Dragon Fly

The One that Got Away

What would fishing be without “the one that got away?” Much better! I hear you – but there’s something good about losing a nice fish, too. Actually, there are a few good things about losing the big one, right?

For starters, we know he’s still in there. Somewhere in that big bend or deep cove, that fish still swims – or at least one or two like him. We know we had him on the line, and now he’s a little smarter than before maybe, but he’s still out there. If we fish long and hard enough, we may run into him again.

Secondly, the next time we see him, he might be even larger. Not everything in fly fishing is about bigger, faster, stronger – but you can’t deny that most of us would rather catch big fish than little ones, right? If you do run into that lunker from your past again, maybe he’s put on a couple of inches or a few pounds. That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?

Hang on a minute! Is this just going to be a list of reasons we should be happy about losing a nice fish?

Why no. This is going to be a story about losing a nice fish and why, ever since the day I lost him, I try to look on the bright side of things when it comes to “the one that got away.

I was 16 years old and sitting in a borrowed boat with my very pretty new girlfriend. We were having a wonderful day fishing and I’d already landed several small bass and a few bluegills. She was getting the hang of it, but was enjoying the sun and water more than the fishing.

I cast a #6 black wooly bugger alongside a floating dock that had some brush sticking up just off to one side. Something struck! I struck back! The fish headed for open water and I got all cocky and said “I’ve got a big one this time, baby!” The fish zigged and I zagged, he went deep and I held on. He pulled my drag – I palmed the spool. (This was before the days of affordable, quality drags in freshwater fly reels)

Then, Mr. Bigmouth jumped into the air. All roughly 9 pounds of him! Airborne. Thrashing. Shaking. Mouth as big as a basketball. I yelled out “Nooooooooo!” but it was too late.

The wooly bugger landed two feet in front of the boat with a pitiful ker-splat and it was at that moment that I heard crying. I’d let the big one get away. There was despair, anger and an immediate depression over the loss. It was the biggest bass that either of us had ever had on the fly. There was some whimpering and some kind of guttural sobbing sound. This wasn’t just the one that got away, it was a monster that got away. The whimpering continued and… I suddenly realized that it was ME! You can only begin to imagine the ridicule I faced back at school. Crying over a bass. The very idea. How stupid.

So, if you can…don’t let the one that got away worry you too much. There will be others – or maybe even that same fish, if you put in the effort to try and find him again. Try to remember that fishing isn’t always about the catching and that there’s no crying in fly fishing or bass fishing …there’s just no crying in fishing at all, OK?

At least, not when you’re bigmouth girlfriend is in the boat.

A Day To Remember

I felt it in the air the night before.  Like fish under the spell of the moon, I could feel it: tomorrow would be a great day,  one of those days when it all comes together…the steady temps of the week before, the moon, the warming late winter water and a powerful longing of fish and fisherman to hit the shallows: fish, looking for early hatches of nymphs, grass shrimp and baitfish, all drawn to algal blooms and warmth; fisherman, in hopes of hitting that convergence of perfect conditions and the desire of fish to feed ravenously.

In vivid color I could visualize perfectly stained water, the telltale sign of a resurgence of life on a lake awakened by the warmth of the late winter sun.

It was a fitful night of sleep with no need for an alarm; it was set in my soul.  Two hours before dawn I stood over a pot of fresh brewing coffee.  The aromatic wisps of steam conjured a light fog lifting in gentle swirls on the lake, back-lit by a rising sun.

A half hour drive to the lake gave plenty of time to paint mental pictures…slam-dunked strike indicators, heavily bowed rod and huge fish swirling, spinning below, trying to free themselves from my line.

At the launch, it was still dark, the water black, and no light revealing its true color or condition.  Still, I imagined it to be perfect.  I unstrapped the boat and, as always, made certain the motor would start.  I gave her a couple of swigs of gas with the primer and hit the starter…she immediately came to life. She was as anxious as I to hit the lake. I backed the boat in the water just deep enough to set it free.  It glided back into the black night, now in its favored element…she came tight against her leash.

Having to wait at least thirty minutes before safe light, I poured a cup of hot coffee from my thermos, sat on the rod box, lit up a cigar and removed my fly rod from its restraints.  As anxious as I was to fish, those few peaceful moments of pure silence were divine…the christening of a beautiful day to come.

