Fishing with Steve last Week
In an effort to keep things saltwater-centric (and to retain a prayer of getting caught up on these reports before I leave for Belize), I’m going to gloss over the trip to Montana that Kat and I took the third week in August. We visited Fitz and Dotty, and caught some trout. We also carp fished for one day, and caught one on a blind cast. While the fishing was fun it was best of all to visit with Fitz and Dotty, and Kat and I can’t wait to see them down here in December.
We flew home on August 27, and on the 28 I drove up to Steve’s for two days of fishing on six. The weather left lots to be desired, and between my car dying (sadness level: epic) on the way up and Krome Ave being shut for half the way up it felt like things were harder than they should be before they even started properly. I arrived at Steve’s late on the 27, and we had dinner and finished rigging up for the following day. This time we were joined by Chad once again (Jason was tied up with work), and he met us at 6 for breakfast to complete the crew. We ate and got into the boat, ready for whatever the clouds and wind had in store for us.
Our fishing the first day was not as bad as we’d feared: the wind had leveled off to a reasonable 15-20, and the sun peeked through enough to give us hope we might see a fish before it saw us. Throughout the first part of the morning we saw a few fish nearly everywhere we looked. The issue was concentration, and not ours: at most of these places, it was apparent that despite our focus we were looking for only a few fish in large areas, and Steve kept pressing on to find a body of fish to throw at. At our fourth stop in the late morning it seemed that things were looking up. We poled down a shoreline, every so often seeing a gliding fat mass of scales slither out of the water in the direction we were headed. The sun peered around the cloud cover, and in short order we were in a place that had fish in which we could see them. As Steve kept moving down the shoreline we spotted a single laid up fish off our right side, and put a feather bait in front of it. I lost sight of the fish as it dipped low to track the fly, and after three strips came tight for the first time. The fish didn’t jump right away, though if it had I likely would have gone slack to save the rig: this fish was maybe 60 pounds, shy of what we came for and as such something we were prepared to jettison. After the first jump I left the reel in free spool and waited for the fish to shake it off. This didn’t happen (of course, it does seem like the smaller fish get hooked so much better than the big ones on six…) and we broke off the fish in order to preserve the good thing we were in the middle of. We poled around this area for another hour, looking but not finding before Steve said “Wind it up” and we headed onwards.
At our next stop, Steve explained (as he often does) that this was a very particular spot, and that if were fish they were bound to be right next to this certain feature. He also mentioned that they were likely to be big. We approached from far off, and when we made it to the place he’d indicated saw a few fish roll. He put in a request for a few shots at a certain time and distance, and I did what I could to comply. The first cast was short, but the second went where we wanted and I stripped it slow to keep it in the zone. The first bite came early on, and a large gold flash confirmed the fish was of appropriate record size. I never came tight, and kept stripping after missing the fish. The fly continued to be molested by large dragons on its way back to the boat but each time I tried to set the hook I was left with nothing. I threw another cast in the same area, and this time we watched as one of the large-scale backs kicked along the surface after the fly. I set the hook on this fish, and when it cleared the water on its first jump there was no question this fish would do it for us. Steve muttered “Why can’t you hook a reasonable one for once?” when the fish cleared the water a second time, and we started the motor and gave chase to what we thought was easily 130 pounds of angry tarpon on six pound tippet.
The fight was dynamic from the start, the fish was unafraid to stay close to the surface as we followed. Chad wrapped himself around the goings-on, always looking for a shot and preparing to go for a swim if need be. Steve kept the boat off the rear quarter of the fish and I made what effort I could to pull on the fish and tell Chad when I thought the fish was going to jump or roll. After an hour we had a near shot at the fish but the bow platform got in the way and the fish ducked the boat. We stayed ready, feeling once again (for the hundredth time, literally) that this was going to be our fish. The fish slowed down in the warm water–one of the things we’d hoped these August days would bring was a limit to what a big fish could do on the light line. We continued to chase the fish down a nearby river mouth, every so often watching it eye the mangroves that lined the channel.
In the years we’ve been fighting these fish on six pound, it’s often occurred to us that a fish could duck into the mangrove root system if they were so inclined, though we’ve never had it happen. While it’s clearly an option for these fish, we’ve witnessed what could be described as some trepidation on their behalf towards going “full tree” and have therefore learned not to expect it. This fish changed all that when it ran head first into the shoreline, and continued to dump line at the center of the mangroves. Chad pointed out that the fish had wrapped the line around something and taken a turn, and that what appeared to us to be a penetration was simply a turn around a hazard. We got close to the shoreline and I tried to clear the tip of the rod below whatever the backing was hung up on, but in short order it became apparent that the fish had done its job well. I took to the water against Steve’s advice (“I think that’s a bad idea”) and backed off the drag, jumping in to have a try at clearing this all up. I took the rod tip in my hands and ducked into what immediately felt like a terrible idea, prying my hands and then shoulders into something I was soon sure I might not get out of. The first success came when I swam under the last bit of hazard on the small green outcrop, and saw the line follow me as I swam down to the next one. I tried to hurry things along, since if the fish decided to make a strong run with this much line out we were bound to lose it. I dove into the second cluster of roots and leaves and cleared it easily, and looked 30 feet farther to what was the last piece of plants holding our efforts hostage. I felt the reel begin to vibrate as the fish took a turn, felt more tension and began to work in earnest. Soon I could hear the reel send up a spray of water as the fish swam faster, and I heard the fish jump behind me: the tarpon had taken a turn away from the shoreline and out into the channel, where a high jump against the line drag broke the tippet. I wound as fast as I could, still going through the death twitches of captured prey, hoping for the small possibility that the fish had turned back at us. When the belly of the fly line came through the mangroves I knew it was surely over, but I kept winding until I saw the terminal end of the leader out of the water.
