The Golden Fly came to an end this past Wednesday, and it turned out to be a challenging few days for us. The fishing was at times good but never easy, and I’d like to congratulate Julian Robertson and Rich Campiola for their first place finish. Herewith, the details of our fishing:

Day One (prefish day)

John and I fished near where we thought we would in the tournament, and set out to learn a few things throughout the day. As we typically do on a prefishing day we left fish to find fish, sticking with a place only long enough to see if they were swimming before moving elsewhere in search of more. We found a few shots here and a few shots there, coming across enough to hang our hats on for the following day. The highlight of the day was catching a large fish from a small string that confirmed we could indeed do what needed to be done. John grabbed the large fish and we took the fly out before moving on again. In all we fished a half dozen places, and from these were able to discard a few that held none and decide on a few to which we wanted to grow closer in the upcoming days. We left the fishing early so I could ride up to Islamorada in time for the captain’s meeting, and after dinner I put fresh leaders on and got some sleep.

Day Two (first tournament day)

We left at 6, members of the second flight, and headed to a deeper edge to see if we could dredge up a fish to kick the party off. We looked for a half hour, finding nothing to throw at and soon relocating for another dredge opportunity. At this spot we found them, and took our time dragging flies in front of the intermittent rolls. We never could coax a bite from the fish, and when the sun got higher we left to parts farther down the road. We ran until we stopped running, and John hopped up on the platform and we got to work. Our first bite came from a passing single that lined up the fly, and while I wish I could say I didn’t start things off with an error this was not the case: I simply got a little too handsy with the hook set and pulled the fly out of the fish’s mouth. We re-rigged and waited for another fish, and in a half hour we had our second bite. This fish I didn’t mess up on; we were tight through the first jump and into the second before the fly came flying back unattached. Again we put on another leader and again we went back to the fray, at this point hoping for one to stay on. Our third bite came from a small group, and this time things worked out. We motored after the fish for the release points and soon decided that it was a weight fish and started the process of catching it properly. The fish gave a good account of itself, and while not long it clearly had the girth we needed to make the 70 pound minimum. One thing neither one of us wanted to do was strap a short on the first morning of the first day, though the only thing we wanted less than this was to let a weight fish go. I put the strap on and took the length at 63 inches. The strap looked big enough to not worry about, and soon we forgot about the issue and calmly called it “a 75” in conversation. Another bite and we were off after another fish, though this one was not as wide as the last one and I broke it off after securing the 200 release points. We returned to the point and fished hard, working our way through a fair amount of noncompliance and insubordination. After an hour of work we spotted a small string of fish coming our way, and the last fish in the small group gave up a hard bite. As I was clearing the line I felt something happen to my left hand, and when I looked down I could see two things: one, a woven tangle of fly line around my fingers and two, that I was going to lose this fish. I shook my hand to no avail, and when the line came tight I had to watch as the fish stretched it, getting an even better hook set before cracking off in the class. Sadness, as they say, prevailed.

We kept on our program, getting a new leader on and a new [redacted] on the end. I resigned myself to working hard and running the plays–atypical bad luck happens, and often in tournaments, and there’s nothing to be done except to keep it 100 and try again. Luckily, a chance at redemption came quickly in the form of another shot that worked out from a fish that was the biggest we’d been connected to all day. This fish ate the fly after much consideration, and when it came out of the water we could see it was missing a fair number of scales from an earlier run-in with a shark. The fish took off on a long run, and we followed with the motor. Soon it became apparent that the fight wouldn’t be a long one: the fish thrashed its head next to the boat for the last five minutes, but ultimately gave it up and we had it strapped and measured in short order. Other than day 2 of last year’s Golden Fly, where we strapped a 142 and a 118, this was our highest scoring day in a tarpon tournament so far, and we still had some time to make something more happen. We returned to the shoreline and lay in wait for another fish to put a cap on an epic day. I had two more bites, and neither resulted in a connection. The first simply jumped off, and the second ate the fly with a head-out-of-the-water enthusiasm that kept the point from finding a home. We left early so we could fuel up on the way back to check in, and made it with 20 minutes to spare.

At check in we found that our first fish weighed 80 and the second 124.9 which meant we were leading the field, though Julian Robertson and Rich Campiola were close on our heels with two weights of their own. Other teams too were near our score, and we decided to stick with the plan and see what we could make more happen on day two.

Day Three (second tournament day)

We were first flight on day two, leaving at 5:45 and running to the dredge spot with higher hopes of hooking one. We had 15 minutes more of the low light, and with the added acceleration from not wasting time on a first fishless spot were more on time for the rolling fish. We stuck it out for a half hour, and felt a few times as though we were going to come tight. We never did, and John soon called the fishing over and we packed up for the ride to [redacted].

We repeated the program from the day before, not feeling compelled to change the approach that brought us on top for the day prior. We began in the same place, throwing the same stuff at the same passing targets. The weather was calmer and water clearer than the day before. The fish immediately acted different, though a strong follow to start gave us some hope that we’d be able to make something happen.

For the next two hours we stuck with the plan, looking and throwing. Fewer fish passed by than we had hoped, but we were still able to keep ourselves busy. I couldn’t get the fish to err, and John soon saw the way things were heading and called a move. We found nothing at our next destination, and quickly left for another. An hour of looking in new places led us no closer to what we were looking for, and after the second spot expired we had only a single shot at a passing tarpon to show for our efforts. We returned to finish the day at the place we’d started, and had a few shots at small groups before tucking our tails and running back to check in.

