We left the dock at 5:30 in the morning, rigged and ready, full of fuel. Our plan was to work our way west, stopping at the shrimp boats along the way to capture some blackfin, get some bycatch for bait, and then end somewhere in the vicinity of the Dry Tortugas. What actually happened was slightly different but no less amazing.
The seas were high and heavy; much more and we would have had to call it a wash. By 7:45 we saw our first shrimp boat, farther than we had intended. Over went beer, in went bycatch–the transfer of goods that turns one man’s trash to something more.
We drifted back behind the anchored shrimp boat, throwing buckets of water to excite the tuna and the bonita (little tunny, albies, false albacore, etc.) along with pieces of trash. Michael caught a bonita on his first cast–his first ever. While this fishing can be so amazing it approaches boring at times, watching someone catch their first tuna reminds me what makes this sport so amazing. Another bonita in the boat and we moved on, confident we might find the body of shrimpers and with them the blackfin. Another hour in the boat and they appeared, horizon waves that never break. We went boat to boat, chumming and not finding what we were looking for. After an hour, we left for the W tower, about three miles away and hopefully holding permit and cobia.
What we found was quite different, and we are not likely to see again. The tower was covered with large amberjack–to maybe 45 pounds or so–that were dying to eat our flies. If you have fished for these before, you might be aware that they are quite often less than enthusiastic when it comes to eating a fly. Even more amazing still was the fact that the first one I hooked I was able to bring to the boat. These fish earn their nickname “reef donkeys” within the first thirty seconds of a fight–usually they just run into the structure and break you off, no matter your tippet. Even with unlimited class tippet, turning these fish before they bury your leader in structure proves to be impossible. In an hour, Michael and I each caught what most likely will be some of the largest Amberjack we’ll ever have the opportunity to land. And I must say, after two of these things I was ready (and happy) to hang up my fly rod and tease them next to the boat with a hookless jig. Simply amazing–Chris has the photos and they will be available here as soon as I get them. Hats off to the guys at Hardy fly rods–if anything will break a stick, this was it.
Following that, we left for the rockpile–a slight rise in structure that can hold permit, tuna, african pompano, and tiger sharks. I rigged up a large stand-up harness with 130 lb wire and a bonita, Michael and Chris started jigging the bottom and we began.
First, an african pompano, a fish that physically resembles a permit after training for a triathalon and acts like the same after a few too many cups of coffee–skeletal and lean, manic in behavior, and looking quite dapper with their long dorsal filaments that trail them like ribbons.
Next, another. And another. At this point I grabbed a 14 wt. with a 750 grain shooting head, eager to catch one on fly–a feat few ever get the opportunity to attempt and fewer still can say they’ve actually done. In the current I couldn’t get they fly down, even with one of Dave Skok’s “Boogie Nights” flies and an incredibly heavy fly line. In an hour, we landed 8 african pompano on bait, and none on fly. Next time.
On to another few wrecks, the sun lower now and us feeling the effects, getting tired. First spot we left after 30 minutes. Second was another tower, smaller in size but no less appealing in it’s potential for permit and cobia. Nothing. More tired, less sun, and the decision was made to run back to Key West.
One more wreck on the way home, devoid again.
We never made it to the Dry Tortugas, but we had an incredible time and had some truly transcendental fishing.