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            Port O'Connor on the Fly
            Saltwater Flyfishing for Reds and Trout

            by Robert Sloan

             

            CURRENT MOON
            lunar phases

            It was just before daylight as we motored around a point and entered Mitchell's Cut in the Maverick flats boat. Guide Scott Graham was at the helm. Dallas angler Cody Bell and I were along for a chance at tailing reds early, then a shift to speckled trout later in the morning.

            Graham pulled back on the throttle, and the lightweight Maverick glided out of the cut and onto the very shallow flat.

            "Right there, 60 yards," said Graham. "See 'em? A big pod of reds, maybe 50 or so with their tails sticking out of the water. Somebody get up front, we're about to hook up."

            Graham was on the polling tower and had us moving towards the tailing reds in a jiffy.

            I won the coin toss, and stepped up on the casting platform.

            "Don't put the fly in the center of the fish. That'll spook them for sure," advised Graham. "You want to put it down just outside of the school and let them come to the fly."

            I had tied on an inch-long, copper-colored spoon fly with a pink marabou tail. It was a proven redfish killer. The 9-1/2 foot, 8-weight G-Loomis rod was seated with a Scientific Anglers reel spooled with a weight-forward floating line. The 7-foot leader had a 12-pound test tippet.

            Everything was right. There was a beautiful sunrise at our back, and I was making a double haul to one of the biggest schools of tailing reds I had ever seen.

            The spoon fly hit the water, I hesitated a few seconds and made three short strips of the line before a red, in the 6-pound class, charged and ate the fly. At the sting of the hook it shot across the flat leaving a sandy wake in the green tide.

            It was about as good as flyfishing gets on the flats.

            We were at Port O'Connor, located on the middle Texas coast. This is where I've spent over three decades fishing the clear water flats that stretch for miles.

            Growing up on the POC flats was an adventure. Back then it was highly unusual to see a fly fisherman. And it was unheard of to see an angler poling a skiff across the flats. That's all changed. Now it's unusual not to see flyfishermen and skiffs, such as a high performance, lightweight flats boat like a Maverick Mirage HPX being polled over a flat that's as pretty as the day is long.

            In fact, over the past five years or so POC has evolved into one of the most popular flyfishing destinations on the entire Gulf Coast.

            Heading south from POC you have Rockport, then the Laguna Madre extending all the way down the Texas/Mexico border. That's hundreds of miles of skinny water flats. And it's where you can get more shots at reds and trout, in a single day of fishing, than you might believe.

            I've fly fished the Texas coast for over 35 years and hold seven state flyfishing records. But out of all the destinations on the Texas coast I always seem to return to POC. Ditto that for a whole lot of other anglers.

            The flyfishing destinations out of POC are many. Laid out among the many islands are small bays and isolated coves. No matter how crowded it gets you can escape at POC. Once you put in at the town of POC, you cross the Intracoastal canal and enter the back bays.

            Espiritu Santo Bay, located within a mile or so of POC, is massive. It's located to the west of the famous flyfishing areas like Bayucos Point, Saluria Bayou, Bill Day's Reef and Blackberry Island. The area stretches for miles and offers some of the prettiest backwater areas that you'll find anywhere on the Gulf Coast. In this area are pockets of water that hold lots of trout and reds year round. Here you'll find popular destinations such as Farwell Island, Big Pocket and Lighthouse Cove. Keep in mind that most of the back water areas offer shallow water access only. That's why fly fishing for trout and reds is so good. And that's why the new high tech lightweight hulls are so popular and in demand.

            There are a lot of boats made in and around POC that run the skinny water. But there are very few that are built for running shallow and poling.

            "I run a Maverick for two reasons," says Graham. "One is that it runs very shallow. The other is that it's made of carbon/fiber/Kevlar composites. In other words the hull is very lightweight and is easy to pole all day long. You can't do that out here with conventional fiberglass hulls. Well, you can, if you're built like Hercules."

            The isolated lakes off the south shoreline of Espiritu Santo Bay are wonderful fly fishing areas. Most are only accessible with skinny water hulls. Some of those areas are Pringle Lake, Contee Lake, South Pass Lake and Long Lake.

            Pringle is the biggest of the bunch. But all the lakes offer classic sight-casting for both reds and trout.

            Another very popular area is Shoalwater Bay off the Intracoastal Canal right about where Espiritu Santo Bay meets San Antonio Bay.

            Shoalwater Bay and Pringle are very popular among kayakers. What I like to do is load a few kayaks up in a big boat and transport them to shallow water bays and lakes.

            Kayaks differ just like conventional boats do. Some perform better than others. The one I've used for the past few years is a Wilderness Tarpon 140. It's the most angler-friendly kayak I've used. My favorite part about this kayak is the built in backrest. It's good for hours of comfort.

            A kayak is a fly fisherman's best friend. Talk about sneaking up on reds and trout in super skinny water. You can flat do that with a kayak.

            What a whole lot of kayakers do at POC is catch the ferry at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's dock in town. For a small fee the ferry will take you across Espiritu Santo Bay to Matagorda Island, about a 12 mile run. The island is over 20 miles long. Once on the island you can set up camp at the state park, and fish the adjacent flats till your arms give out. The upper section of Pringle is accessible by kayak from the state park on the island. The famous Army Hole is adjacent to the camping area in the park.

            You have the option of wading the flats on the bay, or drift fishing from a yak. Wading is pretty tough in Pringle. But in certain areas it can be done.

            My favorite way to fly fish the backwaters of Port O'Connor is while polling along and sight casting to trout and reds. The advantage of your height on a polling tower is incredible. Until you've experienced the view from a tower, it's tough to understand the advantage. You can actually see trout holding in pot holes. And seeing three or four reds feeding along a flat is definitely the cat's meow.

            Seeing trout is much more difficult than spotting reds. Trout have the perfect camouflage. They often appear as dark spots against white sand, or along the edge of grass.

            Conversely, reds are copper-colored or a mix of silver and rust. They area usually easy to spot. And of course tailing reds are an easy mark, as well.

            When making a cast to a trout or red the worst mistake you can make is to lay your fly line down over their back. They will explode out of there and be gone for good. The best approach is to work with the person on the polling platform. Typically, the person on the pole will see the fish before the angler on the bow will. In most situations you'll use the numbers on a clock and distance to pinpoint a cast. For example, the person on the platform will say, "trout at two o'clock, about 30 feet."

            You want to make a cast that is wide off the target fish. The best situation is to put the fly down well ahead of the fish and let it swim or feed to the fly.

            With a little experience it's an easy task. But even the saltiest of fly fishers make mistakes.

            Noise is a major factor. Hull slap is a no no. And thumping the deck with your feet will send fish scooting across the flat like their tails are on fire.

            A 7, 8 or 9 weight rod is best for trout and reds. I like an 8 weight for most situations. But on calm days, a 7 weight is fine. And on windy days a 9 weight is good for pushing a fly through a stiff breeze.

            A number of flies will catch trout and reds. A spoon fly in silver, gold or copper is great. Ditto that for a No. 4 or 6 bend back in pink, red, white or chartreuse. A No. 6 Clouser is good in white/chartreuse, white/silver and yellow/red. Crab imitations are very good for big trout and reds.

            For details on fly fishing and kayaking out of Port O'Connor go to www.Gulf CoastFlyFisherman.com. Or you can call (409) 782-6796.
            Two of the top guides in at POC are:
            Capt. Scott Graham - (512) 947-7145; www.flyfishingtexas.com
            Capt. Tom Horbey (361) 983-2263; www.captaintomhorbey.com.

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