323. The odds are excellent that you, too, will become a "repeat customer" for him.