Yesterday I fished with John O’Hearn. Our plan was to find a pocket of large tarpon and give the six a shot. We had a report that there were some large creatures very far east, and we left at 7:30 to find them.
At 8:45 we arrived in the basin, and began our hunt. We looked for an hour, waiting for the sun to come out, until giving up and moving to the ocean. The large fish, it seemed, had left the building. On the ocean we found a single fish, and after another 45 minutes of waiting ran back west towards Key West for a peep on the ocean white sand.
We had a few shots at our first stop, though the fish weren’t holding a line and we had a hard time getting a good angle. We bent a couple and leaned a few, but none would commit to the fly. Feeling that there might be more around elsewhere, we ran another mile to the southwest to another strip of white sand. Here we found some rhythm to the fish and a few smaller groups that gave us the shots we needed–John was up first, and on his second shot a fish left its line to track the fly for 20 feet before peeling off; grounds for an angler change as well as a vote of confidence in the fly.
I was up next, and had two shots at single fish that didn’t work out. My next shot was at a group that gave us a volunteer; a little four-footer that ate and was captured; John quickly grabbed and removed the hook from the little dude and got up on the bow.
John’s next shot was at a large cruiser over the white sand, and he put the fly where it needed to be and stripped until the large fish put at least 20% of its body out of the water in an effort to eat the fly. Unfortunately, the fly never found a home and John didn’t come tight. It was, however, a great thing to watch– especially from the poling platform, the greatest seat in the house.
We moved on when the fishing slowed, though we did have a few stops along the way. Not much happened at any of them, except when we got to a spot and I cleared my line to get ready to cast. I hooked a fish, and as I was rigged with my IGFA 6 lb leader had to give it some line as I brought it to the boat. We became excited when we saw it was a rather large grey snapper, one that could easily top 3 pounds. As the grey snapper record category opened up but a few short years ago, some of the records are pretty open–especially on lighter tippet. I thought this might be worth putting on ice for a record attempt, since at the very least it would be a tasty dinner if it fell short. However, as I lifted the fish into the boat with the shock tippet it immediately fell off, dashing our hopes.
Our next spot looked great; incoming water and a tried and true tarpon lane north of Key West. We pushed it for an hour before John spotted a herd of creatures on the grass, and he quickly began pushing the skiff into range. All looked like it was going to work out–the fish were slowing and we were approaching a shot in another push or two, when all of a sudden a giant pushpole fell from the sky, almost hitting my head and certainly hitting my 8 wt fly rod on its way down. The fish bolted, and we spent another 20 minutes waiting for a second group to push the same line before heading west.
We arrived at a shallow edge, hoping to find bonefish, permit, or both. We found none, though not for lack of trying. Eventually, we made our way to channel falling out of a basin, where we looked for floating crabs and the attendant permit snacking upon them. Scanning the water, we located but a single crab clinging to an orange mangrove leaf; john deftly (also adroitly) picked up the little guy with his push pole and handed it to me for further inspection. While we poled down the cut I had a plan to throw the crab up current of a school of permit, letting them fire themselves up over it before we threw our fly. Since we didn’t see any John wanted to use the crab for a mold; by the end of the drift, however, I had developed a connection with the crab (we had been through so much, the crab and I…) and decided to release it.
Our last stop was a shallow grassy edge over which the current was pouring. There were permit there too, and we had a half-dozen shots at tailing fish (two of which gave a very aggressive chase to the fly) before we called it a day.
On the way home I looked up the 6 pound tippet record for grey snapper–it’s 3 pounds, 10 ounces, and our fish was almost certainly short of that. The 8 pound record, however, is only 2 pounds, 8 ounces, and with 6 pound pre-tested tippet we surely could have bumped up our application for 8 pound. Oh well, another almost grey snapper record.
While the fishing was slow, we had a great time–always the case with with John. I fish with him again on 13 July, an opportunity to hone the blade before the Del Brown Permit Tournament kicks off with a day of prefishing on the 15.