Feb 13

Interview Captain Tim Mahaffey

When I asked for anglers to interview about bonefish, Capt. Tim Mahaffey’s (www.flatshead.com) name came up quickly and, after looking over what he has to share, I can see why. He’s got a long and distinguished track record where it concerns the Grey Ghost (the guy has won the Islamorada Spring & Fall Bonefish Fly Invitationals 6 time) and he even wrote this article about hunting for big fish. Tim has some good stories to share.

That is just massive.

That is just massive.

You have a pretty impressive tournament resume. For a West Coast trout guy like myself, tournaments aren’t something that really exist. What is it that you like about fishing tournaments, what makes you keep coming back? 

It is like any other sport, competition raises skill level, and it makes you work harder and prepare longer.  I started fly fishing at a very young age, 5, and it has been my life’s passion ever since.  Tournament fishing pushed me to get better and to take my fishing to a level I didn’t know existed.  It’s really the great thing about fishing which is somewhat unlike other sports – it can be enjoyed by everyone no matter your skill level.  Fishing from a bridge, or competing at the highest levels in Islamorada chasing downtown bonefish.  It is all fun.

When you are on the water a lot, you see really interesting things that most folks probably don’t know about. Is there something particularly interesting you’ve seen out on the water?

Since I concentrate most of my bonefishing chasing the huge, downtown fish of Islamorada, I certainly see some bonefish behavior that you don’t see in the Bahamas or even in Biscayne Bay.  One of the funnier things is what we call the “positive confirmation”.  Many times when we spook these giant bones, and I’m talking about fish 10-15 lbs, they don’t tear off the flat looking for deeper water.  They come to the boat and look at us, not in panic, but in confident posture, taking that “positive confirmation” of “oh yes, that is that idiot in the white Maverick Mirage who just hit me in the head with his pathetic shrimp imitation”.  I’ve seen this over and over again and clearly it is an evolved behavior inherent in these older, mature fish.

Florida has a reputation for being a tough place to fish, for being a place where bonefish are really hard to catch. How deserved is that reputation?

It is deserved for the big fish for sure, but well worth the effort since many days we’re casting to world record caliber fish.  I wrote an article about fishing for giant bonefish quite some time ago (see below), and really nothing has changed.  There are very specific techniques as to how you feed these fish, unlike anywhere else I have fished.  You have to slow down, less is better, in how you strip, how close you throw to the fish, etc.  I use the heaviest fly possible for the situation, they want it hopped short and quick and on the bottom.  Most of the big fish we catch when the fly is not moving.   The bottom line is that they are very catchable, but you have to do everything right and do it the way they want it.  There is no room for error.

Tim M Big Bonefish 2

Is there a fish that you lost that haunts you?

Yes there are a few.  It’s funny, combined I’ve won the Islamorada Spring & Fall Bonefish Fly Invitationals 6 times, but I lost a significant fish in 3 other tournaments that easily would have been enough to win those too.  One was in Biscayne Bay, and I hooked this giant, single mudding bone in 5 feet of water, and he literally screamed drag off to the bottom of my reel.  We had to start the motor and give chase.  At the end of the second run the line went slack, and when I pulled in the fly I discovered he had completely crushed the fly closed.  I’ve landed 3 bones over 14 lbs in my life, and this fish was in that class and perhaps a pound or two more.  It seems I remember those lost more than those caught.

Is there something happening conservation wise that has you hopeful about the fate of bonefish there in FL? Is there something that has you concerned?

Just like everything else, we always say it’s not like it used to be.  But sometimes it is, which gives us hope.  Some days they are there, in great numbers and the shot count exceeds 30 and it is like nothing ever happened.  So the hope is that yes, the fish are still there and when conditions dictate we have great days.  The elimination of septic sewage in the Keys brings us hope for the future, and continual policing of our flats to be marked as no motor zones I believe helps ensure our fishery will survive and thrive.

What is your go-to rod/reel set up?

For Downtown Islamorada bonefish, I use Loomis GLX Classic 9 weight 2 piece rods with Abel 4N reels.  On big windy days I pull out the 10 weights.