At safe light I fired up the outboard; never cold natured, always eager to do her thing, she never lets me down.  There is something joyful and satisfying about the smell of an outboard’s smoke regurgitated through the underwater exhaust; an essence of fishing and fun.

My grandfather, in preparation for a fishing trip, would send me into his dirt-floored garage to dig red worms from an old washtub full of peat.  He kept the tub on a wooden bench, where, close by, hung an old and faded Wizard outboard.  The perfectly blended smell of peat, red worms, 2 cycle oil and gas is a memory burned deep within me, a smell I will never forget, in which one breathes fishing and life’s unforgettable days.

Slowly I made my way toward the boat road and headed to the westernmost side of the lake. As I envisioned, there were dancing swirls and wisps of fog rising from the water: the lake had indeed warmed.

The night before I decided this was the best area, heated earliest by the late winter sun.  The primary creek feeding the lake enters this westernmost cove.  The upper reaches are choked shut, impassable with young cypress and heavy aquatic vegetation that stretch a great distance, a perfect nursery for grass shrimp, crawfish and untold varieties of aquatic insects, nymphs and small bait fish.

I hoped a heavy rain, some days before, had flushed a lot of bait into a shallow flat just to the east.  The main feeder creek runs through the middle of this flat.  The edges are lined with aquatic vegetation:  gator grass, hyacinth and a spattering of coontail…a perfect combination.  With an average depth of three and a half feet and six in the channel…it is perfect for fly fishing.

If it were a little later in the year and the water a bit warmer, I would start with a popping bug. Today I fish a bugger some two feet under a strike indicator.

As I approached the western edge, I killed the motor as the remaining three hundred yards or so require a trolling motor in the shallow water with numerous stumps.  Slowly, I wound my way up the creek toward the flat, dodging stumps and cypress knees. The last two turns are marked by several large, stately, moss-draped cypress.  The trees mark the point where I pick up my rod and free the fly from its keeper.  Making the final turn, I pull four or five strips of line from the reel…the clicking of the pawl quickens my pulse, sharpens my senses.

An osprey passes overhead in what I hope is an attempt to beat me to “the spot.”  Surely he must know something: he is a professional…my intuition might just be correct.

As I round the final turn I see the flat before me…stained perfectly.  So heavy is the plankton, it is visible; clear enough for a fish to see a fly; yet stained enough to provide cover: perfect conditions…just as I imagined.

Entering the flat, I head to a small circular pocket of water some seventy-five feet or so across.  A small cypress stands guard near the mouth of a narrow channel which winds through gator grass.  It begs for a cast. A quick loading of the rod, sends a perfect cast toward the base of the tree.  A Pop’s Brown Bugger and its little pink companion, a half inch Thing-a-ma-bobber,  politely land a foot from the tree.

I hesitate to move the rig for a moment when suddenly…the pink is gone, only a telltale ripple left behind.  In disbelief, I almost hesitate too long.  I give the line a brisk strip and raise my rod, which promptly bends double, the line shoots straight to the right.

Like a kid at Christmas ripping wrapping from a gift, I strip line trying to catch up to him and catch up with time.  My mind is whirring: “Let me at least see him.”  A minute or so later I see the flashing silver and black side of what I know is a large, heavy crappie…“Damn, the fish are here, or is he just one of those loners?” You know…the ones that make you wonder, “Now, why the hell was he in here and no others?”  I bring him alongside, kneel and lip him into the boat…a beauty of a fish.

My second cast lands nearly in line with the first, but a bit longer.  Promptly the indicator begins to move slowly to the left.  I anxiously watch as it moves a half foot or so before bringing the rod up and against the fish.  He pulls hard and fights more violently.  He is pulsing and throbbing…the recognizable fight of a large bluegill.  The line zips and sings back and forth as I try to keep pace with the rod.  A short fight later, a fine heavy bluegill comes to hand.

 In Louisiana we refer to large bluegill males as bull bream…really huge males as bull-a-gators.  This fish was approaching bull-a-gator in size.

I worked the area over for a while, landing dozens of fine crappie and large bream.  By now, I know, “They’re here in numbers, they are big and they are hungry as hell!”   I am giddy!

