Fishing with Dave Skok and John O’Hearn

Fishing with Dave Skok and John O’Hearn

After the two tough days with John and Chad I fished another pair of days the following week. For these we were joined by our good friend and Strong Arm Merkin Mastermind Dave Skok. If anyone that reads these reports is unfamiliar with Dave, take a look at our gallery: nearly every photo on there was caught on a fly he tied, and his ongoing contributions to the Keys fishery are many. Dave is also one of my oldest friends, and we’ve grown closer through our association with the shop and his fly design. I should also add that Dave is someone that has done more in his career than any of the current darlings of social media that seem to believe that re-naming an old pattern something alliterative and cute is all it takes to act as if they are players in a sport that wouldn’t be a bit different were their constant self-promotion to disappear completely. Above all, Dave is a talented fisherman and a true positive influence on the sport. By this I mean that he his life and career have impacted the sport positively, broadly and effectively. He is someone I hold in the highest regard, and spending two days on the water with both him and John boy is about as great a thing as I could hope for as a fly fisherman. Our plan was to fish for permit–him with regular strength, myself with super-weak tippet. John was more than happy to indulge a continuation of my light line aspirations, and we set out into a pair of days that were forecast to be sunny, breezy and warm. For my part I had been working on an improved hook set with the light line, one that I felt confident would lead to less fish being lost at the moment of contact (or soon thereafter).

We started out earlier than we needed to, John’s excitement for an early tarpon grab in the warm weather and the desire to get out there already giving us a 6 AM departure. We bobbed around for a short time, looking for some rolls that never appeared. The sun crept up, and when it was clear the tarpon weren’t going to play with us we made the move to find a permit to throw at. We ran for a half hour, and when we got to where John had in mind set up for a morning of permit fishing. In the great looking water we were unable to find anything to throw at, and Dave had the pleasure of standing on the bow for the first fishless stop. We moved nearby, and I readied the 2-pound rig for a shot at the record. A hundred yards in to the push we spotted a pair of smaller fish on the bank, and a cast between them generated some interest. The fly stayed in play long enough for the fish to err, and when it sucked the fly in I had a chance to practice the improved hook set I’d been working on. The issue was that what I’d been doing felt a lot like what I’ve always done on 16, and when the time came for the post-hooked fish to run I didn’t remember to go totally slack. The tippet broke with a sadly soft whiffing sound when the fish headed for deeper water, and I learned an important lesson: when fishing two pound, forgetting what you’re using–even for a second–will cost you what you came for. Dave got up next, and we bumped around that area for a while before moving on in the early afternoon to new places.

In the afternoon John found us a back part of a basin that held life of the most interesting kind: permit swam through the seagrass, as did a few strings of larger tarpon. Our focus was on the permit, however, and we all thought it was only a matter of time before we could convince one to make a mistake. Dave readied his SAM and made the first cast of many towards a wad wagging v-shaped black tails. Instead of jumping on it with reckless abandon, the permit decided to take a more ignorant approach, and we had to re-position for another shot.

For nearly three hours the permit and tarpon were nearby, and we remained in sight of one or the other. Dave spent the better part of that time on the bow trying to get one of the permit to play our feather-game, without raising much interest from the ever-more frightened silver plates. What appeared to be at the outset a nearly assured successful outcome became, slowly, just a big old slice of sadness. Dave did jump a few tarpon, though the permit kept their distance and we were never able to make any err before we moved on in the later afternoon. We ran to a place that John thought might hold a tailer or two, finding the water too high to expose what we were after. We took a run to somewhere to run down the clock a little, and on the way the motor stopped working.

Here, an in-depth discussion of the sadness that can prevail in permit fishing will be avoided, but here its pieces:

After we broke down, we got a tow from Kat and Brandon Cyr who together had caught a slam earlier in the day as part of the Simms photo shoot. For additional meancholy context, I had fished in the same media-heavy circumstances the day before, and managed to break off a permit and get a half jump (is that even a thing? Yes. It is.) from a tarpon the day before. They showed up after the rain did, which we grudgingly waited through. To add another dimension to this joyous event, we had to watch Doug Kilpatrick slide in where we wanted to be, hook a fish and fight it as we were dragged past by the bow eye. Talk about having your nose rubbed in it, sheesh. We got off the water and got home, hearing from John thereafter that he’d fixed what was wrong with the boat and we wouldn’t be forced to use the Beast for our second day, which we hoped would be redemptive.

For it, we stuck with largely the same plan as we’d had the day prior. Our plans were foiled, however, by an apparently endless circulation of sadness. We found plenty of fish, all unhappy and insubordinate. The few shots that we were allowed to get in the zone were met with a veering fear, though the majority of the fish gave us a passing glance before keeping their distance from us as we kept a slower pace in pursuit. For the nine hours we spent looking for fish and the perhaps 15 we saw, we all agreed that none of them constituted a solid opportunity to make things work out on the hook end.

Dave jumped a few tarpon, which did keep things from being totally dark, but in all our permit fishing was as hard as I’ve ever seen it without the involvement of some apocalyptic  meteorological event. We ran out the clock in the afternoon without any permit redemption, though the company made the trip worth the melancholic admission price.

I’d like to thank Dave Skok for coming down and hanging out with a pair of totally deranged fly dorks, and next time he comes I’ve decided to not mess with the skinny stuff and just have fun throwing at whatever.


I’m still playing catch up with these pages–the day after this trip I headed to the Everglades to fish with Steve Huff and Jason Schratwieser, and after that had a single day with Ian. The Merkin starts Tuesday, and we have some cooler weather heading our way. These reports will be totally current before the event starts, so the results + our fishing report will be up shortly after the tournament draws to a close.


More to come,




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Nathaniel Linville

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