Thursday, May 04, 2006

Getting a Perspective

Just days away from my departure and I get a cold. I must have caught it from my daughter the other day, who just came down with a nose runner and a nasty one at that. Little to deter my efforts and excitement as I put the finishing touches on getting out of town. I don’t know of a better cure for a cold than warm sunshine, some oysters and a brew after a long day under Florida’s hot sun. Not to mention the sensations of a silver freight train emptying your reel of 30lb packing at half the speed of light.

The other night we talked to one of our Captains. We must drive these guys nuts; How’s the weather? Any fish around? What are they eating? Where we going to fish? What’s the fishing going to be like when we get there? Ya-da, ya-da, ya! So far I’ve refrained from calling Capt. Ohearn, but I’ll need to touch base with him over the next few days to figure out our first morning logistics. It’s usually pretty straight forward, but you never know. Checked on our rooms, however and we are good to go there.

That first day is such a cluster f… regardless of our preparation. Most flights get in late if they get in at all, and with all the gear Kenny and I bring it takes us sometime to get semi organized. First stop upon our arrival is Bo’s Fish House for a Grouper Sandwich. Then it’s back to our room to make sense of what will need that first morning. Walking down the worn walks of Key West at first light we must look like a couple of bag ladies fresh back from a yard sale. Capt. Ohearn gets a kick out of it. The challenge for him is where to put it all. Rods are easy, our bags present a little more of a stowing issue.

The other morning when the crew: JD, George, Kenny and I were out casting we started talking about favorites attributes of our trips, outside of the obvious. George immediated whet through his interpretation of sticking a Tarpon, before diverting to other pleasuable aspects of our trip. George and JD have a sweet set-up that is coming to a close possibly this year. His guide, Capt. Willey Benson’s, mom is a gourmet chef. In the past she has always prepared their lunches. Typically, you are in charge of your own eats on the boat. It’s good advice to cover your Captain as well. Mama Benson’s lunches make a bad day of Tarpon fishing tolerable and a good day great.

Kenny and I wing it each morning. Not that you can’t get a good lunch in Key West, but Mama Benson’s stuff is pretty exceptional. Personally I wouldn’t know. Kenny and I either hit Dam Good Foods, open twenty four hours a day or Sandy’s. I would have to say that Sandy’s is my favorite, but we need to hitch a ride with JD and George to get there. Therefore we don’t always get to visit this little unique slice of greasy heaven.

Sandy’s is a Cuban eatery next to a laundry mat, chickens are running around, locals are propped up at the outside counter reading the paper starting at first light. It’s a happening place. Typically we get a CafĂ© con Leche with two shots and two lumps, egg and ham sandwich for breakfast and Cuban Mix for lunch. It doesn’t get any better. Bag of Oreo’s to wash it all down. They also work pretty go for chumming Capt. Ohearn up.

One thing about Capt. Ohearn he rarely eats. I don’t know how he does it. Once in a while we can get him to stuff down and Oreo or two, but that’s about it. His main source of daily substance is Red Bull. We judge the difficulty of the day on the number of Red Bull he swills. A three day Red Bull day is a long day on the hunt. How that he has a kid, maybe that will change. I doubt it. Kenny and I will have some Fruit Loops and a fresh bag of Nabisco’s finest stuffed cookies just in case.

As much as I enjoy the choices of cuisine in Key West, the ocean is what brings me back along with the incredible diversity of marine life that it supports. The obvious I mentioned earlier are the incredible Silver Kings. But, the world they live in and those creature they share the waters with I find amazing.

Several years ago we had a fishless trip going into our last day. The rest of the group was in the same shape. Each nights gathering at our favorite watering hole got a little got a quieter. For our last day John thought that the seas would be calm enough to run out to the Marquesas. At diner that night remember George asking if our Captain had life jackets. The Boca Grande Channel can easily swallow a small flats skiff under the right conditions. I told him I had never asked. It’s amazing what we take for granted. Both Ken and I were excited regardless of the conditions.

It’s about a 45 minute ride to Florida’s most southerly wildlife sanctuary. Under a black sky we skimmed across the smooth surface of Key West waters before coming to the Boca Grande Channel. Quickly we dropped our speed form 40 to 20 in order to keep our boat intact. John almost lost one boat here last year. Although the seas were rough, I had crossed here before under far worse conditions. By daylight we pulled into the southern tip of the Marquesas and quickly came across several rolling Tarpon. These would be the last few we would see for sometime.

There was only one other time I had been out here when there were no other boats around. That was two years back when Jeffrey Cardendas and I spent several nights on the Huck Finn in the Marquesas. It rained five inches that first day, no wonder. Weather during the previous week had kept other Captains from venturing here on this day. Regardless of the out come to be here solo, was worth the ride. The Marquesas are amazing place.

After plying the outer edges of this usually fertile atoll with no opportunities we turned to the inmost portions of the Marquesa, Mooney Harbour. At first we poled the edges in search of some baby Tarpon. I landed a rather large Snapper that quickly became dinner for John that evening. I took over the platform to give our Captain a break so he could get a little fishing/casting done.

It was well into the afternoon when we returned to the southern bite. At first there was no sign of life. Then a few Sharks showed up. As they say, if there are Sharks in the neighborhood there’s something to ear. Not exactly what we had in mind, but sharks are cool. Several more sharks, Bull and Nurse, cruised near the boat before a small string of Tarpon came from inside the atoll. My first cast at the string had two smaller Tarpon fight for the fly before one drilled it. John was into his third Red Bull by the time we departed. Although shorted lived we jumped six and landed half as many. The highlight was a Manatee that swam up to the boat while we landed our second fish. In all the hours that John had worked these waters he had never seen one of these docile creatures here. Bonus!

It was the first time saltwater fishing where I had witnessed waters void of life suddenly become alive. I have seen it many times Trout fishing, but never among the salty seas. Arriving back with our crew, late, they new we had gotten into them, even though we tried to down play our success.

It’s days like these with such incredible visual displays of life and unexpected outcomes that keep me fishing. Although the fish Gods shined down on us this day, if we hadn’t caught a Tarpon, it would have still been a day worth remembering. Fish, food, people, and wild places, not necessarily in that order, stimulate the mind, foster friendships and leave lasting impressions.

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