You now have five shopping days left before Christmas! For some of you, panic just set in. For others, that smug feeling of I’m-all-done confidence swelled up inside and you smiled just a little. I’m one of those people who will always finish my shopping early. I love standing back and watching all of the last-minute retail panic.
There is a practice among a few people around the holidays and birthdays that I have really come to like: They give themselves gifts. I think it’s great. After all, who knows better what you really want than yourself? The Fat Man himself may not even know. As a bonus, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been naughty or nice. You just decide that you deserve it and that’s all it takes.
Steve gave himself an early Christmas gift this year and enjoyed a day of fly fishing with me on a charter recently. He called it a gift to himself because work had been driving him crazy and he just needed a fishing break. So be it — let’s go! I told him that our red tide had been breaking up and was very spotty, and besides that fishing had been very good.
Now let me explain a couple of things about Steve. He loves his family, he loves to travel, he loves his wine and gin (I don’t think at the same time, although maybe he enjoys Pineau martinis), and he loves to fly fish.
Steve has fished with me many times now and we have become good friends beyond our guide-client relationship. Because of this, I also know that he has had a few eye surgeries. Although his sight is better than it used to be, he still has a hard time finding fish when I call them out. Sometimes this can make a frustrating day for him, but he always comes through smiling and enjoying himself. Hey, it beats another day in the office!
Last week when we left the ramp, we went right into the back country of Whidden Creek and I started to pole. We came across a few snook and redfish right away and had some good shots at them, but Steve wasn’t seeing what I was seeing. His casts weren’t quite on target — in some cases, not even close. I quickly remembered that I needed to help him by telling him to cast toward landmarks on the bank, like a certain set of mangrove roots, or a dead limb. He can see well looking out and around above the water, but even with a good pair of polarized sunglasses he just has a hard time picking things up under the water.
After this adjustment, things got a little better and we had some follows and hard looks, but no still no bites. We changed flies a few times and still nobody wanted to play, but we continued on. Steve has worked pretty hard on his casting and he has really improved over the years I have known him. He is, as he says, very inconsistent — but the cool thing about Steve is that he is as equally inconsistent with both hands.
Yep, he casts lefty and righty, which makes it really easy on me as far as setting up for wind, or which direction to approach an island to fish, or for that occasional fish that shows up on the “wrong” side of the boat. He is able to switch hands and go. But even with this ability, he still couldn’t make a fish eat, so I decided that we should. Eat, that is. We drifted along eating sandwiches and talking about our grandkids and what else he may give himself for Christmas before his wife finds out.
After we finished our snack and laughing at each other’s stories, we went back to work. He had to leave by a certain time to get to his Dad’s so they could drink a gin and tonic together, so we were facing a deadline.
I ran up to another spot where I thought the tide should be moving in on a shallow shoreline. Sure enough, there were a couple of tailing reds — and he could see them. These fish had their heads down in the mud and their tails in the air, and were just waiting for a fly to land in front of them to eat.
Five or six casts later, the fly finally hit the right spot. The fish were no longer there, but the fly was presented perfectly. I said, “Just a little inconsistent?” Steve replied, “Shut up and find me another fish.”
I did find him some more reds. He made another near-perfect cast to one that was out 5 feet from the mangroves. Beautiful loop, right on line … 6 feet too far, stuck in the mangrove. He hit another right on the tail. I thought he was going to come unglued, but he held it together and made another cast right smack into a shadowy pocket that I had pointed out with the push pole. One strip, and “Redfish on!”
It ran right at the boat, then under the boat, past the boat, back to the boat, and buried itself in the grass and algae, I had to remove gunk from the line a couple of times while the fish was still fighting. Finally it tired. I think I held my breath the entire time until I tailed that fish by the side of the boat. I think I wanted that fish for him more than he did. Smiles, the laughter of relief, a quick pic, release a healthy fish and off we went.
On the way back I stopped on a point to give him a last shot at another snook. I won’t even tell you about the linesider he missed — I just can’t talk about it yet. But I will tell you that he hooked and landed a nice 20-incher. Again, smiles, pic, release.
He looked at me and asked, “Do we dare try for a trout? Do we have time?” Crank the engine, run to grass in 4 feet of water, cast a 6 weight with a Clouser, 15-inch trout to the boat. More smiles, fist bumps, almost a picture (slippery little suckers, ya know), quick release. Off we go, racing to the ramp. Remember, he has a gin and tonic waiting for him at his Dad’s, and I don’t think Dad is the patient type.
Steve only caught three fish, but it gave him a slam for the half-day trip we took. That’s a cool gift to give yourself! It gave us both some laughs and memories, which is a great gift anytime for anybody. You have all been good this year, right? Treat yourselves with a gift of a guided trip, and some much-deserved (and needed) casting lessons. Above all, have a blessed Merry Christmas and holiday season.
And as always, stay fly.
Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.