A few weeks ago the Del Brown Tournament happened. It’s the last of the majors for the year, and with the exception of the Superfly in September the last of the tournaments I’ll fish in 2017. As such it’s bittersweet, and I’m already plotting our approach for 2018 in both the permit and the tarpon tournament calendar. I started a few days before the tournament, fishing for the first time with Brandon Cyr. I then had a day with John as a prefish day before the tournament proper started. I’ll run through the days as best I can remember, and hopefully I’ll be able to put pictures in to the text this time around.

Day One (first prefish day)

I’d been talking with Brandon Cyr about getting on the water with him for a long time, and we were finally able to get a day on the water before I started with John. We got a late start, getting on the water at 9, and made our way to where Brandon wanted to fish. The clouds had moved in, making the visibility less than stellar, though we felt like we could make something happen nonetheless.

Brandon started out on a flat that had been recently occupied by his brother, hoping for some possible one-upsmanship, and for the duration of our stay I felt as though we were about to make that happen. We had a shot at an approaching single that was too close by the time we noticed it, getting the fly in play with only moments to spare before the fish made us. We spotted another that stayed hidden until we moved within feet of where we’d first seen it, and again we spooked the fish before we were able to give it a fly to focus on. We moved through the area slowly, picking apart the flat in the glare and hoping to get lucky. After an hour we moved on, finding ourselves on another nearby piece of grass as the tide got right.

Here we were overrun with clouds, marching in large cottony armies towards us from the east. We stuck with it, looking as far as the glare would allow, and stayed on our toes as we made our way down the edge. Brandon spotted a large fish that spotted us the moment thereafter, and we refocused our efforts as we kept on. Soon Brandon saw a large school of permit in some deeper water, and we got in to position as best we could for a long cast in to the now sliding wad of permit. We needed a few casts to make things happen, but on the third toss into the brown backs we were rewarded with an aggressive eat from a volunteer. I cleared the line and Brandon poled after the fish in hopes of guarding the spot for a potential repeat. We fought the fish easily, and while it was bigger than we first thought it wasn’t long before we had the fish in hand for a visit. Brandon snapped some pictures for the social media and I let the fish go, cutting off the chewed crab and tying another on:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We looped back through the deeper basin that had given up the bite, and found nothing so we moved on. The clouds began to clear, and Brandon moved us around a few times in search of some more shots. We saw a few fish during the rest of the day, though we were unable to repeat our earlier success. The fishing slowed as the storms grew, and when we went in to the fuel dock to get some more water we watched the thunderheads drop off their large summer raindrops. We tried to get out after the first line of storms eased through, but when we shut down to look we saw another purple battalion headed our way and decided to get for the barn.

I’d like to thank Brandon for a great day on the water, not to mention a much-needed permit capture, and I was very grateful for the invite.

Day Two (second prefish day)

I started with John one day before the tournament, and we set out to find our next days’ fishing. We took our time, finding a few places to which we wanted to return and a few that we didn’t. In one of the spots the fishing was so good that we didn’t even throw at the fish, just slowly poled away to leave them for the scorecard. At another we hooked a bonefish from a mud that we were initially convinced was a permit, and after we caught it we caught another. We kept our heads in the game and stayed relaxed, making our way through what we thought we would fish the next day. A school of permit swaggered down the bank, and from it we were able to connect with a small one, fighting it from the pole and then leaving immediately after taking pictures:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We honestly weren’t that interested in catching another, as the one time we had a two fish day prior to a tournament we were left fishless in the event, and as such we kept looking but not trying too hard. The day eased to a close, and at 2:30 we were timed out for the next day’s tides. As such it didn’t matter what we found, since similar conditions would be after lines out the next day, and John got a bug to go after a tarpon to complete the slam. We took a short run to a secret baby tarpon hole, and after two shots were tight to the third part of the slam. John poled after the fish at the outset, securing the technical leader release, and after that I pulled on the fish for a close up and hook removal. John snapped the pics:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With that our day was done, and we got back in time for the Captain’s meeting dinner and got some sleep for the following day.

