|Mike Sepelak on the dunes of Padre Island National Seashore.|
Fishing had been slow. Simple as that. I'm blaming the wind, but I blame the wind a lot. I suppose there was the outside chance that we simply didn't know what the hell we were doing, but ... yeah, I'm blaming the wind.
I know this. I can't blame the lack of effort. As we trudged along the eastern edge of the Laguna Madre looking for a stretch of clear water that might have just a bit of leeward cover, I knew we had officially dipped into the reserve supply of desperation. Over the last three days, we'd endured gale-force winds and brown tide. We'd wandered through strange grocery stores and up and down causeways looking for obscure turn-offs to fishy locales. We'd eaten salsa off of tortilla chips shaped like the state of Texas. And at least one of us endured a cramped aisle seat next to the crapper on the plane ride down.
And, making this supreme effort to find fish even more important, more seminal to this journey to the gusty, salty edge of Texas, was what lay ahead. We didn't know it, but we'd still need to muster the energy to take in the odd experience of enjoying a truly fine Italian meal prepared on the border with Mexico while a tenor sax player performed "Feelings."
That was before the crack-of-dawn drive back to the airport where, in a fit of sleepy grogginess, we stumbled upon an FM radio station that proudly (and loudly) proclaimed that we had tuned in just in time "for another non-stop block of continuous Christian country!"
|What we do for fish...|
As the coastal wind continued to beat the hell out of us, I looked at Mike and pointed to the horizon, where the shoreline jutted out into the bay. In my head, I thought there might be some calmer water on the other side of the point.
"What do you think?" I asked.
"Let's do it."
I think that's what I like most about Mike--the guy is up for anything. Like me, he was of the mind that we'd come this far to fish, and by God, we were going to fish. What's another mile trudging through the coastal mud and sand if there's even the smallest chance that something fishy is swimming in the warm, clear water of the Laguna on the other side of that point? What's another hour? Or two?
Our suspicions turned out to be correct--or at the very least, the wind settled down long enough for the two of us to do what we'd come to do. We came to sight-cast to fish on the flats, and with the subsiding breeze, the clear waters of the bay settled just a bit and we began to see things.
At first, we were seeing schools of small bait fish and larger mullet moving over the hard-sand bottom. Then I started seeing bigger fish. Target fish.
I shared the details with Mike, but he couldn't pick them up through the chop. I realized something very important that moment. A trip to the Bahamas the month before, while embarrassingly frustrating, had taught me one very necessary skill--the ability to spot fish on the flats. And not only could I spot them, but I could tell Mike what they were.
"Sheepshead," I said, staring intently at the moving pod of nice-sized flats-feeders. Occasionally a tail would break the surface, and I'd let out a little holler to Mike: "See that tail? Two o'clock, fifty feet."
He stared intently at the water.
"I got nuthin," he said.
I changed to a shrimp pattern. Same deal. The sheepshead--notoriously picky--ignored it, too. Thankfully, wave after wave of these toothy fish were working their way into the wind not twenty feet from the bank.
Opportunity. Now to solve the puzzle.
I dug through my fly box and my fingers settled on a small crab pattern that I actually put in the box for the Bahamas trip. I quickly tied the fly to the end of my leader and eyed the water again. Through the busy surface of the bay, in water no more than a foot deep, I could see the tell-tale vertical black bars lining the side of an incoming sheepshead about 80 feet away.
I loaded the 8-weight Mystic Tremor and, in what I honestly believe to be the cast of my life, put the fly within inches of the target fish. Strip. Strip. Set.
|We came, we conquered...|
I looked into the water. More pods of sheepshead were coming in. Another flash of lightning cracked through the dark clouds. I think we both looked at our fly rods simultaneously, and our minds were made up. Time to go.
Reluctantly ... oh, so reluctantly... I followed Mike out of the water and across a muddy salt flat to the dunes.
Two miles later, after a sandy march through the guts of Padre Island National Seashore, it started to rain. And the wind, which had shown us a bit of mercy as the sheepshead pushed through, returned in full force. Lightning flashed against the dark sky, closer than ever.
|... and lived to tell about it.|
We put our heads down and pushed south across more dunes until we hit a stretch of sand not far from the beach. There, in the distance, was the rental car and the promise of a little shelter from the elements.
We rode in silence back to the little beach town of South Padre Island, contemplating the afternoon and the extraordinary effort we made to find something we could cast for.
Was it worth it? For one fish?
Yeah. I think so.