Writing Samples



Wind and Sand


By Chris Hunt


Separately, they can be conquered. Together, they fill every crevice with grit. They turn the surf into busy brown froth. They renovate an otherwise bright blue sky into a menacing, hateful pulverizer intent on roughly smoothing a man's sharp edges.

And as welcoming as one feels on bare feet, wet and soft under the toes, and as softly as the other can massage and coax, together, they combine to whittle away at a fly fisherman's determination.

And so it was, after a day spent walking atop damp sand while spitting the salty grit pushed violently into our mouths back out into the surf, that we relented. We were defeated.

The sea is a finicky creature, revealing its treasures one day and hiding its secrets the next. Pushed by wind armed with sand, it can meet any angler's challenge with stubborn resistance. As we climbed a the dunes in the dry, sunny gale and opted for patience, the sea only stirred itself further into a morasse of impenetrable lather.

We rested, pressed against the dunes to wait out the wind and hope against hope that the Gulf's birds would brave the breeze and start combing the near-shore breakers for today's fishy meal. Find the birds, we knew, and we'd find the fish.

But on this day, the birds were infrequent and moving, thanks to the constant blow, in a very great hurry. They never slowed to gaze into the surf. They never dove. They went hungry.

As I said, we were defeated. And admitting that defeat, oddly, gave us a bit of peace. A bit of ... serenity.

There, upon the gusty dunes, gazing out over the green Gulf, we knew this day would be fishless. But we also knew, as the sun moved behind us and the waves broke before us, that we would glean something from this otherwise barren day.

I spent a good hour gazing through polarized lenses at the sea, watching waves in an awful rush to break, one over the other until they crashed into beach. There, those waves delivered bales of sargassum and rolled smooth, tiny shells up onto the sand. From the dunes, well above the beach, I watched intently as the ocean belched itself onto the spit of land that separates it from Texas until I closed my eyes.

When I woke up some time later, the wind still whipped the sand into devilish swirls among the dunes. The Gulf was still a foamy mess. The birds were absent. The fish were nowhere to be seen.

But I was still on the beach. I'll take the beach. Any day.




Work for it



By Chris Hunt

One trip up and over the dunes wasn't enough, apparently. Or at least that was the prevailing mood. Honestly, though, I think we were just stubborn. I think we believed, deep down, that if we didn't give it every ounce of effort, we were short-changing ourselves and, by extension, the adventure we'd embarked upon a few days earlier.

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!"

Seriously.

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 cast to the first pod, armed with the same Clouser that fooled my only redfish of the trip earlier that day. I bounced the fly along the bottom in front of the fish.

Nothing.

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.

Fish on.

Moments later, as Mike and I carefully handled the fish and loaded up memory cards with dozens of images, we noticed a bright flash off to the north. The sky, which moments before had been blue and generally clear, had turned dark and threatening in what seemed like precious minutes.

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.

Minutes later, we crested a series of tall dunes and stared out over the wind-whipped surf of the Gulf of Mexico. I looked back over my shoulder and could see the Laguna off in the distance, shrouded by dark clouds. I knew the sheepshead were tailing in the shallow water not far from the bank. I also knew that if we had stayed, we'd have invited disaster.

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.




Where There's Water


Editor's note: This piece first appeared in The Backcountry Journal. Please check out all the fantastic work published by some of the country's best up-and-coming outdoor writers at thebackcountryjournal.com.


By Chris Hunt

It’s a short distance from the trailhead to the lake, but it’s a bitch of a hike. A straight-up thigh-buster. But at least you’re out of the damn truck and relieved to discover no permanent damage to your “jiggly parts.”

The hike, believe it or not, is the easiest part of getting here. No matter how you try to sugarcoat it, you’re two hours off the pavement and well into the sticks by the time you make that final uphill push into the “pine” portion of the Pine Forest Range. Even when you guide your truck over the last of the rocks that have likely pierced many an oil pan over the years, and settle on a place to leave the truck in the “parking lot,” you’re still in the desert. And you’re a long way from anything.

