I realize that the reports haven’t been updated in a while, though it has not been for lack of raw material production. Tarpon season is in full swing, and I’ve been fishing lots.
I’ll start the catch up to current with a report of the two days I had last week with Steve Huff, during which we made another attempt at the six. Following this trip I had a day with Will Benson and Steve Trippe, in Steve’s invitational tarpon series. My spot in the three-day event was rounded out by Kathryn for a day and Sean Morton for a day, and as such our results in the tournament were a group effort.
After that I was with Simon Becker for two days–solo the first day and joined by my wife for a second.
Fishing with Steve:
On Tuesday I drove up to Everglades City and met up with Steve and Jason Schratwieser, who had been fishing together for two days prior to my arrival. Jason had been sure to put a lot of ideas in my head prior to my arrival, all of which turned my head on its legs and very few of which deserved it. His “five tarpon to hand” comment most specifically stuck with me, and until I found out they were small and caught in the process of snook fishing I was literally grinding my teeth in anticipation. Upon further discussion with the two of them, it became clear that Jason had been intentionally bending the truth (and my mind) in fine collegiate fashion. The tarpon fishing was indeed decent, but was not off the wall. Given the relative difficulty of our prior pursuits we had no trouble maintaining a positive outlook, loading the light string, and heading on our merry little way.
Day one started early, and we made a short run to where Steve thought there might be a few giants. We saw a few roll, and as the light climbed we blew out a fish that had crept under our shadow. We stayed in the area for another half hour until deciding it was better elsewhere. At our next stop, Steve had us in a basin perfect for six pound fishing: an enclosed area, full of shallow fingers that any hooked fish would have to cross, at their own peril if they were large enough. We stayed in the area for an hour, not seeing anything before we moved on.
Our third stop was a nearby basin, which held enough fish that occasionally we would see one roll. Steve pushed through one side of the basin to the other, where he mentioned to me they sometimes lay along. Here, as I was staring at the shoreline, we watched a mullet get blown out of the water by a large tarpon. We spotted the fish in the water, and soon Steve had us in position for a shot that I promptly missed, scaring the fish. We had another shot at a fish high in the water that wanted no part, and a third shot at a large scaled target yielded an odd result: the fish ignored the first cast, then the second and the third. After nearly ten casts at the fish, Steve told me to let it be and I (grudgingly) did. We moved back down the shoreline, and had a shot at a single small fish that ate the fly. This fish was not nearly as big as we needed for the record, and after going slack on the fish it spit the hook and we continued on our way.
What followed was a few more spots, none of which had any shots for us in store. In the mid afternoon, after lunch, Steve had us in a small ridge in the middle of nowhere as he is prone to doing. There, we began to see targets. I had a couple shots at fish that ducked poor angles, and a bite from a small fish that I immediately went slack on. We had another fish bite the fly, this one a high slider that Steve pointed out, and we hooked the fish solidly. Everything went according to plan, but a large tangle in the fly line shut us down when it became stuck in the guides. Another shot and another bite, and with a good hook set and no tangles were off to the races. Steve and I went back and forth about the fish, and whether or not he would be big enough for us to stick with. After 45 minutes, we were still unclear. Neither of us wanted to lose a fish that may be the record, and so too did we desire not to take a fish that may be on the edge. I figured we’d pull as hard as we could, and either stop him or pop him off. The fish answered the question for us when he broke off on a hard pull.
Immediately upon returning to the spot Steve had in mind, we saw a single fish that ate the fly hard–hard enough, in fact, that he broke off immediately. I re-rigged, and as soon as I stood back up on the deck we saw something in the water. I pointed it out to Steve, who said it might well be a fish. A cast in its direction landed a little close, and as I slipped the fly back toward us a pair of jaws popped up and made clear that this was, in fact, a tarpon.
The fish was large, well over 100 pounds, and as such we made a decision to give chase. Our fight time started at 4:30, and while this late hook up time had led to many an overnight battle we had a lot more daylight to work with this time of year. I kept pressure on the fish as best I could, and Steve stayed close by with the boat. Within an hour, the fish was barely able to clear the water when it jumped and Steve and I were thinking good things with every slow roll. The fish eventually got the tippet wrapped around its belly, and when next it swam over a shallow bar broke off of the sharp shell bottom. We wound up the busted nylon and headed in to home, another loss under our belt.
Our second day was similar to the first, though the wind stayed light for longer. Though this was a great portend, our fishing did not at first reflect this advantage. We bumped around from place to place, seeing very few fish until the late morning. When Steve powered down at yet another nameless ridge in the middle of nowhere we immediately saw them: many tarpon, rolling and finning as they arrived. We hooked five in the next few hours, and though some of them were large the ones that fell off were all the heaviest. Those that stayed connected were smaller, and we either broke them off or gave them slack to shake the hook. Incredible fishing, and while we were sad that we couldn’t go full-pull on them we stuck with the plan for the record as best we could.
When the wind came up and the clouds took over, Steve brought us to an off-color slot where he said there might be a fish or two of sufficient heft passing by. Our waiting lasted only a brief time before Steve had an idea of somewhere else we should be, and we left for the new ground.
Our destination was a small bay where the water had the appearance of milk. We saw a single fish roll in the cloudy water, and when Steve staked the skiff off we waited, poring over the water in front of us like the end of a good book. When I first saw the fish I didn’t quite know what I was looking at, but when I threw the fly at the shadow it quickly became a giant, rising up from the mud. I never felt tension, and while we never came tight a buffed leader told us that we had, unquestionably, been bitten by a fish that would have surely been the record. We left for near where we had found the groups before, and the wind was up. Steve put forth a Hurculean effort on the platform, and with this we had a shot at two high sliders as they passed behind the boat. The largest of the two ate the fly, and with a heavy hand (and soon to be heavier heart) I broke the fish off on the hook set.
What followed was more impressive poling from Steve until we decided that we weren’t in the realm of the possible any longer. We left for new parts, and there Steve found a few rolling fish and poled us into position. Late casts at rolls almost never work out, and despite our optimism this was not to be. The next spot yielded similar results: a few fish, a few casts, but nothing to show for our collective efforts. We returned in the late afternoon, again fishless and more crazy about this problem than ever.
While it occurred to Steve and I that we may be clinically insane, we’ve decided to stick with it (was it ever really a question?) and continue our pursuit of the six.
As always I’d like to thank Steve for a phenomenal time, and I look forward to the next time when we’ll (at least according to my euphoric current moment) get it done.
Aaron Snell supplied me with a pile of great pictures of the tarpon in motion, which I’ll use to keep these pages visually appealing in the coming days.
More to come,