Day Three (first tournament day)

We took off with the rest of the fleet at 7:30, and headed to where John wanted to start. The fishing wasn’t going to be on in the places we fished the day before until later, and John decided to start where we hadn’t taken a look the day before. As soon as we arrived we saw some tailing fish, and I got out for a foot pursuit. I was able to get into position on the school pretty easily, and on my second shot was stripping to come tight. The fish never ate the fly, instead blowing out and taking the school with it. I stayed put, wishing for things to be different, and within a few minutes a different school of fish approached from the other direction. I was able to get the fly into play, and waited as the fish on the right to make a mistake. The fish ate it just prior to spooking, and while I was tight on the flush I didn’t remain hitched. I stayed put for a minute, hoping another opportunity might present itself, and when it was clear that the moment had passed walked toward the skiff to change the fly. I was headed toward the boat when we saw another wake, and at this pair of fish I made another presentation that was ignored. I  changed the fly thereafter with a focus that would have been hard to remove, believing now fully that the fly was to blame.

We moved on, checking an area that John wanted to look at before arriving at the first of the two places we’d left the day before covered in fish. We approached the bank from a distance that gave us plenty of time to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of shots, and took our time as we neared in hopes of hooking one on the outside of the guaranteed knot of permit that were in our future. After 15 minutes we were still looking, and after another 15 we were aware that yesterday’s feeding fish had moved on. No matter; we had the next spot on the agenda where again we were convinced the permit would be schooled up. Again we arrived with high expectations, and again we were not able to convert yesterday’s success in to today’s opportunity. The fish had vacated this place as well, though we were able to piece together a few shots on our approach, and John made a move in the direction of the next stop after 12.

Our afternoon was populated with some good fishing. We were able to get about a dozen quality shots from the midday crowd, and on at least three occasions felt as though we were about to come tight. The fishing kept up as our spirits lowered: the fish we were seeing were terribly interested in talking to the fly, but when it came time to ask it home for some drinks they were unwilling to take the plunge. We tried a different fly, stepping briefly outside of our play-by-play ethos, and then shifted back to what we knew worked and stayed with it.

We moved on after the shots slowed, and after leaving John again found us in the presence of some very good fishing. As can happen in tournaments, the buzzer rang before we were ready. We went back for check in fishless, and there found that Will Benson and Mike Dawes had put three on the board on day one. A few other people had caught one–Aaron Snell and Jack Lambrecht had a small fish and Scott Irvine and Tom Del Bosque had a large fish as well.

It’s often easy to feel as though another boat’s early lead in a tournament is insurmountable, but if I’ve learned anything in the years of fishing tournaments it’s that the race is long and an early lead doesn’t mean anything final.

Day Four (second tournament day)

This day started out cloudy and windy, with nowhere near the fishy feel of the day prior. John ran us to the same place we started the day before, and as soon as he shut down we saw some tails. I hopped out of the boat for a walk, and when I neared the small group of permit they made their way in my direction for a very easy shot. A cast in to the tails got some interest on a strip, and as soon as I watched a back wiggle on top of the fly I was tight. I cleared the line and made my way in to some deeper water, hopping in to the boat as John poled after the fish. In a few minutes the fish was in the net without issue, and we measured our first fish at 8:00:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stayed in the boat as we hung around in hopes of another shot, and after it was apparent that the fish weren’t coming to us we set off to find them.

John poled down the bank, and when the real estate ran out we took off for new places. In the clouds we visited both spots from the day before, and more. At each we were met with the same screen: glossy, and permitless.

In the early afternoon John had us on a long grass bank, now in a heavy breeze attending to the nearby summer storm. I switched to a 10, and as soon as I got stripped out we saw a tail prick up. We didn’t get a shot at the fish, and it never tailed again before it took off when we got too near. We picked our way along, moving slowly and hoping to find another chance in the glare. Within a few minutes we saw another tail, and this time we were able to spot the fish first. I threw the fly once at the tail, and then a second fish we hadn’t seen tacked in the current under the leader as I drifted past them both. When the fly was far enough away to allow for another shot we took it, and this time the fly landed nearly perfectly. John called for a long strip which was already underway, and when things lined up everything happened as we hoped: the larger of the two fish swerved hard after the fly, and with the next strip we were tight.

John poled after the fish, and when we were far enough away from the shallow water he started the motor and gave chase. The fish was not as big as I first thought, and when we had it in the net we realized it was nearly the same size as the first we’d caught that morning:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I put the fish on the board, and had the awkward task of putting another mark a mere quarter inch from the first. We got the mark and let the fish go, watching it slide in to the water without issue.

