Sorry for the delay on this report–the back door to the website has been down for some time as we’ve updated our newsletter sign-up on the site. If you want new content and updates when new fishing reports are uploaded, sign up–it’s easy, and there’s a link on the homepage! Herewith is the report from earlier in the month with Steve and Chad. Permit fishing has been good but windy, and it looks like the weather is going to stay clear and breezy for the near future. I have a report to load from a day earlier this week permit fishing with Ian and I’ll be current.

On Monday and Tuesday, I fished with Steve and Chad Huff. Our target was, as always, a tarpon over 88 pounds on 6 pound tippet. With an unknown weather situation in the form of Matthew bearing down and some recent reports that there haven’t been that many tarpon in the area, we set out anyway to give our efforts to the game.

The first day’s forecast was for light winds and clouds–a not terrible combination, and certainly better than the many days we’ve had of both heavy wind and cloud cover. The water was warm, which we were hoping would afford us a greater chance to beat a fish quickly with the light string.

Day One:

Our first day of fishing started out on a slow burn. We checked a few places out and picked our way through the labyrinth of islands and tidal river mouths that have all been, at one time or another, infested with tarpon. We found none to begin with, though the conditions were improving. The wind was light and the sun continued to make an appearance, which was a welcome change of pace from the lacquer we usually have to contend with in order to get a shot. Despite the great conditions, it was hard to find a tarpon to throw at. We found a concentration of triple tail along our travels, and Chad grabbed the backup rig with a permit fly to try his hand at the three-tailed steak fish. From the center of the boat, while I was tarpon fishing on the bow, Chad lobbed shots at the suspended foodstuffs. We never got one into the cooler, though Chad did hook one that came off before we reeled in both rods and headed elsewhere. After lunch, Steve made a run to a nameless opening in the shoreline and we were soon surrounded by tarpon. They rolled and sloshed, and we crept into position to take a shot.

Most of the fish were smaller than we needed, though I was at first willing to throw at anything just to mark a change in the fishless pace we’d thus far set. I said out loud that I was willing to throw at anything that moved, though when the moment came to make good on my promised irresponsibility I was hesitant. I watched a 50 pound fish roll in range and managed a half-hearted shot in its direction. The fish didn’t respond to my lukewarm advances, and I stripped in and reset for another shot. The tarpon continued to roll and I continued to fish at a noncommittal pace, blurring the line between where my efforts to get a large tarpon on were to start and my inability to hook any tarpon at all was to end. After 30 minutes of this Steve told me to simply cast at anything, trying to break the cycle. I committed myself to this task, though by this point our welcome mat was threadbare. The fish rolled everywhere but within range, and when we left a blank space toward the rolls farther away it was a short time before they started blinking on the surface from where we’d just been. I threw nearby a roll and felt a tick on the retrieve and kept it coming, hoping to stay tight. The fish bit it once again, though neither of these interruptions resulted in any lasting tension. In a few minutes a large fish rolled going away from the boat, and we got a cast off over its back as it bubbled on its way. The fly landed in a perfect spot, and not wanting to spook the fish with a face approach I just let it sink and tried to animate it with a tight line. Again the fly stopped as I stripped, and I kept moving it to bury the point. The fish never got attached, and at this point I was wondering what in the [redacted] was going on. I re-rigged with a different fly on principle, and when I came tight on another cast towards a roll was rewarded with more of a tug. The tug I returned, however, proved more than the six pound tippet could handle and the fish broke off. It’s worth noting here that it’s been a long time since I lost a fish to this particular iteration of poor timing, and I was starting to feel some real frustration from the missed bites and broken line.

We tried for another hour on the fish in this area before Steve headed elsewhere, winding his way toward a shoreline that held what he described as very large fish. By this point the rain had arrived in a dark head between where we were and home, and though we were dry at the moment it was apparent that we would be heading in to the wet teeth if we wanted to get home. As soon as we stopped and got into position I watched a monster as big or bigger than any I’ve seen take a slow roll off the trees. I was the only member of the group that saw the fish roll, though soon we saw another large tarpon roll and we were sure that things could happen. I took a low probability shot at the second fish that rolled, and as Steve kept the boat stationary I felt the fly speed up as the current caught.  The fly kept coming and was soon interrupted by a large tarpon, which I tried to get the hook into. This fish did not stay connected, and we kept at the shoreline for an hour looking for another opportunity. A few fish rolled and kept us there, and we covered the water on the way  up and down, but we were unable to squeeze another drop from these particular giants before we left.

On the way home Steve had another stop in store, and here I was able to get another bite that never connected as well as break off another fish on a hook set, for a total of way to many mistakes and misses. We drove home into the slobbering jaws, breaking out the rain gear for the final soaking leg and making it home after sunset.

