Last Sunday, I fished with Doug Kilpatrick. We were joined by Jesse Robbins, a friend of mine from Sage. I had fished with Jesse years ago for a brief afternoon of tarpon fishing, and with this trip I was hoping for some opportunities for him to see more of what the Keys have to offer. Doug didn’t disappoint.
With the cold only recently lifted, we decided not to target permit and instead continue the barracuda fishing. As many of you know, the barracuda population have been under a lot of stress recently–last night was the first of three working groups put together by FWC to finally address their lack of protection from both recreational as well as commercial harvest with virtually no limits.
We ran to parts far away and unknown, and were greeted by what many people haven’t seen in the last few years: many barracuda, glaring at us as we poled down the flat. The fishing was amazing, and after Doug found them it would continue until the end of the day. I had a bite before handing the rod off the Jesse, who immediately caught a 35 inch fish. I then had a bigger fish fall off, and at this point my memory gets a little hazy. A few things I remember:
Jesse catching a large fish, easily over 40 inches, that Doug held for pictures before releasing:
Me hooking a nice barracuda only to see another one nearby, Jesse catching the other one, and us landing our fish at the same time for a rare “double cuda on fly” photo-op:
A large fish that I hooked near the boat that, after eating the fly, took a far-too-premeditated jump at my leg, missing me by inches and shredding my pants as it cleared the deck:
A few barracuda over light bottom that delivered us some of the more spectacular bites I’ve seen in a long time.
Jesse wading to a 40 inch fish over white sand, hooking and landing the fish from ankle deep water.
Literally, this is what barracuda fishing used to be. I’m optimistic that FWC will finally put in some limits so that what Jesse and I were lucky enough to experience with Doug will be common place once again.
After the day we ran home and prepared for the next day.
While the water was still cold, we had exhausted our barracuda desires and wanted to take a look for a permit. Having never caught or had a shot at one, Jesse was keen to give it a try and we got some sleep to prepare for a day of difficult permit fishing.
We started out on a bank that looked great but held no permit at first. As we poled down the edge, we soon saw a large hammerhead. Near it was a single permit, and though I threw the fly at the fish it wanted nothing to do with the fake crab–likely due to the presence of the giant hammerheaded death machine swimming nearby. I had a second shot at a large tailing fish, but the tail never gave us enough to dial in the cast with. After the chase I handed the rod to Jesse and we moved elsewhere.
Jesse’s first shot at a permit was pretty typical–it didn’t go as planned, and the fish was on to us before the fly got there. His second was better but still not there, and the fish skittered off into the nearby deep before ever addressing the fly. Technically I was up, but in the process of changing my fly another target showed up: two permit, motionless on some white sand. Jesse graciously offered me the shot, but since he was already up there he was by default our angler. His first cast was short, but his second landed between the two fish perfectly. The left fish spun around, and Jesse followed Doug’s instructions to the long strip that got him tight to his first permit.
Jesse played the fish to the boat, where Doug grabbed it and I snapped pictures of an amazing first capture:
This was great to watch, and I was of course eager to get one myself. I fished for 20 minutes before I had my opportunity: two fish over some turtle grass that were nearly hidden in the glare. The cast landed and I lost them, but when I saw movement and Doug told me “He’s all over it!” a long strip confirmed that the fish had indeed done it. I set the hook and the large permit took off for a deep channel. Doug started the motor and the fish slowed down, and as I began to pick up some line it went slack. I reeled in the fly line to inspect the leader, which appeared to have been shredded. The only thing we could think of was that the fly in the permit’s mouth had been attacked by a nearby hound fish. Strange as it was, there was nothing to be done to save this fish for our stats and we moved on with our day.
I had another two shots before Jesse was up again, and he had a couple before I was up again. The closest we came was a fish that we cast to and was lining up on the fly before losing interest and eating something else nearby.
We trotted along throughout the day, and had a long dry spell in the afternoon. Our fishing had ebbed, though we stuck with it until a final spot.
There, Jesse had a shot at a giant mudding fish, and I was up next. Doug soon spotted a small group of large permit in the low light, and everything happened as it should: the fly landed, the fish swam up to it, I stripped and the deed was done. This fish wasn’t as nice as the fish that Jesse had just thrown at, but it was large and felt great to get back in to the saddle before the Merkin.
Jesse snapped some pictures of the fish before we let it go:
Our day was done, but we finished the flat out and had a few shots at tailing fish in the glare before we headed home.
I’d like to thank Captain Doug Kilpatrick for one of the best two days of fishing I’ve had in a while, and it was great to be joined by Jesse Robbins.
The next two days I fished with John O’Hearn (and lots of fog…) reports will follow.