Last week John O’Hearn and I fished in the Golden Fly in Islamorada. As seasons go in the lower Keys this one has been more difficult than seems fair, and seemed to make its way in to the tournament for John and myself. I’d like to congratulate Captain Rob Fordyce and Ryan Seiders on their great win, and also to Captain Steve Thomas and Glenn Flutie who followed up their victory last year with a strong second place finish this year. In third was Captain Bret Greco and Tim O’Brien, and fourth was Captain Randy Stallings and my friend Roger Fernandez.
As for our fishing, here’s a detailed day by day report:
Day One (prefish day)
John and I had in mind to look around and find some fish to throw at, making up our minds (as is often the case on a day before a tournament starts) to leave fish if we found them. It didn’t take John long to get us in a position for a touch, and we jumped an 80 pound fish in short order. We stayed ready as we poled out of the spot, and before we could leave had another bite from a larger fish. With neither staying connected, these bites assured us that we at least had the right color fly for a spot we were sure to revisit during the next three days.
After that we looked elsewhere before heading to the ocean to see what we could connect with. I had a pair of bites from fish before our half day expired, and with a solid plan of a few places we were intending to come back to we called it a day and headed north to Islamorada.
Day Two (first tournament day)
We took the long ride in the morning, circling around some of the places we’d wanted to check the day before in the early light. The wind had died, and while this was good for our early looking for rolling fish it threatened to derail our fishing if it things got too glassy. John found a group of fish, and though the tide was slowing they kept us there for a while as we tried to get a bite. We left after 45 minutes, fishless, and continued on our way to the south.
Our next stop yielded nothing, and we moved a second time to where we had found the bites so easily the day before. The wind had backed off further but here we at least has some current to hide our efforts: things looked like they could easily work. I had two shots from a handful of low quality opportunities, and in each of these cases the fly was tracked hard by the fly but never eaten. We left annoyed; what had been so simple the day before had turned on us, and we were now on the back side of the first day’s tournament time. We made an effort to dig our heels in on the ocean, and after an hour it became clear that the calm weather was going to pose a severe problem. We could get the shots but barely make the fish turn our way, and between the glare keeping the fish hid until they were too close as well as causing the fish to feel our casts before they landed we had some bitter stuff to choke down.
We were able to convince only a single fish to open its mouth before we timed out, and this fish ate the fly such that neither of us saw what had happened until it was too late to set the hook. We set out for Islamorada a few minutes before lines out to make sure we didn’t get to the check-in late, and finally the calm conditions gave us something other than pain: we were able to take the run as fast as the motor would push us, and arrived comfortably with plenty of time to hand in our zero scorecard.
Steven Thomas and Glenn Flutie had posted a serious score on the first day, with both a 142 and a 130 giving them a total of 2700 points, and this meant that whatever move we were going to have to make had to be large.
Day Three (second tournament day)
John stayed with his plan from the first day, which was made a lot more possible by a blush of chop on the water brought on by some welcome wind. We had some more tide for the morning foray we’d been on the day before, and this time some bait was pulled over the tarpon to rile them up. We stayed as the tarpon rolled and busted around us, and broke off a fish of unknown size on a hook set. Despite the large number of fish in the area we were not able to get another bite, and after an hour of throwing at fish that seemed to change direction as soon as we saw them moved on to continue with our program.
We ran to where we’d had the near misses the day before, finding the fish thinned out and the wind nonexistent. After staying for an hour or so John pulled the plug, and we tore down to where we’d found our most consistent (if intractable) numbers of fish for a long look.
This time we had light as well as some wind, and after an hour connected with a fish that I thought was a small weight but that John didn’t think would make the 70-pound minimum. Given our need to make a large move in order to make anything happen, John decided to defer to my estimate of over 70 and take a risk with a strap. I’m never too shy to risk looking stupid over even an outside chance of getting what I’m after, so when the fish was near the end game John grabbed the lip gaff to allow us to get the strap on the fish. We tried to grab the fish once, and it kicked away from John and I started to fight it back to the boat. I pulled too hard, breaking the fish off, probably because I was still between the mindsets of fighting a release that we’d already scored and pulling on a weight that we had yet to grab. This mistake was either terrible or not so bad, depending on how big the fish was, and while there was no way to know if it would have made the 70-pound mark I still felt like I made a bad error in breaking it off. Either way, we now had only 200 release points in the bank that we would need a weight fish to use toward our total.
The next bite we got was from a small fish, and John and I secured the leader release inside of a minute before relocating back to our spot and looking for a weight. It took another hour before we got a bite from the fish we needed to make a move–a larger fish that was clearly a weight. We fought the fish for 15 minutes in some deeper water, having a hard time putting the hurt on it as it swam safely on the bottom.
When it went on to the nearby flat we were able to get an angle that worked for us and it didn’t take long: John soon grabbed the fish and I put the strap around it before we took a length measurement. We each gave our best estimate of the fish’s weight–John had it at 82 and I had it at 92, and we thought that whichever side of this the fish fell on would give us a good indication of which side of 70 pounds our earlier fish would have been on.
We fished the rest of the afternoon without a bite, and at lines out headed back to Islamorada for check in. Our fish came in at 103, which was great but also meant that our earlier fish was likely a strap as well, and we also found that Bret Greco and Tim O’Brien had put up a stunner of a day with 3 straps that totaled over 3,000 points. The rest of the field had tightened up, with a fair number of people posting weights, and it was clear that on the last day we were going to have to make a serious move if we were going to pull this off.
Day Four (final tournament day)
Given the large score we would need, John devised a plan that involved us staying close to where we had caught our fish the day before. We stopped briefly in a few places on the way down, hoping to pick up some momentum with a fish before we settled in to our resting place, but found nothing worth hanging around for and shot down to where we wanted to be.
There we found what is perhaps the most annoying thing in all of tarpon fishing: a person who had watched us in the spot the day before and decided to stake it out for themselves the following day. They were sitting (literally, everyone on the boat was sitting down) out of position, and by the looks of things had about as much chance of catching a fish as we had of catching the black plague. I know full well that no one owns the water, and have no issue with people fishing wherever they want to. However, when I know that a boat is only fishing a spot because they watched us catch some fish in, it makes me sad that people think so little of themselves that they can’t come up with anything of their own to try.
John and I left, heading elsewhere to find what we needed. We hooked a release as soon as we arrived, securing the release in a few seconds without even getting the fish on the reel. We stayed until the light betrayed us, then moved again to find some fish we could hopefully put a strap around.
We bumped to two more places before leaving to go back near the ‘guide’ that had parked where we’d been, and fished outside of them for a few hours before they left. The fishing never really got going, though we did get to watch some of the most pathetic boat handling I’ve ever seen, and John and I were unable to get another bite from the fish that swam in shorter and less accommodating supply. Even in the wind, we were not able to make things happen.
That same wind made things painful on the ride back to Islamorada, where we handed in our single release and learned that Captain Rob Fordyce and Ryan Seiders had won the event. Thomas and Flutie had caught five releases to add to their tremendous weight score from day 1, and sat in second place in front of Greco and O’Brien in third. Fourth was taken by Randy Stallings and Roger Fernandez, rounding out a superb winners circle.
I’d like to thank John O’Hearn for continuing to put up with me, and I can’t wait to fish the upcoming Gold Cup with him.
Tomorrow I’m fishing with last year’s Gold Cup Grand Champions, Steven Tejera and Roger Fernandez. I’ve got days with John the week and days leading up to the Gold Cup, and I’ll have things up here as they happen.
More to come,