Naturally, you look up the trail, where, rumor has it, there lies a chain of lakes so full of spunky trout that the water is just one big rise ring when the evening hatch comes off. But the real surprise is the look back down the mountain from whence you came. The desert is unassuming when you’re driving through it, dodging mounds of wild burro shit and keeping your eye on that green crotch in the mountains high above, where these lakes supposedly sit. There, you think, it’s cooler, and the greenery proves it. Mountain mahogany, limber pine and aspen won’t grow without water, and they sure as hell won’t grow down here, where even the sage looks depressed and downtrodden.

When you finally get close enough to get out and walk, it’s just not natural to turn around and check out the road you just traveled. But the vista will take your breath away, just the same. From up here, the desert is vast and foreboding. It’s … huge. Its muted colors of all things drab and boring mix together in a palette so stunning that you forget about the scrawny jackrabbits and the pronghorns that looked so forlorn that you were tempted to get out of the truck and try to feed them by hand. It’s surreal.

Your gaze is pulled to the horizon—is that California clear in the crystal-clear distance? You think so.

Then reality. You didn’t just bounce your $30,000 rig over all those rocks to admire the view of the desert below. You’re here to fish, no matter how fishless this place feels in your gut. Trout? Here? No effing way.

But you’re game. And, hell, you’re here, right? After that cheap-ass carnival ride, sans the barf bag, just stretching some fly line will feel mighty good, even if there are no fish to target. Surely there can’t be fish. Not here in this dry, dusty, God-forsaken corner of the most God-forsaken state in the union.

Nevada? How the hell did you end up here?

So you start that hike, and even the burn in your thighs is a welcome respite from the bouncing and the rocking and the dust. And then … suddenly, it’s cooler. There’s some shade thanks to some hearty aspens that hang on stubbornly in this desolate land. It feels nice to be out of the sun, out from under that so-blue sky. And it smells good. Sweet. Cool. It smells like … well, it sure as hell doesn’t smell like the desert.

The trail guides you up a bit higher, and you punch through the aspen thicket and reach the top of a bluff. It’s a good place to rest, to reevaluate.

Before you stands the sheer face of a mountain, nude thanks to its rocky contents. A long talus moraine skirts the rock and disappears below the tops of some trees in the distance. There, you think, lie the lakes. If there are, indeed, lakes. It could be a cruel joke, right? The rest of the gang, suspiciously slow to assemble their packs and gather their gear, could be sitting on the tailgate sucking down PBR and laughing their asses off at the idiot who just wandered off into the desert with a fly rod.

So, do you turn back? Do you admit your deepest fear, that you’ve spent two days venturing to this distant place only to find it barren and fishless?

You push on. It can’t be that much farther, right?

The trail, mercifully, starts down, and soon, you’re back among the quakies, enjoying that fresh, coolness that comes over you like a Friday night drunk. The golden leaves remind you that, no matter how hot it was when you stopped to take a leak and chase a wild burrow just for kicks down on the desert floor, the calendar has turned over to early October, and it’s full-on fall up here at altitude.

Minutes later, off in the distance, you see it. Standing water. And not just a puddle or high-elevation cirque. It’s a lake. Wait. It’s two lakes. And what’s that? Is that a rise ring? Another?

Your step quickens and you thoughts switch from dire and hopeless to something resembling optimism. But you’re not there yet. At this elevation, the source of that rise could be a six-inch brookie for all you know. I mean, an hour ago, you were coughing up road dust and hydrating with cheap beer. No sense getting your expectations up, right?

But it was a rise ring. You’re sure of it.

The trail leads into a draw and the lake disappears, hidden from view by the bright leaves of the aspens that filter the sunlight and leave you walking through a forest rife with color so deep and intense that you struggle to come up with a description for the hue.

