Long Live The Sheepy – Guest Blog

Header Photo: One of Capt. Bailey Short’s clients holding a healthy Sheepshead.

Louisiana. Just hearing the state’s name brings back memories of beautiful marsh, amazing food, southern hospitality and big bull redfish. When I was asked to join the ASGA team down in Hopedale, Louisiana for the annual Sheepy tournament, I was like “SAY WHEN!” The Louisiana Marsh is one of my favorite places I have fished and taking advantage of any chance to return is always a high priority.

What is The Sheepy Tournament? Well, it is an end-of-the-season, “blow-off steam,” invitation-only event for local guides, friends and clients targeting sheepshead (otherwise known as the “The Permit of the Bayou”). These barred, convict fish (named for their black-and-white striped appearance, resembling the “OG prison suit”) can be tough to feed and are manic – much like permit. What makes this sheepy game fun is the abundance of sight fishing opportunities in tandem the difficulty of feeding these fish. A well-placed fly and choreographed cast doesn’t always get bit, which can be maddening. That’s why I find these fish to be so appealing. I always like a challenge and one of the things that drives my interest is understanding fish behavior and figuring out what makes them tick.

Pictured: Blog Author, Fishing Guide & Renowned Fly Tyer Blane Chocklett. Photo: Flywater Expeditions

Upon our arrival, Tony and I grabbed our rental car and had some time to kill, so we headed to a local restaurant for what the Big Easy is known for: great food. Fire Grilled oysters, crawfish boil, soft shell and shrimp po boys. I can still taste it as I type these words, and honestly, I would go just for the food. It’s that good! Once we got our bellies full of New Orleans’ finest cuisine, we returned to the airport to pick up our buddy Will Poston. Our next stop: The Sheepy Captains Party in Hopedale, LA.

When we arrived at the Skiff Supply Fly Shop (owned by Miles Larose, the event’s tournament director), we found a great shop with an inviting feel and plenty of gear, flies and supplies for any angler targeting the local game fish. Out back, the crew had setup a nice gathering spot with a canoe full of drinks, music and many like-minded anglers looking forward to catching up with friends and telling fish stories. We quickly felt welcomed, enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting new ones. To me, these tournaments aren’t about winning or losing, biggest fish or chest-beating; it’s always about sharing the love of our sport. The Sheepy Tournament is no exception to this mentality.

Shortly after, we were joined by local guide Captain Bailey Short of Southern Flats Louisiana Fly Fishing. Bailey is an outstanding guide and host. He told us we had our work cut out for us as recent weather had been tough, so conditions would be less than ideal. Tony and I quickly reminded him that we were just happy to attend, meet the community and share ASGA’s message. Providing whatever support we could to the Louisiana fishing community was our highest priority. And that is precisely why I wanted to be there, as this great fishery needs support and better fisheries management to ensure it remains a must-see destination for decades to come.

YES PLEASE. Photo: Will Poston

Due to the weather, we had a delayed Day 1 start time to avoid unreasonably high winds. We took off late-morning and as always, the beauty of the marsh didn’t disappoint. We saw many different birds, plenty of wildlife and endless marsh flats. When we began hunting the flats, we saw several sheepshead and redfish. Had some shots but no takers. We felt lucky to even get out on the water with how bad the wind was. It was difficult to see anything until we were right up on it, giving us fleeting chances at success, but that is fishing. It’s why you go: to have these unpredictable encounters with these fish in their environment.

A face only a mother could love – and a hard one to set a hook in. Photo: Blane Chocklett

Later that evening, at the Day 1 after-party (because all good Louisiana events include multiple parties), we were treated to another amazing supper with more fire-roasted oysters, barbeque and sushi. What an amazing spread and good times with laughs and stories of a day fueding with mother nature. We got to speak to a diverse group of guides and anglers about their thoughts and concerns with the fishery. What do they see as problems in their waters? My first thought: How could ASGA help? Many of the issues they addressed are eerily similar to those we’re echoing on the east coast. Poor policies and regulations are suppressing the fish stocks. Death by a million cuts. We shared our experiences, what we do in our neck of the woods and what we see in other regions, based on the science we have collected. To learn more about the issues with redfish in Lousiana, you can check out ASGA’s breakdown of the most recent stock assessment by clicking here.

What Sheepshead doesn’t want to eat a bug like this waving in the current?

The weather was much better on Day 2. We had almost slick calm conditions with a minimal breeze. The weather was perfect, with bright skies and no clouds. However, the wind’s damage had been done and the water was still very stained. We persevered. Our expert guide Bailey found the best possible water and willing fish. Our team enjoyed several opportunities to feed sheepies, some reds and even a flounder on the fly. I got to see my Changer Craw fool two healthy Sheepshead, so my trip was made. One downside to the days with no wind in the bayou? An absolute NOSEEUM apocalypse of biblical proportions. They got in every nook and cranny you can imagine, but we endured and still had a blast!

Last weekend’s trip was a success. Everyone involved had a great time, sharing fellowship and conservation-minded sentiments and strategies. I can’t thank everyone involved enough for putting on such a great event and for the hospitality. I can’t wait for the next time I get to go back to the great marsh of Louisiana, not only for the food and fishing, but to help create a new thought process and shift the mindset on how to view these fish and the fishery.

Congratulations to everyone who placed in the tournament! The winning team had over 63″ for their 3 biggest fish. Photo: Cody Rubner

We need to do whatever it takes to keep this iconic place healthy. All our lives are made better with more fish in the water. Hotels, shops, manufacturers, airlines and fishing guides – everyone benefits from “better business through conservation.” Do yourself a favor; if Louisiana is on your bucket list, prioritize experiencing this fantastic place as soon as possible. Learn to love it as I have. Connect with the amazing local community, so we can all work together to protect it, utilizing the best available science and unified community voice.

Our kids deserve the opportunity to experience how truly incredible this ecosystem is when it’s at its best.

There are few fisheries that rival the bayou. Photo: Capt. Bailey Short

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