The choice of a fishing guide should never be taken lightly. After all you are paying someone a fair amount of money to hopefully get you on fish. If you’re lucky you even learn some tips and tricks from someone that is a professional on the water, but for the most part you’re really out there just to enjoy a hobby. For this reason I always put an enormous amount of effort into researching a potential guide before chartering them for their service. Rewind to a few months ago while on a social media binge to find local fly guides I stumbled on to Marcus Harrelson and his business Doc’s Fishing Clinic & Guide Service.
Marcus and the guide service he provides aren’t just a one stop shop. He does more than just guide. As a former Navy Corpsman he comes loaded with a ton of of information about fishing and safety, has a great sense of humor, and he has a personality that can put a smile on even the hardiest of outdoorsman that may use him for a guide service. If you follow him on social media you will notice that he will post weekly tips about fly fishing and he also hosts monthly fly tying events in and around the Corpus Christi area. He is an all around great guy with a fun personality that can make a tough trip on the water be as enjoyable as a day when you limit out of red fish in an hour. This brings me to my next subject which is a tough day on the water.
You see my beautiful wife set this trip up for me months ago as an anniversary gift. I will admit I am a lucky man to have a wife that doesn’t mind that I get out on the water as much as I want. I had hinted to her that I had done some research on Marcus and his business Doc’s Fishing Clinic & Guide Services. I didn’t know anyone that had used his service personally, but he has a strong social media following so I figured I could take a gamble. For an anniversary gift I figured I would let her know that this was a a guide I was interested in. I also wanted to try new waters. I typically use personal references as method to identify good guides, but he puts enough information out that I felt comfortable booking him for a trip.
I started talking to Marcus via text trying to determine when he had some availability. Being that I live two hours away from where he typically fishes I needed to have all my loose ends tied up in advance so I could dedicate a day away from home. Being that the trip was paid for in advance I decided to ask my good friend Brent Flowers from Bulverde, Texas if he wanted to come out and fish. Brent has become my go to buddy when it comes to fly fishing friends and well it doesn’t hurt that he is pretty dang good at fishing as well. We locked in a date for early March in late January and took the gamble that the weather would be good. Typically this time frame is sort of like early spring in South Texas. It turns out that as fate may have it the day ended up being pretty miserable for sight casting to fish on the fly.
Fast forward to March 7h and we finally meet Marcus in person at the boat ramp. He runs an Ankona skiff that resembles the suit of the Joker from the older Bat Man movies. He let’s us know that the bright purple and greens garner a lot of attention. Especially when he was new to guiding. Stories of other guides hounding him for the skiff colors were some of our first topics of conversation. Being a former Navy Corpsman that served in combat with the Marines he is no stranger to some good ribbing. He lets his performance on the water speak for itself and over time he says he earned respect at the boat ramp.
With that being said even the best guides have a bad day. When the water and air are cold, and the water is murky, it can humble even the most experienced of fly fishing guides. We departed from Billing’s Bait Stand and took a twenty minute ride across Corpus Christi Bay to some waters he felt we would have luck on despite the adverse weather. I was impressed by how well his little Ankona skiff performed over light chop on the way to our first destination. It was dry ride for the most part which was good considering we were dealing with an air temperature in the mid fifties when crossing the water. This may not seem like much to some you all in the north, but when you’re running a skiff at thirty miles per hour it comes to no surprise when you have a runny nose minutes into the ride across the bay. It is part of fishing in the late winter to early South Texas spring, so this wasn’t cause for much of a surpise to us. We buckled in for what what end up still being a great day of fishing.
I was surprised at the access that Corpus Christi Bay has on foot. We have a few spots that we can access on foot in the Lower Laguna Madre but for the most part our bay system is restricted to guys on boats and kayaks if you want to get to good areas. Our first poling location had a couple trucks and anglers along the shore line fishing the same waters that we were. Marcus made a decision to push around and away from these anglers in the hopes we would catch some red fish tailing while they grazed along the shore lines of small peninsulas and spoil islands. Visibility was extremely low with a dark overcast and the previous days winds and tidal movements had us looking into waters that resembled a darky brackish water that was full of dirt and mud. With no luck in the first hour of the day we moved on to another location that we would attempt to access as the tide began to fall out.