Giving this area a rest, I anxiously move further up the flat.  The southern edge has a nicely shaped bottom…going from a foot or so deep, right next to the vegetation, to several feet deep and dropping again to six feet or so in the creek.  The fish have several distinct areas to stage and feed.  Before the day is up, I will have success in all.

I quietly approach an indention in the edge, bounded by two trees approximately six feet out and twenty or so feet apart, forming a beautiful pocket.  A long cast deep to the back is promptly rewarded…the indicator is slowly going under.  With a brisk strip set and raising the rod…all hell breaks loose.  A heavy fish is having its way with my rod. All I can do is give him some rod, feather the line…lots of line and hold on for the ride, first this way, then that.

After several minutes, I still have no control of him.  My mind is trying to unravel clues as to what he is.  There is no thumping to indicate a bream struggling on its side or the heavy, yet compliant, pull of a large crappie.  If it were a bass, he would have gone airborne by now or headed for deeper water.

My mind is once again begging, “I just want to see …just let me see what he is.”  After what seems like five minutes, but more likely two, I get a fleeting glimpse of a huge, beautifully colored chinquapin, known to some as shell crackers, lake runners or red eared sunfish.  In Louisiana, these fish get huge.  This fish is freaky big.  Catching a glimpse of me, he takes off as if he has seen the meanest creature in the world.  He takes line at will. By now, I really don’t mind if he tears loose or brakes off…I have seen him, he has given me a thrill…he has slaked my Jones.

Several times I bring him along side, only to have him keep going out the other.  Finally, I reach and lift one of the biggest chinqs I have ever seen.  I have caught big ones before…but none as thick and tall.  This fish is like reeling in a mad hub cap.

I sit there for a few moments to soak in what has happened and what is surely to come.  Picking up the sleeping cigar, I puff it back to life.  Ah…a hot cup of coffee and a few delightful draws from a good cigar are ample celebration.

Sitting there soaking up the moment, I hear a wren in a nearby bush roll out a short, beautiful song.  The last note sounds a little funny, just a tad off key…she then makes a scolding chatter, as if griping about hitting a bad note.  I can’t help but chuckle.  In this one small spot there is so much to see, so much to hear and so damn many fish to catch.

The osprey, now circling at the far western edge of the flat, suddenly folds his wings, and drops like a stone…making his first catch of the day.  He rises fifty feet or so back into the air, pauses in mid-flight, and gives a violent shudder, shaking off water droplets that cling to his chest.  I offer him up a cloud of aromatic smoke, raise the small shiny chrome cup in a salute and give him a smile.  It is a great day for us both, …a day to remember.

Sage Circa Fly Rods – Prepare To Be Impressed

We only had a short time to spend with these new rods, but from what we saw…we were very much impressed.  Our first thoughts were, “Oh great, another sloppy, slower action rod” and boy were we wrong.  With the new Konnetic technology, these are crisp, smooth, full flexing beautiful fly rods.  When we picked up the 5wt, we thought for sure that it was a 3wt because it was so light in hand and the diameter of the blank was so narrow.  We are excited to get these rods in and available to you!

Sage posted a nice article about them and an accompanying video:

If you’re a devotee of the casting nuances of the slow action fly rod, a student of its historic ties to our sport, or just like the thrill of moving in close to actively feeding fish, consider our new CIRCA rod a reward for your years of dedication.

But be warned: the CIRCA does not mimic the type of slow action that has so far defined the category – overly soft, willowy and flat. Instead, thanks to Konnetic technology’s ability to compact and align more carbon fibers into a smaller diameter blank, we were able to design a radically narrow taper throughout the length of the rod, resulting in consistently slow, yet responsive action from butt to tip. Our new CIRCA rod is a technologically advanced slow-action fly rod that honors your slower, more deliberate casting style, yet is every bit a Sage.   Read more…

Product Review : Simms Guide Waders

A Simms classic has been reborn in the form of the reintroduced Simms Guide Wader.  For anglers looking for frills and luxuries (aka front zippers, hand warmer pockets and built in retractors) these may not be your cup of tea. However what these waders lack in gadgets they make up for in pure angling function.

