Guest post by Conway Bowman, the new host of Fly Fishing the World. Check out Conway Wednesdays at 3 am, Fridays at 9 am and Saturdays, during Strike & Set Saturdays, at 7:30 pm ET.
The night before I was to make my first trip to Mammoth Mountain (40 inches of fresh powder!), I received a call from Capt. Gregg Arnold. Gregg told me the big reds were in and if I wanted a shot at a real “slug,” I should get down to the Big Easy right away. He said it was only a matter of time before these monsters would head for deeper water and I would have to wait another long year to have a go at them. What a dilemma: snowboarding in fresh “powder” or chase giant redfish in the Biloxi marsh? At that point I realized I enjoy a very privileged life and quickly opted for the latter.
The Biloxi marsh is a vast mind-blowing wetland that careens for miles out to the Gulf of Mexico. The bird life alone will keep you in awe. This complicated waterway is not for sissies or the inexperienced. A wrong turn down one of hundreds of misleading channels could end an angler’s fun, losing his or her way for days, perhaps even weeks, stranded in a wetland maze with no help for miles.
The first three days of fishing were outstanding! Our fourth and final day was planned as a half-day since I needed to hop a plane back to San Diego that afternoon. The weather was perfect: no wind, partly cloudy skies and warmer than the previous three days.
After a 50-minute boat ride we both took our places, Gregg on his platform and I on the casting deck. Panning the horizon as far as I could see, I could not believe my eyes: huge redfish standing tails straight out of the water, as if doing some weird head dance, wiggling and lazily flopping over, as they gorged themselves on crabs.
I spotted a pod of redfish off the port moving from 11 o’clock to 9 o’clock. Cautiously moving within casting range, my fly rod at the ready, Gregg whispered, “Conway! Redfish 120 feet, one o’clock.”
I panned to my right and there she was. A single redfish. A very large redfish, cruising swiftly, leaving a wake in her path. I made three casts. The first was perfect; but the giant red changed directions. The second cast, though good, failed to get a reaction as she passed right over it. Finally, I placed my third cast four feet in front of the fish. She moved into the fly. I stripped, letting the fly settle. The fish passed over the fly once again. In an act of desperation, I made a “long” strip to get the fly in front of her again. The fish saw the fly, turned, stopped, went up on her head, opened her mouth, tail out of the water. I watched, amazed, as my little purple and gold fly was inhaled, leaving just a cloud of mud and a giant redfish on the end of my line!
The fish, once hooked, rocketed to the stern of the skiff, at which point I thought I was going to lose her in the trim tabs. I quickly made my way to the skiff’s stern, passing my rod over the top of Capt. Gregg.
The fish made two incredible runs of about 150-yards each. The fight lasted 25 minutes. When I finally got the fish to the boat, I got nervous. I thought I would lose her trying to get her onboard. Gregg, however, made a quick swipe with his boga grip and we were hoisting the giant red on the platform within seconds. We read the boga scale – 44 pounds!!! Gregg yelled that I just set a new redfish world record!
Returning to the landing, we docked and made our way, redfish in tow, to a local market with a certified scale. Though the weight is pending still by the IGFA, the fish weighted out at a whopping 41.65 lbs.
My travels back home were quick, but gave me time to think about the past four days. The fishing, the company and most of all, that amazing redfish. I had an unsettling feeling about keeping that wonderful fish for the sake of the record books; however, what was done was done. Needing to make my peace with this “fish of a lifetime,” I parked my truck along the coastline, took the fly that had seduced her and tossed it into the surf.
For some reason it made me feel better.