A True Last Cast

A couple of weeks ago on the last cycle of tailing tides I had the pleasure of joining the Irwins on a sunset trip targeting tailing redfish. John is a guide here in Charleston (www.flyrightcharters.com) and Caroline is well on her way to becoming an accomplished fly angler. I was just along for the ride to take photos and enjoy the sunset and company- a third wheel on a Lowcountry date night.

Lowcountry Date Night

Lowcountry Date Night

The tide was right but the wind was honking. We were a little early for the tide at our first spot but Caroline had shots at two big fish but a 20mph cross wind made the presentation a little tricky. We crossed the river to duck out of the wind a bit and they switched positions giving John a turn on the bow. We saw a few tailing Sheepshead, they wouldn’t eat and caught a brief glimpse of another Redfish but never got a decent shot. As sunset approached we made a move to another spot (where Caroline had caught her first redfish on fly) with hopes of changing our luck. They took turns poling as I waded along side shooting some poling shots with the falling sun and changing sky as backdrop. A few more decent shots resulted in no hookups and it was looking like we would not get a fish to the boat for a photograph.

Caroline poling the Hell's Bay skiff at sunset

Caroline poling the skiff at sunset

Captain John Irwin wades after tailing redfish while Caroline catches up with the skiff

Captain John Irwin wades after tailing redfish while Caroline catches up with the skiff

Then as the sun reached the horizon and I headed back to the boat, John spotted a last fish and Caroline’s second cast was on the money. The fish ate the fly and headed for the setting sun. After a few minutes of battle the fish tangled in some thick grass and John went chest deep to retrieve the fish. He returned with the big redfish and just enough light left in the sky for a few quick photos and a happy ride home.

redfishing in Charleston sc

John celebrates as Caroline hooks up in the dwindling light on the Last Cast!

Fighting the big redfish at sunset

Fighting the big redfish at sunset

Hooked up

Hooked up

John returns afteer detangling the fish from the grass

John returns afteer detangling the fish from the grass

Redfish Celebration

Redfish Celebration

And the release after sunset

And the release after sunset

 

 

 

Spring Break

In my former life out West I made a lot of ill-advised Spring travel choices. After skiing 120 days and surviving 6 or more months of serious winter we would be jonesing for some fishing. Without the funds for tropical trips we would strike out of the mountains to float the big name tailwaters which would hopefully cure us of our winter and impending mud-season blues. But more often then not, we would find ourselves Spring after Spring camping and floating in Spring blizzards or just freezing temperatures and hurricane force winds.

Fast forward almost 20 years and I did it again. You would think the mountains of the Southeast would be kinder then the high plains surrounding the Rockies (and technically they were) but I still managed to find dumping snow and fish in the coldest weather I’ve fished in a long time.

Despite a solid Southeast snow storm, our family donned the waders and managed to get some pretty good dry fly action in the Smokies in weather that one day topped out at 42. I know temps in the 40s doesn’t qualify as brutal winter weather, but besides myself, we are products of the South and not equipped for it.

One of the prettiest trout streams I've seen was painfully off limits to fishing

One of the prettiest trout streams I’ve seen was painfully off limits to fishing

Smoky Mountain trout stream

Smoky Mountain trout stream

My wife, Joanne, fishing a nice pool

My wife, Joanne, fishing a nice pool

Daughter Amelia hooked up on a parachute Adams at 40 degrees

Daughter Amelia hooked up on a parachute Adams at 40 degrees

Mother and daughter fishing

Mother and daughter fishing

Joanne casting to the last hole of the day

Joanne casting to the last hole of the day

Post release rainbow catching its breath

Post release rainbow catching its breath

Frosted Spiderweb in Cades Cove

Frosted Spiderweb in Cades Cove

 

Night view from our cabin in Townsend, TN

Night view from our cabin in Townsend, TN

Last Cast-Next Cast

It’s been a little while since my last cast. We’ve had some crappy weather for a bit and even on the scattered nice days I’ve been too busy to get out. The one day I got out was a good one, and my last cast worked out well, as it was aimed at this:

Some Charleston Redfish schooled up in a shallow little creek.

Some Charleston Redfish schooled up in a shallow little creek.

But more often than not, the last few months have been filled with contemplating my last casts and looking forward to my next casts. Luckily my next casts are coming up quickly as Spring Break approaches and the mountains are calling. A more tropical location would have been nice, but it was not in the cards for this Spring. So it’s off to the Smokies to chase little trout with the family, passing on my love of nature and fly fishing to the next generation.

