Fly Fishing for Winter Redfish in New Orleans: A Trip Report (Full Length)
New Orleans has long been a popular tourist destination. Marti Gras, Bourbon Street, parades and festivals shape the city’s lively, colorful reputation. The city is a unique combination of Francophone architectural influences in the French Quarter and Creole cottages outside with Spanish accents blending the inner and outer city. And the culture, in many ways, reflects the architecture. Jazz music blends a mixing pot of cultures and celebration brings a city together that was once culturally divided.
And if you’re not visiting for the cajun seafood or the window shopping on Bourbon Street, New Orleans also has one of the nation’s most well-regarded WWII museums and a legendary aquarium. Safe to say the family won’t go bored in the diverse city by the bayou.
More recently, the greater New Orleans area has become a popular fly fishing destination, too. The city is positioned on one of the country’s largest river deltas: the Mississippi River Delta. This creates a huge marsh system that extends for miles and miles south of the city. These tidal marshes are home to a huge variety of nutrients, crabs, shrimp, and baitfish. And, as you might’ve guessed, predatory fish patrol the marshes capitalizing on the abundance of food. Predatory fish of the Red variety.
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If you follow us on Instagram, you’ve probably seen photos from our recent trip. If you don't follow us on Instagram, you should. We spent the first days of the new decade the way everyone should… in a boat chasing monster Redfish, Black Drum, and Sheepshead in the Louisiana marsh. While we did boat some Bull Reds and a trophy Black Drum, the fishing was much different than we expected. Here’s the full report including what we think you should know before traveling to Louisiana to chase Redfish on the fly.
For us, the trip was as much about experiencing the city and the culture of New Orleans as it was about the fishing. After all, we weren’t fly fishing on New Years Eve (although we were fly fishing, unexpectedly, bright and early on New Years Day… more about that later). For the first two days, we stayed in the heart of the city, within walking distance to Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. We ate Gumbo, listened to Jazz music, watched street performers, and even got a Tarot Card reading. We’ve always been firm believers that a fishing trip doesn’t have to be exclusively about fishing and this trip was a great example of that.
New Years Eve rolled around and we noticed a nasty storm blowing in that eventually swept the marsh with winds of 60+ mph and a full day-and-a-half of rain on the 2nd and the 3rd. We planned on fishing for 3 days so we had some logistical wiggle room. And it’s a good thing we did. Bailey (our guide) notified us last minute that we’d better fish New Years Day if we expected to get 3 days of fishing in before our departure on the 6th.
Captain Bailey Short of Southern Flats Louisiana Fly Fishing was born and raised in LA and has spent years and years mastering and understanding the Hopedale marsh. He has a skiff for calm days, a bay boat for windy days (which we utilized) and a program that’s pretty dialed in. Southern Flats Louisiana Fly Fishing is relatively young (as a company) but combines tons of expertise and unparalleled knowledge of the area. If you’re looking to book a guide in New Orleans, Bailey and Southern Flats is one of the best operations in the Hopedale area. Word of advice: book early. He’s usually booked a year+ in advance.
Day 1 (January 1rst, 2020)
So we got the word on New Years Eve that we’d be fishing New Years Day. We got a late start on the 1rst and after a short 45-min drive from the heart of the city, we were on the water close to 10:30 am. Day 1 was spent in the bay boat. The weather was overcast and limited visibility meant limited options. Think pre-frontal conditions. We launched at Hopedale and powered roughly 25 minutes into an area of the marsh characterized by oyster beds, shallow murky water, and long grass banks. Bailey got up on the cooler, fired up the trolling motor, and we started by sight fishing.
The weather was cold and cloudy so the sight fishing wasn’t great. We were looking for tails and feeding fish with one angler on the front of the boat and one angler blind casting off of the back of the boat. After sight fishing for a few hours without seeing any fish, we started blind casting from the front and back of the boat and drifting over a flat where we knew there were fish. The fishing was slow because of the cold water temps and the growing wind but solid conversation flowed and spirits remained high.
The first fish we hooked was in the early afternoon. We were blind casting large, heavy streamers on 9wt fly rods into the wind. An upgrade to a 10wt rod wouldn’t have been crazy in these conditions. Casting became repetitive but the first fish was worth it. After a solid strip set and a long fight, we boated a large Black Drum. These fish are total dumpsters and this guy weighed somewhere in the 30+ lb range. Fun to catch on a fly rod… even if we didn’t sight fish him.
