Very few sports give the participants a chance to see the completely unexpected. In my years of fishing the flats, I’ve seen: a pair of 40-foot sperm whales dying on my favorite bonefish flat (it later became Whale Skull Flat), a 20-foot hammerhead bang his dorsal against the gunwhale, a tarpon eat a butterfly flying a foot above the surface, a ring of 5 waterspouts that had us completely surrounded and the birth of one as a tiny swirling cloud no bigger than a snow cone.
I’ve also seen the head of IT for the NASDAQ take a swing at a psychiatrist on the bow of my skiff, but that sort of thing isn’t memorable for where it happened, only that it happened at all.
Fishing–and especially fishing a lot–from a skiff puts us in places where truly amazing things happen. Granted, there’s plenty of luck involved. I once spent three days in a black, hammering rain waiting for a single shot at a tarpon before my motivation collapsed, then just before noon a hole opened in the clouds and shone a spotlight 50 feet wide on a school of daisy-chaining tarpon that ate everything we threw at them for 15 minutes. Then the window closed and the world turned black again.
A client who was dying of liver cancer at age 30 booked one last day with me before going into the hospice. We fished the east side of the Marquesas into the late afternoon, and permit, tarpon and mutton snappers swarmed the boat for hours. At 6PM a very black squall line chased us home, and Jerry was dead a month later.
You couldn’t fabricate some of this stuff and make it believable. Even more to the point, you won’t ever witness these things unless you are “there and square”–you’ve gone to a place for a specific purpose, and prepared, often long and hard, for good things to happen.
Fishing out of a small boat in a big ocean, especially the near-shore fishing that we love, puts us in place to witness the unbelievable and makes us pay attention. In that respect it’s a rare sport indeed.
I’ve been fortunate to spend many days fishing with and around Steve Huff, whom I consider to be an iconic fishing guide. (“Iconic” is used overmuch these days, but if there’s a soul dedicated to his craft like Steve is to guiding, I haven’t met them yet.) Steve has strong opinions about leader systems, boats, and strategies. But the one I’ve always found intriguing is his preferred style of flies, especially in this day of perfect imitation and miniaturization.
In brief, Steve’s flies tend to be biggish and fluffy. They almost look archaic. And they are far from “perfect” in what we think of as perfection from a expert tier’s perspective. No fancy techniques or innovative materials and paints, just good old-fashioned feather and hair, fiber and fluff assembly. From Steve’s patterns–beginning with his modifications on the early Merkin–I learned most of my opinions about what makes a fly sexy to a fish: that it behaves like prey, and that what a fly looks like out of the water doesn’t matter, as long as in the water the fly creates the right profile and motion.
This morning the skiffs entered in the annual March Merkin permit tournament in Key West moored their boats briefly as Jon Ain’s ashes were spread in the Northwest Channel, near the flats he loved to fish so much. Jon was instrumental in getting the Merkin tournament started, and by the time he died in late November he had caught hundreds of permit on fly.
Poleable? Maybe not, with no place to stow a pole. But who wouldn’t want to stand on the wood-clad foredeck of this Harbor Road 13 and cast a line?
Tom Richardson investigates the origins of an unusual deep-vee skiff built in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, and based on a design by the legendary C. Raymond Hunt. [Read more...]
Governor Rick Scott proclaimed March 2013 Seagrass Awareness Month, the 12th annual statewide recognition from the Executive Office of the Governor. As the governor’s office says, awareness of seagrass and its integral role in the marine ecosystem will help to create an understanding of the way seagrass damage can impact both the economic and ecological value of our marine resources.