Fishing with Ian Slater and Simon Becker (plus special guest angler Joe Skrumbellos)
Last week I fished for two days. The first was with Ian Slater, and we set our sights on tarpon. With the upcoming tarpon tournaments and my recent re-tooling of fish fighting, I was interested in getting the new boat on the water and us attached to some faces. We started early and had a look in one place for an early morning push of fish that never came, and when it was clear that our first step was not in the way of incoming masses moved on in search of more. Ian had us briefly in a second spot before relocating to a third, where we soon found some fish to throw at. I had two shots at a string of fish that ducked the fly before getting another shot at a pair. The lead fish swam past the fly and I left it for the second, which had no problem curling behind it and lining it up before overrunning it with an open mouth. We got the hook in and headed off to pull, surviving a few jumps before the hook fell out and forced us back into trying for another grab.
In the hour we remained we had another half dozen shots, the fourth of which was at a laid up fish sitting high. This fish ate the fly as soon as it landed, and we were attached thereafter to a small fish that gave a great account of itself for 10 minutes before we had it next to the boat. The hook pulled before we could get a hand on the little guy, and we kept on. Ian moved us after the fishing slowed, and we soon found a few more shots for his efforts. I switched to a prototype fly line for this spot, hoping to put it to the test, and we went in.
In an hour we had maybe six shots, and all were at fish being harder than we wanted. A four fish string gave us a good chance, though numbers one and two ducked the fly as they approached. The last one got a look as they curled around us, and it was an afterthought of a cast at number two that made things happen. We watched the fish tilt backwards, slowing itself as the off-angle fly shuddered along before it kicked its face above the water with as wide-mouthed flush. I wasn’t tight for very long, as the new fly line we were testing quickly divested itself of the leader entirely, but it was great to see and a good way to be reminded that things unexpected are often the most common in this game.
We continued on throughout the afternoon, and toward the end of the day had another burst of activity. These fish were also insubordinate, and after a dozen shots I was ready to come apart. Off color water, good moving current, and these fish were shying hard off a 15 foot lead. We switched flies but one time, not wanting to fall into that wormhole completely, and after a few shots went back to what we started with. I kept doing what I could to get tight to end the day, and it was a laid up fish that finally gave up a hesitant bite. We fought the 90-pound animal to the boat, and Ian soon had his palm full of jaw for a picture:
After that we called it a day, though not after confirming that the fish were still in a sour mood with another few shots that were ignored. We took off, and I went home to get ready for the next day of fishing with Simon Becker and Joe Skrumbellos.
If you have paid any attention to the recent permit tournaments in the Keys, Joe and his friend/guide Matt Fitzgerald need no introduction. Their recent victory in the March Merkin confirms their badassery, which is reinforced by their two consecutive victories in the Del Brown in 2015 and 2016. Joe is also a great guy and a friend, and we share a passion for the dorky details in permit fishing. We have different approaches, which is of great interest to me, and I derive no small amount of fascination from our discussions about what works for us and why. Simon has an outlook that’s similarly oriented towards the fine details, and the two of them made a perfect pair to spend a day on the water with for this fly fishing nerd.
We started off in the heavy wind with added cloud cover, hoping that things might get clear in the afternoon. Joe and I traded shots on some early morning rolling fish, finally hooking one after repositioning a few times as the school stewed in the current. I fought the fish for a time in the deeper water, losing it when the fish gnawed through the shock tippet with the corner of its mouth. Simon had us on another tarpon spot thereafter, and Joe politely let me get up again to get as much tarpon practice in as I could before the tournaments. I experienced some familiar disobedience from these fish, though after an hour of throwing at them we were able to get one to crack open and invite us in. We started the motor when the fish headed toward a nearby channel, and in ten minutes Joe was kneeling down to grab some face. Interested in catching the fish as quickly as possible I put a little extra heat on it after a jump in an effort to end things early, which I did–though not in the way that required Joe’s help. The fish broke off and we headed elsewhere, now looking for some permit to throw at.
Joe was up first, and we took a look nearby a shot. This didn’t work out, and we relocated. Same result this time: pretty looking water, but no one home. Simon moved us again, and Joe insisted that I get up. I was more interested in watching him fish than fishing myself, though it’s pretty hard for me to turn down time on the bow, so I was happy to get up there and try to make things happen. Joe and I were discussing the differences in our approach to permit flies as Simon got us into position, and we soon saw a group of three small fish headed our way. I was able to illustrate everything about Skok’s Strong Arm on this shot, which graciously ended in a bite and solid connection. We were taken out into the windy Gulf as the fish broke free of the shallows, and I took longer than I should have to land it. The fish was much bigger than we’d first thought, and when it got in the net I was happy to have its size as an excuse for my extended pull time. Simon and I posed with the fish and Joe snapped a picture:
Funny thing about systems: in permit fishing, it doesn’t seem to matter what the system is so much as whether or not it’s executed consistently and effectively. And Joe Skrumbellos proved this fact beautifully with one of his own creations and the next shot we had. A pair of smaller fish tailed in the windy chop, and Joe got a cast into them perfectly as they changed direction. One of them ate it hard, leaning up on its side and flashing toward us with its mouth open. Joe stayed tight throughout the situation, and after the fish was cleared to the reel I leaned against the platform and watched the boys work. It didn’t take long for the fish to get inside the net, and I took some pictures.
With that the day was officially epic, and while I had been looking forward to an afternoon of watching Joe fish it was apparent that now I had to try to get an upper hand on our 2018 fish-in-a-year bet. We now both sat at five, and I was feeling the burn. The afternoon trotted along, and we were able to get another two fish to veer hard on the fly without putting a third in the boat. We discussed fish and fishing, which isn’t surprising, and basically had a great time hanging out with good company and waiting for a third permit to fall in to our lives. I came close on a final tailing single in the last minutes of the day, when I was nearly foiled by the line wrapping around my foot. While I was able to recover in time to get a bite I was not able to convert this to attachment, and had to watch with great frustration when the chance at redemption was pulled from me by a hook that never made a hole.
In all, I had a fantastic pair of days. Getting to grab what I hope to be the first of many tarpon on my new boat was great fun, as was spending a day in the company of fellow permit people in Simon and Joe.
I fished two days with John at the end of last week, and I’ll get current as soon as I can. I’m with Ted Margo and Drew on Wednesday, then Ian again on Thursday.
Reports will follow, though there might be a lag…