After the March Merkin I traveled to Everglades City to fish with Steve and Chad. In my last six scheduled trips north I’ve been lining up quite closely with some far-from-perfect weather, and this trip was sadly no exception. We’ve kept ourselves occupied by snook fishing and some brief looks for tarpon on those trips though we’ve been unable to come tight on a tarpon on 6lb since a year ago, where we lost a fish next to the boat that would have shattered the record. Since that time we’ve been searching for favorable conditions, and hoped that these late March days would bring with them some spring immunity. Instead I arrived just as a thin finger of winter dragged its freezing infection south to Steve’s driveway, opening the back of my van as the rain came coldly crashing in. Hooray.
We figured that this day would present the warmest water we were going to find in our three scheduled days, and got a start with tarpon in mind. We made our way to some places that I haven’t yet fished with Steve, checking a number of small shorelines one after the other. At our second stop we had a shot at a large single, then another at the next. At our third another fish presented itself, and while my first three casts were kept from landing where they needed to by some apparent tarpon face force field a third cast landed in range after the fish sank out of view. I let the fly fall out of sight as well, in search of an intercept, and stripped it slowly until the fish flashed broadly on it and we were tight. The tension lasted only briefly, however, and as soon as the rush of excitement rose it was flushed away as the fly left the fish alone, never finding a home. We were all buoyed by this bite, and for the rest of the day continued to push our way along small bights in search of another fish to throw at. Our bite-heightened expectations were tempered by the increasing wind and decreasing temperature, and while we remained optimistic it was clear that things were trending to a shiver.
We fished out the afternoon with another shot at a single, this fish laying in cold repose in the now muddy water and refusing even the thought of our feathers.
We found a small number of shots more, spread throughout the day, though the wind picked up and the cold kept adding layer after layer of improbability on the surface chop. We called it a day in the low light and headed home.
Our second day of fishing was colder than the first, and while a sane group of three might have decided to look for some snook or redfish we instead opted to continue our tarpon quest. If the weather wouldn’t cooperate with us, the logic went, then we wouldn’t cooperate with it. So it was that we went tarpon fishing and tarpon fishing only in the cold.
We found a few large snook in the shallows as we poled around in search of tarpon, and while we got a good cast at a pair of them they never made anything other than a slight acceleration in the direction of the fly before falling off. We smoked a cigar and chatted about anything other than the wind and the cold, enjoyed lunch and stuck with it, unwilling to concede defeat.
In the afternoon we found some warmer water on a lee shoreline, and there also a number of shots at exactly what we had been searching for. The fish were side-lit in the low light, looking to absorb what gloaming warmth they could before what was clearly going to be a cold night in the swamp. I threw what I thought was a good cast at two or three of them, waiting for a reaction toward the fly but instead watching the fish recoil in frigid disregard, flooding their tanks and sinking slowly downwards. We squeezed from this area four or five shots. None worked out, but we were encouraged by the fact that sticking with the plan had given us some positive reinforcement. That was all this group of three obsessed fisherman required, and after we called it a day we made plans to continue our assault the following and final day.
On our last day Steve took us for a long run in a new direction, hoping that we might find some fish that had sought shelter from the cold weather. It was 48 degrees in the morning on this day, but two things kept us from quitting our tarpon pursuit: One was our ever-present idiotic optimism, and the second was the fact that the temperature was slated to make a near 30-degree swing towards warmer.
We took in the morning with the aforementioned long run, and by lunch had smoked a cigar and found some fishless but breathtaking slices of the Everglades. Steve poled up one side of a river branch and back down the other, continuing to grind in the face of the low probability conditions. He kept at it, and we eventually located a large group of tarpon rolling in incoming muddy Gulf water. Just finding a tarpon on a day like today was a victory in its own way, though after an hour of interacting with these fish we didn’t feel as god about them as we did initially. They were smaller than we needed, on average, and didn’t seem to be in a predictable enough area for us to make things work. It’s one thing to find a tarpon at all when the temperature starts out in the 40’s. It’s a Steve Huff thing to leave them in pursuit of one bigger and more compliant, and we did just that when he called the move.
For the rest of the day we searched hard, ending with a mile-long pole in to the wind just to prove that we couldn’t be beaten. We weren’t, but were not victorious either. As I’m sure the readership here knows, we aren’t going to quit any time soon.
I had a (very) windy day with Chad Huff and Scott Collins after I go back from the Everglades that gave up a single shot at a permit between the above trip and today, and tomorrow I’m headed out with Vicky Linville and Aaron Snell. Wednesday I’m with Howard Davis and Ian Slater, then Thursday with John Kelleher and John O’Hearn.
Reports to follow,