Welcome to The Bonefish Flat

There's a stiff wind in your face as you squint in the sun trying to see what the guide sees. "Bonefish at 12 o'clock about 90 feet, do you see it, mon?" You don't and keep squinting, your hat pulled low to keep the sun out of your eyes. "Bonefish at 11 o'clock 70 feet out. Come on man, do you see it?" As the guide is calmly shifting the skiff into position, this time you spot the fish, "I got, it," you reply.

"OK, Mon, Bonefish 50 feet at 10 o'clock. Cast when you're ready."

Cast when you're ready. And with that you drop your fly, roll out a cast, false cast once, and then...

Welcome to the bonefish flat.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Key West Tarpon Fishing: 2012

July 11,2012

Pop and I headed out early from Dulles Airport and hit Miami by 8:00 AM. By lunchtime we were southbound on Route 1 in the Florida Keys. Our first stop was in Islamorada at the World Wide Sportsmen for a look around and a glance at Hemingway's ship, the Pilar (The actual Pilar is in Cuba. This ship was made at the same boat builder in Brooklyn. She was owned by a wealthy keys resident before Johnny Morris had her refurbished in Missouri and placed on permanent display).

Papa's boat.
There is definitely lots of salty gear at this shop and the best part might be the fact that resident tarpon roam the waters of the marina out back. This is a great way to get acquainted with your quarry.

Next stop was a quick trip in the Florida Keys Outfitters, owned by the legendary Sandy Moret, for a few t-shirts for the kids (I might have bought one too).

Finally, the last stop before Key West was a trip in to Robbie's to feed the tarpon. Robbie has a good thing going here. For $3, you get to go on his dock with a bucket of bait and feed a bunch of raving mad tarpon who have figured out its easier to get a meal here than out on the flats with us fly fisherman.  This would be a great place to take the kids and it's a great place to get a few tarpon shots (with the camera, not the fly rod).

Pop at Robbies.

Tarpon at Robbies chowing down.

After arriving in Key West around 3:00, Pop and I quickly unpacked and headed down to Duval Street for drinks and to see the sights. Sloppy Joes, Captain Tonys, and Ricks are all doing quite well. Dinner at the Conch Republic was a fish sandwich and conch fritters (you're going to notice a theme here).

Duval Street

July 12,2012 First day of tarpon season...for me

Pop and I met Capt. Drew Delashmit at 6:15 on Big Coppit Key. It had been quite a while since I had fished with Drew so it was nice to catch up and exchange pleasantries before heading out in Drew's Dolphin Skiff. First stop was the backcountry to look for rolling tarpon. It didn't take long. Drew quickly poled into position as I took the bow.

As a sidenote, I had given up on the notion of calm, slick water on a saltwater flat. I thought that the calm, slick water you see in your favorite rod or reel category just didn't exist. Too many of my adventures have found the wind blowing 15-20 on the flats. This used to bother me, but I had just come to grips with the fact that those pretty pictures you see in the magazines are just a ruse.

This trip would prove me wrong beginning with our first morning. The first flat Drew poled onto was perfectly slick. The reflection of the sky onto the water was just amazingly beautiful. It could have been a Scott Fly Rod picture. And the tarpon were rolling. The problem was that the rolls were sporadic and didn't give us much of a pattern. I had a few shots and I even had a hookup but the hook quickly came out of the tarpons mouth and she was gone.

Drew poling us on the flat. Perfectly slick. Just like the catalogs.

Clouds started gathering and we reeled in and headed west from Big Coppit. This time we were fishing the flats near Key West. The sun was still low so we were looking for rolling tarpon. The rolls were all over the place but none near the skiff. "These fish are just messing with us Drew," I said. Drew laughed and we continued our hunt for a little while longer.

Next we headed west of Key West toward the Marquesas. We found a point before you get to the Boca Grande channel where we could sight fish. The wind had picked up a little at this time but was still manageable. Drew started to pole and here come the tarpon.