Your heartbeat quickens. Are the lakes really there, off in the distance? Or was the vision from atop the bluff a desert-induced mirage that’s taking advantage of your fishy senses? The trail continues through the trees as if it might never emerge, teasing you with the promise of long casts across green water to rising fish. It was a mirage. Right?

The trees thin out a bit and then your nose catches that familiar scent… that slightly pungent tang of water standing under sunlight. Maybe … just maybe…

You step through the threshold of the trees and the horizon opens before you. The soft sound of water licking rock awakens a primal urge deep in your soul and you gaze off over a deep, green lake that literally glistens in the afternoon sunshine. You hear a gulp. Then another. A head the size of your fist emerges from the lake, mouth open to ensnare some unseen bug stuck in the surface film. Gulp.

You drop your pack where you stand, and you fumble around clumsily for your rod tube. It takes what seems like an eternity to slip four simple pieces of graphite together, and you feel a palsy come over you as you attach the reel and begin threading a loop of fly line through the guides. Another gulp. You fumble the line and the shakes set in with a vengeance.

Here, high atop the stark Nevada desert, you find yourself in a nervous funk, worried that, for some reason, that hatch that is bringing these gulping fish to the top of this cool, green lake might end before you can make that first cast. Your gaze is torn between ensuring you string line through every guide on your rod and watching for the next behemoth to surface on this lake, much like a humpback whale might breach in the north Pacific.
Line threaded, now your shaky hands must find the dexterity to tie a fly to your tippet. First things first, though. You look at the glassy surface of this lake, hoping to find the insect that is spurring such careless takes among the lake’s massive trout. Through polarized lenses your eyes catch a large, gray mayfly struggling in the surface film not a dozen feet from shore. Then it disappears in a swirl of teeth and mottled, golden-green scales.

Tiger trout. A laboratory creation, a twisted mix between a brook trout and a brown trout … a sterile, unnatural salmo on salvo combination that has curried favor among fisheries managers, both for sport and for ridding waters of so-called “rough fish.” These fish eat and they do little else.

Glancing around at the high rocks surrounding this backcountry lake, you immediately envy the ride the helicopter pilot enjoyed the day he dumped these Frankenfish into the water for the benefit of someone like you, who bounced and rumbled over barely passable roads for hours, sucked in the powdery dust churned up by the thick, black tires of the truck and walked another mile through aspens and uncertainty.

Now, before you, they gulped big mayflies, taunting you, teasing you … tempting you.

You choose a fluffy Parachute Adams for this task, and, trembling hands and all, you manage to tie it tight to your tippet. You look around for a reasonable casting location, one that won’t end with your fly snared permanently by the clingy branches of a lakeside limber pine.

There, a dozen feet off the bank, you see a large, flat rock just a few inches under the surface. Minutes later, after a half-wade, half swim through the autumn-chilled lake, you’re standing on that rock and you’re peeling line from your reel. Your fly, doused with floatant, is pinched between your forefinger and thumb, and you scan the water, waiting for the next rise.

Then, 40 feet out, you spy a rise. Flipping the fly in the air, you start a calculated backcast and with a deft, practice stroke, you lay the Adams in the center of the expanding rise ring. The fly rests lightly on the water. You give it a slight twitch.

Gulp.


Tenkara and the Tyrant of the Lakes


By Chris Hunt

Salvelinus namaycush. Tyrant of the lakes.

My nemesis. My fly fishing Ark of the Covenant. My... El Dorado. As I stood on the banks of the Otherside River lining up the photo of the big fish, I felt a noticeable weight lift off my shoulders. The rain, for just a few minutes, stopped. A beam of sunshine poked through the low ceiling of clouds and I felt as though I'd just accomplished something nobody else on earth had ever done.

Truth be told, I probably did. But that's for later in this tale.

I'd tried for five days to catch a lake trout on a fly. I'd been denied each time.

