Earlier last the week I finished up fishing in the Golden Fly Tarpon Tournament. John and I have both been working hard at what we were intending to do during those three days, and the fact that the fishing was impossibly difficult gave us a chance not just to flex our new hardware but our mental software.
The fishing the week prior, that I mentioned I would fold in to the front end of this report about the tournament, was equally horrid. In three days of fishing with both John O’Hearn and Ian Slater we were able to make only a few bites happen, catching none of the fish to which we were tight. I hoped this lead-in would be a good thing for us to rise up against on competition days, and on the day before the tournament we had a solid nod in that direction with a large fish we caught handily. It was great to so easily recover our swagger, and I was glad for the encouragement. Other than this large fish, however, we were unable to find more fish to make something out of. We bounced around kept an eye, eliminating a few spots and filing some away for a look when we were on the clock.
The first day of the tournament John and I gambled, and heavily. We knew that there was a group of fish somewhere far away (think 100+ miles), and went there directly. By 8:30 we had arrived, and had until about 2:30 to fish. These six hours were precious for a lot of reasons–not the least of which was the eventual college tuition of a chiropractor’s child. We saw fish from the beginning, though after a few shots it became clear that there was something more than simply finding them to contend with. The fish seemed repelled by every fly we threw in their direction, and it seemed that every well-placed shot ended with the bent geometry of disinterest. We were able to get a bite from a large fish to which we never stayed connected, and another in an hour that ran into the backing before dropping the fly after a jump. We hooked another smaller fish that stayed on, and given the number of weight fish around we made a decision to pole it down instead of firing up the outboard. After a few jumps we were sure we were going to last to the nail knot, though a final jump dashed these hopes and we lost this fish as well. In the last hour of fishing we found another willing participant of the release-sized variety, and after this fish gave chase under power. We secured the leader release without issue, then breaking it off and heading back around to give another pass in the final minutes. When the clock hit the magic number we left as fast as we could, skipping painfully across the first of many confused crossings on our way back to Islamorada.
On our second of these we slowed at the front edge of a distressing looking piece of weather, discussing whether or not it was worth it. Our conversation was matter-of-fact, and without enthusiasm:
“What do you think?”
“Yep. This is going to be dangerous.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Not like we have any options.”
With that we shot into the worst storm I’ve ever not run away from at 50 miles per hour. It was pretty horrible, really, and extremely dangerous. We couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of us for the rain, and once the GPS screen decided to move away from where we were I was unable to get our location back, the touchscreen confused by the water draining from it in so many tiny rivers. We made it, obviously, but not after slowing down to a relative crawl and finding a few unexpected shorelines and a shallow bank along the way.
After the rain cleared we were basically OK, though our time had grown thinner than we’d hoped. We spent the next hour and a half stressing that we wouldn’t make it back in time for check in, though at 4:30 we were finally able to stop for a bathroom break without fear that we wouldn’t make it to the check in table by 5. We handed in our lonely release, and noticed thereafter that my friend Nicky Mill, fishing with Eric Herstedt, had put together a fine day. They had six releases and an 80-pound weight fish, giving them a total of a little over 1600 points. In a tournament that was shaping up to be painfully devoid of fish for most of the field, Nicky and Eric were in a position to make good things happen. As for what we needed, a pair of small weight fish would get us back on track for a win, and we had two days to make this happen. Even with the deteriorating weather we were full of ready to get it done, and two days were more than enough time for us to feel optimistic about.
The second day of fishing was similar to the first until we started fishing, the run more familiar mentally but physically more painful having already sapped our spinal reserves on day one. We arrived as the only people dumb (tough!) enough to have made the run to this place on such a horrid day, and started off looking for the same ropes of tarpon we’d come across the day before. The fish had left, and in two hours of fishing we shuffled through where we’d found them the day before without a proper shot. We went nearby and waited for a while, hoping to find a group of passers-by, and after another hour only spotted a pair and a lonely single in the wind. We returned to where we’d started, grinding under the clouds and in the way of the wind.
We had just a single shot to show for these efforts, at a giant fish sitting with its tail above the water. We had time to get in to position without the tail receding, and when John staked the boat out I figured we were finally due for a solid opportunity. I threw a cast that looked fine before the wind took hold, and we watched helplessly as the fly hooked downwind and hit the fish in the tail. The giant tarpon immediately retched, curling away in a vomitous flush of dissatisfaction and leaving us there shaking our heads. At this point it was clear we needed to move onward, and we did so quickly. We shot the first gap on the way home, pausing a few times along the way to give a shot at another of our favorite spots before the clock ran out. We had a few low quality shots at passing fish before we stowed the rods and prepared for the upcoming bruising.
At the dock we discovered that the fishing had been tough for the rest of the fleet, with a few notable exceptions. Glenn Flutie and Captain Steve Thomas posted a huge 142 pound weight fish, that with their release from day one put them in a slight lead over Nicky and Eric. Evan Carruthers and Greg Dini posted another four releases and a weight of a little over 70 lbs to give them a point total of 1404 and a nudge in to third place. With a relatively low scoring tournament going in to the final day we were still a pair of small weight fish away from a theoretical win, and we set our sights on a focused final day to see if we could get what we needed.
Our last day of fishing started with a (slightly) shorter run than the two days prior, and we opted to dig our heels in for the rest of the day on the ocean if it meant we were going to get a few shots. We waited for two hours before making our way elsewhere; despite our optimism, the fish never swam.
We relocated, trying again to find something to throw at. We looked in a place for some large laid up fish, never finding any. We shifted to a backcountry channel, finding a few rollers and getting a bite from a small fish but not staying tight. We went elsewhere and found nothing, returning to where we’d had the nibble in hopes of finding the first of the two we surely needed.
Not finding any there, and the final bell approaching swiftly, John ran us to a place that would afford us two things: the possibility at a fish big enough to win the tournament with, and enough time to fight it and still return to Islamorada in time for the check in. To do this we had to run and burn some of our remaining precious time, but it was the right call if we were going to make this thing happen and we took our chances. One thing John and I have learned in these tournaments is never to fish for anything but first place.
We had two shots before lines out, the best getting only a hard follow. We racked our gear and headed home, weightless, and handed in our zero score card for the second day in a row.
At the dock we found no effective change in the leaderboard: what had been the 1-3 positioning going in to the final day hadn’t changed, and Glenn Flutie and Steve Thomas had the win along with the big fish. I was happy for my friend Nicky Mill to get second, though I know from experience that second place is a rough place to be.
I’d like to thank John for a fantastic effort in the face of some really unfortunate conditions, and I stand by his decision making in this tournament fully. We had what we needed to make the win happen, and I am glad we have the upcoming Gold Cup for another chance at some victory.
Tomorrow I’m with Ian, then Tuesday with John.
More to come, including Hawley results next week.