I started the trip by flying from Bozeman to Atlanta, then driving down past New Orleans to Hopedale. It was actually a pretty easy drive from Atlanta that became even easier once we stopped at Chick-Fil-A (not too many of those in Montana).
Upon arrival, we met with Tracy, the lodge manager, and were brought to our rooms on the second level of the boat. We stayed in a very comfortable, air-conditioned room that featured a private bathroom with a hot shower and two single beds. After getting settled in, we walked around the boat to get a feel for things. We stopped in the lounge area to get a quick drink at the open bar and meet a father and son who were Yellow Dog clients.
Now if you get as excited about history as I do, one of the features of The Dogwood that fascinated me was the plaques on each door of the boat. They all had different names such as "Red, Arkansas, Kanawha, etc..." which recount rivers that The Dogwood has passed through in its lifetime. The lounge on the second floor of the boat is aptly named "Mississippi."
Tracy informed us that The Dogwood does not move very often, but they did get her up and running to cruise over to the Blue Angels show not too long ago. That's one way to watch it!
That night, we had a terrific dinner and dessert prepared for us by Tracy, a trained gourmet chef, before calling it a night. One thing that I was very, very impressed with was the food proportions. In past fishing trips, we were either given WAY too much food or not nearly enough. Each of our meals was just enough where you didn't feel hungry, but you also didn't have to get rolled to your room after dinner.
The next morning we met our guide, Greg Moon, near the stern of the boat. Greg will probably laugh at this if he's reading this trip report but upon the first impression, he looks like someone you'd meet at a Harley Davidson convention. He's got some sweet knuckle tats, a pet turkey, a long beard and a tattoo of a redfish on his forearm. In saying that, he was one of the most down-to-earth, accommodating, fun, knowledgeable and energetic guides I have ever fished with hands down.
We spent the next couple of days fishing with Greg in less than ideal conditions in the Biloxi Marsh. We were still able to get some fish to the boat thanks to Greg's hard work!
Something that I will say about this marsh fishery is that I have never seen more life in a system. It reminded me of The Missouri River in Craig, Montana in which if you look down into the water while you're floating, you can see large trout dart under the boat again and again.
There wasn't a single time on that trip in which I looked down into the water and didn't see something swimming around even if it was baitfish. While with Greg, we primarily targeted redfish but had numerous shots at massive gar and sheepshead. While you are there CAST AT EVERYTHING . . . unless Greg says otherwise, which he most likely won't.
After we fished with Greg, we met up with Jonathan Allen who took us to another marsh system. We had a fantastic day with Jonathan who worked very hard to keep us on fish throughout the day. One thing I will say about Jonathan is I was super impressed by his boat navigation skills. That guy can drive a skiff. He was effortlessly weaving in and out of creek systems in a Hell's Bay Guide. That can only equate to a heck of a lot of time in a boat and on the water, which translated into his guiding skills.
On our last two days, we fished with Bailey Short, who I can't say enough kind things about. Our first day with Bailey, he took us to yet again ANOTHER marsh system where we continued to have numerous shots at big redfish, gar and sheepshead.
Prior to our last day, Greg and Bailey informed us that it was safe to cross the open water in order to get to the Chandeleurs. The Chandeleurs is an island chain forty plus miles east of The Dogwood. I have read about the Chandeleurs prior to us going out there, but this was our very first time.
Listen to me when I tell you that this is a very, very special place. Unfortunately, it has seen better days after major hurricanes have hit the islands, putting large pieces of land underwater. It is still an American sportsfishing gem. We saw large jacks, huge redfish, tripletail and one of the biggest tarpon I have ever seen. The tarpon came out of some cloudy water starboard side of the boat and Bailey and I caught it out of the corner of our eye. It was a big fish. More on that to come. . . Stay tuned!
The last fish of the trip was a tank of a black drum. This is Louisiana sight fishing at its best. We were back in a very calm bayou searching for tailing black drum. When these fish tail, it literally looks like someone is sticking a broom out of the water while waving it back and forth. The fish put up a great fight and Bailey did an exceptional job of keeping it in the water while we took some quick pictures before releasing it.
Overall I'd give this trip an A+. I did not realize how stellar the late spring / early summer Louisiana fishery actually was. Everything is out and feeding.
- Your shots at redfish and black drum will most likely be within thirty feet of the boat. Practicing 70 plus foot casts before your trip will not do you any good.
- Practice putting a fly in a cup as fast as you can at distances at or less than 30 feet. It is like whack-a-mole out there. You need to put the fly on their nose or directly in their path.
- Bring a good pair of polarized sunglasses. You'll be sight fishing for redfish. You have to see them. They look like large goldfish in the water and as Greg put it, two Lay's Potato Chips floating side-by-side (fins).
- Don't turn your nose to gar or sheepshead. They're a ton of fun on a fly rod.
- Make sure you stop for beer, wine, snacks, etc... before you get into Hopedale. There's honestly nothing around.
- If your guide tells you to cast and you cannot see the fish, go ahead and put a cast in the water as fast as you can.
- If the redfish don't see your fly, GO BACK AGAIN. These fish are blind as a bat and are used to tons of baitfish constantly swimming around them. In short, tick 'em off with a rogue and very brave baitfish fly.
- Consider going in the summertime. I know it sounds crazy, but there's SO much fish out and feeding including bull reds, large black drum, tripletail, jack crevalle, tarpon, sheepshead, gar and more.