The second day of our trip here at Blackmur's Athabasca Lodge in the far northwest corner of Saskatchewan, we were informed of one of Lake Athabasca's oddities–an early spawning run of lake trout that actually swim like salmon or steelhead into the rivers that enter the enormous lake. They get so thick, we were told, that during the peak of the run they're an "every cast" proposition at the mouth of the Otherside River situated conveniently within eyesight of the lodge.

The peak of the run?

"Any minute now," said Cliff Blackmur, the namesake of the lodge that's put up with us for a week. "They're late, so we're expecting them while you're here."

But things are changing, Cliff noted. Weather patterns are different in the north country these days. This time of year, he said, things should be dry and sunny during the day, and temperatures should be tickling the 32-degree mark overnight. Instead, on the second day at Blackmur's the wind whipped up out of the west, blowing in a front that brought with it four straight days of unsettled weather that included frequent rain (heavy at times), powerful gusts of wind and breakers on the lake that rivaled any I've experienced at sea. Nighttime temps dipped only into the 40s thanks to constant cloud cover.

It's the cold, Cliff explained, that brings this unique run of lakers–small by Mackinaw standards, weighing in between four and 12 pounds–into the river mouth and eventually up into the rapids and runs of the river to spawn. Without the cold, there’s no telling when the fish will show up.

But things were looking up. That very morning, our guide, Louie Isadore, motored us into the mouth of the river, and my fishing partner, Kirk Deeter, proceeded to stick a nice 10-pound laker on a purple bunny leach. It was a sign of good things to come.

But over the next several days, reports of lakers entering the river were spotty at best. We’d try each morning before heading out to face the wind and the rain on the big lake, and more often than not, we’d come up empty.

Louie had the most logical explanation.

“Fish not here," said the native Canadian and a member of the Black Lake First Nation. "Let’s try somewhere else.” And off we'd go, to chase northern pike with fly rods, a thrill to be sure. But the trout ... their absence at the end of my fly line haunted me for days.

Then, as reports of lakers in the river mouth became more prominent ("We got four in 20 minutes!" ... that sort of thing) from fellow guests at the lodge, my inability to hook into one of the big fish was beginning to get under my skin. Finally, I came to grips with the likely reality–it wasn't meant to be. The lakers wouldn't be had, at least not by me, and not on this trip.

So, I took an afternoon toward the end of our week in the north country, hijacked Louie, and marched him up the Otherside River a mile or two to catch the lowly whitefish. The Athabasca whitefish is actually considered a worthy catch here in Saskatchewan. Louie, over the course of the week, raved about the whitefish's fighting ability, and I’m certain the fish has found its way to the table of many a First Nation family over the years.

I figured, since the lakers weren’t cooperating, I could at least add the whitefish to my trip’s small list of conquests.

We arrived at the river, and Louie pointed to the water, where sizeable fish were actually rising, presumably to some unseen fly. I figured the catching would be rather simple–where I come from, whitefish don’t require too much thought to connect with, and have saved many a trout trip from utter disaster. “Whities” will often take a fly when a rainbow or brown will remain stubbornly tight-lipped.

So when I tied a size 12 Adams to the tippet of my four-weight rod, I expected to make a couple of casts and latch into a whitefish. It wasn’t to be. In fact, as I stood hip-deep in the cold waters of this Athabascan river an hour later, trimming back a size 18 micro-caddis to little more than a bare hook so that it might, just possibly, resemble the emerger that these fish were obviously eating, I wondered to myself, “Could whitefish possibly be this selective? And could they possibly be this selective … here? In the middle of nowhere?”

"You sure these are whitefish?" I asked Louie.

"Yuh," he said shortly in the trademark First Nation accent, mixed slightly with the Canadian emphasis. "Whitefish."

Needless to say, I was more than a bit frustrated. And poor Louie was likely beside himself, wondering when the crazy American fly fisherman would call it a day and admit that the Otherside River’s whitefish had gotten the best of him.

"You have something that sinks?" Louie asked me. "Or do you have a Mepps Number One? Whitefish like that."

