Written by: Toby Swank, Fins & Feathers Fly Shop
It’s day three, and the wind is blowing 20 out of the north–down from 30 to 40 the last two days. The water is dirty, stirred-up by the steady gale deviating from the prevailing norm. The sun is to my right. To the left is an endless expanse of salt-grass bank. My 10-year-old son stands in front of me on the flats skiff, looking intensely for Louisiana bull reds.
Backing up just a bit . . .
It had been miserable conditions for the better part of two days at this stage of our trip. While most anglers would likely have chosen to just shut it down, Matthew wanted to gut it out everyday. I guess he has been fishing long enough now to know that you just have to go look, despite what everyone else might think. So, the guide pulled up his “big boy pants” every morning and made the run, climbed the poling platform, and coached us through each session as we looked and looked.
We saw very few fish on day one, just a few more than “very few” on day two. Still, Matthew stuck with it from start to finish, finally landing his first redfish near the end of day two. He was pretty proud of himself for spotting, casting to, and landing this little 4- to 5-pounder in the skinny, backwater marsh. I was ecstatic for him, as he had certainly put in the effort in conditions that were far less than ideal. It was such a rewarding feeling to see his eyes light up with the realization that he could do this! Fly fishing is like that for me, too.
Returning to the present . . .
There is movement ahead and a shadow just off the bank, coming our way. The guide calls us to attention, as he isn’t quite sure what it is, letting us know to be ready just in case. Fifty feet out, I see the roll of a big Red as it chases a crab up against the bank. Matthew doesn’t see the fish but recognizes the push of water heading our way. He makes a cast to his 9, just off the bank and lets the fly settle–he is 30 feet short of the fish.
The redfish shows itself once again and picks up speed, as Matthew makes a long, slow strip. The fish looks spooked and it looks big. The water erupts, along with a cloud of mud, as the bull races away. My heart stops as I see the full length of this fish, and the disappointment starts to set in. Matthew strips again as the fish streaks toward the opening of the bay.
In one fine moment of angling truth, the world becomes perfect and pure. The bull red wasn’t spooking from my sons fly; it was attacking his fly! Matthew’s line comes tight as that magical fish rips out and away in one long run that makes both me and the guide feel just a little jealous of the grinning little guy holding that fly rod high in the air.
You can imagine the excitement that the three of us shared that afternoon as Matthew landed and released his first bull redfish. We all felt the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal achieved through persistence and hard work that day.
Fishing isn’t always easy, but it’s always good.
The redfish weighed in at just a smidge or two over 30 pounds and is Matthew’s largest fish to date. He has seen and fished much in his 10 years, but he never seems to be disappointed on tough days or too full of himself on the good ones. He is always up for an adventure and ready to give it his best, with the hope of having fun along the way. I have a feeling that he will see plenty of days on the water with fish larger and stronger than he has yet to even imagine!
I am thankful for the people and moments that have enriched my life, giving it both depth and weight. One can imagine the joy I felt during the experience described above. The power of that moment grows with reflection, along with my gratitude for the life aquatic that I awake to everyday!
Toby Swank owns and operates Fins & Feathers fly shop in Bozeman, Montana.