These waders feature a 3 layer GORE-TEX fabric from the legs down and when the temperatures drop staying warm is paramount.  My favorite feature on the Simms Guide Wader has to be the front stitched seams. In my extremely humble opinion that is huge because they do not experience as much wear as traditional seams. That is where a majority of anglers experience leaks within their waders due to constant friction from hiking and wading.  Overall these waders are an excellent value for anglers who don’t want to break the bank when looking for new waders.

Pros:

  • 3 Layer GORE-TEX fabric which makes these waders highly breathable and leaves the angler feeling comfortable and dry.
  • Built in gravel guards to provide extra protection while wading
  • Front seam construction increases longevity of waders.

Cons:

  • In my experience these waders can be quite hot as temperatures rise during the summertime.  That can be attributed to the quality materials used to keep the angler dry.

These waders have served me quite well over the year and a half I have been using them. I have heard  that it is not uncommon for an angler to get 5-10 years out of a pair of these Simms waders.  These waders are not cheap but if you fish 70+ days a year or just want to be as comfortable as possible spending that little bit extra will pay off in the long run.

Hypertension Hole

Maybe it’s just me, but I have this problem with a certain fishin’ hole that has it in for me.

It’s just a little run, no different from a thousand other little runs I’ve fished. One low-hanging tree limb complicates the cast a little, but not too much – and the fish that live there are almost always eating.

Easy, right? You’d think so! However, year after year this spot that I’ve named “Hypertension Hole” denies me a fish. I’ve been fishing, and “not catching” Hypertension Hole for almost 7 years now and it’s always the same…

 Six years ago, I first fished the little creek. I rounded a corner in the stream and there it was – the prettiest little trout house you’d ever hope to see. It had a deep enough run on the left bank, a nice big rock to hide under, and an overhanging tree that would keep less skilled anglers from casting to it effectively. It was perfect. It was beautiful. It was just waiting for a schmuck like me to get lucky and make a good cast. Or so I thought…

After catching nothing but 6 inch trout all morning, my heart rate got a little faster when I saw a good trout rise two, three, four times in row. Who knew what he might be eating? This was the South and trout normally just wait in a buffet line and gobble up whatever buggy-looking thing floats by them. I’d go with what I had tied on, a #14 Elk Hair Caddis.

I wiped the sweat out of my eyes, returned my polarized glasses to my nose, and stripped out twenty feet of fly line. The trout rose again and this time, he’d chased whatever it was he was eating five feet below him. This was an aggressive trout – the kind of trout that hits before you’re ready. The kind of trout that makes you set the hook too soon and curse loudly without looking around first to see   if anyone might be nearby. I false-cast twice and promptly put my fly into the overhanging branch.

I let the fly sit there, the line hanging over the Hole. I’d probably blown it. But then – the trout rose again, right under the line! Was this guy suicidal? Wiggling the line, the fly miraculously popped free and landed on the water, but too much in the shallow water to get the trout’s attention. If he’d hit then, with all that loose line rumpled up on the water, I’d have needed 10 foot long arms to set the hook.

Two more false casts. Easy now….that’s it! Right under the limb… the caddis imitation landed with like a feather. POW! He blasted it! I slammed home the hook! Fly line and leader and tippet and fly went whizzing right by my head and the big trout rolled on the surface and slapped his tail in defiance. I remember it like it was yesterday. Twenty more casts wouldn’t bring him back up and in fact, probably pushed him further under that rock or a quarter-mile upstream.

Each year I visit that stream at least once, and each year I sneak up on Hypertension Hole. And so far, each and every year, whatever trout is living there leaves me with a slack line and a smushed fly. But high blood pressure or not, I’d miss it if it wasn’t there. I’d miss the game if I ever won it.

Despite the frustration of Hypertension Hole, I always end up hoping that there is never a trout living there that is somehow more stupid that I am. Maybe you have a spot like that? If not, I hope someday you find one just like it. Just don’t forget to take your meds if you do.

Product Review : The Simms Guide Wading Boot

As many anglers know Simms Fishing Products makes a wide variety of high quality products. The Simms Guide Wading Boot is no exception.  As a person that has a difficult time walking as it is wading can be a challenge for me. Having a boot that can give me the optimal mix of support, traction and comfort is paramount.

