Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"The Fish Magnet"

By the fourth morning, we’ve got as much of a routine as we’re going to get. Unfortunately it’s our last day. I’m up before the alarm sounds even though it’s not yet six. Given how the previous day ended, I’m anxious to begin and slept little through the night. Not that I ever want to rush a last day, but since cracking last nights Red Stripe for the run home I’ve been anxious for this final morning to arrive.

Our long days on the water are showing as we meet outside the Cypress House. Bleary eyed and insufficiently caffeinated for this early hour we waste little time before heading to the City Marina. We’re working on that which we can control, Cuban coffees to go, extra shot and two cubes. The rest of the day’s rudiments will be subject to the whims of the tarpon gods.

After two semi productive stints at Tower Flat, we’ve given it up for hopefully greener pastures. This morning we run east and head up the Keys. I’m up first this morning and there’s a certain mix of emotion that I’ve not felt the previous two days. On the way we pass one of John’s confidants. Having left the City Marina before us John’s curious as to whether hell race us to the where we’ll begin the day. For a young guide, to poach more experienced water after they shared their success would not be advisable. To eliminate the potential threat, he adjusts the throttle. Moments later we overtake the slower skiff.

Unlike past mornings I’m much less observant and more single minded in the days approach. I don’t recall the morning sky or much else about conditions before dawn broke. Possibly, looking back on the day’s outcome, I should have. The back countries flat as we move towards the ocean. We pass under Highway 1 not noticing nor caring of those who travel overhead.

Some of the morning’s early anxiety is relieved noticing we are the first to arrive at this piece of water. The sun’s not yet crested the eastern horizon as John idles to the edge of the small flat. Yesterday’s smoke has yielded to a sky much more clear. As it did the previous day, that could change. All is quiet as our Captain climbs up on the poling platform. My Tibor, for now, is the only sound that disturbs morning’s calm as I methodically remove line from the big reel. I’m hoping before we leave that it will do so again, only at a much more frantic pace.

At this early stage of the game, it’s difficult seeing into the water. The first laid up fish John locates, I struggle to find. At about twenty-five feet a hint of purple eventually appears, yet I can’t make heads or tails of the obscured tarpon. My cast is as poor as my eye sight. Later in the day, John will elude to my early flailing. Deservedly so! This fish slides from sight, pissed at our morning intrusion. I have several more encounters with similar results and eventually offer may partner the bow having blown a number of ample opportunities.

It doesn’t take Kenny long to get a couple of toilet flushes several of these large Ma-moos. He’s had some difficulty getting a hook in them. Reflecting back, we all have.

As the sun begins to warm the cool air, company joins us. Unfortunately they’re not as considerate as our Captain. He cuts us off leaving a modest portion of the small flat to fish. By the time he and his dudes depart the damage is done forcing us regrettably to move on. John, being the consummate southern gent that he is, bites his tongue knowing that words would do little to impact the inconsiderate act. However, for our humor he does provide some graphic verbiage to express his displeasure.

I take two pulls on the bow over back country edges looking for any signs of life. A laid up tarpon here a slider there, but to my discontent nothing materializes. Again having done my time, Ken takes the bow on the next backcountry edge. “Tarpon”, it’s a big fish laid up in deeper water twenty feet from the boat. John’s not too confident in the opportunity given the tarpons location, but believes it’s at least worth a cast. Ken flips his fly, literally to the side of the boat. He’s hardly moved it when the big fish rises to inhale the tan laid up fly. She begins to settle, momentarily levitating in the water column as Kenny’s line comes tight. Instantly one hundred yards of backing and fly line leaves the reel. For the first time that I can remember, we take chase.

It takes some effort to leader this fish and regains the lost line. In doing so, the big tarpon stays fixed to the bottom. She responds to Kens pressure in a half hearted jump, saving her energy to again leave his reel void of line. That’s the last we’ll see of her, the leader wearing through the 60lb shock. The legend of the “Fish Magnet” takes form.

I spend another useless stint on the bow before my clock runs out and we head to Loggerhead Basin. At this point, the scenery is getting a little tiring. Simply, I yearn for a tug, unfortunately for me the “Fish Magnets” rightfully up. Before he can remove sufficient line, John’s on a tarpon. Ken manages yet another eat. This fish spits the fly shaking its head before Ken can come tight. I ’m coming to the understanding that it’s not going to be my day. Swallowing this, our Captain almost immediately finds yet another small school of juveniles daisy chaining. Ken gets another eat!

Tarpon fishing is a team sport. As much as I’d like to hook up, Ken’s success is shared by all, John in particular. He puts hard days in on the platform. By trips end we fish for him more than ourselves knowing our success is his just reward. After the “Fish Magnets” last chaotic episodes, I take the bow one last time. I know that our Captain wants me to get an eat before we finish out this last day. At a time when all other Captain’s are running for home, he idles up to one last flat.

Fires from the north have begun to erode afternoons light as John slides his pole from the cleats and takes the platform. I spot a slider before he manages to get his pole in the water. The tarpon immediately tracks the fly as soon as it hits: “He going to eat it” emanates from behind me. At the last minute the tarpon rejects the fly and quickly disappears. Retrieving the fly, I notice it was fouled. “That’s ok, we’ll find another”. Given the day and the hour, it’s not exactly what I wanted to hear.

As was the afternoon before, this flat is littered with tarpon. After numerous rejections, we finally find a dumb one that takes the fly; love those dumb ones. For a brief moment

the fly holds. It was difficult getting a good stick, the tarpon casually sliding in behind the fly after the eat. Several spectacular jumps and a series of erratic pulls that generates a little reel music from the Tibor, then the fly line goes slack, the fly falling from the fishes hard mouth. At this point, it matters little. I couldn’t be happier.

These last two evening provided incredible tarpon fishing. Over our years fishing with John, we always seem to find these fortuitous flats during dismal times. We take these fortunes to heart knowing the challenging circumstances. These thoughts and reflections of year’s past mingle in my head as we run through a labyrinth of mangroves on our way home. We’re all tired and quiet, no one’s more so than John, yet content with the days success.

Before we hit the mayhem that awaits us at City Marina, I realize it’s over. Other than a night out and good meal, the most important part of the visit has passed. For twelve month I’ll reflect back the events that transpired over the past four days; 365 tortuous days long days. .

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