Sorry about the lack of posts recently. I have no excuses other than flat out slacking. But we do have a bunch to write about at least!
A month ago the crew and family went on a journey across the country to the Florida Keys to relax, reflect and fish after some trying times with a death in the family.
Between the WTLGT Crew and our families we had 15 of us on this adventure and for my daughter and Jason’s son it was their first time flying on a plane.
Traveling with that many people, babies and a ton of fishing gear we made it from Reno to Fort Lauderdale with very minimal issues. Which was a nice surprise as we were all on edge that our children would be unruly and we would be shunned and considered the asshole parents on our flights.
Once we landed around 11pm in Fort Lauderdale we got our rental cars and headed for the hotel which was close to get some rest for the adventure that was to follow.
The next morning we headed out on our 2 1/2 hour drive down to Duck Key and the Hawks Cay Resort. We took our time heading down stopping for lunch at Tower of Pizza in Key Largo which has been a family tradition over the last 20 years. I’m pretty sure nothing has changed over those 20 years including the prices!
After lunch we checked out World Wide Sportsman and watched the tarpon, string rays and nurse sharks snack away on the leftovers from the charter boats that were cleaning their daily catch of Mahi and Black Fin Tuna at the boat dock.
Then we headed to Robbie’s.
Robbie’s is famous for allowing you to buy a bucket of bait to try and hand feed the hungry tarpon that reside there though out the year. This sounds fun in theory but once you have the bait in hand and a 120 pound tarpon starts looking like he’s interested in what you have, your instincts kick in and you drop the bait and get the hell out of the way as quick as possible.
After several tries I (Dave) finally got my nerves in check and kept my arm in place while a big tarpon came up and took the baitfish right out of my hand. Kelly got the perfect angle and below is the slow motion video of the take. Pretty awesome to see such a big fish so close.
We hung out at Robbie’s for a bit because there was a big accident up near our hotel and since it’s only a two lane highway, traffic was backed up for miles. My parents had left prior to us and after a while gave us the green light to head to the resort.
When we were about 2 miles from the resort traffic came to a standstill on the bridge we were crossing. Apparently there was another accident and we heard rumors there was a fatality. So most people got out of their cars and enjoyed the scenery as the sun started heading down for the day.
For most of us this wasn’t a big deal. We were in paradise and the view was pretty amazing. But for one of the crew, this was a nightmare. We aren’t sure if it was the heavy lunch of pizza and garlic bread or the nerves of fly fishing for tarpon the size of the ones we just fed…but nature was calling. And not the easily disposed of number #1.
So if you are ever find yourself stuck on a bridge over shark infested waters in bumper to bumper traffic please note that a plastic grocery bag, a space between your dashboard and passage seat and a pack of baby wipes will get you out of that situation feeling like a million bucks.
Once that “shitty” situation was behind us the traffic started moving and we were checking into our villa that we’d call home for the rest of the week.
5am came calling and Jason and I set off to the Marina at Hawk’s Cay Resort to meet up with Capt. Derek Rust of Rusty Fly Charters. Kelly and Matt also had their charter set up with Capt. Jeff Malone of Tarpon Time, but they had a little later departure time than Jason and I did.
I had talked with Derek the night before and we both agreed that since neither of us had any salt water fly fishing experience that going after juvenile tarpon would be a good game plan before trying to tackle the monsters that are migrating through the Keys right now.
So after a quick introduction and realizing he was from Tahoe and we had several mutual friends in the Reno/Truckee area went shoved off to try our luck in the mangroves.
I was first up on deck as we slowly polled our way into the shallows looking for rolling tarpon. Derek had got us familiar with the clock system when we first got on board, so when he says “Tarpon, 11 o’ clock at 50 feet” I start getting ready. When he says “go now!” I start my cast, 2, 3, 4, 5…false casts later I lay down a cast into a pile of fly line that resembled my father’s spaghetti dinner at Tower of Pizza the day before than it did any self-respecting fly anglers cast.
“What the hell am I doing?!?” I thought to myself. I am by no means a great fly caster, but I can normally hold my own among my friends at Pyramid. But this was a different game. No shooting head, no big wooly bugger/beetle combo, and accuracy was needed more than anything. Bombing a 100 foot blind cast at Pyramid is one thing. Accurately landing a 50 foot shot at a moving target in an area the smaller than the size of a trash can lid with a minimal amount of false casts is a whole new world for me.
So needless to say the next hour on deck was a big learning experience, I got my ass handed to me and gave Jason a shot on bow.
Jason had a different issue than me. He could cast a mile; distance wasn’t an issue for him. But since Tarpon have very good eye sight if you over shoot your cast even without hitting the water they’ll spook so quick you’ll never even have a shot at them.
So I think I can speak for Jason and say his first hour on the bow was an ass kicker as well. But man, we were in paradise, sight fishing for Tarpon, seeing other cool species like sting rays, red fish and nurse sharks, there wasn’t a place I’d rather be to get my ass kicked and eat a little humble pie.
