What I Learned While Fishing In The Keys

 

  1. You can’t slather on enough sunscreen to keep from burning at least some – I tried. I applied. Then I reapplied. Then I put on some more. I still burned. So I found a new appreciation for technical fishing clothes and yes, though it pains me to say it, even the Buff.
  2. Fish don’t like the smell of sunscreen
  3. Just because I can hit a child with a fly while he’s running full-bore across a field at 80 ft and with a 20 knot wind blowing doesn’t mean that I can successfully cast to a feeding permit 30 ft away when the breeze is barely rippling the water - Buck fever is a horrible affliction.
  4. I may be too easily distracted – “Oh look a baby lobster.” “That’s a neat looking sponge.” “What is that, Stag-horn coral?” “What a cool looking bird!” “Fuck! I can’t believe I poled right over that fish! I shouldn’t have been looking at that goddamn lobster/sponge/coral/bird!” And yes I do talk to myself like that when I’m  alone.
  5. Being ready for the proper fish is hard – I learned long ago that having more than one fly rod rigged and ready to go in my kayak is a recipe for tangles, unending frustration and sometimes broken rods. On this last trip I learned that I’ll see permit and redfish if I have my shark rig ready to go and I’ll see nothing but sharks and ‘cuda if I have my other rod ready to go.
  6. Bonefish don’t exist – They are a fiction created by “big fly fishing” to sell rods and flies so fat cats in the industry can continue to rake in the millions. All photos you may have seen are CGI. If you claim to have seen or caught a bonefish personally you are obviously in the pocket of the “Man”.
  7. A shark the length of my kayak can swim in 2 ft of water without making the slightest bit of disturbance on the surface – What the hell is that about!?!?
  8. And the only possible way to truly become proficient fly fishing in the Keys is to spend a lot of time fishing there – So I’m going to have to start going down there at least once or twice a year. I’m sure my wife won’t mind…

Seven Days

Due to the incredible destructive force that my children posses I’m forced to write this on an iPad, which I’m not real good typing on, so I’m going to keep this short.

One week from today I’ll be in the Keys. I will have six days to do nothing but fish. No wife, no kids, just me, my kayak and some fly fishing gear.

Hopefully I’ll come back to tell stories (with pictures) of big salty fish, lessons I learned and at least one “this is not the way to do it” tale. If not I should at least come back a bit more tan and much more relaxed.

So y’all wish me luck and be expecting the first reports in a couple of weeks!

Tropical Distractions

In less than a week I’m floating the Saluda River in Columbia, SC with a good buddy of mine to target some tailwater trout.

Supposedly these particular trout are big fans of streamers and big flashy nymphs, which I currently have very few to none of. So I’ve been trying to tie some up.

I have a problem though.

I’ll be leaving for the Keys in a little more than a month and have literally been dreaming about bonefish, tarpon and permit most nights for the last couple of weeks. So every time I sit in front of my vice (see I spelled “vise” wrong on purpose as a form of subtle word play or a “pun” if you will) to tie up some streamers or nymphs I end up tying Gotchas or Merkins or some other form of flats fly.

These most likely won’t work on the 12″ stocked rainbows I’ll be fishing for in less than a week…

Hmmm? I’m guessing this is what people refer to as a “first world problem”.

Me Vs. The ‘Poon

While tying up a tarpon fly earlier today for my up coming Keys trip in April a thought occurred to me: what the hell am I going to do if I actually hook a tarpon?

See, I’m heading down there by myself, I can’t afford a guide and the boat I’m taking with me is a kayak.

Now I know that I shouldn’t be too worried about the prospect with tangling with the silver king because, well, like I said above, I can’t afford a guide, so the possibility of me even seeing a tarpon much less getting one to eat is going to be pretty slim.

I am bringing my big stick with me though. And it’s going to be rigged up and ready to go if I do get a chance to cast to a tarpon. And if I get a chance I’m sure as shit going for it. I’d be crazy not to.

