Fishing with Steve Huff and Jason Schratwieser Last Week, Happy Thanksgiving

Well, it’s Thanksgiving. After this report, I’ll be back up to date, and I’m looking forward to keeping up with these pages more consistently in the coming year. I’ve got lots coming up: the Cuda Bowl, the March Merkin, the Goldenfly, the Gold Cup, the Poor Boys, the Del Brown, and more days planned with Steve in pursuit of the six. Added to that is the new-found 2 kg permit record pursuit that has made its way on to the queue which I hope to spend some time on with John O’Hearn in the months leading up to the Merkin.

As far as the past is concerned, I had a great trip up to the Everglades last week to fish with Steve Huff. As was the case last year, we were joined by our friend Jason Schratwieser. Our goal was the six pound tarpon record, but we knew going in that there wouldn’t be much of a chance to get it done after the first day. We decided to give it a crack anyway, since there would need to be a lot more weather than was forecasted to keep me from spending some time with these two great people. If I’m being totally honest I’ve been dying to do some normal fishing with Steve, so the inclement weather seemed to be a chance to enable some snook fishing which I was looking forward to.

Here’s the play-by-play:

Day One:

We started early, though we all knew that the likelihood of finding our fish in the cool morning would be far lower than in the relative warmth of the coming afternoon. We had breakfast and launched at Ted’s house, then threaded our way into parts that are only now beginning to feel slightly familiar. We drove through places that I have marked mostly by the pain of losing fish, some of them after many hours. We visited the very branch that reminded Steve where we were after nearly 13 hours two years ago. Jason and Steve discussed as we ran just where, precisely, the 10 hour battle from last year had taken us. We started in a small basin near where we fished the year prior and saw a single fish roll and another one spook from the boat before we relocated to the  spot we had found fish two years ago.

Here there was a scattered group of fish. As we approached they rolled and a few shied away from our long shadows, leaving the typical fishless mud plume in their stead. The sun crept higher and we made it a point to look hard both on top of and into the water: we were as likely to get a shot at a rolling fish as we were to see one nearby in the water. The clouds rolled in, and as the water warmed up the sun was mostly covered by the cotton. We stuck with it, hammering out from the difficulty a few shots that would have worked out only with a lot of auxiliary good fortune. The opportunities were downwind, for the most part, which presented a particular frustration to us: the bite would have to happen quickly, before we blew down on the fish. The targets were not snappy, however, and the two that actually turned on the fly were nowhere near committed before we arrived from upwind and spooked them off. With the less-than-enthusiastic fish, tough light and increasing wind our chances were anorexic at best.

We stuck with it, moving to another spot before heading back to the group of fish we found and sticking with them through the afternoon. Oddly, the best chance we had was from a fish that would not have counted for a record: as Steve poled along, I let my fly drag off to the side of the boat. I heard Steve say “strip it!” before I turned back to look, and there saw the very scaley monster we were looking for nosed up tight to the pink feathers. The fish didn’t eat, likely since when I turned back to look at what had prompted Steve to say something I had delivered some slack into the leader, but it was just as well: since this fish would have been hooked trolling (technically) it wouldn’t have counted for a record. Given the tough conditions, breaking off a fish would have been a certain kind of pain that I was glad we didn’t have to endure.

The day ended at a nearby shoreline, where we saw a few fish spook in the failing light before we headed home. None gave us a shot, and we knew that the tarpon portion of our trip was likely over as we headed to the dock for dinner.

Day Two:

We started early once again, and this time there was a threatening front edge of clouds headed for us and our pursuit. We outran it until we stopped, and there it caught up with us. The temperature  (and soon rain) was falling, and we wriggled into raingear that would stay on for the rest of the day. Steve had in mind we could find a tarpon on a shoreline, and in a sense he was correct. There was, in fact, a tarpon on this shoreline. We didn’t get a shot at it, however, and as the rain fell harder he called it a spot and we left for a last chance look for the six. In a basin nearby, he shut the motor off and mentioned that there might be a hole with some tarpon in it somewhere off to our right. Jason inquired how we would know where the hole was, to which Steve responded “you’ll see the tarpon roll” and laughed. Oddly perfect logic for a plan that seemed, in 64 degree air ripe with rain, incredibly unlikely. Still, we kept our eyes on the general area that Steve had pointed out, searching for a body part. It was Steve that saw the first fish roll, and had he missed it we would probably never found what we did. There, in the middle of the rain and air temperatures that usually spell the end of tarpon fishing, was a group of large tarpon rolling around. Every so often one would stick its tail out on the way down, wagging it happily in the chop. As unlikely as finding this group of fish was, once we found them we were quite confident that we would get a bite. This many fish in an area this small means that a certain number of casts is bound to produce, and when Steve staked the boat off I started the process of covering water in hopes of coming tight. In 20 minutes we hadn’t gotten the bite we expected, and we changed flies. Another half hour went by, and I put some weight on the hook shank to get the fly down closer to the bottom. In another half hour we took the lead off, and as the weather continued to disintegrate we kept peppering the hole with casts in hopes of starting a fight that never happened. We changed flies one more time, each of us frustrated and bothered by the lack of willingness. While Steve found them in the most unlikely of circumstances, we were unable to get the grab. When our optimism had fully decomposed we headed off just before lunch time to find some snook.

The snook fishing was lots of fun, and it was nice to spend some less intense time on the boat with Steve and Jason. These two are some great people to watch fishing for snook, and I think they each landed a couple smaller snook before I got my first one. We bounced around some incredible places, saw a raccoon (which was awesome), and jason even caught a nice redfish in between some of his snook. The weather was just as bad as it was earlier, but we got used to it and by the late afternoon it didn’t sting as much. The ride home was cold, and Jason saw the writing on the wall and headed home that evening. The next morning, Steve and I had breakfast but we both knew that the chances of fishing in the current conditions were zero. We hung out for a few hours and I headed home to Key West in the late morning.

I have another three day block with Steve in December and again in February (as in years past), and if we can make some time later in the year work we will.

More to come,