Breaking Bill’s Rod

Bill Horn wrote a book about fishing the Keys through the seasons. It’s a good read and it is illustrated by Bob White. That’s what got me interested in the first place.

I did an interview with Bill and then when we knew we were coming down he offered to take us out on the water for a day.

Bill just started living in the Keys year round and has been punished for that decision with gale after gale, but I think he’s still pretty happy about it. He lives in Marathon on a canal, minutes from the tarpon. When Adrienne and I got there and finally got situated the run to the fishing grounds was about 8 minutes.

Pretty much paradise.

As we got out it was a bit threatening and when Bill checked his phone and saw a squall centering over us we simply ran back to his house, waited it out while we talked to his wife and went back out after the weather passed.

While Bill hasn’t been a year-rounder for long, it is safe to say he has the pulse of the area. He predicted, with alarming accuracy, when we’d see our first meatball of fish. He pegged it within 15 minutes. He staked us out perfectly and we had SHOTS. This was the first time I really saw the huge schools we had traveled all this way to see.

Doing the two handed thing.

Doing the two handed thing.

Adrienne had an eat. I saw the fish suck in the fly, but she never felt it and it was spit out before the violence happened. She had a lot of shots and the fish were reacting to the fly, which was good. You could just feel that something had changed. If it was going to happen, it was going to happen now.

I got up on deck and Bill handed me one of his rods, what he said was a Biscayne. It was a one piece rod, impractical for travel but nice if you are fortunate enough to live in a place you never have to break down you rods. Bill vouched for the rod, but apologized for the line which he said was old and prone to coiling.

Soon after I was up there were fish. They were heading my way. They were happy.

I made the cast, placed the rod under my arm and started the two hand retrieve. I’ve never really done that before and I found it a really good way to keep from trout setting. Hard to trout set if the rod isn’t in your hands.

I cast at a mass of tarpon. I know you are supposed to cast to an individual fish and I’d love to say I did. I didn’t. I cast at the big mass of darkness over the light patch and a single fish emerged from the pack tracking the fly. About 10 feet from the boat it simply ate the damn thing.

Unable to trout set I simply strip set and strip set again, still holding the line in both hands. The fish was displeased by this turn of events and quickly went airborne. According to protocol, I bowed. The fish, still attached, got pissed and started a run.

Here’s where it all starts to go pear-shaped. Out of the corner of my eye I can see a rather impressive rats nest rising off the deck. This rats nest is likely not going to make it through the guides. I know it, but I can’t do anything about it. Then the physics problem happened when the bulk of the knot tried to pass through the guides, failed, creating forces greater than the tolerances of the tippet/knots, or for that matter, the guide, and things broke. The fly broke off. The guide broke. I nearly broke.

Well, there's your problem right there.

Well, there’s your problem right there.

If I didn’t break, I bent pretty far. I kneeled down on the deck and shook. Oddly, I didn’t feel the wave of frustration or anger I really expected to feel. I felt, well, kind of happy. I just kept saying “wow” over and over. I had fed and jumped a beautiful creature. Bill estimated it at a little over 100 pounds. I felt rather fortunate to have had the opportunity, to have felt the power of the fish with both hands on the line, to see it jump high out of the water and contort its body before crashing back to the water.

Sure, I would have liked to land that fish, to look into its massive eye and get to know it a bit more. I would have liked to see it separate itself from the water a few more times. But this was good and I wasn’t going to diminish it.

Adrienne got the photo. I got the photo of the photo.

Adrienne got the photo. I got the photo of the photo.

That turned out to be end end, or close enough not to matter. A black wall had formed out in front of us. It was bigger than the first squall and we could see the blue water boats running before it. It was going to hit us, as much as we would have preferred it didn’t. We ran back to Bill’s house and saw on the weather website that this was substantial. The rain was driving horizontally.

Something wicked this way comes.

Something wicked this way comes.

The day was done.

Fishing with Bill was great. He had wonderful stories and knew layer upon layer of the Keys and he freely shared his knowledge with us. I felt fortunate for that as well… I also felt a bit bad about breaking his rod, but he told me he fixed the rod himself and it was no big deal.

Seeing the number of tarpon we saw on that day is something that will both delight my memories and haunt my dreams.

Basically, I need to get back there.

On the way back to Islamorada a couple things happened. We drove out of the weather and we went to Robbies.

"Yeah, we fed, like, a couple dozen tarpon..."

“Yeah, we fed, like, a couple dozen tarpon…”

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  1. Bjorn, thanks for the kind words. It was too bad about the weather because the tarpon were swimming and in the mood. You have a genuine rain check for 2014.


  2. It was great being out there with you. Really enjoyed it.

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