Tarpon Shots - Bow To the Silver King
No pun intended, but I got hooked on fly fishing for tarpon about five years ago. Like anything challenging in the outdoor world, I have a love/hate relationship with it – particularly when I’m in the Florida Keys. When it’s "on" in the Keys, there is nothing better. When it’s "off", morale becomes very low because there is little that can be done to improve the fishing. Similar to other spring time activities like snow goose hunting, it’s either a feast or famine endeavor. A gifted angler once told me that if fly fishing for tarpon was easy, everybody would be doing it. The short answer is it isn’t – and that’s one of the reasons why I love it so much.
Kevin Dunn is a great friend and angler who I travel with on a regular basis for destination hunting and fishing trips. We met in Key West in late April this year for a two man, two day strike force tarpon mission. Last year we did the same thing and we got blanked, which as I’m learning more about the Keys, isn’t uncommon no matter how skilled of an angler you are. The Keys are very sensitive to weather – you can’t simply show up and expect great fishing. However, if it’s the right time of the year and the weather cooperates, the fishing can be nothing short of fantastic. This year we were determined to change things from our 2009 trip. This is where Mikey O came into play.
Captain Mike O’Brien is a very sweet dude. He’s a California transplant to the Keys who is the definition of a "fishy dude", as he likes to refer to his better angling clients. If he’s not putting his clients on fish or fishing himself, he’s kite boarding, surfing, or hanging out with his hammer girl friend. Like I said, he’s a sweet dude.
Mikey O called me in March and asked if I was coming down for tarpon season. The short answer was yes. We agreed that a late April, mid-week trip had the potential for two banner days of angling as Tarpon season typically heats up in May, and the fishery starts to experience serious pressure. A quick call to Kevin confirmed that he was in, so we met in Key West on a Tuesday. We needed light wind and sunshine, and particularly wind out of anywhere but the North. Day one was a Wednesday with northerly winds at 15+ MPH. We only had three shots1 all day. We were beginning to think our Key West fishing was permanently cursed. The decision was made to get off the water early, so we decided to stretch our legs on Duval Street. That’s one of the bonuses of Key West – there’s always something to do if you like to hang out in fun places once the sun goes down. We were on the street early and in bed even earlier because Thursday’s forecast looked promising.
I’ve been lucky with the flats guides I’ve fished with in the Keys. They’ve all been good guys who really know what they’re doing and genuinely want to have a good time with you, teach you something, and put you on fish. If you were to take a straw poll from most fly fishermen who have fished the Keys, that unfortunately isn’t the norm. Many guides freak out at their clients for making poor casts or not fighting fish correctly, employ disinformation strategies with other guides and in general are total jerks. I’ve got about 5 friends who fish a tarpon tournament every year there who can attest to this phenomenon. Mikey O is the total opposite. As a sweet dude and fishy dude, all he wants to do is put you on fish and have a good day on the water with you, which is why I fish with him. Thursday was shaping up to be our day. It had to be because we were leaving on Friday.
Thursday morning started off with getting pulled over by the Coast Guard. I had my video camera out when they stopped us for not having "bright enough running lights" and they didn’t appreciate me recording everything. They ended up moderately flexing their muscles by letting us know they were in charge, but were for the most part harmless. Put one on the board for the Coast Guard being cool that morning – we told them we were going fishing and they let us go with a warning. Then we proceeded to get on fish – and a lot of fish.
Mikey O took us to a shallow channel where literally hundreds of tarpon were rolling. Kevin and I took turns on the bow and had over a hundred shots at tarpon in that channel. There was so much activity in this channel we only targeted rolling fish in casting range. We fed2 four tarpon and jumped3 two. High fives were abundant that morning in that particular channel. I also proceeded to hook my right bicep on a back cast that bled like a throwing star wound for about 2 minutes. After taking a look at my arm when it quit bleeding, the consensus was my wound looked more snake bite than tarpon fly impalement. It definitely looked worse than it felt and it made for cool pictures.
Thursday started with a bang and ended well too. We jumped five tarpon, fed nine, and had more shots than either of us could ever remember having in one day. Mikey O had us on fish all day and we ended up fishing 12 hours – which is the real testament to Captain O’Brien’s work ethic. The stars had aligned and he was determined to make it a big day, and it was. And, for good measure, we had five shots at a school of permit. They refused our crab patterns, but it was a nice piece of extra credit for what was nothing short of great day of tarpon fishing.
Kevin put it best when we were wrapping up our day of fishing: "Catching a tarpon fly fishing is like winning the Super Bowl. It’s awesome and a great accomplishment – but, all you want to do after you win a Super Bowl is win another one. Same deal with catching a poon." I couldn’t agree more.
Captain Mike O’Brien can be reached via his Trophy Room profile page or his web site at www.tarponkeywest.com. Give him a call if you like to catch fish with a sweet Keys flats guide.
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<sup>1</sup> Shot: An individual cast at a single tarpon or multiple tarpon.<br />
<sup>2</sup> Feed: "Serving" the fly to a tarpon – if angler feeds a tarpon properly it will "eat".<br />
<sup>3</sup> Jump: Tarpon eats angler’s fly and angler sets the hook and the tarpon is on fly line long enough to jump at least once and angler doesn’t land the tarpon.<br />
<span style="display:none;"><sup>4</sup> Eat: Tarpon bites angler’s fly, but the angler misses the hook- set.</span>
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