On Monday and Tuesday, I fished with John O’Hearn. It was our first day back on the water together since the days in August with Chad, when we had come perilously close to the 2lb permit record with a fish that was 4 ounces shy of the current record. Between then and now much has happened, most of it answering to the name Irma. John’s been displaced while his place on Big Pine is being fixed, and will be in Key West through the spring. I had tried to get Chad to return to the Keys for the two days we had booked, and when he had a conflict I was able to get our third set of hands from Ian for the first day. Our goal was to throw 2lb and 2lb only–John and I both are convinced we just need to stick with it, especially after the near miss in August, and when the only move is to keep our heads down and keep working we are in territory that feels like home. I rigged up the Biminis, attached the comparatively giant 12-pound shock tippet as if tying a tarpon leader in miniature, and we set out to make another attempt at the 30 year old record.
Our first day of fishing started earlier than it probably should have, with the change to the later fall mornings happening while we were out of town, and we spent a fair amount of the early hours waiting for our shadows to shorten. We had a shot in the morning at a large permit, and while we nearly had a quality presentation the fish was guarded by the clouds. We staked and waited for a few minutes, seeing a few evidentiary puffs of mud without a body before the fish saw us first and ran away. We hung around and fished in some better light for the next hour, though there were no more fish that we could see to throw at and we moved on. John briefly took a look in a place he thought there might be some permit but quickly decided to relocate. At the next place we hung our hats for an hour or more–there was enough activity to convince us there might be a permit to be found, and a few muds we spotted from what could only be a feeding permit carroted us along. After an hour we had found nothing and headed elsewhere.
The afternoon was where we found most of our action, and this change began with a group of three fish that offered a brief shot in the glare before glancing off the bow. We had another single fish make us early before we had a third shot at a tailing single. This fish appeared interested in the fly, though we were unable to come tight and the shot expired when the fish figured out that things weren’t what we were trying to make them appear to be. We moved on again after this small pocket of activity, heading to our final spot.
We had, in the final two hours of fishing, perhaps 6 high quality shots at fish. All appeared interested, and after two shots at single fish that we all thought ate the fly we switched it to seal the deal. I had another two fish move hard on the fly, and in both cases felt like we were about to pick a fight. Neither resulted in a bite, and after that the fishing was done. Ian couldn’t join us for the next day, and I was unable to find a third, so John and I went out alone with the light stuff on day two.
Our forecast for the second day was worse than the first, and in the morning it looked as though we might not have any sunlight at all. We fished through the morning, finding nothing, sticking close to the plan we had set the day before. The morning was slow, and we struggled to find a shot. As the morning wore on the clouds started to dissipate some, and after towing what was clearly a recently lost dinghy back to the marina on Key West we returned to some great visibility. John brought us to a large flat, in the middle of which we hoped to find a fish with nowhere to run, and we fished our way hopefully for some karmic retribution. Within a half hour John spotted a large single fish, and we got in play on the first cast. The large fish swerved hard on the fly, giving up a great bite without any convincing, and I lifted the tip of the rod to protect the two pound tippet. The fish stopped briefly and swam at the boat with its mouth open and we watched as the fly, unable to get buried with the light tension, came out. The fish spun around and looked for what was now gone, swirling back toward the boat as I got a reaction cast nearby. The fish looked hard at the fly again before taking off, and John and I both lamented the loss of such a large fish in such a shallow area on 2 pound. We fished for a while longer, hoping for another shot that never came.
In the later part of the afternoon the wind picked up, though we were still able to get a few shots. The first one was to a tailing fish that nearly gave us the slip by tacking downwind from us in a heavy falling current. Despite John having his work cut out for him by not wanting to blow past the fish and the need to stop the boat for the shot we were able to deliver a fly to a spot that worked on a dead drift to the fish. I waited longer on this bite than the first, hoping to give the fish a chance to gnaw the hook point in, and when the fly line drifted behind the fish I stripped and slowly lifted the rod into tension. The fish figured out that the crab it had eaten was ill-intentioned at this time, and took off across the shallow bar spraying water from its upper half. I cleared the line as meekly as I could, wanting to stay tight but not break the light line, and just as the fish was about to clear to the reel I saw the line go slack as the fish discarded the fly. We took a look at the hook and saw it was intact, muttered expletives and then kept on our way.
Our next shot was not ten minutes later, and this fish too got a good look at the fly before wagging hard on it. John mentioned that the fish had to have it, to which I agreed, and when I lifted my rod tip the fly hung but briefly on the lips before coming out. Like the first fish this one looked for the fly after it had been removed, and we would likely have had a second nibble event had the permit not seen the boat and fled. We kept on, though at this point I was only acting cool. Inside I was pissed–three permit, each a potential record, and the hooks wouldn’t stay put. Yay.
Our next shot also gave us a bite, and on this one I gave the fish every opportunity to hook itself. In fact, I never even set the hook at all–just watched the fish dip on the fly and waited for it to move off. The fish did move off, though not with the fly, and with that fourth bite without a fish solidly hooked we were done for the day and already planning what we were going to change.
I’ve been thinking about a better hook since those days, and I think I’ve arrived at a solution. I’ll be back at it with John (and Chad will join us) on the 23 of this month, and I hope to have good news to report. Tuesday with Doug Kilpatrick, and Simon Becker will be joining us. More to come.