Written by: Kristin ‘Krissy’ Johnson
I’m laying in bed in our honeymoon suite. Brennan is softly snoring next to me and sleeping in the middle of the bed, but I don’t mind. We’ve opened the window to let in the cool night, and now early morning, air. I’m entirely too giddy with excitement and nerves to go back to sleep. In 51 minutes, my alarm will sound for one of the most anticipated days of my year – a day chasing redfish with a fly rod.
I’m excited about the chance to catch a redfish on the fly, but also riddled with nerves. Redfish are a different game than trout, even different than bass. Catching a redfish relies strongly on the skill of the angler. Your cast must be quick and decisive, your presentation must be realistic, and to hook a redfish, you need to be proficient in a strip set. I’ve practiced this on bass, but I still don’t know if I’ve got it right. Even in trout fishing, where success depends more on fly selection and drift quality, my nerves can still get the better of me. There have been many times when the sight of a rising trout has torn me apart. I’ll see the fish rise to slurp a bug on the surface, stalk the fish, raise my rod gently in my backcast, and as soon as I point the tip forward, I feel the snag of all my flies in the tree behind me. Or I’ll get set up for the perfect cast, let go of my bottom fly too early, and watch the small nymph swing all the way up over my indicator, tangling my rig in a bird’s nest that either needs 15 minutes to sort out or to be removed entirely. In both scenarios, I miss my chance at the fish. I don’t know what to expect today when we are stalking redfish, “the perfect sport fish,” through the marsh.
What I do know is that I am wholly enamored with the place—Bay Flats Lodge. From the moment we arrived last night, we have been treated like family. We were given free Yeti cups (what a flex), complimentary wine at dinner, and a room upgrade. We were even met by a professional photographer who snapped photos of each group and served delicious seafood apps. For dinner, we had steak. It was perfect. The staff here is also incredible. Patsy and Ms. Little make you feel like the only guest here. Their constant smiles, pats on the back, and jokes are disarming; I feel like I’ve known them my entire life.
The real thing I’m nervous about, but more excited about, is our “reunion” with Capt. Dane Scott. Right now, I’m willing to bet money that in Dane’s mind, this will be his first time meeting us. Why would a professional guide who has guided all over the world remember a 4-hour wade trip with two first-time fly anglers? Frankly, we never thought we would see Dane again either. I hadn’t considered it a possibility. Until we booked our trip here. When booking your trip online, Bay Flats lets you select your guide for the day and provides you with a photo and a short biography of each guide. The last we had heard of Dane was that he was hoping to work in Chile or Argentina after his 2020 summer season in Colorado — a far cry from the Texas coast. But alas, there he was on the “select your guide” registration step. Brennan and I laughed about what a small world it is as we selected Dane to be our guide.
I’m excited to tell Dane about the tailspin journey he inadvertently sent us on. How, in 4 hours, I became hooked for life on fly fishing. How it’s sent us all over the country and world. How it’s shaped me. Changed me. Fly fishing has led me to becoming the person I wanted to be when I was growing up. It’s allowed me to let go of my inhibitions and fear. My love of being on the water now outweighs my fear of uncertainty or “what ifs” and allows me to say “yes” to insane things like skiing in Italy or flying to Scandinavia at the last minute. It’s brought out a spontaneous and adventurous side of me that otherwise wasn’t present. Brennan wants to give Dane a hard time about “a cheap outing becoming a $20,000 investment,” but I don’t think he realizes what that “cheap outing” unlocked in me and the fruit it has borne for our relationship.
But that’s fly fishing. When you meet someone on the water, more often than not, you’re somehow connected. The fly fishing bubble is relatively small, but it’s intimate and a little intense. I follow my favorite guides on Instagram and message them often as friends. They message me too. We all cheer for each other when we post about our successes and laugh at our failures. I love this sport, and I love the people. Fly fishing gets a reputation of self-importance and snobbery, but that has never resembled my experience. We are proudly “dirt bags” or “trout bums,” who are far more consumed with the process than the success. I’m excited to see if today is about the process, the success, or both.
It’s 5:35 PM now. I’m sitting in the outdoor dining area. Modern red-dirt country music is playing from the speaker at another table of guys who are drinking Bloody Marys and playing poker. The fires are on high. We had gumbo and fried quail legs as an “appetizer,” but I’m not convinced I’ll be able to save room for dinner. My IPA is half drunk, and Brennan is playing on his phone. We keep making eye contact across the table, smiling big. Today was incredible. A day about process and success — a day worthy of quiet reflection.
The Day Begins
The morning started slowly. After my alarm finally sounded, we had coffee with Miss Judy as we waited for Dane to arrive at the lodge for breakfast. Miss Judy told us all about the bald eagles that are nesting in the neighborhood, which was so charming and sweet. When Dane arrived, we shook his hand and then explained we’d met before. He seemed taken aback, but pleased.
Despite my best efforts to remain ladylike and respectable, I devoured my breakfast. White gravy with sausage over a homemade biscuit, bacon, and a sausage patty to boot. There was also a fruit cup, but I firmly believe that fish respond better when an angler has done their best to clog their arteries before fishing, so I passed, fearing the fish would know I had eaten fresh fruit. Dane explained some really sciency tidal things and how they relate to fish eating patterns, then we finished our coffee, bid Miss Judy farewell, and hurried to Dane’s truck. We got the skiff in the water and excitedly jumped aboard. Everything was going perfectly.