Yup... another big, big fish.

Yup… another big, big fish.

Did you learn how to be a guide through a culmination of experience or did someone teach you how to be a guide and what do you think is the key attribute a guide should have?

Being a competitive angler / paying customer on the bow of several great guides’ boats for many years helps you understand the expectation of a client and what is going through their head.  There are several key attributes.  First and foremost, the job is to provide opportunities to catch the fish.  You have to have the knowledge to be able to do that under all conditions and seasons.  Secondly, you want your customer to not only catch fish, but have fun doing it.  Guides sometimes lose themselves in the catching part, and forget about the fun part.  I want my customers walking away wanting more, more casts, more fun.  Lastly, you have to enjoy teaching and coaching, and be willing to do it all day every day.  I find beginners and experts alike all want to learn more and improve, and they are looking to walk away from the day thinking, “I got better today, wow I learned something today”.  Understanding the customer’s expectations is so important and adjusting your style to that is extremely critical.  The way I fish and coach one guy may be totally different than the next based on what they want out of the day.

The Bahamas has Kalik. What do you drink after a long day on the water?

Two gallons of water a day on the boat, but, once home, Ron Zacapa 23 Year Old Centenario Rum – the best rum in the world.

Do you have any superstitions on your boat?

Not really, I’ve tried them all and they don’t work!

 Thanks for your time and attention to the answers here Tim. Cheers!

Jun 12

Fly Fishing Poet and the Salt

Matt, aka the Fly Fishing Poet, got down to Florida to go throw in the salt for the first time.  I haven’t made it down to the Keys since I was 10 (I loved in then… wanted to be a treasure hunter as a kid, which I know makes no sense as a mountain bound Californian).

A damn fine read. Here’s a taste…

Islamorada, I’m here and everything about you is foreign to me. Timeless retro hotel and diner and marina signs. Languid, saronged women in their generous brown skin and strong, salty women in their salty brown skin. Bar-top sweat-rings telling stories between drinks. Backcountry islands hovering on the teal horizon.

Check out the full story here (and it is worth it).

Go time.


PS – Matt has a story in Pulp Fly, which you should totally buy (for Kindle and anything that can handle Kindle books, like iPads).

Feb 12


For US bonefisherman there is a certain mystic that surrounds Islamorada in the Florida Keys.  I haven’t fished it.  I haven’t fished Florida at all, actually. Part of me doesn’t feel ready and part of me is drawn to places where the catching is more likely.  I want to get there though.  I need to, really.  I just haven’t made it happen yet.

The Florida Sportsman ran an interesting article about the changing nature of Islamorada.  Worth a read.

The notion of “educated” fish has crept into the vernacular, as some species, most notably bonefish and tarpon, have grown over the years more difficult to fool with flies and lures. And yet Islamorada remains one of the world’s top destinations to catch 10-pound-plus bonefish. And the spring tarpon run offers unique access to oceanside as well as backcountry fish.

Nice shot.

Sep 10

Interview with Sandy Moret

Sandy Moret has been at it for a long  time in the US Bonefish Capital, Islamorada, Florida.  He runs the Florida Keys Outfitters and some of the biggest names in saltwater fly fishing have come through his shop.  If you want to jump-start your saltwater game, you can even sign up for his Florida Keys Fly Fishing School.

It seems like you are heavily associated with Islamorada.  What is it that has kept you there for so many years?

I’ve lived here since ’85.  It’s a great place to live.  Lots of good fishing opportunities, lot of different species.  The bonefish… we’ve got some pretty big bonefish here.  One thing about this area that is charming to me is that every day you go out fishing, and you don’t see them as often as you used to, but you have a chance to catch an honest 12 pound bonefish.


Not Sandy's fish, but the largest he's seen a pic of from around Islamorada.

I’ve seen that you are associated with a lot of tournaments.  As a West Coast trout guy, tournaments are a new concept for me. It seems like the tournament scene is its own little world.  What’s the profile of a tournament angler?

