01
Jul 15

Florida and a measure of redemption

Before the Bahamas thing blew up, I was regaling you all with tales of our trip to Florida and how it felt to get absolutely crushed by the fishing. I’ll pick up the story where it left off.

I had gone 5 fishelss days. My best day was three follows. We were in Marathon (and Tav and Islamorada and Big Pine) looking for, and failing to find for the most part, the big ocean-side tarpon. Fishing with Bill Horn the day before I heard that it was possible the run was really over… that they run for about 60 days and we were in 60+ territory.

Beyond the fish not being there, there was the weather. June in the Keys can be beautiful. It isn’t as hot or humid as it will get later and there are certain days that are just clear and calm and wonderful. There are also horrible, horrible days full of grey skies and squalls and roiling seas. Day 5 was pretty rough and that was exactly what day 6 was shaping up to be.

My dad had flown out a couple days before and the plan was to get him on a tarpon, any tarpon. We had lined up Derek Rust and we were looking forward to the trip. Derek told us he would be happy to take us out, but thought it would not go well, that the weather was going to be horrible, the winds very high and it was not going to be the day we were hoping for. It was not the call I wanted to get, but I appreciated Derek telling it like it was and letting us come up with a plan B.

I made several calls and found a plan B at about 9:00 PM. The plan was to head North to meet Martin Carranza and to head into the Everglades to Flamingo.

It was such a good call.

I fished with Martin a couple years ago in Biscayne Bay and enjoyed his company. Martin busted his ass for us, poling us into the wind for hours. He was easy going and quick with a joke. An easy guy to share a skiff with.

It was a different kind of fishing, but I really enjoyed it. Casting under the mangroves and tight to cover was a lot of fun. I threw the fly rod and my dad threw a spinning rod so we could both be fishing. My dad hadn’t done any spin fishing since he picked up a fly rod about 18 years ago, and so it was a bit rough to start off with, but he found his groove by the end of the day and was hitting the banks pretty well.

Martin and my Dad, in the Glades.

Martin and my Dad, in the Glades.

The first fish of the day was a tarpon, a baby, but a tarpon, and acrobatic and handsome and exactly what I needed. It was a tiny bit of redemption. I had come to Florida and I had caught a tarpon, even if in my mind the tarpon was about 10x the size. Later in the day I was casting a gurgler along the mangroves, over the trench found between the mangroves and the grass and a large, adult tarpon came up on the fly. It turned it’s head sideways so it could look at the fly, and then turned off it. I didn’t have a chance to do much, just standing there slack jawed before shouting some expletive. Probably the closest I came to getting an eat from an adult tarpon the whole trip.

Martin tells me they also come in Men's sizes.

Martin tells me they also come in Men’s sizes.

I also caught a few small snook, my first, and a jack, a snapper and a cuda. My dad got a small snook himself and had a few bumps from other fish. We saw some bigger snook, but those guys were thick in their cover and didn’t want to play.

Martin on the platform.

Martin on the platform.

It was a good day. I got to fish with my dad (who has decided he still prefers trout to tarpon and said the next time I book a Florida trip he’ll book a trip for trout somewhere else). I got to see a friend and some of the water he knows. We saw a manatee and on the way out of the park I also saw an alligator.

Ya know… it may not be one of the greatest victories in Florida fly fishing, but it was a victory for me.

Thanks Martin.


20
Jun 15

Keys Tarpon Hunt, Day 4 with Davin

Day four saw Davin and I deciding to camp out in Tav and just wait it out. If you are trying to move around to find a fish that moves around, you stand some chance of missing the fish every time. If you wait, so the thinking went, the fish will have to come to you.

It was a good theory.

The weather was grey, the water was hard to see anything in, the wind was up. In short, not ideal.

This proved to be the closest I would get to my oceanside tarpon. Davin, it turns out, sold his soul (at least a part of his soul at any rate) to gypsies in return for super-human vision. He was calling out fish for me on a day when I couldn’t see a damn thing. He must have seen 100 fish that day, I saw about 8. I was making casts to fish I couldn’t see, but Davin and I were working like a team and we were working well.

