The soldier and the two that got away

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As an enlisted nurse assigned to the Army’s 31st Combat Support Hospital, currently stationed in Iraq, Specialist Kevin Cormier loves to talk fishing with many of his patients. Nothing like stories of big ones that got away to soothe the mind of a wounded soldier or civilian.

After his recent leave back home, my older son now has a new tale in his repertoire.

For our service men and women in Iraq, the closest there is to piscatorial pursuits are the famous “Lakes of Saddam,” built by the former dictator for his own personal pleasure. Beware any who trespassed — for some the punishment was beheading.

Kevin tells of one Iraqi he treated who had been arrested and beaten. He had permission to fish one of the ponds, but violated the restrictions on tackle.

Fortunately, in a liberated Iraq, citizens and servicemen are free to use whatever tackle they want, including fly rod. Although scarce, some Iraqis have acquired tackle, and are making a tidy profit by lending it to Americans.

Most of the reels leave much to be desired. The same can be said of the native species.

“Built like a redfish, but with skin like a catfish” is how Kevin describes them. Despite their size, they simply don’t fight like a red, no way.

So on the top of Kevin’s list of priorities during his period back home was a trip for big reds.

Little did we realize that he’d get more than he asked for.

Things started off bad, and got worse. First, my boat had to remain in the shop for another week. Then came Tropical Storm Matthew. After Matthew passed, word was that my favorite section of marsh near Leeville was devoid of fish.

We then booked a trip to Venice, based on a forecast for light seas. Two days before the trip, the forecast went to hell. A front was to bring winds 25 and gusty starting the next night and persisting to the date of Kevin’s departure.

We canceled out, and took the only course of action available. At the 11th hour — literally 11 p.m. — we mounted the canoe and loaded the Jeep with tackle, and headed to the coast. I couldn’t promise much in terms of fish, only one good, calm day on the water.

Much to my chagrin, the word on Leeville was right. We spent the first hour searching for reds or drum, and saw very few in an area normally thick with these critters.

Finally, one lonesome red showed us his back. I paddled Kevin to the right spot, and he cast his popper ahead of the fish’s trajectory. The 22-inch red satisfied Kevin’s thirst for a line-stripping battle on fly rod.

Given up on reds, we were now chasing speckled trout, and much to my surprise, we found them just about everywhere.

Unlike Saddam’s law, my boat allows all tackle, including the commie variety.

Kevin would switch back and forth between fly and casting rods. But the setups were quite similar.

On the commie rod, he had a sparkle beetle under a popping cork. On the fly rod, he had a sparkle Clouser under a vosi.

For those new to this column, the vosi is a fly rodder’s popping cork, made by cutting a small styrofoam perch float in half, then drilling out a concave face in the flat (wide) end. The sparkle Clouser is a version of the Bob Clouser minnow pattern, except that it’s tied with sparkle hair, or similar material. The sheen on this fly on sunny days gives it a more natural resemblence to storm minnows.

By mid-afternoon, we headed back in. We had put 31 specks up to 17 inches, and 20 white trout, all 10 to 13 inches, in the box, and had released dozens more. The battle between commie tackle and fly tackle was ruled a draw, as both proved equally successful.

Only one red had been landed. However, it wasn’t the only one hooked. This is where the plot thickens!

About 10 a.m., Kevin was fishing with his casting outfit near an island off a small lake. The cork went under, he struck back, and there was this huge explosion of water. I yelled, “Oh great, you’ve hooked a porpoise.”

At that point the Spottail Elvis busted the surface, and my jaw fell out.

Bull reds in the marsh are not uncommon. In fact, some of the fly-fishing guides in the Biloxi Marsh, Hopedale and Buras areas occasionally put clients on fish up to 30 pounds.

It just happens to be very rare in this neck of the marsh. The size of this red appeared to be well over 30 pounds. We’ll never know for sure, because as he rocketed off, line and fish parted ways.

Some four hours later, Kevin was still upset over the loss of that fish despite the fact he was hooking up solid on white trout nearly every cast.

On one cast, the cork went under as usual, but this time the line started singing off his reel. We remained anchored for awhile, but as the line evaporated off the spool, we had no recourse but to pull up and chase the fish. As I paddled after it, he kept tightening the drag.

At a point, Kevin turned to me and said, “Dad, you can stop paddling.”

Trouble is, I wasn’t paddling. The fish was now pulling the canoe down the bayou. A dozen minutes later, as he got the fish near the surface, the hook pulled out. A 2/0 stainless hook completely straightened!

It was either a monster red or drum, but based on previous experience, our guess was “poisson rouge.”

On the drive home, I teased Kevin by telling him, “If you’d been using the fly rod, you might’ve landed those fish.”

Kevin, with a most serious expression on his face, gave his reply.

“Dad, if we’d had a forklift on this canoe, we might’ve landed those fish.”

About Catch Cormier 275 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.