A hard day in a three day tournament is not ideal, though we’d earned it to an extent with our stellar day one score. We gave up the lead to Julian and Rich, who caught another fish north of 120 on day two and slid easily into the lead. Nicky Mill had closed the gap, and was now only slightly behind us with a weight fish that was doubled by his numerous release points. In addition to these two teams, it’s always the case that there are others that are capable of closing the gap. These events are nothing if not competitive, and the last day of the tarpon tournaments always seems to bring with it a major reshuffling of the scoreboard. John had his work cut out for him to devise a plan for the following day, where he had to make a decision to return to fish that didn’t eat the day before or take a risk on something new that may or may not pay off. For my part I got some sleep and tried to focus on where I was going to fish tomorrow: the bow of John’s boat, wherever the rest of it might be.

Day Four (third and final tournament day)

John never discussed the plan with me, though by the time we stopped at our dredge spot and made our way in the same direction as the two days prior I suspected we were going back in to the fray for anther shot at the fish we’d been on. The ride down felt longer than normal, and I passed the time by trying to remember some stuff and watching other stuff go by. We got to where we needed to be, and John hopped up on the platform as I changed the fly, a small move but one that the day before had made a certainty. I hopped up on the bow and stripped out, and John saw a passing pair of fish. I threw out in front of them and came tight immediately to a large tarpon and we went off to fight it. We secured the release and started pulling on the animal, and after 10 minutes we were getting close to the end game. The fish thrashed a few times, and when I next pulled on the tippet it broke. Upon inspection it was clear that the tippet had at some point made contact with the fish’s jaw, though our discussion of when exactly this may have happened was cut short by our return to the spot and another fish to throw at. We had another bite that I never came tight on quickly, and in a half hour yet another bite that failed to produce a solid connection. After a few minutes we moved back to the spot we started at, and had a single fish roll off the bow. I could barely see the fish in the water, and made a short cast out in front of it. The fish curled and followed the fly, and I had to work hard to force the sale before the real estate ran out. Finally the fish opened its mouth, and we got a solid hook set before turning and giving chase to the small weight fish. John tried to get a fast leader release before the fish hit the reel, but my conviction that this was a weight fish kept me from looking for the fast but risky leader draw as the fish passed the bow. We got the leader a few minutes later under power, and settled in to a longer than hoped for fight with this fish. It took an hour and nearly everything I had to get the fish floated and into John’s hands, but when we did and got a strap on it we were in great spirits. With this fish we had moved past the first place boat of the morning, and at least had a first place possibility. We had a drink and ran back in to the point, focused now and feeling lethal.

Our fishing slowed for about 45 minutes, and in an hour we had only had a few shots. Soon John spotted a large fish slowly moving and got the boat into position for a shot. I got the fly out in front, and the big black back slowly curved in behind the fly before opening wide and shaking its head with the hook set. When it came out of the water we were sure this was a bigger tarpon than either of us had caught in a while, and we watched as the front half of the fish came up and carved a wide hole in the surface of the water. This fish was easily bigger than the 125 we caught on day one, and we were acutely aware that to catch this fish would make a win very likely.

The fight started out in a normal way: the fish ran shallow and the darted around, attempting to lose us in the skinny water. We kept on her and pulled, trying to detract what we could from her. After a half hour we were still playing the same game, still looking for a way to gain an upper hand. The fish abandoned the shallow game, and in another 15 minutes was heading toward the harsh wind of deeper water. We kept pace with the fish and tried to pull, but the location of the hook deep inside the bucket made things hard. Each time we would change direction, we had no choice but to change the point of pressure as the shock passed to the other side of the mouth. We kept up our pressure, making what we could out of an increasingly hard circumstance.

After an hour we were trying to formulate a new plan, though at this point the fish was digging in much deeper water and we had  hard time divining which way she was facing unless she rolled. A half hour more of this was beginning to wear me down, and the fish was tired but still upright and kicking. We kept at it until I felt the leader give, come tight, and finally go slack on a pull. The fly came back with the hook bent open, sad and lonely.

We took a minute and I drank some water, and with 10 minutes left to fish before leaving to fuel up and head back we jumped up and gave it our all until the end.

Losing fish is part of it, no doubt, and while it was sad to lose the fish we were still in theoretical postion for the win. I was convinced we hadn’t pulled it off, and when we gt back to the dock we found out that we indeed hadn’t. Julian and Captain Rich Campiola had caught another large weight fish to move into first, and it was Captain Greg Dini and his angler Evan Carruthers that had the high score for the day with three weight fish to move into second. Our 124.9 pounder was beaten by Captain Brian Helms and Rand Holstead with their 125 on day one, and Nicky Mill and Eric Herstedt rounded out the field in fourth as well as most releases.

For my part, it was nice to be up against it on the last day, if not with my hand around its throat, and I’m very much looking forward to spending some more time on the water before the Gold Cup in two weeks. I’d like to thank John for a fantastic effort, and I’m more confident than ever in the plays we’re running. Tomorrow I’m with Ian Slater and Thursday with him again, and then next week I’ve got a pair of days with John O’Hearn before we start the following week before the Gold Cup.
Much more to come,

 

Nathaniel