I got back into the boat, and after receiving the obligatory ball-busting from the boys (Steve: “You know, if you’d tried harder you would have caught that fish”) we had lunch. I dried out as best I could in the humid cloud cover, then rigged another fly on the butt section as Steve put us back in range of where we’d hooked the tree hugger.
We threw some casts for a while, never finding the knot of fish from which our earlier bite came. We left in the early afternoon, heading here and there for a look. We didn’t come across much in the afternoon, though at about 4:30 Steve had us in a place that looked promising. Steve put us in range of what appeared to be a half dozen large tarpon mixed in with some that were smaller, and we waited for a shot at the big ones. A fish rolled near the boat, and I took a cast in front of it but didn’t come tight. Soon, a large pink flag was raised in the low sun, and we took a few casts at where we thought the head might be. The fish, despite its willingness to hang its tail out for the world to see, proved difficult to get in front of. A few times a cast that looked well placed just caused the tail to kick off and settle 20 feet away, and we re-positioned a few times as the fish moved around. When we got an angle and could see which way the fish was facing we got the fly in a place that couldn’t be refused, and the fish kicked its tail as it climbed on to the fly. I felt tension twice, but each time was unable to keep it tight. The fish blew out after its second attempt, and we went back to work looking for a partner.
The afternoon expired as it usually does with Steve, slowly and in low light. On the ride home we were all afflicted with a rare case of the August chills, and after dinner and cleaning the boat went to visit the Shed, Steve’s new 4,000 square foot warehouse of cool man-stuff. I got to bed early, though we did check the forecast: for the following day, the weather looked even worse.
Our second day of fishing started out in a newly minted varnish of clouds, supplemented by a wind that reminded me of winter. The first place we went was a
|Our second day of fishing started out in a newly minted varnish of clouds, supplemented by a wind that reminded me of winter. The first place we went was a basin near the fish we had found the day before, and while there was nothing there to start Steve dug deep with the pole and took his time in search of some targets. We slowly picked our way around a mangrove point, entering into a small scallop against the mangroves. Tarpon rolled and shifted in the lee of the shoreline, and as we got closer it was clear that we were in a place populated with our choice of fish to throw at. A few tails pricked up, suspended in the water and waiting for something to happen next. A large fish slipped along the shoreline a hundred yards from us, poking its pale back out of the water as it searched for a snack. Steve had us in position slowly, and when he staked off the boat we took our time and discussed what to do.|
|There was a tail from a fish of unknown size in range, and another slightly farther away in the direction of the bigger hunting fish. A 50 pound fish rolled even closer than the tail, and I talked it through with Steve and Chad. We didn’t know how big a fish the tail was attached to, but it was clear that the whole situation was tenuous: our approach had woken up the place, and we were sure to break up the party permanently if we jumped a small fish. By the time we were halfway through our discussion the tarpon that had been hunting on the surface slid closer, and in no time the fish was in range. This fish looked big enough, and we took a cast in front of it. The fish never reacted, and I threw another shot closer to the fish. This cast was also ignored, but the third landed just past and a foot in front of the fish. The tarpon stopped for a second as the fly came by, and then exploded in every direction as it ate. The fish looked stretched in every direction, its tail and mouth high out of the water as it latched on to the fly and shook its head as if to swallow it down. The fish lolled for a minute, unsure of what was happening, and I tried to keep the line tight to bury the hook in the brief moment before all hell broke loose. The tarpon soon figured that it wanted to be anywhere but where it was, and took off through the small scallop basin without a jump. The line wrapped around a branch in the middle of the basin that we were able to clear, and after that the fight took place in the open. We were attached to a fish that refused to jump, and therefore we had to wait for a while to determine if it was or was not suitable for the record. After 20 minutes we confirmed that it was: our estimates ran from 100 to 110 pounds, and with that we were prepared to take things to the mat.|
|The fish gave us a hard hour of fight, and Chad was in close position more than once. After an hour the fish saw a shoreline and made a beeline for its safety. We gave close chase as best we could, but the fish got inside the safety of the trees and broke us off. We were perplexed that this new way of losing them had exhibited itself so consistently in these two days of fishing, but headed on and tried to make what we could of the increasingly poor weather.|
|The day brought us plenty of adventure, including an outside run in some truly awful waves, but we were never able to make another bite happen. We had a single long distance shot at a sliding giant, and a couple shots at smaller rolling fish in the evening, but we headed back to the dock with only the single battle to show for our efforts.|
|Plans are already in the works to make another go of it, and soon.|
|Superfly is tomorrow, and I have two days of fishing with John O’Hearn to catch up on (as well as a couple half-day looks with Ian Slater) before I get to that.|