I brought precious little with me to this remote place, figuring I could tie flies as we needed them (and we've needed them), and I didn't bring any spinning gear with me at all. But I did pick up a couple of weighted purple Woolly Buggers from the lodge, thinking they might do the trick for the lake trout in the river mouth.

And then I had a thought. I asked Louie to hand me my Tenkara rod, a completely foreign tool to him and just about anyone else at the lodge who giggled at the thought of me and Deeter using these long, supple Japanese fly rods to chase Arctic grayling. That is, until we returned to the lodge with photos of trophy fish plucked from the Grease River using only a rod and a line … no reel.

Louie obliged, and handed the big rod down to me from his perch on the bank. I added a stretch of 3x tippet, and tied one of the big purple flies to the end, thinking I could flip the fly into the current and dead-drift it for a few feet, and then let it swing. Honestly, the four-weight just didn’t have the backbone to effectively cast the big fly, and the Tenkara offered the best chance I could conjure up to connect with a whitefish.

I flipped the big, heavy purple bug upstream into a deep run where I’d seen rising fish, and let it sink to the bottom. Lifting the supple and sensitive Tenkara until the line was tight, I could feel every twitch, every subtle change in the current as the fly either bounced off the rocks or danced with a random push of river water. Just as the fly was about to lift off the bottom for a short swing, I felt the line go tight.

I tugged, and all hell broke loose.

“Louie,” I said calmly. “I got one.”

Louie leaped from his perch on the bank of above me and have sprinted, half stumbled down the riverbank to my side. He’d seen me fighting grayling with the Tenkara, so he knew the rod had some limitations. With only 12 feet of rod and 10 feet of line, I had to play this fish fairly close to where I hooked it, so Louie stayed close.

“Whitefish fight hard, huh?” he asked as the Tenkara doubled over in an appreciative horseshoe, the line singing audibly as the fish pulled it through the moving water.

“They do,” I said, struggling to keep the rod from breaking in two and to keep the fish within a reasonable distance of the bank and Louie’s waiting hands. I managed to use the fish’s own desire to move downstream to turn it toward the bank and bring it slowly to the upper half of the water column. It was then that I saw Louie’s eyes open wide.

“Oh,” he said in what passes for excitement among the First Nation crowd. “Lake trout.”

He scrambled up the bank in search of a net, something he didn’t expect to use for a whitefish. And, it became immediately clear, the rising fish were not whitefish, but rather lakers breaching and staging for their annual spawn. Moments later, he was back at my side, net at the ready. Nothing much had changed for me. The fish was stubbornly refusing to move, and I could only put so much pressure on the critter for fear of breaking either the tippet or the rod itself.

Slowly, with Louie by my side, I managed to coax the big char from the deep water and into the shallows, and about ten minutes after hooking the fish, Louie slipped the net under it and made the catch official.

I breathed a strained sigh of relief. It wasn’t so much of an exhale as it was a groan of liberation. The idea that I had likely just accomplished something no one else on earth had managed to accomplish didn’t come to mind, at least not immediately. I was more grateful for the respite from so carefully finessing a fish to the net that the hero moment didn’t really hit me for a minute or two.

Oh, but when it did … the grin was easily from ear to ear as I watched the big char, likely 26 inches long and weighing close to eight pounds, swim off into the current and rejoin its kind on their annual migration up the Otherside River.

I caught three more lakers over the next 20 minutes or so, but I did so using the big fly attached the four-weight fly rod, simply because it allowed me to reach more fish that were in the channel than did the Tenkara. The largest of the bunch probably weighed in around 10 pounds, a real load for the four-weight, but much easier to handle than had I hooked them with the Tenkara (although, truth be told, the Tenkara rod handled the weighted fly much better than the light traditional fly rod).

After the fourth fish found its way into Louie’s net, I was done, sated.

“You know,” I told my guide, “you’re the first guide to ever put a Tenkara angler on a big Athabascan lake trout. Ever. In the world.” I figured I might get a response from Louie, and I did. But it was predictable.

