Seven hours, seven long drawn out hours it takes for me to make drive from Tampa to Destin. It’s an annual trip I make to chase the cobia migration. I’ve been doing it ever since I moved away over 20 years ago. When I was much younger I was obsessed with trying to win tournaments and catch records. I wanted to catch a fish so big my friends would tell me stories of it years later. I’d fish the waters from Panama City to Biloxi searching for fish. I would usually take a month off work and fish everyday on the boat if the weather permitted. If the seas were too big, I’d simply spend the day on the pier with the rest of the pier-a-sites. We’d stand long hours on the big rock dock tirelessly scanning the water in hopes of getting a shot at a passing fish. It was there I honed my skills of pinpoint accuracy casting a 3oz jig. The anglers with poor eyes, bad accuracy, or lame jig working ability, usually went home empty handed. The saying, a poor fisherman soon becomes a vegetarian, may have originated by someone fishing on a pier. Although it seems like cut throat fishing, I’ve always enjoyed it. It was easy on the body and I got to spend time with my friends, however nothing was better than hopping on a boat and searching the fish out.
Over the many years the tackle and baits have changed. I grew up fishing with custom built Fenwick 968 or KC 696 rods. Reels were typically the old Mitchell 302s or the Penn 706Z. Line was mono, usually 25 or 30lb test. Baits were some type of fin fish (pinfish, mullet, croaker etc) or a crab. Fast forward to the present and you’ll still see all the old tackle and baits still being used. However now, Van Staals and Zeebaas reels loaded with braid seem to more prevalent. Eels get imported to all the local marinas and tackle stores. They have made many a stubborn fish suddenly develop and appetite that lead to their demise. I like to think of them as cobia crack. Seems legit since each eel goes for about $5.
Now that I’ve gotten older and see more gray in my hair I’ve come to realize what I truly love about the sport. I love the anticipation of what each day brings on the water. I enjoy the time spent with my friends telling stories of our past, sharing our lives. I don’t think I ever get tired of Capt Bill telling me tales of the old south, similar to painting a mental picture that would rival characters in a Fannie Flag novel. Tales of people getting tied to fighting chairs and abandoned, or women who washed away their inhibitions with alcohol. Smuggling stowaways from Cuba or sinking sailboats in the Panama Canal. I love watching someone new to the sport catch their first cobia or even better yet their biggest ever. I love that even after all the fresh fish dinners and faded sunburns I still get to keep the memories of a great time spent with the ones I care about. It is for those reasons I continue to return home each year.
Most of the technical fishing slows down a bit as old man winter settles on his rocking chair down in at the purple isle. The one track minded individuals wait until the spring time. But until then, there are many things to do to pass the time. The venerable Florida bay redfish is always around to help us through this waiting game.
Sometimes, the moon and stars align for a short window, or rather a sneak peak of the season ahead we look forward to. This fortunate soul was able to experience the short flurry this year, while in great company. We all grew up with heroes we looked up to in the world of athletes. Depending on which sport you are passionate about, your hero could be Micheal Jordan, Bo Jackson, Lebron James, Wayne Gretski, etc… and while most of my friends looked up to names in the world of basketball, football, and other sports, fishing had always been my number one sport and my number one passion so it would be natural that I grew up looking towards the greats in this sport like Lefty Kreh, Stu Apte, Jose Wajebe, Flip Pallot, Tim Mahaffey, and of coarse Andy Mill. Imagine a day of playing basket ball with Lebron or doing laps on the track with Hurley Haywood. An equal effect in my world would be a day of fishing with the man who wrote the book on tarpon; Andy Mill, who’s passion for chasing tarpon has greatly influenced my obsession for this magnificent fish. This is certainly one spring to look forward to.
So until next time… Stay tuned…
Fall/Winter is my favorite time of year to go out of town and experience fisheries outside of my own. One special place I always look forward to travelling to this time of year is the Mosquito Lagoon. In the interim of dropping my skiff off to get work done and picking up my buddies finished skiff from the area, my buddy Jeremy and I found a good opportunity to get together with Capt. Willy Le (http://nativeflycharters.com) and sneak out for a couple of days in the “goon.”
The ride to the launch destination was a scenic one different from what we are used to in South FL.