My next cast will be into something that looks like this.

My next cast will be into something that looks like this.

 

Marching downriver to the spot.

Marching downriver to the spot.

My wife Joanne shooting line with the Orvis 4wt.

My wife Joanne shooting line with the Orvis 4wt.

To find the native brookies you need to add altitude

To find the native brookies you need to add altitude

Cades Cove casting lesson.

Cades Cove casting lesson.

A little wild Smoky Mountains rainbow trout

A little wild Smoky Mountains rainbow trout

Mom gets a little alone time with the fishes

Mom gets a little alone time with the fishes

Bests

In fishing we throw around superlatives a lot: biggest, longest, fastest and we also enjoy talking about firsts and lasts. As a fisherman, I am certainly prone to this habit and will continue now as I talk about a particular “best”- the best day of redfishing I have ever seen.

I see a lot of good, even great redfishing here at home in Charleston, SC. So, when I head south to the Glades and Keys I generally target species that aren’t readily available in my backyard: Snook, Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish for starters. I’m certainly not a snob and will cast at pretty much anything with fins, but I don’t usually set out to find redfish when there are so many other opportunities.

But last September I was down in the Keys for a shoot with Saltwater Experience TV and the plan for the first day was to head up into Florida Bay where the redfish were schooling and tailing in a few inches of water. Our South Carolina redfish generally tail alone. Every now and then you’ll see a school tip up a little, but for the most part the true tailing action is on high tide grass flats where singles will stand on their heads rooting out crabs. I had never seen the big schools of tailers, so I was excited to get a chance to see it, and hopefully get some good photos.

World Wide Sportsman at dawn

World Wide Sportsman at dawn

We pulled out of World Wide Sportsman just after sunrise in a couple of Yellowfin skiffs weaving through the narrow channels to the North. We dodged a few thunderheads as we worked our way up into Florida Bay and Everglades National Park.

Cruising in Yellowfin Skiffs across Florida Bay under a rainbow

Cruising in Yellowfin Skiffs across Florida Bay under a rainbow

Eventually, we dropped off plain and idled up to the edge of the flats. As we shut down and began poling up into the shallows we were greeted with slick calm waters and the sight of hundreds of tails shimmering in the distance. I have seen plenty of big schools of redfish before, we get schools into the hundreds in Charleston. But this was a hundred or more fish, tightly balled up in inches of water, all tailing aggressively. We poled up on them slowly, trying to document as much as we could before casting to them. Big schools can be spooky, so we thought we might catch a couple and send the rest fleeing.

A tight school of redfish tailing in low light

A tight school of redfish tailing in low light

When it was time to cast, Captain Tom Rowland hooked up first, the school got up and swirled around some but reformed quickly and went back about their business. After shooting the catch, Tom hooked up again, then Captain Rich Tudor joined in and they doubled up two, maybe three times. Eventually the school moved off some, but then another school appeared, then another and another. After getting more than enough for a show they switched to fly gear and we quickly lost count of fly landings. These fish were super aggressive eating anything and everything in their path. They were rolling, crawling, boiling and fighting over every bit of prey. They were even smashing needlefish which we could see taking to the air to avoid their demise.

Captains Tom Rowland and Rich Tudor of Saltwater Experience double up on tailing redfish in Florida Bay

Captains Tom Rowland and Rich Tudor of Saltwater Experience doubled up on tailing redfish in Florida Bay

A riled up school of redfish is easy to make out on a flat calm day

A riled up school of redfish is easy to make out on a flat calm day

Captain Tom Rowland of Saltwater Experience TV admires a double of nearly identical redfish

Captain Tom Rowland of Saltwater Experience TV admires a double of nearly identical redfish

Captain Rich Tudor with a nice Everglades Redfish

Captain Rich Tudor with a nice Everglades Redfish

Captain Tom prepares to release another redfish back into Florida Bay

Captain Tom prepares to release another redfish back into Florida Bay

After what seemed like 3 days worth of fishing and witnessing something amazing, we broke for lunch. That is when the camera boat busted out the flyrods. I got the first shot, and had a 30 inch redfish launch over the backs of a dozen others to eat my fly on reentry. After another quick landing, I took to the poling platform and the camera boat driver caught a couple before we met back up for the afternoon shoot. The action continued for a few more hours until the rising tide let the fish push up into water too shallow for us to pursue. By then we had all had our fill and were ready to head back down to the keys to review our day and plan for the next day’s shoot. We had some more great days that shoot and I’ve had other great days since, but that day will likely remain the Best day of redfishing I will ever see.