Three follows. That was the grand tally for the day.

“Tarpon fishing is a game of incremental victories,” said Davin, and that is certainly true. The fish you see. The fish you cast at. The fish that follow. The fish you get to eat. The fish you jump. The fish you land and release. On a bad day you count it all. On a good day? I’ll let you know when I have one.

At one point we got chased off the water by a wall of watery darkness, managing to run under the protection of Nate’s awning just as the squall hit. We went back out, but the tides had changed the fish stopped moving (or moved further out where not even Davin’s gypsy purchased vision could find them).

Davin got to cast for about 5 minutes and had one shot in that time. He let me stand up there for hours, willing me to connect, but the fishing gods had other plans. Either that or this was the fishing gods’ plan and they are a bunch of jerks.

Davin, taking a shot.

Davin, taking a shot.

Another day, another smack down, but a good day on the water. I felt like at least I was in the game and that was more than I had felt the previous few days. Funny how I could feel mostly content on a day when I didn’t touch a single fish, but I did feel content. I took the small victories and was happy with them.


19
Jun 15

Florida Keys – 2015 – the first three days

I know tarpon on the fly can be hard. I know there are easier ways to catch tarpon. Float a live crab under one of the bridges and you stand a pretty good shot. That’s not what I wanted to do. That wasn’t what I was there for. It wasn’t what any of us were there for.

We came from near and far to try to get our own piece of the migrating ocean-side tarpon. I came from California, Matt Smythe from New York, Davin and his dad from the Cayman Islands and we had Ty Lloyd Jr. from the Naples area and Eric Estrada, as close to a local as we had in the group, from Miami. Davin was up in Tavernier with his friend Nate, the rest of us were down in Marathon.

Heading out on Day 1, High Hopes, Good Weather

Heading out on Day 1, High Hopes, Good Weather

The day I got in I got my rental car and headed South. Matt and Ty were already out and not having someone to head out with right away, I did the only thing I could think of and went fishing. I waded, looking for something roughly bonefish shaped and instead found three somethings tarpon shaped. A wolf pack of three big tarpon came skirting the inside of grass. Sure, I cast at them, just because, but they wanted nothing. It seemed like a good omen.

It wasn’t.

When I got out with Eric later that day, we didn’t see much. The next day with Eric we didn’t see much more. The next day with Ty, we didn’t see much more. We covered water. We staked out. We moved. We made calls. We peered into the water for hours and hours and hours and had nothing to show for it. No one was catching fish, not up in Tav, not in Islamorada, not in Marathon.

See, I had been saying these fish have been making this migration for tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of years and they were unlikely to stop any time soon… but they seemed to have kind of stopped. They were running off the script. They were making an idiot out of me/us.

Ty, Matt and I, out looking for fish.

Ty, Matt and I, out looking for fish.

The big meat balls weren’t there. Those rampaging swarms of tarpon, all eyeballs and tails and pushing water visible from a quarter mile… they just weren’t there. We saw a few fish, very few, usually too close to do much about, or, in one case, slightly out of reach.

You head all this way and it’s in the window, but there isn’t anything there. Kind of kicks you in the gut. It’s one thing to get shots and miss them, but it is another to just not get the shots. We were counting fish seen, not fish cast at, not fish fed or jumped and certainly not fish released.

We went through this a couple years ago, although we saw more fish and there was about 1,000% more rain. From that experience I knew we had to stay positive and, oddly enough everyone did.

We slugged it out and there wasn’t much to write about because beyond fishing different places and going out in the back a bit to look for laid up fish, we didn’t see much of anything. We looked for bones and reds on a couple of occasions and every bit of nervous water was a lemon shark.

At least there were drinks in the evening and food and friends and good conversations. Stay positive… that’s the trick.


17
Jun 15

When the first cast falls apart

On this FL tarpon trip every shot gained in magnitude and importance because there were so few of them. So, each flub was a massive failure, bringing down the skies and ripping out a bit of my soul (to be dramatic about it).