Chilly morning rides and blue bird skies in the backdrop made for great expectation for the days of fishing ahead. With great conditions, experienced fly rodders, and the right tools for the artisan; we set out to stalk redfish and trout in some anorexic depths. Can you catch fish with other tools? Sure, but we preferred to use high end tools available to us such as comfortable sun gloves, UV-protecting clothing, high modulus graphite fly rods, technical skiffs, and advanced light weight push poles to make our pursuit a little more comfortable.
We never found the redfish willing to tail these last couple of days but there were plenty of laid up and slow cruising fish that the sun was willing to reveal to us. Moments of good visibility would overcome the 20kt breeze climbing over the small clusters of islands that make up part of the Lagoon.
We encountered many scapes different from that we are used to. They were different from what we are used to seeing in Biscayne and Florida Bay. The wildlife and birds had different attitudes on their own. It was a familiar but different part of the world for those of us who call the Purple Isle our home waters.
And one of the highlights of fishing in the Lagoon is the opportunity to sight fish giant seatrout up in the shallows. As far as fishing goes, this is something we don’t have back at home. The level of difficulty to sight fish a big weary gator trout on a fly rod is somewhat equivalent to the challenge of fishing for big Islamorada bonefish. I managed to catch my biggest seatrout on fly this trip. The epic bite from this behemoth as I slid an olive SS Permit crab fly over it’s head was more memoriable and impressive then the size of the fish itself. What an amazing fishery.
When sight fishing is a little less then great down south, I highly suggest looking towards our neighbors to our north and sampling the great fishery offered by the Mosquito Lagoon. Thanks to Capt. Willy Le for having us. Great times are had as always….
I’ve been boatless now for a week but far from fish-less. Stay tuned…
A quick remote post today. I’m in Great Falls Montana at the moment shooting some scenery images. I posted the trip on facebook and got a message from Jon at Headhunter’s fly shop in Craig Montana. We knew a ton of the same people so he offered to take me out for a couple hours.
I did have a couple hours to kill. Once I landed we headed out to shop to get some cold weather gear on then launched right around the corner.You know the fish is good when the trout is slurping up flies right at the ramp and they go totally ignored.
We floated down the river for a couple hours which proved to be super productive. the fish were slurping up flies all around just. We caught rainbows and browns on dries and streamers.
the toughest part for me was getting the proper cast down, and spotting the tiny dry flies as it floats down stream. The cold wasn’t so bad thought I wasn’t use to taking the ice off the guides every now and then.
I say it was a good day and hope to do this again when I have more them. Thanks John, I owe you one man.
I just got back in town around midnight last night from New York with some striper images, something I have never fished for. Here are some images for you guys this morning.
The weather was great 50′s at night and low 70′s during the day. Even coming from Florida, I could still walk around in shorts and T-shirt during the day up there.
A bit more of a write up today when I get done with some catching up.
Where are we staying,what are we doing, where are we eating? Common questions we faced on a daily basis. For most people who prefer a rigid schedule of planned events, well this trip would not have been for you. We all packed light and were very flexible for whatever sounded fun. Looking back it’s hard to believe we were able to fit as much as we did into a week. A couple of days and nights touring and partying in Old San Juan, followed by a mountain top hike through the El Yunque rain forest. A short drive to Farjardo and a $2 ferry we found ourselves in Vieques. Being friendly to the locals while waiting for the ferry managed to get us a hookup on a taxi, hotel, biolumenscent bay trip, and the infamous scooters. Cruising the island we felt like members of the Hell’s Angels, but in reality we probably looked more like we belonged in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. After two days of exploring and searching out the baby tarpon we decided to head back to Puerto Rico and go zip-lining and tour the Bacardi factory. One last adventure was to go see Arecebo (world’s largest radio telescope).
For me the two best parts of the trip were the new moon trip to Bioluminescent bay. Watching the fish run away from the boat looked like shooting stars under the water. However it was too dark for photos and video, the images I’ll forever hold in my memory. The other was the the scooter rentals. A mere $40 and you kept the thing overnight. We raced, explored, crashed, toured, crashed some more. Even had the police pull us over but those secrets will remain on the island.
