I am in the process of catching up with the reports, so please forgive me for being a week late on these pages.
Following the three epic days of barracuda fishing with John Benvenuto, I got in the car for the four hour drive to Everglades City to fish for the six with Steve Huff. If you keep up with these reports, you will remember last year we fought a fish into the night for nearly 13 hours, losing it at 3 AM. This year, we were better prepared: in addition to extra food and caffeine, we brought a secret weapon–Jason Schratwieser, a good friend of mine that works for the IGFA. Our feeling was that a third person would add the extra set of hands we were without last year. I arrived at Steve’s (after a longer-than-expected drive) at 11:30, and couldn’t sleep for the excitement until close to 1. At 5 I woke, already flushed with great expectations of our day on the water.
After breakfast, we left in pursuit of the scales. By 8:30 we were in a nameless basin, and within minutes we had the first shot at a giant. The first fish I hooked was large, though (ebarassingly) was hooked in the dorsal fin–a result of a closer than anticipated shot. I broke this fish off, and after a few refusals I took some advice from Jason on a fly change. This turned out to be a great call, as within a few hours with the new fly and some presentation tweaks we figured out the animals: from 1-2PM, we were able to get seven bites from fish, and all were large. The last of these seven I hooked stayed connected, and we fought the fish for an hour before the fly fell out. Deep in the everpresent frustration of setting hooks with 6 lb tippet, we returned to the area to find our old nemesis in the Everglades: an opaque varnish of cloud cover, shielding the fish from our efforts.
At 4:09 PM, Steve spotted a laid up fish. My third cast into the wind landed on target, and with a strip we were connected to the next ten hours of our lives. After night fell we were using a spotlight and Jason to his utmost potential, looking to get a read on the tail of the giant so that we might pull against its motor. The giant hardly tired, though at close to midnight it gave us a chance. Jumping towards the boat it gave Steve a chance to deploy the gaff, and in a tired haze I remember three things happening: at the center, a puff of scales that deflected the point of the gaff. On one side the fish, greyhounding away from the boat that no longer held Steve, who was in the water on the other side of the scales but soon climbed back in to the boat.
After another two hours, the fish was still swimming healthily and not showing any stress. I was tired, beyond fatigued, and the caffeine had stopped working. In this moment, I made a call that affected both Steve and Jason. I had just enough energy left for some hard pulling, and decided to risk the loss of the fish with the application of some more pressure. At 2 AM, after ten hours, the fish broke off when I pulled harder than the fragile 6 lb tippet would allow. We returned to the dock at 3:30 AM, and when we pulled in to Steve’s driveway I could barely make it through a short shower without falling asleep. I slept a blank sleep, waking up at 9 AM to see what the second day held for our pursuit.
After a late (and giant) breakfast, and some chores around the house, we left for an afternoon of fishing. We toyed briefly with the idea of catching some snook to pass the afternoon, but when the boat was in the water and pointed towards the pons we were unable to resist the urge to try again with the six. In a few hours, I hooked a pair of fish that were small (80 lbs), both of which jumped off when I went slack. Our third fish was not as big as the one last night, which Steve had estimated at 140 lbs, but was over 100 and represented a solid opportunity for our record pursuit. Steve and I, fishing without Jason for the day, made a decision to put maximum pressure on the fish. With another day in front of us and the pain of the battle last night behind us, our strategy was maximum effort–this fight was going to be over in a few hours, win or lose. Within an hour the fish was backing up, shaking its head, and every so often flipping over entirely when I pulled across its back. We edged closer to the animal, slowly, so as not to ease up on the pressure when the boat moved towards it. Soon, in the failing light, the fish was lolling on the surface and we were close enopugh for Steve to reach out with the gaff. At this moment, the fish rolled and broke the line. We were crushed, though both happy to be headed to the dock at a reasonable time. We were also refreshed, happy about our renewed strategy and the opportunity it presented.
The third and final day, Jason joined us once again. The fish were there but near impossible to see, and as we continued throughout the day we were able to squeek out a few shots but none resulted in a bite. Dismayed, and feeling like we should have been bitten with the presentations we were getting, we switched flies. In another few hours, we had a shot at a single alid up fish pointed towards us, and though this fish needed some coaxing we got the bite and came tight on a fish that Steve estimated at 130 pounds. We used our previous day’s theory to stay on the fish with aggression and (we hoped) enough tenacity to throw it off balance and deliver the shot. While larger and more unpredictable than the fish the day before, this fish began to show the first signs of cracking in the same amount of time. In an hour, we had the fish shaking its head and once again backing up. This fight, unfortunately, didn’t last long enough to fnd out if our strategy would pay off a second time: in an hour, the fish rolled and broke the line. I changed out my leader with a fresh class and shock section, and we had one more bite from another large fish that threw the hook before the setting sun sent us home.
Once again, I returned from the Everglades with a long fight and nothing to show for it, save for a single scale that remained on the gaff when Steve went in. The time I spent with Steve was incredible, and I feel very lucky to spend time with him on this record pursuit. I’d like to thank Jason Schratwieser for attending two of the days with us, and bringing a third set of hands and a little intellectual class to our pursuit. I love the record hunting, even when I lose.
Reports to follow that involve Ted Margo and two days with John O’Hearn yesterday and the day before.