A big school of redfish tailing aggressively in the Everglades

A big school of redfish tailing aggressively in the Everglades

Redfish tracking across shallow Florida Bay grassflats

Redfish tracking across shallow Florida Bay grassflats

Tails everwhere

Tails everywhere

Captain Tom Rowland with a nice Florida Bay Redfish on fly

Captain Tom Rowland with a nice Florida Bay Redfish on fly

One of countless schools of redfish we encountered in Florida Bay on the best day of redfishing I have ever seen

One of countless schools of redfish we encountered in Florida Bay on the best day of redfishing I have ever seen

 

A Look Back, and Forward

2013 was a great year, I had more then a few firsts for my personal fishing resume and added a host of species and experiences to the fishing photography list. I was able to travel for shooting and a little bit of fishing to the Keys, the Glades, the Dry Tortugas, Gunnison and Crested Butte, Colorado, Ocean City Maryland, The Smokies, Morehead City, NC and even got in a few days here in Charleston. I worked with new and old clients in the fishing industry including Saltwater Experience, Into The Blue, Orvis, Calcutta, Yellowfin, Mercury, Blue Moon Expeditions and was featured in magazines including Eastern Fly Fishing, Southwest Fly Fishing, Florida Sportsman and more.

2014 is looking to be more of the same and it looks like I’ll be fishing and working with some new people and companies soon. Here are a few shots from last year to look back at and here’s to a whole lot of last casts in the new year.

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Captains Steve Rodger and Scott Walker wide open shooting for Into The Blue TV.

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Heading back to Key West a few minutes after the last cast resulted in a sunset sailfish

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Sunset Sailfish, Offshore of Key West shooting for Into The Blue TV

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Captain Shafter Johnston, Blue Moon Expeditions, with a nice fly caught snook in the Everglades

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A White Marlin shot out of Ocean City Maryland with Captains Scott Walker and Steve Rodger, Into The Blue

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A first light tarpon deep in the Glades with Blue Moon Expeditions

 

Fall

I mentioned in my last post that I hoped to soon be enjoying all that Fall in the Lowcountry has to offer, with great redfishing and shrimping. That hasn’t happened yet, but luckily fall arrives late to Charleston, so I still have some time left.

I was, however, able to chase the season a bit earlier then we see it here in the South. It started with a trip to my old homewaters around Crested Butte, Colorado in September. I was there on an architecture shoot, but managed a few days floating the mighty Gunnison with friend and owner of Gunnison River Guides, Jason Booth (www.gunnisonriverguides.com) . The cottonwoods and Aspens began changing when I arrived and kicked it into high gear when the first snows of the season coated the peaks. The changing weather had the fish feeding heavily on the consistent fall mayfly hatches. I enjoy nymphing from a driftboat about as much as any kind of fishing I’ve ever done, I know many people don’t enjoy it as much as Booth and I do, but nothing is as effective at putting more and bigger trout in the boat consistently. We did a lot of nymphing as well as targeted dry fly fishing when the conditions were perfect and also stuck a few good fish on streamers.

After seeing a little snow, I had a quick weekend in the Keys shooting the first annual Saltwater Experience Weekend at Hawk’s Cay and the new Mercury Joystick Piloting system. Then it was back home, then off to the Nantahala area of North Carolina for a family weekend in the southern mountains. We got in a little fishing and hiking with great weather and fall colors.

It’s been a great couple of weeks chasing fall around the country, but again: soon, I hope to enjoy a little fall weather back here in the Lowcountry with a little shrimping and the best redfishing of the season.

A brown trout caught nymphing in the lower stretches of the Upper Gunnison River with Gunnison River Guides.

A brown trout caught nymphing in the lower stretches of the Upper Gunnison River with Gunnison River Guides.

Guide Booth shows off a nice 20 inch rainbow before releasing it back into the Gunnison.

Guide Booth shows off a nice 20 inch rainbow before releasing it back into the Gunnison.

The fall weather can be a bit unpredictable on the Gunnison.

The fall weather can be a bit unpredictable on the Gunnison.

This private stretch  of the East River near Crested Butte looks great under the first snow of the year.

