Like many Northerners in the middle of winter, images of sunny days, flip-flops, lighter beers, and warmer climes have been haunting me lately. That’s not to say that I don’t love our Buffalo, NY winters and the excellent fishing and other outdoor activities that accompany the season around here – I do – very much so. But sometimes, the shorter days and lack of sunlight can wear me down leaving me contemplating a quick escape. So…I acted on my urges.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is a personal goal of mine to catch a fish on the fly in all 50 states before I turn 50. In order to meet that goal, I have to average two states per year for the next 12 years. That’s not too tough but spreading the trips out to make them affordable and accommodating to the schedule of a guy with a family and guide service is the challenge. I was sitting around one cold eve, IPA in hand, when I saw a video called 29 Degrees NOLA. It consisted of over ten minutes of high quality fish porn featuring big bull redfish slamming top water flies. I looked over at my wife and said something like, “I haven’t chalked Louisiana yet, my love. Wanna do a trip?”
I purchased plane tickets, booked the guide featured in the video, made the hotel reservations, etc. Shortly after making these arrangements, I found myself trolling Instagram where I noticed that some of the guides in South Florida had been catching some really nice peacock bass lately. My buddy Tony Lohr, of 85th Day Angling, had never caught a peacock bass so I asked him if he was down for a trip. Since he’s been suffering from the shack nasties lately as well, it didn’t take much convincing.
I adjusted my itinerary to go to South Florida for a couple days following my NOLA trip. What’s crazy about that was that it was actually cheaper for me to fly home through Fort Lauderdale vice leaving directly from NOLA – kinda ridiculous. That’s how the Winter Vacation itinerary came about – two spontaneous decisions that would involve 2 states and a multitude of species. Fingers crossed, it was all going to work out.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans in mind – mainly to test my resolve. When we arrived in NOLA, we were greeted with a 20-degree drop in temperatures, cloudy skies, and 15 MPH winds – none of which were forecasted to let up while we were there. Definitely not ideal for the sight fishing game.
Needless to say, we skunked. That happens sometimes – and that’s cool with me. When you fish long enough, you know the occasional skunking is inevitable – it keeps you humble, makes you step up your game, and brings you one day closer to that epic outing. If you keep your mind right, you should be having a good time regardless of how many fish you catch. A quality guide will ensure that happens and Capt. Brandon Keck didn’t disappoint. We had fun talking about the business and getting started while we raged around the NOLA flats seeking cover from the wind, clear water, and a break in the clouds – we didn’t find it.
He had a good backup plan that at least allowed me to sight fish – NOLA canal carping. It was tough business compared to our carp fishery here in WNY but we were successful. Brandon’s knowledge of the area’s eateries also provided us with numerous options for regional food. He made a few suggestions and we took his advice – IT WAS INCREDIBLE! Alligator cheesecake, crawfish, shrimp poboys, beer – I gained 5 lbs.
It was a great little trip but that was only the first half. I bid farewell to my wife at the NOLA airport and had my fingers crossed that the SFL forecast that I kept checking every hour would turn out better that projected. It did not. The same front that pushed across NOLA met us in SFL – wind, cold, and rain. Good times.
Luckily, that nastiness passed and the skies cleared up for us the following day but the cold wx did some damage. It was a struggle to find fish at first but we eventually got into some nice peacocks. Our guide, Capt Scott Rose, had a strong knowledge of the area so once we found the pattern we were on them (quick side note – Scott, Tony, and I all graduated from Sweetwater Travel Guide School. Three guides, from three different states, randomly came together – cool stuff). We pulled off into a random little lake where we saw some tailing carp. I site casted to one that looked more like a dinosaur. Easily over 30 lbs. See the video here (go to the 7 minute mark for the carp action).
The following day we hit the Everglades. What an amazingly diverse place – the birds, the terrain, the gators, and the fish. An incredibly beautiful location to wet a line. We connected to peacocks, largemouth bass, bowfin, cichlids, and gar – it was insane! Scott kept us connected all day and we had a blast.
What a winter break! I met some great guides who I will stay in touch with and I hatched some ideas for a future episode of Rediscover Your Region. Now – back to steelies! See you on the water.
Check out Capt Brandon Keck here:
Check out Capt Scott Rose here: