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Buggy Whippin: Galveston sight casting with Capt. Clay Sheward

November 1st, 2019

buggs lure redfish sheward Buggy Whippin: Galveston sight casting with Capt. Clay Sheward

Capt. Clay Sheward holds up a nice marsh redfish with a double spot tail.

Story and photography by Brandon Rowan

THE WATER IS STILL AND SO AM I. The redfish swims along a flat, that is painted with a palette of green sea grass and dull colored sand, unaware of our presence. On the bow of Capt. Clay Sheward’s skiff, I feel more like a hunter in a tree rather than a fisherman. The rod in my hand is the bow and the arrow is a hair-tied Buggs jig at the end of my line.

Clay gives the word and I make a light cast behind and ahead of the red. We can see everything in the water on this calm October morning. I reel quickly to intercept the moving fish and begin jigging to tempt what I hope is a hungry fish. My heart starts beating faster as the redfish inches closer and closer to my offering. Time thickens and that half  moment seems to last an eternity before the fish inhales the Buggs lure.

BEGINNINGS

Clay Sheward, 37, was born and raised in Spring, Texas. His passion for fly fishing started very early in life.

“I’ve been fly fishing for a really long time, since 1992, when the movie A River Runs Through It came out,” Clay said. “I saw that movie with my dad and that Christmas, my family provided me a fly tying kit and a fly rod.”

This film, which won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1993, is set in early 20th century Montana and follows a pair of brothers and their love of fly fishing. Many scenes in this movie do an excellent job of capturing the camaraderie of fishing; the tense moments before the catch and the  euphoria after the fact.

Clay cut his teeth fly fishing on the local ponds and creeks near the Woodlands, but as he grew older his love of fly fishing carried him to new locations.

“Mostly, I went to the Guadalupe and the White River in Arkansas. Sometimes my family would travel to Colorado. I didn’t get to do it a whole bunch but I would practice casting in the yard to teacups. Of course, I grew up and girls came along, but I always tied flies. I still do it regularly,” Clay said.

sheward fly fishing Buggy Whippin: Galveston sight casting with Capt. Clay Sheward

OCEAN CALLING

Eight years ago, Clay’s focus shifted from freshwater to saltwater fly fishing. First from a kayak, then to an Ankona ShadowCast 18 which served him and his customers well for several years. But in 2019, Clay was searching for his perfect skiff and finally found it.

“I run a 2019 Chittum Skiffs Laguna Madre with a 50HP Tohatsu. I couldn’t be happier. The trailer is gorgeous and it is such a really nice rig. I can’t believe that I have one. It’s just unbelievable,” Clay said.

The Chittum has expanded Clay’s range and clients of Buggy Whippin Sight Fishing enjoy access to the skinniest of waters in our area.

STUDENT OF NATURE

Clay’s love and careful examination of nature has paid dividends on the flats, where subtle, easily overlooked signs can tip off the location of fish.

“I like to watch animals. It doesn’t matter if it’s just me chilling in the backyard watching birds or hawks, or even seeing my dogs’ ears perk up when they catch a scent and chase it down,” Clay said. “Sitting stream-side, watching a trout circle behind a rock and then leave during changing cloud cover and then come back to the same spot several times a day. Or watching a spider build a web completely from start to finish. That sort of thing.”

Clay recently purchased a drone to better observe wildlife in the marsh. This eye in the sky lends a totally different point of view compared to a poling skiff.

“I’ve seen some crazy things with trout and redfish schooling up on the flats with the drone,” Clay said. “I’ve seen schools of redfish following one big alligator gar. Whatever the gar did, the redfish did the same. I’ve seen bobcats back there in Green’s Lake, as well as pigs. It’s educational as hell.”

Brandon Rowan with one of many redfish caught sight casting with Capt. Sheward.

TIME RETURNS TO NORMAL and I quickly bring my first sight-casted redfish to hand. I get a “Nice Job” and a fist bump from Clay after the release. The day is early and we continue our hunt for redfish along the sandy flat.

Stingrays, so many stingrays, hover along eeriely as we the glide down the shoreline. Flounder scoot away in a trail of punctuated mud puffs and gnarled, large crabs plod on slowly. This is my first time on a poling skiff and it 100% reminds me of flounder gigging. You are able to witness the abundant life of the bay, visually scanning until your target is located and then a careful approach begins. Unlike the rapid fire retrieves of blind fan casting, you often only get a single shot, like a sniper, when sight casting to a redfish.

Further down the flat, we have no problem tracking down more reds on this absolutely gorgeous day. Bronze backs and tails flick along the shorelines and shell points. Some of these we catch, others refuse the lure or fly, and others spook and run.

It felt like an entire day’s worth of fishing has happened but in reality only two hours have passed. But the day is young. We make a change, push off the flats and head back into the deeper recesses of the marsh.

This redfish absolutely crushed a Buggs Jig.

BUGGY WHIPPIN

Clients of Capt. Clay Sheward can expect to fish the maze of marshes and flats on the north shoreline of West Bay and the surrounding areas. There are opportunities to wade or even fish from shore. His Chittum Laguna Madre skiff has everything the fly angler could want and accommodates two fisherman.

However, you don’t need to know how to fly fish to enjoy sight casting for redfish. Catching these fish on light spinning tackle is still a blast and provides ample challenge. You will be thoroughly tested on how accurately and quickly you can place a cast.

“Scratch them on the chin” is what Clay advises when casting to a hungry redfish. It’s hard for them to resist an easy meal in front of their noses. An alternative method is to cast beyond and ahead of a fish, making sure you intercept its path.

No matter your tackle, stealth and speed are essential for success. Casts must be made quickly but delicately, without excessive movement. Heavy steps, twisting hips or any careless motion can rock the skiff and alert fish to your presence.

Clay does not sugar coat it. If you are doing something wrong, he will absolutely let you know. But the best teachers rarely coddle. Those ready to learn and listen have a high probability for an epic day of redfishing with Captain Clay Sheward.

Capt. Clay Sheward poles his Chittum Skiffs Laguna Madre along the flats.

KEEPING IT FLY

As a fledgling fly fisherman, I was eager to pick Clay’s brain on advice for those new to the sport.

“First, remember ‘Tip down, strip tight and everything will be alright,’” Clay said. “Second, if you feel like you need to go faster and harder, you probably need to go slower and softer, especially with a fly rod.”

Must-have flies include the Kwan, Clouser, Gurgler, spoon fly and any shrimp imitation with a weed guard. If Clay could only have one it would be the Kwan. He also recommends tying a loop knot, with as small a loop as possible, for most flies. He is an avid user of 16 and 20 lb tippets for his clients when targeting redfish on the upper coast. He is also a firm believer in casting whichever rod you are going to buy.

“Cast it and get what feels good to you. Redfish don’t need expensive fly reels. It’s nice to have, but not needed for reds in our area,” Clay said. “Gordy and Sons is one of the nicest fly shops in Houston. They’re no joke and the people that work there are extremely knowledgeable fly anglers.”

Although Clay’s all-time favorite fishing location is the Black Hills of South Dakota, his favorite fish to catch on the fly is the tripletail.

Umpqua’s Kwan fly, tied with bead chain eyes.

“Getting them to eat is the best because they are so stingy man! It’s got to be a perfect presentation,” Clay said. “You can get really close to them though and that gets the nerves going. I think that’s my favorite right now, but chasing a redfish with its back out of the water, and poling up to them…hunting them, that’s always going to be for me.”

THE SUN IS OUT NOW and we find ourselves deep in the marsh, floating along a back creek that is absolutely full of redfish. We glide over schools of erratic, frenzied bait as multiple big redfish cruise down the shoreline, picking them off lazily, one by one.

Clay’s oversized redfish.

It’s been several hours since we left the dock and I’ve honed in on what’s needed to effectively spot and cast to fish, thanks to Clay’s instruction.

We absolutely tore it up on that little stretch of water. After each fish caught and released, we seemed to spot another one right away. Clay caught an absolute beauty of a fish that taped out barely over 28 inches; a heartbreaker of a fish if it was a tournament day.

My favorite catch of the day was an upper slot redfish that came on a second chance. We had a pair of fish swim across our path that ignored the first presentation. They picked up speed and starting swimming away, no longer in sight. I flung out a far cast, as delicately as I could, and started jigging back to where I thought they might be. I knew I got it right when my reel’s drag started screeching.  After a rigorous fight, I brought the bronzed backed, pumpkin eyed fish in for a quick photo and release.

It was early in the afternoon but we decided to end the day on high note. The Chittum snaked its way through the marsh lanes as we made the scenic trek back to the dock. I was definitely impressed with the way the boat handled.  It took on chop with no issue, didn’t slide around the corners and granted us access to areas other poling skiffs couldn’t reach that day.

I’ve caught my fair share of redfish and I’ve got to say this was the absolute, most exciting way to catch them. If you have a background in kayaking, gigging or hunting, and you haven’t sight casted to redfish, you are missing out I’d say.

Summer and fall are Clay Sheward’s favorite times to be on the water but winter does have its perks.

“The water is so clear in the winter and it’s so fun. You can see everything on the bottom when you’re poling. You can learn so much, it’s incredible.”

Book a trip with Capt. Clay Sheward by visting buggywhippin.com, emailing claysheward@gmail.com or calling/texting 281-745-1578. Rates for two people max are 4 hours at $450, 6 hours at $550 and 8 hours at $650. Check him out on Instagram and Facebook @BuggyWhippin

Check out the heart shaped spot on Clay’s redfish!

Catch and Release Tips

September 1st, 2019

souleredfish Catch and Release Tips

Steve Soule releases a slot redfish with care.

Caring for your catch: Handling fish and releasing properly

By Steve Soule | www.ultimatedetailingllc.com

There are probably not many people reading this article or others in this magazine that don’t have a great respect of fish, wildlife and the great outdoors in general. I know that over many years of fishing and spending time on and around coastal waters, my appreciation of the natural beauty and numerous species it supports has only grown greater.

With the vast majority of us spending too many days in offices, stuck on highways, and staring at small screens, time spent outdoors only grows more precious. It has always felt like time well spent, whether fishing for fun or for money as a tournament angler or guide. Understanding the value of the natural resources we have and consciously working to ensure that we can continue to enjoy it for many generations to come is of paramount importance.

CHANGING OF THE BAY

For those that are younger, newer to an area, or just haven’t spent as much time along the coastal waters, change definitely won’t be so noticeable. For those who have been on and around the coast for 10, 20 or 30 more years, change is striking and often disturbing. Coastal development, land erosion, dredge work and many other factors affect the bays and waterways. Some of these factors are just a part of nature and will happen regardless of human impact. Others are a direct effect of our desire to be on or near the water and the need for infrastructure and transportation in and around waterways. Those of us on the upper Texas Coast utilize and enjoy one of the most heavily populated and heavily trafficked bays in Texas.

Galveston Bay has an uncanny ability to withstand catastrophic events and rebound amazingly well. With near constant dredge work, endless barge and ship traffic, an enormous amount of recreational users, run-off water that none of us want to know the content of, and an occasional spill or collision leaking hazardous chemicals into the system, its truly miraculous how abundant this fishery remains. Wildlife in and around Galveston Bay seems to somehow pull through many challenges. The diversity of the system plays a huge role in this; three major Gulf inlets(for the moment), numerous rivers, creeks and bayous that empty into it and vast satellite nursery areas around the bay provide habitat. Given these facts, plus the sheer size of the bay, fish and other sea creatures seem to thrive on their ability to move around the bay system under varying conditions.

Fish and their food sources move around the bay every year, for the reasons listed above and many others. Couple this fact with the not-always-great water conditions and the prospect of catching fish can become daunting. Kudos to those who have figured out how to consistently catch fish here or in any saltwater bay system, as it is often difficult.

doubleredfish Catch and Release Tips

Clay Sheward and Rick Spillman with a double hookup on redfish.

STEWARDSHIP

Having fished the upper coast for a little over 30 years now, I’ve experienced good and bad. I’ve had more tough days of fishing than I care to admit or recall. I’ve found some great success, and always tried to keep track of how and why, so that I could hopefully repeat those days. I’ve seen some staggering changes and of course developed some very strong opinions based on years of observation.

Though I do eat fish from time to time, and killed more fish in the past for tournaments than I wish that I had, I have come to a point where I only take fish that I can eat that day. I have two primary reasons for this: first, I can assure you that fresh fish tastes much better than frozen. Second, for me, the enjoyment of fishing has always been about the chase and pleasure of fishing and catching them, rather than eating them.

There are laws in place designed to help control and maintain the fish populations that do a reasonably good job of ensuring that we will be able to enjoy the resource for many years to come. Each and every licensed fisher in the state is entitled to participate and enjoy consumption within those laws.

I’m not going to advocate change, though I was pleased when TPWD announced the reduction in speckled trout bag limit this year. I believe that decision will help overall populations. What I would really like to address isn’t the laws, changes to them or enforcement of them. I am of the opinion that those who most frequently use the resource, especially those who make their living from our fisheries, are the ones with the greatest responsibility to maintain the resource and teach future generations.

This group of people, in many cases, knows the condition of the habitat and fishery better than the politicians and lawmakers that govern over it. I have heard many different ideas and opinions about regulations and changes to them and how they will affect guides and commercial fishers. Probably the largest impact that can be controlled is that of the recreational fishing industry.

As a guide, I would say it is in your best interest to encourage that people only take the fish they plan to eat within a short period of time. Definitely, do not catch an additional limit and keep for your customers, since this has been a law for many years now. And as a steward of the fishery and in the interest of ensuring you have fish to catch in the future, encourage catch and release. Trust me, your customers book you because they enjoy fishing with you and respect your knowledge and want your guidance. They aren’t showing up because they have found the best way to feed their families. And yes, they will continue to come back to fish as long as there are fish to catch.

Now that we have jumped onto the catch and release train, we can start thinking about the impact we have there. I’ve spent a lot of years fishing primarily catch and release and have learned a lot about how to make sure fish survive and swim away healthy. I’m going to list some very basic rules to help make sure that are efforts are rewarded with a thriving population of fish.

TIPS FOR CATCH & RELEASE

  • Fight fish quickly to help reduce stress and exhaustion effects
  • Minimize the time fish are out of the water. They can’t breathe when there isn’t water passing their gills!
  • Avoid putting fish in contact with dry surfaces. It removes their protective slime. (wet hands to grab, keep off of hot boat decks)
  • If you can, release the fish without removing from the water.
  • Hold fish horizontally when out of the water. They don’t have support for internal organs so holding vertically can cause damage.
  • If possible, don’t hold fish by lips or jaws. ( Lipping and weighing devices that hold fish by lip or jaws can cause serious damage to connective tissue around the jaw.
  • Always attempt to revive fish by holding in water by the tail until they can swim away strongly.
  • If you’re going to measure a fish, wet the ruler.
  • Don’t force the jaws of a fish to overextend with lipping tools

A FEW MORE THOUGHTS

Fish are fairly durable and can handle being caught and released, but limiting adverse effects helps to make sure our efforts aren’t in vain. Making the effort to encourage and practice catch and release among recreational anglers and guides will almost certainly have a bigger impact on fisheries than regulations. I’ve never been one to believe that government knows or can react fast enough to be the best steward of resources. I firmly believe that as recreational users of the fishery, we stand to lose the most so we should work to maintain it. Killing 30 fish for your customers may be your right, but posting pictures of dead fish in a cooler or on the deck of your boat probably isn’t the best way to market how you help to keep our fishery strong.

Just because you have the opportunity to fish every day, doesn’t mean you should kill fish every day. One day you may just run out of fish. Killing a big trout or redfish for food isn’t great; expect parasitic worms and mushy trout fillets. Plus, the giant rib cage of a bull red yields much less meat than expected. These fish are also important spawners and make future fish generations possible. The same does not apply to flounder fillets, but we do need to maintain a strong breed stock.

Short sided planning around your love of fishing will likely lead to long term disappointment in your catching.

Upper Texas Coast Spring Fishing

February 28th, 2019

By Capt. Steve Soulewww.ultimatedetailingllc.com

sight cast redfish Upper Texas Coast Spring Fishing

Capt. Steve Soule caught this nice red while fly fishing with Capt. Clay Daniel Sheward.

Spring on the upper Texas coast brings warming temperatures, to both air and water. We have longer daylight periods and typically much more sunshine, accompanied by vigorous winds and choppy bays. It also is the time when multiple food sources return to our bay waters and shallows, flowing new life into areas of the bays that may have seemed desolate and devoid of life during the winter. The combination of springtime transitional patterns and occurrences can, and often do, confuse and complicate the plans of bay anglers.

TEMPERATURE

This time of the year, we are still in a back and forth battle with passing cold fronts and swinging temperatures, though the greater trend is warming. With this in mind, we often have to change plans based on temperature. It is key to remember that as air temperatures drop below those of the water, fish will tend to move slightly deeper, and as air warms to temperatures greater than water, they tend to move shallow. This is in part due to the comfort level of the predators, but to an even larger degree, this pattern has to do with following their food sources.

Let’s throw in a little twist to this generalization. The bottom make up of the bay areas that you fish can also play a large role in temperature as well as comfort and availability of food sources for predators. Soft or darker colored mud bottom, especially in relatively shallow water will warm faster on sunny days. This can create comfort zones for both bait species and predators alike. So, as much as we watch temperatures, we also need to be aware of the amount of sun and bay floor make up to help focus our efforts on productive areas.

sunlight Upper Texas Coast Spring Fishing

The longer days in spring trigger spawning activity for many species of fish.