 

Day Two

Our second day of fishing started off in weather that was less than perfect. There was more wind than the day before, and a low lying cloud bank had moved in to the area to keep us in the sunless glare. Chad made no secret of the fact that this day was not the day before, though I made sure once the cloud cover began to burn off and things got nicer to bust his chops about his negative attitude.

Within a few hours, after two stops that yielded nothing, the sun was out in full force. Steve had us on a shallow bight, and as he poled towards a slightly deeper depression we started to see evidence of what we’d come for. I saw what I thought could be a large tail, and occasionally we would see a flash or a bust in the distance that could only be tarpon. Within minutes of getting to where we’d seen the clues Chad spotted a large tarpon slithering around in the shallow water, its tail and dorsal wagging above the surface. Steve put the bow into position, and I began a spastic effort to get the fly in front of the fish. Honestly, to get the fly where it needed to be took me at least a dozen casts. Each time it landed too far in front of or past the fish I was rewarded with a laconic response from the resting hyenas:

“It needs to be right in front of her.”

“That’s not gonna do it.”

“Try to put it in her face.”

“It’s not close enough.”

“I think you need to get it right in front.”

I knew full well I wouldn’t hear the end of this from the boys behind me, and simply tried to un-fluster and get it right. When I finally did, we were rewarded with a view straight down the dragon’s mouth and came tight without further failure. The fish swam off in fits, wanting to jump but unable to get enough momentum in the shallow depth to launch. Steve poled after the fish and Chad started to ready his tools, but we were all unsure if this fish would make the grade. The record stands at 88 pounds, and after a few minutes we were sure this fish was right around 80. Of course, given that this fish was 25 pounds shy of what we’d been after didn’t mean it wouldn’t rub it in, and we soon had the fish kicking along next to the boat. We looked down longingly at the back of it, willing it to be wider. When it was clear that even our greatest hopes couldn’t make things bigger we broke the fish off and returned to the bank for another try. Immediately we had another shot at a fish that looked easily 100 pounds, and this time it only took three casts to get the fly in harm’s way. Unfortunately, the fly swam by without getting eaten (or noticed), and the fish slunk off into a deeper depression and was no longer visible when it got lower in the water. We kept our focus and picked along, hoping for another shot at a place that would offer us an unparalleled opportunity to get things finally finished.

Over the next hour, the fishing slowed. What was a blur of activity when we first arrived shifted to an occasional roll or tail wag that never made it into range. Given how shallow the water as and how easy the first fish had acted we milked it for all it was worth, hoping for a chance to tussle with a potential record in a perfect place. This chance never came, and when it was clear that the fishing was not to continue we moved on.

Steve soon found the fish we had been on the day before, and I resolved that I wasn’t going to make a similarly heavy handed error this day. We found the fish easily enough, though today there were fewer of them than the day before, and they seemed to get smart to our efforts quickly. Steve picked around after them and I made what shots I could at the rolls and bubbles. In addition to the fish being more finicky, the rain did not skirt us. We watched the clouds rolling not through but on top of us, and we grabbed the rain gear and suited up as the clouds made themselves at home around us. Steve did what he does when the going gets tough, and dug his heels in and pointed the bow into the weather and pushed. In 20 minutes we were still getting soaked, but once the rain settled in to a consistent pattern a few fish began to roll. One of these was close by, and we got a cast off in time to cover the bubbles that pushed up after the back receded. A few strips later and we were tight, and I set the hook this time without issue. The fish started away from the boat, and when it jumped no one said anything right away. The fish was clearly not 6 lb record class material but we went through the motions of clearing the line and giving some slack on the jumps since we had little else to do in the rain. When the fish was on the reel Steve asked Chad “What do you think, 70?” to which Chad replied in the affirmative, and I asked what Steve wanted to do. Steve said “It’s your call.”

It’s not that I expected any other answer, and there was no earthly reason to ask this question. We were simply going through the slow lowering down of things, and after a short time pulling on the fish I broke it off and re-rigged. We passed the time with more idle talk about fish and times when their size matters, and when it was clear that the fishing was finished at this spot Steve moved us to where we’d found the giants the day prior.

We hunted the shoreline for a while, finding nothing. Steve saw a fish roll near the downcurrent edge, and after poling over to it we saw it again. Two fish rolled within 50 feet of the boat in 20 minutes and each offered us what we considered to be a great opportunity. Neither worked out, and when it became clear even a fly change wasn’t going to make these fish play ball we headed in the direction of home.

Steve stopped at a final spot on the way home, and I was again able to get a bite from a fish that didn’t stay connected to round out the hard luck not quite that was present in far too great a supply on this pair of days.

As always, it was a pleasure to fish with Steve and Chad. We have days on the books for the end of next month, when the fish should be larger and we have every intention of making this thing happen. It’s been a long trip.

nathaniel