Fly Guys

Louisiana has world-class fly fishing that is so good, veteran anglers move here to be close to the action.

The last time Louisiana saw so many outsiders moving in to the state to take advantage of an opportunity was after the Civil War when carpetbaggers headed south looking to take advantage of the economic and political situation. Those folks weren’t thought very highly of, and many Louisianaians wished they would return from whence they came.There’s a new kind of invasion taking place in the Bayou State today. A small army of people from places like North Carolina, Wyoming and California has almost imperceptibly moved in next-door with their fishing gear held close to their vests.

You might have seen a couple of them the last time you were out on the water. From a distance, they were the ones that looked like they were swatting a never-ending swarm of sand flies. If you got close enough to actually see what was going on, you quickly realized they weren’t swatting flies. Rather, they were casting them.

If you think somebody fly fishing in the marsh sounds a little odd, you’re not alone. For some reason that Uptown Angler manager Alec Griffin can’t explain, the few Louisiana anglers who have learned to fly fish often travel far away to practice their passion.

“I have a healthy population of fly-fishing clientele at the store who travel outside the state to fly fish,” said Griffin, “when, in fact, we have a world-class fly-fishing destination right in our backyard. It’s caught some media attention the last couple of years in the national fly-fishing publications and on some television shows, but Louisiana fly fishers are still driving somewhere else to fish.”

Griffin, who moved to Louisiana from North Carolina by way of Jackson Hole, Wy., is but one of several non-native Louisianians who are taking it as a personal challenge to get more folks around here interested in fly fishing.

Some of the others include Rich Waldner, a fly-fishing guide based in Port Sulphur who is originally from California, Chas Marsh, a Dallas-born fly-fishing guide who has fished all over the world, and Jay Clark, a world-class fly caster who moved to Louisiana from California.

Add to this list some world-famous fly anglers like Flip Pallot who are beginning to take note of what Louisiana has to offer, and you have an eclectic collection of fly anglers who aren’t blinded by a bunch of bayou bull and who aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Griffin, the unofficial leader of the Louisiana fly-fishing fraternity, has taken on the goal of putting Louisiana on the map as a fly-fishing destination mentionable in the same breath as Jackson Hole. He came down to Louisiana six years ago, and was fortunate enough to sample the fly-fishing on his second day in the state.

“Once I got in the marsh and chased those redfish with a fly rod, I knew then and there that I was never leaving this place,” he said. “I had been working in fly fishing for a few years at that point, and I realized that Louisiana was my new home. I couldn’t believe the quality of the fishery combined with the lack of people on the water. The lack of people who know what we have here amazes me. Honestly, I think more people outside Louisiana see what we have here as a true treasure than those who live here.”

The old saying that familiarity breeds contempt might not be the perfect cliche’ to explain the situation because you couldn’t find one angler in Louisiana who has disdain for his favorite fishing hole. Perhaps familiarity breeds indifference might be a little better.

If this great fishing is all you know it’s hard to understand why somebody from out of state makes such a big deal about it.

Why fly fishing, though? Why don’t these anglers just grab a spinning or baitcasting rod and join the crowd. If we’re tossing sayings around, isn’t there one that begins with “When in Rome…?”

“In my opinion, besides being fun, a fly rod can be the most effective tool when you’re targeting a redfish working down a bank in 12 inches of water,” said Griffin. “If you’re behind that fish with a spinning rod, what do you have to do? You’ve got to reel in and make another cast. With a fly rod, you can pick up that fly and put it right back down. In a matter of seconds, you can have multiple shots on that fish without spooking it.”

The very thought of picking up a fly and putting it down one time might sound a little intimidating to some anglers, much less the thought of picking it up and putting it down multiple times. However, Jay Clark, a world-class fly caster from San Francisco who now calls Louisiana home, teaches people how to fly fish, and he said it’s not as hard as it seems.

“I help run a fly fishing school in Breaux Bridge with Keith Richard, and we offer two or three sessions a year depending on demand,” Clark said. “Once I sampled the great fly fishing south of Houma, I knew I just had to do what I could to introduce more people to this sport.”

The Camp Fly Fishing School offers want-to-be fly anglers all the knowledge they need to be able to go out and target reds on their own. The classes are two full days of beginning to intermediate instruction, and include everything from fly casting, knots, fly tying to learning how to read water.

“I guess I just want people to realize that fly fishing isn’t just for trout,” Clark said. “This is the best fly fishing I’ve ever experienced. The more people have been exposed to it in recent years, the more our enrollment numbers have increased. The demand is definitely growing.”

Clark’s potential students need to realize they won’t be receiving fly-fishing lessons from some scrub who just picked up a fly rod. Clark competes in the American Casting Association, and he has been to several national championships.

He also competes in the International Casting Association, and is a member of the U.S. National Casting Team. Just last year, he placed third in the Emerald World Masters in Ireland.

Unlike duck-calling competitions, Clark says the skills he has learned through casting competitions transfer to fishing.

“It’s similar to what you do on the water,” he said. “Competition teaches the foundations of line control that extend to fly fishing. One of the most effective competition techniques that I apply when fishing is to form a narrow loop to penetrate the wind — that’s important when fishing down here in open water.”

Griffin also offers personal instruction at Uptown Angler. One of the best things for interested anglers to do is get that personal attention, and people like Clark and Griffin are glad to assist.