“Yuh,” he said. "I know."





Into the Marsh



By Chris Hunt

As the sun rose over Bayou LaFourche on a steamy Tuesday morning just outside of Cocodrie, La., Capt. Blaine Townsend and I readied a couple of fly rods and prepped his flats skiff for a day in the south country's marshy wilderness.

"I take this stuff pretty seriously," Townsend said to me as he inserted my fly rod into a tube along the inside wall of the shallow-draft boat. With his face coated in thick, white zinc-oxide sunscreen, Townsend was virtually unreadable, so I didn't realize how gravely sober he was about his next comment until later in the day, when he proved he was a man of his word.

"This shit excites me," he said. "This is what I live for."

We motored out of the boat slip with the sun still low in the sky, but I could tell then and there that this day would be a sticky one. As we cruised down the bayou to a cut that runs under Highway 56 and then out into the massive expanse of Lake Boudreaux, even the breeze against my skin as Blaine powered the boat up to cruising speed brought little relief.

Heat's one thing. Humidity ... humidity is a bitch.

We hit the lake and followed a straight-line course along a series of crab pot buoys across the water. We were headed into an expanse of flat country, well away from civilization.

"We'll lose thirty-eight football fields today," Blaine said, referring to coastal Louisiana's biggest environmental challenge. Sure, Category 5 hurricanes and deepwater oil disasters unleash a temporary maelstrom on this ravaged state, but the biggest problem facing the marsh is the fact that every day, brackish water laps at its banks and erodes what little dry land remains. A series of levies and diversions has harnessed the mighty Mississippi River that used to spill into this marsh and deposit its silt and sediment all along this region, building land and providing habitat for all creatures, mankind included. Today, the river bypasses this marshy wild country and dumps directly into the Gulf of Mexico, where the bulk of the sediment drops off the Continental Shelf and is gone forever.

"They know the solution to this problem," Blaine said. "They know how to fix it, but they'll never do it." The solution is simple. The Mississippi is a living river that changes course on a whim. Allowing it to deposit its contents throughout the marsh would stave off the inevitable. But it's now channeled and harnessed and forced away from its natural desires, causing the marsh to simply disappear. Seventy years ago, the lake we were now cruising across in a flats boat was a cow pasture. Today, the water is four feet deep in some places.

"They" is the collective bureaucratic machine that includes the Army Corps of Engineers and a host federal agencies that oversee marine navigation, levee construction and maintenance, water delivery, and the like. And politicians, the folks who lack the will take on such a mammoth project of deconstructing a system that was created to protect this low-lying region from disaster only to create the inevitable: the loss of the very land that protects inland refuges like New Orleans from the massive storm surges like the one that swamped the Gulf Coast in 2005 when Katrina unleashed her wrath.

Thankfully, the marsh is still alive, despite our best attempts at killing it. It remains a fishy paradise, but for how long, nobody really knows.

We reached the northwest bank of Lake Boudreaux and sliced into a canal cut through the marsh grass. As Blaine slowed the boat a bit while he searched this waterlogged wilderness for a cut in the flats that only he could recognize, I took it all in.

In every direction, the marsh surged with life. Huge great blue herons took to the air as we approached, and dozens of white egrets watched cautiously as we motored by. A five-foot alligator, attempting to cross the canal before we reached it panicked as we approached and dove deep into the dark water beneath us.

This was wild country. A couple of hours later, I'd see just how wild it truly was.

I cast flies most of the morning, with mixed results. I landed my first redfish after missing a couple of "shots" at cruising fish and cursing my small-water trout cast. Add the double-haul to my wish list. As Blaine said, "if you don't need it, you won't know how to do it."

Well, I needed it on this day. Time to start practicing, because the marsh hasn't seen the last of me.

As Blaine predicted, we began to see more fish as the morning wore on. By about 10:30 or 11, we were seeing fish pretty regularly, and I landed another redfish, this one about eight pounds.

