Before Kat and I left for Belize with Michael Hetzel, I fished in the Superfly with Aaron Snell. Our plan was to prefish for a day, then get to it in the event proper. With the upcoming trip to Belize looming in the background, not to mention an upcoming house purchase (all excuses, I hope, for not uploading this stuff earlier), it was nice to get on the water and have something else to focus on instead of finding some four-piece rods and fending off mortgage broker teeth.
Day One (prefish day)
We started early, and at the ramp I had a nice chat with Justin Rea while I waited for Aaron, who was a few minutes late due to a flat tire. It’s always nice to talk to Justin, and given his history of winning this tournament it less fun to fish against him, though he makes up for his success on the water by being a great guy and good friend. With the pleasantries over, Justin headed out as Aaron arrived, and we loaded up the boat for a day on the water to find some opportunities.
We spent a long day on the water, mostly looking for tarpon. We found a single place that held some smaller tarpon, and made some casts at them before we left them alone for the next day. We also found a few schools of bonefish, one of which gave us a bigger fish to play with. Aaron snapped a few photos, which I don’t have, of the 5 pound fish before we let it go. Again we relocated in hopes of leaving these bonefish for the next day.
We never found many permit, though with the spectacular days the week before with John O’Hearn and Ian Slater we had enough momentum to feel confident we could get one. As we finished up the spastic leaving-fish of a prefish day and headed home, we discussed our plan for the following day. Typically, it makes sense to catch the tarpon first, and try to get the shots before the sun gets too high and the tarpon-senses start tingling in the sunlight. Follow that with a bonefish or two, then spend the rest of the day permit fishing in hopes of completing the slam. As a permit is usually the hardest of the three to get, this strategy usually results in the highest score if no one else slams: a tarpon or two and a few bonefish, even without the permit, is a solid showing in this event.
Aaron and I decided to try it in reverse: we would fish for permit, exclusively, until we caught one, then try for a bonefish and finish off with a tarpon. As this is a one-day event, going for broke to catch a permit first or nothing at all was risky. This plan may not have been the smartest, but it gave us something to focus on and we both decided it was worth a shot.
Day Two (tournament day, first and final)
We started with the rest of the fleet at 7 AM, and ran out to a place we thought might hold an early tail. We found nothing, and after an hour moved on to elsewhere. The fish we were hoping to find continued to elude us as the morning wore on, and with increasing cloud cover where we were looking we decided to make a move elsewhere. Aaron hopped up on an endless bank, and we started a long pole in some good moving water.
The light got better, the flat came alive, and when Aaron first spotted a fish behind us we were ready for it. The single fish he spotted first became a group, and as they fed on the flat behind us we were able to get a cast just in front of them. As soon as the fly landed, I was tight and told Aaron “got him”. In short order, however, we found out that I while we did indeed have him it wasn’t the him we’d hoped: instead of a permit, we had hooked a needlefish that was in the middle of a school of mudding permit. I quickly stripped in the fish and got my fly back, and threw into the school of fish again. This time, while interested, the fish seemed to be aware that something was amiss, and I threw the fly at them three times before they spooked off for good without getting a bite. The fish slowed and offered us yet another shot, though by this time we were grasping at fish-shaped straws. The next shot came shortly thereafter, when a new school of fish came at us from the glare and let us get a late shot to them in the short window before they got too close and spooked off.
We moved again, and as soon as Aaron hopped up on the platform we saw a pair of fish. I threw at them, and one even tracked the fly, but we were left frustrated again when the fish didn’t commit to our game. Another hundred yards down the bank and we saw another group, which also decided not to play. Our plan of permit fishing and permit fishing only to start was starting to feel like not such a great plan.
Soon, we spotted a single fish on the crown of the flat. I jumped out of the boat to give it a walk, and when the fish tacked down-current towards me I got a short cast off. The fish put its back out of the water on the strip, and while I didn’t feel anything on the first long strip I did on the second, after yet another beautiful second-story exposure. The fish cleared the line and headed for a nearby channel, and I hopped in the skiff and we gave chase. In short order, Aaron had the nice permit in the net and we took the pictures to score the fish:
After that, despite the frustration of the morning (it was now 1:15 PM, leaving us jsut under 2 hours to catch a bonefish and a permit), we were energized. Aaron took us to a nearby basin, where we thought there might be a school of bonefish. It took longer than we had anticipated, though when we first saw the group of fish it only took a single cast to make it happen. Aaron netted and took photos of our bonefish while we readied for a run to find a tarpon:
After a half hour of running, we only had 20 minutes to find and catch a tarpon. If you’ve read these Superfly reports in the past, it will be no surprise that catching a tarpon depends on one single, crucial element: the fish needs to stay hooked. A small tarpon can shake faster and throw a hook better than their larger counterparts, and both Aaron and I were sweating the small stuff as we took a look along the mangroves.
We had a single shot at a pair of fish, and on our second cast the fly landed right and the little fish lined it up. I set the hook, and as the fish took to the air and rattled its way back into the water we were happy to find we were still tight. A small lemon shark appeared, and while it gave a lot of attention to the small tarpon (and even got ahold of it briefly), we were able to get our prize back–unharmed, except for a few scales that were now gone. I got out of the boat, ready to battle the shark if he tried us, and we took a picture of our tarpon:
With 15 minutes to go, we’d completed our slam. Aaron and I were happy for our good fortune, and we knew that we had a good shot at taking the thing. If anyone else slammed and had an extra fish of any kind, we’d be knocked out of first place. That said, we felt great about our day.
At the dock we found that Justin Rea and Cal Collier had slammed as well, and while they didn’t catch any extra fish they had us on time. Interestingly, Justin had also lost a blade on his prop–keeping him from running around too much, and making his showing that much more impressive. If we’re going to be beat by anyone, being beat by as good a guy (and guide) as Justin and an angler as talented as Cal is certainly the way to go.
I’d like to thank Aaron for another slam, and I can’t wait to do the tournament with him again.
More to come: Belize was a fun trip, and I have lots of pictures and stories to share.