Let me begin this post by apologizing for the lack of fishing reports of late. We’ve been updating computers and software in the shop, which for me (someone who can barely do much of anything computer related without becoming combative) has been tough. We’re about through sorting through the issues, and since I’m (barely) now able to upload photos again I’m starting where I left off, which is before the Cuda Bowl. There’s been more fishing since then and much to report, but I’m going to break it down into small pieces and get it up here as fast as I can. I’ll start with the week of prefishing with Ian Slater, John O’Hearn, Doug Kilptrick, and John Benvenuto. Next post I’ll get to the Cuda Bowl proper, which became a one-day event due to weather. I’ll go from there to the two days I had with Doug Kilpatrick (cold weather, tube lures and grey snappers) and then the next two with John O’Hearn (permit fishing on 4 pound).

I have lots of pictures of the prefishing days I had, and Frankie Marion was down shooting moving pictures of lots of them. Stay tuned for his upcoming barracuda film, “Waterwolf” for video evidence of the following events.

 

The first day of prefishing was with Ian Slater, which kicked off the barracuda party. We had a half day to spend fishing between shop obligations, and with cloud cover and cool water temperatures we had to work hard. In four hours, we were able to get a few bites from small fish. We had a large fish rush the fly and miss it, circling back around but never recommitting. We did catch a decent 36 inch barracuda on a blind cast, and while the bite caught us off guard we were able to convert it to a captured fish, something we were happy to have in our pockets due to the tough conditions. We stopped fishing in time to get Ian to work on time, and I went home to tie more leaders in preparation of our upcoming efforts.

 

The next day I fished with Frankie and John O’Hearn, and the weather was again far from perfect. We struggled to find some fish to throw at. There were more than a few clouds to contend with, so much of our day was spent covering water in likely areas. Two places we went to had the fish we needed in them, though the toothy targets evaded our efforts perfectly in the first one–only a single large fish tracked the fly from a distance but never sold us the product we’d hoped to purchase. At the second, we found a few willing volunteers. In the intermittent light, we were forced to blind cast through the white spots and hope for the best. Frankie made our efforts look cooler than they actually were, per usual:

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Covering water, an exhibition of faith. Frankie Marion photo, John O'Hearn guiding

 

Every so often in the patchy light we’d see a large pencil-shaped missile tracking the fly on a blind rip back to the boat. Shortly, we saw a battery of large barracudas facing away from us and were able to get a wind-assisted wrap-around in front of them. The fly started on its way back to us, and as soon as it crossed the largest member’s line we were tight to a giant barracuda. The fish hit the fly going away from us, and as I was clearing the line the wolf opened up the rear stinger hook, a 1/0 that may have been too light for the task at hand. After a fly change and more clouds, it became apparent that we were in the presence of many barracuda. We put a few more blind casts into them before another fly change, and that did the deed: a large fish tracked the fly and bit it next to the boat, and all I could do was hang on and hope that Frankie was able to get the close grab on slo-mo. The fish took off and was airborne in no time, and we soon discovered that catching the jumps on film would be harder than we wanted it to be: the fish would leap, but figuring where it would go down (or up) was tough since it was usually in a totally different direction than the line in the water would suggest. We got what we could and soon had the fish in the boat, a nice one for a cloudy afternoon’s efforts:

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We continued to look in places we hoped would hold fish, and picked through a few small fish before heading home to prepare for the next day.

The third day I fished was with John Benvenuto, and we were again joined by Frankie Marion. We took a run to place we knew we were unlikely to fish in the tournament and had at it. For three hours, we had a run on large cudas. We hooked 8, all of which were of decent size and gave us much of the footage Frankie was hoping for. Within the following photo set, there was at least one notable capture: the biggest fish of the day came over clear white sand, in full view of everything we had in place to capture it visually. For that fish, after throwing the wrong stuff in the wrong places, we finally found out what this one wanted: a long lead, letting the fly sink to the sand in front of the parked shadow before starting the bring. As the fly rose up in the water column, the fish got closer and sealed the deal right on top. Perfect. That fish is at the end of the following pictures of that morning:

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John Benvenuto guided to this large cuda on fly (and film). Photo Frankie Marion

 

As the tide slowed we picked our way elsewhere, though we were unable to maintain the unreal pace. As good fishing so often does, it tapered out and we were in a slump after lunch. John moved around to get a look at some new water, and we soon found ourselves on a shallow grass flat looking for something to throw at. Frankie soon spotted a large shark, which we quickly identified as a sawfish–something rare in the parts we were fishing. No sooner had we realized this was a sawfish than we noticed a cobia on its back, and with one toss with one of Dave Skok’s Waterwolf Specials we were tight to some fantastic bycatch. The cobia stayed on long enough for us to get it in the net, and despite Frankie’s desire to bring the delicious food home we (I) decided to let the fish go. This was made possible not only by my insistent tone, but also by the fact that before Frankie could grab the fish to put it in the cooler I had accidentally thrown the fish on his camera bag. The brave cobia wriggled nobly and soon ended up in the water, where it stayed despite my attempt to net it again for some still shots. The only picture I have of the whole ordeal is this one, a still from the rolling camera that captured the moment before things went south:

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We continued on in the low light after this, and even stopped by our winning area from the Cuda Bowl of two years past, but were unable to get any more bites. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better prefishing day with John Benvenuto before Steve came down and we started to fish in tournament mode starting Thursday. To have Frankie there to capture all the capturing on hi-def-slo-mo made it that much better and I can’t wait to see the finished product.

Following the day with John Benvenuto, Frankie went out with Kathryn and Doug Kilpatrick for a day. From that excursion I don’t have many details except the following pictures from Frankie:

More from Kat and Doug, photo Frankie Marion

kat holds another beastie waterwolf. Photo Frankie Marion, guiding Doug Kilpatrick

Kat and Doug head home from Wolfcountry. Photo Frankie Marion, guiding Doug Kilpatrick

One might notice that Kat’s clearly in different outfits in the first two pictures above. This is where my timeline of events is hard to figure out, but I think that the first picture is from a day she fished solo with Doug (the same day Frankie and I went with John B), and the second is from the day they fished with Frankie. For the sake of keeping this report somewhat manageable I’m going to let that detail slide and move on to the final day of prefishing that I did with Doug Kilpatrick on Wednesday.

Frankie, having an episode of gout, was unable to join us for this day of fishing. Doug and I set out to do what we could to get as tournament ready as possible. Our fishing was made more difficult by the presence of speedy wind conditions, though Doug was able to make a smart effort to set us up for cross- or downwind shots. Our first bite was from a giant, likely the over-50 inch monster we’d been as yet unable to capture on fly. That these fish are so difficult to catch on fly at their largest sizes is one of their best attributes, and we were sad to see this chance at a trophy elude us. Our next bite was from a very large barracuda, one that would be a pleasure to score in the Cuda Bowl on fly. Having both measured many cudas in the event in year’s past, Doug and I both agreed that this fish was just over 40 inches–standing just on the line that has become the (as yet unrealized) per-day average goal in the tournament for a fly fisherman. We released the fish and moved on, hoping for more. When the fishing slowed down, Doug re-positioned us a few miles away for another shot at a trophy. Our first cast gave us a hard follow that ended with the fish shying away from the skiff, and as we poled down the bank and blew out another huge cuda it became clear that any fish here was going to be a giant. Doug and I each spotted a shadow at the same time, a glaring bluish tinge only 30 feet away. I made a cast in front of the smudge that landed a little too close, and while I first thought that the fish might bolt I couldn’t have been more wrong. What looked at first to be flight was clearly instead something far more engaging, and the huge fish spun around and inhaled the Skok fly in a circular flush of blue-grey violence. I cleared the line as best I could and the giant launched from behind me, missing the platform by a few inches as it tore off behind the boat. Doug poled after the fish, and after it settled down and we got a look at it we knew this was the largest fish either of us had caught on fly. Doug soon grabbed the fish and we took it on board for photos to mark the occasion:

Another view of the monster, just because. Photo/guiding Doug Kilpatrick

Nathaniel holds his personal best barracuda on fly: a over-50-inch monster. Guiding/photo courtesy Captain Doug Kilpatrick

We didn’t measure the fish, so we were unable to have a new inch benchmark for our biggest. But when we caught another smaller fish next, we did take a measurement from the deck to Doug’s closest body part (hilariously, his nipple) to measure later. At the house that evening, before Doug’s interview with Frankie Marion for Waterwolf b-roll, we found that the smaller of these two fish measured almost exactly 49 inches, putting the bigger of the two easily over 50. By how much we’ll never know, but I’m sure we’ll be gunning for a bigger one next year. I’d like to thank Doug Kilpatrick for making this fish a reality.

To finish up this report properly, here’s what Doug and I did next: we went permit fishing. Two days before a tournament is not the time to change species, but we agreed that we both had more than enough positive reinforcement from our morning to justify stepping into something different. We found zero permit, though we put our best efforts forward in the cold water and wind beofre heading home.

Of course (as always) I’d like to thank John Benvenuto, Doug Kilpatrick, Ian Slater and John O’Hearn for the above days.

Up next I’ll go from the day before the Cuda Bowl with Steve Huff (who fished on our team as  guest) and John Benvenuto, through the end of the tournament. Stay tuned for more.

 

nathaniel