INCREASING SUNLIGHT

Photo period is an often overlooked part of transitional periods throughout the year. Photo period, the number of hours of daylight versus night, triggers many things beyond the obvious additional heating of the water temperature. It’s well known that this is one of the triggers for spawning periods of fish. It also plays a large role in the timing of baitfish and other prey species returning to various areas of the bays. Coincidental timing I suppose, but since most all plant life requires sunlight to grow, its a well timed natural occurrence for the return or emergence of many of the smaller fish and crustaceans right when their food sources become more prevalent. Here’s an interesting thought about photo period and longer hours of daylight during spring. Even at the same daily temperature, longer days will yield greater warming than shorter days. This helps with the overall warming trend even on days when temps aren’t significantly warmer, purely because of the extended hours of daylight.

COMPARING SPRING & FALL

Keeping in mind that this is a transitional season, spring is one that requires more patience compared to fall. During our fall transition, the bays are at the peak of life, with numerous prey species readily available and in abundance. Much of the activity in fall centers around the mass migrations and attempted exodus from the shallows first,and then from deeper waters. Because the triggers for feeding are falling temperature, photo period decrease and changes in wind and tide, the ensuing patterns become fairly predictable.

In spring, things just don’t happen all at once. There are many factors that affect the return of bait species, and unfortunately, they don’t all happen at the same time. There are counter forces that can slow and change the timing of when they occur. With many of the returning species of bait, we are dependent on favorable offshore conditions along with onshore wind flow to bring them into the bays. Some, on the other hand must move to more open water from deeper inland, in creeks and bayous. Timing and location of these events is different every year.

THE WIND

In spring, wind plays a huge role in many ways. Wind can have an obvious effect on the location and supply of many smaller prey animals. As much as heavy south or southeast winds can make our fishing days challenging, these are much needed to speed the return of many offshore species to the bays. Even though the exact timing and amount of any given species hitting certain areas of the bays is very unpredictable, there are some things we can count on nearly every year.

The gulf passes and outlets will be the first to see many species and typically in the greatest quantities. Shortly after, the adjacent shorelines and nearby structures will gradually blossom with new life. Similarly, the upper reaches of the bays will begin to see an increase in bait flows that seek slightly higher salinities returning from low salinity areas up creeks and bayous. These are great starting points in our search for fish, knowing that these areas will consistently have the earliest increases in food supply for the predators that we seek.

Beyond the challenges of finding fish, springtime winds can make fishing unpleasant, difficult and often unsafe. Some quick thoughts on wind; how it effects fish and anglers when it comes to deciding where to fish. Logic tells us that wind can move many of the small species, especially when it works in unison with tides. Winds can drive schools of small bait to wind blown shorelines, and make movement or escape from predators very difficult. This can and will create something of a buffet line for predators who can more easily move and prey upon small species.

These shorelines are often overlooked, and some days they should be for safety. North and west shorelines that see the brunt of the spring winds are great under moderate wind days and days following hard onshore wind flows. On the days that the winds are just too high to fish these areas, it makes much more sense to fish protected shores. Again, look for the shorelines and areas that are nearer to gulf passes or upper reaches of the bays where creek flows will deposit concentrations of food.

Keep in mind that spring winds often can create more than just a comfort problem for anglers, but often a safety concern, making certain areas just not worth the effort or risk to fish.

mullet

Topwaters and plugs that imitate mullet are good choices at the start of spring. Downsize to smaller lures later in spring when predators are keying in on newly hatched baitfish.

LURES FOR SPRING

I couldn’t talk this much about springtime transition and food sources without mentioning what types of lures to throw and some timing aspects to consider. This is one of the best times to fish bigger mullet imitations, especially topwater baits, but you will often need to be patient to find success. Timing is often the key here, tides and moon position can make a big difference in getting bites.

As much as I would love to do nothing but throw topwater lures, some days you have to scale down and get lower in the water column to get bites. If you find yourself surrounded by smaller baitfish, it can be well worth the time to try some small plastic swimming tails on lighter jig heads. There are also times when only very light or natural colored baits work when all else fails. Matching the hatch isn’t always necessary but getting close to the size can help.

Something else fun to try during spring are lipped twitch baits, like those from Rapala and Bomber. The erratic darting action and slow rise or suspension on the pause can often be the trigger to get stubborn fish to bite.

TACTICS

Though spring can present challenges in many ways, it can bring equal rewards for those who pull together the many puzzle pieces. Watching tides and winds and planning accordingly can put you in the midst of schools of fish hungrily feasting on ever increasing supplies of small food.

Be prepared to adjust your plans, be thorough in your search and coverage of areas. If you are in an area that you feel sure there are fish, don’t be afraid to stick around and adjust your tactics. Some days a lure change can make all the difference.

Don’t let failure in one spot prevent you from trying other areas, and make great notes about areas that are showing abundant food. Many times the food sources will show before the predators, and knowing this will provide you with great fishing areas to return to later.