So this is report will get me current on these pages, especially since I’m not turning around to pick up the Bahamas trip that flew off during my winter break from writing these reports with constant regularity. I leave Sunday with Ian for a three day trip with Chad Huff in the Everglades, and the most gigantic cold front of all time has descended just in time. The lows are hovering around 40 in Everglades City, so we will have some cold water to contend with. We will be fishing on the back side of said polar vortex, however, and as such we will be overly optimistic that the water will warm enough to tempt some tarpon towards a dangerous part of town.
After the fishing with Chad and Steve earlier in December I spent two separate days on the water. The first was with Doug Kilpatrick, and Doug decided that he wanted to give a look for what was arguably a low probability game plan: catch a large tarpon in the last stages of the pre-cold front heat. We left early and took my new skiff, hoping to run some fuel through her and see how she performed with a tarpon attached.
Doug’s plan was simple, and involved maintaining our attention throughout whatever wasn’t there until we found what he was after. We did just that, though luckily it didn’t take long (other than 25 years of experience) to come across a few shots. We had a few short range opportunities at strange angles before one lined up perfectly and the inside of a large tarpon mouth made an appearance. I was not capable of saying tight to the fish through the slack in my line, however, and as soon as the fish kept moving towards the boat we were no longer in for a battle. We kept on, experiencing an increasingly filthy attitude from the fish before we made a fly and location change in the late morning.
Doug soon had us in a new place, and there was an equal number of shots to be had there. We were ambushed by some close-laying fish in the low December light and could convince none of them to play our game. After the the fish spread out to places we were not we moved again.
At our next spot things started to get real immediately. Doug saw a single fish near some lighter bottom and we were able to hustle a good angle from our first cast. The fish coiled behind the fly and lifted up for the bite, which was not thwarted by slack, and we were soon on the chase of exactly what we’d come for. It’s been a while since I fought a big fish, and I was excited to try out the new off-season conditioning I’ve been working on. Doug rolled the camera as we pulled on the fish, which we estimated at 130 pounds:
We pulled on the fish hard for about ten minutes before Doug got his hands on it for the face grab, which we weren’t able to capture on the camera since the fish shook him off. We fought the fish for a few more minutes before it wore through the shock, and we quickly re-rigged for another pass. It didn’t take long for a few opportunities to arrive, and on the third of these we were again tight to a big fish that we chased down. I was loving the opportunity to try a tarpon fight on the new skiff, and Doug and I took our time as we pulled on what was scheduled to be our second weight fish of the day. This one ended with a pulled hook near the end, however, and we quickly put a new fly on for yet another pass among the dragons.
We found a small number of shots where we had our recent success, though none of the fish would comply. Doug moved again and he again found them, though at this location the fish were intractable. Most were low-laying and facing away from us, and we watched them pivot away as we approached to prevent the angle from getting right. Even a few fish sliding towards us met the fly with fearful disdain, and while we stuck with our effort it was insufficient to crack this particular code. Doug and I made our way through the struggle and kept at it, relocating one final time before the light gave up completely. We spooked one fish off close to the boat before we packed it in, happy in a way that accompanies getting something done we’d wanted to. I’d like to thank Doug for sticking with a low-probability game plan and starting things off perfectly with tarpon fishing.
The next day I fished with Ian Slater, and we decided to look for barracuda and permit. We traded shots, with Ian starting on the bow with the cuda rod. Our first spot gave up zero shots, and at the next we had a shot at a large single fish that Ian lined up perfectly. The fish gave chase and ate it as it sped up, just like they’re supposed to. Ian cleared the line and the fish took off, and he was tight until the hooks fell out on the fish’s second run. I was up next, and at the next spot we had a number of good shots at barracuda. I managed to feed two large ones, and both of these got rid of the hooks after a hard bite and heavy hook set. At this point I was happy for my recent decision to not fish the upcoming Cuda Bowl on fly: in years past, losing three large fish would cause me to ask all kinds of questions about the hooks we were using and the hook set protocol. As it is, I’m fishing the event as Ted Margo’s guest–we are both fishing the spin division of the tournament with John O’Hearn–and the only thing I’m planning on being worried about is whether I can make enough noise rummaging around in the cooler to make Ted yell at me.
After the barracuda fishing slowed down we switched gears to permit, and stuck with that plan for the rest of the day. This year my permit numbers felt our light tippet efforts acutely, and I was short of my goal for the year. My hope was we could squeak one more out for the 2017 before the title-mentioned Giant Cold Front arrived, and we had a handful of opportunities to make this happen. On two of these we had the fly in the danger zone, and both times the fish were all over it. Neither resulted in a bite, and I was reminded of the recent fishing I had with Scott Collins, where we also enjoyed permit giving every indication they were going to eat without ever coming tight. Whatever the December thing was that they wanted I clearly didn’t have, and we finished in the late afternoon without another permit for the 2017 total.
The cold front arrived a few days ago, and now it’s 2018. We’ve got lots in store for this year, and my hope is that this is the year that the six pound tarpon record, the two (and four) pound permit record, the Golden Fly, and the Gold Cup all work out. If not, we’ll keep trying and have a ball coming as close as we’re allowed.
I leave on Sunday for the Everglades with Ian to fish with Chad Huff for three days, and while it’s cold I still want to believe there’s a (hopefully tired) tarpon waiting to pick a fight with a group of guys on a flats skiff rigged with six pound tippet.
More to come,