The Guide Boot is an excellent boot for anglers looking for a little bit more support while wading.  The Guides utilize a full Nubuck leather upper that makes them extremely tough and durable. For me one of the most important features of this boot is the molded rubber toe cap. It provides excellent protection from rocks and all other obstacles faced while wading.

Pros:

  • Full Length EVA Midsole for added cushioning
  • Molded rubber toe cap for added protection in the toughest of wading conditions
  • Molded rubber heel cup design provides excellent ankle support
  • Felt and Vibram Streamtread Rubber Soles to meet the needs of any angler

Cons:

  • The Nubuck leather makes these boots on the heavier side weighing in at over 4lbs
  • Brass hardware utilized within the lacing system will, over time, wear out laces
  • Leather within the boot does not dry quickly. These boots will stay wet longer than other boots.

This boot has become a favorite of not only me but a majority of the staff here at Fishwest. This boot provides just the right amount of support, cushioning and traction. Overall these boots have so far withstood the test of time for this unsteady angler.

 

This submerged field was ALIVE with carp.

Carp Invading the Back Forty

When the spring is wet and prairie rivers are high, I’ll stop my car where they spill over their banks. If I’m lucky, I’ll spot some carp. Flooded fields and ditches are usually the best.

Carp can be tough to catch but the ones cruising these places seem particularly ravenous. It’s all sight fishing – either from the bank or wading. For cruising fish, I like a large, buggy nymph – dragon fly imitations work great. For tailing fish, I go with a size 8 or 10 Woolly Bugger with brass eyes. An 8 weight rod and a 9 foot bonefish leader deliver the fly and land the fish. Although a 10 pound carp will often successfully dispute the latter.

Even with reasonable water clarity, casts to tailers – with their snouts in the bottom – have to be very precise. And seeing or feeling a take can be almost impossible. I have to admit, my luck with tailers ranges from rotten to so-so.

Cruising fish, however, are much more accommodating. Lead them by a few feet, let the fly sink to their level, and then give it a few short, slow strips. Magic!

Below are a few pics taken while wading a flooded field and nearby ditch…

Product Review: Simms Dry Creek Tech Pouch

The Simms Dry Creek Tech Pouch is simply a glorified zip-lock bag…or is it???  This little bag is made of durable waterproof material and includes features like a zip-lock AND roll-top closure to insure that the belongings inside stay dry.   The cord allows it to be worn around your neck or tethered to a larger bag (or boat, etc).

The nature of the sport we love is that we are around water.   It doesn’t matter where you fish…high elevation trout, Pacific Northwest steelhead or tropical saltwater destinations.  You can and will get wet.  We also carry expensive electronics, ie- smart phones, GPS units, etc.  The Simms Dry Creek Tech Pouch is a simple and cost-effective way to protect these items while still being able to keep them with you while you fish.

When traveling abroad, I keep three things with me at all times; my money clip, my cell phone and my passport.  These are not items that I am going to be leaving in my hotel room or anywhere else.  On a recent bonefishing trip, we had an incredible amount of rain.  It rained almost every day.  Using the Tech Pouch, I was able to take those items out on the flats and not once have to worry about them getting wet.  The items in the pouch may be the only things that weren’t wet at the end of the day!

Pros:

  • Very light and travels well.
  • Clear screen allows you to see whats inside.
  • Touch screen on phones will work through the clear screen.

Cons:

  • Neck strap provides little to no padding, but it isn’t too heavy anyway.

The Simms Dry Creek Tech Pouch is a seemingly simple product, but is packed with features and functionality…making it worth its weight in gold.

 

Stuck in tree

On Friendship and Fishing

It’s been said that each day spent fishing is not deducted from a man’s life. I don’t know who first uttered those words, but I’d like to thank him. I might even buy him a beer, because that fellow, whoever he was, at least makes us all feel a little better about leaving the wife and kids at home for a day of cold feet and tired arms. I’m not sure how many days I spent alone on the water, my brain laser-focused on the goal of catching the next fish, before I realized that I was alone. Being alone wasn’t a problem though, because that just meant that no one else would have a shot at the fish in front of me. I didn’t have to trade pools back and forth and I didn’t have to share those short-cuts through the trails to the best water. I was a man on a mission, and that mission was always, ALWAYS to catch more fish, bigger fish,…the most fish.