“I may be biased,” Griffin said, “but I think small business is good business. You get a lot of personal attention, which is going to lead to getting set up with the right gear and instruction on how to use it properly. Some around here seem to think that fly fishing is akin to rocket science, or that it’s a craft that takes years to perfect. Well, it’s not. Give me an hour, and I’ll have you fly-casting.”

One of the most important components of learning any new skill is having an experienced person model the skill. Teachers do it. Coaches do it. Fishing guides do it. And making a trip with an experienced fly fishing guide will shave lots of time off the learning curve.

Louisiana Sportsman readers were introduced to one such guide last month. Chas Marsh found his way to coastal Louisiana after a venerable world-tour of some of the best fly-fishing destinations in the world. As evidence of quality of fishing in Louisiana, he chose to settle here — at least for most of the year. He spends his summers back at Jackson Hole, where he first got started fly-fishing.

“The first time I tried it, I committed myself to figuring out how to get myself a boat and my captains license,” Marsh said. “I also committed myself to spending time out here learning the water. The numbers and size of the fish blew me away, but the aggressiveness of the fish is what made me fall in love with Louisiana.”

According to Marsh, demand is as high for guided fly-fishing trips as it has ever been in the five years he’s been down here. He gets bookings through Uptown Angler, but he says the response he gets after an outdoor story is what really jazzes him up because he knows people are reading about fly fishing and are getting excited about it.

Waldner has been excited about saltwater fly-fishing in Louisiana for 12 years. He began his guide service, Fish With Rich, after he retired from the Marine Corps. Waldner was stationed down here in 1978, and he caught his first redfish with the Westwego Bass Club down in Venice.

Originally from California, Waldner promised himself that he would return to Louisiana when he retired, and start guiding for what was considered more of a trash fish back in ’78.

“Man, I love those trash fish,” he said with a grin.

While becoming a popular fly-fishing guide out of Port Sulphur, Waldner carved his niche in the Louisiana fly-fishing world as an expert fly tier. His creations have become just as popular as his charter operation, and his claim to fame is a remake of the spoon fly from Florida.

“Reds love these things,” Waldner said. “It vibrates in the water like a Johnson spoon, and I’ve watched several hundred redfish grab it. They accelerate on the spoon fly faster than they do a crab or Clouser minnow. I think they think it’s getting away from them.”

Waldner remodeled the spoon fly by changing the stainless wire frame to copper because it holds its form better and doesn’t crack as badly. The spoon part of the fly is made from epoxy, and Waldner also added a little spur on the inside of the wire for support. The epoxy is full of simple craft-store glitter that makes them flash like Bourbon Street after the sun goes down.

The beauty of the spoon, other than the obvious, is that it sinks at a rate of one foot per second. That means you can get it in front of a fish without having to wait for it to sink. A couple strips of line, and you’ll be as hooked as the fish.

“I think one of the great things about tying your own flies is the satisfaction you get from catching a fish on your own creation,” Waldner added. “I get lots of people in my boat who want to throw their own stuff, and that’s great. If it quits working or never started working, though, I tell them to tie on something that works, and there’s nothing that works better than that epoxy spoon.”

While all these fly guys have given up their lives in other states to embrace the Louisiana culture and put just a little bit of their own stamp on it, other anglers are going to come here to fish then go back home — always while making plans to return.

One such angler is Flip Pallot, host of The Walker’s Cay Chronicles on ESPN and Fishing The Keys on VS. He holds some very valid beliefs as to why the sport of fly fishing is taking off, not only in Louisiana but everywhere he visits.

“Overall, fly fishing is growing,” Pallot said. “It’s beginning to come of interest to ladies and kids. And it’s the first time in the history of the sport that heads of households have had the leisure time and disposable income to include families in fly-fishing. When I was growing up, my dad was just coming back from a war, and he didn’t have time to do anything but provide. The chance to fly fish with my father never came about.”

While some might claim fly-fishing to be a snob sport or an elitist activity, Pallot doesn’t believe it to be so. At one time, it was pretty much exclusive to sweet-water streams in the Rockies and in the Northeast for trout. It was just starting to make its way into the saltwater world when Pallot was young.

“What’s happening is the same thing that happened with skiing in the United States,” Pallot said. “It wasn’t done in this country until it came from Europe. As it became popular, kids started doing it, and that’s when it really exploded. The level of skiing expertise was eventually elevated because these kids had grown up doing it.

“They developed their skills at a younger age, and they practiced them a long time. What’s happening in fly-fishing is that younger people are developing their skills at a younger age, and they’re taking the time to perfect them. That’s what makes something grow by leaps and bounds.”

The allure of fly-fishing to anglers who don’t want to spend a ton of money is also helping it grow in Louisiana. While there are boats to fit any taste on the market, Pallot said he began fly-fishing on an air mattress that he would paddle out to his favorite flat, then get off and wade around.

“You’ve also got to remember that there are miles and miles of sweet-water streams here in Louisiana that offer the opportunity for more people to get involved with fly fishing,” Pallot added.

“You don’t have to be one of the saltwater fly guys to get involved. You can target bass and panfish right around where you live with a fly rod. That coupled with the saltwater and the offshore fly fishing opportunities is making Louisiana one of the great fly-fishing destinations in the world.”

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About Chris Ginn 778 Articles
Chris Ginn has been covering hunting and fishing in Louisiana since 1998. He lives with his wife Jennifer and children Matthew and Rebecca along the Bogue Chitto River in rural Washington Parish. His blog can be found at chrisginn.com.

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