Ben also ended up boating two sizeable Redfish on Day 1. One fish was just under 20lbs and one was a solid Bull Red in the 20+lb category. As aforementioned, conditions weren’t great, we cast heavy flies into the wind all day, but we grinded out the conditions for three fish. Three trophy fish. So that first day was a productive day. We got our first taste of targeting Redfish on the fly and we got dialed in on the Hopedale program with Captain Bailey Short. Expectations were high for the next few days.
Days 2 and 3 (January 2nd and 3rd, 2020)
Then we sat out the storm. Two full days of wind, rain, clouds, and flooding meant that conditions were definitely unfishable. We got rained out on the 2nd and blown off the water on the 3rd. From what Bailey told us, weather can be pretty volatile and a little nasty during the winter Redfish season in LA so planning a few days in the city gives anglers the freedom to cancel and reschedule a day or two. Luckily, we were flying out on the 6th so we were able to fish on the 4th and the 5th.
On the 2nd we went to the Aquarium and on the 3rd we went to the WWII Museum. The Aquarium was a great ½ day activity and could be fun for families traveling to NOLA especially on a rainy day. The WWII Museum was also phenomenal. The National WWII Museum in NOLA is ranked by TripAdvisor as the #1 attraction in New Orleans and designated by Congress as America’s official museum about WWII. It lived up to the hype. The Museum features multiple large buildings filled with expertly designed exhibits from every part of the war. If you’re an angler and a history buff, this museum is a must-see.
We’re also proponents of experiencing local culture and eating local cuisine so we used our days off of the water to eat our way through New Orleans, too. Po Boys were a lunchtime favorite; a Po Boy is a Cajun-style sandwich with seafood or meat and we found some delicious renditions around the city. We ate crawfish at a local seafood joint one night and were surprised by the spicy, flavorful nature of the crushed crustacean. We recommend extra napkins and a good beer.
One of our favorite dishes was the local warm-water oysters. While we get some of the best coldwater Oysters on the planet here in Maine, we were pleasantly surprised to learn a NOLA charbroiled Oyster combines garlic, cheese, and butter to create a tasty masterpiece. If you like seafood you’ll love New Orleans cuisine.
Day 4 (January 4th, 2020)
With full bellies and informed palates, we were excited to get back on the water when January 4th rolled around. We knew the conditions were going to be tough. The storm had shaken the marsh and dumped dirty, cold rainwater into the bayou. We were going to have to grind for fish again, and we knew that.
Day 4 (2nd day on the water) was a fishless day. Skunked. And it wasn’t for a lack of trying. We blind cast, sight fished, found sheltered parts of the marsh, fished the outer edge in the wind. It was a frustrating day but the storm had really turned the fish off. The water was cold and the conditions were cloudy and windy and the fish just weren’t feeding.
Day 5 (January 5th, 2020)
Fast forward to the morning of Day 5 and conditions were much different. Day 5 (January 5th) was shaping up to be a beautiful day. High sun was expected and winds were forecasted to be minimal. Finally, it looked like we were going to be able to do some sight fishing. We had fished out of Bailey’s bay boat because of the wind during our first two days on the water but we brought out the skiff on Day 5 to navigate shallower water and to put a heavy emphasis on poling with finesse.
We saw loads of fish on the first flat we poled, many of them larger fish. But they were spooky and uninterested in our flies. The water was still cold from the storm and even though the sun was warming quickly, the fish weren’t really feeding. We didn’t hook into any fish in the morning but there was no shortage of shots.
In the afternoon we moved to a sandy flat with clearer water and greater visibility. A group of Redfish became visible as we moved in on the flat. I landed a fly in front of one and she ate and took off. After a solid fight, we boated her… a beautiful Bull Redfish. Another tough day was in the books but the trip ended on a high.
In the End...
We learned a lot about the greater New Orleans Redfish fishery during our trip. Weather can be tough in the winter so plan accordingly. Redfish don’t eat as readily when water temps are cold. Fishing trips are about more than the fishing, and a few trophy fish are worth grinding for. All-in-all, we got the full NOLA experience and boated some beautiful fish. If this trip was any indication of the year ahead, it looks like a pretty good one filled with tasty local cuisine, friendly company, expert guides, big fly rods, and bigger fish. Happy new year.
Do you have questions about our trip or about traveling to New Orleans to catch monster Redfish on the fly? Call us here at the shop at (888)-413-5211 or email us anytime at [email protected]. Special thanks to Hatch Outdoors for making the best reels and pliers in the game.
If you're Redfish-crazy like we are and this article convinced you to book a trip in the coming years, choosing the right gear helps. Read our blog articles and purchase your gear from us.