Robertson and Rodriguez Win Golden Fly

The 19th Outback Golden Fly Tarpon Tournament kicked off Sunday, May 19th at the Islamorada Fishing Club. Outgoing Tournament Chairman, Pat Ford of Miami, and incoming Tournament Chairman Dr. Steve Ward of Coppell, Texas, welcomed a 20 boat field by first presenting a $3,000.00 donation to IFACT Chairman, Kara Lundgren.  The Islamorada Fishing and Conservation Trust supports local fishing and marine conservation projects as well as providing scholarships to those going into the marine resources education programs.

The weather actually was very good through out all three days of fishing. The Golden Fly Tarpon Tournament is a large fish tournament, meaning that the bigger fish of 70 pounds and over will score more points. The smaller release fish of four feet and over all score 200 points but do not count unless a weight fish is scored.

Angler Julian Robertson from Kerikeri, New Zealand and local Captain Joe Rodriguez ran away with day one. They scored two weight fish and two releases for 2,300 points. High points on day two also went to Robertson and Rodriguez with another weight fish as well as two more releases for a total of 3,740 points. Day three high points went to newcomer Ryan Seiders from Texas and Captain Rob Fordyce with a weight fish and a release for 1,240 points.

Julian Robertson and Captain Joe Rodriguez took over the entire tournament winning the Grand Champion title with a final scoring of three weight fish and seven releases for 4,340 points. The team walked away with David Wirth sculptures, a custom fly reel by Tom Kapusta and a custom fly rod from Randy Towe Signature Series Fly Rods. The team also claimed the Billy Pate Memorial Largest Tarpon Award with a 108 pound tarpon. Captain Rodriguez guided Robertson to High Point Trophies on day one and day two as well as the Most Releases trophy with seven fish released.

First Runner Up Trophy went to Ryan Seiders and Captain Rob Fordyce with two weight fish and three releases for a total of 2,660 points. Seiders and Fordyce grabbed the High Point Trophy for day three as well as the Newcomer Award. Second Runner Up went to angler Rand Holstead of Houston, Texas and Captain Brian Helms with one weight fish and four releases for a total of 1,800 points. Third Runner Up was Ned Johnson from Charleston, S.C. and Captain Andy Thompson with one weight fish and two releases for 1,145 points.

The 20th Golden Fly Tarpon Tournament will be held May 18-21, 2014. For information please email Betsy Bullard at

Long Days (or When Patience Pays Off)

Most of us can tell stories of how we caught fish on days when most other anglers didn’t bother to go out.   Two of the biggest permit I’ve ever guided clients to were on days when no one else went fishing.  The hardest part about going out on a bad-weather day or when tides and temperature say “Just stay home” is getting started–launching the boat, going through the steps to make sure all the gear is there and the skiff has ice, water, fuel, and the whatnots.  And often your instincts are right:  it’s just too damn hard to catch fish.

On the other hand, half of those days when you think you should stay home will produce fish.  And sometimes they really deliver.  The weather changes, the light gets just right, you come across a spot that looks like it has to have fish in it, and it does, despite the conditions.

At least five or six times this spring I got surprised.  I went out even when it was humpin’ a woofer.  And once when it was pouring rain.  Each time we saw fewer total fish than we might see in a normal day, but when we did find fish it was pretty damn good–the fish were happy and they would eat.  I may be kidding myself when I think that they are so catchable because they don’t expect us to be there.  But it has happened so often in 25 years of flats fishing that even the most skeptical among us should wonder.

Last week fishing with Rob Kessler in Key West, we busted our butts (or rather he busted his butt) fishing in a 25-knot wind to tarpon that really could care less about eating flies.  But eight hours in he suggested we try some permit fishing on the low outgoing.  Lemme tell you, when you’ve been poling around in a big wind for eight hours, it takes a certain amount of gumption to want to get up on a flat and look for tailing permit in failing light. But there we were, and there the fish were, and we were left with some images that will go down in the permanent records.

So there.

