Redfish on Bull Minners

An angler looking for a new thrill can find it waving a long rod in the Lake Mechant marshes.

A pre-sunrise sheen flowed across the water like a micron-thin coating of mercury, mirroring scattered clouds cruising above the calm waters of Bayou Long.

The water was so still that even the tiniest baitfish created enough surface disturbance to attract instant attention from keen eyes peering out from under an angler’s long-billed cap. Polarized sunglasses shielded the angler’s vision, cutting through the steely glare and scanning for signs of redfish from high atop a poling platform the way an osprey watches for the makings of a mullet breakfast.

“Look, there’s a tail showing on the edge of that flat,” said Marty Authement. “Let’s sneak in close enough and try to make a cast.”
While many anglers catch red drum at Lake Mechant and other nearby bayous and marshes, Authement stands out in his preference for the ultimate shallow-water fishing challenge — landing the powerful fish with wispy fly tackle.

While he fishes with spinning gear if the wind is too strong or the water too cloudy for sight-fishing, he has an undeniable infatuation with waving a long wand across the tops of the needle rushes in his quest for trophy reds.

En route to the tailing redfish, several others bulled away as they sensed the boat. Usually very aggressive feeders, these reds were being persnickety.

Instead of cruising the edges, feeding on minnows and crustaceans, most of the fish were resting on the bottom in the center of the channel in the “deeper” water. In redfish territories, the definition of “deeper” means about 2 feet.

“They’re always like this when the wind’s up and the water’s muddy,” Authement said. “They can’t breathe in the mud, so they rest. It’s like a person trying to run with their lungs filled with smoke or dust.

“But if you spot them lying there before they spot your shadow or sense the approaching boat, you still have a shot at catching them.”

Authement poled the boat with a very slight breeze rippling the shirt glued with sweat against his backbone. In spring, the wind rises with the sun, and it helped him close the distance to the tailing redfish, inch by inch. Sometimes the redfish’s entire back showed as he rooted along the bottom.

But Authement made an errant cast, landed the fly line too close and the fish exploded to safety, bumping along the bottom of the boat hull in his haste to escape.

“That’s the way it can be when there’s a wind off the Gulf, and it’s been windy for the entire past week,” he said. “But when you get clear water, it’s amazing how the fish turn on. It’s not unusual to catch redfish numbering into the double digits in a single day.

“Cast to a fish, he takes the fly and it’s on. Line the fish and he doesn’t care.”

Authement has always lived in Houma and fished since he could hold a rod. But five years ago, he decided to try a new fishing twist.

“I learned to fly fish from a Montana fly fisherman named Ken Deats,” he said. “I loved fishing for rainbow and brown trout so much I decided to try fly-fishing for redfish.

“Now I guide with our mutual friend, Pat McFall, for trout in Montana when it turns too hot for catching redfish in Louisiana. Lots of my clients catch one type of fish then come to the other state to try the other. You can use the same fly rods to catch trout and redfish.”

One Montana admirer acknowledged Authement’s passion for fly-fishing by nicknaming him “Montajun.”

Half of his heart maneuvers a drift boat along a Montana trout stream and the other half poles a 19-foot Bay Seeker flat-bottomed fiberglass boat through the bayous of Cajun Country.

Authement became so immersed in the sport of fishing he now builds custom rods and ties his own flies, which he uses or sells to his clients.

“Anything you do that puts you on a more personal level with the fish increases your sense of accomplishment when you land one,” he said. “It’s great to hold a custom rod with your name on it.

“The act of casting a fly to a fish is something that should be celebrated. Trying to catch a fish is an act of faith, and a custom rod increases your confidence.”

Authement’s clients run the spectrum of experience, ranging from world-class experts to first-time novices. After having a new client make a few casts, he analyzes how closely he must approach a redfish.

“If you can cast 30 feet, I can get you close enough to catch a redfish,” he said. “But you have to get in your practice sessions before you come fishing.

“I once had had a client show up with a new fly rod and ask me how to use it. I had told him to practice before he came, but apparently he didn’t have the time. It’s the only time I’ve ever been skunked. I showed him plenty of fish, but he couldn’t make the necessary casts.”

Authement uses an 8-weight rod and reel with a floating line. His leader consists of 30 inches of 50-pound mono, 20 inches of 40-pound mono and 10 inches of 30-pound mono. He uses a loop-to-loop connection to a 14-pound tippet so he can quickly replace it once it becomes worn or shortened from changing flies. He ties the fly to the tippet with a loop knot because it allows the fly freer movement and gives it better action than a knot that cinches tightly to the hook eye.

“I like a Clouser or a spoon fly,” he said. “The gold spoon fly is great when the water is muddy because it rotates, disturbing the water like a fluttering baitfish so the fish can detect it with his lateral line.

“My favorite Clouser patterns are a crab pattern and a pattern called the Bull Minner that Joe Bruce of Maryland showed me how to tie. He is a phenomenal angler and has written several fly-fishing books.

