Fly fishing for Texas giants
Need early morning of sunrise video of containers, maybe shot of containers
Up a couple of hours before sunrise, I step out of the converted shipping container – one of three cabins at Fish Camp Rockport. I have a cup of coffee and notice a light offshore wind. After a week of hard fishing, I can’t help but think about what it would be like if there was a swell, that light wind softly standing up waist-high waves, blowing mist back over the top like a magazine daydream. However, I digress, and push my now well-worn surfboard bag a little further under the container and out of sight.
Getting the boat ready is outside the norm; I have friends helping and can already feel the uneasy-yet-exciting anticipation building. Part of this is due to the fact that this group is used to picking up 8wt fly rods and outfitting 17-foot skiffs, not loading up 12wt broomsticks into a 24’, 300 hp modified v-hull intended for more than just skinny water. Today, we will be running out past the Port A jetties and turning back towards the beach in search of the elusive holy grail of Texas saltwater fishing: giant migrating tarpon. These tarpon visit the Texas coast twice a year while on their journeys between the Yucatan of Mexico and the Mississippi River Delta. There is much we do not understand about these fish, and that is probably what adds so much allure to chasing them along the Texas Coast.
On the dock
Need launching boat video – may have some 360 clips
Now, I ‘m back into a much more familiar groove, launching my Shallow Sport ModV at Conn Brown Harbor. I love this boat, and it is my steed of choice from the windy parts of spring to when the Tarpon head to their winter home. Right now, it is mid-summer, so the harbor is in full swing with tourism, and I enjoy watching the mix of amateurs and professionals, first-timers and seasoned salts. Conn is probably one of the more smoothly-running large ramps on the coast, so typically there is not too much excitement. However, that doesn’t stop me from pondering where all the folks are headed and if they’re going to return with a revitalized soul or a tired and achy body from a hard day’s work.
There is one more surprise before we start the trip, and the reason why I have time to wonder about the existence of anglers and mega-marinas: we have a fly casting ringer and photographer joining us. Austin Orr, of Elevate Fly Casting, and Jordan Wells, a drone pilot, are walking down the dock, and it’s unmistakable now to all at the party that we have one hell of a crew. It’s time to make something happen.
I hope running down the Aransas Channel to Port A never gets old, and if it does, I hope I’m strong enough to walk away from this coast at that very moment. When leaving Aransas Pass and heading out, you have Highway 361 on your right and all of Lighthouse Lakes on your left. The sunrise over Lighthouse paints a picture worthy of the finest art gallery, and to an even greater extent than what was experienced at Conn, you see a mingling of anglers like nowhere I’ve never seen before. The Causeway (Highway 361) provides access for all; in fact, that’s where I first started fishing here. Turn off the highway, park on the bank, and fish in the channel. This, however, quickly evolved into kayak fishing, which allows one to get off the bank and into Lighthouse Lakes or the surrounding Redfish Bay and Brown and Roots Flats. From old jon boats to 100k poling skiffs, to million-dollar sport fishing yachts, you really can see it all right here from this channel.
Again, my daydreams are over as we pass the lighthouse and get into the junction where the Lydia Ann, Aransas Channel, and Aransas Pass collide. Here I turn to business, reading water and traffic, trying to get a feel for what we may be up against. Surprisingly, the jetties seem relatively empty, and traffic low; it may be the 2’ swells keeping the bay boats back. However, looking at the forecast and feeling the lightest offshore wind, I expect conditions to keep improving. The water looks great already; deep, dark blue with a tint of green emerald. We head north up the San Jose Beach in search of the Meglops, or big eyes. 1.5’-2’ swells are enough to slow down shallow running bay boats like the one we’re in, so I pick a line, semi-cross set, and keep attention to the throttle to feather up and down the waves. This keeps the ride nice and gives me two more sets of eyes trained on the water, looking for that school of tarpon.
Tarpon are pretty easy to spot when you can find them. They prefer the surface and like to “roll.” Rolling is when a tarpon breaches the surface to take a gulp of air before settling back down under the water with a renewed source of energy. This is a process I can only relate to in my mind to free diving, where you breathe up to maximize your energy stores. We continue for mile after mile, running parallel to the beach, changing depths, looking for signs of fish. We do find much life—dolphins, bait, sea turtles, and a small shark—but no sign of Tarpon. After an hour’s cruise, I change course to head back to the Port A jetty. Now, the return trip is slower and requires more effort to maintain the soft ride. Running semi-cross set still, but this time it’s into the set, and each wave comes faster than before. I do well; I think I get the crew wet one time with a little too much speed over a larger swell.
