Written by: Kip Vieth, Wildwood Float Trips
One of the things that I love most in my life is the Mississippi River. I live on the banks of the Mississippi in Minnesota, not all that far from its source, Lake Itasca. The river is where I call home and where I make a living exploring for smallmouth bass and muskies. Here, the river is shallow and clear and nothing like the stereotypical Big Muddy south of Minnesota. In many places that I guide, you can cast across the Mississippi and sight-fish in clear water. It is an intimate affair: The beauty of the Northwoods, the flora and fauna that call the riverbanks home, and of course the fish that rely on its cool, clear water to keep them fat and happy. It truly is a remarkable resource and one that should be respected and protected.
Roughly 2,000 river miles south of my back door is a guide and friend who has the same passion for the river. He makes his living guiding anglers in the Mississippi Delta, fishing the marshes and bayous of Louisiana. He knows the marsh like the back of his hand: He loves its animals and plants, and he knows the patterns and habits of the local fish. The open marsh is something to behold, its vastness just the opposite of the intimacy of “my” Mississippi.
Yet the ponds and bayous that make the marsh can still remind me of home. Tailing and cruising Redfish in small ponds are a remarkable sight, and the life in these waters is amazing. Crabs, mullet, shrimp, and other bait help the redfish grow large and in charge. This area also needs to be respected and protected.
The Other End of the River
The Mississippi River has a strange way of drawing people together. It had been a dream of mine to fish the other end of the river, and I feel as if the marsh has been calling to me for many years. It was a scratch that I had to itch. Two years ago, I made the call to Capt. Lucas Bissett, a guide I had met several times at the Orvis Guide Rendezvous. We hit it off right away, and I’m glad to call Lucas a good friend. I wanted to host a trip to the Louisiana Marsh and experience the greatest redfishing in the world. We locked down the dates and set the wheels in motion for a dream trip of mine. November 2017 couldn’t come fast enough.
Fast forward to the early Spring of 2017. The Orvis Guide of the Year nominees were announced. Lucas was nominated for the Saltwater Guide of the Year, and I was nominated for the Freshwater Guide of the Year. It is always an honor to be nominated for such a prestigious award, but to be nominated with a friend made it even more special. In the middle of April, the Guide Rendezvous was held in Missoula, Montana. We were both very excited and nervous about the awards banquet. Incredibly, both Lucas and I won the 2017 Guide of the Year, in our respective categories. It was truly an honor to win the award and winning it with Lucas made it all the better.
Perhaps the thing that really struck me after we had a chance to sit down and talk about it was that the Mississippi River was the real winner. Both of us make our living on its waters, focused on warmwater fisheries. It was nice to see this great resource and warmwater fly fishing get some well-deserved credit. We both know what a great resource the river is and now hopefully our awards will bring a little love to the River and the Marsh.
November rolled around, and the anticipation of the trip south started to build. I had just wrapped up the last of my musky guide trips, and the next week my son, Truman, and I–along with six clients—drove down to Hopedale, Louisiana. I looked forward to following the great river to the sea, and watching the river grow as we headed south was a unique experience. Crossing the river in Memphis, and seeing how vast it was really drove home the idea of its power and the vastness of its drainage.
I love to drive and see the countryside. I also liked watching winter turn back into fall as we got farther south. We pulled into Hopedale on a Wednesday afternoon after a ferry ride across the Mississippi. Instead of seeing drift boat,s we were looking at ocean-going vessels. The image was quite surreal for me. It was like being in a whole different world. The temperature was in the 80s, which was a nice break after weeks of musky fishing and duck hunting in temps in the teens in Minnesota.
As we settled into our accommodations on the Dogwood Charter Boat in Hopedale, we sat on the deck soaking in the sun and enjoyed a cold beverage, along with a cigar. All seemed right. A short time later, Lucas dropped by on his way to the marina after a day of guiding. We put together a game plan for our group the next day. The guides would pull up at 8a.m. and away we would go in search of our first redfish. Except for one client, everyone in the group was new to this. We were all very excited to experience our first day on the marsh.
We woke up to a day that fly anglers dream about: sunny, 70 degrees, and not a breeze to be found. Lucas picked us up promptly at 8, and just looked at us, and said, “Boys, it doesn’t get any better than this. If we don’t get them today, we have issues.” Truman and I had decided that we just wanted to see and hopefully catch a few fish. We weren’t concerned about size; we just wanted to experience the marsh and catch a couple of fish. Lucas agreed with the game plan and proceeded to fly through a maze of channels and lakes that had a boy from the Upper Midwest’s head spinning. The vastness and amount of water in just a small part of the marsh that we were exploring was mind boggling. Soon, we found ourselves in about two feet of water as Lucas poled us around, looking for our first tails.
Now, I want you all to know that I’m not one of “those dads.” I offered my son the first shot at the bow, but I secretly think he likes to see his father choke. He wanted to watch and see how the game is played. He had never saltwater fished before, so this was all new to him. The one thing that I was worried about was being able to see the fish. Lucas assured me on a day like this, I wouldn’t have a problem. He told me to look for the golden hue and assured me that I couldn’t miss them. He was right.
The first fish he pointed out to me glowed like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. I wish that I could say that I made a perfect cast and the fish crushed my presentation, but that would be a lie. The cast left a little bit to be desired, and the fish really wasn’t as happy as he could have been. We worked along in the marsh and looked for a happy fish. Lucas pointed out a push coming down one of the grassy banks. I looked and sure enough saw the fish. I placed a pretty decent cast in front of the wake and listened to Lucas bark orders. A couple strips, and the fish charged the fly and crushed it. Thankfully, musky season had just finished because my strip set was in pretty good form. I popped the fish with a couple of good strips, and it was game on. It wasn’t a giant by Louisiana standards, but it was a solid 8-pounder. Nothing to sneeze at, and it was my first redfish. I think my son was as thrilled as I was.
Next up was Truman. I handed him the fly rod, and he climbed up on the casting platform. Lucas could see that the boy was nervous. He talked to Truman, got him settled down, and proceeded to pole the skiff into a pond. It wasn’t long before Lucas had a fish in his sites. He pointed it out to Truman, who was on it. My boy placed a great cast, and the fish responded by charging the fly and inhaling it. Truman knows how to strip set, and he let the nice redfish know that he had come to play. The nice red came to hand, and his goal of landing a redfish was accomplished. Pictures were taken, high fives went going around the boat, and all the parties involved let out a big sigh of relief. We continued to have an outstanding first day on the marsh, a day we won’t forget.
Our trip was a great experience, and everyone caught some nice fish. The weather switched on Saturday afternoon, and we lost our last day due to wind. Despite this, it was a special trip. While fishing with Lucas, I could see the value in the Orvis Endorsed Program. Being on the client side of it gave me a unique perspective. Having that experience will hopefully make me a better guide, and I know I see the value in using a tried-and-true guide. I’m blessed to be an Orvis Endorsed Guide and even more humbled to be called an Orvis Guide of the Year. I can’t wait to do it again.
Kip Vieth owns Wildwood Float Trips, in Monticello, Minnesota, is the 2017 Orvis-Endorsed Freshwater Fly-Fishing Guide of the Year and a former Trout Bum of the Week. Check out his excellent “10 Tips for Catching a Musky on a Fly.”