Later though, as I got older and my personal case of fly fishing fever mellowed a bit, I started to notice the other things around me. Birds, animal tracks, and insect life for example…and rocks. Did you know that most rivers are absolutely packed FULL of rocks!? Well, it’s true! Big rocks, little rocks, medium-sized rocks, brown rocks, gray rocks, white rocks – even rocks with trees growing out of them! You just have to look around a bit and remind yourself that everything in fishing isn’t chasing the fish. And so I did, but I realized much more than rocks and birds and otter tracks and such…

You see, when you finally make the seemingly odd discovery that fishing is not just the pursuit of fish, you’ll no doubt find “fishing friends” along the way. Sharing the water with someone you like is always a pleasure, although it’s something that may push the actual act of fishing toward the proverbial back-burner. After leaving behind our salad days, time with friends on the water (or at camp) becomes at least as much of a reason to go fishing as the thought of hooking into your biggest rainbow ever. Let’s face it, most of the time the fishing we do on any given weekend isn’t usually World Class Angling anyway – so it often helps if there’s another reason we go – and it sure doesn’t hurt!

Which brings us to three sun burned, smiling, middle-aged fellows who are scratching their heads, looking sideways at each other, standing in a creek which holds only the smallest trickle of water. A creek that just a couple of years before was full of both water and fish. Between the three of them they caught maybe four fish while fishing all day. Wild, native brookies, none of them were over 12 inches in length. Somehow though, that hardly mattered later, sitting around a roaring fire on a cool spring night when the tall tales began. The size and quantity of the fish that day were forgotten a little more as the meager camp food began to taste like a five-star meal. The moon rose over blooming dogwood trees and towering tulip poplars, and laughter filled the camp. Those three have learned that although fishing is at the core of their adventures, it’s not always about the fishing. Sometimes, it’s just about the friends.

 

South Florida Nightlife on the Fly

Late last week, I had to take a last minute business trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  With meetings scheduled both day and night, I would be lucky to leave the hotel during the entire three day stay.  There was one opportunity for fun, on the last night of my stay.  Given the last minute nature of the trip, I didn’t have the opportunity to even think about staying another day and possibly booking a day of fishing, let alone finding a captain available in early May.  I know that Tarpon are primarily night feeders and I began to wonder if anyone ever attempts to fish for them at night.  A Google search revealed that not only do people attempt, there are captains who provide such a service.  I found a guide who was willing to work in a night trip despite having day trips booked on either side.  His name is Captain Shawn Fairbanks (www.saltH20.com).

Embraced by the Atlantic Ocean, New River, and a myriad of scenic inland waterways, Fort Lauderdale is known as the “Venice of America”.  It is the inland waterways that provide the greatest opportunity to fly fish at night.  With over 300 miles of navigable waterways, it pays to hire a guide who knows their way around, especially at night. Captain Fairbanks fits the bill since he has been fishing these very waters for more than 20 years.  Many of the homes located with waterfront have underwater dock lights which make the monumental task of parking some of the largest yachts I have ever seen, just a bit easier in the dark. The lights, while aesthetically pleasing, act as magnets for baitfish.  Schools of glass minnows and other baitfish congregate around these lights like moths to a bug zapper.  From this simple underwater oasis, an entire food chain aligns itself.  Jack Crevalle, Lookdown fish, Snook, and Tarpon may all be present within a reasonable proximity to these lights.  Now you might be thinking, isn’t that cheating? Akin to shooting fish in a barrel?   Nope, these fish are easily spooked.  This is true sight fishing and you had better make your cast count or you will be left counting glass minnows in a landscape otherwise devoid of the desired predators.  Having said that, it isn’t making 60 yard casts with a ten weight on the flats in the wind, but if you have cast dry flies to rising trout, you understand the need for accuracy.  More than once, I flopped a fly right into the light and watched in horror as every fish scattered as if I had cast a grenade.  The idea is to spot the Snook or tarpon sitting at the edge of the light occasionally darting in and out in pursuit of their prey.  You are targeting a specific fish and casting the fly such that you can bring the fly past his nose on the retrieve.  I managed to land a couple of Jack Crevalle, and a Lookdown fish before truly focusing on the Snook.  My dreams are filled with Tarpon but the Snook were presenting themselves far more often.  I had Snook completely ignore my fly, even swim away from it, but more often than not, they would follow it; inspecting it very closely right up to the tip of the rod. We changed flies a lot! I varied the retrieve from long slow strips, to very short energetic strips.  Apparently we found more followers than leaders on this night.  At one point, Shawn had just cut the fly off to try another pattern when a LARGE shadow intently moved through the periphery of the light.  TARPON!  He was interested in what was going on, but didn’t stick around long enough for me to make any kind of presentation.  I tried a few hopeful casts in the direction he was headed, but to no avail.  That will be the fish that haunts my dreams for the next few months.

