Never leave fish to find fish

Does the old adage ring true?
laguna madre boat
A boat speeds across Laguna Madre in South Texas (photo: Thomas Cutrer).

I was crashed out cold in a surprisingly cozy bed, tucked into the corner of a sweet little shack on a Laguna Madre spoils island. We'd been chasing fish during an ill-timed brown tide, an algal breakout that tarnished the normally emerald green waters of the bay, but nothing really toxic. We'd seen some fish, but it wasn't lights out.

It was an opportunity for me to work the kinks out of a saltwater cast that, at the time, was just coming along. I put a lot of time into just casting and trying to time the double-haul just right. Heavy rods. Heavy flies. I was dog tired, and my casting a shoulder—about six months out from a complete surgical rebuild—was barking at me. I've since honed a more economic saltwater cast thanks to hours spent with guides on far-off flats, but those first few days really took it out of me.

So when Mike nudged me awake at dawn to get in the kayak and start paddling to the leeward shore of Padre Island off to the east, I begged off.

"I'm going to take it easy today," I remember saying. My shoulder was stiff and sore. The last thing I wanted to do was hop in a kayak and start paddling into the sunrise. I left that to Mike and Austin—they were in better shape than I was (and, yes, I suppose the romance the night before with a significant dose of Lone Star wasn't helping, either), and I figured they'd come back and report that they'd either found the fish, or that they didn't.

I snoozed for another hour or so, and then the rest of the gang began to stir. Soon, breakfast was on. Bacon. Eggs. Chorizo. Red beer. I worked the shoulder around and round, trying to loosen up the muscles and get ready for the day. I walked to the back porch of the little cabin and looked out on the glassy bay. There, just across the shipping channel, not 400 yards from where I stood, I saw tails.

A little food and hair of the dog, and I was in fish mode. I hopped in a Diablo Paddlesports kayak on loan from Thomas Flemons, and within 20 minutes, I was casting flies to a game school of black drum. No, they weren't the redfish or the speckled trout we had all come to Texas to find, but they were fish. And they were into it.

I secured the kayak to the bottom of the bay and spent the next couple of hours casting to and catching hefty drum while walking along the soft bottom of the Laguna Madre within sight of the cabin. I had a blast.

And I wondered where Mike and Austin were. Surely, these fish were here when they paddled over them en route to the island off in the distance. Surely they wouldn't have just ignored them as they ventured off in search of fish. I mean… they were fish. And they were right here.

Right around lunch time, when the wind picked up and brought some heat from the mainland out onto the bay, the drum stopped eating. Just like that, they were gone. I hopped back into the kayak and headed for the cabin, where lunch would be ready and another date with the Lone Star awaited. My casting shoulder had calmed down a bit after a morning spent using it. It helped, too, that several of the black drum I'd managed to catch were caught within a rod's length of my feet. No double-haul needed.

I got back to the cabin about the same time Brandon and Thomas returned, too, and we sat in the shade under the front-porch awning, sipping beer and enjoying one of those perfect spring days on the South Texas salt. The fish were into it. The suds were cold. Sandwiches. Chips. Good company. It was one of those days.

A couple hours later, Mike and Austin paddled up to the island. By this time, we'd all taken turns casting each other's fly rods from the dock—we'd even managed to hook up with some decent specks. We all had a good buzz on, and everything was perfect. We all anticipated hearing from both of the wandering paddlers about great fishing on the sand flats near the island … about how they found clean water and redfish and how hard work pays off when you're chasing salty critters with a fly rod.

"Not a damn one," Mike responded after I asked him how many reds he'd brought to hand after racing the sun across the bay that morning. "There were a whole lot of black drum right outside the cabin, but we figured we'd find some reds if we kept going. We didn't even see a fish."

And therein lies the lesson. Never leave fish to find fish. It's a common gaffe most of us have committed during our time as anglers, and I could tell Mike was smarting, especially after I told him that I'd spent the latter portion of the morning tangling with those same black drum.

He nodded and smiled. He knew. Austin knew. Had they stopped and chased those drum, they'd have had as much fun as I did—or more, considering they were on the water hours before I was.

It's not to say that sloth is the preferred method when it comes to fishing—it's still a deadly sin. But perhaps an even deadlier sin is at play when we choose to pass fish by that are perfectly catchable: greed, maybe?

The notion that the fishing will be even better if we just go a little farther isn't always accurate. If fish present themselves, particularly during what might have been a tough couple of days on the water, fishing to them is probably the choice to make.