This private stretch of the East River near Crested Butte looks great under the first snow of the year.

Charlie chills in the back seat while Guide Jason Booth steps out to wade fish a nice hole.

Charlie chills in the back seat while Guide Jason Booth steps out to wade fish a nice hole.

The cottonwoods were in full color and the trout were hungry. Angler Scott Hahn with a fish on with Guide Jason Booth.

The cottonwoods were in full color and the trout were hungry. Angler Scott Hahn with a fish on with Guide Jason Booth.

Gunnison River Guides owner Jason Booth releases a nice brown while Charlie looks on.

Gunnison River Guides owner Jason Booth releases a nice brown while Charlie looks on.

Mercury's Joystick Piloting system moving this Yellowfin completely sideways

Mercury’s Joystick Piloting system moving this Yellowfin completely sideways (yes he motors are suppose to look like that).

The view from Wesser's Bald on the Appalachian Trail.

The view from Wesser’s Bald on the Appalachian Trail.

The fall colors were in full effect at Tellico Gap, NC.

The fall colors were in full effect at Tellico Gap, NC.

Late Summer Travels

The end of the summer had me traveling up and down the East Coast on fishing related shoots, not a bad way to end the summer. My travels included stops in Ocean City, MD with Into the Blue, Morehead City, NC with Calcutta, Seastriker and Star Rods and a few trips to the Keys and Everglades with Saltwater Experience and Blue Moon Expeditions.

A big blue marlin launches for Captain Steve Rodger of Into The Blue.

A big blue marlin launches for Captain Steve Rodger of Into The Blue.

The marlin and tuna can be found among huge pods of pilot whales.

The marlin and tuna can be found among huge pods of pilot whales.

Predawn shoot prep with Into The Blue at Ocean City, MD.

Predawn shoot prep with Into The Blue at Ocean City, MD.

Running out of Ocean City at sunrise.

Running out of Ocean City at sunrise.

Atlantic Beach pier at sunset

Atlantic Beach pier at sunset

A nice Wahoo aboard Piracy out of Morehead City with Calcutta Fishing.

A nice Wahoo aboard Piracy out of Morehead City with Calcutta Fishing.

A few tailing redfish in the Everglades.

A few tailing redfish in the Everglades.

Running across Florida Bay into the Everglades in a 24 Yellowfin at sunrise with Saltwater Experience.

Running across Florida Bay into the Everglades in a 24 Yellowfin at sunrise with Saltwater Experience.

Bugs splattered on Maverick in the Everglades.

Captain Shafter Johnston’s Maverick paid the price for the predawn run in the Everglades.

A fly caught "baby" tarpon lit up by the Everglades sunrise.

Captain Shafter Johnston prepares to release a fly caught “baby” tarpon lit up by the Everglades sunrise.

A big Tarpon launches deep in the Everglades.

A big Tarpon launches deep in the Everglades.

Soon, I hope to enjoy a little fall weather back here in the Lowcountry with a little shrimping and the best redfishing of the season.

September Magazines

My wife always seems to get excited around halfway through August when all the September fashion Magazines start arriving. Apparently they are a big deal, some are the size of a phone book (remember those) and I find myself feeling sorry for our mailman Don whose recent knee surgery might have been due to last years crop of behemoth periodicals. This year, though I was the one pacing, waiting for Don to deliver my batch of September Magazines. Unlike the fashion mags, the fishing mags arrive just before the end of the month and right before the long Labor Day weekend.

So this holiday weekend I get to enjoy 3 magazines which include images of mine: A Florida Sportsman article on Spartina Grass by Ed Mashburn which is illustrated by my photography, an article I wrote and shot last Summer for Southwest Fly Fishing on the Taylor River in Colorado and maybe my favorite, a photo essay in Eastern Fly Fishing on family fly fishing in the Smokies featuring my beautiful wife and daughters getting it done in the mountains.

September Fishing Magazines with Photography by Jason Stemple

September Fishing Magazines

Another First

I have been mostly stuck on dry ground lately with a bunch of local commercial work and no time to fish or shoot fishing. But then an opportunity to run offshore with Captain John Irwin of Fly Right Charters came up and I had to make a little time. You may recall from an earlier post that Captain Irwin got me into my first Cobia on fly this spring, so I was excited to run back out with him and see what my next first would be. As his Charter company’s name implies, he’s into fly fishing. He can do it all and does, but like me, feels that if there’s an opportunity to get it done on fly it is always worth a try.

