I think I’m jinxed.
When it comes to guided trips I have the worst luck for weather. The conditions never seem to be right. It’s either to windy or to cloudy or the water is to clear or something. I have had some great guides but the conditions always seem to be less than optimal. This held true for my bucket list trip to the Florida Keys to fish the flats for Tarpon, Bonefish and Permit.
Late last year my girlfriend Susan told me she wanted to go back to Key West for the week of her birthday at the end of April. I already had my laptop up and immediately pulled up fishing charters. I saw what was available and being a good boyfriend I quickly agreed. I made a few phone calls and signed up for an all day trip on the flats for the Big 3 with Captain Gabe Nyblad of Tail Chasin’ Charters. While I was talking to him, he told me how great the tarpon fishing was at night during high tide and full moon periods. He asked me if I had a problem with fishing in the dark………..I assured him that I didn’t and booked a trip for the following evening.
The day of my charter started out ok. We arrived at the marina about 8:30 and waited for Gabe. It was a little overcast but what bothered me was the wind. It eventually got up to +20 mph and I knew fly casting was going to be difficult. Once Gabe arrived, he told me the plan for the day. He said the overcast skies and wind would make sight fishing for Bonefish very difficult. He also told me that the Permit were still out in the deeper water and any fish on the flats would be few and far between. The Tarpon were starting their migration so we were going to try for them first. Once that was settled, Susan and I grabbed our stuff and climbed into his boat and hauled ass out to the first spot. After some quick instruction on how this was going to work, I took my spot on the front of the boat while Gabe climbed up on his perch in the back so he could push us a long and spot for fish. The wind pushed us along nicely but it also clouded up the water. This meant that I was going to have a short window of opportunity to spot a fish and then put that fly right on his nose. It wasn’t long and I spotted the first Tarpon coming at us from the stern of the boat. I made a quick cast in front of him but he swam right past the fly. This process would repeat itself for the next few hours. Some of my casts were near perfect, others not so much. Most of the time I was casting into the wind and even though I was using a 12 weight rod and line it was still a challenge. It was still cool to see those big fish come cruising through. One was probably in the 150 pound range but like all the others he wasn’t interested.
After our first drift, Gabe asked how determined I was to get one on a fly. I told him I just wanted to put one in the boat. A quick change of plans and a stop to pick up some bait and we were on our way to one of the bridges of US 1. The tide flowing between the pilings acts like a natural funnel and the fish of course congregate around the pilings. The fly rod was stored now and out came the meat rod with a small live pin fish and a circle hook. I would cast out in front of the pilings and let the tide drift it into the strike zone. We saw one tarpon swirl on the surface but like the previous fish he didn’t want nothing to do with my offering. I did manage to catch a Jack Crevalle. Nice looking fish. I figured we would let him go but Gabe had other plans. Since I told him I wanted to catch something, anything, he decided we were going to head over to The Gulf side of the islands and try for sharks and whatever else presented itself.
After a long boat ride we arrived on another flat area with some mangrove islands around it. Gabe dropped the fish carcasses in the water and rigged up 3 rods. The meat rod had a circle hook and a chunk of the Jack on it. Another rod was rigged up with a rubber snubber with some treble hooks in it for Barracuda. The third rod was a light action rod that had a live shrimp. That one was for any Bonefish, Permit, Jack or possibly a Redfish we might see. This rod I held most of the time since I wasn’t going to get much of a warning if we spotted one of it’s intended quarry. The sharks were a lot bigger and swam more slowly so they could be easily spotted and give me ample time to switch. About 20 minutes in, I spotted a shark swimming our way. I grabbed the other rod and cast the bait a few feet in front of the fish. She turned on the bait and picked it up. I reeled hard and once she felt that circle hook dig in she was off and running. She didn’t make any long runs and pretty much stayed around the boat. After about 10 minutes she tired and we were able to release her unscathed. A few more sharks cruised through the area but none of them came into range. While Gabe was watching behind us, I spotted another shark coming in off the bow. This was a bigger Lemon Shark in the 5 to 6 foot range. I made my cast and once he felt that hook he took off for the next 200 yards. That’s right, he made a 200 yard non stop run before he even slowed down and I could start reeling him back in. It had been a long time since I have heard a drag scream like that. Thank God for good reels with good drag systems. I slowly worked him back in and eventually we got him to the side of the boat for a quick pic and release. I ended up hooking into two more sharks, one of them right by the boat and we all got to watch him swim up and take the bait which was really cool to see. After we released him, Gabe wanted to try one more spot before we quit for the day.
We pulled up to another flat area right on the edge of The Gulf and deep water. Gabe told us that we could see just about anything out here and he was hoping for Bonefish and Permit. After about 30 minutes, he spotted some “nervous water” which turned out to be Permit. I couldn’t see them so I made a cast based on his directions. Unfortunately, I over shot. A few minutes later Gabe spotted another patch of nervous water and this time I made a good cast in front of them. They never saw the bait and swam back out to the deeper water.
That was the last cast I would make. The clouds were darkening up and a big thunderstorm was headed our way. We locked everything down and hauled ass back to the Marina. We had a quick chat about tomorrow night and then headed off to a nearby Gabe approved restaurant for dinner. Good thing we left when we did. We weren’t in the car 5 minutes when it started to pour.
So that was my trip to the flats, 4 shark and 1 Jack. I had a great time and will definitely book another trip with Gabe if I ever come back down here. He took us to areas that most people never see. The majority of the people that come down here only see what is going on from the road, especially Duvall street and all of the parties, but Susan and I got to see the water and what goes on in a way that has to be experienced to be appreciated.
Next time I just hope the weather cooperates.