While it does not come as a surprise to most of my fishing peers, I have remained pretty local the last many months which did not bode well for my uneasy feeling of fishing this year’s Herman Lucerne Memorial Backcountry Championship . I did no partaking in the epic redfishing Flamingo had this summer and on the few rather infrequent visits I made over the last 6 months nearly all were in search of big tarpon. I suppose I was having trouble adjusting to the summer/early fall fishing pattern, which mind you can be incredible in the Park. Maybe the prospect of 3.5 hours on the road on my only given fishing day just was not in the cards this summer, maybe I was just being lazy. Regardless when the time came to start thinking about this tournament that we have added to our annual calendar of must do’s, I was concerned.
Everglades National Park can be spectacular this time of year, from slick winds and cloudy ornately ominous sunrises, to sights of early migratory birds, to cool mornings………….needless to say this is typically my favorite time to fish the here.
Those unfamiliar with the format of this tournament (concocted by Dr. Lloyd Wruble & Capt. Rick Murphy) there is a lot of strategy that goes into planning your day. Which of course can be and usually is influenced by tides, weather, recent fishing experiences, and in our case shots in the dark.
It is a two day event where anglers must fish within the Everglades National Park Boundaries and attempt to catch seven species on fly, spin, or general (bait) divisions. The total inches are then added up and the folks with the largest total inch count wins. However total species supersedes total inches, for instance you could have caught the largest fish but if someone happened to catch one more species than you, well you’re out of luck. The eligible species include bonefish, tarpon, snook, black drum, redfish, trout, and mangrove snapper. Fish caught on spin get an additional 25% total inches, and fish caught on fly get an additional 50% total inches. Naturally the rules lend themselves to the fly fisherman but on most cases the tournament is won by lure chuckers & bait fisherman.
While I choose to spend little to no time pre-fishing I did spend a few evenings at the vice relaxing wondering where we might look to fish and what the past many years of fishing the park could be drawn upon to formulate our strategy………………………
for da blackies……………
world famous mad mike golden crab….
another cool fly I used to use often on cruising fish in the skinny (has a strip of foam under the rabbit)…….
And on the morning of the tournament we found ourselves deep in the glades after a long run to areas we had not fished since high school. You see, the Park is a magical place that captures even the most subtle of observers. Areas that have only remained a burned image in the back your mind for the past many years are somehow still how you left them. This is the lure of a place like this. Of course this is attributable to the hard work by the underpaid pupils of mother nature, formally known the National Park Service.
Our day started much like I expected losing a few little tarpon on fly (little bastards never stay glued I swear), then my 8wt. snapped in two, and shortly after that our 9wt. splintered into pieces. Given the fact we were intending on fly fishing the whole day I was really setback. This type of stuff can only happen in a tournament, I swear to god. While I was shaking my head in discontent the humid morning blur of mosquitoes buzzing in what felt like the inside of my head sharply stopped in time, the undeniable slurp of a top water plug is enough to make anyone weak in the knees. Soon a oversized snook erupted from the surface with the text book “hey fellas watch me throw this plug” head shake………….our disappointment eroded immediately to pure panic which quickly lead to some serious high fives. With a big snook in the net we knew one of the hardest of the seven species was on paper for the team.
To be honest the rest of the tournament was a blur unfortunately with minimal pictures taken. Everywhere we looked fish swam to our bow and I’ll be damned if we did not immediately stick some steal in them……………beyond the first morning debacle everything seemed to go our way. While I cannot typically be overjoyed by our fish finding ability in the Park given our everly decreasing visits, I can tell you we are simply some very fishy folks. I have literally been fishing with my best bud Ross Reeder one day a week for over 18 years if not more and typically if we can see the fish there is a damn good chance we are slipping a hook in its mouth.
The 17.8 Pro still keeps me guessing, 30 gallons of gas, full livewell, more tackle than I can to reveal, three guys, basically a full tournament load………….and still has the ability to chase black drum with their backs out of the water. Captured on our new half 8wt half 9wt shoved together buggy whip….
the weather was not always perfect……….
While we didn’t need another tarpon on fly, It was hard to ignore a few large laid up fish…………
And on the last day after missing what I felt was going to be our only shot at a bonefish at 8:15AM (I was quite verbally abusive shortly thereafter)…………our Charleston native Chris Wilson spotted a huge plume of mud at 1:30PM which was made by one of the largest bonefish I have seen in the last few years. Lucky for us the big girl had a few smaller followers that want to play.
We immediately made our way to closest bar for a few rumski’s……
Grand Champion Angler ( Tim Borski original)
Hell’s Bay Top Skiff & Angler (15% off coupon on our next skiff & cool fish hook mount)
Team Grand Champions with 221 total inches and the only team to get all 7 species……………..
I highly recommend anyone looking to fish this tournament do so. The event is truly top notch as Linda Denkert literally spends the ENITRE year rounding up sponsors and silent auction items (which are incredible and all proceeds are given back to the park, from half off guided trips with some of the area’s best captains to paddleboards to anything you can imagine). In terms of what I got for a $350 entry fee, two full meals for me and wife at the Islamorada Fish Company, two evenings of top shelf open bar (I am a pretty thirsty dude), a angler bag that included a high quality lightweight fishing shirt, grubs of all makes, sunscreen, and more stuff that I can even recall. There are awards for EVERYTHING, from the guy that had the most cast in the trees to junior anglers to amateur anglers to professional anglers. You compare this to any other Keys tournament and you would agree for many of the $1,000 plus entry fees something just ain’t right.
maybe I will give the Park a few more shots before the cooler weather moves in……..