So we headed out at sunrise along with his fiance Caroline and new fly fishing buddies, Andy and Craig. The plan was to head out to hit some reefs and battle a few Amberjacks on fly and see what else we happened upon. The forecast called for a hot steamy day with winds less then 5mph. As usual the forecast was wrong and we ran out in pretty large sloppy seas. The spray and steady breeze kept us cool and the Amberjacks were pretty easy to find. Although they weren’t as cooperative as John says they usually are, they crashed the big hookless teaser plug in twos and threes as John whipped them up into a frenzy. Once they were fired up, we threw poppers on 12 and 13 weight rods which were crushed repeatedly boatside. These awesome takes resulted in long brutal battles, one or two is really all you need. First Andy got his, then Craig, then Caroline and I doubled up for each of our first AJs on fly. Of course Caroline’s was the biggest fish of the day, you can tell from her smile.

Sunrise, Charleston Harbor

The sun rising over Charleston Harbor

Captain John Irwin, Fly Right Charters with a big fly caught Amberjack

Captain John Irwin, Fly Right Charters with a big fly caught Amberjack

Andy holding his first Amberjack on fly

Andy’s first Amberjack on fly

Captain Irwin lands a big Amberjack offshore of Charleston

Captain Irwin helps Craig land a big Amberjack offshore of Charleston

A big Amberjack caught fly fishing a Charleston SC artificail reef

Craig’s big Amberjack

Catain Irwin and fiance Caroline with Caroline's big Amberjack

John and Caroline with the big fish of the day

Caroline with a giant fly caught Amberjack, Fly Right Charters

Caroline smile matches her big fish.

Amberjack about to eat a popper fly

The approach.

An amberjack eats a pooper fly

The eat.

Finally

Tarpon are my favorite fish. What’s not to love? They eat flies, they jump like crazy and are incredibly strong at any size. But unfortunately over the past decade or so they have not returned the love.

I can’t say that I have really put in the proper time, a few shots here and there with bait near home in SC and a few winter shots at unhappy fish in the Glades during a stint as Artist in Residence. It was not to be though, and I remained in a decade long tarpon slump. This year I hoped would be different. I was able to study them closely at docks in the Keys during shoots with Into The Blue and even got an eat after hours during an Everglades Saltwater Experience shoot with Blue Moon Expeditions. But again, I was unable to seal the deal. So, I scheduled a return trip and shoot in May with Captain Shafter Johnston to try to get my elusive Tarpon and hopefully some snook on fly shots I needed for an upcoming project. Unfortunately my arrival coincided with a week’s worth of torrential rains and 20 mph winds. We explored the Glades hiding from the winds in the tiniest of creeks and while we got plenty of snook and redfish shots only managed one baby tarpon which Shafter launched. The jump shots were great, but it was small and not hooked by me. So the quest continued.

An Everglades Baby Tarpon launches.

An Everglades Baby Tarpon launches.

Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long and I lumped a couple of days onto the end of another Into the Blue shoot and met Shafter back in Islamorada where we would be stationed for our expeditions into the Glades. After 4 days of shooting in slick calm seas with Into the Blue the wind and rain returned for my turn to fish. We stuck with it though and on our second day I put a nice Glades Tarpon in the air. It was certainly not a monster at 40-50lbs but was perfect for me. I got to see the golden flash as he inhaled the fly right under the bow, set the hook with authority and after the first two jumps handed the rod off to Shafter so I could shoot photos.

A jumping Everglades Tarpon

The last moment of the jump.

Captain Shafter Johnston, Blue Moon Expeditions fighting an Everglades Tarpon

Captain Shafter finishing off my Tarpon.

A black and purple fly in the mouth of an Everglades Tarpon

Black and Purple is what gets eaten in the Glades/

Taking a DNA swab from the tarpon for Bonefish and Tarpon Trust research.

Taking a DNA swab for Bonefish and Tarpon Trust research.

So the monkey is finally off my back, but I believe the addiction is now stronger than ever. What was once a distant memory is now locked back into my brain and with every photo I edit the need to jump another poon increases exponentially.

Captain Shafter Johnston, Blue Moon Expeditions, preparing to release my Tarpon back into the dark Everglades water.

Captain Shafter Johnston, Blue Moon Expeditions, preparing to release my Tarpon back into the dark Everglades water.