The gentle inshore breeze has been switching directions this morning, slowly sliding counterclockwise from southwest to almost purely south.
Even though we’ve already caught fish today, Chuck Naiser wants to keep the wind at our backs as much as possible, and so he’s moved us behind a shell island well into Mesquite Bay, north of Rockport. The sun is over my right shoulder, and the wind is right over my head.
Naiser swings the boat in toward shore, with the island to our right and sparkling clear water stretching out in front. About 200 yards offshore, where the vegetation plays out, there’s a widening strip of sandy-colored water where the wind is picking up sand off the bottom.
I’m scanning an arc to the front and sides of the boat, looking for redfish holding or feeding in the very shallow water. Naiser keeps watch farther out from his perch on the poling platform of the slender shallow-water craft from which we are fishing.
One small redfish glides over a sandy spot in the vegetation, shining like a new penny as the sun glints orange off its scales. Just as I point it out, Naiser raises the alarm from the back of the boat.
“OK, about 200 yards out, at 12 o’clock to the boat, there’s a school of redfish tailing out there,” he says. “Look for the red in the water. See the red?”
The fish are easy to spot in the shallow water, a mini strawberry patch of red drum drifting over the flat, looking for shrimp and glass minnows that scatter from the shadow cast by the school. We close the distance by half, and now I can see tails waving as the fish nose down into the bottom, sucking up whatever happens to move in front of them.
“Cast right into the middle of the school,” Naiser says, and I chide him about giving me orders. “You just pole the boat,” I say. “I’ll take care of the fish.”
Famous last words. I get excited and make a bad backcast and whack myself in the back with the Clouser fly. “Cast again, to the left,” Naiser says, unable to hold it back.
I get a cast kind of into the school and only make half a strip before a redfish slams the fly and takes off on a long run through the grass. The rest of the school is confused by his exit and is still milling around the boat when I get the fish headed back our way and toward the back of the boat.
“That’s No. 10 for redfish,” Naiser says. “That makes a pretty good day.”
And it doesn’t count the two speckled trout that grabbed the fly before other schooling reds could reach it. Or the two dozen-plus other fish that ignored the fly even when it was laid right before their noses as they moved off away from shore. Time and again, Naiser would say something like, “Good cast. If he doesn’t eat that, I don’t know what’s wrong.”
But then the fish would turn on the fly and begin a short burst of speed that would carry him right behind the fly, orange fins flashing in the sunlight. Over and over, that happened, and we came away with nothing.
“I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong,” I say at one point. “I keep showing them the fly, but they won’t eat it.”
“You’re not doing anything wrong. I can tell you,” Naiser says. “You know how you can tell?” he asks. “ ’Cause if you were doing something wrong, I’d be yelling at you to do it right.”
But then we get into the fish, so many it’s hard to even guess — there are some shorelines that hold hundreds of reds. In one spot, we have so many fish we can’t figure out which ones to cast to.
Naiser orders me to cast to a group of fish. “They’re out there about 80 yards at 11 o’clock,” he says.
I point my rod at the fish the way I’m supposed to, but that’s wrong, he tells me quickly.
“But I can see two schools of fish right in front of the boat,” I say, and he changes his mind. “Then those are the fish we’re going to catch,” Naiser says. And we do.
We close out the day at 1 p.m., with 10 redfish and two trout boated. It’s another sign of the fine health of the redfish population along the middle Texas coast.
“I think we have lots of redfish, and the water is in pretty good shape,” Naiser says.