How to Tie the Slim Beauty Knot

Slim Beauty KnotWe first started tying an early version of the Slim Beauty back in the early 1990s in the Key West area. The idea for the knot began in the 1970s with a desire to develop a knot similar to the jam knot that was quicker to tie but just as strong as Bimini-to-Huffnagle or Bimini-to-Albright knots.  Versions of this knot had been used before, of course.  Captain Tom Pierce, one of the top light tackle guides of his era, used a similar knot to tie mono to wire, which was his favorite bite tippet for tarpon when he pioneered fishing in Key West harbor.

The name of the knot comes from a comment made by the lunch counter lady at Five Brothers sandwich shop in Key West, who called Tom Rowland a “Slim Beauty” while he was in the shop with Simon Becker.  Simon took the name and applied it to the knot, which he had a large role in developing and testing. [Read more…]

“We’ve Caught a Fish, Now We Can Leave”

I’m lucky to get to fish with a variety of guides, all of different bents and trajectories even if we do have a common language.  This past week I fished with Robb Kessler, who’s been guiding in Key West now for a decade.  He comes from a long career on the Madison River, where he spends four or five months a year.  Guide talk being what it is,  we eventually talked about fish pressure and resource protection.

With a couple of my old clients, I shared the sentiment that if we caught a fish in a location, we could move on and fish somewhere else.   It was always acknowledged with irony, since we knew staying where we were was an easy win.  But we’d also proved our point, and we didn’t want to punish the fish there.  Besides, I was much too anxious to want to see new (and even find) new spots, see how far we could take a little bit of success.

Does that sound counterproductive?  Does that mean we’ll catch fewer fish?

In the short run, yes.   In the long run, definitely not.

“I’ve seen many flats ruined by guides who sat on them day after day,” I mentioned to Rob.  “Forcing yourself to move not only teaches you to find fish, it means you can come back to that spot where you just caught a fish tomorrow–or better yet the day after tomorrow–and catch a fish just as easily.  The added benefit is that you get to see a lot of country.”

Rob pointed out that guides sometimes need to fish the same spots on consecutive days/tides in order to keep clients in fish.  I concurred.  You do what you gotta do.  I did the same when I guided.  But I think we both agreed that working to plan made a lot of sense.  And planning not just for tomorrow but for next month and next year actually means you will catch more fish in the long run.

Hell’s Bay Kicks Off Military Appreciation Initiative

Like Hell’s Bay’s Military Appreciation Initiative, the owners, Wendi and Chris Peterson, have long been known for their company’s special programs such as locating and removing abandoned inshore ghost crab traps and loan of its aerated tank for the safe release of fish in many fishing tournaments. NBC Sport Network’s American Hero Experience features a segment on the new event announced today by Hell’s Bay.

Read the full press release in the extended entry. [Read more…]

Video Profile: Harry Spear

Harry Spear

Harry Spear

David Mangum just produced this engaging video profile of Harry Spear, one of the legends of Keys guiding and now a custom skiff builder.  Some great personal and historical detail here.  “The best boat is the simplest boat that you can have to do the job,” says Spear. [Read more…]

Chris Morejohn: Carving Wood and Wind

I had the pleasure of Skyping with Chris Morejohn for an hour or two yesterday, catching up on his evolving life story.   Even if you’ve never heard of Chris, you’ve benefited from his perspicacity.  He was the leading force in the use of foam core and in progressive styles of  hull lay-up in the early 1980s, and his designs influenced most of what we’ve come to know as the “technical skiff” concept.

Chris is going to be detailing his experiences as a skiff designer and boat builder on Skiff Republic in the coming months, but meanwhile I thought I’d share a little of what he’s been doing from his Bahamas base.    Chris’s carved wooden eels–created from found wood–are really stunning.  They’re finished with various stains and have the wood grain still visible under a glossy varnish. “Mouths with metal teeth are open as an eel would have naturally as it breathes.”

Carved wooden eels, by Chris Morejohn, on Etsy.

Carved wooden eels, by Chris Morejohn, on Etsy.

One other aside: Chris and I got into a long discussion about sailboats and skiffs.  Chris’s core business has long been custom sailboat design, and I suggested that there was a close connection between sailing and driving and poling skiffs.  “No question,” he said.  “You’re really sailing a skiff when you are poling it.  You’re tacking according to the wind direction, and almost everything you do is influenced by which way the wind is blowing and how hard.  They are very, very similar ideas.”