Fly Lines: Army veteran’s catch tops list of 2018 fly fishing awards

The Rio Grande Fly Fishing Rodeo enjoyed another strong turnout, one of many accolades for the New Orleans Fly Fishers club in 2018.
The Rio Grande Fly Fishing Rodeo enjoyed another strong turnout, one of many accolades for the New Orleans Fly Fishers club in 2018.

Longtime readers of this column know that every January, we recognize the best of Louisiana fly fishing from the previous year.

Our FLC Awards (Fly Lines Column) are a tradition like no other. We looked at the story behind each nomination, and no story stood out more than the “Fish of the Year” winner.

Fish of the Year

Back in April, at the Fly Fishin’ For the Mission tournament, Ken Holmes was paired with U.S. Army veteran Mike McNaughton. In 2003, while deployed in Afghanistan, Mike lost his right leg and part of his left leg when he stepped on a land mine.

During recovery at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush paid Mike a visit. Mike told the president that someday he would race him, and sure enough, the next year Mike and President Bush went jogging together.

Knowing that Mike had the determination and drive, Ken felt a few good lessons might be all that was needed for his newbie partner to hook his first fly rod fish. They departed PAC Marina the day before the tournament, and headed to a flat where Ken had located some reds.

In April, Army veteran Mike McNaughton caught this sheepshead, his very first fish on fly rod, with help from teammate Ken Holmes.
In April, Army veteran Mike McNaughton caught this sheepshead, his very first fish on a fly rod, with help from teammate Ken Holmes.

Ken spent the first few minutes demonstrating to Mike how to cast the fly rod and retrieve the fly. He explained the strategies employed in sight-fishing, and targeting nervous water and holding areas.

As Holmes tells it, that’s when the lesson took a turn.

“We stood together on the bow of the boat, and he began casting with the usual problems everyone experiences the first time. Then lo and behold, after 10 minutes of this exercise, the line goes tight.  I assumed it was a small red, so I began coaching Mike on how to bring in – without much concern of the outcome.”

But when the fish got closer, it turned out Mike was hooked into a sheepshead – a.k.a. “Cajun Permit” – one of the most difficult fish to catch and land on fly.

“I went into a barrage of orders on staying tight, no slack, get it back to the boat,”Ken said. “The fish bolted away but Mike quickly tamed it. When it came back a second time, I scooped it into the boat.”

As Mike finished posing for a photo with his fish, the fly fell from its mouth.

As Ken puts it, “It was an awesome catch for a first-time fly fisherman that had sacrificed so much for his country. Mike would go on to land several reds and a puppy drum that day.”

Given that this was truly a team effort – Ken’s coaching and Mike’s determination – our Fish of the Year Award goes to both men. Congratulations!

Angler of the Year

Sarah Giles of Mandeville was featured in the December “Paddles and Puddles” as one of the top lady kayak anglers in the state. She’s also one of the state’s top fly anglers, regardless of gender.

Sarah Giles of Mandeville, one of the state's top flyfishers and top female kayak anglers, had an epic year on the water.
Sarah Giles of Mandeville, one of the state’s top flyfishers and top female kayak anglers, had an epic year on the water.

While Sarah loves to travel with her fly rod in pursuit of rainbow trout and bonefish, she most enjoys her frequent kayak trips to the marshes south of Houma, often fly fishing with her mom and dad in pursuit of the Spottail Elvis.

Club of the Year

This year’s recognition goes out to two clubs: Kisatchie Fly Fishers and New Orleans Fly Fishers.

Both clubs have great websites and very active Facebook pages.  In addition to their monthly meetings, KFF holds a fly tying session and NOFF holds two tying sessions.

Both clubs held a year-long CPRO (catch-photo-release optional) members tournament with emphasis on variety of species rather than size of fish (featured in our August column).

NOFF participated in the New Orleans City Park Rodeo, and hosted another very successful “Rio Rodeo” in October, raising money for charity.  They’ve also organized their first-ever “New Orleans Fly Fishing Expo” set for April 6th, 2019.

KFF held their biennial “Cenla Fly Fishing and Light Tackle Festival” in January, with proceeds going to the Food Bank of Central Louisiana.  They also put on another very successful “Fly Fishing 101.” KFF participated in Cenla National Hunting and Fishing Day, and in Alexandria Farmers Market special events during the year.

Fly Tier of the Year

The fact that Don Lawler of Shreveport gives a presentation entitled “Dollar Store Fly Tying” should tell you that he loves to create unique flies. Don tied at just about every event in the South this past year, where his vibrant personality made him a favorite.

While Don is excellent at tying legacy trout and bass flies, his specialty is spoonflies, and big fish patterns like his Tahlequah Tiger and Mardi Gras Crab.

Event of the Year

Pat Cohen of Cobblestone, New York, one of the world's top fly tiers, was featured at the Contraband Fly Fishing Expo in July.
Pat Cohen of Cobblestone, New York, one of the world’s top fly tiers, was featured at the Contraband Fly Fishing Expo in July.

The Contraband Fly Casters once again held their “Contraband Fly Fishing Expo,” but at a new venue and with a different format.

Held at the Isle of Capri Casino in Westlake, it featured world-renowned fly tier Pat Cohen. Several top fly casting instructors and fly tiers from across the South gave demonstrations. Combine that with a solid number of vendors, and everyone agreed this expo was “Best of show.”

What’s happening?

January kicks off the start of monthly meetings for Louisiana fly fishing clubs.  Unless otherwise noted, all are open to the public.

  • Acadiana Fly Rodders, first Tuesday of each month, 6:30 p.m., Grace Presbyterian Center, Lafayette. Website: www.acadianaflyrodders.net
  • Contraband Fly Casters, third Tuesday of each month, 6 p.m., St. Paul Community Center, Lake Charles. St Paul Lutheran Community Center, Lake Charles. Website: www.contrabandflycasters.net.
  • Kisatchie Fly Fishers, fourth Monday of each month, 6:30 p.m., Rapides Westside Library, Alexandria. Website: www.kisatchiefly.org
  • New Orleans Fly Fishers, last Thursday of each month, 7 pm, Lakeshore Marina and Fuel, 7840 Lakeshore Dr, New Orleans. Website: www.neworleansflyfishers.com.
  • North Louisiana Fly Fishers, second Tuesday of each month, 6:30 p.m., Red River Wildlife Refuge, Bossier City. Website: www.northlaflyfishers.org.
  • Pontchartrain Basin Fly Fishers, 1st Wednesday of each month, 6 p.m., Abita Brew Pub, Abita Springs.  Website: pbasinflyfishers.blogspot.com
  • Red Stick Fly Fishers, second Monday of each month, 7 p.m., Wildlife and Fisheries building, Baton Rouge. Website: www.rsff.org.
Catch Cormier
About Catch Cormier 274 Articles
Glen ‘Catch’ Cormier has pursued fish on the fly for 30 years. A certified casting instructor and renowned fly tier, he and his family live in Baton Rouge.