Monday, May 15, 2006

Back to Normal

Captain Ohearn pulls up into the front of our colonial B & B as he did the day before at 5:45 am. John relays several bits of trivial news before we get underway. One, the pair of flip-flops that I left dockside are still there when he returns at days end. It’s not like you can’t find a pair of cheap flip-flops in Key West, which I did. Consequently this matter is of minor concern.

Bad news and of more significance is the tip broken on the Winston I’d been using. It happened as we were unloading the boat. One of the straps from our bags caught the line as we lifted it to depart. Not like we don’t have other rods to use, but when you get comfortable with one under such conditions, you’re reluctant to change.

The first part of our morning mirrors yesterday’s weather and routine. For me, that is where the similarity in the day ends. John quietly slips onto the flat as I begin, as instructed, to change flies. At my age this simple task isn’t getting any easier. It’s pretty distressing when you can’t follow the line through a figure eight knot when it’s sixty pound mono. Given my ineptness, I inquire as to how leisure I may pursue the project. John reassures me that I have plenty of time.

No sooner do I clip the fly from the leader than a pod of about fifteen happy tarpon pop up twenty feet off the bow. I can hear them, but I’m reluctant to look given my task at hand. By the time I finish, the fish feel us and silently move off. With that my first of many opportunities this morning quickly disappears. Luckily for the tarpon my first few attempts are hopelessly errant as I adjust to the new rod I’m now using. However, it’s not the rod, but the angler in an unfamiliar role that’s the weakest of links in this equation. A familiar saying amongst Keys guides is, “the weakest link in tarpon fishing is the angler”. Copy that!

My brief life as an expert tarpon angler (not that I ever claimed to be) comes crashing back to normal this morning. It was only a matter of time. I get my first eat with the sun well up in the eastern sky. By now there is enough light to see the fly disappear into the small tarpons mouth. The fish stays true to its course, never wavering, my line never comes tight. My next cast finds me fast to a 40lb rat that cartwheels across the flat before spitting the chartreuse tarpon fly. For a brief moment mayhem disrupts this flats morning calm. It ends all to soon.!

Ken takes the bow and doesn’t waste time and gets several eats, neither of which stretch his line or jump a fish. The operative word here is jump, since eats in the tarpon world don’t account for a great deal unless it’s really really slow. Since we were eaten rather than jumpin our mornings efforts didn’t count for much.

For the remainder of the day Ken and I get few other opportunities. John in his best efforts to find us some happy fish does a fair amount of running around. His knowledge, hard work and patience produce several chance encounters yet not near the numbers he had hoped for. Waning optimism effects our Captain probably most of all.

Around lunchtime I have a revelation. I’ve brought with us two other Winston rods. I remove the tips from both to see if either will fit on the one we broke. To our amazement the ten does. I quickly remove my line from the Scott rod, which I also like, and string up the one I’ve just McGivered. A cast or two is a quick testament to the success of the rigging. John does the same before we share a brief chuckle and tie on a new fly.

John meticulously works us through several more backcountry flats before we eventually move oceanside. We find a few sour fish, but that’s all. It’s late in the afternoon as we move onto probably our last flat. We talked with Drew, one of John’s best friends, who had fished Shark Key earlier. I can’t remember if they had any success, but what they saw was rather impressive.

As we approach the flat several other boats silently work the edge just ahead of us. We get in line and follow suit. I’m up just a short time before John excitedly lays out the coordinates for an oncoming tarpon; 70 feet, eleven o’clock. It’s 60 before I make a cast that puts the small chartreuse fly directly within the tarpons path. One long slow strip and she eats. Coming tight, I get one good jab before she removes a fair chunk of fly line from the reel. The first jump catapults the 125 lb tarpon high above the emerald flat. I’ll never get use to the elevation that these piscatorial behemoths reach with just a few pushes from their forked tails. For a moment we are eye ball to eye ball. On the third or fourth aerial assault we part company, the fishes huge body landing on the leader and snapping the 22lb class tippet.

This brief reprieve from a long drought has us all jabbering. It never fails. Nothing like a hundred plus pound tarpon to stimulate ones stupor.

Ken barely steps up on the deck when he gets his first shot. It’s followed by another and another. Temporarily we are surrounded. It’s only a matter of time, before he to is quick to another hundred pounder. After several jumps it heads for the nearest competing skiff. Both my boat mates do what they can to keep her from interfering with the other boats quest, yet this is not a simple task. For a while Ken stares down a lot of backing. His length of line making nearly impossible to put any pressure on this large fish.

By the time we leader the fish we are within ear shot of the other boat. Unfortunately it’s to close for comfort, their disgruntled glares evidence of our encroachment. We apologize and silently drift off the flat once Ken’s battle comes to an end. Out of earshot we resume our excited chatter and reflect on our good fortune. A fate obviously not bestowed upon the other two skiffs we briefly shared this flat with. We surmise that it wasn’t our imposition that caused their demeanor, but the fact that within just a short timeframe we whacked two rather sizeable tarpon while they went fishless.

With that another day in paradise comes to a close. All is quiet as we motor across the backcountries mirrored flats, each of us left to ponder our own separate thought and content with the way our day came to a close.

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