Over the last week I fished in the Golden Fly with Ian Slater. The weather was as tough as I’ve seen it in a tournament, and the fishing suffered predictably. Our prefishing was spent hoping as much as fishing, and what few fish we threw at seemed disinterested in what we were asking them to do. We got off the water early, beginning our strategic discussions about what our plan was to be and from what angle we might attack what was sure to be a difficult three days of tarpon fishing. Our solution was inconvenient though well-suited for the situation: make as few mistakes as possible and hope that the fish we hooked were big enough to garner wight points. As hard as the fishing was clear to be, it was equally apparent that the score required to pull off a win would be lower. We went to the kick-off, got our gear set and went to bed early to get some rest for what was shaping up to be a bit of a dog fight.
The wind was where it was forecast to be, hovering in the mid-20’s, and Ian and I started our day of watching and waiting in the early light. We had a small number of shots at small groups of fish, growing more hopeful as the light came more overhead and we could see things clearer. Making our lives harder was the increasingly dingy water, which saved more than a few tarpon from a cast at their approach. We had a bite from a smaller fish that had already spooked off from the bow that worked out, though the fish rattled the fly out before we were able to get the leader release. We continued on, hoping to get another to err.
In the early afternoon another fish gave up the bite, and this time we stayed connected through a few jumps and gave chase in the direction of a long run. This presented a great chance for us to have a tired fish boatside whenever it decided to slow down, and when the fish started to wallow around in some deeper water we were there to pull as hard as we dared and end things early. The fish wasn’t a clear weight from the outset but we elected to strap it anyway, choosing to take a chance on a possible scoring fish rather than bank release points in what was almost surely going to be a low scoring tournament. We kept on, trying everything we could to make another fish happen before lines out. We had another few shots, the best of which came moments before the lines out alarm sounded which made me stop stripping in the middle of what was shaping up to be one of the best opportunities of the day. We headed back to the Lorelei for check-in, where we found out that we were far from the only teams that had experienced tough fishing on the first day. Our fish turned out to be bigger than we anticipated, measuring 85 pounds, and with that we joined a small number of teams that had caught weight fish on the first day. Alonzo Sotillo and Baker Bishop had a weight and two releases, and Jayce Chamizo and Chalmers Allen were just behind them with the same. Bryan “Bear” Holeman and Bart Knellinger had a large weight, and bringing up the rear of the teams with weights was our smaller single fish. We got some food and went to bed early, preparing for another grind the next day.
After much discussion on the topic of where to be and for how long Ian got us started where we felt we might have an early chance. We had been there no longer than an hour when a cast at a single fish worked out, and after a long run we secured the leader release and fought the fish more to see if it deserved a strap or not. After a few minutes the fish was boatside, and as nice as this was it was obvious that the fish wouldn’t make the 70-pound minimum and we broke it off and set about trying to catch another one. The day proved harder yet than the one prior, and while we gave it our all the fish never cooperated and by the early afternoon we were still looking hard for a fight. We timed out in the wind, never getting a chance to add more than the 200 release points to our total for the day. At check in we found that there hadn’t been a ton of movement on the leader board: none of the teams in front of us had posted a fish, though we had been overtaken by Craig Brewer and Ned Johnson who had a 91 pound weight fish in addition to their release after day one as well as by Luis Cortes and Rich Garcia who had done the same with a fish only a pound bigger. We sat in fifth place among a field that had only six teams with weight fish going in to the last day, though many had posted a large number of releases that meant the last day held multiple teams poised to win with a single large weight. Again we went to bed early and rested up, hoping that on the last day we might coax the fish that we needed from the wind.
Our day began in the same way the day before had, and while we had some shots at fish that were similar to the one we hooked the day before we were once again on the wrong side of the transaction. We just couldn’t make it work, and by late morning Ian was pondering a location change. We ran a few miles away, staking the rest of our day on some new ground, and dug our heels in to make something of it before lines out at 3.
The first shot we had at a fish seemed to indicate that things were looking up: a single fish rose high on the fly but flushed off when it saw the boat, and we were energized by what seemed to be a possible improvement. We had a few shots, and shortly connected with a large fish that gave us hope we might be able to turn things around. The fish never jumped, and we were able to secure the leader release easily, though after a few minutes a roll next to the boat confirmed that not only was this fish a weight but one that was well over the 70-pound minimum. We never got a chance to find out just how big it was, as after another few minutes we were slack: the nail knot had parted, a strange and awful way to lose what was clearly a critical fish for us in this tournament. We had another few close calls–fish coming chin up, shying away at the last moment, but when the alarm went off at 3:00 it was clear that whatever happened on the last day of fishing simply wasn’t going to be about us. We headed back to check in, where we handed in our release for the day and watched Chalmers and Jayce, who had caught another two releases for the day, waiting to see if their lead would hold up. It didn’t, in dramatic fashion, when Bear Holeman and Bart Knellinger arrived a few minutes before the cutoff with another large weight and a release to take top honors. In the end, Chad Huff and Scott Christian were in fourth with a 79-pounder and their release fish, and third was ALonzo Sotillo and Baker Bishop. Jayce and Chalmers were in second, and most releases was secured by Brent Greco and Tim O’Brien. The largest fish was also won by Bear and Bart, with their large fish from day 3.
As always, congratulations to the winners of the tournament, and a special tip of the hat is due to my friend Chalmers Allen and Jayce Chamizo, who gave an astounding account of themselves in their tarpon tournament debut.
In three weeks the Gold Cup begins, and I’m sure that Ian and I aren’t the only team that is looking to wash themselves clean after a rough few days in the Golden Fly. I’m on with Ian two days a week until then, and reports will follow as usual.