An Offshore Education

I grew up fishing in little creeks to at best a medium size river for trout and smallmouth bass. I later moved out west and became a die-hard fly fisherman, verging on trout bum. I guided for years on the Gunnison River before moving back east to settle in Charleston, SC.
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I made a too slow transition to the salt but am now pretty comfortable chasing redfish with an 8 weight on the flats and I’m relatively ok with using whatever technique is needed to get the job done. But, offshore has always been something I didn’t really get…
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Then around a year ago I got a call and was hired to shoot with the crew of Into The Blue TV (www.intotheblue.tv). I hadn’t been offshore since I was a kid, and recalled a bit of seasickness and not much else. But it was on the water work, and I was happy to get out with some people who really knew what they were doing and see what all the fuss was about. So I packed up a bunch of camera equipment, a little Dramamine and headed for the Keys. I was still a little nervous about getting seasick on the first day as the new guy, so I pre-medicated before we met up at the dock. As it turned out, the winds were blowing a solid 15-20 and we were headed half way to Cuba sword fishing. I’m not a good judge of how big seas are, but in my mind they were pretty huge. I’m glad to say I managed to not turn green and kept my feet under my while jumping between boats in big seas, 40 miles out over 2000 feet of water.

Over the next few days and a few more trips I learned a ton watching Captains Scott Walker (www.tailwalkercharters.com) and Steve Rodger (spearonefishing.com). I was amazed at the amount of life in the open ocean and especially how much of it you could see; I certainly didn’t expect there to be so many sight-fishing opportunities. The education I’ve been afforded has not only opened my eyes to the wealth of sight fishing targets offshore, but taught me new techniques and concepts that I will most certainly use in my inshore fishing whether it is with bait, artificial or fly.

Captain Steve Rodger with a big fly caught Blackfin Tuna.

Captain Steve Rodger with a big fly caught Blackfin Tuna.

A nice Mahi lit up and slashing across the surface.

A nice Mahi lit up and slashing across the surface.

Captains Steve Rodger and Scott Walker (www.intotheblue.tv) prepare to release a huge Goliath Grouper 40 miles north of Key West.

Captains Steve Rodger and Scott Walker (www.intotheblue.tv) prepare to release a huge Goliath Grouper 40 miles north of Key West.

Heading back to Hawks Cay at sunset after a big day in the Blue Water.

Heading back to Hawks Cay at sunset after a big day in the Blue Water.

The List

I think most anglers have a few lists to work on. A list of new species to catch, fisheries to explore or the dreaded to-do list which keeps us off the water from time to time. I have all of these and more. After a long drought, I was recently able to check a few items off of my species list. The first fish checked off the list was tripletail. After a long day of shooting in the Everglades for Saltwater Experience I stepped off the camera boat and joined Captains Tom Rowland and Rich Tudor for the ride back to the Blue Moon Expeditions Mothership. We ran the buoy lines in the Gulf just outside the park and I was able to catch my first tripletail on fly.
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Next was a fish I had worked on a few times in the last couple of years: cobia. I had tried a few times in the Broad River in Beaufort, SC but couldn’t get it done. A few weeks ago Captain John Irwin of Fly Right Charters offered to take me out to the local reefs to chase Cobia on fly and I’m hooked. It was my first time nearshore or offshore with a fly rod in hand, the amount of life you can see out there and cast to is amazing. I managed to hook 3 losing 1 to the reef, 1 to a shark and getting 1 to the boat.
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Lastly is the one that has been on my list the longest: Bonnethead shark on fly. It’s not exactly a glamor species, but they are everywhere in our Lowcountry waters in the summer and are a great target. They are strong, 2-4 feet long and are easy to find on nearly any low tide finned out in a few inches of water. This is not to say that they are easy to catch with a fly rod. Over the years, I had sporadically tried to get one on fly but had been handed rejection after rejection. Finally, I caught a couple of little ones fishing in the Keys with Captain Shafter Johnston of Blue Moon Expeditions and thought that I maybe figured out enough to tease a full grown specimen into eating back home. So, I got home and headed straight for a likely flat at low tide and started working them. I hooked 3 that day and although I had multiple mishaps leading to zero landings, I now had the confidence needed to feed them. On my next outing, I went out with my usual fishing partner, Captain Jeremy Mehlhaff of Charleston Shallows and got my first Lowcountry Bonnethead on fly at sunrise on the second cast of the day. I’m still working on decoding them, trying to figure out how to feed them the fly consistently, but for now it’s back to the list to see what’s next.

Bonnethead Shark in shallow water

Bonnethead finned out in an inch or two of water

 

A close up of a fly caught Bonnethead shark in the Florida Keys

A small Keys Bonnethead that fell for a redfish fly

 

Captain Shafter Johnston releases a small Keys Bonnethead Shark

Captain Shafter Johnston releases a small Keys Bonnethead

 

Captain Jeremy Mehlhaff casts to a "tailing" Bonnethead on a low tide Charlaston, SC mud flat

Captain Jeremy Mehlhaff casts to a “tailing” Bonnethead on a low tide mud flat

 

Captain Jeremy Mehlhaff with a nice Bonnethead at sunrise

Captain Jeremy Mehlhaff with a nice Bonnethead at sunrise

The First Cast

We’ve all said it before: “This is the last cast”. But, we seldom mean it. It has so many uses: this is the last cast of the day, the last cast at a fish heading the wrong way or the last cast before pulling anchor and heading downstream or to a new spot. We say these words often but, how often is the cast that follows truly the last cast? For me it’s pretty rare, and I’m guessing since you are here trolling the internet to feed your fishing addiction, then you are guilty as well.

I’m a fishing photographer and writer (among other things) so I’m on the water more than many, but never as much as I’d like. Here you will find photos and sometimes stories from my days on the water as I try to feed my fishing addiction and share a little with you.

Fly Fishing for Tailing redfish at Kiawah Island, SC

Contemplating the last cast.