We make it back to the lee-ward side of the Port A jetties after a 2.5-hour trip. Nothing to show for it, and now, again, feeling the repercussions from a week of hot summertime bay fishing. Pulling up to the jetties, we make several casts, hoping to coax a fish we can’t see into biting, but no luck, so we settle just outside the jetty-fishing armadas to take in some snacks and the show. One notable moment is when jetty anglers standing on the jetty hook into a kingfish and quickly snag the line of another jetty angler fishing from a boat. The angler from the boat doesn’t realize what’s happened and fights the fish as if it is his own. Yelling and arguing ensue, and after some not so friendly speech, the boat angler yields to the land anglers, and the fish is reeled in. I prefer to stay out of crowded fishing spots, but eating my lunch of jerky and watermelon, I am enjoying the moment. During this time, the wind has completely stopped, and the swell is laying down to almost nothing. I’m not in a rush; I know it is very often that tarpon will congregate right here where I am waiting and likely to enjoy the jetty show. Even with my anglers becoming restless, I know we are in a good spot.
And we’ve barely even begun…
As good as it may be some days, it’s rough today, and the onshore wind just blew in so it’s time to make one more run for those big eyes on their way to the Mississippi delta. Everyone is recharged and the morning anticipation is back, probably due to the new onshore wind making it seem like this is our last chance. We take off just like before, albeit running a path a little closer to shore. We run maybe 3 miles.
Tarpon are spotted, and it’s undeniable to everyone on board. We are closing in fast, too fast, and they are directly in front of the boat. Immediate action is required: either shut down and let the larger last few waves of a set swamp the back of the boat, or as I choose, turn starboard and hit the throttle hard. We bow up the wave and ease off the throttle to set down softly, then turn port and get back on the throttle, engine roaring, prop white water washing, and then stop. The boat comes to a halt, completely cross-set in the trough of the last couple swells of the set. The trolling motor is quickly deployed by a very ready mate, and now the crescendo of anticipation begins. We are about 50 yards from the school, a little close, but not bad considering.
At this point, everything becomes real, not that it wasn’t real before, but the ocean had lulled everyone into a sense of repetitive emptiness, which is now broken. We are at full speed on the trolling motor, angling to meet the school where we hope they’re travelling. This gives way to a moment or moments that are hard to describe. Off the port side, we have a school of prehistoric fish breathing air and watching us with each roll. You get to see into their eyes and witness the many hues of green and purple that make up a black and silver fish.
The experience is surreal, and in my mind, I think of pulling wild cows out of brush country. South Texas was often described by early settlers as a sea of grass, and like the gulf, it seems empty until it is not. Tall grass up to the saddle, thorns in the chaps, worn down into a tired existence evaporates when you lock eyes with one of a herd, same with one of the school. Your senses are heightened to something primal that is not common in today’s world but still familiar in your genes. You start to pick out individuals, and they pick you out too. There is no doubt they are in control and comfortable with their natural advantage. It’s a race while sizing each other up. And at that point, we meet; 60 feet off the bow of the boat.
The flycaster becomes one with the boat, rushing into position against the front casting platform that is meant for glassy smooth bays. Knees bent, feet wide, bracing for swells that will not be seen, and immediately dumping 75’ of fly line onto the deck. Three fast false casts, and the back cast shoots 10’ in front of the school. Everyone else on the boat is motionless; the fly caster starts stripping, working the fly in front of a scene that should be reserved for National Geographic. Hearts are stopped, and two more strips, and the school is off. The flycaster makes a quick action to get one more shot at the larger Tarpon in the back, but it’s undeniable the first cast was our best chance.
Back to our senses, the trolling motor is up, and we are off, away from the school to circle around again. Not a single bit of disappointment; that is exactly what we all wanted. The next effort was futile, but we knew it would be. We broke out and circled again, but the last time was to watch in amazement as these giant rulers of the beachfront continued their path to their summer feeding grounds.
Wrapping it up
Video heading in or of the jetties disappearing as land approaches
Heading back, still high off adrenaline, I contemplate and critique what I did. This is common for me in all aspects of life. I know there could have been a better chance if I had spotted them sooner and was quicker to the trolling motor but honestly I wouldn’t alter this day in the slightest.