"No, your other left"
Last updated 8/9/2022 at 3:23pm
For the majority of upper coast anglers the thought of actually seeing a fish before you cast to it is more of a foreign concept than going to a restaurant that doesn't serve sweet tea, it's just not natural. In the minds of most anglers who fish with me the thought of water with clarity good enough to see fish in is usually reserved for venues farther south or some Carribean island where the white sand is nearly blinding, not the upper coast of Texas or Louisiana. Now don't get me wrong, the water I frequent will never be mistaken for Belize, the Florida Keys, or even South Padre but it certainly will surprise you. The water itself is just as clear but the lack of contrast from the darker muddy bottoms makes it appear to be not clear. Once you actually see some shell or drop a bait to the bottom and realize just exactly how clear the water is all most folks can do is shake their head. It's places like this where I choose to spend the majority of my time guiding and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Fishing in areas where you are able sight cast to individual fish is both an aquired taste and skill that once you are properly introduced to it you often times can't get enough of it. Over the past decade or so I have basically gone to sightfishing exclusively for myself and for the clients I guide. I still enjoy getting out in the open bay and chasing fish out there but the thrill I get from actually seeing fish and coaching clients to catch fish is about as good as it gets for me. To stand on a poling platform and tell a fisherman on the front deck exactly where to throw and watch it all unfold before your eyes as a fish comes crashing down on the lure or fly is what gets me out of bed each morning, I can't get enough and it never gets old.
I can remember years ago when Mark Castlow would bring his famous Shallow Water Fishing Expo to Houston and some of the best guides in the world of light tackle fishing would be in attendance. It was a "free for all" of knowledge as they freely shared techniques and stories of success and hard knocks. I was relatively new to the sightfishing game at the time so anything I could pick up to help make me better and make my trips better for clients was like finding gold. I couldn't wait to take my new found knowledge home and apply it to my own water.
Easily the most important piece of information that all those great guides stressed was to have the ability to coach your clients and communicate to them in a way that was easy to understand. In order to practice that I enlisted the help of my son Hunter who was 7 years old at the time. I figured if I could teach him how to chase these fish then it would be a snap to do it with adults. It would also make our days on the water even more enjoyable as we spent more time in the boat together. Some of our earliest lessons were comical, especially to the neighbors who happened to be watching. In order to teach Hunter how this style of fishing worked I took my skiff on the trailer and parked it in our vacant lot next to our house. Next I went out and placed 2 liter bottles at different spots on the lawn to simulate fish, the neck of the bottle was determined to be the face of the fish so Hunter knew which way the fish was facing. Once our "target practice course" was set up I grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote the numbers from the clock on the floor of the skiff so Hunter would know which way to line up when I gave him directions. This game was a hit, Hunter enjoyed the competition and I loved watching him. Once we got the hang of how to cast ahead of the fish and to bring the bait in the strike zone we upped the difficulty a little bit. Instead of throwing at bottle sitting still I now would walk around the yard as if I were a fish swimming and Hunter had to work with a moving target. Occasionally I'd stop, stand on one foot, and bend over only to tell Hunter I was "tailing" so he had to read the direction and make a proper cast. If he threw too close I'd run off and tell him he had blown the cast and spooked the fish, it was hilarious and I would not have traded it for the world. When we finally took our game to the real world on the water Hunter was a machine, he followed all the directions and became a really good fisherman. I'd say "redfish at 2 o'clock going right to left at 40 feet" and he'd look down at the numbers in the boat, align himself, make a long cast, and ask me when to start expecting the fish. It worked like a charm and enabled us to have some absolutely epic days on the water. I now had my game plan and was ready to implement it on all my new clients.
As the list of fishermen who I fished with began to grow in length I continued to learn and evolve a few of the techniques. For instance now I always ask my clients how they would like me to measure distance for them, in feet or yards. Most fly fishermen like their distance in feet while conventional anglers seem to prefer yards. I also like to get a feel for how good most of the fishermen are at judging distances so while we work to get in position I often ask them how far they think a particular target is. It's really easy to spot the ones who bow hunt or play golf as they tend to be surprisingly accurate while some other folks need a little more practice. Being able to follow a guides directions is crucial to success when chasing fish in skinny water. Nobody is perfect and bad casts or problems will always be a part of the equation but for the most part when a client is willing to follow your directions it makes for a much better day. On occasion I can heckle some fishermen every now and again when they get a little "big for their britches". I had one guy who continually kept missing the target and I finally told him to get off of Pacific time and get on Central as soon as he could because when I said 1 o'clock he kept casting to 10. Or when a client casts to the tail of the fish instead of the head I may give them the old "your other left" to get my point across. Most of these comments are met with a laugh and usually get the point across without any hard feelings.
I really enjoy watching folks after they begin to get a feel for this style of fishing, they begin to really pay attention to any type of movement in the water and get genuinely excited each time a redfish presents itself. Some get a little over zealous and swear every mullet swirl or mud boil made by a sheepshead is a redfish as they cast towards the disturbance with high hopes. That's where the next lesson comes in about reading the fish and what the signs are that point to success. When anglers begin to get the hang of that I feel like I have done my job. These days I seldom bring a fishing rod on my trips as I spend all day on the platform scanning the water for the next fish and doing my best to give my clients an opportunity to catch that fish because it's exactly the type of fishing that I enjoy the most.