- Lynn Burkhead
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For skipper Gregg Arnold, life is good right now down on the bayou.
Earlier this month, the purple-and-gold LSU Tigers reeled in the crimson and crème Oklahoma Sooners for a share of the college football national championship.
Then, on Jan. 14, while poling a flats boat at Biloxi Marsh, Arnold guided Conway Bowman, co-host of "CITGO's In Search of Fly Water," to a championship-caliber redfish on the fly.
Bowman's bull red, caught ironically enough on a purple-and-gold Haley's Comet crab fly designed by Tim Aid, weighed in at 41.65 pounds. (The action is set to be aired during the Feb. 14 episode of "CITGO's In Search of Fly Water.")
Pending certification procedures by the International Game Fish Association, Bowman's red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) should eclipse the 20-pound tippet-class standard for the species a 40-pound, 3-ounce redfish caught near Venice, La. in August 2000 by Arthur G. Cosby. (The largest fly-caught redfish on record is a 43-pound Florida specimen taken on 16-pound tippet, while the all-tackle mark is a 94-pound, 2-ounce North Carolina bruiser.)
"This place is insane," Bowman said. "I didn't catch a fish under 20 pounds the whole time I was there, (but) I never expected to catch a world record."
Boating big fish on a 10-weight fly rod is fun in its own right, but the fact that most of these fish were hooked in less than two feet of water certainly makes for some explosive flyfishing action.
"It's the best sightcasting I've pretty much ever done, and I guess I've fished for just about everything," Bowman said.
"You're fishing in inches of water, you're sightcasting to these fish and then you're fighting a truly big fish on a fly rod. It's really everything a flyfisherman could want."
Bowman, himself a flyangling guide out of San Diego who specializes in mako sharks, had previously filmed an episode of "CITGO'S In Search of Fly Water" with Arnold.
Just a few weeks ago, Arnold gave Bowman an urgent phone call telling him to get back down to the bayou.
Why? The winter running of the bull reds was on.
"He called me and said 'You've got to come down, we're really on the big fish,'" Bowman said. "The week before, one of his guys had caught the state record."
That redfish, landed Jan. 2 by San Diego angler Bob Stafford, tipped the scales at 37.79-pounds.
Arnold's recent hot-guiding streak began Dec. 28, when Dallas flyangler Tony Kirk landed a 32-pound red drum.
At the time, that fish ranked second in Louisiana fly rod history, behind Pete Cooper's 36-pound then-state-record redfish.
Arnold admits he's in the zone right now in Cajun country, with the gridiron Tigers winning it all and his clients seemingly catching them all the big bull reds, that is.
"We have a very healthy marsh in close proximity to bigger water," Arnold said.
Bowman reasons that it's obvious why the big boys leave the Gulf of Mexico for the skinny water of Biloxi Marsh.
"Some of these fish were standing on their head with their tails sticking out (of the water) for like five seconds trying to grub crabs," Bowman said.
"Imagine a 40-pound redfish standing on his nose trying to pick up a (crab). It's pretty cool."
Fortunately, Bowman didn't have to imagine that scenario for long when Arnold spotted the world-record red cruising from right to left some 125 feet out from the boat.
As the fish closed ranks, Bowman was able to make a good presentation and entice the big redfish to stand on its nose to eat the fly.
That's when the fun really began.
"It took off and the fish took out about 150 yards of backing," Arnold said. "Conway fought the fish for about 10 minutes and never gained an inch on the fish."
What followed were cat-and-mouse games of letting the big saltwater fly reel's drag do its job and the deft maneuvering of the skiff by Arnold to finally tire the bull red out.
"They're totally powerful," Bowman said. "On a big redfish like that, they're pumping their head around trying to throw the fly."
After more than 30 minutes of battling, Arnold was able to boat the leviathan. It didn't take long before guide and angler realized they had something special aboard.
"We weighed it on the boat and it registered 42-pounds," Arnold said. "I told Conway, 'You've got a world record, come on, let's go.'"
At first, Bowman seemed a little stunned, according to Arnold. But not for long.
"On the way in, he probably high-fived me 10 times," Arnold chuckled.
Bowman agreed he was rattled.
"I was totally shocked, because I never expected to catch a world record," Bowman said. "Second, I'm not really a record kind of a guy. I'm not into keeping a fish. I'm into catch and release."
In the end, Bowman is at peace with his decision to keep the fish and try for the IGFA world record.
"I thought about it, I really thought about it hard," Bowman said.
"I saw a number of other big fish, so, obviously, that fishery isn't being depleted. And the biologists will be able to study it."
Will Bowman make a return trip next year to Louisiana and the nearby Biloxi Marsh to search for another world-record caliber redfish?
"Next year? How about tomorrow," Bowman quipped. "Let me tell you, if I could fish that every day of the week, I would.
"The thing is, I saw a fish even bigger than the one I caught. I saw one that was huge and made mine look like a 20-pounder."
Yep, there's no doubt about it, life is good right now in Cajun Country for football fans and flyfishermen chasing super bull redfish.
ESPN2's Bowman boats pending world-record La. redfish on fly rod