Two things we can’t control: the weather (wind) and fish attitudes. Which is an interesting thought because one of the questions most commonly asked of a fishing guide is: “Why won’t those fish eat?” I’m sure a number of people speculate why but probably it could just be chalked up to one of the mysteries of fishing. I often say that there are certain things that are in our control: making the best presentation possible, manipulating the fly to get it right in the middle of the fish’s dinner plate, teasing it as much as possible and the rest is up to the fish…whether it wants to eat or not. Lately, we have been experiencing a fair amount of “no eats”.
Getting back to fishing. I had to cancel out May 28th, 29th and 30th due to high winds. However, did manage to get out Sunday, May 1st. A long-time customer from Texas asked me to fish a couple of his associates (Andy from Texas and Big Tom from Tennessee). They were not fly fishermen so we were looking for tarpon to cast live crabs to. Wind conditions were still a little tough for finding tarpon. However, because of the recent cold front that had just pushed through, the winds were blowing hard from the East/Northeast. The water on the outside barrier islands of Captiva, Upper Captiva and Cayo Costa was pretty roiled up. And, pretty much the same way in Pine Island Sound. So, I decided to take a look at some of the sheltered basins just south of Boca Grande, around Useppa area and Cabbage Key area – these are the areas where I was pursuing laid-up tarpon a few weeks earlier. I didn’t see any tarpon in a couple of places but in my most reliable area (the one near Boca Grande), the area was well protected and the water was relatively clear. We heard a loud splashing noise off the port quarter side of the boat and could see where the blow-up was – about 150 feet away from us. Andy shouted out there’s a big wake coming at us. As I focused in I could see a tarpon right on the surface coming toward us. Andy, already having cast his crab in the water under a float, I told him to reel it in quickly to bring his crab into the tarpon’s path. The tarpon ignored it. As the tarpon was moving dead away from us, a long cast was made that landed about 20 feet in front of it, and to our pleasant surprise we noticed the tarpon veer off-course, moving right on the crab. As we watched him eat the crab and showing a side flash, the line came tight. Great hookup! Big Tom was fighting his first tarpon ever! Enduring several jumps, with Tom, having big game fish fighting experience, survived jumps of the tarpon, applying a lot of pressure to the fish made short work and landed the fish - a beautiful 80-85 pound tarpon in just 20 minutes time. I grabbed the leader and held the fish steady next to the boat for a close-up eyeball to eyeball look. Both fellows were just so excited about the visual aspect of the take - watching that tarpon open up his mouth and eat the crab. We saw a few more tarpon but all out of casting range. On the way home to Sanibel, we checked out a couple of other places but no fish showing.
Monday, I had 3 buddies celebrating the end of grad school at Chapel Hill -Andrew Graves (who I fished last year for tarpon) and his buddies Dillon and Brad. Three young men who were a pleasure to have on my boat. Andrew, who is a fly fisherman and his two friends that who were not but did want some fly casting lessons (which I gave them) and it looks as if they will be future fly rodders. The day looked promising with lighter winds. We saw some tarpon in a basin just south of Cabbage Key and did have a fairly decent cast to one tarpon which was cruising by the boat right on the surface but the fish ignored the fly. We also placed a few crabs out there under floats but no strikes. After 30-40 minutes, we moved on heading north continuing our hunt for tarpon. I turned around the north end of Cayo Costa by Boca Grande Pass and slowly headed south along the shoreline of Cayo Costa. The water really looked beautiful being on the lee side. However, we didn’t see any tarpon. So, I kept moving south across Johnson Shoals. Halfway down the island I came upon another shoal in an area which guides call “the pines”. We began seeing tarpon and we put crabs under floats and cast to them. It wasn’t long before Brad hooked up. Off we went with a beautiful tarpon that was at least in the 90 pound class. A little over 30 minutes later, we released that fish – Brad’s first tarpon ever. Returning to where we hooked up, continuing to fish, we had two more fish eat and lost both of them in quick time. The tarpon kept coming heading north down the beach but it became apparent to us they weren’t eating as many of them had to see our “offering” and passed it by. It was getting late in the day and our trip was coming to an end. All three anglers were so excited at the end of the day and apparently hooked on tarpon fishing, said that this would not be the last time they’d fish for tarpon.