As we moved throughout the city at high tide, it became apparent why Captain Fairbanks had removed the poling platform from the Maverick.  We went under some bridges that were so low that we both had to duck; and I mean crouch and duck.  It was emerging from one of these low bridges that we spotted a tarpon hiding behind a dock pylon at the edge of the light.  Shawn expertly positioned the boat such that I had the best shot at making the right cast.  I began false casting, paying out line with each cast until I had about fifty feet of line in the air.  Just as I made the decision to place the fly, I created a wonderful tailing loop, which caused the fly to firmly embed in my left pant leg.  Yes, grace under pressure.  Fortunately, all of the line piled up on the deck of the boat and in the water behind me, thus not spooking the fish.  I patiently gathered myself, unwinding line from my ankles, from around the rod, and from around the trolling motor mounted on the bow; never once taking my eyes off the fish nervously munching away.  The second attempt, although much more tentative, delivered the fly into the darkness beyond the light.  As I began to strip, the fish instantly saw the fly and decided that he wanted it, and wanted it bad.  The strike happened so fast that I swear I set the hook on pure instinct rather than by any measure of cognitive intent.  The instant the line went tight, the fish went literally ballistic.  It went straight out of the water much like a missile being launched from a submerged nuclear submarine.  When it landed back in the water, it streaked to the boat so fast that I had to strip line as if my very life depended upon it.  He swam right past me at the bow of the boat as if it were underwater lightning.  Indeed that is the best way to describe hooking into a tarpon; it is as if you stuck the tip of a nine-and-a-half foot graphite fly rod into a light socket. Miraculously, I managed to avoid stepping on the line that I had just so feverishly stripped in, because the fish took that back through the guides of the fly rod in a nanosecond.  When I finally got him to the reel, he launched out of the water a second time.  I had heard that you are supposed to bow to the tarpon when they breach but that critical tidbit was buried too deep in my brain and any chance I had of retrieving it was overwhelmed by the massive adrenaline dump surging through my body. So I acted on instinct to keep the line taught.  He landed with the fly still firmly lodged in his jaw as Shawn gently instructed me to take the slack off while the fish performs aerial acrobatics.  As the fish rounded the stern of the boat, obviously intent on fouling me on the prop, I was running down the gunwale in hot pursuit attempting to foil his plans.  Another show of aerial ability, this time accompanied by the appropriate postural tribute on my part; bow to the Silver King!  A second later I was on another trip along the gunwale toward the bow making it to the casting deck just in time for another aquatic air show.  The fish and I were circling the boat counter clockwise so fast that I wondered if even the tarpon in Florida are fans of NASCAR.  Just as I made it to the stern again, he managed a tremendous black flip behind the outboard and the line went suddenly slack. The electric rod had been unplugged. The leader had finally succumbed to the sandpaper-like lips of the beast. Perhaps my inexperience the second time he launched had cost me after all.  The fish always teach the most effective lessons, and this session, albeit short, will leave me pondering for some time.  All hail the mighty tarpon!   Well after the stroke of midnight, without spotting another poon, I walked up the dock toward my rental car, grinning from ear to ear.  Captain Fairbanks was headed home to prepare for another client headed to the Everglades a mere five hours later. I was headed back to a hotel to grab a bit of shut eye before the flight that would carry me 2,500 miles away from this beautiful place, and the tarpon that I will never forget.

Cold Feet, Forsaken Fish and the Morning After…