Have you ever seen “The Big Year”, the Steve Martin film about birdwatchers’ quest to document the sighting of as many species as possible in a single year.
Martin’s character won. If I remember correctly, he crossed our country and others, and identified more than 900 species. I don’t know anyone who knows more than 900 birds. Do you?
Like most of his fly fishing brothers and sisters, Chris Williams would struggle to reach that number, but that didn’t stop him from trying.
And while the 45 different and unique species he caught in 2021 – all on a fly and fly rod – didn’t top birdwatchers, Williams did win a special prize, the Red Stick Fly Fishers’ Jambalaya. challenge.
“I’m lucky to live in a place where there are so many places to fish,” said Williams of the environmental lab he runs in Baton Rouge. He runs another lab in Dallas.
“I’ve been a Red Stick member since moving to Baton Rouge 15 years ago, and I’ve learned a lot here,” he said.
Maybe because her undergraduate degree in marine biology helps, but contacts across the country have also helped. While he caught the majority of 45s in Louisiana’s fresh, brackish and saltwater environs – he started Jan. 1 and ended Nov. 29 last year – he won the title with trips to visit a cousin in Rhode Island where he added species there and in New York. Trips to Florida and California also contributed to the list.
“Well, the biggest, without a doubt, was a tiger muskellunge (muskelung) in New York, but common carp, grass carp and spotted gar in Louisiana were also big,” he said.
“Either a golden topminnow or a blacktail minnow,” Williams said. “Both are 1-2 inches long and they will hit a fly. But there was a guy in the club who caught a mosquito fish, and it’s smaller.
Like most anglers, Williams had to wait until the pandemic was over to get to remote fishing holes, but made the most of the time.
He created a blog – The Fat Fingered Fly Tyer – with tutorials, and it became so popular that a group meets once a month, on a Wednesday at a local beer hall, Rally Cap.
“We spend 2-3 hours drinking a beer, telling stories and tying flies. My favorite is probably Lefty Kreh’s Deceiver, a cream and white streamer,” he said.
Like most fly anglers, Williams pays homage to Kreh, a legend in the art, with more than one fly for freshwater and saltwater species.
“I tend to target more freshwater species just because of proximity. I can go to local ponds or rivers during the week and then go to Venice and Grand Isle. All places have lots of fish, and there’s such great diversity in southern Louisiana,” he said.
“Species vary from stream to stream and you can catch species that most anglers have never heard of. And, you can also have great challenges. Common carp and gar are, pound for pound, the toughest fighters,” he said.
And, Williams credits his wife, Maedbh (pronounced Maeve in the Gaelic spelling of the name) for advancing his sport.
“She fishes with me occasionally. She is a veterinarian and nature photographer, and has won top spots in the Orvis Photo Contests,” he said. “She won a great fly rod for me and several other top 10s.”
So where does it go from here. Can he repeat?
He has a good head start: Williams recently returned from a fly tournament in Rhode Island. He and his Rhode Island cousin caught 18 species in two days, outpacing 25 other teams from across the country.
“And I was lucky enough to go to Costa Rica earlier this year on vacation and caught 12 new species in May in Rhode Island,” he said. “I have 33 different fish so far this year, including a blackbird one day when we were fishing for stripers.
To learn more about Red Stick Fly Fishers, visit the club’s website: rsff.org.
Williams’ 45 species
Chris Williams’ list of the 45 species he caught to win the 2021 Jambalaya Challenge listed by state and in order of capture:
Louisiana: Bluegill sunfish, spotted bass, red mullet, rockfish, black crappie, largemouth bass, bowhead (choupique), longear sunfish, warmouth (spectacled eye), spotted sunfish, red sunfish (chinquapin), green sunfish, speckled trout, Rio Grande cichlid, common carp, spotted gar, grass carp, white bass, dollar sunfish, golden shiner, bantam sunfish, orange spotted sunfish, lady beetle, red pike, shortnose gar, frill, blacktail shiner and minnow striped.
New York: Rock bass, pumpkinseed, tiger muskellunge, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, redfish.
Rhode Island: Brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, chain pickerel.
Florida: Leatherjacket, hardhead catfish, Atlantic croaker, mangrove snapper, pinfish, Gulf trevally.
California: Golden Surfperch.