The first thing a freshwater trout angler notices about fly fishing in saltwater is the strength of the fish. I love trout, and I love the wild places they swim. But there's not a trout on this earth that can match the sheer will to swim free that saltwater fish possess. The marsh and the ocean are vast wild places, not unlike the Rocky Mountain backcountry. But here, fish grow big, unchecked by the confines of their environment. These fish are a different kind of wild, and this is a different kind of wilderness.

That second redfish had my reel screaming seconds after it hit the fly, and keeping a tight line, I found after a couple of unfortunate instances, was vital. But first and foremost, I learned, was the need for accuracy. While I might not possess the world's greatest distance cast, in manageable situations, I found I could be fairly accurate with my 8-weight. And in this stained water, where redfish aren't willing to expend much energy going after food, it's vital to place the food right on them.

Your reward is getting to watch the marsh explode before your very eyes. Redfish are ferocious feeders–when they attack, it's merciless. And when the realize they've been duped, they're simply furious. They run, and they're unpredictable. Sometimes they'll peel line from the reel at an amazing pace and sometimes they'll run right at you, forcing you to strip line in quickly just to keep the line tight. And as I said, keeping a tight line is vital. Once moment of slack is all a big red needs to spit a fly and swim off in search of its next meal, it's dorsal fin protruding from the water like a rude middle finger.

Blaine was incredibly patient with me, something I appreciated. Although I have a few redfish trips under my belt, I'm hardly an accomplished redfish angler. I'd categorize myself as something of an aspiring saltwater fly fisher, somebody who really likes the idea of it, but lacks the chance to practice all that often. Kind of like a duffer who chases a golf ball around twice a year just for the hell of it.

By late morning, though, I found myself in a good rhythm. We were seeing fish, and I was getting shots at a few of them. I'd managed to land a couple of fish, and miss a couple of others, which only made my desire to hook up more acute.

Then, from the back of the boat, I heard Blaine mutter those fateful words.

"Fish. Ten o' clock."

I looked off to my left and immediately saw the target. A redfish, working in water so shallow that its back was out of the drink, lay 50 feet off the boat. As Blaine pushed the craft slowly closer, I readied my limited cast and let loose with perhaps my best effort of the day.

I honestly don't know if the fly actually hit the water. All I know is that one second I was placing a cast within inches of where I perceived the fish's nose to be, and the next, my backing was showing on my reel spool. The strongest redfish with which I'd ever connected was swimming off toward Morgan City with my spoon fly in its mouth, and my reel was groaning in protest.

"Keep it tight," Blaine said. "This is a nice one."

Ten minutes later, the big redfish, my personal best, was in the boat, posing for pictures. Blaine weighed the fish at 11 pounds, hardly one of his best fish, but one he could certainly be proud of given the limitations his client for the day possessed. And in high summer, it is, indeed, a nice fish. The best fly fishing for reds doesn't happen until November or December, when bull redfish move into the marsh to feed. Some of those fish can push 40 pounds.

Forty pounds. I can't imagine it.

We released the big fish and a while later, I managed to boat another redfish that pushed 10 pounds. As the day warmed up even more, and the sun beat down on the marsh, we began a calculated retreat from the marsh. It was then that I'd have my best moment of the day.

As Blaine pushed the boat through the murky shallows, it was I who saw the next fish, and it was that classic redfish tail that caught my eye. Working against the bank, the big fish had its nose in the mud chasing after a crab that was burrowing deeper as the fish pursued. I pointed the fish out to Blaine, and he deftly moved me into position.

I made a single false cast and put the fly on the nose of the fish. A familiar scenario repeated itself, and in moments, I was connected to another hard-tugging red. Then, just like that, the fish was gone.

Rather than be disappointed, I looked at Blaine and shrugged.

"That's the perfect way to end it," I said to my guide. "It'll give me something to think about for the next time."