Until it wasn’t. To Dane’s complete dismay, his skiff’s engine began to have trouble. We polled around the boat launch trying to find deeper water, and Brennan and Dane took turns pushing buttons and saying mechanical terms that I didn’t even try to understand. I knew I was in good hands regardless of the fate of the motor, gas pump, or whatever else they were saying the problem could be, so I cracked another beer, gave my best Jerry Seinfeld “That’s a shame,” and propped my feet up to take in the cold, salty air on my face. And soon enough, the engine fired up, we ran a few laps near the boat ramp, determined the motor was “good to go,” and set out for our first fishing spot. The spot was immediately spoiled by an airboat, so we headed out for a longer ride to our main fishing area of the day.
The long boat ride presented some problems for me. The wind increased as temperatures decreased, and by the end of the ride, we were all soaking wet from sea spray and had sore butts from the violent bouncing. I also had a pounding headache by this point and was nauseous. Dane then climbed onto the polling platform and asked, “Who’s first?” I sprinted to the bow and grabbed a rod before Brennan even had a chance to say, “Krissy can go first.” To handle my headache, I pulled my flask out of my pocket and took a long, deliberate swig of High West Double Rye. The wind was cold. So cold. Teeth chattering, shaking cold. But then Dane saw a fish. I made an unimpressive cast at it, then another, and then another. The fish chased my fly all the way to the boat and ate it, but I panicked and unceremoniously ripped the fly from the fish’s mouth. Dane comforted me and said that was a great start and we would get a fish soon. But then we didn’t. It felt like hours went by. Dane polled, I searched, I cast, I cussed, Dane advised, I listened, and I adjusted.
“You’ve got fish at 12 o’clock. About 50 feet out, coming towards you. Go ahead and start working your line out. “I’m going to try and get you a good shot.”
I could see the two fish exactly where Dane described. I started working my line out. I dropped my fly a foot in front of the pair of fish. I could see the black fly in the clear water as the fish moved closer. I stripped my line. The fish moved faster toward the fly. I kept stripping. There was a splash, then the fly disappeared. I stripped my line steadily and with purpose. I felt it click in the fish’s mouth. Then the fish ran right. Instinctively, my hands guided my fly line from the tangled mess on the front of the skiff, up the fly rod, and securely onto the reel.
Eventually, Dane landed the fish using his hands. I’m always stressed out by, but more impressed by, a guide that can land a fish without a net. He proudly handed me my first ever redfish caught with a fly. Dane’s smile could be seen even with a buff pulled tightly over his face. Brennan was recording the event and whooping on the front of the skiff. The fish wasn’t too big, maybe 19 or 20 inches but it had a perfect spot on his tail and a splash of blue. The fish was exhausted from the fight, so he didn’t resist when I took him from Dane. After snapping a few photos, I leaned over the boat, held the fish firmly by the tail, and let the cool, moving water wash over his gills. Within seconds, the fish whipped and he splashed out from my hands, back into the crystal clear marsh. I rubbed my hands together in the water and let out a shout of joy as I watched the fish disappear from my sight. A perfect catch and release.
Brennan resisted taking over the rod and insisted I try catching another one. I did. After catching two redfish in quick succession, I victoriously cracked a beer and sat in Dane’s luxury yeti chair that he has strapped down in his boat. I watched Brennan fish, helped him manage his line as he did for me, and let the wave of dopamine surge through my body. It was a high like I’d never experienced.
Reflecting on the Experience
I think catching a redfish on a fly is one of the most intimate experiences with nature you can have. The water laps softly under the skiff as you listen to the rhythmic sound of the poll running through your guide’s hands as he pushes the skiff slowly through the marsh. Then, when a fish appears, everything goes silent. The only thought running through your head is the direction and speed of the fish gliding through the clear water. As the fish responds to your fly, you are completely connected with the fish and ready to dance. There’s a moment of silence while the fish contemplates eating your fly, then a moment of chaos as you pull your line tight in a strip set. When the fish is securely on your fly, you become aware of your body — the excited yells, the anchor being dropped, the laughter, the chase. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I was so concerned I wouldn’t know how to respond to a redfish accepting my fly, but in reality, it was instinctual.
We fished for a few more hours before calling it a day. At the end of the day, I managed to get three fish into the boat. Brennan never got his “golden moment” where everything came together, but he loved the experience. He actually said it was his favorite type of fly fishing he’d ever done. Throughout the day, Dane did manage to recall details about Brennan and I and our first day together back in 2020. By the end of the trip, we had exchanged phone numbers, followed each other on Instagram, and made promises to see each other soon. The boat ride back to Bay Flats Lodge was smooth and quick. Nature rewarded us for our persistence in the morning.
So now, I’m sitting across from Brennan in Bay Flats’ outdoor patio waiting on the dinner bell to ring – feels like I’ll have room for dinner after all. Brennan’s face is sunburned, and he has his hoodie pulled snugly over his hat. There’s a red-dirt country love ballad playing on the speaker at the neighboring table. Brennan laughs earnestly at a meme he sees on Reddit and looks up at me. The song reaches its bridge. I’m all together satisfied and in love with him and the life we have begun to build together.