My good friend, former partner, and nouveau fly fisherman Ross Taylor quite thoughtfully invited me on a late afternoon fly fishing trip into the Area 51 of redfishing recently. He has obtained top secret clearance to fish there by turning a previous fly fishing wilderness into a classified center for redfish research and development. No one knows about it yet, its existence shielded from not only long rodders, but the bobber and bait crowd as well. It is a study in contrasts, as it is hidden in plain sight, not unlike the fact that Area 51 lies nearby the outlandish flamboyance of Las Vegas. I must admit that I myself am somewhat surprised that I had heretofore not noted it in the daily satellite pass photographs I utilize in an unendng search for untapped redfish flats, each carefully scrutinized for tell-tail signs such as copper reflections from redfish tails exposed to the summer sun, or the black targets painted on the after sections. These are designed as stealth eyes to allow the fish to feint right, but instead roll left. The fish appear to have gone about their piscine business here, undetected and unmolested for some time now at this hidden yet accessible spot. They remain, at least to this point, happy fish, a pure delight to the fisherman, particularly those choosing to throw feathers and tinsel at these marvellous creatures.
We made out initial approach to the Red Zone, dropping anchor in a tide safe spot perhaps 25 yards from the beach. Like invading Marines, we jumped overboard, our weapons and gear held high overhead as we waded to the beach. Fortunately for us, we were met with no resistance from our foes and established an uncontested beachhead. What followed was a march of some quarter mile to the combat zone. We walked along a barrier separating open water from the constricted and tidal backwaters that make up the secret redfish area 51. As we marched, we did a little reconnaissance of the area and noted redfish fins, backs, and a few tails protruding above the clear water. They lay just beyond our weapon’s range, particularly since they were positioned upwind of our position. We made the tactical decision to delay deploying our weapons until we saw the blacks of their “eyes”.
A bit more walking brought us to the point of descending into the field of battle. At first, we remained together, four eyes being superior to two for spotting these coppery creatures. And spot them we did. Although the numbers were not spectacular, the individual fish were. These were all large fish, appearing to be 24 inches and up. They were happily feeding and seemed oblivious to our presence. It is always thrilling to see these fish , their reddish bodies exposed to air as they seek sustenance off the benthos. I wonder occasionally if they ever get sunburned. Perhaps the Creator endowed them with natural built-in sunblock. It is an almost surreal sight.
We readied our offerings, mine a Frankenstien like cross between a crab imitation and that of a shrimp, admixed into a totally unnatural combination of rug yarn, gold mylar strips, and rubber bands. I soon learned that the redfish apparently found it unnatural, as well as unappealing. Each cast was met by an immediate refusal. Eventually, I realized that, despite the fact that I have enjoyed considerable success using this particular fly on redfish elsewhere, that THIS was Redfish Area 51. These reds were all about stealth, and not easily fooled. I switched flies and attached a stealthy shrimp imitation. This fly was quite lifelike, and has a proven track record in the marshes of Louisiana, where the almost grotesquely large redfish are all over it, like rolling a wine bottle into a jail cell.
Well, these highly trained reds obviously had engaged their detection devices. Fighter pilots have available on their instrument panels a device known as an IFF- Identification Friend or Foe to determine if aircraft beyond visual range are friendly or enemies. I am beginning to think that some ichthyologist discovered this system originally in redfish and adapted for use in fighter planes. They remained totally nonplussed by my presentations the entire afternoon.
Ross and I by now split up to cover more ground and, in theory, to find more fish. We were met with disappointment, as no more fish were to be seen. Ross thinks they settled into the deeper channels in search of cooler water and more baitfish. Personally, I think they simply switched on their cloaking devices.
After standing around for another hour and a half, making practice casts intermittently to pretend I was seeing fish, I glanced down the flat to see Ross doing the same. The time had come for surrender. I turned toward my friend and slowly made my way to his position. Once there, I inquired about his experience. Sadly, his mirrored mine. We had fought the good fight, but had been defeated by superior technology. We made the return trip to the boat.
As we walked, we saw a few folks occupying the barrier, casting repeatedly into the open area. I saw no hookups. Peering into the darker waters there, I saw no fish. This was very low tech fishing, casting cut bait into the dark waters and waiting. I admired the fishermen’s tenacity, but wondered if they realized that 180 degrees to their position were tailing redfish of considerable size. Neither Ross nor I made mention of this fact to them.
Instead, we trundled on to the boat, but this time attacking in reverse as we again carried our ger high, remounted the boat, and set sail for homeport.