Last week the 2021 Golden Fly tournament took place, and while it was a hard week of fishing for the entire field the competition was fierce as always. With wind in the high 20’s and a population of fish that has seemed to take its time in arriving, this year’s tournament was difficult for all involved.
Our prefishing day was hard. We made what we could in the wind, which was heavier on this day than forecasted to be in any of the competition days, and within it we were unable to make a single bite happen for our efforts. We took off at what would be lines out in a tournament day and went north to Islamorada, where we checked in to our hotel and sat through the kick-off. We both knew that whatever happened the following three days it was going to be a grind, which fell squarely under the shade cast by the way things simply were.
Ian and I ran to where we wanted to spend some time, and from the beginning of the day we were trying our best to do everything we could to get some points on the board. We had a bite early from a small fish that gave us a chance to get some release points, and followed that with a bite from a fish we figured was marginal and didn’t jump. We followed after the tarpon to get the leader release as quickly as possible, though as soon as the fish jumped it was very clear that we had a large weight on (though not yet in) our hands. We fought the fish for 20 minutes, dealing with some antics while it was near the boat, though in short order we had it in hand and threw a strap around it. I was surprised that the fork length was only 64.25 inches, as the girth was enormous, but in the moment I gave little thought to how much bigger than ‘enough’ it was and we were back at it to make more happen if we could. A third bite came in the late morning, from a small fish, and this one made the release points easy to get and we quickly broke it off and made our way back for more. By 10:30 in the morning of the first day we had accrued over 1500 points, and felt that things might get even better before lines out.
The afternoon drew on without a continuation of our good fortune, and despite our early success we were unable to make anything happen in the final five hours of fishing. We headed to check-in with a strap in hand and a pair of releases, wishing we’d been able to do more. When everyone else had checked in we found we were actually in first position–only by a few hundred points, but it was enough for us to feel well in the hunt and be excited to make things happen.
We ran down to where we wanted to spend time, and there had a similar morning as our first. Early we hooked a small fish that came unbuttoned in a series of rattling jumps, then connected with a smaller weight a few hours later that stayed on. The fish had nearly broken off when the line wrapped around the handle as I was clearing the line, so I felt confident about the hook set, and we took off after it to secure the release points before we started pulling. The fish remained in a difficult attitude, and 15 minutes in to the fight we were were spending very little time pulling. Instead we spent our time regaining line the fish continued to take, chasing after it and not finding a rhythm. When the fish started to slow down we began turning the tide of the battle towards us, feeling like things could work out soon. I pulled on the fish one time like any other, and the hook gave way and came flying back at us. We were annoyed that the fish had come off this way, and while we had secured another 200 release points we were left wishing we had secured the 600 or so more that this fish would have given us if we’d been able to bring it to hand. The afternoon arrived, and we hooked another small one that we were able to get release points from fast before we broke it off. The later part of the day gave us the same results we had the day prior, with fish to throw at but none that wanted to participate.
At the dock we found that, amazingly, our lead had held up. With one more day to go, we were in a position to take first place with less work than anyone else and we had every intention of doing just that.
On the final day we were a part of the last flight, leaving at 6:02. Our plan was to stick with what had gotten us this far, and while we feared losing the lead we were much more excited by the prospect of maintaining it. Halfway to where we were headed the engine started to buck, lose RPM, and we were soon dead in the water. It’s hard to articulate how frustrating it is to have motor issues in a tournament, and harder still to stomach when you’re in the lead on the morning of the final day, and while we both wanted to break something enough was already broke and we instead looked nearby for a place we could limp to for a chance at catching a fish. After pull-starting the motor and idling two miles, we found some banks that (amazingly) gave us a few hours of fishing at rolling fish in the low light. We had no idea where or how to fish here, but Ian’s hard work poling against a motor that wouldn’t trim up got us in range of enough fish that we felt a bite could happen at any time. When the sun got higher and the fish ceased their activity we did what we could to arrange a tow back to the Lorelei and organize a replacement boat for the afternoon.
Amazingly, after hours of not working, the old two-stroke came back to life. We tried to answer obvious questions about its resurrection, but soon made the call to get fishing before it decided to quit again. We ran slowly to near where we’d been fishing the days before, and settled in to a place that we had limited experience fishing due to the other boats that had used the four hours we spent without power to get where we preferred to be.
Despite these disadvantages we were in a position to at least be fishing, and we were glad for it. We tightened up and put our game faces on, focused on the fishing and not the things that were going wrong. In the remainder of the last day we had one fish miss the fly, one fish come off on a jump, and another one that I thought everything was working perfectly on until the rod ended up in the water, pulled from my hands by what I can only assume was a fast-acting loop of line that jumped into an unwelcome place. We weren’t able to increase our score, though we didn’t go down without a a fight, and for that I was grateful.
On the way back the motor finally gave out for good, and I hitched a ride with Randy Stallings and Roger Fernandez back to the Lorelei while Ian organized a place for us to pull the boat. I knew that our lead wouldn’t hold, but until we knew for sure there was a sickening hope that relied fully on the failure of others that maybe we had still pulled the thing off. We hadn’t, of course, and in the end two teams got in front of us. Steven Tejera and Tyler Shealy had caught another weight on the final day to move into first position, and Greg Dini and Evan Carruthers had brought in a weight and a release to take runner-up honors. Ian and I ended in third place, and while it smarted I was glad for the guys that won–both are stand up people and, as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes it isn’t about me. Greg and Evan also deserve a mention for a strong comeback, and I’m glad we have another tournament this year for Ian and I to make a run at.
Tomorrow and the next I’m with Ian, in preparation mode still for the Gold Cup which is the only thing I think about anymore. As far as how we ended up and my thoughts about it, here they are: No one cares. Work harder.
More to come,