“Another pattern is the Swamp Dog, a variation of a fly used in Florida. I use it to tease lethargic fish. If you spot them, you cast the fly in front of them, and the paired hen feathers look like the upraised claws of a crab.”

Besides redfish, Authement catches speckled trout, flounder, black drum and sheepshead. His redfish to black drum ratio is about 3 to 1.

“A lot of people don’t have respect for black drum until they hook one on a fly,” he said. “They pull as hard as redfish when hooked on fly tackle, and they are better eating.”

In spring, Authement starts fishing early because the wind picks up as the morning progresses, eventually blowing hard around midday. The wind makes poling difficult, muddies the water and shuts down the bite. It also increases the difficulty of spotting the fish, and can render fly-fishing a futile fishing method.

“When the wind blows hard, I use a trolling motor instead of a pole,” he said. “But when the propeller bumps bottom, it alarms fish, and all you see is their wakes.

“On the good side, the wind keeps off the gnats, so it’s a double-edged sword. Multi-tasking has a unique meaning out here. You are trying to use the trolling motor while mending the line and swatting the gnats.”

Blind casting is a great way to locate fish when the water starts to ripple. Authement poles or motors along the upwind side of a pond so the cast can be made downwind.

“If you see a fish and have to cast into the wind, it helps to cast side-armed to keep the line as low as possible,” he said. “If you’re near the grass, it acts as a windbreak to give you more distance.

“When it’s windy, it also helps to make several casts to every point that has scattered grass. The fish rest in the grass and sun themselves. They run in pairs, but there can be up to a dozen fish on a point, so even if you move one fish out, it pays to keep working a point.”

Authement usually fishes out of Bayou Dularge. After launching, he travels the bayou to a pipeline canal that leads to Bay Long. After fishing the ponds there, he continues southward to Mud Lake. After fishing Mud Lake, he moves westward to Lake Mechant. The potential fishing spots are limitless.

“It’s huge marsh out there,” he said. “I don’t mind anyone knowing where I fish because there’s so much territory. There are redfish everywhere. It’s nothing to see 100 fish a day.”

When the fish at the Lake Mechant area are uncooperative, it is usually due to muddy water created by wind. At such times, his alternate area is Pointe-aux-Chenes.

“I launch at Isle de Jean Charles Marina because it’s close to my fishing area,” he said. “There’s a lot of good fishing around Lake Tambour. It’s the same type of fishing as Lake Mechant. But if it’s windy, the water there is usually more clear.”

Indeed, after a day’s fishing at Lake Mechant was poor, Authement’s trip the next morning to Lake Tambour paid off. Within a few minutes of arriving at his first fishing cove, he hooked three fish.

“When they bite, they bite and when they don’t they don’t,” he said. “If they’re finicky, you keep moving around until you find a feeding fish or group of fish that have found good feeding conditions. You need to know enough about the territory you’re fishing to know where the water may be more clear.”

When fighting a fish, Authement uses finger pressure against the line. Since most of the redfish he catches weigh between 2 and 12 pounds, he seldom uses the reel drag to tire them. He wears a Lycra sleeve on the middle finger of his reel hand to allow the line to slide smoothly as he strips line or allows a fish to run.

“You just buy Lycra material and sew it into a tube that slips over your finger,” he said. “It helps the line flow smoothly and protects your finger.”

Once Authement found the right conditions, the fish became cooperative, and red drum, black drum and flounder struck flies. Many of the fish were caught on spoon flies, which were easier for the fish to detect in the wind-rippled, dingy water. But day-in, day-out, the big producer is typically a Bull Minner.

“The fishing is best from fall into late winter,” he said. “But the fish never go anywhere, so they’re always biting when conditions are good.

“In March and early April, the wind always seems to be blowing, so at those times there will be stretches when it’s difficult to get the fish to bite.

“It picks up again in May and June then slows some during hot, calm days during July or August. The fish are still there. It’s just a few isolated days when they won’t bite.

“You can always see fish. But if they’re resting, they see you before you see them. A fish that was showing may all of a sudden stop moving because he has detected the boat or just shuts down by himself. It can drive you crazy and give you a case of ‘marsh madness.’

“But as long as you see fish, sooner or later you’ll be able to catch them.

“All you can do is show a fisherman the fish. After that it’s up to the fisherman to land a fly within 3 or 4 feet, and it’s up to the fish to bite the fly. I’ve seen them chase a fly from 20 feet away, and I’ve seen them turn away from one twitched in their face.”

A case of marsh madness is what brought about the name of Authement’s guide service. But while he will always call Houma home, he heads for Montana when home field conditions deteriorate rather than aggravate his condition.

“I like fishing in Montana when the water gets too hot in Louisiana for fishermen,” he said. “It’s more of a situation where it’s the anglers that can’t take the heat than there’s no fish to catch.

“But once the cool weather returns, I’ll always come home. I love the bayous because they’re home to the best fly-fishing for reds in the world.”

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