I was impressed by how quickly the tide dropped in this area. When I think of fishing in the flats I typically am in areas with gin clear water along spoil islands or in clear shallow salter water flats in the Lower Laguna Madre. This isn’t necessarily the case in Corpus Christi Bay. Yes, it is the same coast line but the water and land is different a few hours up the coast. We seemed to have poled some areas that had some clear waters but for the most part we found ourselves navigating areas that were etched into the memory of Marcus due to his years of experience fishing these areas. They were marshy and muddy. The overcast skies weren’t doing us any favors. Brent jumped up on the bow and scanned our surrounding areas and Marcus poled an scanned the areas around us. At this point it started to become clear this was going to be a tough cold day of fishing. Being an experienced guide Marcus gave us some options. We could stay in the area hoping the clouds would eventually burn off from the rising sun, or we could move across the bay closer to the ramp from which we launched. Marcus had dealt with high winds the day prior and well a small skiff with three grown men on it can make for a challenging boat ride in heavy chop across an open bay. Brent and I came to an agreement that with the rough weather it was probably best that we cross the back across the bay to some fishing areas that were closer to where we parked our vehicles should worse come to worse.
We made our way back across the bay to a location that Marcus was very familiar with. In years past he lived bay side on North Padre Island and he has some inlets and coves he felt would have a chance for producing fish even in the cold windy weather. Initially he anchored us into position to cast in a hole that has some good drops offs that typically produce some good schools of black drum. This isn’t his typical method of fly fishing, but he wanted us to have every opportunity of hooking up even if it was having to do a few blind cast in a known area for good fish. With no luck we decided to pole along a shore line on the small cove in which we were fishing. A few mud bubbles here and there and it was obvious the fish were in the area, albeit they were extremly skiddish. They were easily spooked or laying in dark murky water but we made our best efforts to locate them.
As we poled along I spotted a large fish feeding in a wash out area about fifty meters away. I called what I could see and Marcus began trying to swing us in to position for a cast. The wind was blowing and knowing that my double haul cast ins’t the greatest I elected to let us get closer to the fish before shooting a cast in its direction. I’m not sure if it was the weather or cold air but the fish this day were extra spooky. Almost as we called the fish out it began to to move in our direction quartering at the four o’clock position and a decent rate of speed. Marcus aggressively attempted to pole us into position, but what it came down to was a back cast shot to my two o’clock into the wind at about twenty five yards. My initial cast was behind the fish. I’ll be the first to admit that back casting into the wind isn’t necessarily my stongest tool in my fly fishing arsenal. I mean I am for the most part a novice fly fisherman. I do put my work in to cast, but by no means was this an easy shot. Almost immediately Marcus lets be know pick up my line and cast six feet to the right. I try but the strong winds send my fly barreling towards the water ending up in a hard slap that spooked the large drum even more causing it to race off into deeper waters. My shot was wasted.
At this point we kind of knew how the rest of the day was going. The weather was just not cooperating. I switched places with Brent a few times and we gave ourselves a few blind cast into the murky waters in the hopes that we could bring something on the boat. Nothing happened and this is where Marcus showed us why he is an absolute professional at what he does. He probably knew the day wasn’t going to be good way before we did. He still gave every effort to find fish and was happy to do it the entire time. When he realized the time was running short he anchored us along the shore line and gave Brent and I an in depth lesson on back casting in the wind. If we weren’t going to leave the day with fish he wanted us to at least leave the day with knowledge.
For me that is the mark of true professional at what he does. Sometimes things don’t always work out in life and in fishing. Especially if you decide to fly fish. So many factors have to line up that some people have even asked my why it is I fly fish? I mean the water is best when its clear. The winds need to be low and the sun is best when its high around noon and to your face so your shadow doesn’t spook weary fish. Why go through all that effort in the hopes of catching a fish? I mean after all I could just blind cast with a plastic lure and have just as much fun when I am with the right company. For me though days like this day in particular are why I enjoy fishing on the fly. You see Marcus, Brent, and I are all combat veterans. While Brent and I served in the same unit we didn’t serve together. Neither of us knew Marcus, but the bond of brash humor and good sprits from war veterans more than made up for lack of fish due to unfortunate weather.
Marcus is a professional and will give every effort to put you on fish even when the fish gods aren’t in his favor. He does it all with a smile on his face while cracking jokes that aren’t necessarily safe for work. Flip Pallot said once “that more is said on a skiff between a client and his guide than in a confessional”. I couldn’t agree more. I don’t believe in bad days of fishing. Even the worst days on the water are better than a good day in an office. For this I can’t say enough about how good Doc’s Fishing Clinic and Guide Service is. He is a treasure on our coast and a dying breed. He will give you his undivided attention and hear you out even if the fishing ins’t going your way that day. I hope that if you read this and are looking for a guide in the Corpus Christi area that you reach out to him. I promise you Marcus is as good of a guide as they come. I placed a link down below where you can reach out to him on Facebook should you decide to use him as a guide,