I recently asked for some advice on who I should interview for the blog. The interviews have brought some really great stories and insights to the blog and I run out of ideas every once in a while. I’m not tied into any one scene, so I often don’t know the local players or personalities. Paul Fisicaro’s name came up and it turns out he’s a friend of my friend Derek. I got the low-down and the introduction and it made me excited to hear Paul was up for the interview. So, here it is.
Captain Paul Fisicaro:
Fly Fishing Guide, Fly Tier
16 years experience
Thomas and Thomas Fly Rods – Pro Staff.
My friend Derek says you are one hell of a tarpon guide. For me, I feel like my IQ drops by about half when I’m casting to a tarpon. As a guide, seeing people come unglued, what are some of the funny things you’ve seen?
Why thank you, Derek.
I’ve seen a lot of stuff over the past 16 years but nothing too much over the top. I have seen A LOT of rod tossing. I’ve seen anglers throw fly rods distances Joe Montana would be jealous of. I hear cursing. Lots of cursing. I can tell you, with certainty, I have the most linguistically creative clients ever to step on a flats skiff.
Tarpon fishing can do strange things to people. This past year, one of my clients John Lance, was having trouble casting to Tarpon. For the next four days, after each blown shot (and there were a lot), he decided to yell at each Tarpon in Japanese. A little background on John. He is from the Midwest. He doesn’t know Japanese, which made this extremely funny. After a while, I started calling out fish in a Japanese accent. It got out of hand very, very quickly. I still chuckle just thinking about it.
But anyway, I personally think that Tarpon are one of the easier species to catch but certainly bring on buck fever the most. I have anglers that cast 80 feet with no fish around and the minute I call out directions to a fish, they turn into a poster child for a horse whipping clinic.
I do see a lot of disappointment but I do my best to rally the troops and keep them in the game. I try to instill confidence when morale is low and try to correct some of the issues they are having. No yelling, no screaming.
Most of them are very good anglers and casters but cannot keep their feelings in check and that is half the battle.
I do, although, have a few clients than I’ve been fishing for a long time and I find it hysterical watching them come unglued. I razz them a bit, well, a tad more than a bit. Let’s just say I’ve had sleepless nights thinking of things to say but, of course, it’s all in fun.
I can understand the pull of tarpon, but tell me what is it about bonefish that you enjoy.
With Bonefish, I think just stalking those fish in shallow water is what makes them fun and they are always willing to eat a well placed fly. And of course, nothing beats the first few runs of a decent sized Bonefish.
Sharks… you likely see a lot of them out there. How do you feel about them?
On most occasions I love sharks. Just add it to the list of species that you target with a fly. If anyone reading this has ever caught a Blacktip Shark on fly, they know how much fun they can be and you would be hard pressed to find a fish that fights harder. Another great thing about sharks is that when you find lots of them in an area, you tend to find lots of fish. I love pulling up to a flat and seeing sharks everywhere. Most of the time, it means something good has happened or something good is going to happened. Hopefully the latter.
The bad about sharks – The only situation I can say that I despise sharks in when that 400 lb bull shark or that 12 foot Hammerhead looking to score a quick meal during a tarpon fight. But you really can’t blame the shark, can you? They have to eat too.
When the fishing is tough… like, really tough, do you stick with it, or do you turn to other species maybe a little lower on the pecking order?
Generally, I will leave this up to the client. I usually give the options and let them decide. I have a lot of hardcore fly anglers that just want to catch the “Big 3” so the majority of the time, we stick with what we set out to catch. But on the contrary, the greatest thing about the Florida Keys is its versatility and diversity of species. There are so many different types of fish that you can target. You really can’t say that for too many places.
What’s your go-to rod/reel for bonefish? How about for tarpon?
My go to Bonefish set up is a Thomas and Thomas TNT 8 weight with a Tibor Everglades. For Tarpon, I use a Thomas and Thomas TNT 11 weight with a Tibor Gulfstream for big tarpon and a Thomas and Thomas Horizon 9 weight with a Tibor Everglades for smaller Tarpon. Yes. I love T & T. Who doesn’t?
People seem to have strong feelings about class tippet vs. straight leaders. Where do you come down on that?
I’ve never used straight leaders. I actually have my own formula for making them, although it has evolved over the years. Until recently, I used the familiar 3-2-1 formula with Bimini twist and the whole ball of wax. For those who don’t know, the 3-2-1 is 3 feet of 50lb, 2 feet of 40lb and 1 foot of 30lb, 2 to 3 feet of class tippet and finish it off with 16inches of 60lb. shock. This would be the formula for targeting large tarpon or a leader for an 11 weight. I never used IGFA standards unless someone specifically asks for it. Over the last few years, I’ve simplified my leaders. I now tie a 6 foot piece of 50lb for the butt section, 3 foot piece of 20lb Hard Mason mono for class tippet and a 2 foot section of 50 or 60lb shock.
I’m not concerned about breaking world records, I just want my clients to land fish. With this template, there is less knots to worry about and with only a few blood knot connections I can tie leaders much faster and on the fly, customizing them quickly for changing wind conditions.
What is one thing about the Keys that people might find surprising?
Surprising? I think people envision drunk people walking around the Keys in flip flops and tank tops singing Jimmy Buffett songs, sort of like “The Walking Dead” Not so.
When you look back on your saltwater fly fishing, is there someone that stands out as being particularly helpful, someone who showed you the ropes and made it click for you?
I learned how to fly cast by myself when I was 16 years old. It took me a long time to learn to cast correctly. I did have help from a now very good friend, John Knight when I was first starting out. Lou Tabory was another, although I never met him, helped me through the reading of his books. And of course, Lefty Kreh, who has inspired fly fisherman and woman all over the globe. Just an amazing caster, angler and human being.
People can have really high expectations when they get a guide. How do you try to set expectations for your clients?
I’ve always handled this aspect by just telling the truth. I always tell my clients what the best options are and most of the time they are all for it. If someone wants to catch a bonefish and bonefishing hasn’t been very good, I’ll tell them. If they still want to try, I’m game. I will do my very best to find fish for them.
In some cases, we would only spend a few hours looking for bonefish and if it didn’t work out we head for the Permit grounds or hit the mangroves for some baby tarpon action. (Who doesn’t like baby poons?) Every situation is different. Every angler is different. I’ve been blessed with some of the most amazing clients. No fuss, “Yes, Cap. Whatever you think is best” kind of guys. These kind of anglers are the norm, at least for me they are.
Thanks Paul. Great read and appreciate you sharing some stories and thoughts.