My first sight of a big tarpon swimming toward the boat litterally made my heart feel like it would explode. These fish are huge and there is nothing to really prepare you for that first tarpon swimming your way.

The tarpon started coming in toward the boat from various directions and I had some shots, some refusals and some fish who either didn't see the fly or just didn't care. After a few of these types of encounters, I learned a very valuable tarpon lesson. Distance casting isn't so much a factor, but accuracy has to be dead on. The fly litterally has to be on a dinner plate right in line with the direction of the fish. I found these fish to not be particularly forgiving if the cast was off the mark. This will be an important thing I work on for the next trip.

We played this game for a while. Then, I had a poon turn and charge the fly. What a sight. As I stripped the fly right into the tarpons field of vision, she turned, sped up, and charged the fly while opening that great bucket mouth and sucking it down. I came tight, held on, and immediately went to check my fly line to ensure it was ready to go. And then....pop. The fly simply came out of the fishes mouth. I couldn't believe it. I put my head down, turned around, and said "O.K., Drew, what did I do wrong." "Nothing really. Try to hit him a little more when he takes the fly, but that will just happen."

Talk about a high and a low. I was worried about clearing my line and preparing for battle royale and instead I got a pop.

Dinner at El Meson de Pepe's consisting of pork and conch fritters.

July 13, 2012

Today we fished out of Cudjoe Key and again the water was slick calm. We looked for the rollers and found quite a few but the patterns were sporadic and it was hard to get a shot off. We moved around a bit and found several rollers going back and forth a channel in the backcountry. Like a Jack Links beef jerky commercial, these fish seemed to just be messing with us.

Ready position scanning the flats.

About 150 yards behind the boat, we heard a serious commotion going on. There was a hammerhead shark in full attack mode trying to catch a tarpon. The fish had a massive dorsal fin that kicked up a serious rooster tale as it shot across the flat. As we fished a channel for rolling fish, the hammerhead was doing some serious fishing of his own up the flat. Meanwhile, in our cut, the tarpon seemed to keep rolling just out of a shot by fly rod. We played this game for a bit until we all got frustrated and Drew took us out to an ocean flat.

As soon as we headed out into the ocean, Drew turned the skiff west only to find a guide working our flat. Drew poled the skiff in the current to try for tarpon coming in and out of the channel. While we were fishing, a few mighty tarpon jumped in the channel. It was truly a sight to behold.

We had a few shots at fish, but it was tough. The fish were erratic and really didn't give us a pattern. Instead, they came from all directions and were hugging the bottom to middle third of the water column. This made it pretty tough to get off a good shot.

To finish out the day, we headed east to another ocean flat. The tarpon started to come toward us in sporadic patterns. I had a few shots and a few refusals...and then...

"Tarpon at 1'oclock, he's out about 80 feet." Drew swung the stern north and I had a 50 foot shot. I fired and the tarpon saw the fly and became interested, turned slightly, and opened that giant mouth to inhale the fly. I went to set the hook and the fly just came out of his mouth. Two tarpon, two days, two bizarre situations where the hookup just didn't happen. I uttered a few choice words, took a deep breath, and then looked at Drew. "OK Captain, what did I do wrong." "Nothing. Sometimes that just happens," he said. I was heartbroken.

A little time passed and we had another shot. This time the fish got excited, came to the fly, and refused. Drew quickly said "Let me see that fly." The tail of the fly, a little strip of bunny, had become furled around the hook.The tarpon figured this out quickly and said no thanks. Again, I was heartbroken and left without a fish.

July 14, 2012

Saturday was our last day out. I must confess that heading into this day, I didn't think we would catch anything. The weather had been good, we had seen fish, but things just didn't seem to be jiving. Drew thought the fish were erratic. My three hookups hadn't set. And to be honest my back was hurting from standing on that casting platform out on the ocean flat while the boat pitched and rolled. All this said, I was having a great time. The sight of a silver king coming at you is enough to literally bring you to your knees. These fish are big. I mean really big. And the things are smart too.