But what if I actually stick a fish? I mean, not just a fish but one of the big migratory ‘poons, and not just jump it but really drive the hook home and have to fight the big bastard for hours as he drags me and my kayak for miles around the backcountry, occasionally slinging his seven-foot armor-plated body up in the air as he tries to escape, finally giving out near a clump of mangroves that look exactly like every other clump of mangroves leaving me lost and sore but ultimately victorious?

You know what? I think I’d be fine with that problem.

The Perfect Permit Fly

During the first week in April of this upcoming year of our lord 2013, I will be heading to the lower Florida Keys to do a little to do a lot to fish my ass off.

If you’re unaware, late March into early April is one of the best times of the year to chase permit on the flats. This is when they are in their pre-spawn mode and they tend to swarm the flats in search of food during this time.

At least that’s what I’ve read…

See, I’ve never fished for permit. I’ve never even seen a permit outside the pictures in glossy magazines or on computer screens. And I’ve only been to the Keys once and that was a beer, bridges and baitfishing trip where I may have cast my fly rod twice the whole time I was there.

All of that being said, I pretty sure I’ve created the perfect permit fly.

The Perfect Permit Fly

Why do I think this is a perfect permit fly? Well, using my computer and book gleaned knowledge of the wily permit and having none of that pesky practical first hand experience to weigh me down I will give you a run down on why this fly is the perfect permit fly.

  1. It looks crabby as hell! Seriously, look at it. Crab-ee!
  2. It’s easier to cast than a Merkin crab because it’s made with lighter materials (hackle and aftershafts).
  3. When it hits the water it dives for the bottom in about a 45 degree angle. Just like a real crab. And just like the permit like. Or what I’ve read the permit like.
  4. Keeps it shape while at rest but still has lots of that subtle “look at me, I’m a living thing” movement due to all the soft materials.
  5. When stripped, it collapses on itself making a great shrimp imitation, which is something else I read that permit like.
  6. And I’m betting due to my inability to afford a guide that I’ll never even see a permit while I’m down there so this fly will never be rejected.

So there you have it. The Perfect Permit Fly.

Tarpon

I’ve got a confession. When it comes to tarpon, I’m giant poseur. I tie flies for tarpon, I have books on tarpon and, with the exception of a flats boat, am completely outfitted to fly fish for tarpon. I know all the lingo. I know the places to fish. I know the time of year to fish those places. I know all about palolo worm hatch and the dates, tides, and moon phases in which it should occur. And I’m all talk.

I have jumped, not caught, but jumped, one tarpon in my life. And that was from a bridge. At night. While baitfishing. And it was a baby.

I managed to jump this tarpon on my first and only trip to the Florida Keys. My buddy Merlin and I went down there as a sort of therapy for the previous year that was filled with hospitalized children, divorce and house fires. Basically 2009 sucked real bad for the both of us and getting away from home for some serious fishing/drinking was what we decided would be the best course of action for our mental stability.

We didn’t have the money for a guide so the idea was to buy drinks for locals in every bar we could until we found someone willing to take us out. That didn’t work out due to high winds and us being drunken idiots, so we stuck to bridge fishing. Merlin doesn’t fly fish (and once told me that he wouldn’t start fly fishing until he got bored with actually catching fish), so baitfishing it was. This is how I found myself stuck into a 20 or 30 pound tarpon from a bridge one night.

That, coupled with the sight and sound of much bigger tarpon crashing bait, was the beginning of an obsession. When we left the Keys I was bound and determined to come back the next year and catch one of those fish on a fly rod.

The idea of hooking into a hundred pounds of thrashing silver scales and muscles and then making it my bitch had a lot of appeal to me. In my mind, tarpon became some sort of sea dragon and I was going to slay said dragon… figuratively.

I went into heavy research mode when I got back home. I learned everything I could about the silver king and how to catch them on the fly. I studied maps. I made plans. I bought myself a heavy rod, a good reel and tied dozens of tarpon flies. I was ready.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I never got back to the Keys. My big rod and boxes of tarpon flies are collecting dust. This spring is shot and the next is doubtful. But eventually I’ll get my chance to try and slay a dragon. And if I get beaten down, well at least I was there to be beat.