After this fish we kept at it, hoping for a 3-fish day. On a tough weather day two fish was a good score, though we needed more than good to take us to the top. We tried our best to get another shot, but the clouds worked against us until the lines out alarm sounded and we headed to the check-in. Our two fish was enough for us to move in to second place, and Will and Mike prevented the gap from being closed to one fish with another of their own.

Day Five (last tournament day)

While it’s always nice to be in the lead on the last day, being in second place going in to the finals gives up freely the best part of tournament fishing: being in the hunt until the final moment. This day brought more sunlight than the other two days, and we were ready to do the damage we had to in order to get the results we desired.

Our first spot was the same as the day prior, and we were without a shot. A cursory glance at the places we found fish on the prefish day yielded nothing, and by the late morning we were looking around for some opportunities. John found us some in the late morning, though these smaller fish seemed stressed and not in the mood for what we had in store. We kept on into the early afternoon when things started to turn around. John got us into position for some fish that were heading our way, and over the course of an hour and a half we had maybe 8 high quality shots. On four of these I felt as though we were in perfect position for a bite, and on at least one occasion I stripped for weight I never felt. The fishing was interesting, if frustrating, and after a fly change we kept at it through the tough treatment. When the flow of fish slowed down John made a run for another place nearby, and we headed that way.

After 20 minutes on the flat we were rewarded with a very high quality (if unorthodox) shot. We spotted a permit tailing five feet to the side of a tailing nurse shark, and it took us a few seconds to figure out what exactly was going on. John started to explain it to me as I started casting, and while I told I knew what was going on neither one of us was in the loop completely. I threw at the fish and was slightly short, and stripped fast to pick up and cast again. Just as I lifted my rod tip I saw another fish hard after the fly, and dropped my rod tip to slow the fly down. I watched the fish wiggle hard on the fly, pinning it to the bottom, but was unable to set the hook with the slack from my earlier dropped rod tip. I felt the fish briefly as I lifted my rod to remove the slack, but soon felt the trout-set sadness set in. After feeling the hook the fish took off and brought with it the fish we saw initially, leaving only the still tailing nurse shark in the water and some higher blood pressure on the skiff, looking on.

At this point John and I were looking down the barrel of the final 45 minutes of fishing. We knew we had to catch 2 decent sized fish to theoretically move in to first, and John made a call to finish somewhere nearby. We ran there and found Will and Mike fishing, and instead relocated to a place not far away for our final push. When we started fishing we had a little under 30 minutes to work with, and our first shot came a few yards in to the bank. I made a good cast at a pair of fish, and one of them turned hard on the fly. Either we missed the fish or the fish missed the fly, and when the shot was over the fish took off for nearby deeper water. I re-stacked my line and got ready, still frustrated from yet another missed opportunity when John called to me that the fish had come back. We got a long backcast off in their direction, aiming for the fish that hadn’t already made a move, got the bite and headed off the bank in pursuit. The fight didn’t last long, especially since we knew we were under the minute knife, and John had the fish in the net in five minutes. I snapped a picture for the score but neglected a glamour shot in favor of more time fishing and pointed the fish head down and sent it on its way as quick as I could. Here’s what it looked like:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We knew we had to catch another one to get out in front, and we had just about exactly 10 minutes to do it. We ran back to the bank and John hopped up, I got stripped out and we waited for another shot in hopes of closing the deal. In seven minutes John mentioned that he had some fish, and I turned to see a group of four moving slowly across the bank behind us. I made a good cast at the largest of the quad, knowing we were going to need every inch we could, and while I thought we were about to come tight the fish didn’t see the fly and they swam by. I made a spastic cast to the last two, and when the fly landed a second time the group took off. We fished for a few more minutes until the alarm rang, and took a minute to have some water and relax before heading in.

If there’s one thing that attracts me to tournaments and records, it’s situations like this–being in the running, slugging it out and making every shot count, touching if not holding on to the best thing I can think of. In the end we weren’t able to overtake Willy and Mike, though we were close and had we caught another decent sized fish we would have. Until the very end we were in the hunt, and while this has been the year of tough losses in the tournaments (not to mention the near-miss on the 6 with Steve and Chad in march), I’m happy with our record for 2017. Here’s to being up against it.

I start with Chad and John O’Hearn on Tuesday, and as far as I know the plan is to throw 2 lb tippet at permit. Reports will follow, as always. Also, John and I now have a new tool for the tournaments that just arrived this morning, Thane and Dustin’s old skiff, so that should be a fun addition to the mix for 2018.

 

nathaniel