We headed out of Cudjoe Key early and started the day by fishing to some rollers. Again the patterns were erratic and we didn't get off many shots. We quickly switched over to sight fishing for the poons and Drew positioned the boat beside a mangrove cluster and started working toward the north. A fish rolled toward the mangrove, but she was aways off so Drew kept poling toward the mangroves.

Drew and I had some banter going back and forth when it happened. Out of nowhere a huge, bright flash of silver appeared and I quickly launched a shot off. Drew was onto it and began a quiet "strip, strip..." and the fish turned abruptly, opened his mouth, and inhaled the fly. Having lost three fish when the hook popped out of their mouths, I stuck this girl like a pig at the butcher shop with a solid strip strike and it was game on.

What followed next was a wonderfully violent explosion as the fly line screamed through the rod burning my line hand and screaming off the boat. The big girl jumped in a huge fountain of water and I threw the rod toward the fish. Next she dove deep and headed for the channel and it was battle royale. I let the fish run as much as she wanted and then I started to get "down and dirty" with her. When she got mad, I let her run. When she stood still, I pulled hard.

Down and dirty baby.

When the line had flown out I noticed two knots flying out with it. Drew kept cool,"Don't worry about the knots. Just keep reeling."

Capt. Drew tending to a knot in the line.

After a few minutes, she came up for a breath of fresh air and rolled in front of me.  "That's good," said Drew.  "She's getting tired."  I kept the fight up. I really wanted this fish. She stayed deep and and I continued pulling. A few minutes later, she rolled again.

I kept getting line in and the next thing you knew, the leader was inside the rod. I had caught a tarpon. Of course, then she decided she didn't want to stick around and took off again. This time diving deep. I continued pulling until 'pop.' And she was gone.

My tarpon rolling for air. Courtesy Capt. Drew Delashmit

I looked at Drew and Pop and high fived. I had caught a tarpon and temporarily shaken tarpon fever.

This is what I look like after I catch a tarpon.

I looked at Pop and told him to get up on the deck and it was his turn. He had patiently waited for me to get that fish for two days. Now he was finally up. Wouldn't you know that he saw one about five minutes after I caught mine, cast, and jumped a 100 pound poon. He threw the rod at her and then she took off in another beautifully violet burst of speed before the dreaded 'pop.'

Pop's Tarpon. I just missed the jump.

It was at this moment that I realized that my dad simply has fishing mojo. Some guys do, and some don't, but pop does. Certainly we all would like to think we do. He had patiently let me fish for two days while sitting back and taking it all in. Then he steps up and Andy Mill's his second shot and jumps a hundy' pounder. What a sight.

Drew mentioned that now might be a good time to go Bonefishing. Insert smile here. We headed north a bit deeper in the backcountry to a bonefish flat. Drew pulled out his crab box which in and of itself was a thing of beauty. Every variation of a crab pattern magnificently tied with Drew's personal touch. Did I mention that Drew ties all his own flies and leaders?

Drew and Pop working hard on the flats.
Ready position. Bonefish style.

Pop stayed up on the bow which allowed me a chance to take a few photos. Of course the wind picked up and the sky got cloudy so pics and seeing fish were tough.We fished this flat for the rest of the day looking for bones and permit. We didn't have any permit shots, but we did have a few shots at bones. One shot I had was a tough angle so I didn't execute. Another shot I had was pretty good and resulted in a nice, long follow by the fish and then a rejection. Oh well,that's how it goes.

We then reeled up and the adventure had come to an end.

The trip confirmed a few things for me. Tarponitis is a very real condition, and I'm doing my best to live with it by taking each day one day at a time. The Bonefish Flat is my outlet to keep me sane between trips. My dad has fishing mojo and given the chance earlier in life would have been a hell of a guide. And finally Capt. Drew Delashmit is the best guide I've ever fished with.

Pop, Drew, and Me.

Keys tarpon season 2013, look out.

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