One of the problems I had was on that first cast to really close in fish. Conditions meant we didn’t see fish from too far away. Often we’d see the fish 30 feet away, maybe 20, sometimes 10. Always they were coming at us, closing the distance fast. Trying to get a cast at a 100 pound fish 20 feet away is harder than it sounds on the face of it. The rod is 9 feet. The leaders were were fishing were between 10-13 feet. That means your cast, if you can call it that, was basically the length of the rod and the leader.

Ever try to load a 12 weight with no fly line out? Or even just a couple feet? It doesn’t work so well. You can’t load the rod and you can’t make the cast. On the first cast, everything would fall apart and then… oh calamity.

Trying to correct from a bad cast, that hurry, that rush… nothing goes right when you find yourself in that mode of “trying-to-recover.”

In retrospect, I should have shortened the leader so I could have more line out, so I could have loaded the rod for the super-close-in shots we were getting. A 13′ leader is a clear-day luxury we didn’t have, but tried to insinuate into the situation. It was the wrong call.

The second lesson, which will be learned and re-learned a hundred times over an angler’s life is simple… when it feels like you need to speed up, that’s exactly when you need to slow down. Take out the panic and get methodical with it. Think mechanics, not fish, and concentrate on the movements of your hand, your arm, the rod, the line, and not the movement in the water of that shot evaporating in front of you. If you don’t get it right, it doesn’t really matter if you had a shot or not and you won’t get it right if you panic.

I heard or saw this in some military show or movie… the infantryman’s proverb of, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

Truth.

Speaking of casting, here’s Davin, aka Windknot, aka Flatswalker, talking about another bit of casting that he diagnosed me with and that I tried to get right on my last couple days.

 


16
Jun 15

Truths I don’t want to hear

Not fishing, not catching, most like running from the storm!

Not fishing, not catching, most like running from the storm!

There are these sayings one hears (I’ve heard them come out of my own mouth even) that can really drive you mad.

Maybe it is a tolerance thing and you hit it at a certain point, say, day 3 without a tarpon really even looking at your fly. Maybe it is 4 days. Regardless, there is a point when you you can see it coming, you know someone is going to say one of these things and you want to run up the tracks and flag down the locomotive before it hits the washed out bridge (you, fishless, or rather me, fishless on day 3-4 is the washed out bridge in this case).

Two of the most egregious of these sayings are:

  1. You can only catch fish when you have your line in the water.” Yes… true, but the other side of that is the “There is a fine line between fishing and waving a rod around in the air like an idiot.”
  2. That’s why the call it fishing, not catching.” True… but I’m out there to catch things, not just share their water. I know I’m supposed to enjoy “just being here” and all that, and I do, but I am there because I want to connect with the sliver king, because I want to do some catching.

These are thoughts you have when you mostly don’t catch anything. I had lots of time to think about these things since my hours on the bows of various skiffs was mostly not taken up with casting to or fighting fish.

Sure, I can laugh at it all too, so don’t take anything above too seriously. At the end of the day, I don’t. But a good rant is cathartic.


14
Jun 15

Back From Florida

I’m back. I’m back in California from my week in the Keys where the fishing was hard and the friendships easy.

I’ll get to posting later this week, but I wanted to give a little color to events of the past seven days.

In short, we got our collective asses handed to us by Mr. & Mrs. Tarpon. Seems like the big fish had mostly stopped running the ocean side flats by the time we got there, although there were a few big herds seen and cast to (although not by me).

The number of tarpon seen in a day, sometimes counted in the hundreds, on this trip were often counted in single digits. There were not water jugs poured over any heads in celebration on this trip, but it had its moments, although mostly of the friendship type and not the fishing type.

I’ll get some stories up over the next few days.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0768.

Matt and Ty

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0784.

Davin on the lookout.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0792.

Me, Bill Horn and Dan Dow, running. 

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0811.

A bit of weather to round things out. 


03
Jun 15

The Mad Dash

The trip to the Keys is right close now, just a few days away. I fly out on Sunday, should be fishing on Monday. And so it goes that there is a mad dash to get all my gear put together by the time I need to head to SFO for my red-eye.

