Last spring a remarkable invitation was extended to me, and I made excuses not to take advantage of it. Fast forward a year and shit has happened to make me realize that life is far to short and uncertain to pass up good opportunities, tomorrow isn't guaranteed. Fortunately the invitation was extended again this spring, Root asked me if I wanted to make my way down to the keys to try for tarpon, this year I accepted without hesitation. I talked about maybe doing a long weekend, something like 3 days of fishing and a travel day on each end "you better just plan on a week" root suggested, well twist my arm, a plan was made to arrive on Tuesday and leave the following Monday.
I wanted to be prepared, so I started tying
I tied over 100 tarpon flies, and as predicted I used exactly 2. I also wanted to be prepared by being familiar with the tools, so I started taking every opportunity to practice casting the 10 and 12 weights which I don't use too often. I made a point of practicing when it was windy and wasn't having any problem casting right into 15 mph winds...in hindsight I should have practiced with a 20mph wind coming directly across my casting arm.
A few days prior to the trip Root called to give me an update. The wind had been non stop and water temps were about 6 degrees below normal for this time so very few fish were around. I had my plane tickets and vacation days booked, so fuck it, I was still heading down.
The day arrived and I drove to Baton Rouge for my early flight, when I landed at the Key West airport, this was the first thing I saw.
obviously this was going to be an eventful week. Root picked me up, and on our way north to where he was staying we stopped at a seafood shop for Stone Crab claws and hogfish filets.
I met some of the locals
We ran out for a short while but the wind was humping and cloud cover had a wicked glare on the water. Root spotted a fish on our first flat, I never saw it. We went back in early because Root needed to run into Marathon to deal with a cell phone issue. Root and technology are an interesting mix..
Back at the casa Root worked on cooking the hogfish fillets while I ate stone crab. I liked that arrangement.
Root's a good cook and hogfish are good fish so diner was great.
Next morning we got up and got provisioned for the day
Chied Fricken is a must
We made our way out in even more wind and spotty visibility as clouds moved in and out. We hit the first flat and Root saddled up
The first couple of flats we hit were "well known" places you may on occasion hear about or see mentioned in some article or online chat room, they were also beautiful, I'm not used to clear water.
The "known flats" were also devoid of tarpon. Root told me of a spot he had. Not a known spot, you'll never read about it in an article, it's a place he rooted out by putting in the time and effort. Out in seemingly open water a bank rises up creating a stepped edge that goes from about 5 feet to a foot or so with a deeper channel on the other side. Root said that it's usually one of the first places the tarpon show up when they start moving in. We got to Root's spot and staked out to see what was going on. Shortly after we spotted 2 fish quickly going away, cool to see, but not really a shot. We ate some chicken, then Root started poling us along the flat and we started seeing quite a few fish. Seeing those big beast in 4 feet of clear water was remarkable, so much so that I managed to wrap my first backcast around myself, and found equally creative ways to blow the next 10 shots I had. Root was kind and said it was tough because of the wind, but I've got to own it. After a shift in tide the fish quit showing up so we headed in. After a quick stop at the store, I cooked a chicken and sausage gumbo.
Thursday was windy as fuck, ok actually Wednesday was windy as fuck, thursday was fucking worse, but we still got out. We hit a few spots seeing nothing, then we went to a really famous spot, where famous fishermen have caught record fish. Despite getting low holed by another skiff and a bay boat fishing snapper, we started seeing a few fish. I actually managed to get the fly in the same zip code as a few of the fish, but drew no interest. We ate well again for dinner, yellowtail snapper.
We awoke Friday and looked at our wind gauge, the coconut palm right behind the house
Not only were the fronds blowing around, but the trunk was twisting and contorting in the near gale as dark clouds blew by overhead.
Any attempt at fishing in the morning was pointless. A slight decrease in clouds convinced us to head out mid afternoon, we stopped at one nearby bonefish flat, quickly learned the futility of it and went back in. Saturday was equally windy and cloudy but at least it was raining too. Since fishing was out we did the tourist thing and headed up to Islamorada.
Kite surfers love the weather that fishermen hate
We did tourist shit, stopped by the Worldwide Sportsman, saw the tarpon under the cleaning table
we checked out the sister craft to Hemmingway's boat
We stopped by Sandy Moret's shop and saw evidence of a famous Drakien
And we ate well at the Lazy Day's
After driving back to the casa I took a walk around the neighborhood to see some Key Deer. Not wanting to be like those dumb fucks that try to pet the buffalo in Yellowstone, I was keeping a respectful distance from the endangered deer, the deer however had other ideas and moseyed over to sniff me out and see if I had anything edible on me
Lots of pretty stuff that I can't grow at home grows down there
Later we drove down to Cudjoe Key and ate at the Square Grouper, which was great. Root is trying real hard to talk himself out of buying one of the DeYoung permit paintings that hangs there.
Sunday morning we woke up and for the first time the coconut tree wasn't dancing. We got out and the water was greasy
The sun was also shining creating an encouraging site
We ran all over, outback, outfront, great distances from one end to the other and couldn't find a freaking fish. 2 days of cloud cover, rain and wind had once again dropped water temperatures and the guest of honor decided not to show.
Making a run to one last spot things started looking bad
And we ended up running right through all of that. Arriving home very wet we cleaned up then went out for dinner. We made the obligatory stop at the No Name pub, wallpapered with ones
Our waiter was shitty, even by keys standards, the menu looked unappealing and the place smelled like every one of those singles game out of the g string of a fat sweaty stripper, so we decided to seek sustenance elsewhere. We tried a relatively new place called the Bucktooth Rooster. The menu is huge as are the portions, the food was good and prices not bad. Definitely worth a stop if you're down there.
Monday I had to fly out, so of course when we woke up there wasn't a breath of wind or cloud in the sky, the sun was shining brightly and warmly and I envisioned tarpon happily returning to the flats as I headed to the airport.
I want to thank Root for a great week. His thoughtfulness and generosity are amazing, I also learned a ton about the fishery and the game from him. It would have been cool to touch a tarpon, but that's fishing and I'm more than ok with it. Fucking Drake.
"Put in the effort and good things happen"... Hogleg
"Salinity is proportional to sanity for sure" ..The Volfish