The next day, I was fishing a long-time customer/friend, Marc Adam. I consider him a lucky tarpon angler. I first thought that about him many years ago because the first tarpon he ever cast to was a laid-up fish. He actually put the fly line right across the fish’s back, I told him to strip so the fly line wouldn’t sink down and touch the fish. The fish went down, out of sight, Marc was disappointed. But I told him to keep stripping. Like I’ve seen a number of times, the tarpon came up right underneath the fly and ate it. That was Marc’s first tarpon caught on fly. Since then, he has hooked up to a number of fish – both lost and caught. We started out the day launching my boat on Captiva Island. It was a little windy on the Sound side, blowing from the south/southeast. We quickly went through Redfish Pass and stayed tight to the island, sheltered from the wind, heading north. I got a call from a buddy fishing guide of mine who said he was into some fish just north of Captiva Pass along Cayo Costa Island with several groups of fish moving south about 300-400 yards offshore. So that’s where I sat my boat up. It wasn’t long before Marc and I spotted strings of rolling fish coming at us. Being that far off the beach, we were more exposed to the wind and the the water was off-color (not crystal clear) and choppy. Not being able to see the fish in the water, only rolling fish, it made the tarpon tough to fish. When we saw them roll, we would “guesstimate” where they would be, making a calculated cast to try to intercept them. No hookups. We’re not sure whether any of them saw the fly or if they just weren’t eating. When the fishing started slowing down, so did the wind. We went back through Captiva Pass and headed north in Pine Island Sound checking out a few spots by Useppa Island and Cabbage Key. Then we went around the north end of Cayo Costa and moved on to the north end of Johnson Shoals. The Shoals is one of the hot spots for intercepting tarpon moving into Boca Grande Pass. We sat there looking for tarpon the better part of an hour with no sightings. I was checking Boca Grande Pass and saw only a couple of boats fishing tarpon – that was odd – there should be a fair amount of tarpon in the Pass. We left, I went out the north end of Cayo Costa into Charlotte Harbor. I could see a number of live-bait tarpon boats. By then, the wind had dropped off even more and water conditions were really improving in Charlotte Harbor. As I proceeded toward those boats, which was a few miles away, the water was very clear. As I got near the boats, there were about 8 boats spread out over a half mile. Marc and I could see each boat was on their own individual schools of tarpon. We could see the tarpon sides flashing in the sunlight and splashing water in the air with their tails. We continued cruising around hoping to find our own school of tarpon. And, we did. What we were on to was a daisy-chaining school of tarpon which very easily could have been close to 200 fish. I figured our work was cut out for us casting synthetics and chicken feathers to these fish because I didn’t see any of the live bait boats hooked up. Not a good sign. Our first fly pattern Marc cast was a black/purple EP fly which is normally a good pattern to use inside Charlotte Harbor. However, after several well-placed casts our offering was totally ignored. Fly change! All white, approximately 4″ fly with BIG hologram eyes – a fly and color that I’m very confident with. Not too many people use white flies on tarpon but I have had a great deal of success on tarpon both here and in the Key West area where I’ve fished in the summer over 20 years. Other tarpon fishermen look at me with doubting crossed eyes when I tell them I use white flies. But, that’s OK, I’ll just continue to use them and continue to hook up. And, that’s what happened with Marc. His second cast, we saw a big flash and Marc was tight with the fish. Unfortunately, the fish came toward us and a little angler error involved (Marc came straight up with the rod, trying to catch up with the fish, trying to strip down, but too late). The fish shook his head and the fly came unbuttoned. Marc quickly shook his head and said “I don’t know why I came up with the rod!” No sense saying anything to Marc, he knew what he did. And, then a funny thing happened, as he started stripping the fly in so he could recast, another tarpon struck at the fly. A huge sideflash, what they normally show when they strike, but the line didn’t come tight. After that, fish totally ignored the white fly. Several fly changes with no results. Later I put the white fly on again. The first cast, Marc was tight with a fish again. After a short run, the hook pulled. But that’s tarpon fishing. By that time our day was well over. We headed back home.
I have some scheduled days off now so I could get my boat in to my marine mechanic for preventive maintenance (replacing a few things). That way I can eliminate potential boat problems going into the heavy schedule of tarpon season. Just as well, having days off, another front is moving through with gusty winds out of the north.
Sunday, the 8th, I’ll be taking Joyce (my wife) out for her annual Mother’s Day tarpon trip. Last year the weather did not permit us to fish. However, the year before, she did capture a beautiful fly-caught tarpon. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do it again this Mother’s Day.