The rods are sorted, although not all here. I have my Orvis H2 8 weight, my Redington Predator 10 and a loaner Predator 12, which should be here on Friday along with a super-secret reel for the 12, which I’m excited to get my hands on.

Going through my lines in the garage I found I was short a 12 weight line. Now… it could be I’m NOT shore a 12 weight line, I may have just mislabeled, which is the sort of thing I’m prone to do. I don’t have the time to find the line scale and weigh all the lines, so I just bought a new one, which should be here tomorrow. Along with that was an order for backing, because while it is possible I mislabeled the lines, I never labeled the spare backing I have at all and so don’t know if I have 20# or 30#.

Back in 2012 when I went to Cuba and managed my largest tarpon to date (about 85#) I was really, really nervous knowing all that weight and tension was on 20# backing (my plans to get 30# blew up the day before I left). So, 30# backing is on the way.

I got the gear bag out and started putting the odds and ends you want with you out on the water. Tape for fingers, super glue, wire, spare tip tops for rods and other things that fall under the heading of “Misc.”

Of course, there are things I can’t control… like the weather. I’m prepared for rain, mentally and physically. I know it will pour. I know we’ll be chased off the water some days, maybe every day, but I’m going anyway because this is the time, that is the place and you only catch the fish when you are there, ready to go.

So… the mad dash to the finish line will continue for a few days. Can’t wait.

So... good, maybe? Or bad, maybe? So hard to tell, and maybe impossible to predict.

So… good, maybe? Or bad, maybe? So hard to tell, and maybe impossible to predict.


20
May 15

The Fieldworkers Club goes to Belize

Right? I mean… who wouldn’t want to?

I like this concept.


04
May 15

Florida is happening

Davin spanking a baby

Davin spanking a baby

Two years ago I went to fish Florida for the first time. I had a block about fishing Florida for a long time. Florida, I was told, was hard. Like really hard. It wasn’t a place to go if you wanted to catch fish if you couldn’t make a 300 foot cast in a hurricane. Oh, and the guides would yell at you, maybe tell you were were a bit overweight and that no one really liked you..

I wasn’t ready for Florida.

But in 2013 I went anyway. It was tough and wet and I didn’t catch that many fish, but I also realized just how much of the center of the sport Florida really is. If you fly fish for bones or tarpon or permit, you need to come here, to experience it, to test your metal.

I went back last year and I’m going back again this year. I’m going back and most of the crew from 2013 is heading back too. Davin and Matt are going to be there, Eric is coming too, I have a day fishing with Derek and there will even be some new additions.

It feels good to have a trip on the books, but even better when it is a reunion of friends, far flung, geographically dispersed and coming back together.

I’m excited about the Keys, about seeing old friends, making new memories.

Who knows… maybe it will rain every day again and we will get in 2 hour of fishing, but even if that happens, I know I’ll still have a pretty good time.


12
Mar 15

Tarpon Fishing in the Keys

MidCurrent has a great piece up on helping you have a good Keys tarpon trip. You should read it.

One point the article makes is that the weather is often pretty bad in those most tarpony of times, May and June. On my one previous June tarpon expedition I experienced this firsthand. It rained, hard. There were brief respites, but mostly, it was wet.

I wrote a piece up for that trip. It didn’t get published, as these things usually don’t. One of the criticisms was my insistence that the Sunshine State wasn’t too sunny. I had a line like “It was wet, even for Florida…” that struck a reviewer as nonsensical. Even if it smacks of cognitive dissonance, the Sunshine State IS wet and June is particularly so.

Typical

Typical

I got that line wrong though… it wasn’t “wet, even for Florida,” it was as wet AS Florida in June. It is the fool who heads for Tarpon in the Keys during the peak migration with nothing but flipflops and sunscreen. Bring a light rain jacket, and your patience and your optimism. The latter two items are sometimes difficult to fit in the same bag.

I’m heading back to Florida this June. I expect to be rained on, hard, because it is the Keys in June. I hope also to get shots at some fish bigger than my 4’8″ 8 year old.

Taking a page out of that MidCurrent article… anyone have suggestions for cheap digs in Marathon around June?