After some coaching and a pep talk from Capt. Derek I was back up to bat. This time my nerves were a little calmer and I was ready to take in as much as I could learn.
The now familiar “Tarpon, 10 o’ clock, go now!” was whispered from behind me. I saw the tarpon slowly working its way down the edge of the mangroves. I took 2 maybe 3 false casts and laid the fly about 5 feet in front of him.
“Strip, strip, bump, bump, bump, stop…bump, bump, SET!” I had successfully gotten a Tarpon to notice, chase and eat my half ass presented fly. Now I won’t go into detail regarding strip set vs. trout set. Let’s just say I had to fight back ever thing I know of fly fishing and stuck the tarpon with a strip set with a little trout set thrown in as well.
I had the fish on for only a few seconds before he spit the hook and vanished into the mangroves.
Now losing a big trout on the Truckee is a heart breaker. But to actually get a Tarpon to eat my fly regardless of landing it or not? I was on cloud nine! My adrenaline was pumping and high fives were given. At that second I was fully addicted to this new world of sight fishing.
After that I was buzzing with excitement and we spent the rest of the day polling through different spots of Capt. Derek’s choosing and making shots at tarpon and even a 10# red fish until our day of guiding had come to a close.
On the Tarpon Time, Matt and Kelly were having a good day as well. Matt got hooked into a little barracuda that played nice until he was about to get his picture taken and decided to bite through the leader taking the fly with him.
Kelly had a few takes and actually landed a baby tarpon! Below is the view from the GoPro that he had mounted on his chest.
Day two started off very similar to day one. Glass calm seas, lots of game fish in the shallows and several shots at some nice tarpon for both boats. Then both boats turned things up a bit.
The guys on the Tarpon Time got into a for nice Jacks near the 7 Mile Bridge and decided to use one to try and get some black tip sharks near the boat for a shot at one on the fly.
That game of cat and mouse lasted a while then a few good sized bull sharks showed up to the party. The excitement of hooking up on the fly was there, but also the knowledge that if hooked that would most likely be a 2 hour fight.
In the end the sharks bumped the flies but never committed to the take. Which was probably just as well, but it was cool seeing such a big predator in the wild.
On the Rusty Fly, Capt. Derek took us two a few new spots. One of the coolest was deep into the mangroves where there were old rusted out boats and other random stuff that probably shouldn’t be sitting in the ocean. But it reminded me of being way back into the Amazon somewhere. We saw huge iguanas and a matinee that swam right under our boat.
We were polling towards a good size tarpon that was rolling in the back of this lane. But we never got a good shot at it. But I did get a shot at a monster snook that took interest but wouldn’t commit and then had another tarpon eat but I was slow on the strip set. I tried to fire the fly back at the hungry fella but ended up firing the fly right into a tree instead…
So after freeing the fly and scaring anything I could have possibly had a chance on catching Capt. Derek shoved off and gave us an awesome opportunity.
Derek took us out to the ocean side to try and find some of the big boys we’ve seen in photos and videos leading up to this adventure and it wasn’t more than a few minutes that we had cruising tarpon heading our way.
What at first looks like a patch of dark sea grass or a friggin’ log floating in open water were actually schools of migrating tarpon. So again we were standing on the bow of the boat timing casts and sending flies in the path of sometimes up to 30 migrating tarpon.
Jason and I spent the next 2 hours watching countless 100+ pound fish cruise by without a care in the world. Once in a while one would turn and play with of emotions (and heart rates) and pretend he liked what we were serving, only to turn back to his school and keep on keeping on.
I need to mention that this big league tarpon experience was “off the clock” so to speak. Our guide trip time had come and gone. Capt. Derek did us a favor by giving us the chance at these fish while he could have been off the water enjoying a few cocktails.
As he put it, it was “job security” and he couldn’t be more right.
I’m telling you, if you’re a trout angler that hasn’t fished saltwater before here are a few tips of advice from myself and the crew.
1) If you think you’re a good fly caster…you aren’t.
2) If you think you are a great fly caster, you might be ok. Maybe.
3) Regardless how good you think you are, practice…practice…practice before you think about even booking your trip.
4) Practice strip setting.
5) After your adventure plan on consuming your days thinking about the trip, the missed opportunities, the blown shots, the beautiful scenery and the knowledge you gained and how bad you want to go back ASAP and try again and again at fooling one of those big fish with a little fur and a few feathers.
I have to give a huge thank you to Capt. Derek and Capt. Jeff. They put us on fish all day long and taught us a tremendous amount about a world of fly fishing we’ve only read about in books and seen in videos.
Job Security is a huge understatement, you both have made clients for life and if any of you out there are looking for a few kick ass guides when you visit the Keys, there’s no need to look any further.
Also a big shout out to the guys at Streamworks with the proper tools so we didn’t lose any fingers to hungry fish on this trip and the Jan Nemec of Mimic Fly for giving us more flies than we knew what to do with!
We have a few more posts coming soon with recent trips to middle of nowhere Nevada and some high mountain Golden Trout adventures.
Until next time keep those lines tights and don’t trout set a tarpon…