Transformations are occurring this time of year. Spartina grass browns and wracks, while the creeks in the marsh fill with shrimp and other nutrients. Redfish take this as a cue, schooling up and feasting hard before winter. As the water begins to clear, my friend Rich Walker and I watch the tides carefully, waiting for our chance to camp and fish.
Rich gave me my start in saltwater flyfishing. For several years he endured my horrible poling, while I learned how to manage a skiff in the wind. He willingly shared everything he knew about the art of sight-fishing. And over time, we just synched. These days, every move on the water is unspoken and automatic. So when he invited me to hit the low tides before Thanksgiving, my answer was also automatic.
Backing the skiff down the ramp, Tucker, the ever-faithful boat dog, quivered with anticipation. In the water, I hit the trim and turned the key, bringing the Yamaha to life. Rich stepped aboard and we raced down a winding set of creeks to our first spot. When we came off plane, I pulled my loop knot tight to a black-and-purple Clouser. Rich grabbed the push-pole and ascended the platform without a word.
We call our money spot “The Corner Store.” The wide flat is littered with oyster beds at its edges and divided by a couple of creeks through its center. We prospected for a bit without any luck, then Rich pointed out what looked to be an orange popping cork on the surface. We’d seen this before, when an angler breaks off a fish and the cork remains in tow. The “bobber” appeared to be moving.
Rich gave a gentle push and spun me into position. I hauled and placed the fly ahead of the waking target. The cork plunged beneath the surface, but I didn’t connect. It resurfaced next to the boat and I grabbed a hold. The redfish bolted, breaking the old monofilament and spraying me with water. I rolled over on the deck and laughed, then caught a dejected look from Tucker signaling that playtime was over.
As the afternoon moved toward evening, we explored a small flat that had saved the day more than once. A school of reds busted bait around the oyster mounds. Rich already had me lined up for the shot. I tossed the fly into the air, made a falsecast, and sent the line on its way. The Clouser landed a few feet ahead of where the closest fished had swirled. I stripped it back, felt a crushing thump, and set the hook.
After a short fight, Tucker came in for his obligatory fish lick. Rich snapped a few quick photos of the stocky red, with a golden-hued sky illuminating its translucent fins and a turquoise-tipped tail. As the sun dropped below the marsh grass, I turned to Rich, smiled, and said nothing. Without taking his eyes off the evening light show, he rubbed Tucker’s head and nodded in affirmation.