Aug 16

Things on my mind: Tarpon

This video kills me… that big, nasty, beautiful, wonderful school of good sized tarpon and the shot goes begging… which is pretty much true to form.

Yeah, I’m thinking about tarpon and about next May when I’m going to make it back to Florida and back down to the Keys for a few days of tarponing, which is to say a few days of dodging storms and failing to see fish and fishing hard and maybe, if I’m lucky, getting a follow.

Tarpon are just cool. No way around it.

May 16

Thinking of Florida

It is tarpon time in the Keys. The migratory ocean-siders are doing their thing, pausing at the bridges and moving with the tides and the hopeful are waiting and searching for them.

It seems I now do this about every two years. A trend that looks like it will continue in 2017. Last year I got the Keys Beat Down and went 5 fishless days before a small act of redemption in the Glades. Somehow, I’m still up for trying again.

Next year it looks like a conference I’ll be attending will be held in Ft. Lauderdale right about this time. That means I’ll be able to wrap up the conference and slide a couple hours south to complete my biennial tarpon hunting.

I have to say… I’m already a bit excited about it, even after the demoralizing smack downs the Keys have dished out. There is just something about being there and seeing those fish sliding through the water, prehistoric, massive, sleek and powerful.

I’ll be planning this trip from now until I get on the deck of whatever skiff I’ll end up on.

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

The only pic I have of a fish I broke a rod on in 2013.

Aug 15

Best looking boat on the water

When I was on that Florida tarpon hunt I had the distinct pleasure of riding around part of the week in the best looking boat on the water. If you’ve been out in the Glades or around Miami, you might have seen it. I’m talking about Eric Estrada’s Ankona.

Check it out.

That is a good looking boat.

That is a good looking boat.

Each boat is built for a purpose and this is built for the backwaters, the skinny stuff. We tried to make this into an ocean-side tarpon boat, but a little water over the gunnels and we thought better of it. It is a thing of beauty. The art, Eric’s original art, is a wrap around the hull, so it can be changed, but I just love the look of it.

Jun 15

Day 5 of Tarponless Tarpon Fishing with Bill and Dan

Day 5 was ugly. The wind was up in a big way and ruled out most of what we would have wanted to do. I was fishing with Bill Horn, the guy who wrote the (or at least a) book about the Keys. He’s also on the Board for the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust. Also in the boat was Dan Dow, who works at BTT.

It is always good to be in the boat with Bill. He has his home waters dialed and managed a couple of wizard-like moments in conditions that were beyond rough. We were taking green rollers over the bow. The bottom was stirred up and visibility was sketchy. Bill still managed to put us in the path of some tarpon. How he did that… I can only suspect witchcraft of some kind.

Not great conditions

Not great conditions

We actually got a couple of shots, but the fish were so close to the boat by the time we could see them the shots were not high quality.

We were watching the weather form out beyond us and when it was clear we were in its way we made a run back toward Vaca Cut. The first squall line had moved beyond us by the time we got there and as we tried to make our way to his slip we ran smack into the second squall line. Pretty impressive weather to get stuck in. We hid under the bridge and when the storm passed we even got to try for some of the smaller tarpon rolling in the inexplicably placid waters before the wind came back up.

Yeah... that's some weather.

Yeah… that’s some weather.

That's Dan and Bill, under the rain drop.

That’s Dan and Bill, under the rain drop.

The day was over and I was fish-less again on Day 5. It was a good day though and it was great to share the water with Bill and Dan. I learned a lot from Bill, as I do every time I get on the water with him. Dan… I didn’t learn anything from Dan (kidding), but it was fun to fish with him anyway.

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.

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.”


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.


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.

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.


Matt and Ty


Davin on the lookout.


Me, Bill Horn and Dan Dow, running. 


A bit of weather to round things out. 

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.

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.