Here are a few photos from along the way. I’m sure Sam will complete his “part 2″ for a more detailed description of the trip.
Prior to this trip, the most popular fact I knew about Puerto Rico was that Ricky Martin was from there. I do know, from friends and research was that no passport was needed and it was cheap to get there.
Normally when I travel it is because of work or a writer’s event of some sort. Trips like of this sort there is an agenda and schedule to follow. This leaves very little time to actually enjoy the environment and culture. Don’t get me wrong it is still enjoyable but many times I leave wondering what you have missed.
On this trip I wanted to visit a place with zero agenda. Just me and a few buddies hanging out and doing whatever we felt like doing. I took two fly rod, minimal camera gear and some clothes.
The ticket cost was only $200 from Tampa, Fl. Using priceline we were able to book hotels and a rental car. Prices for hotels and rental car was very comparable to the States. Though the gas was sold in liters the prices came out pretty darn close to the states as well.
To make things even easier, most everyone there spoke at least some English which made life easier for us gringo.
The first day we got there about noon. Just enough time for us to enjoy lunch, unpack, enjoy the pool scene at the hotel. That night we visited Old San Juan. Old San Juan was filled with color ful historic buildings. Similar to when I visited Panama a couple years ago. The streets were clean and there plenty of restaurant and shots to browse along the narrow walk ways.
Along with local shops, you will see many familiar sights, including a Starbux, ColdStone creamery, and a Walgreens. Obviously we opted to eat Puerto Rican food the first night. We stopped a popular place called Mojito and I believe everyone enjoyed the local disk called mofungo.
Mofongo is generally made from fried green plantains which are mashed together in a pilón (which is a wooden mortar and pestle), with broth, garlic, olive oil, and pork cracklings or bits of bacon. It is often filled with vegetables, chicken, crab, shrimp, or beef and is often served with fried meat and chicken broth soup. Mofongo relleno is mofongo stuffed with stewed beef, pork, chicken or seafood, with stewed sauce poured over.
We were exhausted from the day’s travel. After some gambling at the hotel everyone pretty much went to bed a bit early that night.
Day two took us back to Old San Juan but this time it was to visit the seaside historic Spanish fort. We got there around 10am and walked the streets on the way towards the fort. The cobble stone roads and colorful walk ways made it an interesting walk indeed. Using my Sony Nex 5 I took many scenic shots along the way.
Here are some photos from the walk of Old San Jaun.
Jay trying to get the shot
Whole friend snapper was the lunch. Probably at the top of the best meal of the trip.
After trip through San Juan we drove the beach only to get rained out. We stopped by some road side shops to grab a couple T-shirts and headed back to the hotel.
Coming up, Day 2: the Rain forest, trip to the island of Vieques and the brightest bio luminescent bay in the world.
Took a raodtrip down to the middle keys last week with a couple of buds to chase the silver king. It became apparent that all three of us have a certifiable obsession with this fish that should probably be addressed by a professional. We were really hoping that we would luck up on the worm hatch and we were rewarded with a couple of nights of worm-slurping goodness (thanks Derek Rust for the heads up). Seeing hundreds of tarpon rolling and eating worms all around your boat is an unblievable experience. However, the fish become more challenging to catch during the worm hatch than we had previously thought. The live bait bite pretty much shut down on the hatch and even though we were getting hundreds of shots, we weren’t getting much response from our worm flies. So leave it to some rednecks from SC to deploy the electric chicken jerk bait because it “sorta looks like a worm”. We hadn’t seen anyone hook-up all night at the bridge, but within 5mins of dropping an exude funky chicken behind the boat, we had a nice fish on. For the two nights during the hatch, we did a number on the big tarpon and went through all of our electric chicken baits – who would have thought that dangling a redfish bait behind the boat would put so many stubborn fish in the air.
Was able to stop and stay in Oak Hill, FL for a couple of nights on the way home to fish the Lagoon and see my friend Eddie. We got on a really great trout bite and got to do a little bit of redfishing.
I’m thinking Blake should rock this mustache full time - he grew it for the week of tarpon fishing and said it was his lucky poon-stache - hahaha.
Thanks to Honson, Derek, and Eddie for helping to make sure our fishing was productive.
Capt. Jay Nelson