Two days bobbing in the ocean with one of the Keys best guides isn’t all for naught
When Louis Cahill of Gink & Gasoline fame invited me to the Florida Keys for a couple days of tarpon fishing this April, I practically had my bags packed before I could hang up the phone. Two years ago, Louis and I fished the Keys together but experienced tough fishing which made the goal for this season simple — we wanted redemption. Unfortunately, those two days now in the distant past don’t seem so bad; in fact, compared to our most recent trip, they appear as bright stars on our resumes. This year, we fished — or perhaps better put — we leisurely boated for two full days and saw exactly zero fish.
The lack of tarpon was certainly no reflection of the man atop the platform, Capt. Bruce Chard. Bruce, a Simms Guide Ambassador, has professionally poled the shallows of the Keys for the past 20 years all the while earning the stellar reputation he humbly holds today. Securing an ace guide such as Bruce instilled Louis and I with great confidence, however upon our arrival to the Sunshine State, Mother Nature presented us with a big, fat, two day forecast of silvery skies, highs of upper 70s, lows of mid-60s and a 1 percent chance of jumping tarpon at best.
Despite the unfavorable conditions, I found a silver lining in what I managed to learn from the tarpon expert standing on the back of the skiff who by the way, was just as (if not more) frustrated by the weather than we were.
1. COLD IS RELATIVE: Coming from Montana, the low 70 degree temps that greeted us the first morning was as refreshing as it could be. However, for Bruce, it was down right chilly. While I was in shorts, he donned Simms’ Coldweather Pants on day one and a Simms WINDSTOPPER® Vest on day two. Personally, I was glad to know our cold weather gear has found a home that far south.
2. LUBE YOUR KNOTS EXCESSIVELY: We all know that in fishing, knots can either make or literally break your fight. As the diameter of your leader material increases, so does the difficulty of properly cinching and seating your knots. When pursuing tarpon, an error in either will all but guarantee freedom for the fish you worked so hard to feed. Excessively lubing the monofilament or fluorocarbon of your leader prevents any abrasion or kinking and also allows for all the wraps of your knot to seat and cinch smoothly. Bruce lubricates the material before tying the knot and then several times during the process of tying a blood knot. He religiously dunked the knot in the ocean before the final cinch. One more tip — when tying with different diameters, use more wraps with the smaller diameter material.
3. IF IT’S NOT WORKING — MOVE: Because we weren’t seeing fish, we moved often. When sitting on a consistently fishy spot, anglers almost instinctively opt to remain there and wait it out — even after hours of staring into seemingly lifeless abyss. However, when Bruce isn’t feeling it, he prefers to pickup and move so he can cover more water and find the fish instead of sitting, waiting and hoping for the fish to find him. When Bruce moves, he moves with purpose and doesn’t haphazardly stop at just any spot. He’s looking for different water temperatures, bottom color, depths and contours.
4. IF IT’S STILL NOT WORKING — GO HOME AND HAVE A COCKTAIL: After a lot of looking, we left one day before we normally would have and you know what, that was perfectly fine by us. We were sun-baked, tired and defeated. There’s something mysteriously medicinal about sitting back at the dock or house having a beer talking about fly patterns, tactics, tackle and the frustrations of the day — not to mention, it’s way more rewarding than aimlessly bobbing around on the ocean and staying out for the sole reason not having to say you threw in the towel early.
5. KEEP A ROD LENGTH OF FLY LINE READY TO GO: This one got me good. When I say we didn’t see a fish, well, that isn’t exactly 100 percent true. You see, we actually did see one fish. I was on the bow and as much as I hate to admit it, I wasn’t ready. I thought I was all set to make a quick presentation when a redfish appeared. Because I only had about 18 inches of fly line out of the rod tip, I was forced to false cast several times to get enough line out to even come remotely close to reaching the fleeting fish. The lesson: leave more line out of the rod tip so you can quickly and efficiently shoot 20 to 30 feet with minimal false casts.
6. LOWER YOUR ROD INTO THE WIND: This one also got me on the same cast to the lone redfish. Once I finally did get enough line moving, my overhand cast was far to vertical and the 30+ mph wind simply collapsed the loop. Bruce quickly instructed me to dramatically lower the angle of the rod to a near sidearm stroke. Doing so allows your line to cut through the wind. In addition, your line has less “hang-time” when it’s lower to the water and therefore, the wind has less time to crush your loops.
7. COVER UP: The sun is brutal and because Bruce spends so much of his time directly in it, he leaves next to none of his skin exposed. If he has a short sleeve shirt on, he throws on a pair of SunSleeves and just to be safe, he applies sunscreen several times throughout the day. This is probably the reason that after all of the years in the scorching sun, he’s still lookin’ good.
8.KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID: Bruce uses a super simple leader system that turns over flies perfectly. He starts with 6 feet of 50 lb. monofilament and connects it to 3 feet of 30 lb. monofilament. To finish it off, he attaches 3 feet of 50 lb. fluorocarbon he uses as a bit guard (fluorocarbon is a bit more abrasion resistant than monofilament). This simple system means you don’t have to load up on tons of different types of leader material and even better, you can quickly tie a new one when necessary.
9. DON’T BE A CAMEL: Drink a lot of water and drink it often. Sure, we did throw in a cold adult beverage here and there but, we were encouraged by Bruce to drink plenty of water the entire day. When dehydrated, it becomes easy to lose focus and your reaction time definitely slows down.
10. ALWAYS GO BACK: It’s virtually impossible to judge a fishery in only two days and in all honesty, I feel fishless trips are important to endure from time to time. They remind us that in fishing, you win some and you lose some and in the tarpon game, more often than not, the fish comes out the victor more than you. There in lies the addictive nature of the sport. The fish give you a little taste, you get a buzz and then you want more and more and more. Fishless days also help us to appreciate those seemingly rare epic trips where the fish cooperate in both their presence and willingness to eat. The secret to success in tarpon fishing is to realize and understand, the more time you spend on the water, the better your odds become. Bruce’s clients have a solid grasp on this concept which explains why he essentially fishes the same anglers year after year.
Bruce, thanks a ton for a couple great days, I’ll definitely be back next season for yet another rematch!