Eastern Fly Fishing

By Mark B. Hatter

Last February I sent editor in chief John Shewey the following text: “How do you celebrate Mardi Gras? Here’s how ...” I accompanied my text message with two images: an evening-time iPhone selfie of me, decked out in beads and bangles, backlit by a colorful parade float, and a grip-and-grin of me holding a 24-pound redfish that guide Greg Dini put me on minutes after launching his skiff that same morning in Biloxi Marsh.
   It was the fish photo that caught Shewey’s attention and resulted in his subsequent inquiry for more details. Although I’ve fished the marsh a number of times over the last six years, I had several revelations that February weekend. My observations follow in no particular order.
   Marti Gras runs Thursday through Tuesday and includes parades, floats, and spoils galore for all ages; I attended multiple parades with the Dini family (including children) after full days of phenomenal fishing. I had a total blast.
   Biloxi Marsh redfish couldn’t care less if frost is on the ground in New Orleans and the marsh water is cold enough to nearly freeze in your guides—they will float high and eat flies regardless. You can have back-to-back days of 100 percent sunshine and light winds in February; big—really big—redfish can be caught in the dead of winter; big redfish run deep into backing even if the water is cold. Layer in windproof clothing (including gloves) for winter boat rides, and use sunscreen liberally. I was fully prepared for the former and unprepared for the latter.
   Biloxi Marsh is an amazing fishery, and with its myriad lakes and bays, there is always a lee shore somewhere that is holding redfish regardless of the wind direction or water temperature. Even when the wind is whistling, protected inlets and sloughs hold fish in water that remains clear enough to see “floaters,” those glowing orange footballs that belie the presence of a redfish.
   My trips to the marsh with Dini, (504) 909-0941, www.flywaterexpeditions.com, have mainly been scheduled at the end of his normal charter season, giving him a busman’s holiday as we share shots and poling responsibilities. Some seasons we do better than others (weather dependent), but we always get out and we always catch fish. That said, until this last trip I was under the impression that the largest fish are caught in late summer and early fall. Dini’s website is loaded with clients holding fish in the mid-30-pound range, and it’s not infrequent that one of his anglers will land a fish over 40 pounds, but the images are of anglers in shirtsleeves and shorts. Well, we quickly rectified that problem in successive days of catching and releasing numerous very large redfish. 
   To be sure, winter does pose some fishing risk; frontal systems may bring strong winds and low-pressure systems that result in prolonged spells of rain. However, the winds generally temper quickly under clear skies after a passing front, and the fish will float. Also, I’ve had some really good fishing on cold, rainy days when the dark sky cuts glare, making floaters even more visible and very hungry.
   Notwithstanding the fabulous fishing, perhaps the greatest attribute of New Orleans is the city itself. I continue to be inexplicably drawn to this paradox of a metropolis. Its charm and enchantment, from food and entertainment to extraordinary fishing, more than compensate for its dilapidated infrastructure, in a constant state of repair. So powerful is this draw that one morning I easily accepted a one-hour delay getting on the water (we were trapped, first by parade floats on their way to downtown and then by a train that stopped at a major crossing). Well, mostly easily accepted.

 

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