Tournaments are an opportunity to get together with like minded people and fish for bonefish and test and compare techniques.  The equipment and techniques we use today developed through tournament fishing to a large degree.  The rods, reels, better flies and better techniques have come from tournament fishing.  I don’t fish any tournaments anymore, although I used to fish quite a few. We run several tournaments here at the shop. We took on the operation of the Inshore World Championship from the IGFA several years ago. They have forty or so qualifying events around the world.  If an angler wins one of those events, we’ll send him an invitation to come and fish here in July. That’s a five species tournament; tarpon, redfish, snook, permit and bonefish.

There’s a fall bonefish tournament coming up in a couple weeks in about it’s thirtieth year.  I’d venture to say it will have some of the top bonefish anglers around the planet.

There’s really no way to measure the effectiveness of your technique unless you compare it to others.  You have a forum with a control group.  It’s the same people that win these things because they’ve developed a technique that is superior.

It kind of implies that luck is taken out of the equation if the same people are winning over and over again.

Yes.  It means that they know the formulas for the leaders, the sink rates of the flies, they know several presentations and stripping methods that work in different situations. I find it pretty fascinating.

Nice fish Sandy!

Florida Guides have a reputation for being a bit intimidating and demanding.  Do you think that is a deserved reputation or is that just part of the lore surrounding Florida fishing?

I think some of it is well deserved and some of it is not.  When you have something you have to do in a short amount of time and a limited opportunity to do it… a lot of people misinterpret  getting yelled at. The guide is just trying to get you to do something that has to happen in a hurry.  I see all the time where people misinterpret that as they are being abused.  The guides want you to catch fish.  It’s one thing for a guide to point a fish out to you and let you see the fish and catch it. That’s about you catching the fish.  It is another for the guide not to care about that and to say “give me a cast over there” and not even try to  show you where the fish was.  I don’t even care to cast to a fish if I can’t see it.  When someone just tells you  to cast somewhere, that’s not even bonefishing in my mind

Guides vary all over the world but I’d say they have a very good cadre of guides here.

What do you think the state of the fishery is down there in the keys.  Do you feel optimistic or pessimistic about what the future holds.

I don’t feel optimistic about any fishery on the planet.  The fishing pressure, the degradation.  In the Pacific you’ve got places where they are consistently eating the bonefish and netting them up in some atoll in the South Pacific.


Yeah, that’s it. You’ve got that going on all over the world.  I don’t know how to be optimistic about it.  Bonefishing is great when they are there.  Hopefully they’ll be some preservation and people are becoming more aware of the importance of the species, but it’s like pulling teeth.  If you win 12 battles and lose 1, you’ve lost the war. There’s a lot of that going on.

If you have someone fairly green coming down to the Keys, what do they need to be successful?

They need casting skills.  I find that to be the biggest limiting factor for people.  People for some reason are hesitant to put in the time to develop the casting skills to catch these fish.  They are demanding and they may be a bit more difficult that others, but some days they are dumb as stumps. You do have to bring the casting skills anywhere you go in the salt.

When you say “casting skills” are you talking 90’ in a bucket,  70’ in a 20 mph wind?

40’-60’ in the wind.  I don’t even know if I can cast 80’. There are a lot of great casters in the world.  More than there have ever been.  Still, a lot of people don’t devote the energy to fine tune it.  The cast is a really huge part of catching these fish.

Do you have a favorite rod or reel for bonefish?

Right now I use the Sage Xi3. I think it is a great rod.  I’m using a Tibor Everglades for bonefish.  I’d say, the reason I use the reel is it is bullet-proof. Being on the flats is not a time to worry about equipment failure.  Here at the shop we see a lot equipment and we never, as in never, see issues with Tibor products.

You can tell, Sandy still gets excited about bonefish.

The technology on rod development continues to change and peoples casts continues to change.  If I pick up a rod and use it for 4-5 years I pick up a new rod and say “How could I ever have lived without this?”

Thanks Sandy.

Nov 09

Islamorada Bonefish Vid

Ah… fish porn… I love fish porn.